Article: 50 Things You May Not Know About The Reformation

I ran across this article in our ELCA publication “Living Lutheran” written by Rod Boriack.
Boriack is a writer and editor living in Des Plaines, Ill.

I learned a little bit, maybe you will too!

The word “Protestant” was first used formally around 1529. “Protestant” originates from the Latin word protestari, meaning “declare publicly, testify, protest.”

The name “Lutheran” originated as a derogatory term used against Martin Luther by German scholastic theologian Johann Maier von Eck during the Leipzig Debate in 1519.

While reformers rejected marriage as a sacrament of the church, they expanded the role of the church in marriage. Couples took an oath before God and the ceremony was moved from outside the church on the doorstep—a medieval practice—to inside the sanctuary in front of the altar.

The Reformation created a demand for all kinds of religious writings. Readership was so great that the number of books printed in Germany increased from about 150 in 1518 to nearly 1,000 six years later.

By the time Luther died, 30 editions of the Small Catechism had been published. By the end of the 16th century, there were an additional 125 editions in circulation and approximately 100,000 copies in print.

An estimated 6,001,500,000 Bibles have been printed since the first one came off the press in the Middle Ages. The first Bible published in North America was printed in 1663.

The Luther rose (or Luther seal) was created at the request of printers to have a personal symbol representing the reformer’s faith that could serve as a mark indicating something was an authorized publication of Luther’s. It became widely recognized as the symbol for Lutheranism, and still is today.

With the invention of the printing press and the introduction of pamphlets and booklets to the public, women in the 16th century found increasing access to information they had been previously restricted from reading, studying, discussing or even listening to in public settings.

The Reformation paved the way for what we still   refer to as a “Protestant work ethic.” Luther’s teachings about the “priesthood of all believers” helped dissolve the wall between “temporal” and “spiritual” realms. In doing so, everyday work and labor was affirmed and seen as pleasing to God; it was no longer considered an inferior life to that of a monastic life or the priesthood.

Education was set on a far-reaching course of reforming thanks in part to Luther’s advocacy and ideas that a proper, well-organized and broad education for all children—not just those of the wealthy elite—would benefit the state as well as the church.

The legacy of Luther’s ideas about education can be seen today in the Lutheran church’s concern for Christian education, early childhood education and schools, colleges and universities, lay schools for ministry and seminaries.

An emphasis on the involvement of laypeople during worship revolutionized the way space inside the parish church was used during the Reformation. Many of the physical barriers between priest and congregation were removed. Consequently, the interiors of local churches took on the appearance that many still have today.

Whether or not to use pipe organs and other musical instruments during worship became a hotly debated issue for many churches involved in the Reformation movement. Some went as far as banning the use of organs and instruments.

Prior to the Reformation, congregational singing—and even talking—during church services wasn’t standard practice in Germany.

Luther composed more than 40 hymns in his lifetime, and in 1529 wrote and composed the tune for what became known as “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation”—today called “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Luther desired hymns to be modest and text-driven—derived from Scripture, expressing Christian values, illuminating faith and the gospel message and lending themselves to congregational singing.

The area of Germany where Luther’s story unfolded is now referred to as “LutherCountry.” This region of Reformation sites and history was part of East Germany for 40 years until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

The Peace of Augsburg was signed in 1555, despite its dissenters and many loopholes. This settlement represented a victory for state princes and granted recognition to both Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in Germany, allowing each ruler to decide the religion to be practiced within his state, and permitting residents to migrate to a territory where their denomination was recognized.

The first European colonists who came to North America were attempting to escape post-Reformation conflicts and persecution. They were 98 percent Protestant and a diverse mix of denominations, but their newfound freedom wasn’t without intense conflict and intolerance between denominations and religions.

In the late 1800s, some North American religious leaders voiced concern over what they feared was hero-worship of Reformation leaders. They encouraged refocusing on theological issues and teachings, the accomplishments and failings of reformers like Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, and contributions of reformers prior to the 16th century.

While the Reformation gave birth to Protestantism, today only two of the 10 countries with the largest Protestant populations are European.

Today the United States has more Protestants than any other country, about 160 million. Nigeria is second, with nearly 60 million Protestants. China has the third-largest Protestant population, approximately 58 million.

About half of all Christians worldwide today are Catholic (50 percent), while more than one-third are Protestant (37 percent).

Recent research and surveys reveal that about one-third of mainstream Protestants believe eternal life depends on our actions and living a good life, despite the biblical understanding and teachings of the reformers that salvation is a gift from God received through faith in Christ, through no effort of our own.

Reformation Day is a national holiday in Chile, and is officially called Día Nacional de las Iglesias Evangélicas y Protestantes—National Day of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches.

If Luther could have had his way, he would have probably deleted the books of Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the Bible. They were among his least favorite books of the Bible.

There were reformers well before Luther and what became known as the Reformation, but Luther and other reformers of his time became the first to skillfully use the power of the printing press to give their ideas a wide audience.

During the religious wars that followed the Reformation, even family members were often pitted against one another. Both Catholics and Protestants were often convinced that the other was doing “the devil’s work.”

The Counter-Reformation—or Catholic Reformation—initiated vigorous efforts to condemn the teachings and influence of Protestant reformers, restore obedience and loyalty, reconvert the converted and establish new missions and influence globally in regions including Africa, Asia and South America.

The Catholic Society of Jesus, whose members are called Jesuits, was founded in 1534 and participated in the Counter-Reformation to stop Protestantism from spreading. Today they represent the largest single religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church.

The Council of Trent (1562) decreed that all bishops must “banish from churches all those kinds of music in which, whether by organ or in the singing, there is mixed up anything lascivious or impure, as also all secular actions; vain and therefore profane conversations, all walking about, noise, and clamor, that so the House of God may be seen to be, and may be called, truly, a house of prayer.”

On April 18, 1994, the Church Council of the ELCA officially repudiated and apologized for Luther’s words and teachings that have been appropriated by anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred and violence toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people. The ELCA also pledged to oppose such bigotry within the church and in society and to pray for the increasing cooperation and understanding between Lutheran Christians and the Jewish community.

The idea put forth during the Reformation that God sees all believers as spiritually equal had profound repercussions in the church—especially when the idea was applied to women.

Luther’s exhortation to read and interpret the Bible on one’s own and the impact of the printing press opened new doors for lay people that changed the church’s approach to faith formation and Christian education forever.

One of the far-reaching impacts of the Reformation was the promotion of applying the word of God to every area and endeavor of life, in the church and in society.

The early movement of Lutheranism quickly gained followers in the German states, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Scotland and portions of France.

While we associate the Reformation with Germany, broader reformation movements spread across Northern and Western Europe, including also England and Switzerland.

England went through its own religious and political reformation in the late 1500s through early 1600s. It was influenced by Luther and other reformers, but it was more deeply intertwined with the power, personal beliefs and political motives of England’s kings, queens and political leaders of the time.

In the 17th century, Lutherans from Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark began to migrate to the United States, bringing their language, culture and Lutheran faith with them.

The first Lutheran worship service in North America is believed to have taken place in what is now Manitoba, Canada, on Jan. 23, 1620.

Ceremony in Chile’s Palace of the Moneda for the National Day of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches in 2014.

Today, more than 200 denominations and churches in North America have histories connected to the Reformation.

Worldwide, the number of Christians has more than tripled in the last 100 years. But the world’s overall population also has risen rapidly, so Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population today (32 percent) as they did a century ago (35 percent).

An abundance of festivals, exhibits, concerts and tours are taking place across Germany throughout 2017 in recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Christian education was a passion of Luther’s. He encouraged a partnership between the home and the church in which parents would take the lead and the church would assist.

