<![CDATA[Christian History Blog]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/ Sun, 30 Apr 2017 22:24:10 GMT Sun, 30 Apr 2017 22:24:10 GMT LemonStand <![CDATA[The Reformation in Wittenberg: Part I]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reformation-in-wittenberg-part-i https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reformation-in-wittenberg-part-i Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:00:00 GMT

(We are publishing this essay by Dr. West in three parts over the next few weeks as part of our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It gives us a closer look at how Wittenberg ecountered and dealt with Luther's reforms. Read more about Luther—and Wittenberg—in our issue #115, "Luther Leads the Way.")

Johann Aurifaber, who edited Luther's "Table Talk" in 1566, concluded that "[Luther's] teachings have grown and prospered up to our own time, but from now on they will decrease and fall, having completed their appointed course".

            Whilst it is fairly well known how Calvin felt about Geneva and the Genevans, and how they felt about him[2], it is less widely known what Martin Luther’s attitude towards Wittenberg was.  Yet the town and the Reformer are eternally and everlastingly intertwined.  What was Wittenberg like when Luther lived there and how did the people of the town look upon the new Professor of Bible and his fight with Rome?  How influential were Luther’s efforts and did they make any difference to the townsfolk or were they just more academic churchly squabblings which had little impact on the citizens and their daily lives?

            Wittenberg’s streets were mud holes[3] when Martin Luther arrived in 1508 at the recently founded University (est., 1502-02), the brain child of the Elector of Saxony, Friedrich the Wise.    As several letters which mention the city suggest, it was a dank and miserable place in the Sixteenth Century: 

Melanchthon, e.g., in a letter to Camerarius, calls Wittenberg “a hamlet comprised, not of regular houses, but only of little ones, bad huts, built out of clay and covered with hay and straw.” Luther gets even crasser; he complains: “Here in Wittenberg there’s no more than a miserable corpse; we sit here in Wittenberg as if it were a miserable place.” He must have been very angry when he wrote this; for at another time he speaks more mildly: “Our land is quite sandy and has nothing but rocks, for the soil is not very fertile;” then he continues: “Nonetheless God gives us out of these rocks good wine and delicious grains, but because the miracle happens daily, we despise it.” – Duke George of Saxony (1471-1531[sic][he actually died in 1539, JW]), his religious opponent, called it a hole: “that a single monk from a hole should undertake such a reformation, is intolerable.” – And the same attitude is found in a letter from 1523, which Johann Dietenberger (1475-1537) wrote to Johann Cochlaeus (1479-1552). It says, among other things: “the poor, miserable, filthy little town of Wittenberg, compared to Prague not even worth three pennies, isn’t even worthy to be called a town in Germany; it was unknown to the learned and the commoners 20 years ago; an unhealthy, unpleasant piece of land; without vineyards; without parks; without orchards; a peasants’ chamber; rough; half-frozen; joyless; filled with muck. What’s left in Wittenberg, if the castle, monastery, and school were gone? Without a doubt, you’d only see Lutheran, that is, filthy, houses; untidy alleys; all paths, ways, and streets full of mire; a barbarian people which doesn’t do anything but farming and small trade. Their market is without people; their town is without burghers; its inhabitants wear simple garb; there’s great need and poverty of all inhabitants.”[4] 

            Were things really that bleak or are our correspondents simply taking the opportunity to sling a bit of mud at the Lutherans who lived in the town: a group of persons who, for the most part, were far more concerned with drinking and wenching and freedom from Church taxes than they were with Luther’s lofty theological opinions?  Luther seemed to hold a fairly low view of the city after years of laboring for its betterment.  His sermons are filled with excoriations of the populace for its rather lackluster interest in important theological issues.  Was Wittenberg simply a town glad to have a bit of relief from Roman oppression without any real personal conviction of Lutheran truth? 

            Located in Saxony, due southwest of Berlin and northeast of Leipzig, Wittenberg was, in the 16th century, a hinterland; a backwater.  Yet it would achieve the highest possible acclaim for such a small hamlet when it became the home of the man who would be the greatest Reformer Germany has ever known.  

(Map courtesy Google Maps)

             Luther’s opinion of the city in which he found himself for Doctoral studies (from which he would graduate October 18-19, 1512) is less than exuberant.  He wrote, towards the end of his life in a famous letter to his wife, Katie, the following: 

The day after tomorrow I shall drive to Merseburg, for Sovereign George has very urgently asked that I do so. Thus I shall be on the move, and will rather eat the bread of a beggar than torture and upset my poor old [age] and final days with the filth at Wittenberg which destroys my hard and faithful work. You might inform Doctor Pomerand Master Philip of this (if you wish), and [you might ask] if Doctor Pomer would wish to say farewell to Wittenberg in my behalf. For I am unable any longer to endure my anger [about] and dislike [of this city].[5]

             The story of Luther’s work in Wittenberg is very well known so our focus will be the city itself.  How did it understand the events that were taking place in it between 1517 and 1530?  And how were those world changing events received or repulsed by the citizens of that town?  In short, we shall examine the ‘reception history’ of the Lutheran Reformation in the city he called home from 1508 till his death nearly 40 years later. 

            Our methodology is a simple one: to read primary sources, chiefly letters and sermons from Luther, to discern as best we can how the Reformation was actualized in Wittenberg.  Our chronological framework is the years 1517 to 1546.  The year 1517 needs no justification but 1546 well might.  

            It is the view of the present writer that by 1546, that is, by the time Luther died, the city of Wittenberg was unalterably Lutheran.  After Luther’s death it remained Lutheran and to the present it continues to identify itself with its most famous resident.  In what follows we shall examine two chief sources.

Stay tuned for the next installment—Wittenberg in Luther's letters and his Table Talk.

[1] Gerald Strauss, “Success and Failure in the German Reformation,” Past and Present 67 (1975): 30–63, here p. 31.

[2] When Calvin refused to dispense the Lord’s Supper to the unworthy... “Angry cries were heard. Sticks were brandished. Swords were drawn. But the ministers were allowed to leave the building without injury, and the congregations separated without bloodshed. Next day the Councilmet and formally deposed Farel and Calvin for contempt of lawful authority, and gave them three days in which to leave Geneva. Calvin’s remark when he heard the sentence is memorable: “Well, indeed. If we had served men we should have been ill rewarded, but we serve a greater Master who will recompense us.”  Every hand was now against him, and the rage of those who were exasperated by the idea of discipline foamed over.”  Reyburn, H. Y. John Calvin: His Life, Letters, and Work (p. 80). London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, (1914).

[3] See the delightful description of Wittenberg by Gottfried Krüger in Luther: Vierteljahresschrift der Luthergesellschaft 15 (1933): 13-32.  His description borders on hagiography, but it is still one of the most graphic attempts to place Luther within his town.

[4] Ibid., from the English rendering of the essay accessed online on 29-8-2016 at http://thewittenbergproject.org/about/how-did-the-town-of-wittenberg-look-at-the-time-of-luther/

[5] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 50: Letters III (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 50; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 280–281.

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<![CDATA[A Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Doolittle Raid: After Infamy, Forgiveness Wins]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/behind-the-scenes-story-of-the-doolittle-raid https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/behind-the-scenes-story-of-the-doolittle-raid Tue, 18 Apr 2017 00:00:00 GMT by Linda Thompson

Seventy-five years ago today, just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, eighty volunteers took flight on a daring mission that would have a profound impact on the War in the Pacific.

Doolittle raider
Six months after Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces enact an unprecedented plan. An Army B-25 bomber takes off from the carrier U.S.S. Hornet 400 miles off the coast of Japan. Fifteen of the sixteen planes crashed in provincial China.


In an action history has dubbed the Doolittle Raid, sixteen B-25 bombers left the deck of the carrier U.S.S. Hornet. They deployed their payloads on Tokyo and other key targets on the Japanese main island.

The mission has been somewhat forgotten in the mists of time, but it triggered a media sensation then. “U.S. Warplanes Rained Bombs on Leading Cities of Japanese Empire,” the newspapers crowed. The raid inspired a pair of wartime motion pictures (Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Purple Heart), both released in 1944. But while the military objective was achieved, due to unforeseen circumstances the sortie left most of the airmen stranded in enemy-occupied China. Eight men—survivors from two planes that crashed when they ran out of fuel—were captured by the Japanese.

Anyone who saw the movie or read the book Unbroken will have a general picture of what these men endured. But where Louis Zamperini was a prisoner for a little more than two years, Doolittles “lost crews” remained in Japanese prison camps

… for forty long months, 34 of them in solitary confinement. We were imprisoned and beaten, half-starved, terribly tortured, and denied by solitary confinement even the comfort of association with one another. Three of my buddies were executed by a firing squad about six months after our capture and fourteen months later, another one of them died of slow starvation.… The bitterness of my heart against my captors seemed more than I could bear.

