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Issue 3 number 5 March 2017
Lutherans Canon John Barton T The Editors
Andrew Colborne Alexandra Green Louise Heffernan Sheila Hills
Silvia Joinson David Pope
Copy for next issue to Parish Office or via email by 5th of
preceding month E-mail:
Parish Office: St Helen’s Court, Abingdon. OX14 5BS
Tel: 01235 520144
The Window is available to download from the
Churches’ websites on the back page
his year marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, sig- nalled when Martin Luther (1483-1546) posted ninety-five ‘theses’ about various corrupt practices in the Church on the door of the Castle Church in
the tiny German town of Wittenberg, on 31 October 1517. Thanks to the printing press, they soon ‘went viral’, and reforms began all over Europe. Luther was ex- communicated by the Pope, and went on to develop a distinctive kind of Church in much of northern Europe.
My theological work has taken me a lot to Germany, and also to Scandinavia, Ice- land, and Latvia, and in all those countries Protestant Christians are usually Lutheran (as opposed to Switzerland, Scotland, and The Netherlands, where they are more typically Calvinist). So I have worshipped frequently in Lutheran churches, and feel very much at home in them. Lutheran services, like those in the parish of Abingdon- on-Thames, are orderly and follow a set liturgy, though the sermons are longer! There is often wonderful music (J. S. Bach was a Lutheran), and Lutherans had no tradition of destroying art in churches, such as happened in England during our Reformation. Services are not particularly ‘low church’ in our terms, and in Scandi- navia clergy often wear vestments, though in Germany usually just a black Talar (a bit like a cassock).
What do Lutherans believe? For the most part, the same things as us: they recite the Creed every Sunday, just as we do. But everything is held within the framework of ‘justification by grace through faith’, the central Lutheran principle that insists on God’s initiative in our salvation. We don’t believe in God through Christ to earn our place in God’s love, but simply accept it through faith. So the items of belief, listed in the Creed, are not a set of tick-boxes we have to fill in before God will accept us, but are more like parts of a hymn celebrating what God has done for us. There are strains in Lutheranism that stress the human guilt from which we need saving—and produce the caricature of the gloomy Scandinavian; but in essence Lutheranism is a joyful faith, emphasizing our freedom as children of God, whom God loves even before we’ve done anything to deserve it.
Luther has never been a big influence in England, so you’d be hard put to it to find a Lutheran church here (there are a few in London, mainly serving ex-pats), though in Oxford a German Lutheran community borrows St Mary’s once a month for an af- ternoon service. Many Lutherans in England worship in Anglican churches, which they find congenial though a bit too prone to moralizing (because English Christiani- ty has not been quite so clear on justification through faith alone). But Anglicanism as we experience it in all three churches in Abingdon-on-Thames has evolved so as to be quite similar to Lutheranism in style and feel, and in its variety. When we think ecumenically Lutherans are not often in our minds; I hope that this year they will be.
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