I’ve been noticing a general sense of anxiety these days, and even though our current political climate is the focus of it right now, I believe this is just a release valve to let out the pressure of something much bigger. For years in religious circles we have been talking about a new Reformation of the church that is happening now that some experts call the Emerging Church. It is likely that the future church will emerge to look radically different than what we have become used to in the last 500 years since Martin Luther tacked his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church.
Reformations do not occur in a vacuum. The Reformation that began in 1517 took shape in an explosion of communication following the creation of the printing press (ca. 1440). The Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation took place with the Spanish Inquisition in the background (started in 1478), which ordered Muslim and Jewish people to convert to Christianity or leave Spain, and also alongside the global expansion of the Age of Discovery, which was initiated by Columbus’ first expedition to what we now call the America’s in 1492. The Protestant Reformation also overlapped the beginning of the Scientific Revolution; John Calvin, the second-generation leader of the Protestant Reformation, was a contemporary of Copernicus, who published his work on the orbits of the planets around the sun, ca. 1543. The 16th century was also the age of political upheaval as nationalism overtook the Holy Roman Empire in England (remember Henry VIII?), Germany, France, and other European nations. How anxious would it have been it to live in that era?
Jesus’ reformation also took place in a time of significant cultural upheaval. Jesus was born less than 70 years after Rome overthrew a number of smaller states with ties to the Greek Empire. As well, Judaism was ripe for reform; in fact, there was a peasant revolt in Jerusalem (ca 66-73) that included the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by Roman forces, when that happened, the power of Judaism dispersed from the one Temple system to regional synagogues, and animal sacrifice, once the central ritual of Jewish worship was no longer available. Take a minute a reflect on the theological shift that occurred because of that-how and where would you make a perfect sacrifice to God without a Tmeple? The fall of the Temple was contemporaneous to the rise of Christianity in places far away from Jerusalem like Corinth, Rome, and other cities around the Mediterranean. Christianity rose in popularity in the broader Roman Empire in part because Christianity used Jewish thought to speak directly to a cultural debate about the role of freed slaves and women in Roman society. How anxious were the lives of those people as they faced all those radical changes?
Religious Reformations, like the one we are living through, are part of larger societal upheavals that include geopolitical, economic, intellectual, communication, and religious institutions, and they are naturally times of high cultural anxiety. The anxiety we are feeling these days reflects the turmoil we have been living through in all areas of life: financially moving from paper to digital, communication increasing exponentially through the internet, exploration of space and our universe, geopolitical power shifts, and religions. As we shift more globally in all realms, our faith that used to focus on our own denomination’s correct way to God is becoming more welcoming of all connections to the Divine, even those beyond Christianity; this a huge theological shift that we and all faiths are dancing our way through on a global level.
If you are feeling anxious these days, you are not alone. Your anxiety is real and it is based on lots of upheaval in our world. In these days, as anxiety rises, take a deep breath, and remember what God tells all people who encounter the Divine in scripture, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” That may be easy for an angel to say! For us mortals we have to keep being reminded.
May you remember God is with us even in these moments of huge upheaval.
– Pastor Tony