This November, for the ninth year in a row, Prof. Theodor Dieter and Prof. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson of the Institute taught the annual two-week seminar “Studying Luther in Wittenberg” in cooperation with the LWF Center and much support from the German Lutheran churches. Of course, this year was a special one, marking the 500th anniversary of the Ninety-Five Theses and the beginning of the Reformation.
Participants arrived from all over the worl just days after forty thousand people gathered in the small town of Wittenberg to celebrate the anniversary. The countries represented this year were Angola, Botswana, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Jordan/the Holy Land, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, the United States, and Zimbabwe. The participants worked variously as vicars, pastors, and bishops.
The special theme for the year’s study was “Luther as Preacher and Teacher.” Following the first week’s usual focus on the Reformation breakthrough, the Ninety-Five Theses, justification by faith, and law and gospel, the second week studied examples of Luther’s writings for both students and parishioners. Of the former, the class took a look at his disputational method; of the latter, attention turned to Luther’s sermons, hymns, and especially his Large Catechism. Although it has often been remarked that Luther was not a systematic writer, he certainly was a consistent one, and across this wide variety of his texts the same core ideas and convictions came through again and again.
As always, the Seminar was more than classroom time alone. There were many visits to the Lutherhaus, the Melanchthonhaus, and the Town Hall, as well as occasions to converse with representatives of the German Lutheran churches and the Lutheran World Federation. Participants spent one evening with members of local churches in outlying villages. Over the course of several evenings participants also presented their home churches and prepared delicious local dishes.
Year after year we are amazed at the energy, commitment, intelligence, and passion of the participants at the seminar. We are also amazed at how lively Luther’s writings remain even five hundred years later, and how potently they speak to the situations we find ourselves in today, even across the globe. If this year’s participants are representative of world Lutheranism, we have good reason to hope for ongoing faithful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Lutheran churches during the next five hundred years!