April 2021 – The 500th Anniversary of the Most Important Event in World History!

April 2021 Marks the 500th Anniversary of the Most Important Event in World History since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen

The Background

On April 17, 1521, Martin Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms to defend his criticisms against the papacy and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The Diet of Worms included Charles I in his first formal appearance as king of the Holy Roman Empire since the death of his uncle Maximilian, seven electors (princes), and many other dignitaries. The Diet had been meeting since January 28.

King Charles 1 had the title of King of Spain when his uncle died and he needed the support of the German electors and the Roman Catholic Church. He was named Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire but would not be crowned as emperor until February 24, 1530.  King Francis 1 of France and Henry VIII of England also wanted to be the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Suleman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, wanted his territory. Europe was divided. The money of the Fugger family from Augsburg financed the bribes paid to the four secular electors and the power of the Roman Catholic Church provided support to the three ecclesiastical electors.

The Trial of the Century!

Martin Luther was excommunicated on January 3, 1521 and the Roman Catholic Church wanted him arrested, silenced, and to end the heresy that repentance was a daily responsibility and that forgiveness of sins was freely granted by God as written in Matthew 4:17. When Martin Luther burned the papal document (bull) calling for him to repent in public on December 10, 1520, he challenged the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church. This was radical and threatened the power and stability of the government, which was the Roman Catholic Church, its councils and popes.  

Martin Luther was very popular in the area of the German states and the powerful elector in his state, Frederick the Wise, advised King Charles to give Martin Luther a ‘trial’ or the opportunity to defend his action of burning the papal bull stating that he would be excommunicated if he did not recant or denounce his books had errors.

When Luther entered the great hall of the Diet, there were twenty-five books laid before him on a table. He was asked two questions: Are these books yours?  Will you recant them?

Luther came prepared to debate and to present his position. He was taken back by these two unexpected questions.  He answered affirmatively that these books were his but since his books included the words of God in the Holy Bible and his interpretation of these sacred words, he was not able to answer the second question and denounce them because he considered God’s Word to be the truth.

April 18, 1521 is perhaps the most famous day in world history. Martin Luther did not recant and defended the Word of God as the source of truth and its authority was superior to the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, which was the rule of law in Europe since the Council of Nicaea (Nicene Creed) in 325.

What Changed?

Martin Luther was declared public enemy #1 in all of Europe and given 60 days of protection to return to his home town of Wittenberg. He would then be arrested and executed.  Instead, upon leaving the city of Worms he was taken hostage in a pre-arranged plan to protect him in hiding in the Wartburg Castle in the Thuringia forest. He was disguised and took the name of Junker Jorge. He remained in hiding for ten months and returned to public life in an attempt to provide unity to how his teachings were being implemented by others. While he was in hiding, he interpreted the New Testament of the Bible into the German language. This new translation will be published in September 1522 and this changed the world!

People began reading the Gospels and quoting verses from the Holy Bible when they wrote letters and gave speeches. The Roman Catholic lost its monopoly on knowledge as the Bible was introduced into homes and schools.  It inspired artists, musicians, writers, and inspired many to become ministers. One hundred years later in 1620, the Pilgrims will come to Plymouth colony in Massachusetts for religious freedom. Marriages will be approved by local secular officials in addition to the clergy. Norway and Denmark will sanction the Lutheran faith as their state religion in the next 15 years.

What does this Anniversary Mean for the 21st Century?

The 400th anniversary of the Diet of Worms was a big world event even though it occurred during the Flu Epidemic, at a time when materialism and science challenged religious truths and when the world was rebuilding after World War 1. There were concerts, movies, and speeches.

The 500th anniversary will likely go unnoticed by the media, governments, artists and musicians. It is a lost opportunity and one that can perhaps be regained as we remember the translation of the New Testament of the Bible into the language of the people in September 1522. I have tried to get people’s attention for the past three years and have been rejected every time – even by the clergy.

The celebration of God’s Word, the free gift of forgiveness, the opportunity to read and reflect on God’s Word in the privacy of our homes is why the events at the Diet of Worms a half a millennium in the past is the most important event in world history since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!

