<![CDATA[Christian History Blog]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/ Sat, 23 Sep 2017 19:51:08 GMT Sat, 23 Sep 2017 19:51:08 GMT LemonStand <![CDATA[More From and About Our Seven Sages]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/more-from-and-about-our-seven-sages https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/more-from-and-about-our-seven-sages Wed, 30 Aug 2017 00:00:00 GMT by Jennifer Woodruff Tait

shelf of Inklings Forever volumes

Last year, Edwin and I had the privilege of attending a wonderful conference on C. S. Lewis and friends put on every two years by the Center for the Study of CSL and Friends at Taylor University.

Inklings ForeverNow the papers from the conference are out in a sizable, but charming, volume. Its over 500 pages contain poetry and stories in the tradition of the Inklings and their friends and mentors, in addition to academic papers and more informal musings and photos. I am happy to report that there are papers or poems inspired by all seven of the authors featured in our Seven Sages issue here at Christian History. Authors from Christian History issues who presented at the conference include Colin Duriez, Paul Michelson, the aforementioned Edwin, and Joe Ricke, director of the Center (who is the unidentified literature professor quoted in our "Did You Know?" and who has never let me forget it.) 

Please check it out! You can order it from Winged Lion Press via Amazon here, and you can get our Seven Sages issue here

Images are by the Center and by Crystal Hurd, who managed to hold her copy up straighter with one hand when she got it than I did with mine.

Posted in: Product Release

<![CDATA[Brother Martin’s Transformative Message for Work]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/brother-martins-transformative-message-for-work https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/brother-martins-transformative-message-for-work Mon, 04 Sep 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

by Greg Forster, director of the Oikonomia Network

This excerpt is a sneak preview of The Church on Notice, an eBook that will be released for sale through online booksellers on October 31, 2017, the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. 

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent!” he wanted the whole life of believers to become a life of repentance. (Thesis 1) 

Mark Greene of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity put the issue [of following God in our work and other daily activities] into sharp focus when he spoke to the Lausanne Movement gathering in 2010, the largest global conference of evangelical leaders ever held.

He observed that most Christians think the job of the church is to recruit people to join the church and participate in its programs to spread the gospel. On that model, he pointed out, the 98% of Christians who are not church employees are neither envisioned nor equipped by the church to serve Jesus in 95% of what they do with their waking hours.

As Greene said: “What a tragic waste of human potential!”…

Five hundred years ago, Brother Martin was facing a dilemma that had important similarities to ours. In his world, works of religious devotion had become something separate from ordinary life, similar to the way we put our faith front and center on Sunday but struggle to do the same on Monday…

In the late Middle Ages…people who dedicated their lives to church work—the priests—were often viewed as the only people who were following a calling from God full time. Others could get connected to God only by going to the priests.

That’s how they eventually got the detestable indulgence system. With some—but not too much—oversimplification, the logic of the system could be expressed as this: “You do ordinary work, which is unspiritual, but makes money. We do church work, which is spiritual, but doesn’t make money. So you give us some of your money and in exchange we’ll provide religious goods and services to compensate for your spiritual deficit.”

letter of indulgence

Letter of Indugence, Nationalmuseet  CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

That system is everything wrong with leisure-time Christianity in a nutshell: 

●      Complacency about living our daily lives in an unspiritual way, as long as we show up at church and do our church stuff
●      Idolatry that elevates something else (in this case, the church) into God’s rightful place of authority and control
●      Injustice that enslaves and exploits the poor for the benefit of the powerful
●      Narcissism that turns the church’s worship into a packaged product to serve the customer’s felt emotional needs

 Do you think nothing like that system could happen today? In fact, we are surrounded in our own time by a new kind of religious indulgence system.

Many churches teach people, implicitly and sometimes even explicitly, that they’re good Christians as long as they show up at church and participate in church programs, do certain specific religious works at home, and (of course) donate money to the offering. Sometimes moral standards of personal behavior (be nice to people and don’t look at porn) are also included. Sometimes voting a certain way is part of the formula.

But a radical transformation of your ordinary life and daily activities by the Holy Spirit is not at the center of discipleship in this kind of church. It is not even a condition of discipleship. Radical transformation of your ordinary life and daily activities by the Holy Spirit is not a concept these churches preach at all, or show any sign of knowing about.

In short, the implicit and sometimes explicit message in far too many of our churches is that 98% of what you do with your life is unspiritual. So show up at church and we’ll provide religious goods and services to compensate for your spiritual deficit. And, of course, for the church to be here to provide these goods and services that you need in order to be spiritual, we need you to donate money…

Could you change a diaper as a disciple of Jesus? A few years after the 95 Theses, Brother Martin gave a sermon on marriage in which he described how the world looks down on a man who does “women’s work.” But a Christian husband is serving Jesus Christ when he works in the home, because all his work—all his life—is service to Christ. He said all the angels and saints in heaven sing to the glory and praise of God when they see a man changing a diaper! (Don’t worry, ladies, women can also change diapers for God’s glory, so you don’t have to miss out.) 

Greg Forster, director of the Oikonomia Network and author of the forthcoming book from which this blog is excerpted, The Church on Notice,  published by the Center for Transformational Churches at Trinity International University, all rights reserved.

For more about expressing  faith through work, check out Going on Vocation, a documentary featuring engaging stories and scholar-experts, such as Greg Forster.  On sale now for just $12.50.  Also available is Christian History magazine #110 Callings. 



Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Softening a Desperate Place]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/softening-a-desperate-place https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/softening-a-desperate-place Mon, 18 Sep 2017 00:00:00 GMT by Dawn Moore

prison art
A Tour guide explains the art inside ESP's chaplains' office. Photo courtesy Eastern State Penitentiary.


On a recent Sunday afternoon, my husband and I were looking for something fun to do with our daughter Susie and her friend David.  It was raining, so plans to stroll the local arboretum were tabled. As an avid advocate for prison reform, Susie was delighted to explore historic Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) in Philadelphia. I was also interested, but mostly wanted to see the historic architecture and learn a bit of history in a nice low-key way, without undue challenge to my comfortable suburban mindset.

I wasn’t disappointed in my quest for fascinating architecture, but our first steps inside quickly told me this would be a challenging afternoon. As one of the first “penitentiaries” in the early 19th century, ESP’s mission was to rehabilitate prisoners in order to make them penitent and therefore fit for society. If you’ve read issue #123 of Christian History, you know that ESP developed what became known as the “Pennsylvania System,” whereby prisoners were kept in solitude and silence to reflect on their mistakes and repent.

One look at the impossibly high, cold, stone walls and the rows upon rows of crumbling, isolation cells told me this was a desperate place, not one that would inspire penitence.  Further, the prison was exhibting art, poetry, and videos made by hundreds of former and current inmates. As the physical structure spoke of the haunting reality of past prisoner experiences, the art exhibition broke our hearts with more recent stories. Was there no hope for those who found themselves incarcerated?  It turns out there was. 

Near the cell of famed mobster Al Capone is the chaplain’s old office. Stepping inside, we found a stunning change from the rest of the prison: the walls were covered in colorful religious art. Our guide unfolded the story of Lester Smith.  Convicted of armed robbery, Lester had a dramatic conversion to Christianity following a vision or dream.  He awoke with a strong urge to paint the crucifixion and other images. Lester began painting in his prison cell and was soon discovered by a Catholic chaplain, who asked the self-taught artist to paint the walls of his office. Lester spent one year (1955) at ESP, painting 23 vivid murals depicting his spiritual transformation. He signed each mural “Paul Martin” to honor his two favorite saints and perhaps to keep his own identity secret.

Though much of his work has been lost to decay, one mural that has been restored shows Lester kneeling at confession. It’s safe to say that Lester Smith found repentance inside a prison, but it seems he found it in spite of the surroundings, not because of them. His warm and colorful paintings are a powerful reminder of hope in a dark place—of the possibility of redemption against all odds and of a redeemer who seeks us out of the forgotten depths of despair.

I’m glad I found more than interesting architecture during my visit to Eastern State last spring. Thank you, Lester, for sharing your faith with us through your art! 

Read more about the Christian prison experience in Christian History magazine #123 Captive Faith.  Also check out our new website featuring dozens of stories of faith behind bars, Captivefaith.org

Dawn Moore is Christian History's editorial coordinator. 

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Why Christian History Doesn't Use Footnotes]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/why-christian-history-doesnt-use-footnotes https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/why-christian-history-doesnt-use-footnotes Tue, 01 Aug 2017 00:00:00 GMT

We've had several people write us recently asking the same question: given that we strive to be based in accurate research, why don't we use footnotes? 

Since its inception in the 1980s, Christian History has always used the format we now employ: articles written by scholars and based in the best and most current research, but written in an accessible style for a popular audience (like Smithsonian). This approach has served us well for over 120 issues.

As such, we have never included footnotes, though we have always provided a Recommended Resources page, which includes not only the sources used by our scholars, but others which they might have recommended or which we have become aware of through our own study of the topic. We always hope that this section enables people to go more in-depth for their own research.

Our scholars are hand-selected topical experts, and as such we trust them to be up-to-date, accurate, and truthful and to handle their sources thoughtfully and discerningly. Further, for each issue we enlist the services of a noted scholar-advisor who cross-checks content. Whatever authors’ personal beliefs, we ask them when writing for us to abide in the content they produce by the simple statement of faith available on our website: “Christian History Institute is aligned with no particular denomination, but adheres to the Apostles’ Creed and seeks to present the history of the global church and to see the best in each Christian tradition.”  

We feel that in the past 30 years our loyal readers have come to trust the CHI “brand” as providing accurate history in everyday language.

If you want a more academic approach to church history, you can, of course, check out our Recommended Resources in each issue. You might also enjoy two other journals: Church History (which is officially neutral about religious truth, but has some Christian contributors and editors) and Fides et Historia (the explicitly Christian official journal of the Conference on Faith and History, an organization of Christian historians.)

Image: Johannes Bo

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Christian History's 4-Issue Series on the Reformation Wraps Up]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/christian-historys-4-issue-series-on-the-reformation-wraps-up https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/christian-historys-4-issue-series-on-the-reformation-wraps-up Fri, 04 Aug 2017 00:00:00 GMT

In the fall of 2015, we began a journey here at Christian History to prepare us for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, approaching in October of this year.  

We spent an issue looking at Luther and those before him who saw how much change was needed in the medieval church. Then we turned to what we called the "people's Reformation:" the teachings of Zwingli and Bucer and their friends, the rise of the Anabaptists, the changing fortunes of England's religion, and the social ferment all of this provoked. We moved then into the second generation of Protestant reformers, especially Calvin and the growth of the Reformed tradition. Finally we stepped back and traced the Catholic story of the 16th century, and closed with a look at how all of these changes affected the New World as well as the Old. Along the way, we revisited familiar stories and learned new ones and looked in depth at this pivotal moment in Western religious history.  

All four issues are now available as a set; or you can order the Reformation Teaching Kit that adds our new documentary This Changed Everything, our Reformation Overview, and our fact-rich and art- rich fold-out timeline of the 16th century.

We hope you've learned a lot as you've journeyed through these tumultuous times with us, and that you've been inspired and challenged by the stories you've read. The editor's note from that first issue on Luther concludes, "No matter what part of the church you come from, I ask you to remember our common beginnings and our common faith as we take this four-part journey. In so doing, you’ll be better prepared to realize our bonds, both past and present, with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ."  We hope that it has been so.

(Image by subscriber John Reasons of our Reformation Teaching Kit)

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Let Freedom Ring]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/let-freedom-ring https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/let-freedom-ring Sat, 01 Jul 2017 00:00:00 GMT chain link fence

This post  is from our friends at The High Calling, and is reprinted here under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Christian History #123, releasing in August, will be called "Captive Faith:" the story of Christians in prison and those who have ministered to them. You can sign up now to get it in your mailbox when it prints!

By Jennifer Dukes Lee

I shield a hand over my eyes, to see the sun glinting off the metal mesh of the state prison's razor wire, coiling over on itself.

I imagine the people on the other side, with long rap sheets and trails of horror. If I think long enough about people that way—about what they’ve done wrong—my imagination uses broad strokes to paint folks into small corners. And pretty soon, caricatures end up with clenched jaws, blood-shot eyes, and arms crossed over burly chests. And I want to turn around and go home.


But I open the door anyway, drawn in by a quiet nudging in the soul, and perhaps by my own curiosity of who stood on the other side.

My husband is part of a Christian ministry group that hosts retreats inside the prison two times a year, and he had invited me to join him behind the razor wire. Guests could spend Sunday afternoon with the prisoners, dining, praying and communing.

At the front security gate, we show our IDs, turn pockets inside out, then walk through a heavy door that buzzes its welcome. The door clanks behind me, then seals us as captives, with a noisy thud.

This is what they call the “inside.” Drab concrete walls. Long hallways. Rooms full of drug dealers, arsonists, abusers and robbers. And one of them comes straight at me, with an open hand. “Hi. I’m James.” He has a scruffy beard, a scar on his cheek. He smiles. I stare, and he keeps holding out that hand. I take it. We shake. His hand is soft.

He pulls out a chair for me, then tells me the story of the bad deed—drug dealing—that brought him to this place. He shows me a photograph hidden between pages in his Bible. I lean in close to look, straight into the bright eyes of a little girl, his girl, wearing a sundress.

I hear the ache in his voice, etched with regret as he taps a finger on that single, worn photograph. He didn't get to be there for her birth.

“I know I done wrong,” he says, and shakes his head.

We eat dinner next to one another, laughing like old friends meeting at Panera, but we're not sitting at bistro tables eating paninis. We lift sporks to our mouths on the back-side of coiled razor wire.

Soon, the pastor calls all 100 of us to the other side of the gym. One of the prisoners—a bald tenor with a round belly—stands to sing opera. People used to pay to hear him sing, and now a prison gym echoes with his silky vibrato:

Roll Jordan, roll Roll Jordan, roll

I wanna go to heav’n when I die

To hear ol’ Jordan roll

I can feel my eyes filling, standing beside James, standing in a room filled with thieves and “thugs.”

The song ends, and we bow our heads in prayer. I whisper words on the inside: “I know I done wrong.”

Then we file forward, in one steady march, toward a singular cup, held out for us all.

One after another, hungry beggars needing forgiveness dip wafers into one common cup. I know it to be true, right in this moment, when I inch forward: The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

Maybe you could say we’re all criminals—that more than one thief cried out to Jesus that day on Calvary. I do know that Christ whispered forgiveness over the whole sorry lot of us.

Tears fall steadily down my cheeks, while I shuffle forward, finding myself at the front of a long line of sinners. I take a thin, dry wafer from a pastor. Beside the pastor, a prisoner holds out the cup for me: “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

I dip the wafer in and lift forgiveness to my lips. And right then, I taste and see, and I hear it loud, the way that freedom still rings down through the ages. 

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[I will not believe because of Tertullian]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/i-will-not-believe-because-of-tertullian https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/i-will-not-believe-because-of-tertullian Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

“I will not believe because of Tertullian or Cyprian, or Origen, or Chrysostom, or Peter Lombard, or Thomas Aquinas, not even because of Erasmus or Luther. … If I did so, I should be the disciple of men. … I will believe only Jesus Christ my Shepherd.”—Pierre Viret (1511–1571) 

Reflections by Jennifer Boardman

As a lover of history, it’s easy to look up to the great forebears of the faith. For me, C. S. Lewis is an easy one: great personal conversion story, epic children’s tales, books to keep you learning after numerous readings. Then there’s Augustine of Hippo: I love his autobiography, his honesty, his leadership. The list goes on: the Apostle Paul, Elisabeth Elliot, Tim Keller. Giants of the faith to emulate and gain inspiration from. But in the past I’ve been awfully close to crediting these giants for my faith. And this is where Pierre Viret calls foul. 

The painter of this Circle of Reformers did not include Viret.


Viret was a Swiss reformed theologian and evangelist in France. He was a friend and cohort of Calvin but much softer and more pastoral. Known as a true shepherd to his people, Viret was a charming and winsome speaker. He had influence and insight, learning and courage. And as a Reformer, he rightly recognized how he stood on the shoulders of the spiritual giants who preceded him. What did he know about them? Here are some credited assumptions: 

Tertullian was disciplined.
Cyprian, pastoral and brave.
Origen, fervent.
Chrysostom, eloquent.
Lombard, an academic.
Aquinas, a true theologian.
Erasmus, a humanist and traditionalist.
And, of course, Luther, convicted in a stubborn, daring, and outspoken sort of way. 

We can safely assume Viret admired these pastors and theologians for what they chartered and passed on to the next generations of believers. But to credit these followers of Jesus or to know their contributions or to even value them … that does not make one a believer because of them. It is simply being appreciative of their work. 

The Reformers taught us many lessons, undoubtedly one of the greatest being Solas Christus. We don’t need a regular human mediator between God and man—we have Jesus Christ. Although they were great men used to advance God’s kingdom, we don’t need the thinkers Viret listed. No matter how erudite and spiritually attuned, we don’t need the Reformers we’re celebrating this year either. If God hadn’t used Cyprian or Erasmus or Viret or even Luther, He would’ve used someone else. “I will not believe because of …”

In the years before the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was caught in a human-driven trap of its own making. “Not most holy” popes stood at the top of the hierarchy trickling all the way down to priests who conducted church services in a language most Europeans would never understand. And what about today? Are we subject to the fear that without a certain personality, a thriving church will fail? “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11–12). 

While acknowledging all the positive attributes of these Christian leaders—and presumably recognizing that we do indeed need visionaries anointed by God—Viret calls us to focus upward. Our first question is not, “Who are these giants in Christ?” It’s not even, “Who am I in Christ?” The question is, “Who is this Christ, and how can I know Him?” That was the same song Tertullian, Lombard, Erasmus, and Viret sang. And it is every Christian’s song since.   

Jennifer Boardman is a busy pastor’s wife, mother, editor, and writer with an affinity for Christian history. 

(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 through October as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)  Have you seen our new commemorative coin, designed to honor the 500th anniversary of the Reformation?  This colorful limited edition coin is rich with Reformation symbolism amd makes a perfect keepsake. 

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[God is for us, but are we?]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/god-is-for-us-but-are-we https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/god-is-for-us-but-are-we Thu, 14 Sep 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

Reflections by: Jonathan Krull, visiting professor of philosophy, Huntington University

One current way of interpreting Luther’s statement is to use it as a tolerance parable or as justification for  relativism. I teach Introduction to Philosophy, and students are always eager to trot out this little morality play. The conclusion would be that everyone’s belief system is undercut by our flawed humanity, so we can’t say that anything is true. In this interpretation, being dogmatic about anything is the dangerous thing. But this way of reading Luther ignores part of the quote. Yes, he fears himself rather than an outside force. But he doesn’t fear himself because he might have bad information or be mistaken. Neither is the quote about being tentative when it comes to belief. I have to believe something. This is about my active manipulation of the truth, with the reality beyond my own will, with the very way I think of myself. As Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”

love of money
We are in danger as long as we hold our hearts in our own hands.


I am filled with pride, arrogance, a desire to control and manipulate, and I twist whatever I see to fit my demands. Soren Kierkegaard, in the first part of Either/Or, has the aesthete say, essentially, “If I had a servant who brought me a cup of wine when I asked for plain water, I would dismiss him immediately. The importance is not what I get but that I get my own way.”  I do not care what is actually real, true, beautiful, or good, but instead I view the world through the lens of what I want and I call what I want the real, true, beautiful, and good. This tendency destroys my ability to know the world and myself. I manipulate my picture of myself constantly. I try to appear to myself as the victim or the hero, the one who overcomes all obstacles, including the obstacles of other people.

We are the heroes of our own stories only because we don’t want to admit we are the villains. We are our own worst enemies. If we cannot trust ourselves, whom can we trust?

Romans 8:38-39 reminds us, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I memorized these verses for youth group, like many Christians who grew up in church. They were meant to bring us comfort. But Luther’s point is that, among all the things in all creation, we are defenseless against ourselves. While all these outside forces can cause us a certain level of harm, the real fear is that I can destroy myself. These forces, all the powers of the world, can frustrate my plans, persecute me, kill me. Nothing else can take me from God, but I can leap out of God’s hand.

This is an unsettling proposition. And this is what Luther took seriously. Luther raises the horror of persistent willful disobedience, and the resultant destruction. God is for us, but are we? Luther’s mistrust of himself was one factor leading him to emphasize the work of Christ in our salvation. Jesus is trustworthy. Jesus’ work is the work of redemption. We need to accept it by faith. God knows our hearts, and only he can help us, and thus we are empowered by God to obey. This is Luther’s picture of salvation, and it is unsettling. But it is meant to be unsettling. It is meant to wake us up, to stir us to obedience, to sensitivity to the Spirit. Luther was nothing if not a gadfly. Just ask the Pope, and all of his cardinals, and even Luther himself. 

Jonathan Krull is visiting professor of philosophy at Huntington University

(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 through October as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.) CHI's exclusive 500th anniversary commemorative coin is a perfect keepsake honoring this monumental event.  For more on Luther and the start of the Reformation, see Christian History magazine #115 Luther leads the way, part of our Four-issue series on the Reformation

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[The Catholic Reformation for radicals]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/catholic-reformation-for-radicals https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/catholic-reformation-for-radicals Thu, 07 Sep 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

“Great care must be taken to show forth orthodox truth in such a way that if any heretics happen to be present they may have an example of charity and Christian moderation. No hard words should be used nor any sort of contempt for their errors be shown. ”—Ignatius of Loyola.

Reflections by Stephen Kriss, executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference 

I grew up in a town in Western Pennsylvania known as a place of churches and bars. This was true for many mining and mill towns where influxes of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe helped to fuel the rise of an American superpower through hard labor in the early twentieth-Century.  There were churches for nearly every language group . . . Hungarian Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Italian Catholic, and German Baptist (Church of the Brethren) just to name a few. 

An Amish gathering, representative of one branch of the Anabaptists.


I was one of the heretics. I hadn’t been baptized as an infant. I was among the non-Catholic minority in the community, which was most noticeable on school days when students were released for weekly Catholic catechism classes. I was among those left behind to fend for ourselves while everyone else was off preparing for first Holy Communion and confirmation. We non-Catholic “left behinders” were quite an assorted crew: Methodist, Brethren, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, and irreligious. We only occasionally talked about faith, but I recall conversations about dates for Orthodox Christian holidays (which we also had off from school due to the noticeable presence of the Orthodox), and my JW friends lamented that they didn’t celebrate anything, other than a little bit of Christmas on the sly. 

I have grown up with a sense of what it means to be a minority surrounded by plurality. My mom’s workplace was closed for Jewish holidays. The women from the church a few doors up the street always dressed in Amish-style plain dresses. There’s now a mosque down the street from where I grew up, while the Lutheran church has been consolidated and is now a funeral parlor. During my summer holidays, a friend and I would slip to his house to eat his family’s homemade Syrian food. My grandpa, who lived with us, spoke Slovak and bits of German, Polish, and Slovene along with English. 

However, with all of this diversity, I’ve always had a sense of living within a shadow of Roman Catholicism, finding both a sense of the holy and the transcendent, as well as annoyance and alienation.

With the rise of Pope Francis, I’ve begun to become more aware of Ignatius of Loyola and his movement, the Jesuits, to which Francis belongs. I’m fascinated with the voracity of Ignatius’ commitments and the energy he committed to the Catholic Reformation. While others were pointing out  wrongs and misgivings, Ignatius was intent on reforming the church through action and engagement with the world. Through his mission-driven movement, the Jesuits were among the first to take the message of the Gospel to the Western Hemisphere. The intention of his movement is mission and education; to display a life lived in truth; to both embody and teach it. 

Having been shaped in such a community of religious and ethnic diversity, with a marginal minority viewpoint, I have become accustomed to a “different way.” I’ve learned to speak openly without assumptions, aiming toward kindness and invitation on my best days. I’ve come to understand that orthodox truth is a thing that I long to seek and model, but that I always see it “through a glass darkly.” While this requires healthy humility, Ignatius’ invitation is to anything but a sense of timidity. His call, his passionate plea, was to offer a vivacious example of both Christian love and restraint in the midst of differences. He calls us to “charity and Christian moderation,” with “no hard words . . . for their errors.” His invitation here is to have no sense of contempt, which is itself countercultural in our age of the Twitter-based call out and clap-back. 

I’m challenged as a leader in a centuries-old Anabaptist community to live into the Ignatian way that is both reflective and passionate, that proclaims truth while anticipating plurality and diversity of understanding. I know that our historic movements are transformed by engagements with neighbors nearby and faraway, when we passionately pursue truth as Ignatius invites.  

In the example of Ignatius’ mission driven reforming, there are possibilities for ongoing reformation that are responsive yet faithful. Instead of being overwhelmed by the changes around us, I hear clearly again the divine call to live in the Way, the Truth and the Life with humility, intensity and hope.

Stephen Kriss is executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference and a professor with Eastern Mennonite University at Lancaster. 

(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 through October as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.) For more on Catholic reformers, check out Christian History magazine #123 on the Catholic Reformation, specifically this article on Ignatius and the founding of the Jesuits. 

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[knowledge is a gift]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/knowledge-is-a-gift https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/knowledge-is-a-gift Thu, 24 Aug 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

Reflections by Adam J. Copeland, teacher at Luther Seminary, St. Paul Minnesota 

This post originally appeared on http://www.adamjcopeland.com as “When God goes to School” and is reprinted with permission. 

When I was young, I approached each new school year with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. My love for learning kept me going, but who knew what embarrassments awaited me in the cafeteria. And who would sit by me on the bus? 

At some point along the way (in elementary school, I hope) I remember having a breakdown and complaining to my parents in no uncertain terms that I no longer wanted to go to school. I figured I would be just fine sitting at home reading books and researching on the computer. I didn’t want to deal with the challenges of actually going to school. I think my repeated response to my parents’ pleas was the ever-so-popular childish response, “But, why?” 



My parents, in their very patient ways, explained the importance of what I would experience at school — the learning, the relationships, the personal growth — and then my dad said something that’s stuck with me. “School is sort of like your job,” he said, “I go to work every day, and you go to school. It’s where you’re supposed to be.” Dad didn’t quite use theological language, but he was getting at the notion of one’s calling, one’s vocation. My elementary-aged calling was to go to school and learn. It’s what society expected I do, but it was also what I could do to serve God best as well. 

John Calvin, the father of Presbyterian theology, was a master intellect (and had a profound sense of spirituality). Calvin emphasized the importance of knowledge of the world, but always with the reminder, “that the knowledge of all that is most excellent in human life is said to be communicated to us through the Spirit of God.” Knowledge is a gift from God, just like school. So kids, parents and grandparents, learners everywhere, study away. It’s God’s gift. And as the poem below suggests, keep your eyes open, for you might even see God. 

Paradise High

by Marcus Goodyear

God slouches at the front of the universe
leaning against his desk, taking roll
with a red pen in his spiral book of life.
He teaches every subject himself,
every grade, every student. He leads
every parent conference appearing
as principal, department head, counselor,
and teacher. At night he walks the halls
alone with a broom and a trash can.
He’s not too grand to pick up
the wad of gum some kid mashed
onto a door frame. He’s not above
using divine elbow grease to scrub
away bathroom graffiti. Sometimes
he finds drawings of himself
cross-eyed with a caption,
“What a dork!” the picture of a fool.
But every morning he’s back
in the cafeteria, handing out
his own body for breakfast
with a pint of 2% milk—
or chocolate if you like.
He wears a Padres ball cap
to keep God hairs out of the food.
He runs the register, too,
though he never makes us pay.
“I’ll get this one,” he says—
and every time we wonder why
there’s a register at all? Why receipts?
When the bells ring, students rush to class
past God the hall monitor into the room
of Mr. God, the teacher. He greets us
by name wherever we are.
But only in his room do we find
a seat while he watches. God’s voice
crackles and pops over the PA
during announcements while God
lines up the hooligans in the hall
to assign tardy detentions.
I hold my breath when God walks
the aisles in his classroom collecting
our English themes like prayers.
Dear God, I pray, I pass. 

Adam Copeland teaches at Luther Seminary and is the author of Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House: Wrestling with Faith and College.  His newest book Beyond the Offering Plate: A Holistic Approach to Stewardship has just released.

 This post is reprinted with permission by the author. Find the original at http://www.adamjcopeland.com/2010/08/25/when-god-goes-to-school

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<![CDATA[unfixed]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/unfixed https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/unfixed Thu, 03 Aug 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

If any good thing shall go forward, something must be adventured— Sir Thomas More, A Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529) 

I believe that Christ is eaten with the heart. The eating with our mouth cannot give life, for then should a sinner have life— in Pollard’s Thomas Cranmer

 Reflections by Elise Erikson Barrett, author and singer/songwriter. 

I am a former ordained United Methodist pastor, in full communion with the Roman Catholic church, found sitting with my children in an ELCA Lutheran sanctuary nearly every Sunday. 



I have to admit that as a Wesleyan, I never thought much about the Reformation, except as I suspect many Protestant Christians do: hey, remember that one time we fixed the church? Wesleyans are big fixers, as it happens. John Wesley’s accidental denomination was born out of his desire to fix the Church of England. My church  used to visit amazing archives with our confirmands up at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina, where drawer after drawer of Wesley’s journals bear testimony to his ardent and unflagging determination to fix his own soul. 

We would have talked about it as cooperation with the Holy Spirit. We needed grace; of course we did. We admitted that we were certainly sinners. But we knelt and vowed at our ordinations that we believed we were in the process of being perfected in love. Perfection in love: it’s possible. Even commanded, by Jesus himself. 

My entrance into the Catholic church was inaugurated with angelic visitations, mystical visions. Skin-popping golden-blinding breaking-through of a wilder reality into my downtown office. Hungry to be in the room with the Eucharist, the next day I tentatively slipped into a back pew in the closest Catholic parish, and heard, “Trust yourself to the apostles,” as the scriptures were read. It was one of many moments that I experienced as confirmations. And the miracle of it, if it were true, if one could trust that God had established a covenant home for revelation and holy Presence -- ! Through the magisterium, peace could be accessed, I thought. Confidence. Freedom. 

I entered joyfully into full communion with the Catholic church in February of 2016. I still hunger for Eucharist. I sit in front of a wafer, sometimes disbelieving, sometimes in disbelief that our Christ would want to sit with us, quiet, gaze upon gaze. 

I have found gifts here, gifts that I believe God wanted to give me. The gift of a reconciliation that I can’t argue with (my conscience is too sharp and proud to be satisfied by mere forgiveness). The gift of a real Presence beyond my feeling or not-feeling. 

But I have found that the same tendencies to control, to reduce God’s inexplicable holiness to a holy calculus of tokens, to fix ourselves beyond all falling, are present here as well. Recipes to ensure smooth passage to heaven. Ways and means of fixing our sin. Not too surprising. Fear always searches for a a path it can pave, make safe. Fear thirsts for the fix. 

I hear you, Cranmer; I, too, would love to think that my heart is a purer receptacle than my stomach, that what happens when I encounter our Spirit-God in prayer is superior to the earthy animal act of chewing, swallowing mere symbols that dwell alongside the richer spiritual realities. But oh, my heart - as I open it farther I know the wideness of its darkness, the unexplored forests and fjords and fearsome gulleys that drown my intentions silently from below. All the therapy and spiritual direction and worship and prayer and service and suffering of my life has not yet taught me to tell myself the truth about what is hidden in my heart. The path to my stomach is a much shorter road for the Christ to travel, molecule for molecule. 

And if Christ’s life is not for sinners, it is for none of us, and our darkness is absolute. 

So I linger in the places God has promised to be, sometimes fight against circumstances and my own disillusions in order to place my body in these spaces: my mouth open for a wafer and warm wine; my arms straining to calm three children in a room where two or three are gathered; my rosary and Bible together there under my fingers as the tabernacle is opened and the monstrance sits placid, golden rays confidently illuminating the flat white round at their center. 

Not mine to control. Not mine to understand. Not mine to delineate, sharp and stable, comfort full and frantic and false as a shelf full of parenting books in the room where the child shrieks with colic. 

Mine, rather, to be known. Mine to trust. Mine to receive the gifts of both sacrament and sacred words, offering a life both earthy and holy to the hands of the God whose ways will never be our ways, but who tabernacles among us because of the promises that will not be broken. Unfixed. Unfixed. But somehow loved.

Reflections by Elise Erikson Barrett. Elise serves as the manager of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s national initiative to address economic challenges facing pastoral leaders. She is the author of What Was Lost: A Christian Journey through Miscarriage, which received Christianity Today magazine’s “Best Book” award in the Christian Living category, and she is a singer/songwriter currently participating in the Sister|Sinjin musical project. She warmly invites you to connect with her at www.elisebarrett.com or www.sistersinjin.com.

(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 through October as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

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<![CDATA[convicted of high treason and condemned]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/convicted-and-condemned https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/convicted-and-condemned Thu, 17 Aug 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

“Now, as touching my death, rejoice, as I do, my dearest sister, that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption; for I am assured that I shall, for losing a mortal life, win one that is immortal, everlasting, and joyful….”    —Lady Jane Grey

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

The teenage years and adolescence are often characterized as tumultuous years marked by moodiness and rebellion against authority in its various forms.  Interestingly, the whole idea of adolescence is a twentieth century idea.  Adolescence was “discovered” by G. Stanley Hall, first President of the American Psychological Association, in 1904, and the word “teenager” was first coined in the 1940’s.  Hall said this was a period between childhood and adulthood characterized by “storm and stress.” 

Execution of Lady Jane Grey
Execution of Lady Jane Grey.


In the early 20th century, with the advent of child labor laws and universal education, “teenagers” had more time on their hands and did not have to become adults so quickly.  During the last part of the twentieth century, mass media encouraged a youth culture with its own music, dress, and literature, while adolescence emerged as a field of study. The period of adolescence expanded beyond the teenage years into the twenties and even early thirties for some. Yet, this period of adolescence is unknown in many societies or in earlier periods of history. A period of childhood was followed by being an adult, without an intervening stage of development. The boy or girl looked forward to being a man or woman, and maturity was something valued, not postponed for years.

An example of the maturity which could be attained in the teenage years can be seen in the life and writings of Lady Jane Grey. Jane Grey was intimately connected with royalty from her youth. Her grandmother was a sister of Henry VIII, and Jane herself was named after Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife and mother of Edward VI. Jane’s father was a committed Protestant, and her mother was extremely strict. Jane found refuge from her harsh home environment by losing herself in her studies and becoming something of a prodigy. She was fluent in French, Italian, Latin, and Greek, and could also read Hebrew. Jane had a great interest in biblical studies, lovingly reading her Greek New Testament for words of eternal life. When she was fifteen, she corresponded with Heinrich Bullinger, the Swiss Reformer, about theological questions.

When it became clear that the he was not long for this world, young King Edward in his will sought to change the succession from Catholic Mary to the Protestant Jane Grey, his cousin once removed. Edward’s will was approvingly signed by the whole Privy Council as well as other nobles, bishops, and judges. The Earl of Northumberland, the power behind Edward’s throne, at the same time arranged for his son, Guildford Dudley, to marry Jane. Hers was an arranged, political marriage, as were many of the marriages of nobility of that day. May 25, 1553, Jane and Guildford were married in a gala triple wedding ceremony which included the marriages of Jane’s two sisters. 

Six weeks after her marriage, on July 6, King Edward VI died. His death was kept quiet for a time, but on July 9th, Jane was told that she was queen. The fifteen-year-old Jane immediately fainted at the news. The next day she was proclaimed as Queen throughout London and taken to the Tower, where she would await her coronation. While Jane followed Northumberland’s and her parents’ instructions in acting as queen, Mary was gathering the support of an army and the people to march upon London and take the throne she thought rightfully hers. Jane’s “reign” lasted nine days, as Mary successfully took the throne to the acclimation of the people.

Northumberland was arrested and later executed. Jane and her husband Guildford were tried, convicted of high treason, and condemned. At first Mary tended to be lenient with Jane, preferring not to execute her. However, when Jane’s father became part of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion in January, Mary thought it too dangerous to allow Jane to live. Jane was beheaded on Tower Hill February 12, 1554, reciting Psalm 51 before the executioner struck the blow. She was only seventeen. Though she was the victim of the political and religious conflict of the times, Jane unwaveringly maintained her love for Christ and His Word to the end.

Before her death, Jane gave one of her prized possessions, her Greek New Testament, to her sister Katherine. At the back of the Testament, she wrote a letter expressing her Christian faith:

“I have sent you, my dear sister Katherine, a book, which although it be not outwardly trimmed with gold, or the curious embroidery of the artfulest needles, yet inwardly it is more worth than all the precious mines which the vast world can boast of: it is the book, my only best, and best loved sister, of the law of the Lord: it is the Testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches and wretched sinners, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy: and if you with a good mind read it, and with an earnest desire follow it, no doubt it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life: it will teach you to live, and learn you to die: it shall win you more, and endow you with greater felicity…”

At seventeen, Lady Jane had grown into a mature woman, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) 

Diana Severance is the director of the Dunham Bible Museum of Houston Baptist University.  Check out their special exhibition and lectures on Luther and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

(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 through October as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

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<![CDATA[The Reformation of Marriage]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reformation-of-marriage https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reformation-of-marriage Thu, 10 Aug 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

Reflections by Frank A. James III, president of Biblical Theological Seminary 

It is a remarkable fact that none of the leading Protestant reformers ended up a bachelor—Luther, Zwingli and Calvin all married in the course of the Reformation. It is remarkable because the prevailing late medieval ideal was that one should not marry in order to devote full attention to serving God. The same ideal prevailed for women. St. Jerome, writing in the fourth century, even offered a kind of algorithm for measuring one’s devotion to God. He assigned a spiritual value of 100 to virginity, but to marriage he assigned a paltry spiritual value of 30. The message was clear: if you really loved God, you would remain a bachelor or bachelorette.  

The Reformation is most often identified with theological debates, whether over  justification by faith alone, predestination, or the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. However, it can be argued that the most enduring consequence of the Reformation was not theological developments, but the transformation of the institution of marriage. By 1520, just three years after the 95 Theses, Luther publically renounced clerical celibacy in his famous pamphlet, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.   

Although Luther remained celibate in these early years, others took his advice and leaped at the opportunity to abandon celibacy. While Luther was living incognito in the Wartburg castle, his fellow Wittenberg priest and university colleague Andreas Karlstadt married. The 36-year old Karlstadt married 15-year old Anna von Mochau, daughter of a poor nobleman in January 1522.  The next month, Justus Jonas, another of Luther’s colleagues, followed suit and married. Suddenly, married clergy were all the rage—for everyone except Luther.  

luthers at home
Luthers at home with Melanchthon as guest.


While approving these particular clerical marriages and generally upholding the right of clergy to marry, Luther was reticent to take the plunge himself.  “I will never take a wife,” Luther declared to his friend Spalatin on 30 November, 1524, “not that I am insensible to my flesh…, but my mind is adverse to wedlock, because I daily expect [to suffer] the death of a heretic.”  And then he encountered the indomitable Katie von Bora in 1524. 

Following the customs of the time, Katie had been placed in the Cistercian convent of Nimbschen at ten years old.  She appears to have accepted her life until she and several nuns secretly read Luther’s On Monastic Vows in 1521.  The nuns embraced Luther’s rejection of clerical celibacy and turned to Luther himself to aid in their escape.  With the assistance of Leonhard Koppe, twelve nuns were smuggled out of the Nimbschen nunnery in herring barrels in April 1523. Three of the fugitive nuns returned to their families, but Koppe delivered the remaining nine to Luther’s doorstep in Wittenberg. Remarkably, he found husbands for all except Katie von Bora.  When prospective husbands failed to materialize, Katie took matters into her own hands and specifically suggested marriage to Luther.  

Katie’s timing was just right. Luther had begun to feel the loneliness of bachelorhood, and he expressed his willingness to “take pity” on poor Katie. They married on 13 June, 1525. For Luther marriage to Katie was an act of theological defiance—“to spite the pope.” Frankly, he did not marry for love.  To his friend Amsdorf, Luther confessed: “I feel neither passionate love nor burning for my spouse.”  Then a remarkable thing happened after Luther married: he fell in love with his wife. Luther wore his affection on his sleeve, saying later: “I love my Katie; yes I love her more dearly than myself.”  Luther and Katie enjoyed a feisty, vibrant, and openly affectionate twenty-one-year marriage relationship that produced six children. 

Luther’s marriage was deeply enriching.  But even more significant was the fact that Luther’s marriage, because it was such a public one, became the model for a new Protestant understanding of marriage.  Indeed, scholars have argued that Luther inaugurated a cultural paradigm shift in the very concept of marriage. For centuries, marriage had been entangled with dowries and social status.  But Luther was a heretic and Katie was a runaway nun with no material goods. While marriage was not disentangled from money overnight, now forefront in the Protestant ideal was the concept of mutual affection and marriage as a suitable avenue for growth in holiness. Luther and Katie changed the way the Western world thought about marriage. 

Frank A. James III is President and Professor of Historical Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA. He is the editor or author of nine books including Church History: Pre-Reformation to the Present (Zondervan) and Peter Martyr Vermigli and Predestination (Oxford University Press).  Frank is a featured presenter in the award-winning documentary This Changed Everything.

(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 through October as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

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<![CDATA[The danger of everything going well]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-danger-of-everything-going-well https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-danger-of-everything-going-well Thu, 27 Jul 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo

 “Men are undoubtedly more in danger from prosperity than from adversity. For when matters go smoothly, they flatter themselves and are intoxicated by their success.” John Calvin Commentary on Isaiah 32:11            

Reflections by Todd Mangum, of Biblical Theological Seminary

If there was ever a group of people in history that needed to heed this point it is Americans today: American Christians especially. 

It is a point that God warned His people about early on. It is as if God knows that people will turn to Him when they are under duress.  It is “when your cities are great and splendid,” “your houses are full of all good things,” when the “cisterns are hewn” and fresh water abounds, when “the vineyards and olive trees” are plump with their produce, “and you shall eat and be satisfied” – that is when “you must beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut. 6:10-12; cf. Deut 8:11-14). 

Isaiah the prophet drives home this very point in the 8th century B.C., warning the people (my paraphrase) “YOU ARE FORGETTING! YOUR PROSPERITY IS MAKING YOU STUPID!”  This prophecy is what prompts Calvin’s observation in the 16th century (more than 2,000 years later).  And 500 years after that, here we are, forgetful and stupid once again.

Jesus states plainly, “You cannot serve both God and materialism” (Matt. 6:24). It really does seem like many American Christians believe that if you work it right, you can. How forgetful, how stupid we are.

What would Calvin say about a country so prosperous, about a people so arrogant and proud, so comfortable and complacent? What would Isaiah say? What would Moses say?  What would Jesus say?  (I’m guessing the message would be similar and would be along the lines of: “Beware!  You are forgetting, and your prosperity is making you stupid!”)

So, what do we do?

Here’s what Calvin proposes in his commentary on this prophecy: “Tremble” (v. 11),  “Mourn” (v. 12) “Till the Spirit be poured out on you” (v. 15). 

love of money
Love of money


Christians throughout the ages have recognized the value of spiritual disciplines – particularly such disciplines as fasting. Rhythms of these disciplines facilitate regular periods of focus on our walk and relationship with God and on our need for repentance. Christians of times past, perhaps much more than Christians living today’s fast-paced life of perpetual busyness, knew the importance of setting aside times when some aspect comforts and enjoyments were foresworn in order to remember and recalibrate. The Cross must be remembered and embraced, lest the glory of resurrection be considered simply an entitlement rather than a blessing following sacrificial faith.

Don’t we need such a season of fasting, of repentance in sackcloth and ashes, today more than ever?  Is it not time that our arrogant stupidity be rebuked with remembering the Lord our God and what He rightly demands of us and give Him the glory due His name? And due His name alone?

I prefer prosperity to adversity myself. But I cannot escape the truth of Calvin’s warning, rooted in the warnings of the prophets of old.  How about you?      

Todd Mangum is the Lester and Kathryn Clemens Professor of Missional Theology  at Biblical Theological Seminary in Greater Philadelphia, PA.


For more on Christians and money, see these classic issues of Christian History magazine: CH #14 Money in Christian History and CH #19 Money in Christian History Part 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 through October as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

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<![CDATA[Rulers of Christ’s kingdom or sheep among wolves?]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/rulers-of-christs-kingdom-or-sheep-among-wolves https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/rulers-of-christs-kingdom-or-sheep-among-wolves Thu, 20 Jul 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


“It would seem fitting to write for Your Majesty a little about the fuller acceptance and reestablishment of the Kingdom of Christ in your realm.”—Martin Bucer, Preface to De Regno Christi, addressed to Edward VI of England

 “True believing Christians are sheep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter. They must be baptized in anxiety, distress, affliction, persecution, suffering, and death. They must pass through the test of fire, and reach the Fatherland of eternal rest, not by slaying their bodily enemies but their spiritual enemies...”—Conrad Grebel 

Reflections by Jeffrey B. Webb, professor of American history at Huntington University 

This spring I heard two commencement addresses, Donald Trump’s Liberty University speech, and C.J. Pine’s Notre Dame valedictorian speech. Both invoked faith, and both tried to apply the Gospel to our present situation. Like Martin Bucer and the Swiss Brethren  nearly five hundred years ago, they seemed interested in the question of how the Kingdom of Christ might be more fully accepted and established in the secular world we live in. And yet, like Martin Bucer and the Swiss Brethren,  the two arrived at very different answers. 

