The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther famously nailing his 95 Theses to the church door, which sparked the reformation, was the focus of an ecumenical panel held at Synod 2017.
The panel, introduced by Ecumenical Relations Committee secretary Rev Peter Weeks, was in two parts.
Lutheran Pastor Gordon Wegener, Catholic priest very reverend Denis Stanley and moderator-elect Rev Denise Liersch provided a short “taste” of their remarks to the general meeting of Synod before lunch on Tuesday.
The three then spoke at more length in an event room during the lunchbreak.
Mr Wegener noted that Catholic, Lutheran and other reformed churches were joining together to mark the 500th anniversary and this was remarkable progress.
“Fifty years ago this would not have happened,” Mr Wegener said.
He said that even for a Lutheran the 500th anniversary had presented a good opportunity to get to know Luther better.
Mr Wegener said Luther was “determined not to lose the centrality of the grace of God”.
As a consequence Luther democratised Christianity with each individual freed to find their own understanding of God’s grace rather than having it mediated from the position of power of a priest.
Another revolutionary aspect of Luther’s teaching was divorcing morality from religion because it was not about doing the right things to earn God’s favour.
Mr Wegener said God’s grace was more than just forgiveness for sin it was “unconditional love in response to one’s shame”.
God’s wholeness makes up for our failings and grace is about bringing new life to institutions and individuals, Mr Wegener said.
Fr Stanley said that the Catholic Church was commemorating but importantly, not celebrating, the 500th anniversary.
“There’s always an element of anguish in us for this,” he said.
The split and rancorous division among Christians was a source of sadness for Catholics.
Fr Stanley said that the Catholic Church was joining in the ecumenical commemoration is the fruit of many years of interfaith dialogue.
Fr Stanley pointed to Pope Francis having attended 500th anniversary services in Sweden with leaders of the Lutheran World Federation and Pope Benedict also writing about Luther’s great question of “How do I find a gracious God?”
Fr Stanley said the process was one of reception and learning, a movement to “identify the riches we offer each other as churches”.
He also thought that with the secular world taking some note of the anniversary “any publicity is good publicity”.
“We live in a world that has forgotten their Christian heritage,” Fr Stanley said.
Fr Stanley said that all Christians can look to Jesus.
“We need to walk together straight into the heart of the gospel,” Fr Stanley said.
Ms Liersch, who trained for Methodist ministry in Germany, has attended 500th anniversary events in Melbourne and in Wittenberg, where Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door.
“What would Luther be worried about in our church today?” Ms Liersch asked.
Ms Liersch said that the doors of Wittenberg Castle Church were no longer the wooden ones to which paper could be nailed but now have Luther’s 95 Theses engraved in bronze.
She wondered if this implied representation of objective truth, as implacably immoveable and static, captured Luther’s spirit of protest, which stressed that the church needed to be “constantly reformed”.
As part of this Ms Liersch said we needed to hear the voices of the unheard and move from individualism to a more communal life of relation with each other and all creation.
“What split us asunder needs to be reformed and healed,” she said.