Studying Luther in Wittenberg 2016

For the eighth year running, Profs. Dieter and Wilson of the Institute taught the two-week Studying Luther in Wittenberg seminar this November. They were joined by twenty participants coming from Cameroon, Ethiopia, the Gambia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Poland, Rwanda, South Africa, Taiwan, Tanzania, the United States, and Zimbabwe.

The year’s special focus was “Studying Luther in Wittenberg, Teaching Luther Worldwide.” The participants were all teachers and professors at all levels, and the seminar gave them the opportunity to deepen and refine their understanding of Luther’s theology in order to communicate it more effectively in the classroom.

The course began with an examination of the 95 Theses, of special relevance since their 500th anniversary is next year. This gave a broader context for the whole historical development of the Reformation. The 95 Theses, however, represent only a beginning phase of Luther’s theology, not its mature statement. Therefore attention next turned to another disputation “On the Remission of Sins,” in which Luther’s Reformation breakthrough can be more properly seen. Luther’s famous early treatises followed: “Two Kinds of Righteousness” and “The Freedom of a Christian,” which present a clear portrait of Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith and the nature of the Christian life.

From there the focus shifted to the sacraments. First the group studied the selections on baptism and the Lord’s Supper from “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” Luther’s early major writing that challenged medieval sacramental practice and offered another view of the sacrament based on the promise-faith relationship. That in turn led to a review of challenges to Luther’s teaching, namely the Anabaptist practice of rebaptism and Zwingli’s memorial view of the Supper, and how Luther responded to them. Finally, the group reviewed the Small Catechism and discussed at length interpretive questions of sacramental practice in context.

The last portion of the seminar dealt with Luther’s ecclesiology and his understanding of temporal authority, including a review of the many widespread misunderstandings of this doctrine. As the seminar took place just days after the Lund service of commemoration of the Reformation in which Pope Francis participated, the participants learned about the process leading up to it in the ecumenical document “From Conflict to Communion” and watched the service of common prayer in Lund.

In between study sessions, participants had the chance to visit the many famous Luther sites: the Lutherhaus, the Melanchthonhaus, City Church, Castle Church, the newly built Panorama, the Wartburg, Erfurt, and Torgau. They met with various persons, such as the Lord Mayor of Wittenberg and Arni Danielsson as representative of the Lutheran World Federation. Very important for the participants was also a visit to two small congregations in the neighborhood of Wittenberg, sharing evening prayer and dinner with them and intense conversation. Each evening saw a dinner cooked in national style by one of the participants, always a delicious adventure. And, as always, none of it could have been possible without the great engagement of Rev. Hans Kasch, Director of the LWF Center, Rev. Joachim Zirkler, Tutor of Studies, and program assistant Annette Glaubig, together with the staff of the Colleg Wittenberg.

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