General Synod opening mourns abuse, celebrates Luther

The Anglican Church's 17th General Synod begins in Maroochydore

By Stephen Cauchi

The Anglican Church’s 17th General Synod opened in Queensland on Sunday evening, marked by a lament about child sex abuse within the Church and a celebration of Martin Luther’s role in beginning the Protestant Reformation exactly 500 years ago.

Over 270 delegates, 30 spouses and 12 staff have assembled at the Novotel Twin Waters Resort near Maroochydore in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast for the Synod, which runs from Sunday until Friday.

The Synod’s opening service and Holy Communion was held at Matthew Flinders Anglican College in nearby Buderim.

Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies delivered the homily while Archbishop of Melbourne and Primate of Australia Philip Freier gave the lament.

In The Lament, Archbishop Freier expressed regret for the child sex abuse in the Anglican Church, which has been documented in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

“Sisters and Brothers in Christ, in our Church there is a lot of hurt. Vulnerable people and young children have been abused. Our structures have protected the powerful instead of the helpless.

“We long to help, to heal, to make whole, but sin clings closely. We raise our voices in lament and pray for new beginnings.”    

Archbishop Davies, in the homily, noted that it was exactly 500 years ago, in 1517, that the German pastor and theologian Martin Luther wrote and distributed his Ninety-Five Theses - a document widely accepted to have marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther was a courageous man who faced great opposition, said Archbishop Davies. Christians living today were also facing great opposition and, like Luther, had to show courage.

“Brothers and sisters, we live in a world which is seeking to marginalise us and our message, and we too must be courageous and bold and stand where Luther stood, stand where (English Reformation leader) Thomas Cranmer stood, stand where Jesus stood.

“Taking the suffering, taking the shame, carrying the cross and proclaiming there is no other way under heaven by which we might be saved other than by Jesus and his righteousness. It is only by that death that we might live.”

Luther was living in a time where the medieval Roman Catholic Church had marginalised the importance of Jesus’ death, said Archbishop Davies.

Instead, the Church taught that people could minimise their time in purgatory by doing good works and buying indulgences.

“Luther recognised that what the medieval Church had done, strange but true, is that they had hidden Christ.

The Church’s selling of indulgences prompted “that famous statement from Luther - where as a silver coin drops in the box, so a soul from purgatory is freed”.

Luther realised, said Archbishop Davies, “that Christ, the very centre of our salvation, had been forgotten. Layers of tradition had come over him so that people could not see the clarity and the grace and the mercy that is found in Jesus Christ.”

Luther, “after trying to work his way to heaven,” found the verse in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans which stated that the just shall live by faith and that the righteousness of God was a gift given to those who believe in him, said Archbishop Davies.

This was a revelation to him “because it was so astonishingly contrary” to Catholic Church teaching at the time.

Jesus had rebuked Peter for opposing his crucifixion and, in the same way, Luther was rebuking the Catholic Church of the time for marginalising the suffering and death of Jesus.

Luther wrote 954 books in his lifetime - on average, one book per fortnight for 30 years - and translated the Bible into German.  “Luther was a scholarly man and a man of emotion,” said Archbishop Davies.

The General Synod was held a few days after the Anglican Church and the Uniting Church launched the Weaving a New Cloth document at St Paul’s Cathedral on August 29.

The document proposes a framework for local cooperation between Anglican and Uniting churches throughout Australia.

The document covers six points of theological agreement and five forms of cooperation, including hospitality, shared witness, shared ministry in mission, joint congregations, and planned common witness.