Lutherans Launch Celebration toward Reformation's 500th Year

( [email protected] ) Sep 24, 2008 08:02 AM EDT

Lutherans in Germany and around the world have begun a decade of celebrations, honoring an Augustinian monk who helped spark the Protestant Reformation.

In the years leading up to 2017, Christians will celebrate Martin Luther's legacy while also fostering dialogue with people of other faiths and deep theological conversation.

The "Luther Decade" kicked off in Wittenberg, Germany, on Saturday, which marked 500 years since Luther moved to the city. There he would later post in 1517 his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg's Castle Church, attacking the Roman Catholic Church's selling of indulgences and ultimately catalyzing the beginning of the Reformation.

"The Luther Decade is very important for Lutherans throughout the world because what began in Germany is clearly now a global movement," said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, who heads the 68 million-member Lutheran World Federation, on Sunday.

Hanson pointed to the challenges Lutherans and other Christians face today, including the prosperity gospel – a highly criticized theology that teaches wealth is a sign of God's blessing – religious extremism and the growth of fundamentalism.

The head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, told the German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine, that Protestantism would do well to return to the faith of Martin Luther, who "would have been deeply averse to all of today’s liberal tendencies."

Meanwhile, Hanson also highlighted the importance of interfaith dialogue.

"We also must be attentive in this decade to how we live as Christians with people of other faiths," Hanson said, according to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America News Service. "This is a time for us to engage in dialogue so that extremists of any religion don't dominate the world or don't become the only face of people who are religious to the world."

In addition to dialogue, the next 10 years was presented as an opportunity to talk about theology – "about how we can bring people in contact with the gospel, discover why we are Lutheran today and what it means to be Lutheran in the globalized world," said Prelate Stephan Dorgerloh, director, Evangelical Church in Germany Wittenberg Center, as reported by the ELCA News Service.

Over the next decade, exhibitions, lectures, concerts and other "Reformation Jubilee" events will be held up until the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. A Luther Decade website has been set up to provide more information about the events as well as background on Luther and the latest developments in the debate about the 95 theses being nailed.

The launch of Luther Decade comes ahead of the opening of the international Calvin Year, or "Calvin 09," by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches in Geneva on Nov. 2.