- Corporal Jacob DeShazer in his tract I Was a Prisoner of Japan

Of the eight Raiders captured, only four survived. George Barr, Jacob DeShazer, Robert Hite and Chase Nielson returned to the U.S. different men. Here’s how they expressed it in a joint statement:

We were not what you would call religious men before we were captured. We went to Sunday school and church when we were kids… We memorized Bible verses and listened to sermons and said grace at meals. We knew the Ten Commandments. But we never really understood the meaning behind those words and the source of strength they represented in our lives.…

We were given the Bible to read. We found in its ripped and faded pages a source of courage and faith we never realized existed. The verses we memorized as children suddenly came alive and became as vital to us as food.

We put our trust in the God we had not really accepted before and discovered that faith in His Word could carry us through the greatest peril of our lives.

Four Came Home (Carroll V. Glines, 1995)

Corporal Jacob DeShazer, the former bombardier of the Bat Out of Hell, was transformed by what he read in the Bible. The Lord revealed to him during those miserable hours in his cell that He wanted to give the Japanese people an illustration of the meaning of forgiveness. Jake was to be that walking object lesson.

Sargeant Jacob DeShazer after the war. This photo appeared on the cover of the tract Fuchida read.


To fulfill that calling, Jake rushed to earn a Bible degree from Seattle Pacific College when he got home. In 1948, he returned to Japan with his new bride, Florence, as a Free Methodist missionary.

This time I was not going as a bombardier, but I was going as a missionary. How much better it is to go out to conquer evil with the gospel of peace! The strength and power must come from God, but God's promise is, “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jacob DeShazer on his return to Japan

Japanese people flocked to hear him. They peppered him with questions. At that time, the idea that one could hold anything other than implacable hatred for one’s enemies was foreign to their culture.

There are a number of remarkable stories from Jake and Florence’s sojourn in Japan. The most famous is that of Mitsuo Fuchida, who commanded the air attack on Pearl Harbor.

A celebrated hero in Japan during the war, its loss left Fuchida to eke out a living as a subsistence-level farmer. This gave him time to ask the existential questions. “As I labored on the farm I thought of God, creation, the miracles of the seasons, the growing plants. These things never failed to awe me.” Impressed by DeShazer’s participation in the Doolittle Raid, he picked up a tract Jake had authored. It made him curious about the Bible.

Fuchida acquired a Bible and read it. In Jesus’ words from the cross, he found the answers he’d been seeking. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Fuchida recognized the forgiveness Jesus spoke from the cross extended even to a twentieth-century Japanese warrior. He knew he’d reached the end of a “long, long wandering…. This new element enriched my life—the knowledge of Christ.” (God’s Samurai, Prange, Goldstein and Dillon, 1990)

A few months later, the two were preaching to crowds together—the Doolittle Raider and the Japanese captain who gave the infamous “Tora-tora-tora” signal that launched the Pearl Harbor attack. They brought to thousands the message of God’s sacrificial love for all people and the power of forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

Doolittle poster
This wartime poster features a photo of Lieutenant Robert Hite, one of eight captured Doolittle Raiders. Tokyo, April 1942.

Jake and Flo ultimately settled in Nagoya, the very city Jake had bombed. Their thirty-year ministry in Japan bore fruit in twenty-three church plants and in many changed hearts.

In a fascinating parallel, Fuchida revisited Honolulu and handed out Bibles. He told one recipient, “I came with bombs once, but now I come with the Bible. Jesus Christ is the answer.”

In researching my novel inspired by the experience of Doolittle’s lost crews, I learned that Jake’s story is not unique. General MacArthur, commander during the U.S. occupation of Japan, recognized the spiritual void left by the demise of Japan’s prewar militarist ideology. He begged the major denominations to send missionaries. Thousands of people responded. Many of these were men who’d battled the Japanese across the Pacific then felt called to serve them in ministry after the war.

DeShazer’s vision was to see Japan become a "Christian nation." While this didn't happen, tens of thousands of Japanese individuals responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible was a bestseller in the years after the war. So was The Bells of Nagasaki, a personal testimony / philosophical treatise by Japanese Christian Nagai Takashi. Nagai wrote the book while he was dying of radiation poisoning.

Only the Lord knows the full impact of the Christ-like devotion of His dedicated servants such as the DeShazers, the Fuchidas, and the Nagais.

Bio: Linda Thompson blogs on the topic Five Stones and a Sling: Stories of Reckless Faith at lthompsonbooks.com. WordServe Literary is currently shopping her first novel, The Plum Blooms in Winter, inspired by the story of Doolittle’s “lost crews.”

For more on faith during and after World War II, see Christian History magazine #121, Faith in the Foxholes.

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<![CDATA[Why Does God Allow War? Historical Reflections]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/why-does-god-allow-war-historical-reflections https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/why-does-god-allow-war-historical-reflections Tue, 21 Mar 2017 00:00:00 GMT In 2004, Christian History's senior editor Chris Armstrong published an article in Leadership Journal called "Waiting for the Bombs," describing how young British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones braced his people in the fear-filled days before London’s Blitz:

On September 7, 1940, just over a year after Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand had declared war on the aggressive German state, the first bombs fell on London. War correspondent Ernie Pyle would later describe “the fury of the nightly attacks—the boom, crump, crump, crump, of heavy bombs at their work of tearing buildings apart… . 

You can read the rest of his article at his blog Grateful to the Dead, or (with pictures, if you have a CTI subscription) at the CTPastors site.

Many more stories of how Christians dealt with the moral issues and the fear raised by the 20th century's World Wars can be found in our latest issue, "Faith in the Foxholes."  Read it online or get your print copy here!


Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Oh, Freedom!]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/oh-freedom https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/oh-freedom Thu, 27 Apr 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


by David Neff, former executive editor of Christian History magazine

Some of the most important books begin with a paradox (and a sense of irony).

Charles Dickens famously began A Tale of Two Cities, his novel about the French Revolution: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau helped fuel the French Revolution with these words from The Social Contract: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.” 

Martin Luther also launched a revolution with the help of paradoxes. His most famous was “Simul justus et peccator”—Latin shorthand for his thesis that we Christians are put right in God’s sight while we are still sinners.

Luther’s second most famous paradox begins the body of what some historians think was his best-selling book, On the Freedom of the Christian (one of three key books published in 1520). After a lengthy mock-fawning address to the Pope, Luther launches his argument against the prevailing view of good works with these words: "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all."

Luther tries to explain the tension in this statement by appealing to our dual nature as humans: we are spiritual and we are bodily; we are flesh and spirit; there is an “outer man” and an “inner man.”

Erfurt monastery
Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, where Luther studied and became a monk.


The “inner man”—the soul—is neither harmed nor helped by anything the “outer man” experiences or by any effort he makes. The sole requirement for the health of the soul, Luther argues, is the word of God, the Gospel of Christ. Preaching that Gospel yields spiritual renewal and justification in those who hear. This is obvious, Luther says, because the faith that unites the soul to Christ and leads to justification exists not in the body, but in the soul.

After he establishes that freedom results from salvation by grace through faith alone, Luther turns to the second half of the paradox: that the Christian is “a perfectly dutiful servant of all.”

That phrase—“servant of all”—might lead you to expect Luther to begin preaching our duty to do good works for our neighbors (and, as Christ taught, even our enemies). But Luther wants to make another point first. Because of what God has done for us, we have a duty to keep clear the channel to the Divine—and that means keeping our bodies in check.

[Christians] must not take their ease; … we must give heed to exercise our bodies by fastings, watchings, labor, and other moderate discipline, so that they may be subdued to the spirit, and obey and conform to the inner person and faith ….

Once justified by faith, we do these things “out of disinterested love to the service of God; looking to no other end than to do what is well-pleasing to him.” This is for “the mortification of … lusts” that clog the conduit between human beings and God.

Only after Luther explains the Godward orientation of good works properly conceived does he turn to neighbor love.

For we do not live for ourselves alone in this mortal body, … but also for all others on earth; nay, we live only for others and not for ourselves. This is the reason that we bring our own bodies into subjection, that we may be able to serve others more sincerely and more freely.

This is “the truly Christian life” and a rich source of joy and satisfaction. Because the Father has “overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches … I will give myself as a sort of Christ to my neighbor.”  Luther continues: “I will do nothing in this life, except what … will be needful, advantageous, and wholesome for my neighbor.” Those three qualities—needful, advantageous, and wholesome—keep neighbor love from turning indulgent.

I love Luther’s robust picture of Christian faith in action. As I re-read this passage, I was struck by the contrast between his generous spirit and the parsimonious attitude displayed by one particular member of Congress. During the health care debate, Rep. John Shimkus objected to the idea that he, as a man, should pay for prenatal care through his health insurance. With that kind of view, all insurance seems unfair. But Luther’s grace-driven view of neighbor love is socially embodied in the wide and deep risk pools at the foundation of our insurance system.

In what I quoted above, Luther may have expressed himself in individualistic terms. But he saw the social implications:

We give this rule: the good things which we have from God ought to flow from one to another, and become common to all, so that every one of us may, as it were, put on his neighbor, and so behave towards him as if he were himself in his place.


This little book has a few flaws—or can encourage some mistaken notions.

First, even here in this early work, Luther’s anti-Semitism surfaces. When railing against “hardened and obstinate” Catholic ceremonialists, he likens them to the Jews of old “who would not understand.” In blanket fashion, he attributes simple stubbornness and bad faith to the Jews who resisted Jesus’ teaching. Fortunately, since Luther’s time we have come to understand these divisions in the context of ongoing debates within Second-Temple Judaism.

Second, the strong distinction Luther makes between Law and Gospel has contributed to the traditionalist Lutheran lack of interest in ethics. If you teach that grace is everything, there is more than an off chance that some people will fail to understand the ethical imperatives of the faith. I remember how shocked I was as a young journalist when a theologian from Valparaiso University responded to a moral question I posed. He said, “I’m a theologian. I’m not interested in ethics.” Fortunately, in this early book, Luther remains true to his paradox. Luther embraces both a Gospel of radical grace and the Law’s demand for neighbor love as a response to that Gospel. The final leg of his argument can help counter the too frequent effect of the first leg.

Finally, I cringe at the body-soul dualism on which Luther hinges his argument. That traditional dualism, erroneously derived from Saint Paul, has resulted in dangerous attitudes toward the body. (Read Peter Brown’s The Body and Society for an extended exposition of this problem.) This distortion (spirit, good; flesh, bad) has given Christians much to repent of. More recently, however, the pendulum has swung toward an uncritical celebration of the physical, which has brought additional occasions for repentance.

Which brings us back to our starting point: The trick is to maintain the paradox. A paradox, maintained in proper tension, focuses our attention on two goods and steadies that swinging pendulum. The paradox insists that we take competing interests seriously. It safeguards two realities—and helps us see the connection between the two.

Hats off to Luther and his paradoxes.

David Neff is the former executive editor of Christian History and former editor in chief of Christianity Today. Now retired, he currently serves as music director in a blended Lutheran-Episcopal congregation in the Baltimore area.

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

Christian History magazine's four issue series on the Reformation will be complete in May. Read the first on Luther here, the second on the people’s Reformation here, and the third on Calvin here.  Subscribe by May 8 to get the next issue (on the Catholic Reformation) in print here.

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[The Other Martin]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-other-martin https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-other-martin Thu, 20 Apr 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections By David Peters, producer of This Changed Everything

In the fall of 2013 I was asked to join a production team to create a 3-episode documentary on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  I was ecstatic.  I’m not a theologian, but in an era of rapid change in the church, I find we have much to learn from the historic church.

During the editing of the film, the countless hours of interviews with scholars and theologians provided me deep insight into the life and times of the men and women whose thoughts and actions altered the entire trajectory of the church – especially Martin Luther.  I was somewhat familiar with his theology but had no idea how much Luther loved to pull the chain of those with whom he engaged.  His knack for using the profane to make his point was on par with his theological brilliance. I had some laugh-out-loud moments when I learned how he creatively used descriptions of bodily functions to call out his opponents and their theology. He knew little of subtlety and nuance.  He exhibited all-out-like-it-or-not-in-your-face engagement. Imagine how he could have lit up a 16th century Twitter account!

Marburg Castle.


The first episode of our documentary, This Changed Everything: 500 Years of the Protestant Reformation, ended with a glimpse into the turmoil of the Marburg Colloquy of 1529. My wife and I were able to film at “Marburger Schloss” in Marburg, Germany where this famous gathering took place. This magnificent castle sits at the highest point in the city, Its grandeur appropriately underscoring the importance of what took place there almost 500 years before. 

In my mind, this event was a calibrating factor, affecting the whole trajectory of the Protestant Reformation – in a very negative way.

So what did happen there? Allow me to set the stage:

By the 1520s, new theological ideas were sweeping across Western Europe, creating a strange blend of chaos and insecurity, along with fresh hope, for the Church.  Wittenberg, Germany could be considered the headquarters of the reformed movement that originated with Martin Luther.  The Swiss reformers hailed from Zurich, Switzerland and sat under the sharp theological wit of Huldrych Zwingli.  But there was a third, less familiar movement of the Reformation that was forming in southern Germany under the leadership of four Strasbourg ministers, – one of whom was Martin Bucer (the other Martin, as I now call him).

While reformation was happening theologically, something else was brewing politically. At that time, Charles V was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and was trying his best to keep the empire united under the spiritual head of the Pope. As war with the French loomed, Charles need the support of all his subjects and therefore tolerated the raging reform movements. But most believed Charles V could use force at any time to quell this theological “epidemic” threatening the “true Church.” 

Enter Philip of Hesse (Hesse is a city in central Germany), an astute German political leader partial to the protestant reformers. He knew that only a unified Protestant movement could survive against a threat from Charles V. It was no secret that Luther and Zwingli were divided over the exact nature of the Eucharist. Luther claimed Christ was actually present in the elements, while Zwingli was sure the elements were a means for remembrance only.

Aware of this divide, Philip of Hesse called for a colloquy so the principal players could come together and settle their differences; agree to disagree, as it were. About 60 guests attended, including ten key leaders from the reformation movement. With all eyes on Luther and Zwingli, Philip of Hesse called the colloquy to order. He carefully advised both parties to come together and “settle the dispute over the Lord’s Supper … in a spirit of moderation.”  Yeah, right!

Marburg up close
Marburg Castle up close.


Luther, his mind fixed on what he believed, replied, “Noble Prince, undoubtedly this colloquy is well intentioned … although I have no intention of changing my mind, which is firmly made up.”  With this, he took a piece of chalk and wrote on his table top, “This is my Body.”  Zwingli shot back with quotes from the book of John demonstrating how often Jesus spoke in what was obvious metaphor. “I am the Vine … I am the door.”  There is no transcript of this debate, but evidently the two interjected insults and apologies throughout the tense verbal exchange.

Finally Luther could take it no more and let loose his showstopper, declaring, "I would rather drink blood with the Pope than mere wine with the Swiss!” He would not back down, and neither would Zwingli.

There were fourteen other points they agreed upon easily, but on the fifteenth, the exact nature of the Eucharist, they found no common ground. During the final hours of the Luther/Zwingli stalemate, the other Martin (Bucer) was asked to mediate. It was known that Bucer was open to some sort of compromise, but he was unable to broker any that day. Martin L. rebuffed Martin B, whom he referred to as a chatterbox. “Your spirit and our spirit do not coincide. On the contrary, it is obvious that we do not have one and the same spirit.”

So in the end, Luther and Zwingli made it an all-or-nothing proposition, parting without so much as a handshake. But the other Martin refused to give up. In the weeks following the Colloquy, Bucer called for unity even in the midst of disagreement. He wrote, “If you immediately condemn anyone who doesn’t quite believe the same as you do as forsaken by Christ’s Spirit, and consider anyone to be an enemy of truth who holds something false to be true, who, pray tell, can you still consider a brother?  I for one have never met two people who believed exactly the same thing. This holds true in theology as well.”

But few listened. This impasse set the stage for countless schisms and factions that would mar the church for centuries to come.  The early church started as a fresh movement of disciples following the Way of Jesus, but developed into a coded, religious system designed not to exclude pagans, but rather Christians who held beliefs outside the accepted norms.

As we sit on this side of church history - some 30,000 denominations later – the wisdom of Martin B. can’t be any more spot on.  The divisions caused by an all-or-nothing form of Christian unity are painfully evident.

But I see hope on the horizon.  There is fresh movement as the church rediscovers a faith not found in a system of beliefs, but revealed in a way of living rooted in love of God and love of neighbor. 

We don’t have to agree on every theological nuance to serve a hurting world.

As I reflect on this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, I hope we can all take account of ourselves and reflect on the sage, reconciling words of the “chatterbox” mediator, Martin Bucer – the other Martin.

Reflections By David Peters, producer of This Changed Everything  and founder of Global Story 2 Films

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[“The Reign of Death was Ended”]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reign-of-death-was-ended https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reign-of-death-was-ended Thu, 13 Apr 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


“It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended.
The victory remained with life;
The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly says
That death is swallowed up by death;
Its sting is lost forever: Alleluia.”
(Martin Luther, 1524, translated into English by Richard Massie in 1854)

Reflections by Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History magazine

My mother was a music teacher. She spent all of her professional life either directing United Methodist church choirs or teaching public school music, and she majored in music in college.  I learned many things from her. One of them was that the tunes we sing hymns to have names. (If you don’t regularly sing hymns, do sing some this Easter, either to the old tunes or some new ones.)

Christ in death
Eighteenth-century painting of Christ in the bonds of death.


Anyway, one of Martin Luther’s most famous Easter hymns begins in German with the words “Christ lag in Todesbanden” (Christ lay in the bonds of death). In its English translation it is sung to a hymn tune written by Luther and a friend, and it's called, naturally enough, CHRIST LAG IN TODESBANDEN.  (Hymn tune names are always written in ALL CAPS.) Except my mother never, ever called it that. She always called it “Christ lay on a toboggan,” just like she called the tune named LAUDA ANIMA “Laud my momma.”

When I was a teenager, the Methodists published a new hymnal that included four verses of Christ lag in Todesbanden, and I finally discovered there was much more to it than a toboggan, with or without the Lord on it. It actually has seven verses, which the Lutherans are much less shy about printing.  When you read all seven, you get Luther’s theology of Good Friday and Easter in a nutshell. 

