22.06.17 | News

Deeply Rooted Together in the Gospel and the Reformation

The EMS Mission Council will plant a tree in the Luther Garden during its upcoming meeting in Wittenberg
EMS Mission Council

In December 2016, the Mission Council met in South Africa - the next session will take place in Wittenberg, Germany. (Photo: EMS/Lohnes)

All 28 members of the EMS churches and societies take a retrospective view of the Reformation. This goes without saying in Germany since Wittenberg, Strasbourg, Zurich and Geneva are not very far apart. The many instances of the Reformation which took place at local level are part of the history of every region in Germany.

But what do the Presbyterian Church in Ghana, the National Evangelical Church in Beirut, the Church of South India or the United Church of Christ in Japan have to do with the Reformation? As the Reformation ideas spread throughout the whole of Europe 500 years ago, there were either no Christians in those countries or else Protestant ideas had not yet reached their shores at that time. When they look back, many churches in Africa, the Middle East and in Asia speak of the first missionaries who came from England, Holland, the USA or Germany, but not of Luther or Calvin. The word of the Gospel, which states that humankind is considered righteous before God by His grace alone and through Christ, but not through his own actions, came to them through mission.

The commemoration of the Reformation this year has encouraged many churches overseas to trace their history back even further. The Evangelical missionaries brought with them their understanding of the Bible based on their Reformation thinking, i.e. the guiding principle of the faith is "by Scripture alone". In most cases, the Evangelical mission makes a distinct departure from established religious concepts in that you should give honour to "Christ alone". Humankind can only grasp God's great grace "by faith alone". In the year 2017, many overseas churches have again realised that the main Protestant principles from the 16th century were only attained in the face of fierce resistance before missionaries then passed them on 200 or 300 years later.

There, the fundamental Protestant views fell on fertile soil. Many German groups who visit their partner churches in Indonesia, Korea or South Africa will discover that the people there beat them hands down when it comes to knowledge of the Bible. They will be amazed at the fervour which young people show when they speak of their faith. And they will be stunned when many of the European ideas of "Interfaith Dialogue" are met with dismay - should we not rather proclaim "by Christ alone"?

The Reformation issues have remained fresh within the international fellowship of the EMS since it is now the "young churches" which perceive Protestantism in the German churches (among others) as relatively blurred. On the other hand, many Germans are surprised at Biblical explanations where they would prefer to argue on the basis of common reason.

The 17 members of the international executive board of the EMS will now join together to plant a tree in the Luther Garden in Wittenberg under the passage taken from the Epistle to the Galatians, Chapter 6, Verse 2: "Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ." Together we are borne by the Gospel; together we look back at the Reformation from different perspectives; and together we wish to proclaim the Good News to the world.

J├╝rgen Reichel

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