When we start something new, we most often begin with good intentions. We want what is best for our communities, for our faith, for our families, and for our world. I believe Martin Luther fully intended to address the injustices he found in his faith community and in his context. He felt a call to renewal and reform, which he expressed through posting his Ninety-five Theses.
I don’t believe Luther meant to divide the body of Christ, but that is what happened as a result of his writings, actions, and collaborations, as well as the resultant reactions of others. Good intentions created fresh approaches to the scriptures, worship, and church leadership, but they also created divisions within the Church, which have had a lasting effect through 500 years. These divisions have perpetrated violence against other humans, mistrust within communities, and dysfunctional systems that continue to find their way into the church and leadership. We must acknowledge as Lutherans that we have initiated, nurtured, and imposed an ideology of mission and exclusiveness that grew out of dissent and division, power and influence.
Lutherans and Lutheranism lived under the power and influence of political and economic authority. It began with Martin Luther’s benefactor, Prince Frederick, who saw Luther’s conflict with the Catholic Church as an opportune time to gain power and influence for political leadership in tension with church leadership. It continued through the ages, to a time of great exploration where missionaries were sent to the African and Asian continents to colonize many people, all under the guise of conversion, and witness to God’s redeeming love.
We must acknowledge this wrongdoing and tell our story from a perspective of true care for humanity. We need to work even harder to build trust and accountability with our ecumenical and interfaith partners around the world. We need to raise up our brothers and sisters who are voiceless through the systems and structures that imprison them, to acknowledge that God loved the whole world and not just a certain segment of humanity. We lost our way as a result of the divisive aspects of the Reformation, but fortunately for us, God has the last word.
God is calling us to a ministry of reconciliation and healing, to be witnesses of God’s liberating grace. The Reformation may have begun as division but it must be upheld and commemorated now as a movement of healing and unity. Martin Junge, Secretary General of the Lutheran World Federation used the image of the body of Christ as “having different branches of the same vine.” The Reformation is now providing us opportunity to grow together in our witness of Christ’s redeeming love for the world. This will happen as we recognize the transformation within our faith communities, our ecumenical partnerships, our political structures, and our global body of Christ. This transformation has already begun as we learn from one another in our worship, our study of God’s Word, our languages, our cultures, and our common witness to God’s saving grace for all.
Reconciliation has already begun through our Waterloo Full Communion Agreement. As Anglicans and Lutherans located in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, we have been given a unique opportunity to work for a common witness, with our Indigenous neighbours, our immigrant and refugee neighbours, and our rural and urban communities. Common witness means recognizing that God is our refuge, even in our own changing contexts and in our renewed relationships with one another. Common witness means recognizing that the living God is inviting us into reformation and renewal all the time.