Most of us are aware by now that we’ve launched an extended series exploring the sixteenth century Reformations. (Remember: it was not only what we think of as the Protestant Reformation that took place at that time, but also a Radical Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation). This is to commemorate the 500th anniversary year of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses on Wittenberg University’s door, 1517, which is the (somewhat arbitrary) date many folks pinpoint as the beginning of the Reformation.
At this point in our Reformation journey together, we’ve covered basic history of Luther’s initial protest, explored key Reformation concepts of baptism, and looked at the nonviolent peace witness of the early Anabaptists.
But why does this all matter in the first place? I remember as a high school student learning about some of these dates and figures, hearing the lore of Martin Luther and Wittenberg. I even lived outside of Geneva, Switzerland, home of Calvin’s project in creating a Reformed city. And yet, truth be told, I always thought it was a little bit boring. Through 16 year old eyes, Geneva’s Reformation Wall looked important, and had a gorgeous grass lawn, but the imposing statues of dour-faced men ostensibly didn’t have anything to do with my life.
Except that it did.
The belief that God’s loving embrace is a total gift, accessed through trusting faith emerged from the Reformation. As did a religious outlook that was, for better or worse, free from penance, formal confession, and transubstantiation (if you want to know what that is but don’t, ask me!) And the churches that never would have existed had it not been for the Reformation: the Congregational Church I attended as a young boy; the rock-band worship, charismatic Vineyard Church I attended in Boston; the Episcopal Church in which I dipped my nose in college; the Disciples of Christ/UCC Church I found in Jamaica Plain, Boston. In fact, we can even trace the rise of European nation-states and the United States herself back to the sixteenth century Reformations. The Reformation shapes our lives now.
And, at the same time, many people (such as writer Phyllis Tickle) believe we’re in a time of new Reformation. A time in which new technologies, economics, institutions, beliefs and practices, social movements, intellectual theories, and more, are undergoing massive change. Just to give an example: discoveries in the sciences continue at rapid pace, but our theology lags far behind. How many people think of the quantum Christ?! But that’s where we need to go.
This series is intended to accomplish two things: 1) to educate us about critical history in our faith tradition and 2) awaken us to embrace today’s reformation with vivacity and courage. God is always reforming the world, and us; or, as the UCC’ers put it, “God is still speaking…”