My Greatest Hope for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
What is my greatest hope for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation?
Like Lutherans everywhere, I look forward to 2017 and remembering the 16th-century Reformation with thanksgiving to the Lord of the church. I hope that Christians throughout Christendom will want to learn more about the Reformation and will want to read works by Luther. To that end, more than 40 new and forthcoming books are being published, many by CPH and Fortress, plus other publishers. The new Luther’s Works volumes, published by CPH, and the new Annotated Luther series by Fortress, an annotated edition of some of Luther’s key writings, look very well done. The more people read Luther, the better. Also, the new PBS movie on Luther looks excellent. It is great to see our Concordia Seminary Reformation historians (Kolb, Rosin, Arand, Robinson, Herrmann) involved in some of these projects. When there are attempts to spin Luther in various ways, we need responsible historians to help the general public understand Luther in a historically accurate way. Also, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s new Catechism revision (the committee includes my Seminary colleagues Chuck Arand and Tom Egger) will benefit the church and be a positive way to commemorate the anniversary.
With that being said, what is my greatest hope for the 500th anniversary? I hope that Lutherans throughout the world will once again put on the table what was originally proposed in the 16th-century Reformation, that the Augsburg Confession become the next ecumenical creed. The authors of the Formula of Concord regarded the Augsburg Confession as just such a statement when they speak of it as a “Christian creed, which (after the Word of God) should guide true Christians in this time, just as in earlier times Christian creeds and confessions were formulated in God’s church when major controversies broke out” (The Book of Concord, Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, see the Kolb-Wengert edition, p. 525). Even Joseph Ratzinger (later, Pope Benedict XVI) recognized this intention back in 1976:
“The researches of the past few years converge in understanding that the CA (Confessio Augustana) as the basic Lutheran confessional document was…drafted with inner conviction as a searching for evangelical catholicity—as a painstaking effort to filter the bubbling cauldron of the early Reformation movement in such a way that it might give it the shape of a catholic reform. Accordingly, efforts are under way to achieve a Catholic recognition of the CA or, more correctly, a recognition of the CA as catholic, and thereby to establish the catholicity of the churches of the CA…” (Joseph Ratzinger, “Prognosen für die Zukunft des Okumenismus,” Bausteine 17, no. 65 (1977): 10. See also The Role of the Augsburg Confession: Catholic and Lutheran Views [Fortress, 1980], p. 49.
When world-wide Christendom is paying attention to the Lutheran cause, what better time is there to renew this proposal? I doubt that we will receive such attention when the Augsburg Confession reaches its own 500th anniversary, in the year 2030. So let’s strike while the iron is hot. What the 16th-century Reformation can mean for the future can be simply summarized, that the Augsburg Confession become the next ecumenical creed throughout Christendom.
As I look at the present state of Christendom, I see an ecclesiastical smorgasbord of umpteen church bodies and denominations and non-denominational denominations, what has been called “Protestant tribalism.” The best gift that the Reformation can give to all of Christendom is not only the works of Martin Luther but even more, the Augsburg Confession. Let’s point to that when we have the attention of non-Lutherans.
A few weeks ago there was a deer in my neighbor’s backyard, a buck with a big rack. He heard noises. He looked left and right, left and right, but he could not locate the source of the sound. Then he looked up and saw a guy on my roof. I was cleaning out the gutters. He stared at me for a while, puzzled. Then he went about his business, no doubt muttering to himself, “Crazy neighbors.” Well, 2017 gives us Lutherans the opportunity to be not crazy neighbors but wise neighbors to non-Lutherans. Let’s draw their attention to the Augsburg Confession.