The cup for the laity

The communion practice of the Roman Catholic Church, up until Vatican II, was for the priests to drink the wine.  Laypeople were only given the bread.

Brian Stiller, writing on the Christianity Today site, reflects on Luther and the Reformation as he sits in the City Church of Wittenberg.

He sees a detail in Lucas Cranach’s altarpiece–one that I hadn’t noticed before– that gives him a flash of insight into the Reformation.

Now Luther would not be happy with all of what the author says about Holy Communion, since Stiller believes that the Lord’s Supper consists of symbols rather than the true Body and Blood of Christ.  Stiller even extrapolates his conclusions into meals in general.

But he does pick up the detail that Luther is sitting around the Table at the Last Supper with Christ and His disciples.  And Luther gives the cup to a servant–a layman, not an apostle.  Stiller explains why this is so significant and why offering the cup to laypeople–imaged here on the altar–is so expressive of the Gospel as proclaimed in the Reformation.

UPDATE, FURTHER THOUGHTS:  We shouldn’t take this privilege for granted.  John Hus was burned at the stake largely because he insisted on giving laypeople the Blood of Christ. For us laypeople to receive the Cup means that we are all priests (the doctrine of vocation) and that there is no spiritual superiority of one caste or another in Christ’s Kingdom. And that He poured out His blood for all.

[Read more…]

The Reformation wars as board game

Right after Luther’s death, the Holy Roman Emperor resolved to undo the Reformation by military force.  The Lutheran princes formed the Schmalkaldic League to fight against him.  In the ensuing Schmalkaldic War, the Emperor defeated the Lutherans–taking away the princes’ lands and titles and re-imposing the Roman Catholic faith.  But that was not the end of the story.  In a bizarre and providential turn of events, Lutheran theology became legalized after all.

UPDATE:  What happened was this:  The Emperor bribed one of the Lutheran princes, Maurice of Saxony, with lands and titles if he would change sides.  He did.  As a direct result of this treachery, the Lutherans were defeated and the Reformation, evidently, was over for good.  But later, Maurice felt the Emperor reneged on some parts of the deal.  So he changed sides again and went to war with the Emperor.  Even though he was fighting the vast Imperial army pretty much by himself, he defeated the Emperor!  And made him legalize the Reformation!  And so we see how God uses even sinners and acts in ways we could never expect.

Now there is a board game in which you can re-enact the military exploits, the political intrigue, the personality conflicts, and the theological commitments that played out in this strangely-forgotten but pivotal moment in history.

The game is called the League of Confessors and it’s available here.   You have got to check out the website.  The cards that are pictured there and that you play with in the game amount to a who’s who of the late Reformation:  John the Magnanimous, George the Pious, Ernst the Confessor; and on the other side Ferdinand I, Albrecht Alcibiades, and the perfidious Maurice of Saxony.

And if you order the Reformation 2017 edition, you will also get the Franco-Ottoman extension, in which the “unholy alliance” of France and the Turks takes advantage of the war between Catholic and Lutheran “confessors” for their own global-political advantage.

This game is clearly the brainchild of a gamer who is both a confessional Lutheran and a history fanatic.

This would make a good 500th Reformation Anniversary present to oneself or others, although I’m not aware of any Reformation Day gift-giving customs.  But still, there are at least some of you who would love to play League of Confessors. [Read more…]

A Lutheran Catholic and vocation

Emil AntonOur hosts here in Finland arranged a city tour of Helsinki with Emil Anton.  As he works on his doctorate in theology, he works for a tour company, among other things, and has put together the “Holy Helsinki” tour of religious sites.  But Emil is also quite a Christian thinker himself.  He is a noteworthy author, speaker, and blogger (see this, for which the translator in your browser can give you an extremely rough translation, and this in English).

