Revisiting the Reformation

By: Philip Mathew

 Published by the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs, Hong Kong, 2017, pp 201, Price: Not mentioned

Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church on October 31, 1517. That act of Luther marked the beginning of the Protestant reformation.

Roman Catholics, Protestants, and ecumenical groups around the world are using the year 2017 to think through the reformation.

To recognize the 500 years of reformation, the Hong Kong-based Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs (APAY) has brought out a book entitled “Revisiting the reformation.” The 201 page book, edited by Bruce Van Voorhis, is a useful and timely resource to celebrate the 500th anniversary of reformation. It serves as a pointer to the need of a new reformation in the present-day Church. The book contains 13 chapters written by distinguished scholars, and provides a spark to the ongoing global discussion on reformation.

In the Foreword of the book, Nam Boo Won, general secretary of APAY and its president Babu Markus Gomes have hoped that  this book can be a good resource for the work of our local and national YMCAs and the larger ecumenical movement.

Revisiting the reformation has covered a range of topics like ecumenism, ecumenical movement, theology, mission, interfaith dialogue, women and gender equality, ecology, climate change, indigenous people, globalization and diakonia.

Dr Kung Lap-yan, professor of Christian ethics at the Divinity School of Chung Chi College of Chinese University of Hong Kong, in the first chapter, “The Reformation, Luther, and ecumenicity”, writes that the core concern of Reformation is to reclaim the true church of Jesus Christ, for the Church is a sign and instrument of God’s purpose for all humanity and creation.

Dr Chang Yoon, professor of systematic theology at the Ewha Women’s University in Seoul sums up Luther’s reformation theology in three ways: (1) the doctrine that salvation is not an achievement of human beings but is a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ; (2) the conviction that it is not the authority of the pope but that of the Bible that is the sole source of God’s truth; and (3) the teaching that all Christians are holy priests. The Czech reformer Jan Hus’s Reformation and the Ecumenical Movement is also highlighted in this chapter.

“A contemporary mission of APAY in the spirit of the reformation” by David Kwang-sun Suh, professor emeritus of theology at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul,  links the YMCA movement and reformation. He explains about the reform movement of Luther and Calvin, and goes on to record the YMCA mission in the spirit of the reformation.

“Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue: A Perspective from the YMCA” by Bartholomew Shaha, a former secretary-general of the World Alliance of YMCAs, reminds the readers that the YMCA works with all people for a society based on love, peace and justice.

“The ecumenical movement beyond ‘reformation’ — Towards a revolutionary ecumenical movement” by Metropolitan Geevarghese Mar Coorilos of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodoc Church takes a close look at the present and future of the ecumenical movement. Mar Coorilos explains that the moral bankruptcy within church life, especially in the form of deep-rooted corruption that prompted Luther to protest and to bring in reform, is also applicable to the contemporary global church context and the worldwide ecumenical movement . “In addition to ethical bankruptcy, we also encounter intellectual and leadership bankruptcy in churches and various global, regional, national, and local expressions of the ecumenical movement today. It has, to a great extent, lost its vigor, vitality, and life, its prophetic cutting edge and the values of God’s Reign.” The author proposes that the ecumenical movement today is in need, not just of some mere reform, but a revolutionary change. What is offered  are some ideas for a revolutionary expression of the ecumenical movement.

“The call for a reformed relationship with the earth” by Caesar D’Mello, a consultant on concerns involving third world development including climate change and mass commercial tourism, speaks about a grave existential crisis that has emerged involving ecology and climate change that, if unchecked, could change the face of the earth irreparably and bring destruction, especially in the Third World. We need to change how we perceive the exploitation and uses of the creation, the author argues.

The chapter deals with global warming and climate change, neoliberal economics, the free market, and the ecological crisis and theology and the ecological crisis

“Luther, women, and gender equality” by Muriel Orevillo Montenegro, who teaches theologies, religions and philosophy at Silliman University, Philippines, reads Luther with feminist lens.

“Christianity and indigenous people’s culture” by  Wati Longchar, professor of theology and culture at Yushan Theological College and Seminary in Taiwan writes that  along with the colonial mindset, the forces of market capitalism, and today’s cyberculture, it is disheartening to see indigenous people’s culture, customs, rituals, sacred shrines, places of worship, sacred music, ceremonial dress, traditions, and handiwork being commoditized for commercial purposes. As we celebrate 500 years of the reformation, it is important to recognize the unique cultural heritage of indigenous people and to work towards their restoration of justice, dignity, respect, and freedom. For it is a divine gift to all beings.

“Toward an ecumenical conversation on democracy, governance, and accountability” by Edicio G. dela Torre, director of the Justice and Peace Center of Silliman University in the Philippines; “Seeking Martin Luther’s legacy on spiritual justice and peace and what it means for us today” by Favor Adelaide Bancin, an Indonesian pastor of the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church; “From Martin Luther to Edward Snowden” by Basil Fernando, director for policy and program of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong kong; “The relevance of the reformation heritage for Christian contributions to social Ddevelopment and diaconia” by Dietrich Werner, theologian and pastor from Germany; and “Globalization and alternative economies” by Bishop and Metropolitan Leocito S. Gabo of the Eastern Catholic Church and See of the Philippines and All Asia are the other chapter in the book.

Eleanor Roosevelt, American politician, diplomat and activist, once said: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

This book has great ideas generated by great minds for discussion.

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