The hymn draws much of its imagery from what scholars call “Christus victor” atonement theology: the idea that what Christ did for us on the cross was, most fully, about fighting a decisive victory over sin, death, and the devil: “Destroying sin, he took the crown/ From death’s pale brow forever./ Stripped of pow’r, no more it reigns.” It also pulls in imagery from the Exodus (the blood on the door and the unleavened bread) and, because it’s Luther, notes that “No son of man could conquer death,/ Such ruin sin had wrought us” and reminds us that we know all this because, well, “Holy Scripture plainly says.” (The 16th-century version of “The Bible tells me so.”)

When I was a teenager, I wasn’t quite clear on the idea that “no son of man could conquer death” because, as you know, all teenagers think they can conquer death, and Christian teenagers think they can make Jesus happy, too. Now I am 45 years old. I know better.

My mother died in 2008. As we come once again to Good Friday and Easter and as I sing this hymn in hope, I must trust that what Luther said here is true: that when life and death contended in that “strange and dreadful strife,” that “the victory remained with life;/ The reign of death was ended”—and that by lauding my momma, I was learning to laud her death-conquering Jesus, too.

Reflections by Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History magazine,  including issue #115 on Luther Subscribe to get future issues in print here!

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation. #RefoThursday. )

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Model of Gracious Leadership]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/model-of-gracious-leadership https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/model-of-gracious-leadership Thu, 06 Apr 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


“Go, messieurs; I forgive the past, in consideration of the contrition you have so humbly expressed; and in the firm trust that the great clemency which I this day show towards you, may in time produce a result worthy of faithful and loyal subjects. May God grant this my prayer!" —Jeanne d’Albret

Reflections by Dr. Steve Varvis, former provost and Sr. Vice President and current professor at Fresno Pacific University.  Dr. Varvis blogs regularly at The Educated State.

In the complicated and bloody battles of the religious wars in France between the Reformed and Roman Catholic nobility, Jeanne d’Albret stands out as one of the most capable politicians as wells as one of the most dedicated reformers. As Queen of Navarre and mother of the future king of France, Henry IV, once her conversion to Calvinism became public in 1560, she dedicated herself to Henry’s succession to the throne and to the future of freedom of worship and practice for Protestant Christians. When he became king, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598 which granted freedom of worship and protection to Reformed Christians in France.

Jeanne d'Albret
A young Jeanne d’Albret


Meanwhile In letter after letter to Queen Catherine of France during the 1560s, Jeanne d’Albret pled her loyalty to the King and Queen, and her cause of freedom of worship for Protestant believers. Through the decade her position strengthened and weakened. Her rights, privileges, and properties were lost and won, taken and returned, yet she remained steadfast. She suffered loss and restoration, maintained her loyalty to the crown and its Catholic monarchs, and argued and fought for the legal right to freedom of worship and the practice of Protestant faith. She was one of the great monarchs of the time, astute, persistent, and devout.

In these remarkable words from a speech to Charles, Comte de Luxe, and Valentin Domezain who led a rebellion against her in 1567, she offered forgiveness and clemency to these two who repented. Clementia, or clemency was a ruler’s virtue. Sometimes translated as mercy, it offered forgiveness and a fresh start for the repentant and contrite. (John Calvin’s first publication was an edition of the stoic philosopher, Seneca’s On Clemency.)

As someone who has had the chance to lead in an educational institution, and in churches and other organizations, I look for models of gracious leadership. Battles and conflict, even when not actual wars, are unfortunately part of our experience even in our churches, as they were in the sixteenth (and most other) centuries. Jeanne offers one such example of a gracious leader to me. She was careful in her work, she followed her conscience, yet she recognized that others were doing the same even when they disagreed with her.

I have experienced that disagreement in my work and other leadership roles. Jeanne believed and worshipped within the Reformed tradition which allowed for such differences of opinion and conscience. Jeanne ends with a prayer that those who opposed her will see things her way. Perhaps we all hope this of those with whom we disagree. She forgave in an age when she might have taken vengeance. Perhaps we can follow her example and extend the hand of fellowship to those who have opposed what we believe to be true. Perhaps they, and we, will learn something.

Jeanne did not always pursue reform with the speed and thoroughness with which Calvin and his successor, Theodore Beza, advocated and admonished her. She was independent, as many strong leaders are, carefully managing her way through the many forces that would control her and force her into political corners. In her offer of forgiveness and mercy, she demonstrated what a leader might be in the midst of religious conflict, and was recognized and praised for it. She demonstrated the strength of one who would pursue her conviction, her faith in the Gospel, and showed the same grace and mercy that she understood that God offered to her.

Dr. Steve Varvis is former provost and Sr. Vice President at Fresno Pacific University.  Dr. Varvis currently enjoys full time teaching and blogs regularly at The Educated State.  This June he will lead a 500th anniversary Reformation Tour

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

Christian History magazine has prepared a series of four issues on the Reformation. Read the first on Luther here, read the second on the people’s Reformation here, and read the third here.  Subscribe to get the fourth issue when it prints in May here!

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Hallowed Be Thy Names]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/hallowed-be-thy-names https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/hallowed-be-thy-names Mon, 13 Mar 2017 00:00:00 GMT HALLOWED BE THY NAMES

by Stephen Brown, LT USN, composed after his first visit to the Vietnam War Memorial ("The Wall") in Washington, DC.  

From Dulles Airport I grow impatient
Not knowing my way around.
It has taken all day
Leaning on my cane
To make final roll call at The Wall.
Anguish long repressed now incites
A Mekong coastline, splintered bones,
Shattered futures. At peace, brave ones,
We muster at this destitute,
This blessed knoll.

Amid offspring celebrating credulity
Two black gates loom high in the sky,
A magnificent shrine that enrolls your names
Among forgotten gods.
This vanquished leader weeps in his joy.
Here hobbles the barnswallow
Who once led eagles into the sky. And such
good fortune is more than I deserve.
Consummate honor to you, brothers all,
From the remnants of the spark to my soul.

Stephen Brown
North Vietnam, 1973

Touching a name on the wall
Touching a name on the Vietname Memorial by Skyring at English Wikipedia—Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Estoymuybueno., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1503024


Read the latest issue of Christian History magazine on "Faith in the Foxholes," on Christianity during the World Wars.

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[The Reformation at 500: Protestant theology in art and material culture]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reformation-at-500-protestant-theology-in-art-and-material-culture https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reformation-at-500-protestant-theology-in-art-and-material-culture Fri, 24 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT by Jennifer Awes Freeman

Installation view of the exhibition "Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation"; 30 October 2016 - 15 January 2017. Organized in cooperation with the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt, Wittenberg, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, and Foundation Schloss Friedenstein Gotha, under the Leadership of the State Museum of Prehistory, Halle (Saale). Mia Target Gallery; galleries 266-274. Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Art


For the last several months, Martin Luther has been gazing benevolently down on the citizens of Minneapolis and St. Paul, origins of the Prairie Home Companion and all things Lutheran. Previously, he could only be found in select places around the Twin Cities (such as his statue on the campus of Concordia University), but in September his visage began to appear on billboards, buses, and the like. The exhibition Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) contained numerous significant artworks and objects that had never been outside of Germany; for this rare opportunity, we have the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation to thank. Because select items were already going to be taken off-site in order to be restored for the celebration, several German churches and institutions were able to lend these precious artifacts to the exhibit. These collections include: the Luther House in Wittenberg, the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, the Luther Memorials Foundation in Saxony-Anholt, the German Historical Museum in Berlin, and the Foundation Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha. The exhibit, which drew a total of 110,966 visitors, ran from October 30, 2016 – January 15, 2017. (The anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences will be October 31, 2017).

Art production is probably not the first thing that comes to mind regarding the Reformation; rather, the Protestant Reformation is better known for its iconoclasm and anti-image rhetoric (especially by figures such as Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin). But even Martin Luther (1483-1546), who was comparatively moderate and was no iconoclast, ridiculed the superstitious treatment of religious images and openly mocked the proliferation of (apparently) fake relics.

The Martin Luther exhibition at Mia traced the origins, development, and impact of Luther’s theology. While the subtitle was “Art and the Reformation,” the exhibition in fact contained a wide variety of artifacts, the majority of which could be more accurately described as images (or material culture) rather than as “art.” This is, in part, thanks to recent archaeological discoveries at the Luther House in Wittenberg, as well as to the nature of the Protestant relationship with (i.e., criticism of) Church wealth. Accordingly, the presentation of the exhibition’s items reflected their diversity: paintings and altarpieces were displayed in the usual way—mounted on walls or atop pedestals, while archaeological artifacts (such as broken toys from Luther’s childhood home) were grouped in vitrines. Furniture was also used to reconstruct Lutheran environments, including his study and, most impressively, the last pulpit from which he preached.

