Reformation marks 500th anniversary
Area church leaders say the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a time to reflect on recognizing the need for change but also of unity in Christ.
When Martin Luther, a Catholic priest and professor of philosophy, nailed his 95 Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1517, he sought debate on church doctrine, papal indulgences and recognition that justification of faith is based on the Scriptures. With no positive response, the resulting reform movement led to many branches of Christianity.
The Rev. Bob Boyar, pastor of United Presbyterian Church in Jamestown, said the Holy Spirit moved Luther to act as the Bible is the salvation story and calls people to humility and prayer to discern what is essential or not in our limited vision of the world. Christians today ask the same questions about what must change or not in order to be faithful.
“I think the Reformation is a reminder that God is always doing a new thing, but we do not always perceive it,” Boyar said.
Luther was not attempting to divide Christians, he said. He wanted to reform the church and not necessarily separate from it, he said.
God calls us to unity, Boyar said. The challenge from the Reformation is that it makes separation the easiest thing to do and it continues today, he said.
The denominations have differences but Christians share the most important things in common and especially when it comes to Jesus Christ, he said.
“Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is one of bringing the disciples together and not just the disciples of 2,000 years ago, but the disciples and Christians now,” Boyar said. “I think the new thing very well could be the unity of the Christian church, which is really what I think we’re called to do.”
United Presbyterian Church will have a Reformation service at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31. There will be music and prayers in German that were said 500 years during the time of Martin Luther.
Luther thought he would burned at the stake, said the Rev. Steve Berntson, pastor of New Hope Free Lutheran Church in Jamestown. Luther wanted the church to return to the beginning with the doctrine of justification in matters of faith on the basis of the Scriptures, he said.
“Luther found and restored doctrine of justification of faith and of Christ on the cross,” he said.
The Reformation reached Norway centuries later with the start of the Free Lutheran movement, he said. Today the ecumenical reforms within Christian denominations are essentially unity by compromise, he said. What can be agreed upon is the centrality of Christ and what he did at the cross, he said.
“When we agree on that profound agreement with the people of all the different denominations and claim Christ and adhere to the Scriptures then we are linked spiritually,” Berntson said. “An openness to the Holy Spirit is part of that.”
Where there is unity of spirit then the unity in Christ exists, he said. Churches might disagree on the age for baptism or of how Jesus is present in the sacrament of communion but they are spiritually united, he said.
“That is hair splitting and is not a deal breaker,” he said. “That is the second order of business and not the first.”
New Hope will hold regular worship service at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 29 with an emphasis on Reformation and a reception.
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