500 years on clergy conference explores the impact of the Reformation

Two hundred and fifty clergy from across the Diocese of Leeds have been exploring the impact of the Reformation, just days before the 500th anniversary of the events which had a major impact on the church.  In the course of the annual clergy study day at Wakefield Cathedral, they were also introduced to a life sized Playmobile figure of Martin Luther and a glossy magazine on the Reformation which is selling in its thousands.

To coincide with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation on October 31st 2017, the Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines invited Dr. Charlotte Methuen, Professor of Church History at the University of from Glasgow, and Silke Römhild (pictured left) former Press Officer for the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) to address the annual clergy study day and explore the ongoing impact of the Reformation.

Reformation Day, October 31st , is a public holiday in several protestant Christian countries and is traditionally held to be the day German monk Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, beginning the tumultuous split between catholics and protestants across the world. The conference at Wakefield heard that, in Germany, celebrations of the Reformation have lasted a decade from 2008 to 2018, and that many Germans, whether religious or not are fascinated by the subject.

Silke Römhild, one of the conferences keynote speakers, is pictured (top left) with magazine that she produced, Reformation – the magazine, which is now available on newsstands throughout Germany.  The magazine contains articles and high quality glossy photographs on a variety of topics for general readers including new monasticism, the reformation across the world, the Christian faith and even reformation recipes. To date 80,000 copies of the 200 page magazine have been sold.

“We set out to make a high-end, glossy magazine to raise the interest of a wider public, “ said Silke Römhild, “so that people randomly browsing the newspapers could suddenly find something about God, without it being embarrassing.” 

Explaining the choice of the reformation as the theme for the day, Bishop Nick Baines said “Looking back over where the church of England has come from, to see who and how we are now is very instructive for us and  makes us think about what we are doing when we minister today. We are unique – we are a ‘reformed –catholic’ church …we hold together a huge breadth of theology, theological emphasis and ecclesiastical preference and that must be a witness to the world, even though it creates a certain amount of tension.”

The conference welcomed Dr Charlotte Methuen (pictured left) to speak, one of the diocese’s Canon Theologians who is an authority on the Reformation.  She led the morning asking whether the theological questions which drove the Reformation are still influencing us 500 years later.

Her lecture, interspersed with time for discussion, looked at four major themes of Luther’s Reformation.

Firstly the issue of faith and grace, the practice of Indulgences -the idea that people could buy their way into heaven by paying money to the church- and Luther’s conviction that God’s gift of salvation is a free gift of grace.   

Secondly she explored the theology of the mass, which Luther called the Lord’s Supper and the question which divided reformers – whether Christ’s body is physically present in the Eucharistic bread. 

The third area the conference explored was Scripture, and Luther’s belief that all authority in the church must come from scripture – which should be read be all people in their own language.. 

Fourthly came the question of the divisions and ‘confessional differences’ which fractured the unity of the church. Dr Methuen challenged that view: “In fact, long before the Reformation, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches had disagreed about their understanding of Christ’s relationship to the Father and the Spirit, and before that the church of East had divided over other Christological questions.”   

 

“Living the Reformation in the Church of England today”a synopsis of the two main talks of the Clergy Study Day

Professor Charlotte Methuen - Living the Reformation in the C of E today

Charlotte asked whether the theological questions which drove the Reformation are still influencing us 500 years later.

Luther wrote 95 theses against the idea that people could buy their way into heaven by paying money to the church.  Out of this protest grew his conviction that God’s gift of salvation is a free gift of grace. But from that, Luther also began to believe that only God could decide who is saved – the doctrine of election, sometimes call predestination.  But what do we believe about faith, grace and salvation today?

Luther’s ideas led him to revise his theology of the mass, which he called the Lord’s Supper and we might call the Eucharist.  Protestants split when Luther and Zwingli could not agree on whether Christ’s body is physically present in the eucharistic bread.  England’s Book of Common Prayer shows how the English church tried not to split over these questions.  Cranmer offers a moving testimony to his experience of encountering Christ in the Eucharist: in it “we dwell in Christ and Christ in us, we be one with Christ, and Christ with us.”

Luther’s theology was rooted in his belief that all authority in the church must come from scripture.  Some of his concerns about the theology he had been taught came from his realisation that these ideas were based on the Vulgate’s translation of Greek words which the humanists understood differently.  He realised that knowing the original language could help people to read scripture differently, but he also believed that his translation of the bible into German would show them its proper meaning.  So he encouraged people to read scripture for themselves.  This raises a key question:  when people disagree about what a text says, how do we decide who is right?

All of this led to the development of confessional differences.  The Reformation is often seen as having brought the sin of fractured unity into the church. In fact, long before the Reformation, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches had disagreed about their understanding of Christ’s relationship to the Father and the Spirit, and before that the church of East had divided over other Christological questions.  But the Reformation also helps us to recognise the variety of gifts preserved, practiced and taught by the different confessions.  Gifts which we need to accept from each other, for they help us to understand better the mystery of God.

To find out more of Charlotte Methuen’s perspective on the Reformation, read her book, ‘Luther and Calvin: Religious Revolutionaries’ (Lion Hudson).

Silke Römhild –  How to tell a familiar story with freshness and imagination

Silke began by showing a photo of the magazine she created for the Martin Luther anniversary. It’s on a train station’s newsstand, next to Cosmopolitan, Vogue and the German version of National Geographic.  (Their normal bi-monthly product is a pretty dry looking theological journal.)

Silke said “I’d been working on the Reformation for months, so I was a little jaded with it. But many weren’t even aware of it. So how do you stay motivated and keep your own imagination fresh, so that you really want to tell people?

To tell your story you need to get the attention of your audience first – that’s a bit of a challenge when you’re dealing with a 16th century monk.

Throughout Germany a  Playmobil toy figure of Luther had surprisingly been a huge hit. So I asked the company to give me one of their life size figures and it became one of the highlights of the Kirchentag.  So that began to capture attention.  (Pictured left. Bishop Nick meets 'Luthi' at the Kirchentag earlier this year)

In Germany we have 82.2 million people. 22.2 million belong to the Protestant church, 23.7 million to the Roman Catholic church and people with ‘no confession’ are about 29.6 million. 

Today people are often embarrassed to talk about religion, but they’re not embarrassed to talk about (positive) historical events. So as Martin Luther is an important part of German heritage (even with a decline in religious observance), we thought we could benefit from this historical interest in Martin Luther by combining it with the message of the Gospel.

We set out to make a high-end, glossy magazine to raise the interest of a wider public - so that people randomly browsing the newspapers could suddenly find something about God, without it being embarrassing.

Of course, you need to achieve a balance between being entertaining to gain attention and saying what you really want to say.

We gathered that our target audience would be mainly female, so we looked for popular topics and found a way to connect them to Martin Luther. For example, a story about a monastery and the pious women living there today; a travel story (what it feels like to be a Lutheran in Africa today); a personality story (an  interview with a manager who says ‘I would love to believe, but I can’t’), even some recipes from the time of Martin Luther. And, right in the middle, an evangelistic course.

We have sold about 80,000 copies. If only a quarter are people who have no connection to church, we have reached 20,000 people that we normally don’t reach.

We planned for the magazine to be at the newsstands for three months but the news dealers keep asking us for longer, so now it has been in the shops for a whole year.”

Silke summarized by saying that in communicating the good news Christians need have confidence in their story and not to assume Christian content won’t sell in a secular context. “Products just need to look and read as professionally as other products on display”.

Scroll to Top