martin luther

Image via RNS/Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

On Jan. 21, I’ll join thousands in D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. My first stop will be at a local congregation, one of several hosting a prayer service and warming station for marchers. I’m an anti-racist, feminist, Christian, and for me, faith will be part of the day.

I’ve been disappointed with Christian silence, and even active resistance, to social justice imperatives, but my commitments to justice stem from my faith, and that’s why I march.

Image via RNS/Tom Heneghan

All was apparently going fine until Micha Brumlik, a retired Frankfurt University education professor and respected Jewish commentator, wrote last June that the popular toy was “anti-Jewish, if not even anti-Semitic.”

The problem, he said, was the inscription on the open pages of the Bible that the Playmobil Luther holds. On the left is written in German: “Books of the Old Testament. END,” while the right page says “The New Testament, translated by Doctor Martin Luther.”

Francisco Herrera 12-21-2016
Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.com

Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.com

It must have been an odd thing, being the Holy Roman Emperor in June 1530, making the long trek to the Bavarian city of Augsburg to meet with a league of rebel states. But this is where Charles V found himself. Stranger yet, he was doing this not to convince these leaders to form a military alliance (though he was hoping to confirm their military fealty), nor to advocate for trade deals or relish the verdant Bavarian countryside.

Instead, the most powerful man in Europe had come to talk theology, with the hope that he could reunite a church fractured by the teachings of a rebel monk and a novice professor a mere 13 years earlier, in 1517. A monk who had since been condemned for heresy and treason in the 1521 Edict of Worms, but who—thanks to his ruler, Frederick III of Saxony—had nonetheless been hiding safely in plain sight ever since.

That wily monk, of course, was Martin Luther.

Thankfully, Luther and his supporters were relegated to the imperial backburner after the Diet at Worms, an imperially sanctioned assembly of the Holy Roman Empire, as global political matters and internal quibbling between testy royals kept Charles busy between 1521 and 1529. So the “Lutherans,” as they began to be called, took advantage of those years to thoroughly educate the priests and populace of Saxony about the most central of Luther’s teachings—the Doctrine of Justification: People “cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4).”

The German National Tourist Board has fallen in love with Martin Luther. In 1517, he nailed 95 theses protesting Catholic Church practices to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, an act considered the start of the Protestant Reformation. In honor of the 500th anniversary of this event, a 36-page tourist board brochure outlines eight different routes you can take through Germany featuring “36 authentic Luther sites” with itineraries offering “surprises aplenty.” They’ve even produced a Luther Playmobil figure for ages 4 through 99.

Reformation anniversary observances officially started in October in Lund, Sweden, with an ecumenical worship service convened by the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican, attended by Pope Francis. Since then, countless events, conferences, exhibitions, and observances are being held not just in Germany but around the world as we approach the official anniversary day, Oct. 31, 2017.

But what exactly should we Christians do on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation? Celebrate? Commemorate? Confess? Or repent?

The impact of the Protestant Reformation, combined with the advent of the Gutenberg Bible and the dramatic increase in printed literature and literacy in Europe, produced revolutionary changes in religion and society. As the German tourist board exclaims, “trade, industry, art, architecture, medicine, and technology flourished like never before.” A glowing narrative of the Reformation’s impact on the church and Western culture tends to dismiss any words of thoughtful critique.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

Tackling a delicate issue, as it begins its yearlong celebration of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, Germany’s main Protestant church has officially renounced its mission to convert Jews to Christianity.

In practice, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), made up of 20 regional Lutheran, Reformed, and United churches, mostly gave up efforts to convert Jews in the decades after the Holocaust, and closing that chapter should have been a formality.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

In the summer of 430, the great Christian writer and bishop Augustine of Hippo lay dying as barbarians besieged his North African city – basically a mop-up operation in the slow-motion fall of the Roman Empire.

Today, in the fall of the year 2016, a lot of Christians can relate.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Osservatore Romano

Even by this pope’s standards it was a bold move.

Francis, the spiritual leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics across the globe, this week traveled to Sweden, one of the most secularized countries in Europe, to take part in events marking 500 years since Martin Luther kickstarted the Protestant Reformation.

Image via RNS/Wikimedia Commons

Some Protestant churches mark the day as Reformation Sunday, and celebrate it on the Sunday just before, or just after, Oct. 31. More often than not, the hymns sung in church that day include “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” with words and music composed by Luther himself. But most members of Lutheran churches — the direct descendants of Luther’s movement — wait until Oct. 31. And that, as we know, is also Halloween, and has led to some creative celebrations for kids.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Luca Zennaro/Pool

Pope Francis leaves on Monday, Oct. 31 for an overnight trip to Sweden, a historically Protestant country that today is one of the most secular in the world.

