American Lutherans have stayed close to their ethnic and national roots. However, there are plenty of American Lutherans who are not white, European or whose primary language is something other than English. Let’s look for a moment at the ‘other half’ of the story!
The first Lutheran church in the continental United States may have been founded in 1699, but Danish Lutherans arrived in the Virgin Islands 33 years earlier. The story
of Lutheranism in the Caribbean Islands is much different than that of the mainland. Danish Lutherans were quick to minister with, and to, slaves and indigenous peoples. This was not so true on the mainland.
Although many Caribbean Lutheran congregations were begun by Europeans or Americans, most members today are predominantly local people—Virgin Islanders, Guyanese and Surinamese, Puerto Ricans, and others. They worship in Spanish, English, French, and other local languages. Danish Lutherans did not keep their lantern under a bushel – No!
One might think the Caribbean story is unique. However, it is the actually the United States story that is unusual. Most places the Lutherans have gone (Africa, Asia, South America, the Middle East) the church planted there has taken on the grace, beauty and identity of indigenous populations. For whatever reason, colonization happened differently in the United States.
As American Lutherans celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation we do so with peoples of all tongues, territories and tribes around the world. Half of us are not of European dissent. And, as American Lutherans celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, we might do well to recognize that the population of the United States also increasingly represents peoples of different tongues, territories and tribes. What a gift!
It may be time to become “Danish” once again - time to engage ministry with, and to, people different than ourselves. The Reformation, after all, was not about who we are. Rather, it is about who God is for all the world. Rejoice!
With you on the journey,
Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
My original intend with this Reformation insert series was to parallel inserts created by Augsburg Fortress. Their inserts are historical. My goal has been to ask similar questions about what Reformation means in our world today. I’ve inquired about your “inner monk” and the birth of the “Reformer” within you.
The spread of Lutheranism through Europe is a fascinating historical study. The Reformation remained a social /political/theological reform. Sweden, Denmark and Norway all engaged the Reformation through the work of students who had studied with Luther in Germany. In Slovakia Jan Hus had pre-dated the Reformation and had himself influenced Luther. So, for Slovakians what had gone around came around again.
So, how did the Reformation spread? What can we learn?
· The Reformation spread through education and thoughtful reflection on the faith.
· The Reformation spread through the sacrificial work of individuals, like Argula von Grumback who put her life at risk to speak truth.
· The Reformation spread through unleashing the gifts of all - men, women, children, musicians, theologians, farmers and friars.
Here is the lesson for us today. Lutherans value education, scholarship, teaching, learning and mentoring. We are not afraid of scientific truth, political realities or changing paradigms. In Christ, we are the changing paradigm. “Can we talk?” That’s all Martin Luther ever wanted. But his request was never for mindless or baseless conversation. He was a doctor of theology, an academic. If our world has lost respect for the educated, we have work to do!
Lutherans also value commitment and the voice of individuals. But again, we do not value the mindless utterances of biased or prejudicial politics. Reformers have always spoken truth just for truth’s sake. We know the Spirit will take us forward from there.
And yes, men, women, children, refugees, voices from other faith perspectives, care for the earth. To proclaim, as both Lutherans and the Bible do, that God has become incarnate in our midst means all these voices can carry the Divine.
We will teach. We will risk all. We will value every person and every creature. This is how the Reformation spreads.
Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA
"I am prepared to lose everything, even life or limb. May God stand by me." “So wrote Argula von Grumbach (1492–1563/68?) from Bavaria, who found Martin Luther’s message of Christian freedom and equality empowering. This noble woman challenged an entire Catholic university in Ingolstadt in defense of Lutheran faith and was a student persecuted for “Lutheran heresy.” This best-selling lay author’s letter-treatises eventually disappeared under pressure from male authorities. Luther considered her a valiant hero of faith.” So we read in Augsburg Fortress Reformation 500 materials.
The role of women in the Reformation, and our Lutheran history to follow, is not understood by many. Katie Luther we may know. Argula von Grumbach, and so many women reformers, you may not. Today Lutherans are blessed with women pastors, bishops, teachers, healers and mystics. It has not always been so. Nor, are women spiritual leaders recognized equally even in all Lutheran denominations around the world. The Reformation continues.
Why might women today find the Lutheran message of “Christian freedom and equality” empowering? Answer: Because the world is not yet free.
During my pastoral internship in 1982 I met a German Lutheran trained theologian in her late 70s. She was a member of the congregation I served. One day she told me her story, how she had met an American Lutheran pastor, married and moved to the U.S. Her husband was from a Lutheran denomination that did not ordain women. Almost in passing she said, “Of course, I couldn’t stay in prison forever . . .” so she and her husband had changed churches.
“I couldn’t stay in prison forever!” I remember this woman clearly. She was articulate, often times took me to task after a sermon or Bible class; she clearly felt like her move to the U.S. had robbed her of an essential part of her identity, and her “inner monk” had long ago burst forth as the Reformer.
