THE Reformation brought “great blessings”, but also did “lasting damage . . . to the unity of the Church”, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said in a statement on Tuesday, issued the day before the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
“The Reformation was a process of both renewal and division amongst Christians in Europe,” the Archbishops said. “In this Reformation anniversary year, many Christians will want to give thanks for the great blessings they have received to which the Reformation directly contributed.
“Amongst much else, these would include clear proclamation of the gospel of grace, the availability of the Bible to all in their own language, and the recognition of the calling of lay people to serve God in the world and in the Church”.
But the Archbishops also recalled “the lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love. 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.”
Remembering the Reformation should “bring us back to what the Reformers wanted to put at the centre of every person’s life, which is simple trust in Jesus Christ”, the Archbishops said. It should also “lead us to repent of our part in perpetuating divisions”, and strengthen relationships with other churches.
For the past three years, members of the international ecumenical community Chemin Neuf, including several Roman Catholics, have lived at Lambeth Palace (News, 22 November 2013). Prayers are said in the chapel each day for Christian unity.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity runs from 18 to 25 January. The Council for Christian Unity has a web page dedicated to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on the Church of England website.