The practical reason why we need to remember the Diet of Worms is that in the first 21 years of the 21st century, we have experienced three devasting challenges: the terrorism of 9/11, the financial collapse of the world economy in 2008, the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.

The future challenges of the next 21 years are predictable and our children and teenagers need to have the spiritual foundation and confidence to meet the death and evil that will be coming. Perhaps the biggest challenges shaking our faith will be the impact of a warmer climate – deadly storms, food shortages, flooding, and migration of people to cooler places in the North.  The Baby Boomer generation will turn 85 and be faced with health issues, dementia, and loneliness. Morality will continue to decline as artificial intelligence dominates our decision-making, injustice and hatred increase, and church buildings are converted into secular enterprises.

We do not have time on our side. Hopefully, you will be inspired to follow in the steps of Martin Luther and take a stand for the truth in God’s Word!

Trespassing!

TRESPASSING

By Richard C. Reid

            Yes, I’ll tell you why. When I was nine years old in 1921 in the Bronx. I was playing with my friends at a construction site along Blondell Avenue near Eastchester Road when the local patrol cop, O’Toole, turned onto the street riding his chestnut horse. All of us kids feared him something awful. I had my back turned to him, so I didn’t know why all my friends were suddenly yelling and running away until I looked over my shoulder and saw who was coming at a brisk trot. I was too scared to run. All I could think to do was to duck down where I was behind a stack of bricks, hoping he had not spotted me.

It was less than half a minute, but those were some of the longest seconds of my life. O’Toole, you see, was known for using his nightstick. We all had seen the bruise an older teen in the neighborhood had said he received for talking back to the cop. We had all heard the neighborhood stories about him cracking the skulls of people who resisted arrest. He was a tall man, probably six foot four. When he rode that horse, he towered over us like some giant from a fairy tale. 

Now I knew he was there, just beyond my hiding spot because I could hear his horse panting but since he was saying nothing, I thought maybe I was going to get away with it. Fat chance.

“I know you’re there.”

Those simple words cut into me like a knife but I still didn’t move, hoping he wasn’t sure anyone was actually behind those bricks, that maybe he was just trying to bluff me out.

“You dumb Mick. If I have to get off this horse, you’ll wish I didn’t.”

It was then that I knew the jig was up. Standing, I saw a little smile cross his lips. I didn’t like the look of it. Still on his horse, he ordered me to follow him to the street. He was Irish like me, but he called us all Micks.

“Can you read, Mick? Tell me what that sign says.”

No Trespassing. He had me say it several times, each said louder than before. With one arm, he scooped me up like a milk bottle, put me on his horse in front of him, and said I had to direct him to my house which wasn’t very far.

Spying one of my older sisters, he asked her to get my father who came out right away. After the cop put me down, I ran to her on the porch, clutching her tightly while my father went over to speak with the dreaded policeman. At that point, I was more afraid for my father than I was for myself. I was very familiar with his oft-told tale about leaving Ireland to avoid arrest because he had badly beaten a cop. That was how my family came to be in America, a few months before I was born here, at least that was the family story I always knew. Now he was confronting a Johnny Law who had apprehended his son and was known for freely using his nightstick when given any guff. I was terribly afraid for my father.


Bending low on his horse, O’Toole and my father spoke quietly for a bit. Then my Dad came over to me, looking and sounding quite scared.

“I tried to reason with him, Charlie. I told him you were a good boy led astray by your bad companions, but the law’s the law, he said. You were trespassing on private property. There’s nothing I can do for you now. He has to take you to jail.”

            Although I was relieved to learn that my father hadn’t come away smarting from O’Toole’s nightstick, those were words I did not want to hear. I was sobbing as my father led me back to that terrifying giant who pulled me once again up on his horse. 

 As we set off at a slow pace heading to the Westchester Square station house, we passed neighbors who looked at me in amazement. A little girl followed us, gleefully saying in a singsong as she skipped along for half a block, “Charlie got pinched! Charlie got pinched!” on and on. It was awful.

O’Toole talked about the judge likely sending me to reform school. I found out later on that they wouldn’t have done this to a nine-year old for what I had done, but at the time, I believed him.   After a few more blocks, the horse suddenly halted. That’s when the cop commanded that I look straight at him. Turning, I saw a face colder than any my father had ever shown me. I’ll never forget the intensity in his dark eyes. Had they been knives, they would have cut me to shreds.

“You know what you did was wrong, don’t you?’

I nodded silently. In response to his stern directive to say it, I blurted that trespassing on private property was wrong. He insisted I say it three times. That was when he lowered me to the street.

“I’m letting you off with a warning this time. But if I ever hear of you doing anything bad again, I’ll hunt you down and arrest you. Got that, Mick?’

I assured him I had. But he wasn’t quite yet finished with me. With the barest hint of a smile, he leaned down toward me. In a softer voice, he said something I’ve never forgotten.

“Remember to say your prayers tonight, son.”

That evening, I knelt next to my bed for my usual nightly devotions. About halfway through the Lord’s Prayer, I froze up when I realized what the next word was. In a flash, I was back there on O’Toole’s horse, his big hands gripping me. For several months as a child, I couldn’t say that prayer, couldn’t say that word, “trespasses.” I always believed it was O’Toole’s sadistic parting gift to me, making sure whenever I said my bedtime prayers, I would remember him. It wasn’t until I heard he had been transferred about five months after our encounter that I ever felt at ease in my neighborhood again.

A day after that news, I finally told my parents what had been bothering me all those months. My mother said it was just the officer’s way of telling me not to worry, that my trespassing that day would be forgiven by a merciful God who loves all children. My father thought telling kids to say nightly prayers would help keep them on the straight and narrow, adding that surely O’Toole never meant it to be a source of torment. It was then that my father, upset to hear of my pain, apologized to me, explaining that he and O’Toole had arranged the whole thing on the spot to put a scare into me, to teach me respect for the police and the law. Dad said his father had done something similar with him when he was little, that I was never really going to reform school. But he knew nothing about O’Toole telling me to say my prayers. Wondering what O’Toole meant has dogged me my whole life. I’ve also always wondered whatever happened to him.

“Officer John Patrick Aloysius O’Toole passed from his earthly life on the afternoon of June 28, 1924. When he was walking his beat in Brooklyn, he saw a tenement ablaze and ran to help. He got five people out safely before he went back for a little girl glimpsed at a fourth-floor window. Neither of them made it out.”

I never knew that. I guess he wasn’t such a bad guy after all to do something like that. Well, I expect this has been a rather long-winded answer to your question about why I always wanted to ask you my question which is this: Lord Jesus, what did O’Toole really mean that day when he told me to say my prayers?

“John’s not far from here, Charlie, just down that path over there by the pasture. He’s expecting you. Why not get reacquainted?”

Does God Have a Plan for History and Us?

Esther 2:17 “Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins.  So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.”

The crowning of Queen Esther

The book of Esther is a controversial book and this commentary is specifically designed to encourage readers to research the reasons for an against including it in the Holy Bible, to ask questions about Queen Esther and the events in this book, and to discuss or debate the issue on the amount of free will and individual has and the role that God plays in our lives.

From a personal perspective God has played a visible and hidden role in my life as it pertains to education, career, marriage, family, and other events. My personal view is that God has put me in places for a reason and intervened in things I wanted to prevent them from happening. In reflection, these “interventions” (or disappointments at the time) were likely for a reason. In 2020, the world is experiencing a pandemic that is a challenge for most people and devastating for others. How do we understand the event of a pandemic? Is it God’s plan, does God allow the pandemic to bring us closer to faith in God, do we see it as a call to repentance, is it just a random event that occurs once every 100 or 500 years? These are all great questions. Do we answer the question of a pandemic (or an asteroid that lands on our planet, genocides, wars, economic hardships, a vaccine that is a cure for the pandemic, a peace agreement, or an economy that improves each year the same way?

