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What Does the Reformation Mean for Us?
A Roundtable Discussion
Honoring Our Heritage
Nura Esther Zaki   |   all discussants

In an increasingly pluralistic society, being an institution “under the Cross” has meant unapologetically and humbly incorporating rich Christian traditions and values into a community that welcomes and encourages diversity of thought, creed, and practice. The Reformation represents, among many things, a more inclusive invitation for people of religious and non-religious inclinations to experience Christ. I have found that the values of the Reformation are implicitly experienced in Valpo’s community life—so much so that sometimes people miss the connection between the Reformation and how we behave as a community. Therefore, I am thankful for this opportunity to reflect on how the philosophy behind what we do makes us part of a heritage that deserves recognition to better perfect its influence on our lives together.

As a member of the United Methodist Church—part of a larger religious tradition founded by John Wesley in England in the early 1700s—I must note that without Martin Luther’s contributions in Germany, Wesley could not have done what he did in England two centuries later. Wesley attributed his key conversion experience, known to Methodists simply as “Aldersgate,” to hearing Luther’s preface to Romans on the night of May 24, 1738, on Aldersgate Street. He recorded the moment in his diary: “About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation … .”

It is worth noting that Wesley was already a Christian at this point. Along with his brother, the prominent hymn writer Charles Wesley, John had studied the Scriptures at length since his time at Oxford with a group of friends, even naming their group “the Holy Club.” In fact, their meticulous devotion to spiritual formation is how the name “Methodists” originally came to be. However, it was at Aldersgate, hearing Luther, that Wesley experienced a spiritual rebirth.

This sense of continual renewal of the mind and soul that brings about transformation is at the core of the evangelical reform movement. Luther and Wesley both critiqued the church of their time, not simply for the sake of disrupting or dismantling what they saw as unfit, but to remind the church of its core mission of truly representing the Gospel they preached through both their words and actions.

In practice, at least one Christian denomination based on Wesleyan teaching, the United Methodist Church, asserts that, “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God ‘so far as it is necessary for our salvation.’” This is an echo of the Five Solas that emerged during the Reformation to summarize the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity.

 A core tenet at the heart of Valparaiso University is the freedom of inquiry. This “freedom” allows students to think independently while consulting wisdom that has persisted throughout time. Luther, in his zeal, shared this same spirit of freedom by expanding access to the Bible. Considerable evidence shows that both Luther and Wesley struggled with their faith and made it their own not in spite of their doubts and questions, but because of them. There is wisdom in teaching students in college and students of life alike not to shun the honest inner questioning of their spiritual journey or accept simple answers to complex problems. To do so would be a disservice to their own curiosity and to the authenticity of how their faith may evolve as a result of paying attention to those thoughts. To nurture that spirit of “freedom” rather than fear the wandering that may result is healthy, and it’s the only way people have moved the tradition forward. I hope that Valpo continues to teach this. In United Methodist understanding, both laypeople and clergy alike share in “our theological task.” The theological task is the ongoing effort to live as Christians in the midst of the complexities of a secular world. 

Luther and Wesley were both serious scholars with pastoral hearts. By virtue of who they were and who they were called to be, they sacrificed neither strict doctrine nor their conviction for showing compassion to the hurt world around them. At Valpo, students, professors, staff, and community members alike speak and understand a common language of passion and purpose. Whether that means finding one’s purpose through choosing an academic program (nursing, education, art, computer science) or choosing to find purpose in the roles we’ve already been given (dad, daughter, brother, roommate, supervisor, colleague) let’s be intentional in what we do and look for ways in which our contributions can benefit others. For the very ways we “have always done things” weren’t always there after all.

Nura Esther Zaki graduated from Valparaiso University in 2017 with a bachelor of arts in political science and a complementary major in the humanities from Christ College. During her time at Valpo, she was part of the Sacristy Team, Student Senate, and served as an RA. She currently serves her communities of the Southeast side of Chicago and the Northwest suburbs of Chicagoland through the local church with plans to pursue a legal career in public interest.  

 

Read more from other Roundtable participants:

Brian T. Johnson: Setting the Stage
Ronald K. Rittgers: Loving the Unlovely
Alissa Kretzmann: An Encounter with Grace
David King: Freedom Under the Cross
David Rojas Martínez: The Chapel of the Resurrection as a Pilgrimage Site
Katie Benjamin: Screwups and Saints
Amelia Schroeder: Moving Beyond Disagreements
Thomas Albert Howard: Remembering the Reformation and the Problem of Christian Disunity 

 

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