<![CDATA[Christian History Blog]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/ Tue, 28 Mar 2017 19:46:48 GMT Tue, 28 Mar 2017 19:46:48 GMT LemonStand <![CDATA[Why Does God Allow War? Historical Reflections]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/why-does-god-allow-war-historical-reflections https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/why-does-god-allow-war-historical-reflections Tue, 21 Mar 2017 00:00:00 GMT In 2004, Christian History's senior editor Chris Armstrong published an article in Leadership Journal called "Waiting for the Bombs," describing how young British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones braced his people in the fear-filled days before London’s Blitz:

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

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

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


Posted in: general

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

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

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

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

Stephen Brown
North Vietnam, 1973

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


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

Posted in: general

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related information

Posted in: general, News

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Product Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in: Behind the Scenes

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

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: the nave of Christ Church Cathedral

Posted in: general

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


Reflection by Edwin Woodruff Tait, contributing editor Christian History

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

cross shaped like a sword
Sword or cross?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in: general

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


Reflections by Andrew Garnett, minister at Forest Hills Baptist Church

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: general

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

 by Michelle Curtis, CHI intern

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

What sort of armor do we wear?


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

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

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

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

Michelle Curtis is a Christian History intern and seminary student.

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

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

Posted in: general

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


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

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


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

Prayer and fasting
Prayer and fasting are spiritual disciplines.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Woodruff Tait is managing editor of Christian History magazine.

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

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

Posted in: general

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: general

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


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

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

Luther family time
Family time with the Luthers.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: general

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


By Jennifer Woodruff Tait, Managing Editor, Christian History magazine 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I think Luther and Katie would have understood.

Jennifer Woodruff Tait is Managing Editor of Christian History magazine.

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

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

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Aspiring to the Task of Balaam's Donkey]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/aspiring-to-the-task-of-balaams-donkey https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/aspiring-to-the-task-of-balaams-donkey Thu, 23 Feb 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by Debbie Hedrick, blogger at Saving Memories and Creating Moments

You remind me that the Apostle Paul told women to be silent in the church. I would remind you of the word of this same apostle that in Christ there is no longer male nor female and of the prophecy of Joel: "I will pour my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters will prophesy."  I do not pretend to be John the Baptist rebuking the Pharisees. I do not claim to be Nathan upbraiding David. I aspire only to be Balaam's ass, castigating his master.—Katharina Zell

As a young woman growing up in the Mennonite Church in the 70’s I was very aware that women were “not meant to be preachers or elders” according to the tradition of my church. So when I read this quote by Katharina Zell it resonated with me. 

My faith has always been important to me. I was baptized at the young age of 10 and felt very strongly about my convictions all through my teenage years into young adulthood. I am grateful to say that over the years my experiences and continued study has brought me to a place where I am confident that God is not limited to using mouth-pieces that are gender-specific or even species-specific as Katharina so poignantly reminds us!

women reading
Women reading in the Reformation period.


It is no secret that when we think of the Reformation, most of us think of men like Luther, Zwingli, and Schwenkfeld, partly because of the strong patriarchal leanings in church history as traditionally written. I find the life and ministry of Katharina Zell to be an inspiration to women and others who may find restrictions in ministry imposed based on physical characteristics, gender, age or whatever other criteria a specific generation, denomination or group maintains.

There is good news here in the Reformation in the form of this woman who stepped out of acceptable gender roles because of her love of Jesus. She actively supported her husband Matthew Zell’s ministry and worked alongside him as his partner until his death. Matthew (a former priest become a Lutheran pastor) saw her as an equal partner and encouraged her participation in serving God in the church and in their immediate community in Strasbourg. A committed believer, Katharina carried on after he was gone, continuing to serve their community and even preaching at his funeral.  

I especially admire that Katharina stayed out of the political fray of the day by hosting in her home learned men from many different perspectives, including my Anabaptist forbears, whose conversations she actively participated in. It is because of this that she makes the statement above in defense of her ministry. Katharina Zell offers biblical insight with wit and wisdom to those opposed to her ministry based upon the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers—regardless of gender.