The visit is to mark the start of observances of next year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which traditionally dates from Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a German cathedral.

Image via RNS/J.C. Buttre

On Monday, Oct. 31, in Sweden, Pope Francis will take part in an ecumenical service commemorating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th year.

It is stunning to think the start of this momentous anniversary features a visit from the Roman pope.

And it raises a question: Does the Reformation still matter?

Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. has approved a declaration recognizing “there are no longer church-dividing issues” on many points with the Roman Catholic Church.

Olivia Whitener 10-30-2015

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Oct. 31 is approaching quickly — a day marked throughout the United States by costume contests, pumpkin carvings, and children knocking on neighbors’ doors with questions of “trick or treat?”

But for Protestant churches around the world, Oct. 31 is also a celebration of a grown man knocking on a (rather large) door, asking a different question of the Catholic Church:

From whom does salvation truly come? And a follow-up: How do we refocus the church on the Gospel?

On this date, almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses onto the front doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany — an act that, unforeseen by Luther at the time, is now credited with beginning the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s 95 Theses outlined his abstentions to the practice of selling indulgences to guarantee Christians salvation, emphasizing that grace is given by God alone and can only be assured by the clergy, not bought from them.

With the help of the social media of his day — the newly-improved printing press — news quickly spread to people throughout Europe that Martin Luther was questioning the papacy and attempting to refocus the church’s theology on forgiveness through the word and the eucharist, neither of which required financial prosperity. Within a few years, Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for his continued teachings, which included suggestions that the Bible should be accessible to all people and that priests not necessarily need to be celibate.

The Reformation gathered Christians from across Europe into a community of “rebels,” from which multiple denominations would spring up over the next half a century.

Today, 498 years later — with of a Catholic pope nicknamed “The Peoples’ Pope,” who is on Twitter and preaches about income inequality — what would Luther think of the state of the church?

REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Pope Francis leads the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross) procession, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, at the Colosseum in Rome on April 3, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Despite Luther being thrown out of the Catholic Church during his lifetime, the Vatican reacted positively to news of the square’s upcoming inauguration.

“It’s a decision taken by Rome city hall which is favorable to Catholics in that it’s in line with the path of dialogue started with the ecumenical council,” said the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican press office, referring to a gathering of churchmen to rule on faith matters.

Greg Carey 08-24-2015

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Even on a local scale, problems like poverty and hunger can overwhelm our imaginations. My own city of Lancaster, Pa., is like countless others. Pockets of true poverty cluster in the old city and dot the countryside. Affluent developments surround the city, while hip new housing is popping up in the center of the city. An impressive urban revitalization campaign has transformed the city’s image, making downtown an attractive place to eat, shop, and play.

Recently, however, a study by Franklin and Marshall College has shown that Lancaster’s resurgence has not helped its poorest residents. Just the opposite has occurred. Between 2000 and 2013, per capita income has grown by 20 percent in the city’s center while it has declined in every other section. What looks like progress from the outside contradicts the harsh reality that thousands experience.

It’s a typical scenario, in which outcomes such as life expectancy and high school completion rates vary dramatically, even in adjacent zip codes and school districts. Faced with such stubborn realities, many individuals feel at a loss concerning how to make a difference.

A painting from “Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry." Photo via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

This Nov. 2, on what is known as All Souls’ Day, Roman Catholics around the world will be praying for loved ones who have died and for all those who have passed from this life to the next. They will be joined by Jerry Walls.

“I got no problem praying for the dead,” Walls says without hesitation — which is unusual for a United Methodist who attends an Anglican church and teaches Christian philosophy at Houston Baptist University.

Most Protestant traditions forcefully rejected the “Romish doctrine” of purgatory after the Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The Protestant discomfort with purgatory hasn’t eased much since: You still can’t find the word in the Bible, critics say, and the idea that you can pray anyone who has died into paradise smacks of salvation by good works.

The dead are either in heaven or hell, they say. There’s no middle ground, and certainly nothing the living can do to change it.

Many Catholics don’t seem to take purgatory as seriously as they once did, either, viewing it as fodder for jokes or as the “anteroom of heaven,” an unpleasant way station that is only marginally more appealing than hell.

But Walls is a leading exponent of an effort to convince Protestants — and maybe a few Catholics — that purgatory is a teaching they can, and should, embrace. And he’s having a degree of success, even among some evangelicals, that hasn’t been seen in, well, centuries.

