- Religion Editor
Mark D. Menacher,
St. Paul Lutheran Church
1264 South Tonkey Road
Au Gres, MI 48703
Date: 14 October 2002
For Immediate Release
AS LUTHERANS ABANDON REFORMATION DAY
By Mark D. Menacher
(Au Gres, Michigan,
USA) "You have got to be joking," exclaimed Mrs. Ethel Woldt
of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Au Gres, Michigan, "They must be nuts.
I cannot believe that. As a Lutheran I have always celebrated Reformation
Day. We are going to celebrate Reformation Day, aren't we?" Also
of St. Paul, Mr. Louis Zanner concludes, "Well, I guess that we will
have to transfer to a Lutheran church that celebrates Reformation Day."
These comments typify the reactions of many members of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to the news that the denomination no
longer wants its parishes to observe Reformation Day.
The day in question is October 31, otherwise known as All Saints' Eve
or Halloween. On that day in 1517, an Augustinian Friar and Professor
of Biblical Theology at Wittenberg University, Martin Luther, issued his
famous 95 Theses against indulgences. To his mind, indulgences not only
lacked Biblical warrant but also led souls astray from their true "justification
by grace through faith alone."The medieval Roman Church's response
to Luther's protestations was first to ignore him. When this failed, the
pope then sought to excommunicate Luther while arranging for the Emperor
to sentence him to death. For centuries thereafter, Lutherans have celebrated
"Reformation Day" to remind themselves of Luther's bold steadfastness
in speaking the truth and setting the faithful back on the right path.Now,
after 500 years of Lutheranism, the ELCA's head office is seeking to put
an end to Reformation Day.
According to the September-October
edition of the ELCA publication, Seeds for the Parish (p. 2), denominational
officials recommend, "In light of our church's commitment to ecumenical
relations, it may be a good idea to shift away from a focus on the 16th
century Lutheran Reformation and its readings ('the truth shall set you
free') and move toward an ecumenical celebration of reconciliation and
the on-going reformation of the church."
The advisory continues, "On that day, you might keep the liturgical
color red and still sing 'A Mighty Fortress' to remember our common history,
but consider using the readings appointed for the day. Perhaps a pastor
from a full communion congregation could be invited to preach or preside
on that day with laypersons invited to read Scripture and pray."Kris
Baudler, Pastor of St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Bay Shore, New York asks,
"Why in these days of hyper-ecumenism are we Lutherans the only ones
giving up everything - our heritage, our confessions, our faith? The Lutheran
house is being looted from the inside out of the riches of nearly 500
years of Reformation witness."
Mr. Stan Anderson of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Bragg, California
retorts, "Almost as insulting as changing the focus away from the
Reformation is the last paragraph which suggests 'inviting laypersons
to read Scriptures and pray.'. Let's throw a bone to the laity! Whatever
happened to the priesthood of all believers?"In a recent lecture
at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, Professor James M. Kittelson
from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, likened today's ecumenically
zealous churches to "corporations" where "the ecumenical
dream is to create from them all one multinational conglomerate or a confederation
of corporations." Professor Kittelson described the ecumenical goal
of "visible unity" as "building a new ecclesiastical Tower
of Babel" that will come "crashing down [as soon as] the workers
discover that they are not even speaking the same language."
Again, Pastor Baudler,
"They keep telling us that all this ecumenism changes nothing. The
Episcopalians obliged us take episcopalian style bishops in Called to
Common Mission. The Roman Catholics managed to get Lutherans to agree
to their interpretation of 'justification by faith' in the common statement
on the Joint Declaration on Justification. What did Lutherans get in return?
Full communion? A rescinding of the excommunication of Martin Luther?
Denominational plans to drop Reformation Day are leaving many ELCA members
feeling shocked and betrayed. For them, being Lutheran is not a matter
of denominational identity but rather an issue of truth in the gospel
of Jesus Christ. During the course of the Reformation, many Lutherans
lost their lives fighting for this truth. Now, faithful Lutherans find
themselves pitted against their own denominational leaders in order to
retain these same truths.
Mr. Larry Larsen of
Calvary Lutheran Church in Morro Bay, California, assessed the situation
this way, "They [ELCA officials] keep chipping away at the Lutheran
concept - chipping away, chipping away, and then it will fall apart."
Similarly, Mr. Dick
Zimmerman of Calvary Lutheran Church in Modesto, California reports reactions
to the news from his church council as saying, "If Reformation Day
is no longer relevant to Lutherans, then I guess that means that the Reformation
itself is no longer significant to anyone."
While on trial for his attempts to reform the church, Martin Luther is
reported to have declared, "My conscience is held captive to the
Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything because to go against
one's conscience is neither safe nor right. I can do no other. Here I
stand. So help me God." These sentiments continue to live in many
ELCA parishes regardless of attempts by denominational leaders to forsake
Protestant truths for the enchantments of recent superficial ecumenism.
In response to the
ELCA's official departure from its own heritage, Lutheran congregations
and groups from around the USA are encouraging ELCA parishes to disregard
the ELCA's advisory and to celebrate Reformation Day with renewed vigor.
1. Use of all or of
any part of this article is granted by the author. For further information
regarding the above quotations, contact Dr. Mark D. Menacher as per the
details given above.
2. The source for
the quoted sections of the ELCA advisory is "Seeds for the Parish"
(page 2) which is available on the Internet at: http://www.elca.org/co/seeds/septoct02.pdf
3. All other quotations
appearing in the news release/article have been collated and verified
with permission for use by Pastor Mark Menacher, PhD, who can be contacted
as per the details given above.