I enjoyed visiting Wittenberg last weekend. (I didn’t like the freezing cold!) The place was pretty well deserted and all my previous years’ experience of dealing with crowds was given a refreshing rest. We could explore St Mary’s (the town church), the Melanchthon House, the Lutherhaus and walk around the town at our leisurely pace and peer at the paintings, the pamphlets, the displays without the concern of having to keep moving. (It made it wonderful for photos – no people in the background!) We could talk and discuss things then and there. Yes, there was a considerable amount of scaffolding – and we missed getting inside the Castle Church – because the signage everywhere talks about 2017. The place is reforming in time for the big 500.
500 since what? We know the story – indulgences, Tetzel, Luther, hammer and nails, castle church door, 95 Theses and voila – you have The Reformation! Well, not quite. I think everyone agrees that Luther had no agenda to reform the church but rather to tackle some of the practices on the church’s fringe far away from Rome. He was expecting Rome to recognise the problem and deal with it – not realising that he was becoming the problem! But his insistence on the Word of God as final arbiter together with his ongoing understanding of what God’s grace means developed and grew as he saw how living under grace of God was so different from living under the fear of God. As you walk Wittenberg, it is easier to imagine how dynamic and fluid things were and how much others played a part (I’m thinking of people like Katie Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and Johannes Bugenhagen for starters). This was more than just being cantankerous or rebellious or wanting to innovative. This was being captured by the new – being reformed – and steadfastly not ‘going back’ – even though challenged on many fronts. (The history of the Lutherans particularly after Luther’s death is one of working out which of all the new ideas and teachings – and remember that by then you definitely have Roman Catholicism active in defending its views plus all the other groups that had emerged teaching their own things eg, the Anabaptist / Baptist movements and the various Reformed groups.)
Today people comment – maybe it is more a complaint – that with so many versions of Christianity around, which is the ‘right one’? I dare say each group or denomination says ‘mine’ (or at least thinks it!) but the answer is not so straight forward. A better answer is ‘the one that clearly presents Jesus to you’. That means that the person asking the question needs to have an answer too! It’s really all about taking God’s Word – all of it – searching it – all of it – and meeting Jesus. Then you link with people who see Jesus the same way as you do. Many people today would like to be told what to believe, it seems to me. Yes, we can share the creeds but what we really want is for people to read, study, think about God’s Word and the Holy Spirit will lead people to Jesus and we discover that Jesus isn’t a proposition to take or leave but a living person who is already committed to us first. His life is ‘for you’ and that truth changes everything. — GS