From the 3rd to the 5th of May the Executive Committee of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria met at the Strasbourg Institute, comprised of 14 synodal representatives under the leadership of President Dr. Annekathrin Preidel. The Institute itself owes its beginnings to a special relationship with the Church in Bavaria: Bishop Dietzfelbinger was the crucial founding father of the Institute, his successor Bishop Hanselmann was for a long time a member of the board of the Lutheran Foundation for Interconfessional Research which operates the Institute, and Bp. Friedrich was a board member as well. Today Oberkirchenrat Martin represents the Bavarian Church to the Institute. As such, the Institute is profoundly grateful to the Bavarian Church for its gifts of vision, personnel, and finances. For this reason we were particularly happy to welcome the visit of the Synod.
After an introduction to the history and work of the Institute by Director Prof. Jennifer Wasmuth, Prof. Theodor Dieter took up the topic—at the request of the guests!—“The End of Lutheranism?” The question pertained to what “Lutheran” even means today, who can judge and distinguish among claims to be “Lutheran” and how such might take place, what sort of problems arise when comparing the difference between the Reformation situation and ours today, as well as matters such as the global spread of Lutheranism and the relationship of Lutherans to the Catholic Church. In response to the lecture a long, intense, open, and even self-critical discussion arose, which even continued the next day in smaller working groups. The talk stimulated the Synod representatives to look again at the process of reform within their own church and to ask what exactly is “Lutheran” about it and whether it is necessary to effect changes in this regard.
Prof. Stefan Dienstbeck gave the second lecture. He dealt with the theme of “Protestantism and Modernity,” addressing both critically and constructively the theory of history put forward by American scholar Brad Gregory in his book The Unintended Reformation. According to Gregory, the Reformation contributed essentially to the creation of modernity, which he views in frankly negative terms as unrestrained subjectivism, consumerism, loss of values, and loss of transcendence. This topic added further nuances to the question of what counts as “Lutheran” today.
On Saturday afternoon, the group took an excursion led by Prof. Dieter through Alsace to visit the Oberlin Museum in the small village of Waldersbach. Johann Friedrich Oberlin (1740-1826) served as pastor at the Lutheran church in Waldersbach for an astonishing 59 years! The museum superbly documents the extraordinary life work of Oberlin as pastor, pedagogue, social reformer, and economic reformer. On the way back to Strasbourg, the group stopped off to see the Romanesque church in Rosheim and heard Synod pastor Hohenberger give a talk on the Jewish luminary Josel von Rosheim, who in the first half of the sixteenth century was a respected advocate for Jews in the German territories.
On Sunday the group visited the beautiful church of St. Pierre-le-Jeune for a German worship service, complemented by a tour of the building, and then later a walk through the city ending with a visit to the St. Thomas Church.
In looking back on the visit, we rejoice again at the inspiring and stimulating atmosphere of the encounter and for the great interest of our Bavarian guests in the work of the Institute.