The annual Bjarne W. Teigen Reformation Lectures will be held October 26–27, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. This year the theme will be Luther’s Three Treatises: The Reformation Platform. These lectures delve into the Reformation heritage with presentations on the history and theology of the Lutheran Reformation with application to the teaching and practice in the Lutheran church today.Read More
A number of pastors have asked me for suggestions for recent books on Luther as we are now into the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. What follows are my suggestions for books that would be valuable in a congregational library and for reading by interested laity. Several of these books would serve well as the basis for an adult Christian education class. Those marked with an * fit that category.Read More
The “solas” are at the forefront, appropriately so, of a lot of Reformation jubilee discussion and literature as October 31, 2017 approaches. Because they can be seen as providing a content-rich but extremely compact summary of the Reformation movement, Reformation teaching, or of the motivations of the Reformers, even the fact that they’re in Latin is overlooked. I myself find, as I pastor in a setting where Lutherans are one of the rarer breeds of Christianity, that a short reference to sola gratia,sola fide, and sola scriptura can go a long way, not only to describe who we are, but also to garner some respect among those who otherwise suspect me of having a shrine to Martin Luther in my house.Read More
Brand Luther: 1517, Printing, and the Making of the Reformation by Andrew Pettegree (Penguin: New York, 2015), 338 pgs.
The flood of words in books and articles, on blogs, and at conferences commemorating, discussing, and making hay of 1517 is already here. One of the insights of Andrew Pettegree’s new book on Luther and the media of his day is that this flood is nothing new. The German printing market boomed in the first quarter of the sixteenth century in large part thanks to Luther’s very modern ability to write about theology in clear, brief, and convincing vernacular language, and fortunes were made printing and publishing in the German world where each printer could without hindrance reprint the Luther texts from Wittenberg he knew would sell by the hundreds and thousands. Pettegree marshals a very detailed knowledge of that particular story into line with the larger stories of the Reformation and Luther’s life and career.
Pettegree does not write for the specialist. He uses the word “Reformation” with a capital R and without any discussion of a variety of “reformations,” including a Catholic one. Although the book covers the period from roughly 1480 to 1580, the word “confessionalization” does not appear once even when he is talking about the clarification of confession and political status at events like the Diet of Speyer in 1529 or the publication of the Book of Concord in 1580. Commendably, he wants to make the outline of the history of the Reformation, the biography of Luther, and the role of printing in both comprehensible to someone neither pursuing a degree in or making a living from the subject.
The narrative heart of the book is the biography of Luther, traced from his father’s investment in copper mines to his death at Eisleben seeking to reconcile feuding brothers. Someone without much or any very clear knowledge of Luther’s life story will gain it from this book. Into the bargain, Pettegree draws Luther without enlisting him as the herald or hero of something much larger than himself. Pettegree’s Luther is not the harbinger of modern freedom of conscience, the German nation, or even of all the Lutheranism that followed him. He was a man of singularly great intellect and facility of expression who was courageously tenacious or foolishly obtuse, depending on one’s sympathies. He was mighty at Worms in defending a conscience captive to the Word of God, uniquely instrumental in the history of the German nation and the German language, and the theological progenitor of what Pettegree calls a new way of being a Christian community instantly recognizable to modern Lutherans in its devotion to Scripture and the primacy of congregational song. Yet Pettegree is careful never to make Luther merely the sum of everything or everyone he influenced, a cipher we fill in for ourselves in commemoration of the great man.
This is most clear when Pettegree narrates Luther’s two major absences from Wittenberg between 1517 and his death in 1546—his friendly imprisonments at the Wartburg in 1521-22 and at Coburg Castle in 1530. It was during those times that we have the clearest picture of how much Luther was involved in from day to day as he wrote and agonized about all he could not control. He gave detailed instructions to his wife Katie in 1530 about how a manuscript should be yanked from one printer and given to another, even as the first printer sent a beautiful final copy of the book to him, arriving after Luther’s excoriating instructions were already en route home. As he wrote at a superhuman pace in 1520-22 and managed and reviewed everything from university curricula to the placement of pastors in rural Saxon parishes to numerous manuscripts at divers and sundry printers all at once, Luther’s energy is astounding and his very human frustrations and dislikes evident.
