Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2013: The Church

Under the direction of Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter and Prof. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, the eighth in a series of seminars on the theme “Studying Luther in Wittenberg” took place from November 2–16, 2013. While it was the eighth seminar altogether, this was the fifth one taught by the staff of the Institute in Strasbourg. There were so many applications this time that they would easily have filled up four seminars! In the end, twenty-one applicants were accepted. These pastors came from all different countries across the world: Argentina, Australia, Columbia, Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, Greenland, Hungary, Latvia, Madagascar, Myanmar, Senegal, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States.


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The theme of this seminar was Luther’s teaching on the church. We began with an introduction into Luther’s life and times, and then proceeded to close study of numerous texts of the reformer. Through both lectures and discussions we analyzed Luther’s teaching on justification by faith through the treatise “The Freedom of a Christian,” Fifty Theses on the Remission of Sin, and the sermon on “Two Kinds of Righteousness.” Law and Gospel were considered through his writings “How Christians Should Regard Moses” and “What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels.” Then we took up Luther’s understandings of the sacraments of baptism and communion through selections from “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper,” and “On Repbatism.” In the third segment of the seminar we turned to Luther’s more specifically ecclesial writings, dealing with the marks of the church (notae ecclesiae), the priesthood of all believers and the pastoral and episcopal offices, the treatise “That a Christian Congregation Has the Right and Power to Judge All Doctrine,” and selections from the Small Catechism, concluding with Articles IV-VIII of Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession and the ordination liturgy used in Wittenberg.

Each day began with morning prayer in the little freestanding chapel next to the city church. The rest of the morning was devoted to lectures on the Luther texts, while the afternoon period was for personal study or visit to the Lutherhaus, followed by common discussion of how Luther’s views could be brought to bear on the individual contexts of the participants. An especial high point of each day was the supper prepared by one of the participants according to a recipe from his or her homeland—so by the end of the seminar, we had all experienced a trip around the world via the kitchen. The evenings after supper were spent giving each of the participants a chance to introduce his or her country and church. Representatives of the local German church and the Lutheran World Federation also visited and reported on their work. On top of this, there were excursions to the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt, the Wartburg castle in Eisenach, and Torgau (the burial place of Katharina von Bora Luther and home to the first church built as a Lutheran church). The program was further enriched by lectures from Dr. Rhein of the Melanchthonhaus on the relationship between Luther and Melanchthon. A particularly memorable event was a visit to share in peace prayers with the little church communities in the villages of Krina and Pouch.

It is always fascinating to experience how Luther’s theology can draw together such diverse persons from so many different contexts and how intense the encounter with his thought is. When we take the time to get to know one another and become open to each other, our diversity as so many different people and views becomes profoundly enriching, even while we remain united around a common center. And it is simply beautiful when people begin to reflect and think theologically together!

Our special thanks go, as always, to Pastor Hans Kasch, the director of the LWF Center in Wittenberg, for his tireless efforts and enthusiasm, and to our other partners at the Colleg Wittenberg for their energetic hospitality.

Please contact us if you are interested in applying to a future seminar in Wittenberg!

Seminar in Wittenberg 2013   20131105_104322a