Why Can’t Christians Get Along, 500 Years After the Reformation?

Source: The Atlantic

BY EMMA GREEN

Martin Luther left behind a rich legacy of protest and reform. But the global church still isn’t over the fractures he helped create.

Pope Francis greets the Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala, Antje Jackelén, during his 2016 visit to Sweden.
Pope Francis greets the Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala, Antje Jackelén, during his 2016 visit to Sweden.Max Rossi / Reuters / Katie Martin / The Atlantic
Elizabeth Eaton is in a bit of a bind. Exactly 500 years ago on October 31, Martin Luther allegedly nailed his famous “95 Theses” to the door of a German church, decrying the Catholic Church’s abusive sale of indulgences, or reprieves from punishment for sins. The monk’s dramatic declaration set in motion years of theological sparring and bloody wars. It also led to the flowering of Protestantism and its many distinct denominational traditions, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, over which Eaton presides as bishop.

The thing is, “that was not good for the church,” Eaton said, referring to the global body of Christian believers. The New Testament calls for followers of Jesus to be “completely one.” By Luther’s time, Christianity had been split from East to West as the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches parted ways. Within those traditions, dissidents had already formed a number of prominent sects. The Protestant Reformation catalyzed further breakdown.

“In the 16th century, we were killing each other over these issues,” Eaton said. Five centuries later, the ELCA and other churches around the world are marking Luther’s big moment. But “we are not celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation,” Eaton said. “We are observing it.”

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