The Reformation and its meaning for us

From Rev. Jason Wells, Executive Director of the NH Council of Churches:

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This anniversary is tied to historical specifics: who (Martin Luther), what (95 Theses), where (Wittenberg), when (October 31), why (justification by faith) and how (nailing to a door).

But the Reformation is more than a grade-school history lesson. Christians have repeatedly undertook reformations from the very beginning, not just during Martin Luther’s time. Perhaps the more important questions for us to ask today are:

  1. What is reformation and when else has it happened?
  2. What are the relevant lessons from the Protestant Reformation for today?
  3. How can understanding the Protestant Reformation help understand our present place in history?

These questions we will answer below.

What is reformation?

Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day

The word reformation simply means “to shape again.” The word is hardly known in the Bible, but the idea is there. In Revelation, the angel of God makes its appeal, “You have lost your first love” (Rev. 2:4). The idea of reformation is a falling back in love with God, after our passion for God has run cold.

Many Christians can talk about times in their own lives when they were especially “on fire” and excited about God. Often this is a story following their conversion. The same can be true of churches and denominations: there are times in history when we have excelled in “making disciples of all nations” and other times that we have done things worthy of deep repentance.

To reform is to shape churches again so that they again take the shape of Jesus Christ. It is to hit the reset button so that our local congregations and our denominations again reflect the practices of the Apostles who knew Jesus personally:

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as any one had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:42-47).

Before Martin Luther, figures like St. Francis of Assisi might be called Reformers, who called Christians to fall back in love with God and live lives that look like Jesus Christ. After Martin Luther, figures like John Wesley, Dorothy Day, Pope John XXIII and Aimee Semple McPherson have sounded the same call.

What are the Protestant Reformation’s lessons for today?

Author Diarmid MacCulloch identified several lessons for us in his recent book on the Reformation,  All Things Made New:

Separation of Church and State

For much of the middle ages, there was no such separation. Kings and bishops feuded over who should hold which powers and which rights to govern. After the Protestant Reformation, the idea of “whoever is monarch, it’s that religion” (Latin cuius regio euis religio) came into being. If the king was Protestant or Catholic, so was the local kingdom–a breaking up of an old monolith. Eventually, the American Revolution solidified the idea of a secular state that protects individual religious liberty. Whenever one sees this idea threatened, we look with interest at the Protestant Reformation.

Toleration

Immediately after the Reformation period came the Wars of Religion across Europe. When they didn’t kill each other, they imposed fines, taxes and other penalties. For example, Protestants in England officially discriminated against Roman Catholics for several centuries and refused them the right to hold government office.

John Locke in 1689 wrote his Letter Concerning Toleration, a landmark of progress. Eventually we have come to appreciate the idea of toleration of others whose core beliefs differ from ours. Though born out of war and oppression, toleration was hard-won in our culture and we remember the cost we paid to have it.

Ecumenism

Also coming from the Reformation was ecumenism: the idea that different faiths could do better than just putting up with one another. Perhaps we could actually engage in fruitful discussions that make us all better off. Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses were, after all, topics for debate and discussion. Spiritual lives and understandings of God become richer this way.

Our Present Place

Phyllis Tickle
Phyllis Tickle

Phyllis Tickle wrote in The Great Emergence that about every 500 years, Christianity has a giant yard sale. Everything is re-appraised and things of value to Christianity in that time are kept and other things discarded. This practice echoes Jesus’ image, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).

She wrote that we know much about these broad historical periods:

  1. Around the year 500, the Roman Empire collapsed and Benedictine monasticism flourished.
  2. Around the year 1000, Western and Eastern Christianity separated, giving new importance to the Pope.
  3. Around the year 1500, the Protestant Reformation comes to a head.

Of course, this places a new such “yard sale,” a re-appraisal, a re-formation right here in our own age around the year 2000. We live in a history-defining period for Christianity, where we keep the valuables and discard the rest. We have the opportunity to be known as Christians who fell in love with God all over again and be re-made into the image of Jesus Christ.

Bible Stories for Halloween

Christians of different denominations and cultures celebrate October 31 differently. Some Christians disagree that the day should be celebrated or recognized at all. Regardless of how you honor the day or not, here’s a selection of Bible stories listed in The Episcopal Church’s Book of Occasional Services that you’ll want to bookmark:

Does your church celebrate October 31 or not?

Reformation Sunday in Concord

This morning I attended Concordia Lutheran Church in Concord with Pastor Jon Hopkins. They celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in worship and prayer but also with an Oktoberfest lunch, music and a game of “Pin the 95 Theses to the Door!”

Special thanks to Pastor Jon, who was brave enough even to get the Martin Luther haircut for the day!

Joy, celebration and fun marked the worship and the lunch after.

Would you like for the NH Council of Churches to highlight your congregation? Email and invite us!

