Reformation Sunday – October 30, 2011
Zion Lutheran Church – Stratford
Romans 3: 19-28
John 8: 31-36
Healing Memories Reconciling in Christ
Steve: “Condemned are the Anabaptists!!”.
Kara: What else do a class of middle-aged seminary students do when they’re not researching, writing papers, or attending lectures? Well, what else???? They consume voluminous amounts of caffeine, they prank, poke fun, and they enjoy lively theological debate.
After a number of friendly “condemning” exchanges directed at me by my Lutheran classmates, I finally woke from my dreamland. “You mean to tell me your Augsburg Confession REALLY says that – “Condemned are the Anabaptists!!?? You’re REALLY learning this stuff in Dr. Bob’s Lutheran Confessions class!!??
Steve: It was fun to yell at Kara as she walked by our classroom, “Condemned are the Anabaptists. . . BUT the sober truth is……the Augsburg Confession, a foundational Lutheran text, supported by Martin Luther and written by Phillip Melanchthon continue to be upheld, taught, and studied by our Lutheran Church.
Kara: hmmmmm article 9, condemned are the Anabaptists!
Steve: Today is reformation Sunday a major festival in our Church calendar. 30 years ago, in 1980 when we the Lutheran church prepared to celebrate the 450th anniversary of our Augsburg Confession, representatives from the Mennonite church were invited to participate in the ecumenical festivities marking the event.
Kara: Mennonites however, aware that the Augsburg Confession explicitly condemns Anabaptists and our teachings, wondered WHETHER or HOW we could celebrate our own condemnation. Could we as a Mennonite Church who regard the Anabaptists of the 16th century as spiritual forbears, really find reason to celebrate with our ecumenical sisters and brothers?
Steve: Most Lutherans had little awareness of the condemnations of the Anabaptists, their persecution and marginalization, or of the ongoing memories of the painful history that is still alive among Mennonites today.
Lutheran leaders were deeply moved by the Mennonite response 30 years ago. They recognized more clearly than ever before, certain Lutheran failures in the Reformation. We were prompted to ask “How can we celebrate a history that wounded our sisters and brothers”?
In July 1980 the Executive Committee of the LWF adopted a “Statement on our confessions.” Included in the statements are these words…
“It is with sorrow that we recognize the fact that the specific condemnations of the Confession against certain opinions that we held at the time of the Reformation have caused pain and suffering for some. We realize that some of these opinions are no longer held in the same way in those churches, and we express our hope that the remaining differences may be overcome. We worship Jesus Christ who liberates and calls on our member churches to celebrate our common Lutheran heritage with a spirit both of gratitude and penitence.”
Kara: With a growing awareness of the condemnations against the Anabaptists and consequences of doctrinal conflicts, a new door, new opportunities opened for new, re-newed relationship between our traditions.
Official dialogue between Mennonites and Lutherans began in earnest in 1984 with the establishment of an International Study Commission. The commission, made up of leaders from the Lutheran World Federation and Mennonite World Conference, began the work of creating a process for dialogue between our traditions. It was their hoped that both of our traditions birthed during the Reformation, could move forward into a brighter future.
Steve: 30 years of dialogue, study, and prayerful discussion ensued. Last summer in Stuttgart Germany, in a solemn and powerful service of repentance, the LWF 11th Assembly, along with members of the Mennonite community, came together to reflect on the painful past that has caused division between Lutherans and Mennonites for hundreds of years. The order of service called worshippers to remember how Anabaptist Christians knew suffering and persecution, and how some of the most honoured Reformation leaders defended this persecution, in the name of faithfulness.
Bishop Mark Hanson, in the historic step of asking the Mennonites for forgiveness, asserts that the apology and the ongoing work of reconciliation is the most significant legacy that assembly of the LWF would leave. Delegates unanimously approved a statement calling Lutherans to express their regret and sorrow for past wrongdoings toward Anabaptists and asking for forgiveness.
Hanson described the act of repentance and reconciliation as “communion building and communion defining.” “We will not just look back,” Hanson said, “we will also look forward together to God’s promised future.
Kara: Mennonite World Conference President Danisa Ndlovu, presented Bishop Hanson with a foot-washing tub. Foot-washing is an important symbol in some of our Anabaptist-Mennonite churches. The tub presented was offered as sign of the Mennonite Church’s commitment to a future when the distinguishing mark of Lutheran and Anabaptist-Mennonite relationships is boundless love and unfailing service.
Steve: When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the Wittenenberg church doors in the fall of 1517, he set reforming wheels into motion. We know Luther didn’t set out to overthrow the existing church but rather critique medieval church doctrine and practice including, an abused church practice – the selling of indulgences.
Kara: Reforms birthed in Germany quickly spread and soon reached Zurich Switzerland. Ulrich Zwingli, who himself had been a Roman Catholic priest owed much to Luther’s reforms. By 1522, Zwingli was speaking the new language of the Reformation. He was preaching sermons that were expositions of Gospel texts and preaching against a number of medieval practices. Zwingli encouraged Bible reading for the laity and he initiated Bible Study groups.
His home Bible studies were wildly popular and attracted a following, including a group of bright young scholars – Conrad Grebel, Felix Mantz, George Blauroch. Zwingli’s students immersed themselves in God’s Word and were quickly struck by the absence of a biblical basis for a host of traditional late-medieval practices. Through diligent biblical study Zwingli’s students came to believe that one comes to faith through God’s Word and that the spiritual path to God is through repentance and spiritual regeneration.
