WITTENBERG REPORT: The Reformation at 500

Volume 12, No. 10  (October 2017)

I apologize that Worship Notes for October is so late; after taking part in World Reformed Fellowship’s conference “The Global Impact of the Reformation and its Relevance for Continuing Reformation” in Wittenberg, Germany, I continued on to Singapore for a non-stop week of teaching there. I would like to now share some reflections on my time in Wittenberg and on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

our church’s October teaching series
the “Wittenberg Door” a man in our church made for display in our foyer: on it we posted quotes a facsimile of the 95 Theses, various historical summaries about the Reformation, and quotations from Martin Luther.

Reformation remembrances were in full swing when I arrived in Wittenberg on October 24. Posters and signs were everywhere, and many tour groups. “All Luther, all the time!”

Commercial interests were also taking full advantage of the opportunity. Amusing was the Luther-shaped pasta; definitely on the silly end of the spectrum were the “Luther socks” that bore his famous words, “Here I stand; I can do no other.” I also saw a street musician doing a jazzy rendition of “A Mighty Fortress” on his saxophone!

Arriving a day before the beginning of the conference in order to adjust to the time change, I had time to walk through town and visit the historically significant sites: Luther’s and Philip Melancthon’s homes, the old university, and of course Castle Church, where Luther is said to have nailed his 95 Theses on the door.

High on the church tower are emblazoned in large letters the words “Ein’ Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott”—“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The sight never fails to move me: I have seen it twice before.

In 1985 I was on a missions trip in then-Communist East Germany, and got to visit the town of Wittenberg and see Castle Church and the Door. Across the street from that church in a little park there was a monument consisting of a Russian tank, a grim symbol of the Soviet Union’s military and political stranglehold on that country at that time.

About ten years later, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the liberation of East Germany, I got to visit Wittenberg again. I was immediately struck by the fact that the Russian tank was no longer there, a stirring reminder of the fleeting nature of the world’s kingdoms and empires. However, the church was still there, with its message of “Ein’ Feste Burg”—indeed, “His Kingdom is forever”!

On the other side of the church was an entrance with glass doors. On each of the two doors was engraved a quotation of Luther, intended to inspire those entering the sanctuary:

“It should always happen in this house of God that the Lord speaks to us through His holy Word, and that we then speak to Him with our prayers and songs of praise.”

Luther’s testimony to the Revelation-Response pattern of worship! (See Worship Notes 1.5)

I was honored to have been invited to the conference to present a workshop entitled “Biblical and Reformational Perspectives on the Christology of Worship,” which seemed to be well received. Though I only got to attend half of the conference before I needed to move on to Singapore, I also got to hear some great plenary addresses: Michael Horton on “The Relevance of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Today” and D. A. Carson on ““Sola Scriptura Then and Now: Until Everything Is Accomplished.” There were also talks on the present state of the Islamic faith (i.e., in crisis), on the Scottish Reformation, and the need for the Church to be semper reformanda (always reforming).

One interesting insight shared at the conference was the different ways people have been appropriating the Luther phenomenon from their own vantage points. While many groups have been rightly focused on the remarkable courage of Luther and the other Reformers in standing up for the biblical teaching on justification and the apostolic gospel in the face of incredible civil and religious obstacles, there have been other points of view floating through the 500th celebration. There have been some dialogues between Lutherans and Catholics; the reforms of Vatican II in the Catholic Church have opened the way for more peaceful coexistence between Catholics and Protestants, though of course there are still some profound theological and soteriological differences between them.Some have merely hailed Luther as a “revolutionary” who stood up heroically to established authority. And one German pastor went so far as to remark that “Luther showed us that you can believe whatever you want”!!

(When I was in Ukraine last fall, I learned that the national government there had proclaimed 2017 as the “Year of Luther.” Why a predominantly Orthodox country would do so is a mystery to me, but the evangelicals there were thrilled!)

There was to be a big festival at Castle Church on October 31 itself, which was to be televised nationwide. I’m sorry I had to miss that!

All of us believers owe a profound debt to the Reformers, whom God used to restore the biblical gospel to the Church—that gospel that we have believed unto salvation. Soli Deo Gloria!


Other issues of Worship Notes on the Reformation:

2.10    Reformation Sunday: It’s Not Just for Lutherans

5.8      The Reformation of Worship

12.8    Celebrating Reformation 500: What, Why, How

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