Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton's second emphasis for the ELCA is: "We are Lutheran." We are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We are a product of the Reformation that Martin Luther started. At our Synod Assembly and Theological Conference in 2 ½ weeks, we will explore Reformation themes and history.
Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther, an obscure monk in northern Germany, challenged the religious hierarchy on matters of faith and practice. He wasn't the first to raise questions about how the church operated, but he raised his voice at an opportune time when many others, including secular rulers, agreed with him. His voice was amplified by the new technology of the day-the printing press-and soon the words of this Augustinian friar were being read all over Europe.
We are Lutherans. That was once an insult. Opponents of Luther scornfully called people who agreed with him "Lutherans." It was meant as a putdown, and Luther strongly objected. But it is the name we now live with, with hardly a thought. We do not worship Martin Luther. We are deeply grateful for his courage, his world-changing insights, his faith and his persuasive powers. But he didn't walk on water, and he was wrong about some things. As a church, we have repudiated his late-in-life denunciations of the Jews, which were in turn used by the Nazis to justify the Holocaust.
At our Assembly we will engage with church historian Mary Jane Haemig as she reflects on the Reformation and Christian freedom, and on the Reformation emphasis on the God who both speaks and listens. We will have workshops that focus on different aspects and implications of the Reformation. Here are some of them: Gift of Congregational Song from Churches of the Reformation; Teaching the Reformation to Children; Celebrating the Reformation in Bolivia; Luther's Struggle for the Gospel; Translating the Bible; Wittenberg Report; Luther's Footsteps; Celebrating the Reformation in South Africa.
The Reformation started a break between Catholics and Protestants that has persisted for half a millennium. Now, as we approach the 500th anniversary, Lutherans and Catholics are working together more closely. We are letting go of our 16th century condemnations of each other and seeking to find ways that we can work together, to affirm things that we have in common.
To that end, Lutherans and Catholics in Montana (and y'all in Wyoming are invited!) will have a service of commemoration on October 30, 2017, at the Helena Cathedral. Two Catholic and one Lutheran Bishop will be present to signify our commitment to Christian unity.
Being Lutheran does not mean that we are anti-Catholic. In fact, being Lutheran means that we seek Christian unity with any and all. That's why we have full communion agreements with 6 other denominations (Presbyterian, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, Moravians, Reformed Church in America), and why we are part of ecumenical and interfaith organizations. When we say, "We are Lutheran," it means we know who we are and where we are coming from, so that we can speak with people of other backgrounds and other faiths, with confidence and integrity, but not arrogance.
Lutheranism is no longer a northern European phenomenon only. The Lutheran World Federation is made up of 145 member churches in 98 countries. Lutheranism is a global phenomenon, and its future is being shaped by churches like our companion churches in Bolivia and South Africa.
It is a great time to be Lutheran, to acknowledge our roots in the past and to marvel at the branches.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA