The New Reformation

Isaiah 43: 19, MSG

Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?


I had a memory the the other day. It was my 7th grade year at Hopewell Jr. High in West Chester. Hopewell Jr. High School is located next to our family church Faith Community UMC where I was also confirmed in my 7th grade year. I had struck up a friendship with my art teacher, Kathy Davis, who was a member of Forest Chapel UMC in the Springdale area. On the last Sunday of October that year, Reformation Sunday, Kathy picked me up and brought me to church for their celebration. Now in Methodism we don’t often celebrate Reformation Sunday, but I think that maybe we should because we are living in a Reformation right now.

As few years ago, Phyllis Tickles wrote a book titled, The Great Emergence [1]. Dating back more than a decade, The Great Emergence suggests that the eras of church life change about every 500 years. The church has a “rummage sale,” she says, sweeping out old forms and invests in new forms, technologies and ways of being. The church Reformation of today, according to her is Postmodernity. In the book Tickle suggests two things – one, change comes from outside of the church and – two change does not water down the Gospel, even though that is the accusation from inside the church. The Reformation helps the church see the world and its work in a new way. We are living in a Reformation now.

This Reformation that we are now living in connects the two pandemics that I have been talking about over the last months. They are again... the quest for equality and equity in our culture and in our church and the moral and ethical dimensions of Covid-19 in the way it is perceived and how people are cared for based on race, class and culture. Both of these pandemics are forcing the United Methodist Church, its clergy and laity, to change along with its practical and classical theology.

Reformations do that, they upset the apple cart, they change the power. If your reason for being is wrapped around your self-preservation, you might check out the scriptures because the people who did that were not very successful. In fact, the self-preservationists were held up as sinners. In Jesus’ teaching it is the people who embrace God - the creator of diversity – who are held up as sages and wisdom keepers. These persons are held in high regard by Jesus. They care for the poor, the widow, the marginalized and they pray for their enemies and the outcast. Jesus taught his follows to resist the oppression of Rome – turn the other cheek and carry the pack, tactics which lay the sin of oppression bare for all to see.

This was the success of the 1517 Reformation of Martin Luther - ninety five theses of church corruption laid out for all to see. It rocked the European world. But the Reformation wasn’t over in a year or just limited to a small town in Germany. The Reformation and the counter Reformation resulted in the Council of Ghent (1551-1556) with residual affects going on through 1563. And in the midst of all of this, there was a pandemic going on known as the “Bubonic Plague.” Hum? Over 40 years to perceive the new thing, to embrace the new world and culture that came from the outside and a pandemic. Wow! Go back and read this stuff!

Speaking of reading, the other day Cabinet had time with Nona Jones discussing her new book titled, From Social Media to Social Ministry: A Guide to Digital Discipleship [2]. In her book she lifts up a how-to tool to enable the new Reformation. The digital world is to us what the printing press was to the last Reformation. Nona works for Facebook and while Mr. Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO, is not a deeply spiritual person, he knows that many in the world are. The Spirit is using him to communicate the Gospel and to use his platform and others like it for Gospel purposes. He hired Rev. Jones to lead this effort. 75% of the world’s population is on Facebook. Let that sink in, 75%! The writer of Isaiah was calling for reform. This passage is about strengthening community, by paying attention to the work of God.

Creating deeply meaningful virtual communities along with in-person communities is the new Reformation methodology. The new Reformation will promote equity among the cultures, races, and gender identities. The new reformation will take into consideration Ecotheology – care for the earth as a creation of God. Not everyone is going to come along with the new. There were resisters in the last Reformation. Some thought indulgences were a great stewardship strategy. They resisted and they did not flourish. We need to understand this dynamic! Next week I will write about how Nona Jones’ book connects deeply with the Wesleyan Revival movement.

Your church should consider embracing Jones’ methodologies for reaching new people for Jesus Christ and the transformation of the world.

Enjoy this piece of music: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

[1] Tickle, Phyliss, The Great Emergence, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2008, 2012.
[2] Jones, Nona, From Social Media to Social Ministry: A Guide to Digital Discipleship. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2020.


Rev. Dr. Todd D. Anderson, West Ohio Superintendent
Ohio River Valley District, United Methodist Church