This post is the third in a three-part series of Reformation reflections. In 2017, the ELCA will join Lutherans around the world in observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The 2016 ELCA Grace Gathering will provide members an opportunity to kick off this observance and will include worship, Bible study, service learning opportunities and more. Registration opens Sat., Oct. 31. For details, click here.
For many years, I thought about the Reformation in the past tense. My engagement with it was primarily through church history studies, as well as the annual tradition of wearing red and marking Oct. 31. In church, we’d talk about the meaning of the Lutheran rose, the 95 theses, indulgences, Bible translation, Luther hiding in a castle and the “solas” (five Latin phrases abridging the theological convictions of the reformers). Commemorating Reformation Sunday was, to me, a way of saying our Lutheran theology and identity today was shaped by a history.
This summer my concept of the Reformation evolved. In August, I joined 140 young Lutherans from 60 countries in Wittenberg, Germany, for two weeks of prayer, worship, study, discussion, collaboration and innovation. As part of The Lutheran World Federation’s Global Young Reformers Network gathering, we came together to contemplate our place in “ecclesia temper reformanda” (a church in ongoing reformation).
Together, we learned about the history and work of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). We also discussed Lutheran identity under the following themes: theological, ecumenical and political. Our schedule included daily morning devotions, plenary lectures, panel discussions, workshops and, my favorite, “World café” round-table discussions.
It was symbolic to worship together in the Castle Church where Luther first nailed the 95 theses. In his time, Luther’s theses were a call for disputation – for dialogue. For two weeks, we were sharing our faith and ministry experiences. As we exchanged viewpoints, stories, concerns, hopes and dreams, our perspectives of the gospel and the church grew beyond the cultural notions, societal contexts and experiences we brought from our home countries. Together, we were examining our proclamation of Christ in a religiously pluralistic, globalized world.
I’ve been back in the states for more than a month now, but I am still connected to the Global Young Reformers Network through technology and social media. Our faith and idea sharing continues. We are also working on “Living Reformation Projects” that will be announced by LWF soon.
Coming home from this experience, I am reminded that the Reformation is much more than church history. Luther’s theses were a call for dialogue and diligence to the gospel. Although, our world looks a lot different than Luther’s did, we share the same need to continuously ask: What is necessary for us to proclaim Christ faithfully today? What in our society and history needs confrontation? Where have we failed to extend the love of Christ?
The ELCA lives the legacy of the Reformation by constantly asking these questions, but on Reformation Day we don’t always think about the changes we’ve made to faithfully proclaim the gospel in our time and context.
As I prepare to mark the anniversary of the Reformation this month with the youth and families in my church, I’ve invited them to study the legacy of the Reformation by recounting our Lutheran history and to actively examine the way we are (re)forming faith in the present day, at home, through partner ministries and in our local congregation.