It was a good week attending the Churches Together in England’s ‘Responding to the Reformation’ Conference representing the ELCE and then on Thursday attending a meeting of Lancashire Church Leaders and speaking at their service of commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Blackburn Cathedral. The other main speaker at Blackburn was Fr John O’Toole the National Ecumenical Officer for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales. (He is a lovely fellow.) Reflections were given from church leaders of other denominations. So you can imagine that I have been immersed in the words and stories of ‘Luther’ and ‘Lutheran’ – but I am not ‘Reformation-ed’ out!
John and I were interviewed for the radio and we both said essentially that there has been progress made in the walking together but ‘we’re not there yet’ – when ‘there’ is organisational unity. We were quizzed whether there would be a need to have any such celebrations in the future … in another 500 years? Or 50 years? We were being asked to be prophets (a dangerous business). I said that I hoped that in 500 years we would be living the unity our baptism declares – that we are sisters and brothers in Christ – and there was a lot of work to be done in the next 50 years. John agreed.
Taking a long view of history, church issues can take a long time to resolve. The Arian controversy was 80+ years to my reckoning before resolved. The calls for reform of the Western Church in the Middle Ages were over hundreds of years. The Lutheran Reformation 1517 (a description which might be debated in itself) generated numerous reformations over centuries leading to the face of the Christian Church today. I think every church group begins with a claim to the truth – in contradistinction to those around them.
Listening at Blackburn Cathedral you could pick up the ‘theological DNA’ of the speakers. Luther had genuine and proper concerns and he wasn’t properly listened to. The centrality of the Word of God for public and personal faith is the most important part of the Reformation. It’s all about grace! The Church is always in need of reforming and we need to be doing this today. I can agree with such sentiments – interpreting them in my own way. Nevertheless for me the Reformation is about the liberating news of rescue, forgiveness of sins, God’s justification of the ungodly being heard and that means that 1517 and all that flows from it must somehow become transparent so we can peer through it further back – to a cross and empty tomb – to Jesus – and hear who he is and what he has done for us. And then blinking back in the present in 2017 realising that this Jesus is still doing what he came to do – forgiving us and giving us life with him – through words, water, bread and wine. His words – the declaration of God’s justification – ‘for you’ – have power to change us – and so in Jesus we trust … and live. GS