The reformers taught God’s dominion over the world, creation and all things and helped revive an interest in the world that was increasingly receptive to an encouraging of exploration, study and rediscovery of nature and the universe—without losing sight of faith and spirituality.

Stirring changes and new thinking about the church, religion, politics, law, economics, education and society, the Reformation influenced the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern period and Age of Discovery.

Luther didn’t lay personal, unique claim to his beliefs and teachings. He declared in a sermon, “It is not my doctrine, not my creation, but God’s gift … . Dear Lord God, it was not spun out of my head, nor grown in my garden. Nor did it flow out of my spring, nor was it born of me. It is God’s gift, not a human discovery.”

Researchers and archaeologists have recently corroborated the assertion that Luther was a well-educated thinker and prolific writer, producing an average of 1,800 pages a year.

Recently discovered archive documents have revealed that an arranged marriage of Luther by his father may have been imminent for the young man and most likely played a major role in his leaving his study of law and joining the order of the Augustinian Hermits at the monastery in Erfurt.

During and after the Reformation, there was a sharp decline in the commissioning of large-scale works of biblical art by Protestant churches.

Sermon: Thinking Differently About Sin

A change in perspective can lead to a change in behavior. When we understand what sin is and care- our lives change for the better.

Article: Sabbath Rest

Today (Thursday) is the last “kind of” day of vacation before flying home Friday. I say “kind of” because I am working on a number of things today including a sermon for Sunday. “Winging it” is not in my vocabulary when it comes to Sunday morning although it may seem like it at times!

Yet, as I sit here in front of my computer these words come to mind, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Exodus 20:8 Sabbath rest is more difficult for me than others… as you know I work weekends. I have to find other ways to find rest. One of those ways is to go to Northern Wisconsin specifically the Northern Highland State Forest in Vilas County. My family started vacationing (fishing) there in the 1920’s. I have a postcard from 1927 from a family member who was talking about the fishing while on vacation.

In the movie “Field of Dreams”, Terrence Mann says this to Ray Kinsella the farmer who built a baseball field in the middle of his corn field, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball…”  I feel that way about being among the trees and lakes of Northern Wisconsin, it has been my one constant in a life of change. Whether living in Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada or California, returning to the timeless woods and lakes of my youth is Sabbath rest for me.

I totally understand that this is a privilege and a gift. Many people around the world never travel much beyond where they were born because of economic circumstances.

Many of you have a special place that you have visited many times or you treasure the memory of a beautifully unique location that you traveled to in the past. If you have a place like that, it evokes strong memories. It does for me. I reflected on the 4 generations of family members that have traveled to the north woods of Wisconsin with me over the years, some are still alive, some are not. Being in the woods also brings great peace and serenity as well. There is an audible exhale of breath when I arrive.  And yes, there is (at times) a happiness that brings a tear to my eye.

I thank God for Sabbath rest. I thank God for a place to find peace and rest. I thank God that Rachel likes nature too!

Every time, I walk into our cabin I take off my shoes. I can’t help but think of God’s words to Moses as approached the burning bush, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5  Although it may not be special to everyone, it is holy ground for me.

With all of that said, my mind has stopped looking north and is now looking west back to California. I am ready to come home and see my Bethel family on Sunday. Vacation Bible School begins on Monday and I can’t wait! There is joy to be found at church and at home! (Our dogs miss us too.)  A joy that I can’t find anywhere else in the world.

Verse three of our state song speaks to how I feel about coming home tomorrow with one addition…

I love your old gray Missions – love your vineyards stretching far.
I love you, California, with your Golden Gate ajar.
I love your purple sun- sets, love your skies of azure blue.
I love you, California; I just can’t help loving you.

And I would I add, I especially love the people of California (at Bethel).

