Beeson Divinity School's Reformation 500th Anniversary Celebration Includes Worship, Service, Lectures

Published on November 8, 2017 by Kristen Padilla  

On Oct. 31, Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School joined Protestants around the world celebrating the 500th anniversary of the symbolic beginning of the Protestant faith, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Beeson Divinity marked this momentous occasion by holding its third annual Finkenwalde Day. 

The divinity school was founded in 1988 in the heritage of the Reformation and on its five tenets: faith alone, grace alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, and the glory of God alone. 

“I often say the Reformation was a ‘back to the future’ movement,” said Timothy George, founding dean of the divinity school. “Our Beeson students study our Christian heritage, including the Reformation, in order to become more faithful shapers of the future under the lordship of Jesus Christ.” 

Not only is Luther an important figure to the divinity school but so is 20th century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who led an underground seminary in Nazi Germany for five years. Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together, which he wrote one year before the Gestapo shut down the seminary, is a record of Bonhoeffer’s experiment to prepare faithful ministers of the gospel to serve the church in one of its darkest hours. It also presents an incarnational model of pastoral and theological formation, one that Beeson has tried to emulate in its approach to theological education. 

“Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of Luther’s most fervent disciples in the twentieth century. He quotes him more than anyone else except the Bible,” George said. “He was aware of Luther’s flaws but despite these Bonhoeffer found the heart of the gospel in the recovery of the Bible and the doctrine of justification by faith alone. 

“From the beginning of Beeson Divinity School, we have read, honored, and learned much from both of these great figures, and so it was appropriate and exciting for Finkenwalde Day and Reformation Day to come together in this way,” he added. 

Finkenwalde Day began in the fall of 2015 during the semester’s emphasis on Bonhoeffer and his underground seminary at Finkenwalde. This day was set aside for the entire divinity school community as a spiritual, academic and recreational retreat patterned after a day in the life of Bonhoeffer’s seminary. The day was such a success that Finkenwalde Day II was held in fall 2016.

For Finkenwalde Day III, the divinity school invited alumni and friends back to campus to take part in the retreat. Guests as far away as Arkansas, South Carolina and Washington, D.C., as well as many local alumni came for the day. 

As in previous Finkenwalde days, the schedule included prayer, meditation, worship, celebration of communion, lectures, singing, recreation, fellowship at table and other activities. This year’s special morning lecture was given by The Rev. Dr. Amy Schifrin, president of the North American Lutheran Seminary and a leading liturgical scholar. She lectured on “Singing the Reformation,” which included congregational hymn singing. The 11 a.m. community worship service uniquely brought Finkenwalde and Reformation Day together by featuring the start of the 29th annual Reformation Heritage Lectures given by George, who also is a leading Reformation scholar, on “Preaching Up a Storm.”   

“This combined celebration made the importance of Finkenwalde Day III even more significant in the life of Beeson Divinity School through the inclusion of the Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation,” said Victoria J. Gaston, Hodges Chapel curator and Finkenwalde Day coordinator. “The blending of these two events on this day of retreat became particularly poignant through the recognition of how the Reformers represented the ongoing continuity of Life Together in the body of Christ in their articulation of the gift of the love of God through the Solas. It was powerful to witness fellow Christians faithfully express through word and deed the desire to be bringers of the gospel to one another.” 

As the divinity community reflected, remembered, and gave thanks for the Reformation and Bonhoeffer’s seminary, it also wrestled with the question: where is the impact of the Reformation still felt today? For George, real reformation is found every time the Word of God is faithfully preached and ministered in love to people. 

“Our Beeson graduates are serving the cause of Christ in every continent on earth, preaching, healing, serving,” he said. “This is real Reformation.” 

To watch Amy Schifrin or Timothy George’s lectures, visit www.YouTube.com/BeesonDivinity

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