The “brand” the title identifies is the distinctive appearance of Luther’s writings that the reformer promoted after early mishaps with Rhau-Grunenberg, the only printer in Wittenberg when Luther arrived there. There were six other centers of printing in the German world: Leipzig in nearby ducal Saxony with its own university, Augsburg, Nuremberg, Basel, Cologne, and Strasbourg. Wittenberg’s sole printer was terribly backward by comparison, and once the thirty-four-year-old, hitherto obscure professor of Bible began to make a sensation with the publication of the Ninety-Five Theses, which were quickly reprinted throughout the German world, Luther knew that Wittenberg needed a sophisticated, modern look for its German-language Flugschriften, the very brief, very pungent writings so popular across Germany, and for its academic works in Latin and eventually for the German Bible, issued in parts from the September Testament of 1522 to the first complete Bible printed by Hans Lufft in 1534. With the aid of Lucas Cranach and the Lotter printing family, Luther put together a “look” for even the smallest pamphlets that would make his name and Wittenberg’s name sufficiently famous for both “Luther” and “Wittenberg” to be used on writings that were not strictly his and certainly had not been printed in Wittenberg. A specialist in the history of books, especially printed books, Pettegree is at his most detailed when laying out the nature of early modern printing and why, for instance, a Leipzig printer with Catholic convictions would petition his staunchly Catholic ruler for the right to print Luther’s works for sale in his staunchly Catholic territory. The interconnection of Luther with the emerging print media of his time is so necessary to understanding his success in view of his early obscurity and later ignominy, and Pettegree demonstrates the interdependence of the writer and his market masterfully.
In connection with that central story of Luther and his use of what were then new media in ways before unused by any theologian, Pettegree deftly adds a general sense of the flow of the Reformation (including the humanists like Erasmus and Pirckheimer initially sympathetic to it), political and theological opposition to it (including a very sympathetic portrait of John Eck), and its eventual theological diversity, introducing at least briefly everyone from the more famous Zwingli, Bucer, and Calvin to the less famous but important Rhegius, Zell, and Müntzer. He is eloquent obviously on the role of printing and its suppression in markets more highly regulated than Germany’s, like France, England, or the Low Countries, where the suppression of early print media meant the suppression of nascent Lutheran sympathies. In a few paragraphs or a few pages, he covers topics as various as Zwingli’s progression from parish priest to his battlefield death, the relationship between Duke George of Saxony and Jerome Emser, and the southwestern German origins of the Bundschuh cause leading to the Peasants’ War of 1525. He is able to discuss all of this without becoming pondersome or superficial.
There is much to enjoy here, not least the detailed maps of Luther’s world and well-chosen illustrations of major figures. There is much Pettegree says that is characteristically concise and precise that we cannot here discuss. Amid a flood already begun and perhaps now itself 500 years old of Lutheriana, this new book can retell the story you may already know with accuracy and fresh facts and insights and tell a newer story about Luther’s relationship to media fruitful for reflection on our own time of massive changes in how people come to see what they see and know what they know and finally to believe what they believe.
Rev. Adam Koontz
Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church (LCMS)
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Salvation Unto Us has Come
Reformation Observed Oct. 25
The hymn of the day for Reformation is Salvation unto us has come (1524). Included in the first Lutheran hymnal, the Achtliederbuch (1524), it was one of eight hymns given to the Church to carry the Gospel by song, particularly through the school children, who could quite quickly set it to memory. Luther wrote four of these hymns, including Dear Christians One and All Rejoice, and Speratus wrote three. Speratus wrote this particular hymn while in prison (1523)! He had been excommunicated and sentenced to death by burning at the stake by the Church of Rome for among other things breaking the vow of celibacy, preaching against monastic vows (works), and getting married. Through the intervention of friends he was delivered from prison and spared, his hymn preserved for the church, and he and his wife made able to join Luther in Wittenburg.
