I’m having a great time holidaying in Germany and the Czech Republic this summer, but one thing I’m missing from the university travel study trips I lead and the Reformation tours I’ve done is a sense of purpose or cohesion. As anyone who has travelled much knows, after awhile even the beautiful churches, museums, and palaces all begin to look the same. It’s always a challenge to remember what you have seen, and why it mattered.
What I love about travel study and Reformation tours is travelling a story. Reformation tours are especially good for this. We get to see so many sites from the life of Martin Luther: Wittenberg, the centre of his reformation activity; Erfurt, where he studied and grappled with his personal spiritual doubts; Eisenach, where he hid in the Wartburg; and Mainz, where he defended his religious convictions while on trial before the Holy Roman Emperor and a host of German monarchs and high Roman clergy.
That story of the Reformation–in Germany and Switzerland–provides a great framework into which to set the various places, sites, and experiences along the way.
At Wittenberg, it’s natural to focus on the story of the 95 Theses and discover how Luther’s criticisms of indulgences evolved into a struggle against the Pope and the system of authority within the Roman church.
At the Wartburg, I love to tell the story of Argula von Grumbach, whose Scripture-saturated letter to the University of Ingolstadt excoriated the Catholic administration for ousting a Lutheran scholar. It was written only two years after Luther translated the New Testament into everyday German, while holed up in an abandoned castle. And it’s a powerful testimony of the power of Word of God when taken seriously by Christians.
Just today I was in the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. That’s Jan Hus’ church. Hus was a professor, priest, and preacher, who launched a series of criticisms against the Roman church, aiming to make clergy and laity more equal within Christianity, to reduce the power of the papacy, to increase the place of Scripture in preaching, and to make the Church simpler, poorer, and more humble–like Christ. For his ideas, Hus was burned at the stake at the Council of Constance in 1415. Like John Wycliffe, whom he admired, Hus illustrates the ever-present call for reform in Christianity. Luther was not the first reformer.
My time in Wittenberg and now Prague has been a great reminder of the reasons I love Reformation touring. Every place tells another part of the story of Christianity; every place reminds me of the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before me in the faith; and every place confronts me with my calling to live out the truths for which others have worked, suffered, struggled, and died.