Their differences have roots in the Reformation era. When Bucer wrote De Regno Christi in 1550, he was living in a time of political turmoil, maybe even more so than our own era of Brexit and Trump tweets. Chased from the continent, Bucer fled to England, where he took upon himself the task of instructing the boy-king Edward VI and his Regents how to build a Christian society under Christian laws—an effort he had undertaken but failed to achieve earlier in Strasbourg. 

Martin Bucer


Bucer was convinced that the Bible draws us to build Christian commonwealths on earth. He thought the powers of the state should be used to achieve this end, and in his book he drew from two historical examples: Constantine in Rome and Justinian in Byzantium. To his way of thinking, the state should play a role in helping the church find its way through theological disagreement and ecclesiastical conflict, in the ancient world and in his own times. 

But Reformation figures like Michael Sattler, Conrad Grebel, and Felix Manz—the Swiss Brethren—read the Bible differently. They taught that the Christian faith should be kept separate from entanglement with civil authority in order to preserve its prophetic voice. They believed Jesus taught us to be peacemakers, to love our enemies, and to welcome the stranger, which contradicted the priorities of earthly governments. 

Bucer and his Swiss counterparts disagreed about how to bring Jesus’ teachings to bear on our life in common with other human beings. Times of political uncertainty just seem to draw these differences into stronger and stronger contrast. This is why I think Trump’s and Pine’s speeches are so compelling. 

Trump touched on a number of topics, including Liberty’s football program and George Rogers’s WWII military service, but its overarching theme was individual and national success, best described as Christian nationalism: “As long as America remains true to its values, loyal to its citizens, and devoted to its creator,” Trump declared, “then our best days are yet to come.” 

He called Liberty graduates to fight for religious freedom, using terms like “courage” and “confidence.” He told the audience to dream of a better future despite the opposition of “the cynics and the doubters.” In the final part of the speech, Trump asked them to work with him to “replace a broken establishment with a government that serves and protects the people” as a means to fulfill the nation’s “glorious destiny” at the hands of an “almighty God.” It was a speech built on his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” 

In a very different vein, C.J. Pine’s address spoke of a “deeper magic” of the Gospel and called his fellow graduates to “transform a kingdom of oppression through a kingdom of sacrifice.” In a passage where he alluded to working with Syrian refugees, he said, “Our hearts cannot be contained by one place, by South Bend, Indiana, or Amman, Jordan, or Tianjin, China. If we are going to build walls between American students and international students, then I am skewered on the fence.” 

Pine’s address plainly invoked the life and words of Jesus: “His is a love that asks: ‘What good is it to gain the world and lose our souls?’ What good is it to have a physical security patrolled by barbed wire? His is a love that says: I came not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life for the freedom of others. His is a love that questions promises of strength with an unbending commitment to character.” 

Perhaps you can hear a faint echo of the Swiss Brethren, who followed the apostle Peter in thinking of themselves as aliens and foreigners scattered throughout the world (I Peter 2:11). Where Trump strongly identified Christianity with the U.S. government, Pine envisioned the Christian faith as a global community. To his way of thinking, the Christian witness sometimes puts us at odds with particular nations and their purposes. 

In times of political uncertainty, we may think it’s urgent to discern a clear path forward. But the differing voices of these Reformers teach us clarity is elusive. How do we as common citizens help to “establish the kingdom of Christ in [the] realm”? Jesus asks us to do hard things, like be generous and compassionate toward our neighbors, bless those who curse us, love our enemies, and not repay hostility with hostility. In the present season, it’s important to remember our citizenship in the kingdom of Christ and strive to live out its highest ideals in the realm in which we currently reside. 

Jeffrey B. Webb is professor of American history at Huntington University and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Christianity

(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 through October as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

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<![CDATA[can we be too conscientious?]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/can-we-be-too-conscientious https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/can-we-be-too-conscientious Thu, 13 Jul 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


“Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all.”—Martin Luther 

Reflections by Michelle Curtis, seminary student

The brilliant theologian who instructs us here to sin is also the man who nearly killed himself trying to please God as a young monk. Luther was so riddled with guilt that he went to confession multiple times a day until his priest finally told him to go away and not return until he had some real sins to confess. Years later when Luther proposed we “sin a little to spite the devil,” he was not proposing a philosophy of “sin all the more so that grace may abound!” On the contrary, Luther is pointing to the dangers of striving so unceasingly not to sin that in the process we forget God’s grace. For Luther, not knowing grace meant living in absolute terror of God’s judgment. 

Melanchthon and Luther
Melanchthon with Luther


For me, striving this unceasingly for perfection tends to result in deceiving myself into actually believing I am perfect. I grew up with strong teachings about the upright life God calls us to live. I learned early on that following Jesus means I will love God and neighbor and avoid certain wrong actions. This teaching has encouraged me to make many good choices and to follow Jesus closely as a disciple. But in my perfectionism, I also interpreted these teachings to mean, “God’s grace gets me into heaven, but in everyday life I’m basically on my own to do the right thing all the time because that’s what God expects of me.” 

When I was 18, I participated in three months of discipleship training before a five-month missions assignment in Chile. One day during training we were discussing pride, and I asserted that I genuinely believed I was not prideful. I was just following Jesus’ call to love my neighbor, proving that I was no “mediocre” Christian, and trying to “save the world” while I was at it. One of my fellow trainees suggested that if I actually thought I was not prideful at all, I should probably look again. It wasn’t until a couple years later that it dawned on me how much pride I had been hiding from myself. I had been trying so desperately to be the good Christian I believed God expected that I blinded myself to my need for God’s grace. 

In the years that followed, God has taught me a lot about grace in everyday life. Then, last summer I was walking through a prayer labyrinth trying to listen to God when I heard God say that I needed to receive the fact that I am a sinner. What? I had been hoping to hear something encouraging from God, maybe a word of assurance or comfort. But instead that day I clearly heard, “You are a sinner.” When I got over my initial disappointment, I found freedom in accepting that I am a sinner: it means I am not God, so I can stop trying to act as if I am. Whether by blatant rebellion or the failure of good intentions, I am human, and I miss the mark of what God wants for me. The good news is not about achieving perfection or being allowed to sin as much as we want. Rather, the good news is that Jesus offers us grace right here in the midst of sinfulness. 

I’m with Luther here: sometimes we must stop taking ourselves—and our quest for perfection—so seriously and have some fun. The idea is not to sin as much as we possibly can, but rather to be able to say: “Yes, I am a sinner. And I’m saved by God’s grace.” 

Michelle Curtis, a seminary student and former CHI intern, helped write the companion guide for This Changed Everything 

(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 through October as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

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<![CDATA[The Ones Who Really Deserve Your Thanks]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-ones-who-really-deserve-your-thanks https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-ones-who-really-deserve-your-thanks Thu, 25 May 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by Matt Oser 

While in college in the early 2000’s I worked at a grocery store with a rather rough, calloused, and quiet individual.  He had every habit that a good Christian college student was told to avoid.  I tried to strike up conversation with him, but to no avail.  My only clue to his backstory was his black leather jacket with the POW/MIA emblem on the back.  One day I stopped him and timidly said “I want to thank you for your service in Vietnam.”  I stood amazed as he told me through tears that in the 30 years since he came home from Vietnam, I was the first person to ever say that to him.  He immediately added, “The ones who really deserve your thanks never came home.” 

helicoptor in Vietnam

We find similar sentiments over 500 years ago in Adages, a collection of proverbs put together by the reformer and humanist Erasmus (1466–1536) and published in many editions throughout his life: “War is sweet to those who have not experienced it” (Dulce bellum inexpertis). We owe many other common sayings of today to the book: from “a necessary evil” to “the cart before the horse” to “calling a spade a spade.”  And whatever nameless soldier came up with the proverb quoted above, it rings true to the human experience of war through the ages. 

I have had the privilege to minister to and alongside many veterans. Whether they fought in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan, I have noticed that they do not desire to retell their stories or to be lauded as heroes.  Often their desire is for us to simply say, “Thank you” and to continue to cherish the freedoms that their fallen comrades provided to us through their ultimate sacrifice. 

This Memorial Day, take some time to thank a Veteran and honor the memory of those who never came home. 

Matt Oser is Vice President of Marketing at Vision Video

Our recent Christian History magazine, Faith in the Foxholes, shares stories of the faithful during World Wars I and II. We’ve also done issues on the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. One day we hope to also cover more recent conflicts. 

