It’s 500 years (31 October 1517) since Martin Luther published his 95 theses by reputedly nailing them to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church in Germany.
With this gesture he intended to begin a debate aimed at reforming the Catholic Church by correcting misunderstandings of doctrine and abolishing abuses in church practice.
He could never have imagined that his action would be picked up by strong personalities and diverse agendas forcing Luther into a painful break with the church within which he had committed his life to Christ.
Luther’s publication of the 95 points for debate is today marked as the beginning moment of the Reformation.
Tensions and divisions are an inevitable reality in every gathering of people.
Human history is communicated by recounting the ups and downs of family and community members. So too the history of the followers of Jesus Christ is a story of passions and prejudices, battles and break-ups, along with many inspiring moments of reconciliation and healing.
Many Christian denominations that remember 31 October 1517 as a significant beginning day, today acknowledge that Martin Luther’s well-intentioned desire to challenge corruption in the Catholic Church from his inside position as an Augustinian monk, was unfortunately hijacked by others who brought their own complex agendas cornering Luther into an avoidable break with the Catholic church.
sadness not celebration
Most Christians will not celebrate this anniversary but rather mark it with a significant sadness since Jesus prayed that his followers would live as one. Today Christians are rightly challenged by divisions that too often become obstacles and counter-signs to the unity that is a first fruit for those who live (as Christians profess to) in relationship with Jesus Christ.
This 500th anniversary is naturally a time of trying to sort out the what and the why of what happened back then. This milestone has resulted in many words examining the facts and the personalities, often apportioning praise and blame unhelpfully labelling the chief protagonists as either goodies or baddies.
reform is still needed
There was much in the Catholic Church that needed reforming at the time of Martin Luther. The same is true today in every Christian denomination as vulnerable and imperfect people seek to live the life offered by Jesus Christ.
There are many hopeful signs here in in Aotearoa New Zealand that Christians who seek the unity that has been lost appreciate that this communion is not simply recovered by abandoning denominational differences or compromising our convictions. Unity between Christians will come through the kind of open friendship and honest and robust dialogue that exists in Aotearoa New Zealand between church leaders and parishioners of many denominations.
May this significant anniversary inspire all Christians to continue the good work that is evident in our own country between Christians, and may God continue to bring us to greater unity and fulfilment.
NZ Anglican Archbishop David Moxon
recently concluded a term as the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome