On Reformation anniversary, Lutherans bridge divides with other faiths

500th anniversary of Reformation at Washington, D.C.’s Lutheran Church of the Reformation. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Five centuries to the day when German monk Martin Luther is said to have nailed 95 theses to a church door in Germany, leaders of the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. gathered to celebrate how they’ve bridged divides with Catholics and other faiths.

“It is good to be here on this day, the day when they said that Martin Luther posted the 95 theses,” said Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at a daylong program Tuesday (Oct. 31) at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill.

Though the program was jovial and festive — starting with an impromptu singing of “Jesus Loves Me”— it turned serious as it recalled divides with Catholics and later with Jews, Muslims and others.

Eaton and Catholic Bishop Denis J. Madden, co-chair of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, sat before some 300 people and spoke of the hopes for deeper relationships between their churches centuries after religious wars killed their ancestors.

Calling each other by their first names after years of working together, the two bishops acknowledged remaining differences over women’s ordination and Rome’s authority. But they described worship services and documents that have brought the faiths together even as their work remains unfinished — Catholics and Lutherans do not share the Eucharist, or Communion.

The “Looking Back and Called Forward” event was one of numerous ways Christians across the globe have marked the milestone – from pilgrimages retracing Luther’s steps in Germany to conferences, scholarly talks and hymn festivals featuring Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

On Tuesday, the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity issued a joint statement seeking greater cooperation.

“We recognize that while the past cannot be changed, its influence upon us today can be transformed to become a stimulus for growing communion, and a sign of hope for the world to overcome division and fragmentation,” the statement reads.

Madden, who is auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, noted that Eaton presented him with a porcelain chalice that he keeps on his desk as a sign of their possible future sharing of the Eucharist.

“I think in worshipping together and singing together, praying together – this shows that we are together,” Madden said. “We don’t have that full communion yet but we definitely are on the way.”

Over the course of the program, participants stood and joined in a litany of confession that repudiated “Luther’s anti-Judaic diatribes.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, responded emotionally to the act of repentance, saying, “I found that litany very moving.”

After a pause, he noted the severity of Luther’s words — suggesting the burning of synagogues and the dismembering of rabbis — but turned to the ways Jews and Lutherans have come to share values about inclusion, pluralism and a determination to meet pressing needs, such as helping refugees and children of immigrants who fear deportation.

“Together Lutherans and Jews will fight to protect and defend them,” he said to applause.

Pesner was followed by others who called Lutherans to do more to fight against anti-Muslim prejudice and racial division.

“We all need to act,” said Dr. Ayaz Virji of Dawson, Minn., a Muslim who has gone on a recent educational tour with the Rev. Amanda France, a Lutheran pastor in Bird Island, Minn., to foster understanding about Muslims. “We can’t just pray this away, although prayer is critical; we have to do what we have to do in our communities to make a difference.”

Bishop W. Darin Moore of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church urged Lutherans to get to know people who don’t look like them to address gaps in education, economic development and criminal justice.

“Imagine how impactful it would be if more of our members would make the drive across town to build meaningful relationships with one another with the same zeal as we make our mission trips around the world to build new churches,” said Moore.

Though differences remain, the Pew Research Center recently found that most Catholics and Protestants now agree they have more in common than not. In fact, more Protestants reported they believe salvation comes through a mix of faith and good works (52 percent) — the position traditionally held by Catholics — than through “faith alone” (46 percent). That belief — “sola fide” in Latin — is one of the backbones of Protestant Reformers’ beliefs.

The program also featured a Q&A discussion with Eaton and PBS host Rick Steves, who created a special timed to the Reformation anniversary. The daylong event concluded with a Communion service, during which Madden received a blessing.

At a break in the program, the Rev. Alfred Baca, executive director of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ office on ecumenical and interreligious affairs, said he thought it was wise for the Lutherans to take a broad approach to bridging divides.

“From the experience of the Catholic-Lutheran relationship, of where I’ll say the impossible can become possible … there’s hope in every other community, every other situation that sometimes seems very dark,” said Baca, who attended with several other USCCB staffers. “I took a lot of hope from this.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • Ahhhhh….isn’t that sweet……let’s hold hands and sing…..Kumbayah…….now let’s sing it together. We’ll worry about what Christ taught later.

  • Way down south in the land of cotton Lutherans Catholics and Jews are rotten go away, go away, go away from Sandi land.

  • got a good laugh out of that. Thank you.
    I don’t think Lutherans, Catholics and Jews are rotten though. You got that one wrong.
    I believe there are members of each of those denominations who may even be Christian – people who want to follow Christ, not the world.

