April 2018 marks the five hundredth anniversary of the Heidelberg Disputation, where Martin Luther articulated the theological core of his reforms for the Christian church. He called it the “theology of the cross.” Most churches have commemorated the anniversary of the Reformation in October 2017, marking the date when Luther posted his “95 Theses” to protest the sale of indulgences. For Mennonites, however, the Heidelberg Disputation is the far more important document for understanding the development of our theological emphases.
To recall the importance of these ideas for the church, Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society will hold an evening program of lectures and song at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 6, Stumptown Mennonite Church, 2813 Stumptown Road, Bird in Hand, Pennsylvania.
In the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther identified what was wrong in the church as a “theology of glory.” Such a theology led people to respect what looked visibly impressive, and most damaging of all, to trust in their own accomplishments and ethics to obtain “glory.” In contrast, he claimed that true leaders of the church must be “theologians of the cross,” appreciating that God reveals himself through the “humility and shame of the cross.” Only when a person recognizes and honors God in his suffering and weakness can he experience how grace works and be saved. “It is certain,” Luther concluded, “that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.”
The program will explore Luther’s views of the priesthood with scholars of Reformation history and theology noting how early Anabaptists incorporated them into their own church life. Ann Thayer (Ph.D., Harvard), professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary, will discuss Lutheran reforms of preaching and worship. Rev. Adam Koontz (M.Div., Concordia), pastor at Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in Lititz, will compare Lutheran and Anabaptist understandings of the “priesthood of all believers.” Vincent Evener (Ph.D., Chicago), instructor at Union Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg, will examine early Lutheran and Anabaptist approaches to suffering. Hans Leaman (Ph.D., J.D., Yale), fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, in Göttingen, Germany, will discuss common experiences of exile among Lutherans and Anabaptists and the spiritual lessons they gleaned from forced migration. In addition, attendees will enjoy congregational singing of Lutheran hymns that have historically been important pieces of devotion among Anabaptists and Pietists.