It’s a quincentennial! Join us in Adult Forum as we take the next four weeks to explore and commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on the chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517. We will look back and discuss the religious, cultural and political revolution that we call the Protestant Reformation. Each Sunday, beginning October 29 and running through November 19, we will review a different aspect or phase of the Reformation and trace its impact and meaning for us as contemporary Christians. It’s a chance to look at multiple perspectives and discern how God’s people struggled through a period of turmoil and terror that was, paradoxically, a time of spiritual reform and rebirth for many in the Church. We’ll take this opportunity to re-examine the Reformation and its long-term legacy for Western Christianity.
October 29 — Church Reform: Was 1517 Really the Beginning?
In this session of Adult Forum, we set the stage for the events of the Protestant Reformation. We’ll look at Europe in the late Medieval period and the role of the Catholic Church and the Papacy in the religious, political and social lives of people at all levels of society. We’ll review some of the Church doctrines and practices that led to reform efforts, as well as the stresses and strains of war, political rivalry and the Black Death of 1348 on society and the church. And we’ll explore the earlier church reform movements and leaders such as the Waldensians, John Wycliffe and the English Lollards, and Jan Hus and the Bohemian Unitas Fratrum, as well as the development of Humanism in the church that was embodied in the views of Erasmus. We’ll discuss what all of these movements sought, what they achieved, how they were alike, and how the Church responded to them.
November 5 — Martin Luther and the Reformation in Germany
During this Sunday’s Adult Forum, we will focus on the life and religious views of Martin Luther and what led him to call for the reform of Church doctrines and practices. We’ll look at the effects of the growing number of classical texts and early church documents that became available in the early 1500s, as well as the role of the newly invented printing press in spreading vernacular-language Bibles and other religious literature. We will explore some of the practices and doctrines of the Church that had grown up over time, such as the concept of purgatory, the creation of chantries and the selling of indulgences. How did Luther see these practices, and what was his reaction to them? We’ll also look at the political setting of Germany in the Renaissance period, examining the role that German princes played in supporting and defending Luther and other reform-minded clerics — or opposing them. We’ll ask a core question: Was the Protestant-Catholic schism inevitable, and what led the parties to grow more divided rather than more united over reform?
November 12 — The Reformation Beyond Germany: A Broader and Deeper Reform Movement
As Adult Form continues its reflection on the quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation, this Sunday we will explore how the reform movement spread quickly beyond its Lutheran home base. We will review the movement in Zurich, Switzerland, led by Zwingli, and its development into a distinct branch of Reformed Protestant churches. We will look at the contributions of Reformed leaders John Calvin in Geneva and John Knox in Scotland. We will also touch on the more “radical” Protestant offshoots such as the Anabaptists. How did Protestantism spread across Europe, and how did it change when it arrived in places such as the Netherlands, France and England? We’ll review some of the doctrinal and philosophical differences among the various denominations, how they evolved, and what they might mean for the Protestant churches today. Finally, we will touch on the Council of Trent, the Counter-Reformation and the role of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in revitalizing Church institutions in Southern Europe.
November 19 — The Reformation’s Legacy in Culture, Art and Music
As we conclude our examination of the Reformation, the Adult Forum looks back at the effects of rapid change on European culture and civilization at the dawn of the modern era. We’ll look at how the Reformation dovetailed with the Renaissance in art and music, which flourished in different styles throughout Europe. Protestant worship generated new forms of music, such as hymns and chorales, while composers explored the emotional and inspirational aspects of personal faith, leading to the devotional works of Bach, Handel and others. In art, Protestants departed abruptly from the earlier, more colorful or elaborate rood screens, painting and statuary forms of Catholic architecture and church furnishings. Protestant reactions to sacred art ranged from Lutheran tolerance to wholesale iconoclasm (e.g., the Dutch beeldenstorm in 1566) in some Reformed traditions. Painting took on a more secular and naturalistic tone, exemplified by the everyday community scenes and realistic portraits of the Dutch and Flemish schools. How have these traditions influenced worship, church music and the sacred spaces of today?