Do you remember last year at this time? (We were not tied up in mid-term elections.) We were up to our ears in Reformation 500 observances. From local congregational observances to world-wide celebrations, Lutherans and our partners found ways to use the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses to accomplish all sorts of things.
One of those things was simply to demonstrate that we have come a long way in 500 years. No longer are Lutherans and Catholics at war. No longer are Lutherans and Reformed at each others’ throats. We are in full-communion agreement with 3 Reformed Churches (United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, Presbyterian church in the USA), and with other churches as well (including The Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Moravians)—all different strands of the Reformation. And we are in cordial conversation with other Protestants, and deep ongoing dialogue with the Catholic Church. We still have our differences, but we have more peaceful ways to address them. We have come a long way in 500 years.
In previous Reformation anniversaries there was sometimes a whiff of triumphalism. That was absent in 2017. Not only did we celebrate, we also repented the excesses of our ancestors in faith, who condemned each other privately and publicly.
In our Synod last year, we had a joint Convocation with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings and discussed the Five Ecumenical Imperatives for Lutherans and Catholics. We also had a joint vespers service at the Helena Cathedral, with a joint choir, and preaching from 2 Catholic Bishops and 2 Lutheran Bishop—to an overflow crowd.
The Reformation commemoration also gave us a good chance to learn more about the theological and biblical and ecclesial issues of the Reformation. Many congregations had special adult studies on the Reformation and on the essentials of Lutheranism. In the several years leading up to the anniversary, a task force from the Montana Synod produced resources on the Reformation for both adults and kids There is no reason not to use them. They stand the test of time. Check out our web site.
The Reformation anniversary gave us a chance to broaden our horizons about the ongoing impact of the Lutheran faith. In Tanzania, a crowd of 40,000 stood in the rain to hear a Reformation sermon. The Lutheran World Federation, who began the year of observance with a service with the Pope in Sweden, concluded the year in Namibia. We experienced deep interest in the Reformation in both our companion synods—the Cape Orange Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa and the Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church.
So many things were happening in 2017 around the 500th anniversary that some people joked about “Reformation fatigue.” But the Reformation was not a fleeting thing, a fad that fades. The Reformation was a fundamental rethinking of church and salvation, a re-imagining of Christian life, a focus on education, and a reclaiming of the power and authority of the Bible. As Lutherans in 2018, we are Reformation Christians. Thanks be to God!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA