Worshipping in Old Places

After the service in the Castle Church, Wittenberg (under renovation).
After the service in the Castle Church, Wittenberg (under renovation).

Last Saturday I went to church in Wittenberg, at an English service in the Castle Church. Led by a Lutheran minister from the United States, the congregation was comprised of Christians from every continent (save Antarctica). We sang “A Mighty Fortress,” read Scripture, recited the Apostles’ Creed, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. The minister preached on the feeding of the five thousand.

All of this took place not ten feet from the grave of Martin Luther, whose 95 Theses were posted on the door (so tradition would have it) of this church on October 31, 1517. There’s no proof he actually nailed them up there, but this church and this town have been at the centre of all things Lutheran ever since.

Luther's grave, in the Wittenberg Castle Church.
Luther’s grave, in the Wittenberg Castle Church.

So what does it mean to participate in a church service in this place? What does it mean to worship where Luther once contended for the authority of Scripture in the life of the Church, for the priesthood of all believers, for salvation by grace and faith alone?

Well, as my dear wife Colleen and I agreed afterwards, it actually meant a lot. It reminded us that we’re part of a two-thousand year tradition of faith. It reminded us (or rather, the minister reminded us) that we’re part of the body of Christ from all over the world. It reminded us that our faith is not trivial, not temporary, not dependent on any particular worship style or cultural context. And it reminded us that others have gone before us in the faith, sacrificing much for the sake of the Gospel.

Is the Castle Church in Wittenberg somehow holier than most ordinary places of worship? Probably not. But it meant something special to us to have worshipped, prayed, and reflected on the love God for us and us for him in this place where Martin Luther and so many others have too.

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