The Holy See Press Office has announced that Pope Francis will travel to Lund, Sweden, on October 31 to take part in a joint Lutheran-Catholic ceremony commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther made his 95 Theses public on October 31, 1517. The commemorative year begins a year earlier in Lund, the city where the Lutheran World Federation was founded.
“The LWF is approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of
ecumenical accountability,” says Martin Junge, the Lutheran World
Federation’s general secretary. “I’m carried by the profound conviction
that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics,
we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn
apart by conflict and violence.”
“By concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God
and on a Christocentric approach, Lutherans and Catholics will have the
possibility of an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not
simply in a pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the
crucified and resurrected Christ,” said Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of
the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
“The ecumenical situation in our part of the world is unique and
interesting,” added Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, a convert
from Lutheranism to Catholicism who grew up in Lund. “I hope that this
meeting will help us look to the future so that we can be witnesses of
Jesus Christ and His Gospel in our secularized world.”
Well, now, won't that be cozy! The anti-Christ and the Lutherans least sure they believe in Christ are going to have a party! Okay, snark off. Really, though, who is advising Francis? It is all well and good that the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (I will omit the word Protestant because it no longer is a word descriptive of the Church of the Augsburg Confession) will bring papal and Lutheran representatives together. Wouldn't it be grand if the breach were repaired! If Rome declared Augustana a Catholic confession and Lutherans actually agreed to abide by their confessions, could anyone hope for more (unless it be that both were actually serious in all that this would entail)? But the place for this to begin is not with the churches of the Lutheran World Federation!
The LWF has become a global Lutheran communion of those who take least seriously the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. They have gladly abandoned the Lutheran hallmarks of justification by grace through faith, the infallibility of Scripture, the apostolic ministry, and the morality of sexuality and family. In fact, the dilution of the Lutheran brand has become so serious that African Lutherans are rushing to reconsider and even abandon their once solid relationships with their liberal Lutheran cousins in Europe and America. If the Pope wants to talk to Lutherans, why not try talking with those who still hold and heed the voice of Luther and the orthodox Lutheran dogmaticians. For one, there might actually be more commonality between these confessional types and Rome on many areas of substance (ordination of women, the acceptance of GLBT lifestyle and ministers, the creeds and their affirmation of Virgin Birth and historical resurrection... among other things. Oh, sure, there would be some unpleasant areas of discord to be dealt with but rather to be honest about disagreement than to paper over the greatest event in history as if it really did not mean all that much.
So Francis, why not go to the international confessional Lutherans and visit St. Louis instead of Lund. Benedict might have understood this but I fear Francis and his advisers do not. Instead what we will end up with is a photo op that points to all that is wrong with both Rome and Wittenberg instead of a substantive and honest discussion over the issues that gave birth to the Reformation.
BTW I loved the last line: witnesses of
Jesus Christ and His Gospel in our secularized world... When the churches embrace the secular world's skepticism of faith, hesitance about Scripture, departure from the historic, Judeo-Christian morality of sex and the shape of the family, and place human reason and insight over dogma, the faith becomes a sham and the witness is merely a mirror reflecting back to the secular world its own tarnished light. Francis and the Lutherans ought to do better -- 500th Anniversary or not!