They came to believe that water baptism is for the spiritually regenerated upon their confession of faith and commitment to follow Christ. They became convinced the Bible provides a model for adult baptism. According to their faith convictions they came to reject the church’s practice of infant baptism.
This group of young scholars grew restless and impatient with the speed of reform. They came to begrudge Zurich city Council’s involvement in church matters. In January of 1525 the Zurich City Council called a public meeting to address mounting religious controversies. The council ruled that children should continue to be baptized and parents who persist in refusal should be expelled from Zurich lands.
The bright young scholars were incredibly disappointed, so rather than accept the judgement of City Council, they took a bold leap of faith. This would become historically monumental. Within days of the Council’s decision a small group gathered at the home of Felix Mantz. After a prayer, George Blaurock stood up and commanded Conrad Grebel, “In the name of God baptise me with water for the forgiveness of sins. Blaurock then went on and re-baptized others at the meeting.
This monumental event marks the beginnings of my Anabaptist tradition.
Steve: News spread quickly about the re-baptism and soon the radicals were labelled – Anabaptists. “Ana- baptist” meaning re-baptizer. This was not meant to be a friendly term, it was derogatory and condemning.
According to the state re-baptizing was an invalid second baptism.
The radicals however insisted they were not re-baptizing, but receiving the only valid baptism there was. Soon the radicals were identified as enemies of the state. With fears of social unrest and political disruption. The reigning powers ruled that the Anabaptist movement needed to shut down. But shut down it would not be.
Kara: Anabaptists besides a commitment to adult baptism also held firmly to the deeply held conviction that the ways of Christ are non-violent resistance.
Early Anabaptists refused to renounce their faith. They refused to defend themselves with force in the face of persecution. Ultimately upwards of 3000 Anabaptists were put to death. Martyred for their faith.
The re-baptism movement began to grow. It emerged in a number of places across Europe including the Netherlands where Catholic Priest Menno Simmons resided. Menno Simmons adopted values of non-violence, peace, and separation of church and state………….His followers by the mid 1500’s became known as the “Menno-nites”.
Steve: The pain of separation between Lutherans and Mennonites “has been borne not only by us; it is a wound for the entire Body of Christ”. A separated judgemental church does nothing but harm the witness of Christ in the world. Christ came to tear down the walls that separate God`s people. Today Lutheran`s and Mennonites have much in common, but differences in emphasis, theological reasoning, and reference to the example of Jesus still exist. There is division in our traditions. Some of these differences were based on mistaken assumptions and judgements. There are still two basic theological differences between Mennonites and Lutherans. The first being baptism. According to the Lutheran understanding baptism, is an act of God, performed through human actions and words. It is a promise that God forgives ones sins and accepts a person into communion with God.
Kara: For the Mennonites the foremost biblical texts on baptism are Matthew 28:19, `Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” and Mark 16:16 “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved”. For my tradition, preaching and repentance must precede baptism. Only those who can make a conscious commitment to follow Christ should be baptized. Baptism is an outward sign that the believer has repented and been transformed by God’s grace and has voluntarily chosen to join the community of Christ’s disciples.
Steve: The second issue concerns civil affairs. Oaths, public office, and lethal force are issues that we disagree on based upon our reading of scripture and Jesus example.
Kara: Most Mennonites refuse to take an oath in court. Most refuse to serve in the military. Foundational for us is to uphold the path of non-violence.
Steve: Our traditions are aware of the gravity of the task of reconciliation. We are dealing with Holy histories. Yours and Ours.
Kara: We are dealing with the most basic self understandings. Yours and Ours.
Steve: For us Lutherans the witness of the Augsburg confession is foundational and authoritative an essential shaper of our identity.
Kara: For us the witness of our Anabaptist martyrs is a living and vital story, retold in our global community of churches to build our identity.
Steve: The truth is as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Church of Rome,
Kara: “all have sinned”
Steve: “all have sinned” and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Kara: The Lutherans are justified by grace through faith.
Steve: The Mennonites are justified by grace through faith.
Kara: We all are members of the body of Christ. We can still honour our individual holy histories and strengthen our identity. Surely, these things will happen best as we continue to walk together in the way of Jesus Christ our reconciler and the Source of common history and identity.
Steve: Both of our traditions have work to do. Reconciliation begins with repentance and forgiveness on both sides. Reconciliation continues with a commitment to transform our teaching and our relationship as members of one body under the direction of Christ. Lutheran’s must look at doctrine in a new light.
Kara: Mennonites can work at healing their memories of persecution.
Steve: Lutheran’s can continue to thank reformers such as Luther and Melancthon for their great contributions, while acknowledging that they shared some convictions of their contemporaries the Anabaptists that contradict the gospel.
Kara: Mennonites can recognize that Anabaptist caricatured their opponents in extreme language and even denounced them as anti-Christ.
Steve: The truth needs to be told, and it needs to be told with detail. Truth contains the seeds of future justice. Reconciliation is a long future directed process. Christ continues an invitation to each one of us. It is Christ who liberates us from all that binds and imprisons us. Christ is our foundation of love and through love we know truth and in God’s truth we are set free.
Kara: Jesus says to us, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
Both: This is the good news. Amen.