Lutheran women have been, and are, gifted proclaimers of the Word. They also carry stories of oppression, abuse, marginalization and struggle. In this they keep us close to the very essence of the Reformation.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has written, “There is no more valuable investment than in a girl’s education.” Lutherans would agree!
Keep the Faith!
Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA
This is intense. October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the church door. “Can we talk?” Apparently not. So, Luther continues to agitate.
In October of 1518 and January of 1519 Luther debates with leading Roman Catholic Theologians. In 1521 Luther is ex-communicated. He is also declared an outlaw by Emperor Charles V. (It is during this time of banishment that Luther translates the New Testament into German.) By 1525 some 100,000 German peasants lay dead in the streets. The Reformation had become open revolt. In 1530 Emperor Charles V said “Enough!” Spiritual unrest had erupted into political dysfunction. Yes, that’s how it works.
The Augsburg Confession was written for a meeting called by Charles V. In it, Luther clarified the teachings of the now 13-year-old Lutheran movement. He articulated what it was Reformers and Roman Catholics agreed on, what they didn’t, and what in their disagreements were central and peripheral. Common ground was still not found.
In times of social, political and religious discord defining oneself is essential. “Iron sharpens iron.” As the scriptures say. Mush sharpens nothing!
As the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation comes to us Lutherans continue to define, refine and contextualize our faith and witness.
· American Lutheranism has a 78-year history of refugee resettlement and relocation work through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS.) Over these years, we have helped settle over 500,000 refugees. We will continue this work.
· In 1945 American Lutherans formed a government advocacy effort which today is known as the Lutheran Office of Governmental Affairs. Through LOGA we have under our belt 72 years of advocating for individual and family rights and benefits. Our voice will stay in the debate.
· And, for over 150 years, Lutheran hospitals have served the sick, counseling centers have worked with families, and adoption agencies have striven for the wellbeing and safety of children. Lutheran Services of America now touches one in every 50 American lives. There is still work to do!
We know who we are, doctrinally, functionally and spiritually. The coming 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation finds us once again in the midst of spiritual unrest and political dysfunction. You know what to do. Do it!
With you on the journey,
Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Martin Luther’s Small Catechism is an amazing gift to the Church. For almost 500 years this little pamphlet has laid out the basics of Christian faith and teaching in a way anybody can understand. “What does this mean?” is a question designed to live in the heart of any inquisitive Christian. It’s all about the basics. If you’re a Christian, memorize the Small Catechism. It couldn’t hurt!
However, we do not live in a Christian culture any more. Our needs are different. What does this mean? It means a lot! For example, here we are in the middle of Advent, we may find ourselves deeply em-bedded in practices of consumption rather than prayer. Soon it will be Christmas and we may talk about gifts rather than Incarnation. The “unchurched” – not just young people, but individuals of all ages and identity –hunger to talk about over consumption and what it’s
doing to our earth. How the Divine manifests itself in the everyday? People long to explore the mystery of incarnation. Yet, they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that
this is no longer what we in the Church are about.
What does this mean?
The question of the Catechism is not about calling forth the Reformer. The Catechism is about our common grounding. What is different in today’s world is that the teachings of the faith alone can no longer form our cultural, common grounding. The Church is no longer “the voice” of the culture. We are simply “a” voice.
Let’s talk about Baptism as the Small Catechism does. Yes! But when Luther asks “What is Baptism?” and writes, “Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead, it is water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s Word.” Let’s talk more about that part. What is God’s command for water, and how is it connected, deeply connected, with the incarnate Word? That’s a question that has traction today. Let’s talk ecology, faith and life!
Or, when reading Luther on the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And Luther asks, “What does this mean, ‘Daily Bread?’” saying, “Daily bread is everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, house, farm …” let’s talk more about that part. Luther insists that God gives us our daily bread “Without prayer.” How does that work?
“The basics” for our world today are not to be taught. They are to be discovered. Like the baby Jesus, cradled in a bed of straw, you and I must start again. Listen, love, and learn.
Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Lutherans are celebrating the event in a number of ways, listed here.
Renowned Luther scholar Dr. Timothy J. Wengert will present a lecture series at Augustana, Portland: "Re-Forming the Reformation by Learning to Post the 95 Theses."
- Friday evening: "What Luther Said in the 95 These and Why He Said It" (general audience; free)
- Saturday morning: "Luther's View of the Christian Life" ($15; lunch available for purchase following; information about times and registration will be provided)
- Sunday morning sermon and forum: "The Freedom of a Christian" (free)
Under the direction of Dr. David Cherwien, the 60-voice National Lutheran Choir's rich and diverse repertoire ranges from early chant to new compositions and from simple folk anthems to complex masterworks. The NLC was the recipient of the 2007 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence from Chorus America and the 2007 Wittenberg Award from the Luther Institute. Information about tickets will be provided. $20/adult and $10/student (children 5 and under free)