We often forget that our rich tradition as evangelical Protestants has some “dirty laundry” and blind spots. For example:
- Martin Luther’s intensely disliked Jews and wrote essays against them that were resurrected and used by the Nazis. He also advised the German nobles to slaughter the rebelling peasants without mercy.
- Ulrich Zwingli condoned the torture and drowning of Anabaptists—some of them his own former students—because they believed in baptism by immersion.
- Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield were slaveholders. African-American believers in our church have questioned me if they were really Christian!
- The great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Asuza Street (1906) in Los Angeles split terribly over race, resulting in black and white churches throughout America for decades.
- Many leaders of the Protestant Missionary Movement, along with a number of contemporary Evangelical leaders, failed in their marriage and family life. John Wesley, for example, couldn’t live with his wife; his marriage was, by all accounts, deeply troubled.
We are quick to point out the sins of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches located primarily in the Eastern part of the world (e.g. The Coptic church of Egypt, the Syrian Church, The Russian Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, The Armenian Church, the churches located in Iran, Iraq and in the Arab world.)
We forget that, for the first 1054 years, there was only one church—the one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal), church. I meet many Christians who ignore this history, acting as if God jumped from the book of Acts to the Protestant Reformation. And if people are not evangelical or charismatic Protestants, then they are probably not Christian.
There is much we can learn from Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers—even though they have plenty of problems and we do not agree on a number of points. Remember, a true believer is someone who has a living relationship with Jesus Christ who died and rose again for our sins, not someone who worships like we do.
If we are going to slow down for loving union with Jesus and experience deep transformation, we must learn from those with a long history of learning in these areas. Key dimensions of a full-orbed, biblical spirituality are not strong in American Christianity. Disciplines such as silence, stillness, solitude, and waiting on God, for example, are almost nonexistent in our churches.
God’s invitation to us is not to throw stones at the sins of the larger, global church. Rather He invites us to learn from them, while at the same time, holding firmly to our unique strengths and contributions as evangelicals.