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Lutherans seek greater unity ahead of 2017 observance

October 4, 2011

NAIROBI, Kenya

Lutherans are exploring strengthening ties among member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation approaches in 2017, theologians and leaders said.

A six-day international conference held in Nairobi from Sept. 9 to 14 on contemporary Bible interpretation was the first in a series of biblical consultations seeking to promote unity in the 70 million-member worldwide communion ahead of 2017.

 

Five hundred years before, German monk Martin Luther published his “95 Theses” in Wittenberg, Germany -- criticisms of Catholic Church practices that inspired the growth of Protestantism, including establishment of the Lutheran Church.

“For us now, the challenge is to ask what we have in common as the Lutheran community. Lutheranism is no longer a northern European Church. There are members who live in continents all around the world,” the Rev. Craig Koester, a professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, told ENInews in Nairobi.

The conference was attended by 35 participants from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.

Lutherans understand the Reformation as a period during which the Bible became a book for every Christian, said the Rev. Kenneth Mtata, study secretary for Lutheran theology and practice at the LWF. “We want to make sure this important element is not lost,” he said in an interview.

In Africa, Asia and Latin America, where religion and development such as the building of hospital and schools were connected, society is asking about the place of Christianity. “With all the oppressive structures in Africa, the people are asking whether the message of the Bible provides answers that transform society,” said Mtata, who is from Zimbabwe.

The Rev. Monica Melanchthon, a professor at Gurukul Lutheran College and Research Institute in India, said Lutheran theology had not sufficiently addressed the issues of violence, state despotism, land and poverty and suffering in the global south.

“We are talking about people who do not have one meal a day ... security ... access to legal aid ... access to medication. How can you ignore people in those situations?” she said.

The conference also addressed differences among interpretations of the Bible. “Our context invites us to offer Lutheran alternatives to the fundamentalist and Biblicist readings of Scripture, a reality which is present in many of our member churches and their congregations.” said the conference’s final statement.

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