Reformation and Transformative Theological Education

This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Not only the Lutherans, but also other Protestant wings worldwide join in recognizing the significance of the Reformation event of 1517. While it started as purely doctrinal controversies within the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformation upheaval in the 16th century became a political issue which ended the unity of Christendom.

Today, after 500 years, the Reformation story has remained not only as a religious and historical happening. Its reforming impact has also intellectual, cultural and political significance in global Christianity. The current understanding of the Reformation is no longer focused on reforming of doctrines of one church by another church. Rather, it is a movement of transformation of thinking, attitude and lives on something that matters most–Christian unity in witness.

One concrete gesture of unity in the recent history of the Christian church was the participation of Pope Francis at the Ecumenical Prayer Service hosted by the Protestants in Sweden on October 31, 2016 to launch the celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.  Reflecting on the impact of the Reformation of 1517, the Pope challenged the public, “We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.”

The project of transformation that brings God’s people together under His reign remains the central calling of the church. However, this calling is not the sole property of the church. It is also entrusted to the seminaries whose cardinal duty is to prepare future leaders for the transformation of society.

One of the current discussions in pedagogy revolves around the issue of transformative education.  The challenge of understanding what is transformational theological education lies on the question of how transformative is our theological education.  In her presentation at the Senate of Serampore meeting in Hyderabad in February 2016, Amélé Adamavi-Aho Ekué of the Ecumenical Theological Education of the World Council of Churches stated, “The fundamental aim of transformative theological education is to instil in individuals and communities the desire to witness, to celebrate and to share the liberating Gospel, so that it becomes visible in considerate acts of commitment in the world.” For her, transformation as an ethos of education can be the telos of education. This happens when transformation “instigates an embodied change with a physical, cognitive and spiritual impact, made visible first inside – … and thereafter as public witness shared more widely.”

Transformational theological education treats the subject of contextualization as an essential component. Contextualization provides the contexts from where the curricular and institutional goals of the schools are grounded. The absence of a clear understanding of transformation as an ecumenically shared vision and task may endanger any effort of working towards a contextually relevant transformational education.

This year’s historic celebration of the 500th Anniversary of Reformation invites all Christians to think of their tasks in the world not only christologically but pneumatically as well. The recognition of the role of the Spirit and His gifts is indispensable in relation to our common ecumenical vision of unity in transforming and renewing the church’s engagements in the issues of society. In his Small Catechism, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, regarded the Holy Spirit as one who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

It is the same Spirit that lives among us and continues to bring about transformation which transcends religious and racial boundaries through the ages. It is the same Spirit that keeps the essence of the Reformation alive.

by Dr. Limuel Equina, ATESEA Executive Director

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