Amid ceremonies this year marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, one of Protestantism’s leading branches has officially said it now agrees with the Vatican on the main issue at the root of its split from the Roman Catholic Church half a millennium ago.
All was apparently going fine until Micha Brumlik, a retired Frankfurt University education professor and respected Jewish commentator, wrote last June that the popular toy was “anti-Jewish, if not even anti-Semitic.”
The problem, he said, was the inscription on the open pages of the Bible that the Playmobil Luther holds. On the left is written in German: “Books of the Old Testament. END,” while the right page says “The New Testament, translated by Doctor Martin Luther.”
Tackling a delicate issue, as it begins its yearlong celebration of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, Germany’s main Protestant church has officially renounced its mission to convert Jews to Christianity.
In practice, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), made up of 20 regional Lutheran, Reformed, and United churches, mostly gave up efforts to convert Jews in the decades after the Holocaust, and closing that chapter should have been a formality.
Some Protestant churches mark the day as Reformation Sunday, and celebrate it on the Sunday just before, or just after, Oct. 31. More often than not, the hymns sung in church that day include “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” with words and music composed by Luther himself. But most members of Lutheran churches — the direct descendants of Luther’s movement — wait until Oct. 31. And that, as we know, is also Halloween, and has led to some creative celebrations for kids.
On Monday, Oct. 31, in Sweden, Pope Francis will take part in an ecumenical service commemorating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th year.
It is stunning to think the start of this momentous anniversary features a visit from the Roman pope.
And it raises a question: Does the Reformation still matter?
When I was ordained as a "Minister of Word and Sacrament" in the Reformed Church in America, a denomination that began in 1628, I imagined that I was being ordained to a church that was "reformed and always reforming!" (Emphasis mine).
Reformata et semper reformanda was a theme of the Reformation, which Martin Luther kicked off on Oct. 31, 1517 when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to front door of Castle Church of Wittenberg, Germany.
But rather than reviewing history from a half-millennia ago, let me explain what I hoped for 22 years ago, when I was ordained.