After the pandemic of the flu in 1919-20, many people turned away from God and adopted the phrase ‘God is Dead’ first introduced by Frederick Nietzsche. When it comes to events today, the majority of people accept the philosophy that everyone has a free will and events occur randomly and are not predetermined. Some consider the opposite of free will to be fatalism. The origins of this debate go back to the ancient civilizations. Others, have a worldview that is predetermined by God’s timeline or at least partly determined by God’s intervention. The birth of Jesus Christ was not a random birth but one that was part of God’s plan from Creation. Is our birth any different?

Let’s consider the events in Esther’s life in the fifth century B.C.E. (490-460) under the rule of King Ahasuerus of Persia. The story begins with Queen Vashti’s refusal to obey the command to appear before the king, her husband. As a result the king seeks a new queen and Esther is the one he chooses. Two of the advisors to King Ahasuerus, Mordecai and Haman, report false information to the king and this leads to a decree that allows the population to seize the property of the Jews in Persia with no protection for their lives. This is one of the biggest human rights violations in the history of the ancient world. Tens of thousands of Jews feared for their lives.

  1. Why did Esther hide the fact that she was Jewish?
  2. Why did Queen Esther delay in telling the King to the decree against the Jews?
  3. Why did Esther call fast for three days?
  4. Did the preservation of the Jews occur by chance or was this the work of God?
A 19th century depiction of Queen Esther (Getty Images)

The name of God is not explicitly stated in the Book of Esther and yet the presence of God is obvious throughout the events in this book. There were many beautiful girls in Persia, the edict against the Jews was based on evil intentions, and the circumstances leading to the ending of the decree are very unusual. Martin Luther saw God as active in history and in the lives of each person created y God. Unfortunately, as a result of myopic vision caused by our human nature (sin) many people understand God as passive and inactive.

It is the stories of Esther, Exodus, the rise of Joseph in Egypt’s government, the birth of Jesus, the events of Good Friday and Easter, the conversion of Paul, and my baptism and yours that God reveals Himself as a active and engaging!  We also ‘see’ God in the miracle of birth, the forgiveness of sins, and the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper!

Martin Luther saw a two dimension world – the physical world and the spiritual world. When we drive down the highway or road, we can only see for a short distance as we look ahead. We are not able to see what is 100 feet to our left or right. But when we fly a drone, we are able to see everything differently. We see a bigger picture. This is the way it is with life and faith. Our lives are focused on our experiences and perhaps to some extent on the lessons of history. We cannot see tomorrow or even the next hour. We are familiar with the phrase, “our life can change in a minute or a second.’ With faith, we can see things differently. We are able to see the bigger picture of grace, love, and eternity.

We have reason to celebrate! Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

How will the Global Pandemic of 2020 Impact the Christian Church?

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time. The article below is one of forecasting and prediction for the purpose of discussion among people of faith and in positions to influence congregational or institutional planning.

The Global Pandemic of 2020

21st Century

Lutheran Pastor in New Jersey preparing a Virtual Worship Service

The Christian Church in the 21st century does not have any prophets to predict the impact of the current global pandemic that impacted every country on the planet. At least 90% of the 7.5 billion people in the world were ordered by their governments to stay in their homes and practice self-distancing and wearing a mask if they left their homes for essential services or medical care. Churches were closed and maintained communication with their members via technology and social media platforms. The pandemic brought the church to where the people are (in their homes) instead of the people coming to the church for worship. This paradigm change is significant.

Here are some things that will likely have a negative impact on the Christian Church in the coming years:

1. The economic impact on churches will be significant.

2. The threat of future viruses, natural disasters, and uncertain events will continue.

3. The worship behavior of the population before the pandemic was limited to about 40% of the population and will likely be less after the pandemic.

4. People experienced significant emotional and spiritual stress during the period of the pandemic.

5. The future will likely result in the expansion of artificial intelligence, social alienation, and divided opinions on culture, religion, and social issues.

Here are some questions for discussion about the Christian Church in the next ten years:

  1. Will smaller group meetings become more effective than larger meetings as a congregation?

2. Should the emphasis on ministry and worship change from cognitive themes expressed through sermons to local actions addressing social and environmental problems?

