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In memory of Martin Luther

By Bayo Ogunmupe
15 June 2016   |   4:30 am
The year 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Christian reform movement when Martin Luther nailed his theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany...
Martin Luther

Martin Luther

The year 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Christian reform movement when Martin Luther nailed his theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This Luther decade provides for celebration and reflection.

Wittenberg is a sleepy middle-size town on the borders of Saxony and Brandenburg. Located on one of Germany’s longest rivers – Elbe, Wittenberg has a proud history. There is no shortage of testimonies to the Renaissance in Wittenberg. The reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546) is inseparably linked with Wittenberg, which is why we should really refer to it as Lutherstadt. But they don’t call it so because people think: why all the fuss about a renegade monk called Luther?

Yet at the moment, it looks all this is gradually changing. Luther, who has always lived on the hearts of Protestants, is being brought closer to other inhabitants of the town and its surroundings. Not least because so many tourists, especially from abroad and overseas go there in search of Martin Luther’s trail. After all, the Luther monuments in Saxony-Anhult have been under UNESCO protection as part of the world heritage since 1996. Luther tourism is certainly an economic factor, not only in Wittenberg, but also in Wittenberg’s sister, Eisleben, in Mansfelder district, where Luther was born and also died.

It was at Eisleben that the person the Roman Church outlawed as Junker Jorg lived in hiding, and in 1521 and 1522, worked on his German translation of the Bible. This was a momentous act, of which there can be no doubt. For many people, the Book of Books is as topical as ever. Sadly in Eastern Germany where, during more than 40 years of communist rule, the citizens had their faith driven out of them. Indeed, to a degree the communists succeeded something that the Christian churches of all denominations unanimously lament.

So the imminent jubilee of the Reformation is coming just at the right time. For this jubilee, the Evangelical church in Germany has instituted a position for a prelate, which was filled by the theologian, Stephen Dorgerloh. The Luther Decade refers to the period up to 2017 the year that will mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s legendary nailing of his theses to the door of Wittenberg Church.

In those 95 theses, Luther denounced the Roman Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences. He criticised the conditions that prevailed at the time with pertinent references to the Bible.

The posting of the theses took place on October 31, 1517. Therefore the October 31 is Reformation Day, which is a public holiday in the Protestant central German states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

Holidays are always welcome everywhere; but what does Reformation mean? What does it mean in Nigeria today? For the lack of the study of history Religion, Reformation or Protestantism do not appear to mean much to the Christian Nigerian.

Luther’s nailing of the theses to the door of a Wittenberg Church unleashed a movement that has left its mark all over the world. The Reformation not only influenced the church, theology and philosophy, it also influenced music, the arts, business and social life. It also influenced language and the law. The 500th anniversary of the publication of Luther’s theses will be on October 31, 2017 in Wittenberg. In order to celebrate this jubilee, the Evangelical Church in Germany has conceived the Luther Decade, during which the broad range of the themes raised by the Reformation will be dealt with in what they termed The Theme years and links will be made to historical and commemorative years.

The Theme for 2011 was Reformation and Liberation and it was engaged as a phase of upheaval that led to a democratic state under the rule of law. The Reformation jubilee also entails numerous international links, which is why the German Foreign Office and the Ministry of Education will be active within the framework of German Culture and Educational policy. They will activate various projects during the Luther Decade.

One highlight in March 2011 was an international symposium in the Luther City of Wittenberg. The event debated the question: How free are human beings? It examined Reformation’s influence on reform movements around the world, and the development of democratic civil society.

But the debate on the current meaning of Reformation got going only very slowly. Yet the consequences of the work of Luther and his friend, the theologian Philipp Melanchthon can be felt everywhere. It established the freedom of religion and freedom to hold opinion without interference. Reformation also developed the German language and thought. It also unleashed upheavals extending from the Enlightenment to 20th century modernism.

Nevertheless, it took much time before Luther’s protest against medieval restrictions and impositions was seen in the context of emancipation and liberation and subsequently as something contemporary and timely. It was only lately that it was accepted as an event worthy of our attention, celebration and subsidised with state funds.

Meanwhile, however, things are really moving: a pilgrim path follows Luther’s trail through central Germany. Theme years and events are being organised to structure the anniversary, up to and including the major celebrations. In 2011, the government of the state of Magdeburg spent millions of Euros among other things for the refurbishment of Wittenberg Castle. Thus for the 2017 celebration much more is being expected.

With the anniversary barely a year from now, it will be heart-warming to witness a celebration of Luther, the Christian reformer by Nigerian Protestants.