The 600th Anniversary of the Reformation!


Are you ready for the 600th anniversary of the Reformation? No, that’s not a typo. Yes, I realize that all year we’ve been commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. And we’re not done, as we continue our Reformation Sermon Series and book read-along throughout the month, culminating on Reformation Sunday, October 29. (Look for Reformation events and activities throughout this Messenger.)

But I have to confess that I’m still more interested in the 600th anniversary than the 500th. Or, perhaps to put it more bluntly, I’m concerned about whether there will even be a 600th anniversary of the Reformation. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center discovered that, 500 years after the Reformation, few Protestants – including Lutherans! – understand or affirm classic Reformation teachings including the belief that “faith alone” is enough to guarantee salvation and that the Bible is the primary authority in matters of faith.

Which brings me to the first of two primary reasons I wonder whether there will be enough Lutherans to warrant another celebration of the Reformation a century from now: how can we share a faith we do not know or understand? To address this question, we will be stressing not only faith formation among our Confirmands and youth, but across the congregation. We are in the middle of a sermon series on Luther’s theology now. In the spring, we will dive more deeply into our worship with another sermon series that opens up and explains the various parts of our Sunday services so we can understand, appreciate, and thereby get more out of our worship experience. And next year we will renew our study of Scripture by moving into a “narrative lectionary” on Sunday mornings that immerses us in the broad sweep of the biblical story rather than simply exposing us to isolated scenes.

There is, however, a second reason I wonder about whether there will be a 600th anniversary celebration of the Reformation: the emerging generation needs not simply to see that their parents and grandparents care about the church, they need to understand why. The longest research study ever conducted in the United States on the faith patterns of younger people discovered something rather surprising: the most important factor in a young person’s faith development is not the youth program, church camp, or youth pastor; rather, the most important factor is the number of adults who are willing to share their faith and tell a young person in their lives why faith and the church matter to them. Don’t get me wrong: Our youth groups, Sunday School, Confirmation, COP, staff, and pastors all matter a great deal – but they matter primarily because they create opportunities for relationships to be built across generations and for faith stories to be shared. Faith, as the saying goes, is caught, not simply taught.

Which means, once again, that we will focus not only on building these relationships in and through our wonderful youth groups, Sunday School, choirs, Confirmation, and camp, but also by equipping Christians of all ages to know, understand, appreciate, put to use, and be able to share their faith. This focus on faith formation across generations will increasingly shape our worship, music, preaching, and education and will prove influential in our pastoral searches and other personnel decisions. We are recipients of an incredibly rich treasure and inheritance, through the Reformation, of course, but even more in and through the gospel that the Reformation sought to elevate.

In addition to highlighting our renewed focus on faith formation, I want also to remind you of the importance of our Stewardship initiative to all of this. The pledges you make, the offerings you give – these make possible all we do inside our congregation and across the communities we serve. It is not too late to pledge and your decision to do so – or not – is simply crucial, as those decisions will determine the quality and caliber of the programs and opportunities we can offer. Thank you for your intentional, prayerful decisions about your financial support.
Luther’s theology has shaped my life in ways I can hardly describe, which is why the 500th anniversary means so much to me. But my kids – and the kids I see all over the Mount Olivet community – mean even more. Which is why I’m dedicated to shaping and leading a congregation that not only knows, but wants to share, its rich inheritance of grace and faith with the emerging generation. And if we can do that, then I am confident there will, indeed, be a 600th anniversary to celebrate!