Concordia Lutheran Church 10am worshipPastor Jon Hopkins preaches as Martin LutherOktoberfest lunch after worshipOktoberfest crowd having funPin the 95 theses on the doorYouth sold "indulgences" as a fundraiser

Oct. 28: Simon and Jude

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:1-4 NRSV)

At least three of our member churches today commemorate Simon and Jude, two of the lesser-known apostles from among the Twelve that Jesus called. Jude is sometimes also identified as Thaddaeus, but is not to be confused with Judas Iscariot.

Professor Darrel Guder says that we should look at the notes of the Church backwards. That is, not as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” but rather as “apostolic, catholic, holy and one.” If we start with the calling that Jesus makes on each of us to be apostles (prayer and proclaiming, healing and service) then it’s far easier to find our unity as churches.

Here’s a sampling of liturgical prayers for today:

Evangelical Lutheran Worship

O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude. We pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in your mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer

O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and
that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Roman Catholic Missal

O God, who by the blessed Apostles have brought us to acknowledge your name, graciously grant, through the intercession of Saints Simon and Jude, that the Church may constantly grow by increase of the peoples who believe in you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

 

Sunday morning in Claremont

Today I preached and lead worship at the shared service of Trinity Episcopal Church and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Claremont. They made a bold choice to worship together, melding worship from The Book of Common Prayer and Evangelical Lutheran Worship. They share one clergy person together.

This is the kinds of cooperation that the NH Council of Churches loves to see!

Can we come visit your church? Invite the Council of Churches and we will be there!

 

#metoo

Disclaimer: the posts in Every Day Together are the views of Rev. Jason Wells himself and not necessarily the views or positions of the New Hampshire, National or World Council of Churches.

In reading posts tagged #metoo and the responses, the silence of both men and Christian churches speaks much. The silence speaks indifference to suffering and satisfaction with the status quo. I offer some steps for Christian men to reflect on what they are reading, to respond and to end our silence. The steps here follows the basic outline of how Christians already receive and respond in faith, for what is at stake here is an act of conversion and faithfulness.

1. “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).

Now many men have seen women’s posts with #metoo. Sometimes there were stories, sometimes now. Sometimes it was a share or a copy-paste, sometimes just the words, “me too.” They have given testimony to us, as though we heard someone on a witness stand. We have heard and learned things that we didn’t know or avoided knowing.

In the Bible, Jesus opens the eyes of two disciples to understand how the story of the Bible intersects with the story of Jesus’ own crucifixion and resurrection. Having their eyes opened, they too became witnesses. When God opens our eyes, there is a Biblical path for what happens next:

2. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:10-11).

First, we refuse denial. One example of this instinct is to point a blaming finger outside the Church. We might cry, “Such a thing is not done in Israel” (2 Samuel 13:12), suggesting that the fault is out there, somewhere in a lost, amoral secular society.

Instead, we look for signs of sexual harassment within the Church and do not believe the lie that it only happens “out there.” We search our own souls for the times where we have either participated in harassment or made excuses or remained silent.

Second, we believe what our witnesses are telling us. The Holy Women who found the empty tomb on Easter morning encountered ridicule from the disciples (traditionally all male). When women make us witnesses of what they experienced first hand, believe their testimony

3. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops (Matthew 10:27).

When we became Christians, each of us received Jesus’ mandate to proclaim the Good News and to share our faith.

When we receive women’s testimony, each man personally has a decision to make about what to do next. A man’s choices might include:

  • Sharing that story (as always with consent) so that the eyes of others may be opened
  • Speak out to other men, holding them accountable for their behavior
  • Reporting that story, when necessary, to the police or to church disciplinary bodies

My own Episcopal Church has put time and resources in training its members to recognize signs of sexual harassment and abuse (Safe Church). This church invested much in fixing its rules for abusive clergy (Title IV disciplinary canons). Almost every denomination has done similar work. All of the Church’s good intentions mean nothing if the stories are never told. Abusive clergy will remain in their positions and sexual harassment in our congregations will continue.

Further, we make time and space for this to be a priority. Recently I heard Rev. Eric Jackson of Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester say that our word “busy” is usually a synonym for “silence.” Over-worked clergy and stressed-out laity can make this a priority and give it importance over other demands and so not make themselves “too busy” for speaking up.

4. “It shall not be so among you” (Matthew 20:26).

Another consequence of God opening our eyes is the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Many men have toxic ideals about masculinity that they try to live up to. At least, those poisonous images lead men to accept and tolerate abuse when they observe other men perpetrating it.

One insightful article says that it’s time to stop worshiping powerful men. In the Bible, worshiping anything that is not God is idolatry. Our conversion and coming to faith in Jesus requires that we give up idols, such as toxic masculinity or the alpha male. Such idol-worship has consequences in our behavior, as Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you.”

Listening to the witness of #metoo should be yet one more call to worship Jesus alone, who showed us true masculinity as a “servant of all.”