The exhibition was organized into eight themed rooms, sequenced in chronological order, which—especially for those unfamiliar with the history of the Protestant Reformation—created a natural and informative progression. In “Boyhood,” the museum-goer encountered Luther’s formative context, which included illness (represented by a plague hood and brass embellishments from burnt clothing), his family’s wealth (evidenced in his father’s ledger), and Catholic piety (a statuette of the Virgin), among other things. The following room displayed the trappings of “Secular Power,” that is, the political dynamics that had a symbiotic (parasitic?) relationship with the Church. Examples of note included the brass cover plate of the tomb of Count Hoyer VI, a woodcut of the electors’ coats of arms (with the papal coat of arms added), and Emperor Maximilian’s pilgrim’s garment. The next, “Pre-Reformation Piety,” captured the transition between late medieval and early Renaissance worship. Viewers could examine a representative Mass of St. Gregory altarpiece and compare relic inventories, rendered in print and drawing, with similar reliquaries. Also on display were several liturgical garments and the immense illuminated choir book of Naumburg Cathedral. In the fourth room of the exhibition, “Luther as Monk, Scholar, and Preacher,” the focus returned to Luther’s personal life, and the tipping point of the Reformation. Splitting the gallery in half, a partial wall presented a translation of the famed Ninety-Five Theses, below which several relevant printed texts were encased; appropriately situated in a vitrine before them were an indulgence chest and example of an indulgence. Walking around the room divider dramatically revealed the pulpit from St. Andrew’s Church in Eisleben. The room “Luther’s Theology” was dominated by the 157-panel Gotha altar on one wall. The altar’s combination of text and image in every panel is a testament to Protestant suspicion of images; here image is justified by the presence of lengthy quotes from the New Testament. The room also included more practical items, such as an example of a sermon timer. “Luther’s House as the Hub of the Reformation” was filled largely by the reconstruction of Luther’s studio; around its periphery were found painted and printed portraits of Luther and Katarina, as well as objects from their daily life, such as pottery and writing tools, as well as Katarina’s famed lost ring. In “Polemics and Conflicts” the tension rose again; the gallery was filled with images and objects of violence (such as weapons and broken images), hate (including Luther’s own anti-Jewish tracts), and ridicule (as seen in several satirical woodcuts). The exhibition concluded in a visually brighter room, titled “The Legend,” which was overwhelmed by the debate stand from the University of Wittenberg, but also included treasures such as memorial portraits.

It is difficult to describe the number, quality, and diversity of objects of this exhibition. A careful viewer could spend at least two hours going through the galleries; looking at every single artifact took twice the time. The educational aspect extended well beyond the gallery walls in numerous public lectures, as well as a catalogue and book of essays. The Minneapolis exhibition was one of three that were part of the “Here I Stand” Luther Exhibitions USA 2016 project. (The other two were Word and Image: Martin Luther’s Reformation at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City and Law and Grace: Martin Luther, Lucas Cranach, and the Promise of Salvation at the Pitts Theology Library of Emory University in Atlanta, GA.) The catalogue and essays incorporate the inventory of all three exhibitions.

The weaknesses of the exhibition were few and paled in comparison to its overall success. These minor issues included the illegibility of display texts caused by the combination of low-lighting with the dark-colored background and text; one couldn’t walk through a single room without hearing a visitor comment on the reading difficulty. Relatedly, magnifying glasses or supplementary detailed photos would have been useful for examining numerous items more closely (such as the Islamic ornamental embroidery on Maximilian’s pilgrim’s garment). Lastly, it would have been interesting if the final room had incorporated a contemporary example of Luther’s legacy (aside from the relic-like piece of floorboard)—especially given the fact that the exhibition took place in one of the most Lutheran cities in the United States.

Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation at the Minneapolis Institute of Art offered an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be immersed in the material expressions of Luther’s reforming theology. One of the most valuable contributions of this exhibition was its extensive evidence that Protestant theology was not simply expressed in the written or printed word: it could also be found in sculpture, paintings, jewelry, and, yes, even a beer stein.

This review is also published in ARTS vol. 28, no. 2 (2017).

If you missed the fine exhibit at the Mia, our partners Refo500 have a wonderful virtual exhibit of Reformation art and objects.  Check it out here!

Related information

Posted in: general, News

<![CDATA[How World War I Inspired The Lord of the Rings]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/how-world-war-i-inspired-the-lord-of-the-rings https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/how-world-war-i-inspired-the-lord-of-the-rings Mon, 20 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love The Lord of the Rings. I take every opportunity to sneak it into everything. I am a huge fan of all the Inklings and their friends and mentors, in fact, and immensely enjoyed working on our issue #113, Seven Literary Sages.

Now I'm happy to report that both Tolkien and Lewis show up in our upcoming issue on faith in the World Wars—and we didn't even have to sneak them in! The war was profoundly influential on the fiction of both Tolkien and Lewis. You can read a bit about that here, in the testimony of Tolkien's grandson Simon about his memories of his famous grandfather. (Simon has, it turns out, actually written a book called No Man's Land based on his grandfather's wartime experiences.)  You can read a bit more about it in our World Wars issue very shortly. 

The whole issue is a compelling and moving one full of stories of how people wrestled with Christian obligations in a time of national crisis.  Sign up here to get it in your mailbox when it ships—it went to the printer's on Friday! 

Posted in: Product Release

<![CDATA[Who keeps Christian History in business? YOU!]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/who-keeps-christian-history-in-business-you https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/who-keeps-christian-history-in-business-you Tue, 07 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT

We're often asked here at Christian History Institute (CHI) how this magazine is supported, since we bill ourselves as a "donation-based publication." Some folks think that a foundation, or a few people with deep pockets, support our work. In fact, we are able to continue our mission because of the generosity of thousands of small-scale donors who read the magazine every quarter.

Here's a little history. Our work was begun in 1982 by Ken Curtis, the founder of CHI. Our passion is the same now as it was then: to bring the lively and enriching stories of Christian history to a wide audience by producing films to present the lives of famous Christians. In order to make the films more educational, our team put together study materials to accompany them. These study materials, filled with information on a single topic, formed the basis for Christian History magazine.

It wasn’t long before readers were telling us they wanted more of the high quality, multi-dimensional stories we presented, and we realized the magazine deserved a life all its own. As a result, we shifted to publishing a regular quarterly, choosing topics of broad appeal and devoting each issue to a single topic.

In 1989 Christianity Today International (CTI) brought Christian History under its leadership as a way to further expand the reach of the publication, leading to significant increases in quality and circulation for 19 years. CTI made the difficult choice to cease publication in 2008 because of the increasing costs of maintaining a print publication.

It was at this point that care of the magazine returned to CHI. When we released issue 100 on the King James Bible in 2011, demand to bring the magazine back on a regular basis was overwhelming. But it was obvious that traditional subscription models would no longer work. Instead, we decided to operate the magazine as a ministry. Subscribers are sent the magazine regardless of their ability to pay, but we also hope and pray that those who are financially able can donate to help continue CHI's three decades of providing high-quality historical information aimed at modern believers, engagingly written and beautifully illustrated. Donations are tax-deductible.

Now you know: you are the one keeping Christian History in business! We thank you so much.


Posted in: Behind the Scenes

<![CDATA[Old evangelicals and "New Methodists"]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/old-evangelicals-and-new-methodists https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/old-evangelicals-and-new-methodists Tue, 24 Jan 2017 00:00:00 GMT

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History magazine

As someone who has spent much of my life among Methodists and a somewhat smaller portion among Anglicans (and who has prepared for the ordained ministry among both groups), it's been my experience that, while both those groups name John Wesley as one of their forefathers in the faith, the way they tell his story is very different.

For Methodists, Wesley's critique of Anglican legalism, corruption, and complacency (of which there was plenty in the 18th century) culminates in the establishment of Methodism, which then jumps the Atlantic and conquers the American continent. No one ever worries about what happened to the Anglicans afterward. For Anglicans, Wesley is an 18th-century hero among many faithful priests and pastors who spoke out for a better way, leading to 19th-century movements of renewal and social action; he somewhat regrettably and accidentally produced a schism, but no one talks about that in polite company. :)  No one ever worries about what happened to the Methodists afterward.

That's why the new book Wesley and the Anglicans by Ryan Nicholas Danker is so important: he worries about both groups. And he worries about the intersection of spirituality and politics. Ryan, who a long time ago was my student when I was a teaching assistant at Duke, comes by it all naturally: he is an evangelically-minded, high-church United Methodist who teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.  

The book tells the story of how Wesley and other evangelical Anglican clergymen related to each other for the first few decades after the beginning of Methodism (which was a looser and more varied association at the beginning than is sometimes believed.) Ryan describes the context of early English Evangelicalism and how Evangelical-sympathetic clergy established networks of friendship and influence. (The 18th century, which understood Evangelicalism as a "party" within the broad religious landscape of the Church of England, usually capitalized the word.) Ryan fits the Wesleys into that picture, and then he looks at the way tensions arose between John Wesley and other Evangelicals, including his own brother.

While sympathetic to the desire for "heart religion" that John preached, most Evangelicals desperately wanted to stay within the church, within which they were, in Ryan's words, an "embattled minority," They were gun-shy of associating with a movement criticized by Anglicanism's non-Evangelical members as politically seditious and religiously irresponsible. They viewed Methodism as dangerously close to the "conventicles" of an earlier era which had ultimately led to the overthrow of both state church and King; they distrusted John's use of lay preachers and the attempts of those lay preachers to administer Communion; and they resented Methodist preachers' disregard for parish boundaries by preaching to their flocks. (They felt that they were already doing a pretty good job explaining heart religion to them, thank you very much.). Pamphlets (which functioned essentially as the blogs of the 18th century) arose on both sides, each criticizing the other. 

Relations eventually broke almost down completely after the University of Oxford expelled 6 students in 1768 for "methodistical practices" and the university cracked down on dissenting views. A degree from Oxford or Cambridge was the only route to Anglican ordination; Evangelicals, who already found getting ordained and obtaining a church difficult, did not want it to become impossible. The two paths began to diverge. The stories they told about each other eventually became the two different narratives I was expected to produce on two different sets of ordination exams.

Every so often, a book comes a long which has the possibility to reshape a whole historical outlook and give us a new set of eyes by which we can see familiar things.The study of the history of Methodism has been very lucky in books like that recently, including Jeffrey Williams' Religion and Violence in Early American Methodism and Geordan Hammond's John Wesley in America.  This is another book like that. When you strive to be a teacher, more often than not by your students you'll be taught. 

More on the Wesleys in the newly reprinted Christian History magazine #69, The Wesleys.

Image: the nave of Christ Church Cathedral

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Are you Erasmus or are you Luther?]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/are-you-erasmus-or-are-you-luther https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/are-you-erasmus-or-are-you-luther Thu, 30 Mar 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by Matt Oser, Vice President of marketing, Christian History Institute 

Like many fellow millennials, I have often heard myself say, “All institutions are corrupt, including the church.  It just comes down to how much corruption can be tolerated.” It should not come as a shock that churches have a problem with corruption.  The early church is born in Acts 2 and by Acts 6 is dealing with a scandal, as those dispensing food to widows are using race/ethnicity as the determining factor for who receives care.  All churches for all time will have corruption issues because God has entrusted the care of the church to sinful men, who have a tendency to bite and devour one another (Gal 5:15). Therefore, corruption is inevitable … and also disgraceful. 

Gongs and cymbals
If we cry out about corruption and do nothing are we any different than a noisy gong and a clanging symbol?


I often find myself looking at corruption in the church and asking, “Am I a Martin Luther, or am I an Erasmus?”  Both men were part of the Catholic church in the early 1500’s—Luther as a very devout monk and Erasmus as a priest. Both men were sharply aware of corruption within the church.  Erasmus wrote “The corruption… [and] the degeneracy of the Holy See are universally admitted.…” Erasmus’s critique of Rome was such that Pope Paul IV had many of his books added to Rome’s index of forbidden works.  Luther famously served the Catholic church its notice of corruption in the form of 95 Theses nailed to the door of Wittenburg Castle Church on October 31, 1517. Neither man turned a blind eye to corruption, however, their methods for addressing the problem were very different.

Luther was not given the opportunity to stay in the Catholic church without recanting his criticism. So gifted by God and not given a legitimate shot to reform the church from within, he became the lightning rod that sparked the Protestant Reformation after his famous, or infamous, speech at the Diet of Worms. But Erasmus chose to stay in the Catholic church and work to reform it from within. It is truly hard to say that Luther was wrong to split from  the church  and start over. But, I would say it is equally hard to say that Erasmus’ choice  to reform the church from within was wrong, either. They simply choose different methods to reach a satisfactory outcome.

I have noticed that people tend to be either starters or fixers. Starters see problems for what they are: huge, difficult, and imposing monsters. When faced with these monsters they begin to look for ways to circumvent the problem by breaking with the old and starting over. Fixers see the problems for what they are: huge, difficult, and imposing monsters. But, when they face these monsters they tend to look for ways to tame them; their hope is to restore them to their rightful state.

What I find especially striking is that neither Luther nor Erasmus was content to see the corruption, call out the corruption, and then do nothing. They both fought for change, working hard to bring it about.  I know I would rather accuse others of corruption from the safety of my laptop, tablet, or cell phone than to lovingly confront them as brothers and sisters  and endeavor to “Explain to [them] the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). 

So, for us millennials who decry the corruption of the church, are we going to be a Martin Luther or an Erasmus? To cry out for change and do nothing was not an option for either of them and should not be one for us. For if we cry out about corruption and do nothing are we any different than a noisy gong and a clanging symbol? It will take love, a heart for the truth, and the courage to work hard if we want to restore the broken church of our day. 

Matt Oser is Vice President of marketing for Vision Video and Christian History Institute

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

For more on Luther, Erasmus, Calvin, and the rest, visit the Reformation section of our storefront where you'll find various Christian History magazines on the subject and the award winning documentary This Changed Everything presenting the Reformation from a broad theological perspective.

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[The Sword or the Cross?]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-sword-or-the-cross https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-sword-or-the-cross Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflection by Edwin Woodruff Tait, contributing editor Christian History

In discussions about Christian attitudes to war, one of the surest ways to annoy people is to take an “almost pacifist” position—holding that war is legitimate in principle but almost always wrong in practice. Many defenders of Christian involvement in war get far angrier with “almost pacifists” than “real pacifists.” In fact, some authors on just war argue that the just war tradition has been hijacked by people who really want to be pacifists but don’t have the honesty or courage to admit it. I am one of those people. In practice, most of the time, I sound like a pacifist. Yet I’m not quite willing to go all the way. 

cross shaped like a sword
Sword or cross?


The obvious reason to be a Christian pacifist is the belief that killing people is incompatible with Jesus’ call to love our neighbors. But the strongest reason not to be a pacifist is that being a pacifist is incompatible with Jesus’ call to love our neighbors. The Protestant Reformer Martin Bucer, in his comments on Matthew 5:39, remarked that Jesus did not say to turn our neighbor’s cheek, but our own. Bucer criticized Anabaptist leader Michael Sattler not for taking love of neighbor too far, but for not taking it far enough. As Bucer saw it, Sattler wanted to create a little community of the pure who weren’t concerned with the welfare of the whole society. Christian love requires us to defend our neighbors against unjust aggressors, and to punish those who harm others. The Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier took the argument further, claiming that the just use of the sword (not all Anabaptists were pacifists in the 16th century) was loving toward the evil-doer. C. S. Lewis (probably without having read Hubmaier) would make the same argument centuries later.

While many Christian pacifists find the notion of killing a person out of love horrifying and self-contradictory, I can’t agree. As Greek philosopher Plato and Christian philosopher Boethius both argued, the worst possible thing for anyone is to do evil and get away with it. To thwart an act of violence or injustice is an act of love not only for the victim but for the perpetrator, even if the only way to stop the evil act is to kill the evil-doer. If I should ever commit an act of violence, I hope someone will stop me, even if they have to kill me to do it. Hence, I’m not able to go all the way and embrace Christian pacifism. It is, at least in principle, possible to use force, even lethal force, justly and lovingly. 

But is it possible in practice? That is quite a different question. Since we are all sinners, prone to violence and hatred and self-righteousness, doesn’t any use of force against evil inevitably become an expression of evil itself? Isn’t violence, in fact, very much like Tolkien’s “Ring,” something which a person may take up with noble intentions but will always corrupt those intentions? It looks very much as if it is, especially when violence is institutionalized and made a regular part of personal or national policy. The only person who can be safely trusted to use force in defense of the innocent is a sinless person. 

But as Christians, we believe that there is one perfect, sinless example of how to fight evil. When Jesus died on the Cross, he was pouring himself out on behalf of his “neighbors,” standing between us and the powers of evil, enacting love in the most powerful manner possible. And this, it seems to me, is where the strength of the Christian pacifist position lies. As Menno Simons put it: “This only I would learn of you, whether you are baptized on the sword or on the Cross?” 

Violence is so seductive to us sinners as to constitute an alternative means of redemption. We speak of soldiers dying to make us free and buying our liberty with their blood. We speak of just war as the means by which we will destroy evil. In practice, the use of force to fight evil inevitably seems to become an alternative to the Cross. 

I believe that under certain very limited circumstances—when someone is in the act of committing murder or rape—the use of force, even lethal force, is legitimate for Christians. But even then it should be used with the utmost reluctance, and nonviolently putting oneself between the evil-doer and his victim is a more perfect way of following Jesus. And the more we institutionalize and regularize the use of force, whether as individuals or nations—the more we prepare for it, the more we anticipate it, the more zealously we try to work ourselves up to it—the more we are falling under the spell of an alternative Gospel in which the sword, not the Cross, is the means of salvation. 

Edwin Woodruff Tait is contributing editor of Christian History magazine  Read about pacifists during World Wars I and II in this newly published article by Steven M. Nolt: "Service for Peace." 

The latest Christian History magazine tells the stories of Christians who faced the horrors of World Wars I and II. Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!  

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)


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<![CDATA[Let Hardship Grow Us]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/let-hardship-grow-us https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/let-hardship-grow-us Thu, 16 Mar 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by Andrew Garnett, minister at Forest Hills Baptist Church

On November 3, 1515, Martin Luther began to lecture on Romans at the University of Wittenberg. Luther had been a professor at the university for just over three years, but the posting of his famous Ninety-five Theses was still two years in the future. After several weeks of lecturing, he reached Romans 5:3-4: “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” (NRSV). 