I have struggled most of my life with being an outspoken female who cares deeply about the church. My upbringing in a church setting that did not embrace women in leadership was difficult. But even in those settings, I found ways to use my gifts to strengthen the body. I have learned over the years that it is not the words we say or the gender of the person who says them that matters.  The most important thing in the life of any Jesus follower is caring for people, and the best part about that is everyone is qualified! 

Reflections by Debbie Hedrick, Dementia care specialist and blogger at Saving Memories and Creating Moments.  

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

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

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[It’s a Man’s Prerogative to Change His Mind]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/its-a-mans-prerogative-to-change-his-mind https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/its-a-mans-prerogative-to-change-his-mind Thu, 26 Jan 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by: Carolyn Custis James, author and blogger

What do a first century Jewish synagogue ruler, a twenty-first century Pakistani Muslim educator, and the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther have in common? 

These men changed their minds.

The patriarchal social system they repudiated (at least as it defines women) is a product of the fall. These radical breaks from deeply ingrained views of women resulted, not from academic debates or egalitarian influences, but from close encounters with actual women and girls.

Adam and Eve
Early Christian depiction of Adam and Eve in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter.


In first century Israel, a patriarchal culture where the birth of a son would ignite an outburst of celebration and the birth of a daughter was a grave disappointment, Jairus’ heart was captured by his only child—a gravely ill twelve year old girl—and he was beside himself at the prospect of losing her.

In twenty-first century Pakistan, a patriarchal culture where education for daughters is considered a wasted effort,  Ziauddin Yousafzai unleashed his daughter’s potential by educating her along with her brothers, in spite of the threat of Taliban violence to enforce a ban on education for girls. Today, Malala (a teenager) is an outspoken global advocate for educating girls, a survivor of a Taliban bullet to the head, and holds a Nobel Prize for her efforts.

Germany’s Luther, on the other hand, with his history of misogynist statements, seemed hopeless when it came to women. No doubt inspired by good German beer, he once pontificated:

Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children.

But even Luther changed his mind.

The matrimonially-reluctant Luther came to his senses, when Katharina von Bora (1499–1552), a rebellious nun turned Protestant, became his wife. He quickly discovered how utterly indispensable she was to him. 

Surprised by how capable, wise, and strong she proved to be—virtues he came to depend on—Luther testified to his great awakening when he wrote, 

Men cannot do without women. Even if it were possible for men to beget and bear children, they still could not do without women.

Luther discovered the truth of Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper (ezer) suitable (kenegdo) for him” (Gen 2:18)? 

In case you don’t already know, ezer is a military Hebrew word that in the Old Testament is is used most often for God as Israel’s helper. According to the esteemed Hebrew scholar Robert Alter ezer kenegdo “connotes active intervention on behalf of someone, especially in military contexts” (emphasis added). At creation, God attached this permanent label to all his daughters.

In his Genesis commentary, Victor Hamilton writes,

[Kenegdo] suggests that what God creates for Adam will correspond to him. Thus the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior, but an equal. The creation of this helper will form one-half of a polarity and will be to man as the South Pole is to the North Pole” (emphasis added).

It took firsthand experience for Luther to see the light. In God’s providence, Luther was joined in holy wedlock to a strong ezer-warrior who proved without a doubt she was his kenegdo. What is remarkable about Luther is that he didn’t see his wife as an exception to the rule, but drew conclusions about all women from what he learned from Katie. 

Yes, old dogs can learn new tricks. And men can change their minds!

Carolyn Custis James’s latest book is Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World. Find all her books and her blog at carolyncustisjames.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 for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

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

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Lies about relics]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/a-relic-is-a-reminder https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/a-relic-is-a-reminder Thu, 19 Jan 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


by Jennifer Freeman, Art Researcher Christian History magazine

What material objects communicate the presence and reality of God’s grace to you? To some, the honoring of relics might seem like a completely foreign or even superstitious practice, but it is worth considering what objects in our own lives serve as “relics” of the holy—perhaps an old family Bible, a photo, or a belonging of a deceased loved one. For me, one such example of an object communicating grace is my engagement ring. A simple but beautiful piece of jewelry, it once belonged to my sister-in-law, who was tragically killed in a car accident before my husband and I had even started dating. Her widower later gave the ring, which had been in his family, to my husband in a kind of blessing of our relationship.

