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Reconcile the Reformation and build Church Unity

By Cian Molloy - 09 October, 2017


In a sermon about Church Unity at the Church of Ireland’s Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, the Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, suggested three ways in which we can ‘Reconcile the Reformation’.

The Archbishop was participating in an event marking the 500th anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 theses in Wittenburg, Germany. That protest against the misuse of the granting of indulgences is what gives Protestantism its name today.

“However, the Christian churches have more in common with one another than they have differences between them,” said Archbishop Martin, who quoted from the recent joint declaration issued by His Holiness, Pope Francis, and the President of the World Lutheran Federation, Bishop Munib Yunan.

The quoted section of that joint declaration reads: “We lament before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the Church. Theological differences were accompanied by prejudice and conflicts, and religion was instrumentalised for political ends. Our common faith in Jesus Christ and our baptism demand of us a daily conversion, by which we cast off the historical disagreements and conflicts that impede the ministry of reconciliation. While the past cannot be changed, what is remembered and how it is remembered can be transformed”.

Responding to that call for daily conversion, Archbishop Martin presented three ways of bridging the differences between the Christian denominations or, as he said, ‘reconciling the reformation’.

“Firstly, I want to emphasise the importance of personal friendship and trust,” he said. “This trust is founded on the reality that what unites us is so much greater than what divides us.  We share the conviction that ‘God loved us first’, with His free gift of grace and merciful love, and before any human response that we might have given.  Sometimes we underplay the extent of agreement that exists across our traditions on key doctrinal issues, including the core issue of justification, which triggered so much of the polemic and mutual condemnations of the Reformation period.”

The Archbishop said there was no denying the differences between the churches: “However, changing the paradigm from disagreement and difference to one of friendship and trust, frees up our theologians to debate and clarify the areas of difference that merit deeper understanding and dialogue.”

The second bridge offered by the Archbishop was that of ‘a shared encounter with Christ in the sacred scriptures and in prayer’.  “Saint Jerome was convinced that ‘ignorance of the scriptures is also ignorance of Christ’,” Dr Martin said.  “During the period surrounding Luther’s reformation, Christians rediscovered the centrality of God’s Word in the life and mission of the Church. We cannot however allow the Word of God to remain shut up within us, or resort to individualism in our interpretation of it.  Jesus’ moving prayer to the Father: “that they may be one, so that the world may believe”(Jn 17:21) promises us that as we grow closer to Christ in his Word and in prayer, we draw closer to each other.  Our shared immersion in the Word inspires us to prayer and onwards to a merciful outreach towards the poor and marginalised.”

The Archbishop’s third suggestion for ‘Reconciling the Reformation’ on the island of Ireland was for all Christians here to strengthen their witness to wider society. “The role of religion and faith in Irish society, north and south, has clearly changed dramatically, influenced by the process of secularisation and evidenced by a steady decline in Church attendance and in vocations to ministry,” he said.  “More and more people are now living their lives without any reference to God or to religious belief.

“It is in this environment that all of us as members of Christian traditions are being called to courageously go out of ourselves’ to engage in mission.  Our wounded world needs so much to be healed and enlightened by the Gospel, and we are all called to be prophetic in shining the light and truth of the Gospel into some of the trickiest and most sensitive issues of our time.

“I am convinced that in the midst of an increasingly secular world, we in the various Christian traditions are called to combine our efforts out of our ‘certain hope’ for the world.  We therefore present to public discourse our consistent Christian conviction about the sacredness of all human life and the dignity of the person, about the centrality of the family, about solidarity and the need for a fair distribution of goods in the world, about a society that is marked by peace, justice and care for all, especially the most vulnerable.

“We people of faith, in the various Christian traditions on the island of Ireland, share the responsibility of leading the way in transforming relationships and in healing the legacy and pain of our troubled past.”


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