Brandon Hook 05-21-2014
Blan-k/Shutterstock.com

Blan-k/Shutterstock.com

I was born in 1990. That puts me squarely in the middle of what is referred to as the millennial generation.

It also, apparently, makes me a lazy, entitled, narcissist who still lives with my parents.

But that’s beside the point. What’s more important about the date of my birth is that it places me at a distinct and pivotal point in human history: I grew up with the Internet — what they call a “digital native.”

I (vaguely) remember when the Internet got popular; having slow, dial-up that made lots of crazy noises whenever you wanted to use it; talking to other angsty teens on AOL Instant Messenger (“AIM”); downloading music on Napster and Kazaa; and then, slowly but surely, having the Internet became engrained in my everyday life as if it was there the whole time.

But, like the bratty sibling I grew up with (upon reflection, I was equally, if not more, bratty — #humility #perspective), I’ve recognized that I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet. It’s a game-changer for the human experience, so, like that sibling, I think I’ll always love it. But, for every positive, innovative element of the Internet there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Eric J. Lyman 02-21-2014

Screen shot of a video of Pope Francis. Via RNS.

In an unusually informal video made on a smartphone held by a Pentecostal pastor, Pope Francis called on all Christians to set aside their differences, explaining his “longing” for Christian unity.

The seven-minute video, which was posted on YouTube, was made during a Jan. 14 meeting with Anthony Palmer, a bishop and international ecumenical officer with the independent Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches. Italian news reports say that the pope and Palmer knew each other when Francis served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires.

In his remarks, part of a 45-minute video, Francis said, in Italian, that all Christians are to blame for their divisions and that he prays to the Lord “that he will unite us all.”

Peter Ellertsen 01-07-2014

“Wild Bill” Finlay in Liberals With Guns video Via YouTube

A few weeks ago, I got one of those viral emails from a guy who shares my interest in Lutheran hymnody — but, most emphatically, not my politics. It linked to a video called “Liberals With Guns!” that claims the shooters at Fort Hood, Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, were all “liberals” and/or “registered Democrats.” It featured “Wild Bill” Finlay, a self-proclaimed “Judeo-Christian values” type of guy wearing a self-satisfied expression and a cowboy hat.

Before hawking a “Wild Bill for America” coffee cup for $14.39 (plus shipping) at the end of the video, Finlay proposes that “every registered liberal Democrat be placed on the mentally ill list, and because mental illness is akin to incompetence, we should consider removing them from certain positions of responsibility. … The liberals of America try so hard to strip others of their rights, perhaps we should give them a taste of their own medicine.”

Ha-ha. Funny guy.

Photo courtesy RNS.

Religious orientation scale. Photo courtesy RNS.

There is a lopsided divide in America about what it means to be a religious person, with a majority believing that it’s about acting morally but a strong minority equating it with faith.

Nearly six out of 10 Americans (59 percent) say that being a religious person “is primarily about living a good life and doing the right thing,” as opposed to the more than one-third (36 percent) who hold that being religious “is primarily about having faith and the right beliefs.”

The findings, released Thursday, are part of a report by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution that aims to paint a more nuanced picture of the American religious landscape, and the religious left in particular.

Andrew Suderman 05-10-2013
Bible opened to book of James, Vibe Images / Shutterstock.com

Bible opened to book of James, Vibe Images / Shutterstock.com

Lately I have been spending a lot of time reading the book of James. Reading this small yet powerful book has challenged me to think and re-think the very nature and meaning of faith.

I have found it interesting to listen to people speak about faith. Often faith is used to describe what a person believes and does not believe. For example, we might say that we believe in God, Jesus, Allah, Mohammed, Torah, the Bible, the Quran, and so forth. What people say they believe is then equated with their faith. Faith in God means that he or she believes in God. Because I believe in God, I have faith. Faith and belief seem to be synonymous.

This understanding or definition of faith, however, does not seem synonymous with actions or the way we live. Although ideally we believe that faith should affect the way we act, we still speak about faith and action separately. In other words, faith and living out that faith — action — is differentiated and understood separately. For example, it might be possible to have faith, yet not live a life that is based or reflects that faith. It might be possible to have faith in God, even in Jesus, but act in ways that are ungodly or un-Christ-like – participating in violence and war, killing, being inhumane, lying, cheating, being corrupt, and so forth. Although we may act in these ways, and participate in actions that are less than holy, the claim remains that we still have faith. We have faith because we believe in something.

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