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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Reformation observance

500th anniversary about positive contributions, not brokenness

Five years from this Oct. 31, a man dressed as a 16th-century monk will stride toward the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Surrounded by crowds, he will symbolically "nail" on the church door (made of heavy brass) a facsimile of Martin Luther's 95 Theses — propositions for theological debate — to observe the 500th anniversary of the event that began the Protestant Reformation and changed the world.

The ceremony in Wittenberg is the focal point for a wide-ranging series of events before and after that date which — in sometimes surprising ways — cast 21st-century eyes on the 16th-century dispute and search for 21st-century meanings to Luther's passionate and sometimes vicious challenge to church teachings. Most now believe Luther's challenge was properly directed and led to needed changes in the church, even though the schism that resulted is far from fully healed.

For that reason, it's being called an "observance," not a "celebration," said Donald McCoid, assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop and executive for ecumenical and interreligious relations. "We do not celebrate the brokenness of the church," he said, but the observance is a "time to go back and look at the positive contributions that were made at the time."


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