The term “relic” comes from the Latin reliquum, meaning “remainder.” That is, a relic is a material object which is “left over” from Jesus, Mary, or a saint. Because Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-12) and church tradition taught that Mary was “assumed” into heaven, medieval people would have understood them to leave behind no bodily relics (like bones), but only “contact-relics,” that is, material (e.g., cloth) with which they had come into contact.  On the eve of the Reformation, the Christianity of Western Europe was characterized by a fervent desire to encounter and tap into divine presence and power. This devotional attitude was so intense and pervasive that it described the vast majority of medieval Europe’s culture: the medieval life was a religious life.  Not only that, it was a religious life fueled by “stuff.” This process of intensification had begun in the twelfth century and was fueled by economic and ecclesial growth, as well as the importation of icons from the East due to the crusades.

Image reliquary pendant of the holy thorn, British Museum.


It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to overstate the excessive visual and physical nature of late medieval Christianity, which used images and the material as a central means of accessing the divine. Late medieval religious practice can rightly be generalized as superstitious and “magical,” with its objects of devotion often bearing a close resemblance to volatile pagan deities: for example, some saints were thought to grow angry if their shrines were neglected. The fear caused by the immanence of death (think Black Plague!), the uncertainty of salvation, and the intense desire to secure it led to the increase of relics, public and private images, and devotion to the Eucharist.

At best, the clergy were knowledgeable guides in spiritual matters; at worst, they manipulated and took advantage of a needy and fearful populace. Salvation, the institutional church, material wealth, pilgrimage, the Mass, and visual culture (i.e. religious “stuff”) were all inextricably tangled like the strings of a great, knotted ball of yarn, and the Reformation was their unraveling.

In the quote above, Martin Luther ridicules the unbelievable proliferation and dissemination of relics. Another similar saying is the one that there are enough (alleged) relics of the true cross to build an entire ark! There are two truths bound up in quips such as these. Yes, the distribution of relics was a political and often money-making transaction; relics could build bonds between communities, establish authority, and increase pilgrimage. Not surprisingly, this power led to the fabrication of relics, which is unfortunate, and, as Luther points out, even comical.

But, the second truth wrapped up in such barbs is a spiritual truth about the medieval understanding of the goodness of the material world (as affirmed by God at Creation and the Incarnation) and the power of the spiritual. The multiplication of relics also includes a truth about medieval piety consistent with medieval notions of spiritual power. Miraculous images were even known to reproduce themselves, which, in the medieval mind, was not much different than Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes. In theory, a medieval person would not have been that miffed by a “fake” relic—if it had come into contact with a “true” relic, it was as good as gold, because God is capable of imbuing anything with his holiness.

Of course, relics remain a part of devotional practice for many Christian communities, as they are, for example, still installed in the altars of Catholic and Orthodox churches. But even beyond the traditional conception of a “relic,” it’s useful to reflect on the goodness and power of material creation. Needless to say, the daily presence of the engagement ring on my hand is a reminder of profound loss, but also of the many blessings my husband and I have experienced over the years. Whether you think of them as "relics" or not, take a fresh look at the meaningful objects in your life and let them remind you of grace, of faith, of love from another era. 

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

Our film This Changed Everything is a fresh look at the Reformation through the eyes of scholars from a broad range of perspectives.

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

Posted in: general

<![CDATA[Did they really say that?]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/did-they-really-say-that https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/did-they-really-say-that Thu, 12 Jan 2017 00:00:00 GMT REFO Thursday blog logo


