In the present time of the COVID 19 pandemic, a message in honour of Reformation Day should try to remember the important role of ecumenism, when facing a grave crisis, such as the one we presently find ourselves in. But the question is, how can we present this issue as a message of faith, hope and love in the face of fear and isolation?
In our theological education we learnt that there are three types of sending a message by a sermon. These are called “Didactic Preaching”, “Proclamatory Preaching” and “Narrative Preaching”. Facing the current crisis, our own question would be: which type of message is the most suitable on Reformation Day for an Institute for Ecumenical Research?
On Reformation Day we usually look at Martin Luther. Our reformer had a dynamic view of the Word of God and an understanding of the Gospel as an oral creative word. Luther lays great stress on the fact that the Gospel is a “good message”, a voice which sounds into all the world and may be heard everywhere – even in times of isolation and crisis. He was himself “imprisoned” for a time in the Wartburg, hidden and isolated. But he nevertheless “proclaimed” the Word of God. This type of “message as proclamation” has a personal and individual character, but it also has social and corporate dimensions. The Gospel speaks to me personally and announces “You are justified!”, “You are righteous!”, “You are at peace with God!” But we know that God also seeks to create relationship in society, which has ecumenical implications.
(foto: Bishop Emeritus Christoph Klein)
In his thesis on the 31st of October, 1517, the date which became our Reformation Day, Luther proclaimed this good news. It was not a didactic message; only later was it supported by theology, which then divided the Lutherans from the official Roman Catholic Church. This is when the real theological differences began between Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox and other Christian churches. But nevertheless, we have this same common good message: “You are justified! You are at peace with God!” Therefore, may Reformation Day remind us that we need to go back to the main theological issues, which are common to all of us. And, starting from this foundation, we can then discuss more difficult doctrines, which appeared later – as brothers and sisters in Christ.
In Romania we have old common ecumenical traditions. Our reformer in Transylvania, Johannes Honterus (1498-1549), may be considered as an “early ecumenist”, who in his “Booklet about Reformation” informs the Transylvanians that in his town of Brasov there were early discussions between Lutherans and Orthodox people, coming from Moldavia and other Orthodox places, about the right doctrine, religious traditions and customs. Their aim was not to make proselytes, but rather, they were interested in learning from each other.
In this sense we can describe our present relations between the churches in Romania as an “Ecumenical Neighbourliness”, which goes back to the 16th century and has had, until our present day, an important role, especially in times of pandemic and other new challenges for society and church.
May God bless all our endeavours for ecumenical work and all future theological studies within our Institute for Ecumenical Research.
Bishop Emeritus Christoph Klein, Evangelical Church of Augustan Confession in Romania/Evangelische Kirche A.B.