Strictly speaking, in 2017 we are not celebrating 500 years of the Reformation, but 500 years since the Reformation. And even more strictly speaking, not only 500 years, but much longer; in the late twelfth century a merchant in Lyon founded a community of religious laymen, the Waldensians, who insisted on reading the Bible for themselves. In the early thirteenth century Francis of Assisi and his consorts established the Franciscan order in the conviction that one’s faith should inform one’s way of life. And in the early fifteenth century the Council of Constance at least had internal Church reform on its agenda, invoking Christ as an authority instead of the Church hierarchy.
Reading the Bible for oneself, translating the Gospel into everyday life and only recognising Christ as the head of the Church – those are the central tenets of the Reformist faith. The fact that it there was repeated – and often bloody – conflict over its exact interpretation is part of the Reformist legacy. It was not just in Constance that heretics were burnt; the Reformers too punished dissenters. We argue about our faith, but with increasing awareness that no one individual “has” God’s word. But as a community we can and should read, pray, sing, deliberate and live with the faith in ourselves that comes from faith in God and with respect for those who hold different beliefs.
The anniversary of the Reformation is an opportunity to rediscover this faith in every one of its events and encounters. And to explain our faith in the language of our society and in the face of our problems. What does it mean to bear witness to the biblical God in a multireligious world? Was does it mean to preach the Gospel in a world of wars and millions of refugees? And what does it mean to follow solely Jesus Christ as the single word of God in a world of economic and political constraints?
This is our challenge – as Protestants together with the free churches and our Orthodox and Catholic brothers and sisters, fully aware of our difference and with faith in the one God who unites us all! Then the Reformation will travel through all the Churches, and in the next 500 years people will live this faith honestly and earnestly, cheerfully and serenely, independently and collectively.