Reflections by: Steve Perisho, Theological Librarian

I don’t know what this says about my choice in “friends,” but my Facebook feed feels sometimes like little more than a molten flow of inflammatory lies and half-truths. The user-friendliness of this medium allows individuals to broadcast their second-hand opinions with the click of a button.  And because a picture is supposedly worth more than a thousand words, this often takes the form of an interminable stream of images or “memes.”  Combine a picture with words, attribute them to a person much more famous than yourself, and your friends will sit up, take notice, and share.  Combine them with a picture of the celebrity, and you’re home free, even if the celebrity is long gone and didn’t even say what she or he is supposed to have said.  With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at hand, Protestants especially  have been particularly prone to harkening back to the Reformers, using “their” words to make a point. This one, for example (whose accuracy is examined here), has been wielded at both ends of the theological spectrum on more than one issue:

luther pseudo quote

And the following one has been making the rounds more recently, both with a typo and without (not to mention a variety of photographs). Popularized by a best-selling evangelical biographer who has never, to my knowledge, produced a source in Bonhoeffer himself (who was, admittedly, not a Reformer), it, too, is an equal opportunity (and of course temperature-raising) troop-rallyer:

Bonhoeffer pseudo-quote

Luther’s sidekick Philipp Melanchthon, known—in an age of vitriol comparable to our own—for his cool-headedness, was right: “The truth,” he said at the Leipzig Disputation of 1519, “might fare better at a lower temperature.”

Or did he?  Could this, too, be closer to a misleading Facebook meme than to what Melanchthon actually said?

The “translation” of Melanchthon’s words is Roland Bainton’s. It derives from his famous biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand, published to thunderclaps of acclaim in 1950.  There Bainton summarizes the opening maneuvers of the Leipzig Disputation as follows:

In the afternoon began the preliminary skirmish over the rules of the tournament.  The first question was whether to have stenographers.  Eck said no, because taking them into account would chill the passionate heat of the debate.  “The truth might fare better at a lower temperature,” commented Melanchthon.

Unfortunately, my attempts to track this famous (and admittedly wonderful) saying back into the sources themselves have so far failed. Bainton did not specify his source, and the German specialists on the Leipzig Disputation whom I’ve queried so far have not been forthcoming.

Specialists on Melanchthon usually cite as a source for this the post-Disputation letter of Melanchthon to Johannes Oecolampadius dated 21 July 1519. But they tend to drop the quotation marks that Bainton availed himself of, and for an obvious reason: in that letter, at least, we find the sentiment, but nothing nearly so memorable, not even the word “truth”.  Barring the emergence of the very source that Bainton neglected to cite, we are forced to conclude that the quip should probably be attributed to Bainton (1894–1984), not the much more famous Melanchthon (1497–1560).

Bainton is of course right.  “The truth [really] might fare better at a lower temperature.”  That is a word that Christians wishing to speak into our molten socio-political climate would do well to heed. But above all we need the truth. And the habit of truth-telling starts small. With even the images and quotations we sling about, in fact. Let’s be careful about what we share and post, mindful of the accuracy of the words and images we use.

Steve Perisho is Librarian for Theology and Philosophy at Seattle Pacific University and blogger at Liber locorum communium

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

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

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<![CDATA[The Holy Innocents]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-holy-innocents https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/the-holy-innocents Wed, 28 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

"Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye, bye, lully lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
for to preserve this day,
this poor youngling for whom we sing,
bye, bye lully lullay.

Herod the king in his raging,
charged he hath this day,
his men of night, in his own sight,
all young children to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee!
And every morn and day,
for thy parting nor say nor sing
bye, bye, lully lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye, bye, lully lullay." 

Words: Coventry carol, fifteenth century. Painting: Massacre of the Innocents by Léon Cogniet

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<![CDATA[Christian History offers condolences on the death of Thomas C. Oden Sr.]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/christian-history-offers-condolences-on-the-death-of-thomas-c-oden-sr https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/christian-history-offers-condolences-on-the-death-of-thomas-c-oden-sr Tue, 13 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT Methodist theologian, patristics scholar, and ecumenist Thomas Oden died last Thursday night at the age of 85.

Over 20 years ago, when I was in seminary, my theology professor Dr. Steve Seamands (who is also my first cousin once removed in law, but that's another story) required us to read Oden's three-volume systematic theology as our textbook. My marginal notes attest to the fact that the encounter was a spiritual as well as intellectual one, not so much with Oden himself as with the tradition of the church that he channeled.

