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ELCA looks ahead to 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation

3/10/2015 3:45:00 PM

     CHICAGO (ELCA) – As a church that believes the good news of Jesus Christ provides “the freedom and the courage to boldly participate in what God is up to in the world,” members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are making plans for the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation in October 2017.
     “The evangelical Lutheran Reformation offers the promise of God’s love that makes possible a life of a living, daring confidence in God’s grace,” said the Rev. Marcus Kunz, assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop and executive for theological discernment.
     On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustine monk, posted his “Ninety-five Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, protesting the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church.
     “When Martin Luther posted his ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ the resulting debate about Christian teaching and practice led to changes that have shaped the course of western Christianity for almost 500 years,” said Kunz. “At the heart of these wide-reaching changes was a deep conviction that God’s mercy or grace in Jesus is given freely to all. Some of the familiar ways of talking about Jesus in our time have left some people cold, feeling trapped or demeaned.”
     Kunz said the 500th anniversary observance is an opportunity for the ELCA “to give fresh expression of the liberating and renewing hope in Christ that Martin Luther described.”
     Under the theme, “Freed and Renewed in Christ: 500 Years of God’s Grace in Action,” the ELCA’s 500th anniversary observance will include featured events for ELCA members to participate in the 500th anniversary through worship, learning and service.
     The events include the 2015 Worship Jubilee in Atlanta in July, which is being planned in collaboration with the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians. In 2016, the Grace Gathering will be held in the summer along with the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans.
     “Grace Gathering events will provide an opportunity for ELCA members to join (the (Churchwide Assembly’s) voting members and others in celebrating the Reformation, planning and preparing for local and regional activities related to the Reformation anniversary and most importantly being renewed in that ‘living, daring confidence in God’s grace’ Luther described,” said Kunz.
     The 500th anniversary observance, led by ELCA churchwide staff and an executive planning team, will also encourage and support initiatives across the ELCA’s 65 synods, nearly 10,000 congregations and other institutions.
     “Across the globe, Lutherans and other heirs of the Reformation are noting its 500th anniversary with a wide variety of activities along a broad spectrum of emphases and interests,” said Martin Seltz, publisher for worship, music and congregational life for Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, and a member of the planning team.
     “Lutherans in the ELCA share in that diversity,” said Seltz. “As I see it, the churchwide organization of the ELCA has a role in encouraging its congregations and other expressions to consider and shape meaningful, edifying and forward-looking observances that are appropriate to their contexts.”
     In helping to implement events and activities, Seltz said the planning team bears in mind “the richness and complexity this observance brings” including “thanksgiving for the heritage and gifts of the Reformation, honesty about continuing divisions in church and world, attention to Lutheran vitality far beyond its northern European roots, and commitment to a vigorous future of freedom and renewal in Christ for the sake of the world.”
     Kunz said for many Lutherans in the United States, the northern European identity “isn’t an adequate way of understanding who we are. For one thing, many Lutherans in the United States have a very different experience that has informed their identity. Most importantly, what we bring to others in the Christian community and the world is the message of God’s promise in Christ and a faith that lives in the freedom this gracious promise brings, enjoying the renewal found in a life of loving service to others.”
     The 500th anniversary observance will also include ecumenical and inter-faith activities, including participation in The Lutheran World Federation and other global observances.
     “The 500th observance of the Reformation will be the first centennial anniversary to have a strong ecumenical dimension,” said Kathryn M. Lohre, assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop and executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations. “Fifty years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the United States and internationally have produced significant fruits, including the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.”
     With the signing of the Joint Declaration on Oct. 31, 1999, The Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican agreed to a common understanding of the doctrine of justification and declared that certain 16th century condemnations of each other no longer apply. The Lutheran World Federation is a global communion of 144 churches representing more than 72 million Christians in 79 countries. The ELCA is the communion's only member church from the United States.
     “The reform and renewal of the Reformation cannot be understood apart from the division of the church. As we seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the face of contemporary challenges, may we understand the ongoing nature of the Reformation to include reconciliation with our Christian sisters and brothers and with people of other faiths,” said Lohre.
     Kunz said the ELCA churchwide organization is committed to facilitating the exchange of ideas, information and conversation about the 500th anniversary. Information about events and activities is available at www.ELCA500.org and also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/elca500. Resources for the 500th anniversary observance are being produced by Augsburg Fortress.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.8 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

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Candice Hill Buchbinder
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