What to Do about 2017?

The Challenge of an Ecumenical Anniversary

46th International Ecumenical Seminar, July 4-11, 2012

In 2017, the beginning of the Reformation five hundred years earlier will be remembered in many places throughout the world. The Reformation, or rather the Reformations, of the sixteenth century profoundly influenced the history of the church in many different ways. Accordingly, the relationship of the various Christian churches to the Reformation is also different, almost to the point of opposition. The Lutheran churches owe their very existence to the theology of the Reformers and the events of the sixteenth century. But there was not only a Wittenberg Reformation; there were also Reformations in Zürich, Geneva, and Canterbury, not to mention the radical Reformation of the Anabaptists. So the term “Reformation” designates an extremely complex network of theologies and events. Even the Roman Catholic church can be understood in a certain sense as deriving from the Reformation, in its acceptance or rejection of the Reformers’ assorted concerns. As a result, the remembrance of the Reformation is an ecumenical task par excellence; the self-understanding of the churches, their relationship to their history and to each other, all come into play. 2017 will be the first time that the anniversary of the Reformation takes place during the ecumenical era. Previous celebrations emphasized confessional self-aggrandizement at the expense of other churches. An ecumenical observance of the Reformation is a true novum, though a first effort at such an event could already be seen in the 1980 remembrance of the Augsburg Confession (1530).

In our International Ecumenical Seminar 2012, theologians from many different confessional families–Anglican, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Reformed, and Roman Catholic–presented the relationship of their church to the Reformation and brought their various perspectives into conversation with one another. What do the various churches each perceive in the Reformation: a theological inheritance that wisely binds and guides them? or burdens and deficiencies, convictions and attitudes that even today seem to be largely in error? At the same time, reformation is not only something that lies in the past; reformation is the ongoing task of the churches, the obligation constantly to assess whether their preaching and life in ever-new situations still serve and conform to the word of God. The relationship of the churches to the Reformation and their readiness to undertake reformation today correspond to their ecumenical relationships with one another. For this reason, the remembrance and celebration of 2017 and the preparations leading up to it are a testing ground for ecumenism. Our Seminar undertook the very important task of bringing the various perceptions of 2017 into a critical and constructive conversation, so that the different memories of the Reformation might not hinder the churches from giving a united witness to Christ but rather, precisely through the difficult work of remembering this anniversary, they might gain a new vision of their common service for God.

 

 Seminar 2012: Teilnehmer im Séminaire Protestant