How should we commemorate Reformation Day?

Well, we’re Anglican, so it’s “politically incorrect” to do so (“Protestant” was removed from the official name of the Episcopal Church some time ago). But there was a time when I was a scholar of the History of Christianity in Early Modern Europe, so I have a soft spot in my heart for it still. Franklin Wilson from Luther Memorial Church will be preaching at Grace tomorrow and we’ll sing “Ein feste Burg.”

I’ve come across several pieces on the web probing the commemorations. Lutherans have mixed feelings. Craig Schnekloth wants to bury it; Scott Allan disagrees.

Diana Butler Bass urges Protestants to recover the heart of Protestantism, which she defines as:

The heart of Protestantism is the courage to challenge injustice and to give voice to those who have no voice.  Protestantism opened access for all people to experience God’s grace and God’s bounty, not only spiritually but actually.  The early Protestants believed that they were not only creating a new church, but they were creating a new world, one that would resemble more fully God’s desire for humanity.  The original Protestant impulse was to resist powers of worldly dominion and domination in favor of the power of God’s spirit to transform human hearts and society.

That’s a bit too rosy a picture of the Protestant legacy. Whatever protest was at the heart of the early Reformation movements (and remember, they weren’t called Protestants until 1529, twelve years after Luther posted the theses) was theological, not political. Protestants cozied up to power very quickly everywhere; the only exceptions were the Anabaptists, but most scholars agree that their conversion to pacifism was a survival strategy, not inherent in the movement from the beginning. The historical examples of Protestants actually leading protest movements, movements for justice and peace, are relatively rare in the 500-year history of Protestantism–abolition, temperance, civil rights. Much more common has been and continues to be Protestantism supporting the political and economic status quo, sometimes with horrific consequences (the Peasants’ War of 1524-1525; Southern American Christians’ defense of slavery, apartheid, the Nazi rise to power).

It’s fashionable for Anglicans to discount our Protestant heritage, but we should acknowledge the crucial Protestantism had; both in the early years of the English Reformation and in shaping the Anglican ethos in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.

If all that is too confusing as you plan your Reformation Day party, Killing the Buddha offers creative tips on how to commemorate the day.

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