The Legacy of the Lutheran Reformation includes significant conflict and struggle.
On Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to invite academic discussion on the practice of selling indulgences (among other things), events began to unfold which led to the historic ecclesiastical split resulting in a church called Lutheran. For Lutherans, this anniversary has been a proud celebration of a bold stand taken for the truth of the gospel. For Roman Catholics, it was seen as a regretful time of divisive disobedience. As we reflect on the events of the 16th century we recognize the convergence of theological, political, economic, technological and social forces which led to the outcome of a divided church. But in this current era, perspectives of Lutherans and Catholics are changing.
Beginning with a renewed call to ecumenism in the Second Vatican Council, we have experienced international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue for 50 years and marked significant progress. Pope John XIII set the stage when he stated, “The things that unite us are greater than those that divide us.” Over these decades the dialogue has focused on theological concepts of justification, eucharist, ministry and Scripture/tradition. In all of these areas there is still notable difference in views but also substantial consensus.
Dialogue partners have expressed respect for differences while celebrating points of agreement. The current relationship has been described as “Differentiating Consensus,” recognizing one another as brothers and sisters while pressing onward for deeper understanding. The 2013 publication of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity, From Conflict to Communion, (available online) identifies significant agreement on each topic.
To quote from the introduction of that document, “In 2017, Catholic and Lutheran Christians will most fittingly look back on events that occurred 500 years earlier by putting the gospel of Jesus Christ at the centre. The gospel should be celebrated and communicated to the people of our time so that the world may believe that God gives himself to human beings and calls us into communion with Himself and His Church. Herein lies the basis for our joy in our common faith.”
Significantly, the dialogue has brought out expressions of regret from both church bodies. “We Christians have certainly not always been faithful to the gospel; all too often we have conformed ourselves to the thought and behavioral patterns of the surrounding world. Repeatedly, we have stood in the way of the good news of the mercy of God.”
Oct. 31, 2016, marks the beginning of the 500th year since the Reformation. The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church will hold a joint commemoration of the Reformation on Monday in Lund and Malmö, Sweden. It will consist of a common prayer in Lund Cathedral and a public event in Malmö Arena that will be open to wider participation. Pope Francis, LWF president Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan and LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr. Martin Junge will lead the common prayer service in Lund and the event in Malmö in cooperation with leaders from Church of Sweden and the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm.
The joint commemoration will be live-streamed at www.lund2016.net/ starting with the liturgy in Lund Cathedral and then the celebratory event in Malmö Arena. Part of the joint commemoration of the Reformation will be the signing of a declaration of intent between two of the world’s largest relief and humanitarian agencies: Caritas Internationalis and LWF World Service. They will seek to work more and more closely together.
The schedule is as follows: Common Prayer in Lund Cathedral at 6:30 a.m. local time; Together in Hope in Malmö Arena at 8:45 a.m. local time.
Anyone who would like to gather to watch the live-streamed prayer service with others on Monday is invited to come to Peace Lutheran Church at 1204-30th Ave. from 6:15 to 8:15 a.m. Coffee, tea and a light continental breakfast will be provided. Advanced notification of your plans to attend is appreciated but not required, by calling 250-545-5787.
“What happened in the past cannot be changed, but what is remembered of the past and how it is remembered can, with the passage of time, indeed change. Remembrance makes the past present.” — from Conflict to Communion
David Hunter is pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Vernon.