What the heck is Reformation?

Luther and the Reformation since 1517

Who is Martin Luther?

Martin Luther was born on 10 November 1483 in Eisleben, in today’s state of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Despite being of modest means, his father thought it important to have his son educated so Luther went on to study at the university in Erfurt, completing his master’s degree in 1505, but subsequently abandoned further studies in law to become an Augustinian monk.

Luther’s call for reforms in both the theology and the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, in addition to his demands for more political and social justice, eventually led to the nailing of his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. This action triggered the Protestant Reformation in Germany, spreading to the rest of Europe, and eventually leading to Lutheranism as known today. Luther initially sought reform within the Roman Catholic Church but his desire for reform led to the foundation of a new denomination. As a result he was officially excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1521.

The German translation of the New Testament in 1522 and completion of the Old Testament in 1534 stand out as some of Luther’s major works. An accomplished hymn writer, he also served as dean of theology at the University of Wittenberg.

Luther married Katharina von Bora in 1525 and they had six children. He died on 18 February 1546 in Eisleben, at the age of 62.

Defining Lutheranism

“A Mighty Fortress is our God!” – sounds the traditional greeting in Lutheran churches in Hungary. Since the Reformation, these words from Psalm 40 are the motto, greeting and also testimony of Lutherans in Hungary. Lutheranism is a protestant denomination within the Christian religion, emerging from the Reformation movement. It is a historical church, which differs in theology from the Roman Catholic and Calvinist churches but, as a Christian denomination, it is in accordance with the others in the belief of the risen Christ. One might be confused by the terms Evangelical and Evangelical Lutheran, the former referring to Anglo-Saxon Evangelical Christianity (also a Protestant phenomenon) which differs from the German-rooted Lutheranism.

Christian parishes across Hungary (Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist etc.) live side by side in towns and villages. With regard to their appearance, Catholic churches are more colourful and ornate; their walls are decorated with scenes from the lives of saints or biblical paintings and pictures. In a Lutheran church there are not usually many decorations, no statues of saints or images from their lives. However, there is everywhere a biblical-themed altar and an organ which accompanies and helps the congregational singing and the cultivation of church music. These are all an integral part of Protestant identity.

Lutheran theology practices two sacraments, baptism and communion – both assigned by Christ in the Scriptures. We believe and profess that in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine, because he binds his presence to these symbols when saying in the Gospels: “Take and eat; this is my body … this is my blood.”

Lutheran tradition professes (according to Martin Luther) that salvation and eternal life are the gifts of our gracious God through Jesus Christ, by faith founded on the Bible. The Lord and Saviour of the Church is the living Christ, the only advocate between God and man.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH)

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary is the third biggest historical denomination in the country, counting approximately two hundred thousand members in three hundred parish communities. The parishes are led by a pastor and a lay leader. They are organized into deaneries which are led by a clerical dean and a territorial lay leader. The deaneries make up three dioceses in Hungary. The Southern Diocese is led by Presiding Bishop Peter Gáncs and lay leader Anna Radosné Lengyel. The Northern Diocese is led by Bishop Tamás Fabiny and lay leader György Fábri and the Western (Transdanubian) Diocese is led by Bishop János Szemerei and lay leader Tamás Mészáros. The administration centre of ELCH is the general office, located and operating in Budapest.

Lutheran World Federation (LWF)

The Lutheran World Federation is a worldwide community holding together the seven regions of 75 million Lutherans. Its president is the Archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria Rev. Dr. Musa Filibus and the General Secretary is Rev. Martin Junge. The LWF was established in 1947, in Lund, Sweden. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary has been among the member churches since its establishment. Ever since there have been Hungarians present in the life and work of LWF on its many organizational levels. The LWF held its assembly in Budapest in 1984. The next assembly will be organized in Windhoek, Namibia under the title “Liberated by God’s grace”. The assembly to be held in May 2017 focuses on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation and elects a new leadership for the communion. https://www.lutheranworld.org/lwf/

Reformation Remembrance Committee

The Reformation Remembrance Committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary was established in 2010 with the purpose of holding together the diverse preparations for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. There are representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Theological University, the Luther Publishing House, the Lutheran Collections and from the field of church music, along with the bishops of the church districts and the director of the General Office of the Church. The Committee organizes larger projects, cooperates in nationwide celebrations and provides parish across the country with fresh ideas, like specifying annual themes.