Emil is a Catholic who loves Luther and Lutheranism.  He says he is the kind of Christian Luther wanted:  an evangelical Catholic, a member of the historic church who, thanks to Luther, understands the Gospel.  Emil is interested in the whole breadth of Christianity.  He reads evangelical authors, such as Ravi Zacharias, and is writing his dissertation on Pope Benedict.  Emil–whose father is Iraqi (an Assyrian Catholic) and whose mother is Finnish and who is married to a Polish woman–is a fascinating model of contemporary Christianity.

Anyway, as he was telling us about the sights of Helsinki, we were also carrying on other conversations.  I commented on how I was struck by the way contemporary Catholic writers were discussing vocation.  Whereas the term “vocation” in a Catholic context used to only refer to the calling to religious orders, I have been seeing it used lately more as Luther used it.  Vatican II documents and papal encyclicals now talk about the “vocation” of laypeople, the “vocation” of marriage, the “vocation” of workers.  More than that, these documents also talk about the concept in ways that reflect the specific content of the Lutheran doctrine of vocation:  God works through human vocations.  The purpose of vocation is to love and serve our neighbors.

Emil said, “Right!  Which brings us to something I want to show you.”  Huh?, I thought.  What can he show me on a city tour in Finland that would bear on the new Catholic understanding of vocation? [Read more…]

The writer and producer explains the two versions of the Luther movie

275x315-LutherAdWe reviewed the new dramatized documentary, Martin Luther:  The Idea That Changed the World, and then expressed puzzlement  when we learned that it existed in another version, A Return to Grace:  The  Life and Legacy of Martin Luther. 

In the comments and on FaceBook, we discussed why there are two versions, with the latter being the version screened in Wisconsin Synod churches.  We did a lot of speculation about whether there were fellowship issues or theological concerns behind the changes that were made.

I am very grateful that the writer and producer of the film, Mark Trinklein, weighed in at the comments.  He explained why there are two versions.  He said that the movie was, in fact, designed for multiple versions and that they are planning new ones for Europeans, Chinese, grade schoolers, and other kinds of audiences.  He did say that they denied the request of a television network to “remove the religious material”!

Also weighing in was Rev. Mark Schroeder, the president of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  His comment is worth a separate post, which we will post tomorrow.

Again we see that we should always “put the best construction on everything.”  Read Mr. Trinklein’s explanation after the jump. [Read more…]

The other version of the new Luther movie

Return to GraceI reviewed Martin Luther:  The Idea That Changed the World, the dramatized documentary produced in Lutheran circles to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Reformation.  It turns out that there is another version of the same project, Return to Grace:  The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther.

The latter, which has a much better title in my opinion, is the version being promoted and screened by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

Why the two versions?  Is WELS, known as a stickler for fellowship issues, holding to some kind of “cinematic fellowship” as one Cranach commenter called it?  This provoked quite a bit of discussion in the comments to my review here at the blog and even more on Facebook.

First of all, the WELS version does NOT leave out scholars from the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  Nor does it leave out the interview with the Catholic archbishop Timothy Dolan.   This is evident from the trailer, which you can see here after the jump.

It was said that the WELS version cuts out many Lutheran Church Missouri Synod scholars from the original film, but in the trailer the LCMS is represented.

After the jump, I’ll explain what I have found out so far about why there are two versions. [Read more…]

The connection between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King

342px-Martin_Luther_King_Sr,_c1977-81 (1)As the world reflects on the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, it is evident that some people–and not just the young and history deprived–confuse Martin Luther the Reformer with Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader.

One thing I learned from the new Luther documentary is that there really is a connection.  Rev. Michael King, Sr., was an African-American Baptist minister, whose son was named Michael King, Jr.   Rev. King, an early civil rights activist, attended a conference in Germany, where he became interested in Martin Luther.

When he returned home to Atlanta, he changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr.  And he also changed his 5-year-old son’s name to Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Both Rev. Kings saw Luther as an example of someone who instigated great change by non-violent methods.

UPDATE:  But is the account of “Mike King” changing his name really true?  Carl Vehse, who has developed a specialty in exposing Luther myths, gives evidence to the contrary in the comments here.

Photo of Martin Luther King, Sr., By White House Staff Photographer,  Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11753583 [Read more…]