Prayer­ful Liv­ing

South Florida Times - - METRO - By DAVID D. DANIELS Cour­tesy of Re­li­gion News Ser vice

This year marks the 500th an­niver­sary of the launch­ing of the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion in Ger­many. Com­mem­o­ra­tions will be held from Mem­phis to Mom­basa to Mum­bai to Mu­nich.

Yet, most events and books on the Re­for­ma­tion ex­plore it with­out any ref­er­ence to African Chris­tians.

This si­lence is pro­found, and I would like to break it by of­fer­ing pos­si­ble Ethiopian con­nec­tions to Martin Luther and the Protes­tant move­ment.

Luther launched the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion in 1517, but he had be­gun that year fas­ci­nated with Ethiopian Chris­tian­ity.

That will come as a sur­prise to many of to­day’s Chris­tians, even schol­ars, who are ac­cus­tomed to dis­cussing Luther and the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion as solely Euro­pean sub­jects.

But Luther es­teemed the Church of Ethiopia be­cause he thought Ethiopia was the first na­tion in his­tory to con­vert to Chris­tian­ity.

Lo­cated far be­yond the or­bit of the Ro­man Catholic Church, this first Chris­tian king­dom, ac­cord­ing to Luther, served as an older, wiser, black sib­ling to the white Chris­tian king­doms of Europe.

In a sense, the Church of Ethiopia was the “dream” for Luther, a true fore­run­ner of Protes­tantism.

As an an­cient church with di­rect ties to the Apos­tles, the Ethiopian Church con­ferred le­git­i­macy on Luther’s emerg­ing Protes­tant vi­sion of a church out­side the au­thor­ity of the Ro­man Catholic pa­pacy.

As a fore­run­ner of the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion, the Church of Ethiopia em­bod­ied the gospel mes­sage more ro­bustly and faith­fully.

Ethiopian Chris­tians prac­ticed el­e­ments of the faith ab­sent in Ro­man Catholi­cism, el­e­ments Protes­tants would later adopt: both bread and wine at Com­mu­nion, ver­nac­u­lar Scrip­tures and mar­ried clergy.

Ab­sent from Ethiopian Chris­tian­ity were prac­tices Protes­tants would dis­miss: the pri­macy of the Ro­man pope, in­dul­gences, pur­ga­tory and mar­riage as a sacra­ment.

Luther’s the­o­log­i­cal fas­ci­na­tion with the Ethiopian Church was il­lu­mi­nated in 1534 in his face-to-face di­a­logue with an Ethiopian cleric, Michael the Dea­con, in which Luther tested out his the­o­log­i­cal por­trait of the Ethiopian Church.

Re­call­ing the di­a­logue with Michael the Dea­con, Luther later stated: “We have also learned from him, that the rite which we ob­serve in the use of ad­min­is­tra­tion of the Lord’s Sup­per and the Mass, agrees with the East­ern Church. … For this rea­son we ask that good peo­ple would demon­strate Chris­tian love also to this (Ethiopian) vis­i­tor.”

For his part, after hav­ing Luther’s Ar­ti­cles of the Chris­tian Faith in­ter­preted to him, Dea­con Michael pro­claimed: “This is a good creed, that is, faith.”

Luther ex­tended full fel­low­ship to Dea­con Michael and the Ethiopian Church, an in­vi­ta­tion Luther with­held from the Bo­hemian Brethren (the Hus­sites) and Re­formed Churches con­nected to Ul­rich Zwingli.

From his di­a­logue with Michael the Dea­con, Luther must have been thrilled to learn that what he had re­dis­cov­ered in his read­ing of the Scrip­tures was al­ready present in the Ethiopian Church.

His re­forms were based on more than the early church of his imag­i­na­tion. For Luther, the Church of Ethiopia was the his­tor­i­cal proof that his re­form of the church in Europe had a clear his­tor­i­cal and bib­li­cal ba­sis.

The rev­e­la­tion that Ethiopian Chris­tian­ity pos­si­bly had links to Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion is a game-changer for what is gen­er­ally thought to be an ex­clu­sively Euro­pean phe­nom­e­non.

The ad­mis­sion that this cross-cul­tural global ex­change be­tween Africa and Europe shaped early Protes­tantism dis­rupts the nar­ra­tive that the Re­for­ma­tion was solely the prod­uct of Wester n civ­i­liza­tion.

By rec­og­niz­ing the contr ibu­tion of Ethiopian Chris­tian­ity to the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion, we can join Luther in ac­knowl­edg­ing Ethiopian Chris­tian­ity as a f orer un­ner of the Protes­tant Re­for­ma­tion.

David D. Daniels is Henr y Win­ter s Luce Pro­fes­sor of World Chris­tian­ity at McCor mick T he­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nar y in Chicago, and a bishop in the Church of God in Chr ist. T his ar ticle f i r st ap­peared in T he Com­mer­cial Ap­peal of Mem­phis. The views ex­pressed in this opin­ion piece do not nec­es­sar ily re­flect those of Re­li­gion News Ser vice.

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