  • Good deal. Given a choice I would rather that members of various faiths celebrate their shared humanity than continue their historic hatreds and abuses.

  • That is a pretty harsh thought towards a lot of people. Why do they go to all this trouble to not follow Christ do you think? Wouldn’t it just be easier to stay at home?

  • Lutheran are always taught to follow Christ and beware of false prophets such as the various TV evangelists, prosperity preachers, charlatans, etc..

  • And which Church is upholding all points of Christ? Those who think communion only reminds us of Christ? Adult baptism only? The prosperity preachers? Those who belief it is OK to support politicians who would not help the poor and the sick? The running water or the still water baptist? Those who don;t care about the environment?

  • homosexuality is a salvation issue george. Christ taught that a homosexual will not see the Kingdom of Heaven.
    Assemblies teaching that homosexuality is good, are denying the homosexuals the salvation of God.

  • Why do you confine Christ to the New Testament?

    – Read John 1:1 and Genesis 1:26 to provide the understanding that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.

    Deuteronomy 29: 22 And the next generation, your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, will say, when they see the afflictions of that land and the sicknesses with which the Lord has made it sick— 23 the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger and wrath— 24 all the nations will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’ 25 Then people will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt,

    Ephesians 5:5 – For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

    Ephesians 5:5For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not become partners with them; 8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.

    Matthew 5:17New King James Version (NKJV)

    17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

    18Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit fore him.” 19Now out of the ground the LORD God had formedf every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adamg there was not found a helper fit for him. 21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he madeh into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,

    “This at last is bone of my bones

    and flesh of my flesh;

    she shall be called Woman,

    because she was taken out of Man.”i

    24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

    Genesis 2:24 – Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. –

    Deuteronomy 25:5 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. (It is always male and female)

    Isaiah 3:9 – The look on their countenance witnesses against them,

    And they declare their sin as Sodom;

    They do not hide it.

    Woe to their soul!

    For they have brought evil upon themselves.

    Jeremiah 23:14English Standard Version (ESV)


    But in the prophets of Jerusalem

    I have seen a horrible thing:

    they commit adultery and walk in lies;

    they strengthen the hands of evildoers,

    so that no one turns from his evil;

    all of them have become like Sodom to me,

    and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”

    Leviticus 18:22 – 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.

    Leviticus 20:13 – If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.

    Matthew 19:4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

    Acts 15:19-20New International Version (NIV)

    19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

    1 Kings 14:24 New International Version (NIV)

    24 There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. – what do male prostitutes do? Abominations.

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11English Standard Version (ESV)

    9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

    1 Corinthians 6:18

    New International Version

    Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.

    1 Corinthians 7: 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.

    1 Corinthians 10:8English Standard Version (ESV)

    8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.


    Jude 1:7 – In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire

    Romans 7:7 – English Standard Version

    What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

    1 Timothy 1: 9-11 “ …. understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

    1 Corinthians 7 – Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.”

    Romans 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

    1 Corinthians 11:9 -neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

    1 Thessalonians 4:3-8New International Version (NIV)

    3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.[b] The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

    Galatians 5:19-21

    New International Version (NIV)

    19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    Ephesians 5:31

    New Living Translation (NLT)

    31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”

    Colossians 3:5

    New Living Translation (NLT)

    5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires.

    2 Peter 2:6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);

    Ephesians 5:24-25 New International Version (NIV)

    24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

    25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

    Ephesians 5:3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

    Matthew 15:19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.20 These are what defile you.

    Revelation 2:20 International Standard Version (ISV)

    20 But I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and who teaches and leads my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

    Revelation 21:8 ESV

    But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

    Revelation 22: 14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. 15 But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

    My favourite: 1 Corinthians 11:11New King James Version (NKJV) 11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.


    • A wicked act (Gen 19:7; Judges 19:23)

    • An abomination (Lev 18:22; Lev. 18:26; Lev. 18:27; Lev. 18:29; Lev. 18:30; Lev. 20:13)

    • Folly (Judges 19:23)

    • A vile act (Judges 19:24)

    • A vile affection (Rom 1:26)

    • An act against nature (Rom 1:26)

    • An abusive act (1 Cor 6:9)

    • A sin against one’s own body (1 Cor 6:18)

    • An act that defiles (Lev. 18:24; Lev. 18:25; Lev. 18:27; Lev. 18:28; Lev. 18:30; 1 Tim 1:9)

    • Those that practice it shall not inherit the Kingdom of God (I Cor 6:9-10; Jude 1:7; Jude 1:13; Rev. 21:8; Rev. 21:27)

    (many thanks to Adam in Christ for this excellent summary)