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<![CDATA[Check out this exhibit on the 95 Theses!]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/check-out-this-exhibit-on-the-95-theses https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/check-out-this-exhibit-on-the-95-theses Mon, 15 May 2017 00:00:00 GMT If you're in the Atlanta area, you might want to check this out! From the Pitts Theology Library website:

 "The Image of a Fractured Church: Martin Luther and the 95 Theses" presents the context of Martin Luther’s Theses, the role of indulgences in sixteenth century religious life and the use of disputations in theological education. Shown also are the early responses to Luther’s Theses by both his supporters and his opponents, the impact of Luther’s Reformation, including depictions of the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses in later Protestant traditions, as well as current attempts by Catholics and Protestants to find common ground. This exhibit is curated by Dr. Armin Siedlecki. [Read more]

You can also read the exhibit catalong online here.

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<![CDATA[The Reformation in Wittenberg, part III]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reformation-in-wittenberg-part-iii https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reformation-in-wittenberg-part-iii Mon, 08 May 2017 00:00:00 GMT (We have been publishing this essay by Dr. West  over the last 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."  The first post in this series can be found here and the second one here.)


Luther’s Wittenberg: The Sermons 

In 1522 Luther preached to the citizens of the town a sermon which included these lines: 

Here let us beware lest Wittenberg become Capernaum [cf. Matt. 11:23]. I notice that you have a great deal to say of the doctrine of faith and love which is preached to you, and this is no wonder; an ass can almost intone the lessons, and why should you not be able to repeat the doctrines and formulas? Dear friends, the kingdom of God,—and we are that kingdom—does not consist in talk or words [I Cor. 4:20], but in activity, in deeds, in works and exercises. God does not want hearers and repeaters of words [Jas. 1:22], but followers and doers, and this occurs in faith through love. For a faith without love is not enough—rather it is not faith at all, but a counterfeit of faith, just as a face seen in a mirror is not a real face, but merely the reflection of a face [I Cor. 13:12].[1] 

The populace was, it seems, happy enough to hear of freedom but not so inclined to live like citizens of the heavenly kingdom. 

            That same year, once the Wittenbergers had begun to receive the Sacrament in both kinds, Luther’s displeasure at the behavior of the populace was even more pronounced: 

I was glad to know when some one wrote me, that some people here had begun to receive the sacrament in both kinds. You should have allowed it to remain thus and not forced it into a law. But now you go at it pell mell, and headlong force every one to it. Dear friends, you will not succeed in that way. For if you desire to be regarded as better Christians than others just because you take the sacrament into your hands and also receive it in both kinds, you are bad Christians as far as I am concerned. In this way even a sow could be a Christian, for she has a big enough snout to receive the sacrament outwardly. We must deal soberly with such high things. Dear friends, this dare be no mockery, and if you are going to follow me, stop it. If you are not going to follow me, however, then no one need drive me away from you—I will leave you unasked, and I shall regret that I ever preached so much as one sermon in this place. The other things could be passed by, but this cannot be overlooked; for you have gone so far that people are saying: At Wittenberg there are very good Christians, for they take the sacrament in their hands and grasp the cup, and then they go to their brandy and swill themselves full. So the weak and well-meaning people, who would come to us if they had received as much instruction as we have, are driven away.[2] 

            It is more than a little difficult to know if Luther’s use of ‘dear friends’ is merely a politeness which he did not feel in his soul.  His anger is on display, particularly the line “I shall regret that I ever preached so much as one sermon in this place,” extremely telling in spite of its brevity. 

            Luther is, in short, exceedingly disappointed in the failure of the populace to act like Christians and love like Christians.  He proceeds: 

Love, I say, is a fruit of this sacrament. But this I do not yet perceive among you here in Wittenberg, even though you have had much preaching and, after all, you ought to have carried this out in practice. This is the chief thing, which is the only business of a Christian man. But nobody wants to be in this, though you want to practice all sorts of unnecessary things, which are of no account. If you do not want to show yourselves Christians by your love, then leave the other things undone, too, for St. Paul says in I Cor. 11 [I Cor. 13:1], “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” This is a terrible saying of Paul. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” [I Cor. 13:2–3]. Not yet have you come so far as this, though you have received great and rich gifts from God, the highest of which is a knowledge of the Scriptures. It is true, you have the true gospel and the pure Word of God, but no one as yet has given his goods to the poor, no one has yet been burned, and even these things would be nothing without love. You are willing to take all of God’s goods in the sacrament, but you are not willing to pour them out again in love. Nobody extends a helping hand to another, nobody seriously considers the other person, but everyone looks out for himself and his own gain, insists on his own way, and lets everything else go hang. If anybody is helped, well and good; but nobody looks after the poor to see how you might be able to help them. This is a pity. You have heard many sermons about it and all my books are full of it and have this one purpose, to urge you to faith and love.[3]

             Luther’s feeling’s about the Wittenbergers unwillingness to adopt the implications of his teaching were no different when, a decade later (in 1531 to be precise) he can declare, in a Sermon on 2 Corinthians 3, 

What Paul means is that whatever good we do in preaching is done by God; when we preach it is God’s work if it has power and accomplishes something among men. Therefore if I am a good preacher who does some good, it isn’t necessary for me to boast. It’s not my mind, my wisdom, my ability. Otherwise at this hour all of you would be converted and the godless would be damned and all the wiseacres, anti-sacramentalists, sectarians, and Anabaptists who say, “The gospel in Wittenberg is nothing, because it does not make people holy,” would be checked.[4] 

In 1545 Luther preached from 1 Corinthians 15 and had this to say about the citizens of his town: 

Indeed, Holy Scripture has prophesied that the closer that day is, the less faith and love, and the more presumptuous security, there will be in the world. The people in Sodom and Gomorrah were just like the wicked, coarse people of our time.  They sorely grieved faithful Lot with their unchaste behavior and, as St. Peter says [2 Pet. 2:8], tortured his righteous soul day after day with their unrighteous deeds. They let the good old man preach, warn, and threaten, but meanwhile they sang their drinking songs, mocking him as a fool, and did not amend their ways at any of his rebukes. Our squires, peasants, citizens, nobles, etc., do exactly the same nowadays as well. “Ha,” they said. “Let the Last Day come. We have such a long time still before the Last Day comes, so let us be greedy, practice usury, go whoring, fornicating, drinking, gorge ourselves, and live in all kinds of lusts; there is no danger.[5] 

            Scarcely a year before his death, preaching in the parish church, Luther remarks quite bitterly that the citizens of Wittenberg are so bereft of the influence of the Gospel that they feel no compunction about the most scandalous behavior.  Even whoring, fornicating, drinking, gluttony, and lustfulness are not to be a concern[6].  God is well and truly hardly worth taking into account.  Indeed, he is of no account. 

            The failure of his Gospel to change ‘hearts and minds’ in Wittenberg is bitterly expressed when he suggests that if the town had actually heard what he had been saying and writing then the various and sundry outsiders who were mocking the citizens (and thus, Luther’s Gospel) would surely be silenced by their proper living.  In fact, what was said of Zwingli could also easily be said of Luther: 

So marked was the favor shown Zwingli by the people, that his enemies had not the boldness to assert themselves. But as the new doctrines began to lose their novelty, and the first general outburst of enthusiasm began to subside, they gathered courage once more and began stealthily to attack him. The monks were especially bitter, and the ears of the canons were soon filled with complaints. Rhenanus says that of his enemies some laughed and joked, while others gave voice to violent threats.  To all this Zwingli submitted with Christian patience. His devotion to music, which was as strong as ever, continued to furnish grounds for vilification. His foes dubbed him “the evangelical lute player and fifer.”[7] 

            Substitute ‘Luther’ for ‘Zwingli’ and one gains a sense of what really happened in Wittenberg.  But was it really the fault of the Wittenbergers that they did not fully embrace Luther’s reformatory message?  After all, Luther’s sermons were in fact aimed at his fellow academics far more than the common folk of the town.  Indeed, a look through the Weimar Ausgabe of Luther’s sermons show that most of the time he preached in a mixture of Latin (which the laity would not have known) and German (which they would have).  In short, his sermons would have come across as both incomprehensible and confusing.  The following brief passage from WA 45 will serve to illustrate the point:







            The myth that Luther was a man of the people is simply a fantasy.  Luther was an academic who spoke like one to his peers.  What the common people knew of Luther’s sermons would have been second hand rumor and gossip.  It is little wonder, then, that Luther’s preaching had little effect on the daily lives of the people of Wittenberg.  They lacked the tools necessary to access and comprehend both his theology and its wider implications.  And he lacked the ability to communicate in such a way in his sermons a sense of the depth of his thought in terms the laity could both appreciate and embrace. 

Conclusion: The Reformation in Wittenberg- Did It Make A Difference to Wittenbergers? 

            Before he died Luther penned this letter (in 1545) to his dear wife Katie and it summarizes his attitude towards the town he made famous: 

I would like to arrange matters in such a way that I do not have to return to Wittenberg. My heart has become cold, so that I do not like to be there any longer. I wish you would sell the garden and field, house and all.  Also I would like to return the big house to my Most Gracious Lord. It would be best for you to move to Zölsdorf as long as I am still living and able to help you to improve the little property with my salary.  For I hope that my Most Gracious Lord would let my salary be continued at least for one [year], that is, the last year of my life.  After my death the four elements at Wittenberg certainly will not tolerate you [there]. Therefore it would be better to do while I am alive what certainly would have to be done then. As things are run in Wittenberg, perhaps the people there will acquirenot only the dance of St. Vitus or St. John, but the dance of the beggars or the dance of Beelzebub, since they have started to bare women and maidens in front and back, and there is no one who punishes or objects.  In addition the Word of God is being mocked [there]. Away from this Sodom! 

