Anniversary is an opportunity to reconsider history and change thinking
December 16, 2017
As Presbyterians commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation two prominent Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) theologians say it is an opportunity for the church to reconsider history — and how it tells the story of the past 500 years.
The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell and the Rev. Dr. Charles Wiley believe that while the Reformation divided us, we are now witnessing a convergence of the traditions that were separated. They say this presents an opportunity to focus on the gifts we have received from each other and to celebrate what we share.
For the past five years, Gambrell participated in the eighth round of Roman Catholic-Reformed dialogue in the United States (2012–2017). This dialogue built on the work of previous rounds — especially the 2013 Mutual Recognition of Baptism that came out of the seventh round.
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Campbell, pastor at Highland Presbyterian Church, Louisville, and the Most Rev. Tod Brown, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Orange, served as co-chairs of the eighth round of dialogue.
“We were seeking consensus around historically divisive issues,” says Gambrell, “asking questions like ‘Who can be ordained? Can we recognize each other’s ordination? Who oversees ministry? What is the relationship between bishops and presbyteries?’”
Gambrell points out that the acknowledgment of each other’s ordination already happens, informally. When there is a crisis in the community, Reformed and Catholic leaders get together and figure out how to best serve their communities — which participants lauded as something to build on. “Instead of continuing to fight the battles of the 16th century, we have a chance to change our way of thinking,” says Gambrell, “to reconsider the gifts we’ve received from one another.”
The gifts of Protestants and Catholics were on display at a recent ecumenical prayer service commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at the University of Notre Dame. Wiley was one of the co-presiders at the Nov. 5 service.
Being invited to commemorate the Reformation at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart was “an incredibly generous act by a Roman Catholic bishop,” says Wiley. “This event would have been unthinkable decades ago, let alone centuries ago.”
According to Wiley, the service celebrated the gifts of the Reformation and acknowledged its sin on behalf of all the participants.
In the Rite of Repentance, he shared these words:
As this commemoration brings joy and gratitude to expression, so must it also allow room for all Christians to experience the pain over failures and trespasses, guilt and sin in the persons and events that are being remembered. The gospel was mixed with the political and economic interests of those in power. Failures resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Families were torn apart, people imprisoned and tortured, wars fought and faith misused. Human beings suffered and the credibility of the gospel was undermined with consequences that still impact us today. And so, let us ask God for mercy and forgiveness.
Wiley sees Luther as a valuable and important reformer of the whole Western church. But he believes that during the protest Protestants also left behind gifts.
“We are the poorer for doing so,” he says. “Reformation 500 gives us an opportunity to treasure the good that we bring to each other.”
Paul Seebeck, Mission Communications Strategist, Video and Digital Asset Management, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Reformation 500
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious Lord, open our eyes and hearts to see your mission in the world, and give us discernment and courage to participate in ways that bring glory to your name. Amen.