500 years of Reformation: Putting the Gospel front and center

The International Congress on the 2017 Reformation Jubilees starts off in Zurich.
Gottfried Locher (FSPC) und Nikolaus Schneider (EKD). Photo: Gion Pfander.

Today, a festival service at the Great Minster in Zurich marked the start of an international congress for preparing the 500 Year Reformation Jubilee, which will be celebrated all over the world starting from 2017. Until Wednesday, roughly 240 participants from 35 countries and five continents will discuss the relevance of the Reformation for church and society and consult about the opportunities and perspectives of the Reformation Jubilee. The congress is co-organized by the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC) and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

At the press conference held before the congress started in Zurich this Sunday, FSPC Council President Gottfried Locher and EKD Council Chair Nikolaus Schneider reminded listeners about the growing sense of belonging together felt among the churches of the Reformation. The 1973 “Leuenberg Agreement” in particular strengthened their common bond through mutual recognition and Eucharistic fellowship. Accordingly, the Reformation Jubilee should celebrate the Gospel and put it front and center. “The Gospel is at the heart of it all! That is the message of the Reformation. A liberating and exhilarating message,“ Locher stated. “After centuries of mere coexistence and sometimes even antagonism, the Reformation churches today know that they are called upon and obliged to offer a communion of witness and service to the world,” Schneider added.

Locher and Schneider pointed out that this is the first time Protestant churches in Europe are coming together to celebrate the Reformation Jubilee. “The Jubilee has the potential of generating a lot of momentum,” Locher explained. Nikolaus Schneider emphasized that the communion of witness is all the more important in a world that is in danger of forgetting its own religious roots. “People today – so geared towards performance and success – need to hear a different sound, one that talks about God’s mercy. People today – so geared towards pursuing their own advantages and interests – need that other sound, the one talking about loving your neighbor.”

Locher introduced the congress’s motto as “Remembrance for the Future.” The event’s aim is to explore the status and significance of the Reformation message in Protestant churches and society today. “Can everybody understand the message, is it loud and clear? The Protestant churches do not celebrate themselves. The Reformation is about the renewal of the one church.” According to Locher, these are the central issues that should be addressed in the context of the Jubilee.

Schneider called the Reformation Jubilee a “missionary opportunity.” “We will be able to show that the Reformation churches have important messages for the world in the 21st century and can make an important contribution towards making our world livable in the future,” he stated.

The International Congress – this is a first – is co-organized by the FSPC and the EKD. The Zurich Protestant Reformed Church is hosting the event.

Choosing Zurich as a venue emphasizes the pluralistic character of the Reformation. Just like Wittenberg or Geneva, Zurich was one of the birth places of the Reformation. In addition to Martin Luther, Reformers such as Calvin, Zwingli or Knox played key parts in its inception. “It is not least thanks to them that Protestantism was able to spread beyond Northern Europe and become a significant force in world history,” Locher explained. Today, more than 200 million people all over the world can trace their faith back to the Reformation.

Numerous high-ranking representatives of churches and church organizations have confirmed their attendance, among them Rowan Williams, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury and thus the head of the Anglican Church until early 2013; Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Olaf Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches; and Margot Kässmann, the EKD Ambassador for the 2017 Reformation Jubilee.