3. How likely will technology (artificial intelligence, social media, blogs, webinars, video, podcasts, etc.) increase in popularity and effectiveness as the medium to educate people about faith and religious teachings?

4. To what extent will the pandemic change how people view and trust institutions (education, government, international forums, financial, etc.) including the Church?

5. Which voices will have the most effective influence on young people under the age of 30 in the coming years? (peers, music, artificial intelligence, therapists, parents, etc.)

6. To what extent will music become have less influential in worship and prayer, print media, video, and personal stories have greater importance and meaning?

7. How likely with the sermon become less important in worship than alternative means for educating and growing in the faith?

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series

How Historical Events Have Impacted the Christian Church – Part 6 of 7: World War 2

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time.

World War 2

20th Century (1945-2020)

Christian Crusade at Yankee Stadium in New York City with Billy Graham

World War 2 had a direct impact on the United States from December 7, 1941 through September 2, 1945. Approximately 16.5 million American men and women participated in the war effort and the domestic home front was one of sacrifice and fear. The ending of the war did not bring a lasting peace as a cold war emerged and young men were drafted into the military and sent to areas in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. On the home front, returning soldiers married and the United States was overwhelmed with the births of babies (Baby Boomers). As a result, churches organized social events for families and summer educational programs for children.

The impact of World War 2 provided a climate for the expansion of the Christian religion with the building of new churches, an increase in church membership, mega-churches, and an interest in studying the Holy Bible. This movement was supported by the evangelism of Billy Graham and the leadership of churches in combatting segregation and social injustice. Protestant and Roman Catholic churches used folk music to bring people into their churches.

Unfortunately, Protestant and Roman Catholic churches faced challenges that began in the 1960s regarding the role of women in the church, contraception, abortion, secularism, and the literal interpretation of the Holy Bible. As a result of these internal debates among clergy and scholars, many denomination churches split, which resulted in declining membership. The traditional or conservative groups within these churches identified with the basic teachings of Jesus, literal interpretation of the Bible, and conservative values. The liberal groups within these churches endorsed ecumenism, acceptance of homosexuals, women as clergy, and a Pentecostal or emotional structure to worship.

A major change in Roman Catholic churches began in 1947 with the encyclical Mediator Dei issued by Pope Pius XII who stressed the importance of the participation of the people in liturgical worship. The reforms began to be introduced in 1965 with a new order of service and worship in the language of the people. Another change was that the Roman catholic Church offered both elements of bread and wine to members.  Many Protestant churches began to distribute Holy Communion in individual cups instead of the common cup, which was the practice since the first century, as a result of the fear of contagious viruses (HIV) and the changing demographics of congregations.

In the second half of the 20th century women became more involved with education after high school, employment, and delaying decisions about marriage. Divorce rates increased to 50% of American households, communities became more mobile, and immigrant populations increased significantly as a result of the 1964 Immigration and Naturalization act. Although this provided new opportunities for the church to minister to different populations, it was difficult for denominational churches to relate to Spanish, Japanese, and Indian populations while they had some success with Korean and African populations.

Churches applied innovations with contemporary music, national gatherings, social ministry in the community, providing pre-schools and day care, television ministries, and sports programs.

How can the Christian Church today regain the popularity it experienced in the years following World War 2?

How effective are the decisions to modernize the Christian Church with new forms of liturgy, music, and changing with the times?

Are there changes the Christian Church could have taken to address the diversity of populations in America and Europe and the changes within the family.

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series

How Historical Events Have Impacted the Christian Church – Part 5 of 7: World War I

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time.

World War 1

20th Century (1900-1945)

Church service in Alabama circa, 1925

The house of horrors that tormented the world during World War I resulted in unprecedented injury and death of 40 million people.  The flu pandemic took the lives of approximately another 500 million people infected and 50 million deaths.  The significance of this turning point event challenged the Christian Church with an alienated population, the philosophy that God was Dead, and a conservative reaction to the lifestyles of urban populations. Friedrich Nietzsche inserted the phrase “God is Dead” into his book, The Gay Science, in 1882, before World War 1 but it became popularized after The Great War. He understood the culture wars at the time and favored the truths of science over the morality of the values of the Christian faith.

