What, if anything, will you or your church do to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation? Churches celebrate Reformation Day on Oct. 31 or on the Sunday preceding it (Oct. 29 this year). Some clergy and laity may also join in ecumenical observances of the Protestant movement and the day it began.
Yes, we are not only United Methodist but also Christians with a shared Protestant heritage that began October 31, 1517, the day Martin Luther, a rebellious German Roman Catholic priest and professor, published 95 criticisms of the Catholic Church. He railed mostly against the practice of preachers selling indulgences, which were certificates bought to reduce believers’ temporal punishment for committed sins.
Luther famously nailed those 95 theses to church doors in Wittenberg. His actions ignited a schism in the Catholic Church that profoundly changed Europe. The quickly excommunicated priest taught that salvation and, consequently, eternal life are not earned by good deeds, but are received only as the free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, a foundational principle of our Christian faith.
Luther also translated the Bible from Latin into the German vernacular, making it more accessible to lay people. This event had a tremendous impact on both the church and German culture. Read more history about how he also influenced hymn-singing in church, marriage rights for clergy, and so on.
“Although he intended to reform Catholicism, not break it apart, Luther accomplished both,” reads one Wikipedia account. “On the 500th anniversary of his act of conscientious defiance, it is important to review how that moment changed the world religiously, economically, politically, socially, and intellectually. The upheaval stretched into every fabric of society, exceeding anything Martin Luther could anticipate.”
The United Methodist Council of Bishops (COB), in collaboration with the General Board of Church and Society, will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation’s birth with a special service on Oct. 25 in the Simpson Chapel at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.
With the theme “Reformation as Reconciliation,” the noontime service will feature ecumenical participants, including members of the United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Roman Catholic Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Bishop B. Michael Watson, COB Ecumenical Officer, will preach for the service, which will also include a baptismal remembrance celebration.
“As a body of believers born out of an ongoing movement for reformation and renewal, we Methodists should not let this moment pass by without marking its significance,” Bishop Watson said in a letter sent earlier to United Methodists. “I hope you will join me in remembering the events that sparked the Reformation with thanksgiving, repentance, and hope.”
In addition, “Celebrating One Baptism in Christ” is the theme of a major ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to be held in the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 19 S. 38th Street, (between Chestnut and Ludlow) on Sunday, Oct. 29, at 3 PM.
The Rev. Dr. Gordon Lathrop, Lutheran pastor and world-recognized author on Christian worship, and Rev. G. Dennis Gill, Rector of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia will be the homilists. Denominational leaders from Lutheran, Reformed, and other Protestant traditions will assist in the commemoration, to be sponsored by the Philadelphia Liturgical Institute.
This may be the only fully inclusive observance involving Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches. The purpose is to celebrate the one baptism in Christ that unites us, as we look to the future together as Christians of all traditions.
The service will include the rite of remembrance of baptism in which all present are invited to participate. A reception will follow. Free parking is available to attendees in the open lot across 38th Street from the entrance to the Cathedral. The entrance to the parking lot is on 39th Street between Market and Ludlow.