While the original German had 14 verses our English versions retain 10. When many were illiterate and the services of the Church conducted in Latin what joy this hymn would bring to the brokenhearted, perhaps for the first time ever, to hear of Christ's saving work in one's own language. The hymn is thoroughly grounded in the doctrine of the Scripture. It contains powerful Law and Gospel, as it sings of the treasures of Word, grace, faith, atonement, salvation, baptism, and service to neighbor, poured out by Christ for sinners. Imagine the relief it brought to those trying to buy their way out of hell with their money and works to hear "Since Christ hath full atonement made and brought to us salvation, Each Christian therefore may be glad and build on this foundation. Your grace alone dear Lord I plead, your death is now my life indeed for you have paid my ransom." (vs. 6)
Next year, 2016, will be the 470th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther’s “heavenly birthday,” his earthly death. And then in 2017 the whole world will observe the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. It will mark just the beginning of the Reformation, since in 1517 Luther certainly had not yet reformed the church. Instead, the posting of the 95 Theses set into motion the events that would lead to a reformation and purification of the public teaching and practice in the Western Church, especially in Germany. At this time, therefore, it is good and right to consider what those writings were which moved the Reformation forward and set forth the Gospel in its purity.Read More
A sermon preached by Prof. John T. Pless on 24 October 2012, in Kramer Chapel, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Text: Jeremiah 23:16–17; 23–32
In an essay entitled Union and Confession written just prior to WWII in 1938, Hermann Sasse penned these words: “Where man can no longer bear the truth, he cannot live without the lie” (Union and Confession, 1). In this wonderfully lucid little booklet, Sasse goes on to contrast the truth with the lie. He notes that from the beginning the lie and the truth have done battle within the church. So it was in the days of the apostles as Paul said to the congregation at Corinth: “For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (I Cor 11:17). The lie, Sasse said, takes on various forms. There is the pious lie, that hypocrisy with which man lies to himself, to others, and even to God. The pious lie easily becomes the edifying lie. This is the lie that takes comfort in untruth. Sasse sees an example of the edifying lie embraced by medieval Christians when they trusted in the power of the saints, relying on the excess of their merit to further them in the struggle toward righteousness. The edifying lie was the lie unmasked and expelled by the Reformation. Then there is the dogmatic lie, the assertion that we have come to greater doctrinal maturity and old teachings are to be changed for a more contemporary, relevant theology. Finally there is, Sasse warned, the institutional lie when the churches embody the lie in their own life, instituting false teaching as normative.
Jeremiah has the lie, in all of the forms Sasse described: pious, edifying, dogmatic, and institutional lie in the crosshairs as he takes aim at Jerusalem’s prophets. With inflated visions of peace and prosperity, they have lulled the people of Israel into a state of spiritual drowsiness. Instead of proclaiming the certainty of the promise, they have peddled the sweet security of the flesh. Thinking themselves to be pastoral they say: “It shall be well with you; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jer 23:17). It is a soothing homiletic to be sure; but it is devoid of consolation for it is not true. It is not a message that God has authorized. It is a lie that edifies only by building up a hardened resistance to repentance. No talk here of God’s wrath and judgment on unbelief; no mention at all of a God who both kills and makes alive. Just sweet spiritual nothings whispered into ears plugged to the voice of God.
Instead Jeremiah harangues against prophets whose lips God did not open, whose mouths give exposition to dreams woven out the deceit of their own rogue hearts. With their reckless sermons they lead the Lord’s people astray, so that the Lord is not remembered as the God that He is. Rather than awakening faith which is bold to call upon the name of the Lord, these preachers lull their hearers into complacency with unauthorized promises of well-being: No disaster will come upon you. They cannot preach the invasive God, this wild God of the Old Testament, the Lord who is jealous to have a people exclusively for Himself, so they advertise a domesticated deity who will put his benediction on the desires, the plans, and the programs of the heart whatever they might be.
Jeremiah denounces this as idolatry, no different in substance from the way that Israel’s fathers had been seduced into the worship of Baal. God’s ears are not closed to these lying words. From his sight nothing is concealed and no utterance is so quietly or softly spoken so as to be beyond his ears. Truth and falsehood have no more in common than wheat does with straw. God comes, and his coming is in judgment. The fire of his Word ignites the stubble of unbelief. The hammer of his law pulverizes hearts that have become granite monuments of unrighteousness. The Lord sets his face against these lying prophets. That’s about as far as today’s text takes us. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! Not a very good place for teachers and students at a seminary to be! There is plenty of dire warning in Jeremiah for us who are preachers or aspire to the preaching office lest we be numbered with those lying prophets who preach peace when there is no peace, who proclaim that all is well when disaster is imminent. There is much here to remind us that we are to “afflict the comfortable if we are ever to comfort the afflicted.” But there is not much in our text to give opportunity for the comfort and consolation of the Gospel to predominate. Not much, but something. Listen again to verse 28: “let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.”
We have the promise of the Righteous Branch proclaimed by Jeremiah, the One who for all time will be known as “The Lord is our Righteousness.” We have Jesus’ word and his “words are spirit and life” (John 6:63). His word is truth–the truth of God’s attitude toward sinners for the sake of his Son. The truth that when we confess our sins God “is faithful and just and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We have the word of the cross, the certain truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself through the blood of the cross. We can live without the lie, because we have the truth in Jesus Christ. It is him that we proclaim. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.
Prof. John T. Pless
Prof. John T. Pless is associate professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.