I couldn’t let this anniversary pass without some reference here. It was on 31 October 1517 that Martin Luther is said to have published his protest against the abuses evident in the church of his day, the ‘Ninety-Five Theses’. Churches and ecumenical bodies around the world have been marking the anniversary this year, and some have issued statements, such as that from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Television, radio, and print media have all been delving into this epochal period of Western history. At a local level, I don’t suppose I am the only one to have taken the opportunity to preach a series of sermons on key Reformation themes, and to try to explain ‘how the (Western) churches got to be the way they are’.
And that highlights the point I want to make – that there is an ongoing need for education about the past, both our own past and that of others. Those of us who belong to churches which emerged as a result of those events half a millennium ago need to be alert to our own past, and how it shapes our present. Those whose churches did not undergo such a process of reform also need to know something of the Protestant past, just as Protestants have been encouraged to come to grips with the Orthodox past. Protestants (and Evangelicals among them) have a history.
And encounters between Orthodox and Protestants, or more particularly between Orthodox and Evangelicals, also have a history. During the Reformation era, Lutherans and Orthodox made contact. Evangelical mission workers encountered Orthodoxy in its home contexts, with varying results. A friend of mine who was a civil servant reckons that if we want to know where we should go from here, a good first step is to understand how we got to where we are. LOI’s goal is ‘to reflect constructively on the history of relationships between Orthodox and Evangelicals in order to work towards better understanding and healing where wounds exist’. Constructive reflection on the past with a view to setting our direction for the future seems an appropriate way of marking this anniversary. Please pray for LOI as we seek to encourage this – and get in touch to let us know how you are doing this.