WE ARE REFORMERS NOT RADICALS

Pastor Mark Anderson

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul to the Philippians

The current wave of political hysteria that has broken out in some American cities has nothing to do with reforming our relations with one another toward beneficial changes that are accepted by a broad consensus (which is what reform actually is). These are not reformers in our streets, they are radicals. And their mission is to disrupt, fragment and destroy our relations with one another and the existing order.

But these deeply unhappy and resentful people rampaging in the streets are just the tip of a very long spear. They are on the extreme end of a very long distribution. There are many who support them ideologically and cheer them on from the sidelines. And you will find them in all walks of life; from those living in abject poverty to Silicon valley billionaires. They may lack the temperament (or courage) of a firebrand but they are no less committed to a fundamental altering of the social order. They, too, are radicals, not reformers.

Five hundred years ago an unknown Augustinian Friar, tucked away in his monastic cubicle, did some deep reflecting on his world and the system in which he lived. Martin Luther saw abuses and distortions within that system which he believed would benefit from reform. He began with an open invitation to debate and dialog – which is what reformers do. He clearly outlined his concerns for all to see. Debates were held, pamphlets written, arguments heard. Over the next several decades and long after Luther’s death the Lutheran or evangelical movement continued to press the church\state system of the day to adopt reforms.

Other Christians, deeply resentful of the church and the nobility, adopted a far more radical tone. They were bent on overthrowing the order and wreaked much destruction, pain and sorrow in the process. Widespread revolt led to the murder and horrific abuse of priests, nuns and the families of the nobility. Martin Luther strongly opposed those who turned the reformation message into a call for radical destruction of the social order and of theology. For a time, chaos ruled the day, until the nobility gained control of the situation with brutal efficiency.

This is not the place to delve deeply into the various temperaments, theological and otherwise, of the reformation and its movements. But it is useful to point out that the tendencies toward reform and radicalism are always within us. And, as stewards of creation, I believe Christians should be wary of the latter.

Radicals do not tread lightly on the social fabric, which is to say, on their neighbors. Whereas reform moves in the spirit of ‘us’, radicals move in the spirit of ‘us and them’. Radicals view the world with resentment, even hatred, and in that spirit are constantly on the prowl for someone to blame for the less-than-ideal world they find themselves in. And this tendency is rooted deeply in human nature. It takes just a spark of bitterness to ignite a conflagration of resentment.

Radicals pursue idealistic dreams and they are willing to sweep away, with raw power or the corrosive machinations of political power, every other vision of life that interferes with their vision. Social, religious or political voices that try to start this fire are not friends of life, they are enemies of life, putting the worst construction on the words and deeds of others.

Reform seeks to preserve the value of what is good and beneficial while reforming society toward even more beneficial ends when necessary and when agreed upon with widely held support. Reform seeks to value life, nurture and improve life. Reform is rooted in a respect for all that has been received in the complex transmission of culture over time and recognizes that tampering with cultures must be done with care, because people need to be handled with care. For at the root of reform is a concern and respect for the individual, for the support of everything that contributes to the betterment, enhancement and enjoyment of life. Reform does not seek to do harm to the neighbor, but it seeks the neighbor’s welfare, the neighbor’s good.

It is in this respect that the Christian life, as we live it in this world in relation to our neighbor and under the law, is an ever-reforming life. St. Paul’s beautiful admonition is about as good a description of this life as you will find:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and the God of peace will be with you.”

The Christian way in this life, therefore, is the way of the good steward who cares for creation. It is a positive outlook, the primary objective of which is to uphold, affirm, nurture – and reform – every good thing which God has provided, for the care and benefit of the neighbor and to the Glory of God.

May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in

Christ Jesus our Lord.

Published by Pastor Mark Anderson

Lutheran pastor, husband, dad, archaeology nut, serious blues guitarist and aspiring luthier.

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