Wittenberg is getting prepared for the October 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on the church door in 1517.
From Counter-Reformation to Co-Reformation
The highest representative of German Protestantism: Nikolaus Schneider, Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) met personally with Pope Francis to invite him to the anniversary. During this meeting, the Pope “underlined how important it is for him that we, as churches, walk together on the path of testifying the faith in this world.” Schneider said that the conversations with the Pope and the Vatican, contributed to build trust.1 Francis has not yet made the decision public whether he has accepted or not.
During the 1540s, a Counter-Reformation started by the Catholic Church in response to the Protestant Reformation. But the last decades are proving things have drastically changed.
“One could almost say that the Catholic Church has set out from the path of the Counter-Reformation onto that of the Co-Reformation.” says Gerhard Feige to Luther2017.de. He is a Catholic ecumenical officer Bishop, in Magdeburg, Germany.2
A reconciliation process started years ago between Catholics and Protestant Christians. Feige sees evidence for this to develop during the coming years.
“I would appreciate if this were not only happening in the leadership of the churches.” The article goes on to say: “But everybody must change and get on the move. It remains to be clarified how much unity is necessary.”2
The Luther Garden – A global ecumenical network
Another exciting preparation in Wittenberg is the “Luther Garden”, arranged by the Lutheran World Foundation and United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.
The goal is to have 500 trees planted – one for each year of reformation.
In the middle of the garden is a formation of the Luther Rose, which is the symbol of Luther’s faith and theology. Here are five trees, one in each petal. From there, seven paths symbolically lead out to the world. In this garden, are trees from every continent, planted by churches and denominations from all over the world, creating a global ecumenical network.6
Currently 230 trees from all over the world have been planted by different churches. Guess which tree is number one, found in the Luther Rose formation, in the middle of the park? – The Catholic Church! Following is the Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the World Methodist Council as number five.
A person responsible for Concept and Design of Luther Garden says in a project movie:
“I hope this garden will one day grow into a park. A park in which people can gather under the trees, a park that grows together, just as our Christian World Religion should grow together one day.”3
More Steps to Church Unity
In 2014 at a Charismatic Evangelical Leadership Conference hosted by Kenneth Copeland, Tony Palmer, an Anglican bishop said: “The protest is over,” and encouraged to unity with the Catholic Church. The audience of many charismatic Christian leaders seemed to embrace this message.
While some Protestant Churches have stopped protesting, what does the Catholic Church say?
On their website, vatican.va, there is an article called From Conflict to Communion, written together with Lutherans, talking about how they successfully shall unite.4
The Catholic Church and Lutheran Church signed a Joint declaration on the doctrine of justification, in 1999, and this is an attempt to narrow the theological divide between the two faiths.5
It is important to note that Luther did not only discover justification by faith, as the discussion seems to be about – there were 95 theses.
“The awareness is dawning on Lutherans and Catholics that the struggle of the sixteenth century is over. The reasons for mutually condemning each other’s faith have fallen by the wayside. Thus, Lutherans and Catholics identify five imperatives as they commemorate 2017 together.”
“In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church. This commemorative year presents us with two challenges: the purification and healing of memories, and the restoration of Christian unity in accordance with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:4–6).”
They also invite all Christians to study this report open-mindedly and critically, and to come along “the way to a deeper communion of all Christians.”4
It is clear that 2017 marks an interesting year for the Catholic Church. First of all the Catholics will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Secondly, it marks fifty years of Lutheran–Roman Catholic dialogue.4
The World has Started to Wonder…
Luther and many other reformers embraced the idea that the Papacy is the antichrist. Many Protestant denominations used to believe this. If you ask Christians today who the antichrist is, there is generally no clear meaning about it. The characteristics of antichrist found in the Bible, only fit one kingdom: The Papacy. (See Daniel 7 and Revelation 13.)
However, echoing through the ages should be the words of Martin Luther himself from the Diet of Worms:
“Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen.” The Great Controversy, 160.