The movement that began 500 years ago has transformed Christianity through the message of liberation by God's grace. And, Lutheran World Federation President Musa Panti Filibus writes, the Reformation has not ended.
The Reformation is a global citizen today. The movement that began in Wittenberg 500 years ago has traveled and continues to travel around the world, transforming communities through the message of liberation by God's grace.
The communion of 145 churches that make up the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a testimony to this global citizenship, bringing together more than 74 million Lutherans in 98 countries all over the world.
The Reformation came to some of these countries in the 16th century, when the message of Martin Luther and other reformers spread from Wittenberg. It arrived later in other countries, with pastors and missionaries, but also through migration.
As we observe how the LWF member churches are witness to the gospel in their contexts and cultures, we can only give thanks to God. It is inspiring to see how the LWF member churches have commemorated the Reformation anniversary, to listen to stories that encourage and inspire. Although distant from each other geographically, we are united in our Christian ministry and witness to the world.
Unity among Christians
For the first time in history we have commemorated the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability, for example through the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation in Lund, Sweden, on October 31, 2016, and a public event in Malmo.
The Joint Commemoration was a deliberate step to move away from the conflict that marked so much of our past, to open us up to the future into which God calls us. It has been a source of great joy to see how what we did together in Lund is being replicated all over the world: Lutherans and Catholics and other ecumenical partners are coming together to worship and jointly commemorate the Reformation, a recent example being a very inspiring commemoration of the 500th anniversary by the Lutheran Communion in Central and Western Africa jointly organized by the Lutheran Church in Liberia and the Roman Catholic Church.
There truly is more that unites us than separates us. We are bound together in common faith and calling to witness God's love in Christ in a very fragmented world. In the face of religiously motivated insurgency and persecution in Nigeria, the churches have continued to stand together ecumenically in common prayers, fellowship and mutual support at national, regional and state levels. And together the churches are called to be Christ's ambassadors for healing and reconciliation.
The Reformation continues
Last but not least, the Reformation has not ended. It is ongoing because God is alive and calling God's church to witness. Each of the member churches of the LWF is called to preach the gospel in its own context.
In Nigeria, for example, we are confronted by numerous challenges, including insurgency and religiously motivated violence. We see that especially in the north, where Christian churches have suffered most. Recently the level of hate speech, which is capable of igniting national unrest, has increased.
In the midst of this, we as churches are called to remain a source of hope. Churches have continued to jointly advocate for peace and justice. In prayers and endurance, they resist the temptation to allow these challenges to define who we are.
Religious insurgency hit the northeastern part of Nigeria, where we witnessed destruction of lives and property, particularly targeting churches, on a level unprecedented since the civil war in the 1970s. In the face of this insurgency, Lutheran congregations, together with allied churches, continue to reach out in love to those suffering by providing shelter and basic survival needs. We are much encouraged knowing that we are surrounded by sisters and brothers around the world who care and are praying for us.
We recall with gratitude the solidarity visit of the Lutheran World Federation in 2015, led by General Secretary Reverend Dr. Martin Junge. We were emboldened in our search for peaceful coexistence even in the midst of devastating experience. For us, the message of the Reformation is simple: Liberated by the grace of God and sustained by the Holy Spirit, we are called to a life of service and witness, of solidarity and compassion that all may have life in abundance.