Celebrations linked to the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s call for reform of the Christian church are an opportunity to show the importance and meaning of the Protestant Reformation to society today, says a senior German church official.

On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, nailed a list of demands for church reform on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. The gesture has come to symbolize demands for church reform throughout Europe that led to the creation of Protestant churches in the 16th century.  

“Churches today can use the celebration of Luther’s symbolic act to explain to secular audiences about the importance of freedom of expression and of freedom of faith,” says Martin Schindehütte, a bishop and vice-president for ecumenical relations of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). “We can celebrate our neighbor and advocate for justice.”

Schindehütte made his comments here recently during discussions with representatives of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The focus of the daylong series of meetings was to discuss plans for worldwide ecumenical activities in the years leading up to 2017.

The German delegation included Margot Kässmann, ambassador for the Reformation anniversary 2017 and Norbert Denecke, general secretary of LWF’s German National Committee.

Douwe Visser, head of WCRC’s theology and ecumenical relations programs, told the German delegation that celebrations in 2009 of the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Protestant Reformer John Calvin marked the beginning of a series of significant anniversaries linked to the development and spread of the Protestant Reformation throughout Europe and from there to the broader world.

Visser noted that understanding what the Bible has to say about today’s issues and about how Christians can act for social justice is central to WCRC’s program work and will form the focus of the communion’s activities in the years leading up to 2017.

Plans include a consultation by WCRC’s Network of Theologians in 2013 titled “Churches Beyond Differences” about how young Christians today do not see their different church origins to be a block to worshiping and working together.