            Luther surely would not have been so disgusted by the place had he felt he had done any good there.  Was he correct?  Yes, and no.  Yes, he was correct in that the people of Wittenberg never did really fully embrace Reform as fully as Luther did.  But who would, or could?  And no, he was not right because the years have proven Wittenberg to be a faithful bastion of Lutheran thought (albeit imperfectly implemented).  Luther had very high hopes for the Reformation in his town.  Those hopes were, unfortunately, dashed on the rocks of historical reality and the personal unwillingness of the population to do what had to be done. 

            Luther wanted Wittenberg to be reformed.  The people of Wittenberg just did not wish it so much themselves.  Luther and Wittenberg are inextricably and genetically connected, but not because the populace embraced Luther’s ideas.  Wittenberg was a Lutheran town when Luther was buried but its inhabitants were Lutheran for the sake of convenience and geography.  They would have been papists had the papacy given them the ‘freedom’ (i.e., license) Luther’s Gospel had. 

            The Reformation in Wittenberg was a theological failure[8], or at least a failure in terms of having an effect on the actual daily lives of the citizens of that hovel.  It was, however, on the other hand, a political success.  Wittenberg from 1521 forward was firmly under the sway of what would come to be called Protestant Princes.  Those Princes leveraged their famous Professor’s name to influence politics for decades if not centuries to come.  Luther’s accomplishment, then, in Wittenberg itself was the establishment of a powerful political Protestant dynasty.  The Pope in Rome, the Antichrist (in Luther’s view), the political force par excellence of the 16th century, was ‘overthrown’ and his authority assumed not by Luther and his Lutherans but by Protestant Princes – a new breed of Popes wielding ultimate authority over both the souls and bodies of their principalities. 

            Or, to borrow and adapt a phrase from Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, they traded one tyrant 500 miles away for 500 tyrants a mile away.  That, tragically, and ironically, is Luther’s most lasting legacy in Wittenberg.  It certainly was not Lutheran theology, as evidenced from a visitation report: 

All the people hereabouts engage in superstitious practices with familiar and unfamiliar words, names, and rhymes, especially with the name of God, the Holy Trinity, certain angels, the Virgin Mary, the twelve Apostles, the Three Kings, numerous saints, the wounds of Christ, his seven words on the Cross, verses from the New Testament.... These are spoken secretly or openly, they are written on scraps of paper, swallowed (eingeben) or worn as charms. They also make strange signs, crosses, gestures- they do things with herbs roots, branches of special trees they have their particular days, hours and places for everything, and in all their deeds and words they make much use of the number three. And all this is done to work harm on others or to do good, to make things better or worse, to bring good or bad luck to their fellow men.[9] 

Strauss laconically concludes, and we shall allow him the last word here as well,  

Sixteenth-century theologians could not understand this. But to us, looking back, it should not appear astonishing that these ancient practices touched the lives of ordinary people much more intimately than the distant religion of the Consistory and the Formula of Concord. The deep current of popular life whence they arose was beyond the preacher's appeal and the visitor's power to compel. The permissive beliefs of medieval Catholicism had absorbed these practices and allowed them to proliferate; but this accommodating milieu was now abolished. Hostile religious authorities showed themselves unbendingly intolerant of deeply ingrained folkways. The persistence of occult practices in popular life is therefore certainly a cause, as well as a symptom, of the failure of Lutheranism to accomplish the general elevation of moral life on which the most fervent hopes of the early reformers had been set.[10]

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 51; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 71.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 51; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 91.

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 51; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 95–96.

[4] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 51; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 224–225.

[5] Martin Luther, “The Third Sermon: On the Last Trumpet of God [1 Corinthians 15:51–53],” in Luther’s Works: Sermons V (ed. Christopher Boyd Brown; trans. Mark E. DeGarmeaux; vol. 58; Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 145–146.

[6] As Ralph Keen points out, this is “exactly what the Catholics predicted when obedience to the Law was removed as an incentive for salvation”.  [Personal communication, 23/9/2016].

[7] Samuel Simpson, Life of Ulrich Zwingli: The Swiss Patriot and Reformer (New York: Baker & Taylor Co., 1902), 79–80.

[8] On the decades old question of the failure or success of the Reformation in Germany, see Gerald Strauss, “Success and Failure in the German Reformation,” Past and Present 67 (1975): 30–63; Luther’s House of Learning: Indoctrination of the Young in the German Reformation (Baltimore, 1978). See also Geoffrey Parker, “Success and Failure during the First Century of the Reformation,” Past and Present 136 (1992): 43–82.

[9] Strauss, p. 63.

[10] Ibid.

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<![CDATA[The Reformation in Wittenberg, Part II]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reformation-in-wittenberg-part-ii https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-reformation-in-wittenberg-part-ii Mon, 01 May 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."  The first post in this series can be found here.)

Luther’s Wittenberg: The Correspondence

             While at the Wartburg, Luther wrote to Melanchthon, among other things, these lines which hint at the reception Luther’s reforming efforts were receiving among the populace: 

I have not abandoned the hope of returning to you, only God must do what is good in his eyes. If the Pope will take steps against all who think as I do, then Germany will not be without uproar. The faster he undertakes this, the faster he and his followers will perish and I shall return. God is arousing the spirits of many, especially the hearts of the common people. It does not seem to me likely that this affair can be checked with force; if [the Pope] begins to put it down, it will become ten times bigger. Germany has very many Karsthansen.[1] 

            To Elector Frederick Luther wrote immediately upon his return to Wittenberg from the Wartburg in 1522: 

The third reason [for my return]: I am rather afraid (and I worry that unfortunately I may be only too right) that there will be a real rebellion in the German territories, by which God will punish the German nation. For we see that this gospel is excellently received by the common people; but they receive it in a fleshly sense; that is, they know that it is true but do not want to use it correctly.  Those who should calm such rebellion only aid it.  They attempt to put out the light by force, not realizing that they are only embittering the hearts of men by this and stimulating them to revolt. They behave as if they wanted themselves, or at least their children, destroyed. No doubt God sends this as a punishment.[2] 

In 1528, after the Mass had been abolished, Luther observed, in a letter to Spengler, that 

Such an innovation may cause quite some commotion among the common people, but this is a risk which must be taken and put into the hands of God. But one must do everything to quiet any such commotion. [3] 

            Luther’s reforming efforts were a success in that the city of Wittenberg embraced them.  The extent to which they made those reformatory impulses their own, however, remains to be seen.  It is in Luther’s sermons that we see most clearly how his townsfolk did, or did not, embrace his theology. 

Luther’s Wittenberg: The Table Talk

             The so called ‘table talk’ are a notoriously uncertain source for reconstructing the ‘historical Luther’.  What actually stems from Luther and what is interpretive is monstrously difficult to untangle.  Nonetheless it is fair to presume that even if we do not find the ipssisima verba of Luther we still hear his vox clearly enough.  And when we hear his voice there we hear things similar to the sermons and the letters concerning the inhabitants of Wittenberg.  For instance: 

The ingratitude of the world towards the gospel is indescribable and satanic. For the ministers are assailed, here by persecution, there by thanklessness, and unless we had a pious prince to defend us, our own people would torment us more than our open enemies. I could not succeed at present in getting a single city to maintain, by its own aid, a preacher. The whole city of Wittenberg gives in support of the precious gospel, for the entire year, four pfennigs for each person. So it is everywhere. Cities which formerly feasted an unlimited number of monks, are unable now to support a single preacher. And yet papists support monks![4]

Luther’s disgust is on full display in his remarks concerning the frugality of the citizens when it came to actually supporting Protestant/Lutheran clergy. 

            Luther was also dismayed at the impenetrability of the populace when it came to apprehending the message preached: 

It stands with the Christian church just as it does with silly sheep which the wolf has already caught by the wool to devour it. Our nobility, our gentry, citizens, etc. will not hear aright. They think (when we preach the Gospel, and reprove the Papists concerning their confidence in works) that as then we preach of good and easy days, and that they have permission now to live and to do what and how they please.[5] 

Silly sheep hearing sermons in such a way that they never really hear what the preacher means; that is the situation of the Wittenbergers.  But to be fair to them, it is also the situation of the princes and nobles.  Like prince, like people.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 48: Letters I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 48; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 233.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 48: Letters I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 48; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 396.

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 49: Letters II (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 49; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 208–209.

[4] Martin Luther, Conversations with Luther: Selections from Recently Published Sources of the Table Talk (ed. Preserved Smith and Herbert Percival Gallinger; trans. Preserved Smith and Herbert Percival Gallinger; Boston; New York; Chicago: The Pilgrim Press, 1915), 166.  WA.TR 2: 615. 29-34.

[5] Martin Luther and Antonius Lauterbach, The Familiar Discourses of Dr. Martin Luther (ed. Joseph Kerby; trans. Henry Bell; New Edition.; Lewes; London: Sussex Press; John Baxter; Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; H. Mozley, 1818), 227 (language modernized). WA.TR 2: 270, 23-30.

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