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Reformation: Moving On

by glynch — last modified 31 Oct, 2017 03:13 PM

Wiltshire Churches Together hosts ecumenical event 500 years after Luther nailed his theses

Wiltshire Churches Together has held a special event to mark 500 years since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation has traditionally been dated to 500 years ago today, 31 October 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, in what is now the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

To mark a momentous demimillennium, Wiltshire Churches Together hosted Reformation 500 – Moving On in Market Lavington Village Hall, addressed by the Revd Dr Anna Claar Thomasson-Rosingh, Director of Studies at the Centre for Formation in Ministry at Sarum College, and Fr Michael Robertson, Ecumenical Officer on the Commission for Dialogue and Unity at Clifton Diocese. Around fifty people from around the county were in attendance.

The meeting was first addressed Anna Claar, who was brought up in the Dutch Reformed tradition and is now an Anglican priest. She pointed out that Luther had not intended to found a new church, but his insistence on his differences from the Roman Church had led to a split. In particular, he insisted that the sole source of salvation is faith in Christ, and that knowledge of Christ is derived solely from Scripture and that therefore we owe everything to God’s grace.

Anna Claar wondered if the route to Christian unity might lie through an emphasis on what unites Christians rather than on what divides them. In her view, Christians have a great deal in common and we need to celebrate that rather than start from a requirement of uniformity of belief which is likely to prove as divisive as it did in the 17th Century Netherlands.

Fr Michael spoke on the changes in the Roman Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council, which have transformed that Church’s view of the ecumenical movement.

Before the 1960s the Roman Catholic Church tended to view itself as God’s army on Earth: only those obeying that army’s leaders counted as members of the Christian Church. Since the 1960s the Christian Church has come to be understood as the community of those who respond to God’s call to fellowship with him. The Church is thus wider than the Roman Catholic Church, since all who call themselves Christians respond in some degree to God’s call.

This changed understanding has made it possible for Roman Catholics to begin dialogues with Methodists, Anglicans, Copts and other Christians, while at the local level Catholics now often work with members of other denominations.

According to Fr Michael, the ecumenical goal must be full communion of the churches, based on a shared understanding of God’s purposes for mankind. Anna Claar, by contrast, seemed to think Christian unity will always presuppose agreement to disagree about some issues. She thereby reveals herself a kindred spirit to her great compatriot, Erasmus of Rotterdam, a contemporary of Luther, who also viewed dogmatism as the enemy of unity.

A few questions and comments from the audience followed the two talks. While welcoming the change of heart in the Roman Catholic Church, several people expressed regret that the ecumenical movement has not yet progressed far enough to allow other Christians to receive communion in Roman Catholic churches. The evening ended with heart-felt applause from the audience, who had found the talks and discussion informative and thought-provoking.

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