Children in food line
Trials come in many forms and can make us or break us.


As he prepared his lecture notes, Luther could see the positive impact of hardship which Paul had described; Luther saw how suffering could develop virtues in an individual’s life. However, Luther realized that the converse was also true: hardship could also have a corrupting effect on an individual. Perhaps he was thinking of his own life as an Augustinian friar. Luther was very unhappy while living the cloistered life of a friar, but his hardship did not lead to spiritual growth; on the contrary, Luther found that the more he fasted and prayed, the more miserable he became. 

Luther concluded that his suffering had not led to the endurance, character, and hope that Paul spoke of because his heart had not been in the right place. His spiritual life had been based on fear and guilt rather than on God’s matchless grace; consequently, his suffering had an effect opposite to the one that Paul described. When he rose to lecture, Luther told his students: 

Martin Luther
Luther’s time as a monk was fraught with anxiety and discouragement.


“Whatever tribulation finds in us, it develops more fully. If anyone is carnal, weak, blind, wicked, irascible, haughty, and so forth, tribulation will make him more carnal, weak, blind, wicked, and irritable. On the other hand, if one is spiritual, strong, wise, pious, gentle, and humble, he will become more spiritual, powerful, wise, pious, gentle, and humble…Those speak foolishly who ascribe their anger or their impatience to tribulation. Tribulation does not make people impatient, but proves that they are impatient. So everyone may learn from tribulation how his heart is constituted.” 

Luther’s words have proven true in my own life, and particularly in my work in the church. Sometimes I get anxious about the budget, and it seems that if we just had a little more money then everything would be fine. Or if I just didn’t have so many meetings, I would have more time for the things that really matter. Or if that one demanding church member would just find a different congregation, then I would be so much less stressed. 

But none of that is true of course. I will be anxious about the budget regardless of how much money the church has. If I can’t find time for the important things now, then I won’t find time for them regardless of how I juggle my responsibilities or rearrange my calendar. And if I am allowing one person to make me anxious now, I will just allow someone else to have that power over me in the future; the face may change, but the root problem will still be there. As Luther said, my anxiety or stress or busyness does not come from any of the tribulations that I face—they come from the flaws in my own heart. Blaming those external factors is a self-serving attempt to avoid my deeper problem. 

The next time you face a difficult situation, take note of how you react. Are you hopeful, humble, and prayerful? Or are you fearful, impatient, and angry? Your reaction is not flowing primarily from your hardship, but from somewhere much deeper. 

Andrew Garnett is the minister for serving Christ at Forest Hills Baptist Church

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

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<![CDATA[threats of violence]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/threats-of-violence https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/threats-of-violence Thu, 09 Mar 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

 by Michelle Curtis, CHI intern

A couple months ago, my pastor gave a children’s sermon in my Mennonite church and asked the kids: What do you do when someone hits you? Without missing a beat, a child replied loud enough for the whole congregation to hear: “Hit them back!” We all laughed in appreciation of this child’s bluntness. The pastor encouraged the children to come up with some responses that would better suit our pacifist tradition; but in later conversations, I heard other adults wondering aloud if our laughter unwittingly encouraged the child to return hit for hit, iron for iron, gunshot for gunshot. 

What sort of armor do we wear?


The quote above from the early Anabaptist confession at Schleitheim (1527) rings strikingly pertinent in our world today, when some Christian leaders claim that safety requires Christians to arm themselves with concealed guns. Just like today, fear and death were rampant in the 16th century. All of Europe feared the Turks overcoming Vienna and thereby gaining access to conquer Western Europe. At the same time, Christians within Europe were killing one another. Just two years earlier, 100,000 perished in the German Peasants’ Revolt, and Anabaptists themselves were already facing execution for their faith. 

It’s tempting to believe that the only way to fight steel and iron, terrorism and gun violence, is with more drones, more air strikes, more concealed carry guns, more weapons than the “worldlings.” And yet, Romans 12 instructs us not to repay evil with evil but rather to overcome evil with good. 

Anabaptists were not popular in their own day. They were persecuted and killed by Protestants and Catholics alike. And their ideas about pacifism (the rejection of all violence) remain largely unpopular in our own day. Despite the success of numerous nonviolent resistance movements throughout the 20th c. such as the Civil Rights Movement, it is still difficult for many of us to believe that what the Anabaptists at Schleitheim called “the armor of God” is effective against the worldly weapons that threaten our safety. Even for self-identifying Mennonites, it’s often easier to side with the child who answered “hit them back” than with our Anabaptist forebears who sometimes lost their lives for refusing to use violence. 

No matter how you view pacifism, I think the historic Anabaptists raise important questions for all Christians today: What does it mean to equip ourselves with the armor of God (Eph. 6:10–17)? And how does Christ call us to respond to threats of violence in our own time?

Michelle Curtis is a Christian History intern and seminary student.

For more on how Anabaptists have historically responded during times of war, see our article on the conscientious objectors in the latest issue of Christian HIstory magazine, Faith in the Foxholes, featuring the story of Christianity during World Wars I and II. 

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

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<![CDATA[fasting-as-a-means-of-grace]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/fasting-as-a-means-of-grace https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/fasting-as-a-means-of-grace Thu, 02 Mar 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


by Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History magazine.

"O LORD, which for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honor and glory."—Collect (prayer) for the first Sunday in Lent by Thomas Cranmer for the 1549--Book of Common Prayer. Spelling modernized.


I’ve only fasted one time for longer than the occasional skipped meal, and that was during Holy Week 1995. I was in seminary then, where I had heard much about the virtue of fasting. As regular readers of Christian History know, I am a Wesleyan-Arminian and I grew up in the United Methodist Church and went to a Wesleyan-Arminian seminary.  Fasting is on the list of John Wesley’s means of grace (here’s a modernized list of what the means of grace are if you’re curious) and I tried to practice the others regularly, but found this one a more difficult hill to climb. I thought that Maundy Thursday and Good Friday would be a good time to attempt this spiritual practice. 

Prayer and fasting
Prayer and fasting are spiritual disciplines.


As I recall now, I went about 60 hours, going from the morning of Maundy Thursday to a meal mid-day on Holy Saturday. One of my chief memories is of the Maundy Thursday chapel service at my school, where the choir performed sacred music related to the crucifixion. I realized that what I had heard was true: after the initial hunger pangs faded, the absence of food meant more attention to the presence of God in my life. When I had a small amount of fruit on Holy Saturday it was welcoming, but also somehow sad, as though that heightened awareness of God’s Spirit would be in some way crowded out of my life as it assumed its more normal contours. 

I can’t imagine how Jesus must have felt when fasting for 40 days and 40 nights.  Was he tempted to eat? Did he feel more free to pray? (Does being attentive to the movement of God’s Spirit in your life feel different when you are … you know … actually God incarnate?) What we do know is that Scripture tells us he did so, and that when he faced down the devil in the desert it was out of the spiritual grounding of that 40-day fast.  

It is that fasting that, through a long series of historical developments, led to our modern observances of Lent, and it is that fasting that’s often recalled in our hymns and songs—and, in the Anglican tradition, in this prayer that Thomas Cranmer wrote for the first Sunday in Lent for the very first Book of Common Prayer in 1549.  The reformers who created the BCP wanted to replace a prayer used in the medieval church which they felt placed too much emphasis on fasting as a good work: 

O God, who purifiest thy Church by the yearly observance of the Lenten fast: Grant unto thy household, that it may follow out in good works those holy inspirations which it endeavours to obtain from thee by abstinence.

Cranmer’s version places the emphasis, not on how good fasting looks before God, but on the effect on us of doing it: learning to obey God and seek after holiness and righteousness. From my own experience, I would agree. 

This Lent, whether or not you give something up or take something on, keep that in mind. The purpose of this season is not to feed our pride by what we give up, but to learn obedience to the One who saved us and who faced down death and the devil on our behalf.

Jennifer Woodruff Tait is managing editor of Christian History magazine.

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

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<![CDATA[Insist on Gospel basics]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/insist-on-gospel-basics https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/insist-on-gospel-basics Thu, 02 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


"When you preach in the presence of learned and intelligent men, you may… present these parts in as varied and intricate ways… But with the young people stick to one fixed, permanent form and manner, and teach them, first of all, these parts, namely, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, etc., according to the text, word for word, so that they… commit it to memory.  But those who are unwilling to learn it should be told that they deny Christ and are no Christians… For although we cannot and should not force anyone to believe, yet we should insist and urge the people that they know what is right and wrong." - Martin Luther

Reflections by Langdon Palmer, Pastor at Leverington Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA 

Although Luther may sound somewhat rigid to modern ears, I think he is on to something very important here—actually two somethings! First, what you know really matters. So many times my progressive friends sum up the gospel as “helping the poor and oppressed,” and my conservative friends sum up the gospel as “living a pure moral life.”

Bible with candle and glasses
Luther emphasized the need for Bible knowledge.


But, these are wonderful responses to the gospel, not the gospel itself.  Weren’t there faithful Jewish people fighting for social justice long before Jesus came?  Weren’t there faithful Jewish people striving to live pure moral lives long before Jesus came?   If they were already doing all these good things, then what did Jesus coming to earth add?

