As Reformation jubilee ends, it's time for a reformation of the economy!

by Norman Tendis last modified 02 November 2017 12:52 PM
As Reformation jubilee ends, it's time for a reformation of the economy!

Woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder featuring the sale of indulgences.

01 November 2017

Looking back on a year of Reformation commemorations, many churches ask themselves, what has changed, or what will change after this outstanding 500 years jubilee. We look back on an enormous engagement, from congregations to the  worldwide level, to organize events and celebrations. The Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation pointed out clearly: “Salvation, human beings and creation are not for sale.” The three protestant churches of Austria – Lutheran, Reformed and Methodist – celebrated the 500-years Reformation Jubilee together with thousands of participants and proclaimed “Justice, Peace and Integrity of creation” as their main topics. No question: we are talking about the economy!

The Lutheran churches can be proud of many achievements: liberty of belief, freedom and responsibility. On the other hand, we see that within the society of today, Lutheran churches do not have the relevance they could have. We are not, or not enough, change agents for the urgently needed changes in our world today.

Martin Luther was fighting for economic justice within the strong changes and economic developments of his time. This aspect of reformation is often neglected or underestimated. Just like Luther was clear about the biblical ban on interest rates, it is the duty of Lutheran churches today to take up a clear position on the financial system and to create alternative financial services for the needy.

Just like the peasants of Luther's time, we see farmers today under pressure worldwide. As food becomes an object of financial speculation, multinationals and others engage in massive land grabbing, and various problems become systemic, we see them losing their farms, and sometimes even their lives.

After the jubilee celebrations, now is the time to act in the sense of Luther and to start the reformation of the economy!

With the project “economy of life”, sponsored by the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria, we had organized a conference with the title: “The urgently needed reformation of the economy – and what Martin Luther would say about today's economy”.

To answer this question we invited Professor Ulrich Duchrow from Heidelberg, Germany, as keynote speaker.

Already with his 95 theses, Luther took position against the early capitalist attempt to make all aspects of life – even salvation – "for sale", Duchrow points out. Luther's explanation in the Large Catechism about the first commandment “You shall not have other Gods” shows that he has not only the individual in mind, but he warns against money and the upcoming system as the ruling god in society. In his explanation about the seventh commandment “you shall not steal” he speaks about gorging capital and explains that “a chair-robber can easily sit at home and eat up a whole world in ten years” (WA 51, 364).

Luther wrote against taking interest for lending money and discusses the biblical ban on interests and its meaning for his time. In Luther's time money, is becoming a means for accumulation. Luther says: “Who is stealing food from others, kills” (WA 51,361)

Duchrow sees a big chance today, because we never had such a clear ecumenical consensus about the urgency to transform the current economic system – reaching from the World Council of Churches to the Roman Catholic Pope. He recalls the Assemblies of the Lutheran World Federation in Winnipeg 2003, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Accra 2004, the World Council of Churches in Busan 2013, and then Pope Francis' finding in “Evangelii Gaudium”: “This economy kills!”.

The pope says “No to an economy that excludes”, “No to a money that rules instead of serves.”

Duchrow proposes that, following the Reformation jubilee, we should build on this ecumenical consensus and take decisions in churches, synods and congregations to clearly oppose the ruling economic system and work on alternatives for an economy and a culture of life.

The 7 books produced by an international research group on Radicalizing Reformation offer enough material for starting with this new reformation.

These thoughts have encouraged me and others who attended the conference to rethink economic structures and get into action – to explore the huge variety of existing alternatives, to strengthen congregations and churches as places of hope, where changes already have taken place and the future already can be seen. These small-scale examples will strengthen our prophetic voice to change large-scale economic structures, because nobody can say anymore that “there is no alternative”.

After the jubilee -  now is the time to start the reformation of the economy – in broad ecumenical unity - towards an economy of life!


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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