Strengthening Churches’ Response to the Suffering

LWF North America Regional Consultation 2013. Photo: ELCA
LWF North America Regional Consultation 2013. Photo: ELCA

500th Anniversary of Reformation to Focus on Present and Future

GENEVA, 18 September 2013 (LWI) – The 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 will draw on the heritage of the past to strengthen churches in responding to the suffering of people and creation today, the general secretary of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Rev. Martin Junge, has vowed.

Speaking at the “Word and World” conference at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on 12 September, Junge noted that while the Reformation led to religious and social transformation in the 16th century, the anniversary will focus on the present and future.

“The question is about today and, as much as possible, even about tomorrow, and about how that powerful Gospel of justification and freedom by grace continues unfolding its power,” said Junge, a Chilean theologian.

Human Beings, Creation Are Not Commodities

In his address, “Reformation and Inculturation: Towards the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation,” Junge said that the anniversary commemorations will adopt the statement, “Not for sale!” that Luther stressed over the practice of indulgences, emphasizing that salvation, human beings and creation are not for sale.

While Luther’s protest was directed against the practice of using indulgences to make money off the despair of people needing evidence and security of salvation, Junge emphasized the theme in 2017 will be broader in order to reflect the diverse ways that churches today are working for a more just world.

“‘Not for sale!’ is therefore not a nostalgic reframing of old disputes of the 16th century … It is a way to address one of the issues at stake today: the commodification of the despair and the longing for wholeness, relationship and healing of billions of people in our world.”

Junge said the church is called to pastoral and diaconal accompaniment and that he prays that the anniversary of the Reformation will support churches around the world as they respond to human suffering and the groaning of creation.

“It is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not about Martin Luther. It is about the human family, not about Wittenberg or Germany. It is about a deep theological and spiritual process with far-reaching consequences for the way we understand the world and are invited to conduct our lives,” Junge said.

The LWF general secretary added that it would be a tragedy if the commemoration of the Reformation ignored recent ecumenical developments, including the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed with Roman Catholics, and the reconciliation with Mennonites.

Global Dimension

The 2017 Reformation celebrations will also emphasize the global dimension of the Lutheran Reformation. The Lutheran Reformation is now a global citizen, Junge suggested.

“It has traveled the world and put down roots in all continents. Churches have sprung up, in which the Reformation message is culturally anchored, developed and supplemented by new, specific perspectives,” he said.

One place it took root was among the Dalits, so-called “untouchables”, in India, where through the Lord’s Supper they have been able to come to understand how God’s unconditional love can affect their lives.

“By touching the untouchable, the Lutheran Reformation found a powerful way to speak about God’s unconditional love,” he concluded.    

North America Meeting

During his visit to the United States, the general secretary met with the leadership of the LWF North America region to discuss different questions of regional expression and relationships.

At the regional consultation on 12 September in Chicago, Junge also greeted the presiding bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton.

“It was a good opportunity to get acquainted with the new leader of our member church in the USA, and talk about the vision and mission of the LWF,” Junge said.