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: The Compassion of Jesus

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:35-36

This is a typical Bible passage about Jesus, right? He is preaching and healing. Jesus is so nice, the end. Hold on, not so fast. There is more to these verses than that. After Jesus called his disciples, he started traveling. He went from town to town and probably asked the local rabbi of every town he visited if he could preach in the synagogue. For the record, I tend to turn down people who asked to preach at Bethel to “give me a Sunday off.” Usually these people are trying to drum up support for a ministry cause they think is important.

Yet, Jesus is successful and preaches about the good news of God’s love. He tells anyone who will listen that God is not far off, but really close (like in the room close). Not only that but that God loves sinners, misfits, outcasts, doubters and so on. This is not a typical sermon in first century Israel. Jesus doesn’t leave the people as they are, instead he calls them to “repent for the Kingdom of God is near.” Repent is a fancy Bible word for change. Change the way you think about God, because God truly loves you. Changing the way you think about God will change how you treat others in the world. Especially when you realize that God loves everyone you lock eyes with.

But these aren’t empty words or just a clever new message to attract followers. Jesus backs up his words with definitive action. He heals every disease and sickness. Imagine Jesus and the disciples entering a town where they literally do not know anyone and they not only tell them that they are loved by God but there is a demonstration of that love through the healing of loved ones. My guess is that word traveled fast that Jesus was not just another teacher.

We see in these two verses that God cares and that illness and disease are not welcome in God’s Kingdom. It seems to me we could use Jesus more than ever when I pray over our prayer list and watch the news regarding the pending healthcare legislation. Clearly Jesus addressed the needs of others in a very specific way and he did it with great mercy.

It actually says Jesus had compassion on the people. He felt bad for them. He pitied their condition. He loved them. Its say the people were “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” In other words, the people were lost, afraid and had no one to look to for help. These weren’t friends or acquaintances of Jesus, they were complete strangers. Yet Jesus was moved with compassion for these nameless crowds that gathered.

It makes me wonder, what would it take for us to have compassion for the nameless crowds of people in our neighborhood, city or country? I am sure if we all had the power to heal like Jesus, we wouldn’t be so concerned about what was happening in Washington D.C. this past week. But we don’t have that power and many in this country do not have Jesus sized compassion for others. That honestly saddens me.

Yet, when Jesus saw all the people who had no idea that God loved them because they struggle in life, he said this, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38

 We may not be able to heal people but we certainly can advocate for the needs of others. Rather than asking, “What’s in it for me?” we should be asking, “Lord what can I give up so that others may benefit?” Jesus gave his life so that the world could be reconciled and brought close to God. What should we doing in this harvest season? Gathering for our own benefit or giving to further God’s agenda in our nation and world?

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Plot Twists (Unexpected Jesus)

What does the movie “The Empire Strikes Back” and the hymn “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” have to do John the Baptist and unmet expectations? Listen in and find out about Biblical plot twists!

Article: Let’s Talk About Sin

21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

 So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  Romans 7:21-25

Sin. It is the reality of our existence. Selfishness, envy, anger, control, neglect, denial, hate, injustice, judgment and the list goes on. Our life is a struggle between what we want and what God calls us to be. St. Paul who wrote a letter to the church of Rome (quoted above) writes a lot about sin. When an author of Bible devotes a lot time to one topic, I tend to pay attention.

Even Paul admits to the struggle in his life. Think about that… someone we refer to as a “saint” struggles with sin like we do. It’s as if he is saying, “my heart tells me to do one thing and mind another.” Paul is expressing the human condition as a Christian. We are both “saint and sinner.”  That is it in a nutshell for all of us. This is who we are.

Sin is not a side item in God’s agenda, is it? When the Son of God came to earth, what was his primary mission? To die so that we may be forgiven. Essentially God decided long ago that blood was the currency of forgiveness to show humanity the cost of sin and rebellion. It costs lives. In the Old Testament, many innocent animals were sacrificed to provide forgiveness. In the New Testament, God sacrificed himself so that His blood would cover our sin.

Sin matters to God because it causes a break in our relationship with the people around us and a break with God. We are created for community and sin gets in the way of God’s purpose for humanity.

Earlier in Paul’s letter to the Roman church he talks about being a slave to sin and a slave to righteousness. He wasn’t talking about individual sins or good deeds but patterns of behavior. Paul understands that we will always struggle with sin in this life. Instead he wants us to look at the bigger picture. Are we on a journey toward righteousness (life with God) or on a path to greater darkness and selfishness (sin and separation)?

If humanity was good at following directions, we wouldn’t need Jesus… just the 10 Commandments. We discovered that we couldn’t help ourselves. We just can’t. God already knew that and sent his Son Jesus to do what we couldn’t do ourselves. He would bring: forgiveness, love and a new path to follow.

St. Paul reminds us of this when he wrote…

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. Romans 8:1&3

 Forgiveness is ours because of Christ. Paths of righteousness have been opened to us if we choose to walk with Jesus.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Video: Make Friends

“Make Friends” is an initiative of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, an

interfaith organization with offices in Israel and the United States. In

a press release, organizers said the project’s mission is to counter

the idea that people view each others’ religions with distrust or

disdain ― and to potentially even reduce violence conducted in the

name of religion.

Sermon: The Escalation of Rhetoric

This past weeks event of violence near our nation’s capitol were not committed in a vaccum. We are seeing the fruits of years of incivility. Is there a way to change this trajectory? Yes. Words matter.

Article: Are We Very Religious?

The craziness of my life caught up with me this week. I have the flu. It is June and I have the flu. The sound we make at home when something doesn’t go right is, “Mlahhh.” (Think of Snoopy from Peanuts when Lucy is mean to him.) Needless to say, this has been a “mlahhh” week. Rachel and I often text that phrase to each other instead of words like, “Ugh.”

I am not going to describe the symptoms of the flu, I am pretty sure you already know what having the flu feels like. It is yucky. I am hopeful that I will feel normal by Sunday, but if I do not, I will still be at church! After all, I have a sermon to preach, sacraments to administer, eat doughnuts (donuts?) with dads and go to the homecoming concert of Common Ground. You should go too, it is a wonderful production! It is at 7:30pm Sunday night in the sanctuary.

Yet, even though I am sick, I keep moving forward and continue to think about God. For example, on Tuesday I asked Rachel (Mrs. Pr. Ben) if she would consider us “very religious?” I don’t even know why that question popped into my head, but it did. Her response was interesting. Rachel said, “Yes, people would view us as very religious.”

I suppose she is right. People would see us as being very religious. Please don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m sick. Cut me some slack. Hear me out…

Most people would say, “I hope they are a very religious family because Ben is a pastor. He is supposed to be religious and Rachel too for that matter.” Yet, I don’t see myself or my family as “very religious.” Please keep reading—I don’t want you to jump to conclusions. There is plenty of time for that after you finish reading the article.

The reason I don’t see myself as “very religious” is this: I live my life in faith. I don’t think about being religious or acting in a way that people will perceive as being religious. I am, for the lack of a better word, just being me. I live within the context of God’s grace and I respond in faith by the things I say and do. I do not expect others to live like me nor do I judge non-Christians by the same measure I judge myself.

I am free and not bound by specific religious behaviors. However, I am free to pray, think about God, worship and engage with fellow Christians. I do these things because I want to not because I have to. If that makes me religious, then so be it.

Sometimes, I think the Pharisees (religious authorities of Jesus’ day) saw themselves as very religious and looked down upon those who were not. They took pride in how much they knew and they also took great delight in shaming others who were not as religious as they were.

I’ll pick following Jesus and being free over being a Christian Pharisee any day of the week.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: When Welcome is More than Welcome

When we get to self-absorbed we have less patience for others. The remedy for that is to be a person of welcome. It may mean more than just saying hi to others…