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A Journey to the Heart of the Reformation

News--Justin Wittenberg

For two weeks in the middle of May, I was honored to join several other ACNA clergy and lay leaders in Wittenberg, Germany, to study in the same university halls which once held the likes of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon. This two-week course of study in the Wittenberg Center for Reformation Studies was a key component of the Anderson Trane Fellows program, a new fellowship created by the American Anglican Council (AAC) designed to train future leaders in the ACNA by “enhancing the fellows’ seminary studies and providing them with opportunities to pastorally apply their fellowship training in the churches and other mission contexts in which they serve.” With one of the goals being “to build a network of future colleagues and connect them with willing mentors who will resource them into their future,” fellows represent dioceses across the ACNA.

So why Wittenberg, Germany? Well, the state of the Church today is not altogether dissimilar from the state of the Church 500 years ago. As we face moral confusion and doctrinal heterodoxy now, there are many lessons to be drawn from the past, especially from the Reformation, which saw similar problems in the Church’s life. The aim was that by exploring the origins of the Protestant Reformation in general, and the English Reformation in particular, we would glean important principles that would inform the Anglican Church today and in the years ahead.

Our first week was devoted to studying the Wittenberg Reformation with renowned Lutheran scholar Dr. Andreas Stegmann. While we spent most of our time in a classroom in the university, we also explored the town for an immersive learning experience. Our dormitories overlooked the Luther House and monastery where Luther spent the majority of his life. Our lodging was also directly across the street from where Luther burned the papal bull, which condemned him as a heretic in 1520. Just a short walk to the other end of the town (less than a mile) led us to the Castle Church, where Luther posted his 95 Theses and sparked the Reformation. We were blessed to study firsthand the history and theology of the Wittenberg Reformation––its medieval context, its central figures like Luther, Erasmus and Melanchthon, and its unique contributions to the Church (how it sought to reform the Catholic Church by placing the Bible as the supreme authority and establishing the centrality of the doctrine of justification by faith).

The second week focused on the English Reformation with Dr. Ashley Null, a renowned English Reformation scholar. What we learned was that, in many ways, the Reformation origins of Anglicanism owed a tremendous debt to the Wittenberg Reformation under Luther. However, Reformation in England took its own unique shape. It was much slower and more tempered than what happened on the continent. Dr. Null argued that Anglicanism in the 16th century was not a via media between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Reformation; instead it was a via media between the Reformations that took place in Geneva under John Calvin and Wittenberg under Luther. Thus the English Reformation resulted in a thoroughly Protestant Church in England, but one that blended Calvinistic doctrines of soteriology and sacramentology with the affective piety of the Lutheran tradition.

As wonderful as the opportunity to study under great professors was, the highlight of the trip for me was building relationships with my Anglican fellows. We were able to take a couple days between weeks to explore Germany together and bond even more. I pray that these relationships will not only be a blessing to me in my future ministry, but perhaps even a blessing to the Anglican Church in the years ahead, in whatever capacity the Lord desires.

View pictures from Justin's journey