[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have called on Christians to repent of the divisions between churches. In a joint statement issued to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the two primates of the Church of England, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, reflect on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. They say that while it directly contributed to “great blessings” felt by many Christians, it also caused “lasting damage . . . to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love.”
They say: “Those turbulent years saw Christian people pitted against each other, such that many suffered persecution and even death at the hands of others claiming to know the same Lord. A legacy of mistrust and competition would then accompany the astonishing global spread of Christianity in the centuries that followed.”
Archbishops Justin and John continue: “Remembering the Reformation should bring us back to what the Reformers wanted to put at the centre of every person’s life, which is a simple trust in Jesus Christ. This year is a time to renew our faith in Christ and in Him alone. With this confidence we shall then be ready to ask hard questions about those things in our lives and the life of our churches that get in the way of sharing and celebrating faith in Him.
“Remembering the Reformation should also lead us to repent of our part in perpetuating divisions. Such repentance needs to be linked to action aimed at reaching out to other churches and strengthening relationships with them. This anniversary year will provide many opportunities to do just that, beginning with this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
“We therefore call on all Christians to seek to be renewed and united in the truth of the gospel of Christ through our participation in the Reformation anniversary, to repent of divisions, and, held together in Him, to be a blessing to the world in obedience to Jesus Christ.”
Last year, in a move that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago, Pope Francis took part in a joint service and celebration in Lund and Malmö, in Sweden, with leaders of the Lutheran communion of churches. That event kick-started a year of commemorations of the Reformation which will culminate in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther nailed his 95-Theses on the door of Castle Church on 31 October 1517.
Ahead of the event in Sweden, a Church of England spokesman described the Reformation anniversary as “a landmark event with particular significance for many of our close friends, including the Evangelische Kirke Deutschland (Evangelical Church in Germany), Lutheran churches who are members with us of the Porvoo Communion of Churches and the Lutheran Council of Great Britain.”
The spokesman said: “We look forward to affirming our growing mutual understanding and cooperation together in God’s mission. It will also be an important opportunity to reflect on the continuing divisions between churches that are part of the legacy of the Reformation period, and to raise awareness of the vital place of religion in shaping the history of our nation.”
Last April, the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting in Lusaka, encouraged Anglicans across the Communion to “be a part of the commemorations by joining in shared services, undertaking study with Lutherans and other ecumenical partners, and engaging with them in mission activities.” The ACC also recommended that Anglicans engage with the Lutheran World Federation’s focus: Liberated by God’s Grace.