I expect that anyone who looked back at the Western church in the early 1500s would have seen the problems. There were some newer and questionable doctrines; there was the question of what an ancient church was doing with new doctrines in the first place; there was the question of some fundraising practices involving the doctrine of purgatory and the sale of indulgences. And there was a theology professor who had completely lost his patience with the abuses.
Lost his patience. Patience is a Christian virtue. It's not something we can afford to lose, necessarily.
Somewhere there is a time and a place for righteous anger. Sometimes the best intentions go wrong. And so the desire to reform the church ended up splintering it. When Martin Luther posted those 95 debating points, he did not imagine the church was so fragile that it would break.
"Speak the truth with love." Could things have been different today if Luther had been as gifted at diplomacy as he was preaching?
Not all the schisms traced to Luther, of course. Before Luther, the church was broken into the "Catholic" and "Orthodox", along with Copts and Nestorians who were far more of a presence in the East than is typically known in the West. A general lack of focus on the Holy Spirit made it nearly inevitable that a Pentecostal movement would separate from the church rather than light the whole from within. The excessive formality of some groups caused their mirror image to form in reaction. The over-reliance on scholastic-style argument may have played a role in the groups that are wary of scholastic argument and systematic theology.
And yet Luther's lack of diplomacy may be one of the most lasting pieces of his legacy, and Rome's insistence on its own infallibility has been inherited by many Reformation churches.
In order to reunite, each group needs not to splinter into ever-smaller factions with ever-narrower interests, which is the current direction and has been for so long. Instead, we would each of us need to broaden our own bases until each group is more catholic in the original sense of the word: a big enough tent, a welcome for all of Christ's brothers and sisters, a place for all true and useful teachings, a welcome for all healthy approaches.
May we see it in our day.