Reformation 500

RSS By: Metropolitan New York Synod

Marking the commemoration of Reformation is an exciting time for us as Lutherans. As we all prepare, this blog will offer resources, tips, and background on a number of issues. 

What language should we use around the reformation?

Oct 24, 2016

By Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

 

You may have heard myself and others say that we are choosing to "commemorate" rather than "celebrate." I know that I am not alone in this distinction, but I also know that some do not agree. I’d like to give you more background into this decision and why we have advocated for this language shift.

 

First, let me say that there is plenty to celebrate in being Lutheran. We are duly proud of who we are, and the Lutheran witness to the gospel has a crucial place in our 21st Century world. It is also true that occasions during 2017 will be celebratory in nature.

 

That said, why would I advocate for the thoughtful use of "commemoration" in connection with Reformation 500 events and themes rather than the use of the word of "celebration"? The Reformation involved, in part, a schism in the Western church, a sad break, for which forgiveness is asked and for which reconciliation is sought. Many of our congregations note this in referring to Reformation Sunday as Reconciliation Sunday.

 

Reformation anniversaries have been observed at various points in the past 500 years, and most of these occasions were triumphalist in nature. They celebrated our distinctiveness as a church, which was often in contrast to other churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church. But I would argue that this anniversary is quite different. This Reformation anniversary happens in the context of the rich ecumenical work undertaken in the last century, especially the past 50 years. These ecumenical efforts have resulted in our many full communion relationships.

 

Quite importantly, there is the significant progress in the past five decades specifically with the Roman Catholic Church, from which we were severed in the sad accidents of history (though Luther’s and the Reformers’ intent was not creating a new church). Concretely, Lutheran-Catholic progress is marked by the Joint Declaration on Justification, the document, "From Conflict to Communion," and Declaration on the Way, passed by our August 2016 Churchwide Assembly.

 

We are closer to being reunited with the Catholic church than many have ever dreamed to be possible. In fact, our Reformation 500 kick off coincides with Pope Francis’ historic visit to Lund, Sweden, to jointly observe the beginning of a year of Reformation observances.

 

We are closer to being reunited with the Catholic church than many have ever dreamed to be possible. In fact, our Reformation 500 kick off coincides with Pope Francis’ historic visit to Lund, Sweden, to jointly observe the beginning of a year of Reformation observances.

 

For these reasons in seeking reconciliation, and taking responsibility for actions that led to breaking relationships, we encourage you all to employ language of commemoration rather than celebration – even as there is plenty to celebrate in our reconciling efforts! Words have power in their meaning. For us the power we seek in the Spirit is that of reconciliation, deepening unity with partner churches who need each other in this season of mission. Commemorating together may serve those unifying ends better than celebrating.

 

Moreover, this language is in keeping with the sensibilities and intent of our ELCA Office for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Relationships along with the Lutheran World Federation. To share in the sensibilities of both churchwide and LWF expresses our interdependence as church together for the sake of the world!