The word “Gospel” means good news, and that good news came to people who were already religious. “News” implies information that is given to you by another—knowledge you did not deduce on your own. This is information that comes from outside of us.  It changes us because it changes the way we see ourselves and the world.  Therefore knowing Christian doctrine (claims about what is real) really matters.

Second, teaching really matters.  As early as Augustine, church leaders were asking “What are the essentials one needs to know, and where should we begin in our teaching?  1 Corinthians 13:13 implores us to pursue “Faith, Hope, and Love” and so the early church decided to teach along these three lines.  For an introduction to faith they taught the Apostles Creed, as it declares the basic theological claims of the faith.  For love they taught the Ten Commandments, because these are practical ways to show love of God and love of neighbor.  For hope they taught the Lord’s Prayer, because it implies that God is real, is at work right here and now, and cares intimately about our lives and our future. 

Luther holds onto this three-fold tradition and reforms it.  He implies memorization is crucial but so is understanding.  We must hold onto the basics as we move towards more nuanced and critical ways of thinking … so that God can reform us. I am thankful to Luther for reminding me that learning and the life of the mind is crucial to my walk as a Christian. 

Langdon Palmer is Pastor at Leverington Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

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<![CDATA[God's second best gift]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/gods-second-best-gift https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/gods-second-best-gift Thu, 16 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by Diana Severance, director of Dunham Bible Museum and author of Her Story.

My husband and I met in 1990 on a tour of the Early Church, led by Ken Curtis, CHI’s founder. We enjoyed each other’s company during the tour, and I thought Gordon certainly the most fascinating man I had ever met (everyone says that about Gordon!). When the tour came to an end, I went on an extension to Rome, but Gordon went back to the US. My camera had broken, and Gordon loaned me his little camera to finish taking pictures on the tour, giving me his address to mail the camera back. I actually cried myself to sleep that night thinking I would never see this fascinating man again—he lived on the west coast and I lived in Texas. After returning home I mailed the camera back with a thank you letter, which to my delight he promptly answered. As our correspondence and affection for each other increased, Gordon thought he needed to tell me how old he was so I wouldn’t get too serious about him. I wrote back that the 20 year age difference was not important. After all, in the Bible Boaz was old enough to be Ruth’s father—and Martin Luther was quite a bit older than Katie!  Luther’s marriage became an example for us, as it had been for so many in his day and after.

Luther family time
Family time with the Luthers.


As an Augustinian monk, Martin Luther had taken a vow of celibacy and internalized the Roman Catholic teaching that celibacy was most conducive to spiritual attainments. However, when Luther made the Scripture his spiritual authority, he found the Bible not only did not require ministers to be celibate, but that marriage and the family were institutions established by God. As early as his 1520 Address to the German Nobility, Luther encouraged the end of clerical celibacy, recognizing that marriage itself could be a restraint on sexual temptation and immorality. While the Church authorities often saw women as fleshly and seductive, Luther did not disparage the female sex, even encouraging education for girls as well as boys. Women as well as men had been created in the image of God. 

While some clerics followed Luther’s advice to marry, Luther didn’t consider that an option for himself, even though his superiors had released him from his vows as a monk. Because of the threats on his life and the danger of being arrested and executed at any time as a heretic, Luther didn’t see marriage in his future. 

Luther’s scriptural teachings had spread throughout Germany, reaching even into monasteries and convents. Some of the nuns in the Marienthron convent in Torgau read Luther’s writings and wrote to him for advice and help on leaving the cloister. In 1423, Luther arranged for Leonhard Köppe, a merchant who delivered herring to the convent, to secretly pick up eleven women, hiding them among his barrels of herring (some said they were hidden in the barrels!). 

Several of the women returned to their families; others were placed with families in Wittenberg. Within two years, all of the former nuns had married except one—Katherine von Bora.

One young man had wanted to marry Katherine, but his family was opposed to the match. Luther and his friends tried to match Katherine with a Pastor Glatz, but Katie thought him arrogant and had no respect for him. She said she would not marry anyone unless she married Martin Luther! In Luther Katie saw her liberator and a man she could trust. Luther finally consented to marry Katie, saying it would “please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh and the devils to weep.”

Katie and Luther were married June 13, 1525. Their wedding invitation stated that “marriage was an act of confession and obedience to God’s act of creation.” The twenty years of their marriage became a model of pastoral marriage and a Christian family. Katie bore Luther six children and elevated the position of motherhood as a godly calling. Luther affectionately called Katie his “rib” as well as his Galatians, for she brought him much freedom by relieving many cares from him. Luther wrote a friend, “My wife is compliant, accommodating, and affable beyond anything I dared to hope. I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus.”

Katie managed the large Luther household, which often included students and visitors, as well as their own children and some adopted ones too. With his growing family, Luther prayed, “Dear heavenly Father, because You in Your name and in the honor of Your office have ordained and want to name and honor me as father, grant me grace and bless me so that I may govern and nourish my dear wife, children, and servants in a godly and Christian manner. Give me the wisdom and strength to govern and raise them well and give them a good heart and the will to follow your teaching and to be obedient. Amen.” Together Martin and Katie showed that family and marriage, not only the convent or monastery, were areas where faith and obedience to Christ were lived.

Gordon and I enjoyed twenty-two incredibly harmonious and joyous years together before his passing. Everyone marveled at our oneness and compatibility, which we both knew was the Lord’s special gift. I began writing for CHI, and Gordon went on to co-produce Candle in the Dark, a film on the life of William Carey.  But, Martin and Katie Luther had led the way.

Diana Severance is Director of the Dunham Bible Museum and the author of Her Story and A Cord of Three Strands.

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation.  Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Messy Marvelous Marriages]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/messy-marvelous-marriages https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/messy-marvelous-marriages Thu, 09 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


By Jennifer Woodruff Tait, Managing Editor, Christian History magazine 

When I was in college, I was sure I would soon find “the one” to marry. I dated several people seriously, but it never worked out. College came and went, as did seminary, as did library school (my mother kept asking me “are you ever going to do anything else besides go to school?”)  

Then I went to Duke to get my Ph.D. I was taking a class on Luther from David C. Steinmetz of blessed memory, whose profiles of lesser-known reformers have formed a part of each of our recent Reformation issues of Christian History. The last day of class, Dr. Steinmetz played a guest lecture (on a cassette tape, believe it or not, because this was the year 2000). A young man who was not normally a student in the class came to hear the lecture. I saw him sitting in the far corner. He looked about 16 (he was actually 26) and was absolutely the dictionary picture of a geek: polyester pants, pocket protector, encyclopedic words whenever he opened his mouth. How ridiculous, I thought. 

wedding day
Marriage does not guarantee bliss but is a school for character.


This past August I celebrated being married to the guy with the polyester pants for 13 years. He can tell you the story of how he thought I was incredibly unfriendly when he and I were first properly introduced about 8 months later (by the senior editor of this magazine, Chris Armstrong, no less, proving that even then I had Christian History in my future!); how it took 8 months after that, hanging out with a group of grad school friends, before we became friends ourselves; how we were friends for more months yet before we ever thought of being more than friends. Years later, when we had groups of students (from the small Christian college where Edwin taught) over to our house for board games and sweet treats, we would tell the story of how our meeting had emphatically not been love at first sight, and how being friends with your spouse is actually a pretty good way to be married. 

That was, and remains, an important message in a culture which, in both its Christian and secular incarnations, is invested in the idea that you will find the one perfect person and once you do everything will always be perfect. The fact is, everything is not and has not been perfect. There have been a couple articles going around Facebook lately making that point: “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” and “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give.” And a book by friends of Edwin’s, Are You Waiting for “The One”?: Cultivating Realistic, Positive Expectations for Christian Marriage, is well worth reading on this point. So, it turns out, is Luther. 

Martin and Katie Luther did not marry because they were madly in love and thought each other was “the one.” They had practical, logistical reasons for getting together. If Table Talk and other sources are a reliable guide, they had many conflicts and arguments. (Surely a bit of Martin Luther’s own experience is getting read back into Adam and Eve here.) But they deeply respected each other. They managed a household together. They raised children. (Of one child Martin supposedly said “Child, what have you done that I should love you? You have disturbed the whole household with your bawling!”) They traded quips and letters. They talked over their days and lives together. When he died, she was devastated. They had a profoundly Christian marriage. I hope mine can continue to be the same. 

Ada Calhoun says at the end of “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give” (in which her husband ends up paying for the same plane tickets twice—in fact, almost three times), “Epic failure is part of being human, and it’s definitely part of being married. It’s part of what being alive means, occasionally screwing up in expensive ways. And that’s part of what marriage means, sometimes hating this other person but staying together because you promised you would. And then, days or weeks later, waking up and loving him again, loving him still.” 

I think Luther and Katie would have understood.

Jennifer Woodruff Tait is Managing Editor of Christian History magazine.

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at the right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

The latest Christian History magazine is the third in our series on the Reformation. Read it for free here, order it here, and subscribe to get future issues in print here!

Posted in: general