Why do we find difference, peculiarity intriguing? Not only that, why do we extol this peculiarity as revolutionary? The norm is to follow the status quo. We find ourselves marching to the beat of the societal drum, caught in the midst of a plain, vanilla plateau of sameness. Those who stand out in the crowd we either criticize, ostracize, or praise. Many times, those we criticize presently will, one day in the future, be praised as a reformer, a revolutionary. With the recent election cycle, as I have aforementioned in previous posts, Sanders’s message of fairness, financial equity, egalitarianism, and superfluous opportunity resonates with millions of Americans. Trump’s message, though polar opposite, was reviled, and may continue to be, as misogynistic, sexist, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic, it resonated with millions as well.
To start, revolution is “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system” while reformation, derived from Latin, means “shape again”. The Apostle John perfectly describes the reformative structure of the Gospel:
“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 Jn. 2:7-8).
Furthermore, repentance is revolutionary. The regeneration of the human soul (Titus 3:5) wrought by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15) mirrors the creation of the universe ex nihilo—out of nothing. Likewise, genuine repentance, as defined by Ligonier Ministries, is “…a change of mind-set, means a change of your fundamental attitudes and outlooks on life. In Hebrew terms, it means changing the desires of your heart, consequently changing the orientation of your whole life”.
There is a fine line between revolution and reformation. However the one quality connecting the two is change. In order to reform an institution, one must revolt, whether it be mild or violent. Both revolutions and reformations reinforce, complement old ideas with new implementations. For example, though Marxism was a new manifesto for formulating a utopian government, the idea of usurping the elite with violence is not new.
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9).
The American Revolution was an aggregation of old ideas to formulate a new government. Similarly, Matthew 5:17 notes Christ came not “…to abolish the Law or the Prophets..but to fulfill them.” However the Protestant Reformation reverted to the old school of Christian philosophy focusing on the deity and sole authority of Christ and his word.
Back to the election, politically, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are not revolutionaries. They are reformers. Sanders’s message seemed “out of touch with reality.” Seriously? Democratic socialism? Well, to Bernie, this was normal. Numerous countries have adopted a democratic socialist form of governance, which, in many cases, works. Not only does it work well, but surpasses the United States in an array of fields. Concerning religion, why are some messages received graciously while others disdained?
There are multiple contributing factors. It depends upon the era, the geopolitical landscape, and the already accepted norms. For example, today we see Jesus’s message as love centric, driven by a supernatural passion for the salvation of all peoples. However, at the time, he was tried by the Jewish Sanhedrin (consisting of both liberal and conservative priests) for religious, power-based, and pecuniary reasons and ultimately crucified by the Romans for political purposes. His blasphemy became martyrdom, which ultimately resulted in his resurrection, thus turning Christianity into the largest religion to date. Fast forward to the Protestant Reformation. Today, Martin Luther, once having a bounty on his head, is seen as a force for good, resisting against the corrupt Roman Catholic Church for coercing the impoverished to give their money for spiritual gains (i.e. indulgences).
Contrary to popular belief, Islam was once a flourishing religion, pervading the hearts and minds of tens and hundreds of thousands of Arabian inhabitants with its egalitarian message of love and justice. Muhammad’s convictions threatened the Qurayesh (the keepers of the Ka’ba in Mecca) who, like the Pharisees and Saducees during Jesus’s time, used religion for financial gain. Muhammad’s message of repentance and spiritual liberty stung the hearts of the pagan multitudes.
In other words, why are we so opposed to change?
In the words of Tim Keller, we sin, and continue to sin, because we’re afraid if we change our identity we may not succeed with whatever endeavors we may have (e.g. popularity, fame, prosperity, etc.) We hate conviction. It’s no surprise Jesus was crucified after humiliatingly renouncing the Pharisees’ imprudence and ungodliness saying,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27).
Likewise, we flinch at the subjugation and subservience commanded by Christ. After saying he was the bread of life, “…many of his disciples…said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (John. 6:60). Reading from Genesis, relaying the story of Cain and Abel, Dr. Keller noted Cain’s unwillingness to change. The moral of the story isn’t, “Don’t be like Cain” or “Don’t be like the Pharisees.” The message is, “We are Cain. We are the Romans. We are the Pharisees. We have all crucified the Son of God on a cross.” That is the message. And the message, surprisingly, unlike Muhammad’s, wasn’t change yourself. Rather, it was, and still is, “You cannot change. But I [God] can change you”: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).
Overall, politically and physically, change is inevitable. It is a recurring cycle as observed by the wise preacher Solomon. We are afraid of change because it isn’t second nature. We may be able to change our immediate environment but spiritual, conscious change is much deeper. We must rely on this outside source for intrinsic change. Revolutions have come and gone. Reformations have come and gone. However the personal revolution, the personal reformation wrought by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is transformative, never to be replicated by any other religion or political faction regardless of their platform or commitment to facile peace. That which was from the beginning will remain forever. In the words of Malcom Maggeridge,
“I’ve heard a crazed cracked Austrian that announced to the world a Reich that would last a thousand years. I’ve seen an Italian clown that said he was going to stop and restart the calendar with his own ascension to power. I met a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin…I have seen America wealthier, and in terms of military weaponry more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so had the American people so desired, they could have outdone a Caesar or an Alexander…Behind the debris of these solemn supermen and self-styled Imperial diplomatists stands the gigantic figure of one person because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind may still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ. The more I look at the saviors of men, the more beautiful the Lamb of God looks to me.”