Seminar 2017: The Identity of the Reformation Churches

This jubilee year of the Reformation invites reflection on the contemporary identity of the Reformation churches. The Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg took up this challenge by devoting its 51st annual seminar to this very theme. The Institute had already published a series of theses on Lutheran identity (available online) and used it as preparation for the seminar itself.

 

A first approach to the subject was taken by Professor Matthieu Arnold of the Institute on Luther’s intentions in his reforming work. This perspective was complemented by presentations from a Lutheran in Germany, Horst Gorski, and one from Tanzania, Ypyana Mwamgubole, as well as by American Lutheran Dirk Lange, who showed how the spiritual, cultural, and musical dimensions round out a more doctrinal approach to the topic.

The second step was ecumenical, handing the conversation over to representatives of the other major Christian families to hear their views on the identity of the Reformation churches. Catholic scholar Eva-Maria Faber underlined the progress that has been made and the great present-day consonance, especially in the area of ecclesiology. Professor Christos Filiotis insisted on the positive impact of the Reformation, which has contributed strongly to theological reflection in Orthodoxy, while acknowledging that true dialogue has only just begun and remains difficult. The Brazilian director of the Faith and Order Commission, Odair Mateus, noted the great doctrinal convergence between the Reformation churches today. Faithful to his Reformed tradition, Mateus advocated the necessity of a more precise and up-to-date confession of faith, particularly in the churches of the Southern hemisphere. Anglican professor Charlotte Methuen showed that this tradition is strongly indebted to the Reformation even while having a more complex relation to it than is often recognized.

It fell to Professor Frédéric Chavel to reflect on Christian identity in a globalized society where the former confessional approaches have lost their relevance, an analysis confirmed by Brazilian Pentecostal theologian Rosalee Velloso Ewell. She showed how the new Christian communities, often of a fundamentalist evangelical type, are too often falsely understood as “Protestant,” when in fact they claim new identities directly tied to contemporary social evolutions and exploring a new form of biblical witness.

Forty-five participants from fifteen countries representing eight confessional traditions participated in the seminar, enriched by a cultural program not least of all including a visit to the exciting exhibit on Luther at the National University Library of Strasbourg.

Photos: Junita Lasut, Elke Leypold