The Reformation, or as some people suggest, the Western Schism, is something that seems to be drummed down our throats at most Evangelical churches and is considered to be the second most important event in salvation history after the incarnation of Christ (and while they may not openly say that there is a strong inference that it is). However, it is interesting that I have heard one fundamentalist preacher suggest that the Reformation is probably the single most disastrous event in Church history, and that is something that I would seriously oppose. However, its importance among the evangelical Western church cannot be understated since most of those churches and their beliefs would not have existed but for the fact that one German night Martin Luther nailed a statement of defiance to the doors of a German cathedral.
My position is that the reformation was bound to happen sooner or later, and I am one of those people that believe that if it was not Martin Luther who had risen up to challenge the excesses of the Roman Catholic church, somebody else would have come along sooner or later and done the same thing. The thing with Luther is that the timing was right, and even if the timing was not right at then it would have come about sooner or later. The reason that I say that is because Luther did not happen in a vacuum, but rather was a continuation of numerous rebellions against the tyranny of the church, and unlike the earlier rebels Luther succeeded.
The major aspect of the Reformation had to do with freedom, and in a way it was to Christianity what the French Revolution was to politics: it overthrew a tyranny to replace it with the freedom to think, to question, and to come to conclusions oneself. However there are still many churches out there that are so convinced that the average person cannot make a wise decision that they will refuse to allow the congregation to choose their leaders and instead appoint them from those whom they liked.
One of the churches that I have been to arranges their leaders through a series of appointments. The trustees of the church are appointed (and not by the congregation at large) who then appoints the senior pastor, who then in turn appoints the other pastors, who then in turn appoint the elders and other leaders. Another church that I attend has the congregation at large elect the vestry (a kind of council for the church) and the vestry then appoints the senior pastor, and the senior pastor remains only as long as he holds the confidence of the vestry. Another church that I regularly attend elects every aspect of their leadership, and that leadership is confirmed by the church as a whole.
The concern that people have though is what if an ungodly person gets into a position of power and begins to undermine the sanctity of the church. Truth be told is that that happens, and when we turn to the bible we see that Jesus actually suggests that we should not make a move against that person. Personally I think that involves more with kicking people out of the church (something that should be done in only incredibly rare circumstances, though I have heard of pastors doing it a little too frequently) rather than removing somebody who is ungodly, however the pastor still needs to maintain the confidence of the congregation otherwise they will simply get up, leave, and find another church.
That is what I consider to be the essence of the reformation - freedom. Freedom of religion and freedom from religion. What the reformation gave us was the ability to choose how to worship, who to worship, and whether we actually want to waste our time worshipping something that we don't actually believe exists. There are many pastors out their that bemoan the state of our society and the fact that people are no longer going to church. As far as I am concerned that is absolute rubbish. What we have now are churches full of people who want to be there, rather than full of people who are there only because if they weren't there then the social stigma that attaches to them would be immense. Granted, these days the opposite appears to be true, but to be honest with you, there are actually few people who mock me because I chose to regularly go to church.
We are not living in a time of wholesale apostacy when we have churches booming in Asia and Africa, and our Western churches becoming more multicultural as we speak. Francis Schaeffer, back in the early 70s suggested that if Christ were to come then then he would have a lot of trouble finding faith on Earth. To him I would point to Elijah who, during a time when he believed that nobody worshipped God, was taken to a cave which was full of faithful followers. As for today, if somebody asks me the question as to if Christ were to return now whether he would find faith on Earth, my response would be 'bucket loads'.