Later, I served as a librarian at Drew University for three years.  As such, I attended Oden's retirement banquet as a representative of the library. Oden spent his early life as a liberal mainline Protestant. He remained a mainline Protestant and committed United Methodist, but his discovery of the riches of the church fathers (and mothers) set his life on what he termed a "paleo-orthodox" journey. His conservative turn had been difficult to handle for some of his colleagues there. It taught me something useful about academia to watch some faculty members who tolerated many other things try to tolerate him.

Four years ago, we got to work with and interview Oden at Christian History for my first full issue as managing editor, the one on early African Christianity.  He was courteous and thought-provoking.

We here at Christian History would like to express our condolences to Oden's family, friends, and legions of former students. 

You can read more here:

"Give rest, O Christ, 
to your servant with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, 
the creator and maker of mankind;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth,
and to earth shall we return.
For so did you ordain
when you created me, saying,
'You are dust, and to dust you shall return.' 
All of us go down to the dust;
yet even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia." (Greek Orthodox chant)


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<![CDATA[reformation stories for 2017]]> https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/reformation-stories-for-2017 https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/blog/post/reformation-stories-for-2017 Fri, 30 Dec 2016 00:00:00 GMT The Reformation and counter-Reformation were big events in western church history. Needless to say, many Reformation-era events and figures made it into our “It Happened This Day” series. Given that 2017 marks the fifth centennary of the Reformation, we thought we would point you to those stories. More are on their way—we will be swapping out at least nine of the existing stories for new ones on Oecolampadius, Lady Jane Grey, Ignatius Loyola, John Fisher, the Book of Concord, Elizabeth I, John of the Cross, the Council of Trent, and the Reformation’s impact on Eastern Orthodoxy. Meanwhile, here is a list of Reformation-themed daily stories that are already in the annual cycle.

01-03 Peder Palladius (Danish Ref)
01-06 Olaus Petri (Swedish Ref)
01-28 Menno Simons (Anabaptist Ref)
01-29 Ulrich Zwingli (Swiss Ref)
01-31 Martin Bucer (Swiss and English Refs)

02-11 Elizabeth of Palatine (German Ref)
02-16 Phillipp Melanchthon (German Ref)

03-01 Guillaume Farel (Swiss Ref)
03-04 Bernard Gilpin (Eng Ref)
03-05 Thomas von Imbroich (Anabaptist)
03-15 John Hus (Bohemia pre-Ref)
03-30 Thomas Cranmer (Eng Ref)

04-05 Sea Beggars (Dutch Ref)
04-06 George van Pare (English Ref)
04-09 Michael Agricola (Finnish Ref)
04-25 Girolamo Savonarola (pre-Ref)

05-02 John Knox (Scottish Ref)
05-23 Defenestration of Prague (began 30-year war)
05-28 Martin Rinkart (German pastor during the 30-year war)

06-04 Niels Hemmingsen (Danish Ref)
06-09 Patrick Hamilton (Scottish Ref)

07-06 Thomas More (Eng counter-Ref)
07-09 Gorcum Martyrs (Dutch counter-Ref)
07-12 Erasmus (pre-Ref)
07-16 Edmund Campion (Eng counter-Ref)
07-18 Heinrich Bullinger (Swiss Ref)
07-21 Roman Inquisition (counter-Ref)

08-15 Francis Xavier (counter-Ref)
08-20 Martyr Synod (Anabaptist)
08-23 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (French Ref)
08-27 Pierre Viret (French Ref)

10-02 William Tyndale (Eng Ref)
10-04 Teresa of Avila (counter-Ref)
10-05 Maeyken Wens (Anabaptist)
10-08 Don Carlos de Seso (Spanish Ref)
10-11 John Zizka (Bohemia pre-Ref)
10-31 Martin Luther’s theses (German Ref)

11-02 John Calvin (Swiss Ref)
11-08 Stockholm Bloodbath, Gustav Vasa (Swedish Ref)
11-26 John Jewel (Eng Ref)

12-15 Jacques Lefèvre (French Ref)
12-20 Katherine von Bora Luther (German Ref)
12-26 Marie Durand (French Ref)

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