Celebrating Five Hundred Years of Reformation

Starting October 1 Elgin Covenant is ramping up our commemoration of the Protestant Reformation with special events and guests. You are welcome, and please bring your friends! To the question: Why are we celebrating the Reformation? See below.

October, every Sunday, 9:15: Adult Sunday School Class, “The Ongoing Need for Reformation Among Protestants and Evangelicals.”

October, every Sunday, 10:30: Worship and Preaching Series on “Grace Alone.” Each message stands alone on that morning’s scripture text, and texts are chosen that have played an important role crafting the beliefs of leaders in the Protestant movement.

October 1, 10:30 AM, Communion service for October. In the Covenant Church we practice “open” communion. You do not have to be a member of this congregation or this tradition, we only ask that you be believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is your savior from sins and that you desire to live your life for him.

October 8, 5 PM: Soup Supper and a Movie, A Man Named Martin. Admission and supper are FREE.(CVLI license information is available in the office.)

October 22, 5 PM: Soup Supper and a Movie, Luther. Admission and supper are FREE.(CVLI license information is available in the office.)

October 29, 10:30 AM. Guest Choir, the German American Singers and Guest Quartet, the Alpine Brass. This special service order will feature special music presentations and four anthems, including a joint rendition of the Reformation Hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

October 31, Reformation Vigil, 8 PM – 9 PM

With trick-or-treat over by that time according to local ordinance, people are encouraged to gather for hymns, prayer, communion, and a presentation of one of Luther’s written homilies, “On Indulgences and Grace,” his sermon for lay-people based on his 95 Theses.

We hope you can join us for some or all of these events. Centenary celebrations only come once per century!

Why Celebrate the Reformation?

Many Protestants are not treating the five century mark of the Reformation as an occasion to celebrate, for a number of valid reasons that will differ according to each congregation or denomination. Indeed, there has been no denomination-wide program for a Reformation emphasis this year in the Evangelical Covenant. The reasons this is “muted” in various places are varied:

1. Some groups that rose out of the Radical Reformation, such as Anabaptists, do not see themselves as “Protestant” in the same way. The Swiss Reformer. Ulrich Zwingli, whose movement was one out of which early radical reformers emerged, was at work independently of Luther, so that the Wittenberg Door event on Oct. 31, 1517 does not carry the weight of a narrative of origins for Anabaptist groups.

2. Some Protestants identify with origins that precede Luther. John Wycliffe in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) each preceded Luther by more than a century. Moravian Churches own the heritage of Hus, while the English Reformation does not trace itself particularly through Luther’s thought.

3. Perhaps the most important reason is that many, including direct theological and institutional heirs of Martin Luther’s efforts, are embarrassed that the Protestant Reformation was the occasion of schism and violence within the Church. This included wars among European princes who used denominational affinities as an excuse for campaigns of conquest and the oppression of segments of their own population. In the early 1600′s, for example, Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed tore at each other for thirty years, with the German states providing most of the battlefields. Anabaptists were almost universally persecuted; toleration was rare and fickle.

4. Embarrassed by the violence on the one hand, many do not see the point in revisiting old misunderstandings and out-dated causes on the other. In the twenty-first century, sixty years after Vatican II began and marked a turning point for the warming of ecumenical relations, and after a succession of popes that have displayed integrity and humility and been more reflective of the global Catholic community, to be trumpeting the themes of the Reformation is seen by some as downright obnoxious.

There may be other reasons that others have; these are the reasons of which I am aware that many either have little enthusiasm to celebrate the Reformation or even disapprove of its being celebrated. In the best tradition of the Evangelical Covenant let me quote the Apostle Paul, “Let each one be convinced in their own mind.”

As October advances it is quite likely that more will be heard from various leaders in the global Church who, even though they are marking the Reformation, do so with sensitivity to the points of view expressed above, and will emphasize their regret for the schisms and especially the tragedies of violence that resulted.

The Reasons to Celebrate

The reasons I, Pastor Jonathan, choose to celebrate the Reformation and the Protestant movement’s narrative of origins, are as follows:

1. Celebrating Faith: Others before Luther had indeed recovered important features of the gospel of God’s grace on the sinner, the importance of scripture as revelation, and the importance of the laity to the Church. Starting in late 1517, however, there was a convergence that led to a deeper and more complete recovery of the “faith once given to the Saints,” that is, of the redemptive life with God by grace alone through faith alone which was the teaching of Christ carried forward by his apostles.

2. Celebrating God’s Word: The emerging Protestant groups used the new technology of movable type presses to democratize the Christian faith, taking it back from a clergy elite and putting the Word of God into the words, and the hands, of common people. Translation into the languages of the world continues apace through missionary outfits like Wycliffe. This organization is named for the proto-Reformer who lived over a century before Luther, but this organization could in no way have gotten going and been sustained without a much broader movement than what Wycliffe had inspired.

3. Celebrating Positive Change: Although many of the initial reactions of the Roman Catholic hierarchy were unproductive (e.g. they excluded Protestants from the Council of Trent in order to retrench untenable doctrines, went to war on Protestant princes, etc.) other reactions have proven to be a positive leavening of the faith and integrity in the Catholic Church elite over time. Vatican II in c.1960 is impossible without having the Protestant movement in view.

4. Celebrating People: The movement that led directly to the expansion of literacy, of democracy, and of modern liberal convictions that accord high value to the individual’s conscience, ought to be lifted up and celebrated in the twenty-first century. All of that got rolling when the monk named Martin tacked a list of arguments onto the door of a church on October 31, 1517.

Wherever you may be, I hope you can join Evangelical Covenant in Celebrating Faith, Celebrating God’s Word, Celebrating Change, and Celebrating People, if not in spirit, than in prayer. May this Centenary celebration bring glory to God, and declare the assurance of grace to repenting hearts.