5. I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:18)

The Christian journey moves from:

  • receiving the witness of a resurrected Jesus to
  • transformation of heart and mind and then to
  • the commitment to living in a new and different way

The Christian life must bear fruit in action. The letter of James says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)”

Just so, being witnesses of #metoo cannot end in only having new ideas and perspectives. As someone said, “We cannot think our way out of patriarchy.” As a partner to #metoo, men are encouraged to use #IWill to name specific actions they will commit to in public. From a Christian perspective, some #IWill commitments include honoring the image of God in women, loving others as we love ourselves, recognizing all women as sisters through the grace of Jesus.

What will you #IWill commitment be? What further reflections do you have for the #metoo campaign?

Oct 18: Luke the Evangelist

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:1-4 NRSV).

Today at least four of our member churches celebrate Luke, the author of two books of the Bible (the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles). Prayers from those churches are below, which together show the emphasis that Luke gave to Jesus’ healing miracles and his parables on serving the poor and needy.

Even if you are not celebrating Luke today, we can always further our prayer life by asking God how we are today being called to share the Good News of Jesus, just as Luke did in his own day.

Troparion from the Orthodox liturgy:

Let us praise with sacred songs the Holy Apostle Luke,
The recorder of the Joyous Gospel of Christ,
And the scribe of the Acts of the Apostles,
For his writings are a testimony of the Church of Christ:
He is the Physician of human weaknesses and infirmities.
He heals the wounds of our souls,
And constantly intercedes for our salvation!

From the Catholic missal:

Lord God, who chose Saint Luke to reveal by his preaching and writings thy mystery of your love for the poor, grant that those who already glory in your name my persevere as one heart and one soul and that all nations may merit to see your salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

From the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

From Evangelical Lutheran Worship:

Almighty God, you inspired your servant Luke to reveal in his gospel the love and healing power of your Son. Give your church the same love and power to heal, and to proclaim your salvation among the nations to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our healer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Image: Luke writing his Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as a dove. Illumination from an Armenian gospel book, 15th century.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Textual Tuesday: Matthew 22:15-22

Preaching and sharing the Bible unites all of our churches, locally and beyond. Here are a few gatherings for the upcoming Sunday Bible readings as you study the Scriptures. Does this spark reflections, ideas or do you have something to share? Write a comment below!

See the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 22, 2017. The site also includes hymn suggestions, prayers and more.

The Pharisees decide to ask Jesus a “gotcha” question: Is it right to pay taxes to the Emperor Caesar or not? Jesus answers by showing a coin bearing the image of Caesar. His famous remark follows, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

If it is the coin that bears the image of Caesar, then what is it that bears the image of God? In the Bible, God says that it is us, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Because of Sin, the image of God in us has been damaged and only God can restore it.

So, God send Jesus Christ, “who is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is a perfect image of God, for he never knew sin. Through faith, our lives can be “renewed…according to the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).

Below is a 2-minute video from the Art Institute of Chicago on how ancient Greeks made coins. Note the molten metal, fire (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) and stamped images.

Jesus Christ is the die, bearing the perfect image of God. The Holy Spirit fires up our hearts and souls, wiping out signs of previous wear, tear, hurt and damage. Then God has made us ready to become again what we were always meant to be: stamped with God’s image, ready to be rendered back to our Maker.

Other Bible passages about images

  1. Genesis 5:3
  2. Exodus 32:7–8
  3. Romans 8:28–30
  4. 1 Corinthians 15:42–49
  5. 2 Corinthians 3:17–18

Textual Tuesday: Matthew 22:1-14

Preaching and sharing the Bible unites all of our churches, locally and beyond. Here are a few gatherings for the upcoming Sunday Bible readings as you study the Scriptures. Does this spark reflections, ideas or do you have something to share? Write a comment below!

See the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 15, 2017. The site also includes hymn suggestions, prayers and more.

  • For a long time I didn’t go to church, but wanted to. I found going into a church intimidating as I didn’t know who would be on the inside. Would they accept me? Would they see through me? I longed for someone to invite me. Eventually I gave up waiting and gathered my courage to enter the doors alone–and it changed everything for me. Who do we think is waiting for the invitation to faith? Who might need your invitation for the courage to come in? How is God prompting you to offer that invitation?
  • What are the implications of accepting a wedding invitation today? What does that mean about accepting God’s invitation now?
  • Many parts of the New Testament compare we (the church) to a bride and Jesus to a groom. That is, we are not the invited guests. If that’s the case, then how does our interpretation of the parable change?
  • “[A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27 NIV). Baptism is connected to the invitation in the parable. To paraphrase one priest, to be Christian is not to wear robes and hate others, but rather “to wear Christ and love everyone.”
  • The Party, painting by James B. Janknegt, 30×40 inches, oil on canvas.
  • It is divine Wisdom who makes the invitation to enjoy the feast: Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed” (Proverbs 9:1-5 NIV).
  • In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the invitation to Hogwarts School is prodigal and indestructible: