Throughout 2017, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Reformed churches worldwide have been commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, celebrating the day in late October 1517 when Martin Luther unknowingly spurred a radical movement by posting his 95 theses at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
A small group of Presbyterians have traveled to Leipzig, Germany to begin a Reformation study tour, developed by the Presbyterian Foundation and the Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS). The study tour runs October 3—15.
The tour is designed to guide participants along the footsteps of the leaders who sparked the Protestant Reformation and to explore the circumstances that led Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin and other reformers to call the Roman Catholic Church’s practices into question.
Participants will also examine how the consequences of the Reformation Movement—be they positive or negative—have led to the state of Reformed churches today and contemplate what it means to be reformed now and in future generations.
The Reverend Dr. Tom Taylor, president and CEO of the Foundation, began planning the Reformation study tour in early 2017 and soon learned that PHS was considering a similar opportunity for PHS friends and members.
PHS Executive Director the Reverend Dr. Beth Hessel, said the partnership with the Presbyterian Foundation was a natural choice, “It was a great opportunity for organizations that are both concerned about faith development, faithful stewardship and connecting people with our history and tradition to go together.”
The tour’s timeliness goes beyond celebrating the 500-year milestone. The Reverend Dr. Joseph Small, theologian and church relations consultant for the Foundation, said that the reformers of the sixteenth century “were all dealing with fundamental issues of faith.”
Small developed the tour’s daily study sessions to challenge participants to address these issues in the context of the 21st century church. “The church we experience today is a consequence of what happened 500 years ago,” Small explained. “We can't understand the shape of our faith today unless we know what they were objecting to and the positive proposals they made.”
The struggles the reformers faced as they worked together and, at times, against one another, Small added, are a testament to what it means to be “the church reformed and always to be reformed in accord with the word of God.”
The study sessions will also include conversations with the Reverend Odair Mateus, director of faith and order commission of the World Council of Churches; the Reverend Serge Fornerod, Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches’ director of external relations; the Reverend Dr. Margit Ernst, theologian and World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) General Council theological coordinator; and Francoise Demole, honorary president of the International Museum of the Reformation Foundation.
The study tour’s journey will traverse the cities and towns across Germany and Switzerland that laid the foundation of the Reformed movement, including Wittenberg, Erfurt, and Augsburg in Germany, and Wildhaus, Zürich, and Geneva in Switzerland.
Resources for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation produced by PHS, the Foundation and the Presbyterian Mission Agency: