agree with theologian Robert McAfee Brown who said: “There has not been a
moment in the church’s life when it has not stood in need of reformation,
redirection, and renewal at the hand of God” (The Spirit of Protestantism, p. 21). 
was true 495 years ago at dawn of what we call the “Protestant Reformation,”
and it is true today.  On All Hallow’s
Eve, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a monk and scripture scholar, nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the
Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.
didn’t intend to start a revolution in the Roman Catholic Church; he wanted a
debate about its condition.  To his great
surprise, and sometimes consternation, Luther quickly became the controversial
leader of a breakaway church. 
the end of the sixteenth century, the spirit of reform had spread like wildfire
across Europe.  People found fresh
courage to make free responses to God apart from the shackles of ossified traditionalism
and the burdens of extreme corruption.  “Protestantism”
was born.
Reformation recovered the central Christian claim that salvation is a gift of
God’s free grace which we receive by faith. 
rescued the Bible from human schemes of interpretation so that human beings could
hear for themselves the voice of the Living Word, Jesus, in its pages.
reclaimed the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, restoring to all of
God’s people their dignity and identity as God’s responsible partners in the healing
of creation and the spreading of the Good News of Christ. 
don’t have 95 Theses to nail to a wall (or to post on Facebook!), and I don’t
have any illusions about being a reformer. 
But I ask mainstream Christians, especially my tribe, moderate Baptists
in the South, to consider this single thesis: We need the arts of both protest and affirmation.  
his memoir, Man of the House, the
late Tip O’Neil wrote about his colorful and distinguished career as a
Democratic representative from Massachusetts. 
O’Neil was first elected to the Congress in the same year that
Eisenhower was elected president.  In
that election, the Democrats lost both the White House and their majority in
the House of Representatives.  When
O’Neil attended his first Democratic caucus meeting, he heard minority leader
Sam Rayburn say, “We’re in the minority now.  But we’re still going to be helpful and
constructive.  Remember, any jackass
[that’s a donkey!] can kick over a barn door. 
It takes a carpenter to build one” (p. xiv).
Protestants, especially of the Baptist kind, need to learn again the value of
protest.  We don’t often enough subject
the status-quo to careful scrutiny.  It
doesn’t occur to many of us to ask why the present order of things excludes the
voices of the marginalized and oppressed, why it doesn’t make central, as Jesus
did, the needs of the vulnerable and poor, and why it makes life harder for
people who already struggle to stay out of poverty and despair.
the church itself is concerned, we acquiesce all-too-readily to the expectation
that we will be unfailingly, merely, and superficially “nice” rather than
honestly, tenaciously and lovingly compassionate (a way that requires, at
times, saying difficult things about hard issues).  We offer and expect what Bonhoeffer called “cheap
grace,” rather than reminding each other that the way of Jesus is a lot of
things but easy isn’t one of them. 
Reformation may depend, in our time, on a reclaiming of the capacity and
courage to protest the way things are in both the culture and the church.
protest isn’t simply for the purpose of “kicking down the barn door.” It is, to
make room for new construction—for the fine arts of nurturing and affirming goodness,
truth, beauty and grace.
gives us what we need for such constructive and affirmative work. The church in
every generation is built on an old foundation (the solid base of the good news
and those traditions which are still vital) which has been cleared of inevitable debris and
decay.  We build with imaginations fired
by the Spirit.  We embrace fresh
understandings of the gospel, explore and experiment with new methods and
means, and engage the risk of pursuing dreams so big that failure is
possible.  We live adventurously and joyfully,
trusting that God delights in partners who trust that God’s will and way are
brighter, better, and gladder than the dreary and dull status-quo.