It is unlikely that Nietzsche literally proposed that a monolithic or Triune God had died but rather that religion, and more specifically the Christian Church, was becoming a failing institution. Nietzsche’s core thesis is what would the world look like without any religious faith. Would the masses turn to nihilism, anarchy, and immorality.

This was the age of exploration and scientific and technological discovery as a result of the industrial Revolution.  Darwin’s theories of evolution challenged the Biblical teachings of creation which received international scrutiny in the Scopes Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. The Christian Church had to respond to the new morality of the Jazz Age which led to the migration of Black Americans to northern cities, the expression of the modern woman, income inequalities, prohibition of alcohol, and the freedom of the automobile.  Many churches became more concerned about preventing women from smoking cigarettes, sexual and reproductive ethics, social security, and the threat to institutionalized religion by totalitarian governments, than the gospel of God’s grace. The two decades between World War 1 and World War 2 were some of the most challenging to the Christian Church and they will form the catalyst for the direction of some evangelical groups in the second half of the 20th century.

The voices who spoke on behalf of the church were Norman Vincent Peale (positive thinking), Father Charles Coughlin (social justice), Billy Sunday (Born Again evangelism), Paul Tilich (existence of God), and Rheinhold Niehbur (nature of man and God’s unconditional grace).  The radio became a popular medium to communicate quickly with the masses. In the years after World War I, the Christian Church struggled with its relationships with people and society. It is estimated that 43% of the population in the United States belonged to a Christian Church during this time.

The Christian Church faced two major challenges as the result of the Great Depression.  First, churches were heavily indebted because of construction projects initiated during the prosperity of the 1920s. With the depression, church revenues declined sharply making it difficult to repay loans and to support their staff.. The second challenge was in the area of social ministry as people in their churches and communities became unemployed. The ministry of Christian churches was to provide for the basic needs of people.

The worship of Christian Churches closely followed liturgical forms.  The singing of hymns was popular in Protestant denominations during this period.  In the southern churches gospel and spirituals became popular. The Roman Catholic Church followed liturgical forms of worship in Latin. They had a significant presence in urban areas, with immigrants and union workers, and parochial schools. The nomination of Al Smith for president of the United States in 1928 supports to popularity of the Roman Catholic church. However, the fear of papal influence divided Protestants and Roman Catholics.

How responsive has the Christian Church been over the centuries to the suffering of people as a result of persecution, war, and genocide?

Do you agree or disagree with the statement that the first half of the 20th century was one of the most challenging for the Christian Church throughout world history?

How might the Christian Church have made different decisions regarding its ministry in the years after World War I?

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series

How Historical Events Have Impacted the Christian Church – Part 4 of 7: The Industrial Revolution

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time.

The Industrial Revolution

19th Century

Sunday School in England

In 1765 James Watt improved on the earlier steam engine of Thomas Newcomen. The steam engine changed the way people worked and lived. Instead of producing goods in the home, factories emerged in new towns along rivers and near water falls. In the first 25 years of the 19th century canals, railroads, and clipper ships moved resources and products. People worked long hours for low wages seven days a week. As a result of the low wages (10 cents an hour), young children had to perform work.  There were no schools and sickness and injuries were common.

The first Sunday School started in England by William King in 1751. By 1785, there were 250,000 English children attending Sunday School. It was the only education available as public education will slowly evolve after 1850. The first Sunday School in the United States was started in Brooklyn in 1838 and Brooklyn Queens Day is still a holiday. The Sunday School movement led the way to public education in the United States and continued to increase in popularity through most of the 20th century. Even with the decline in Sunday Schools after 1975, they continued to be an important part of church ministry into the 21st century. This period also embraced the holidays of Christmas with Christmas trees and pageants of the birth of Jesus and Lent with fasting, confession, prayers, and resurrection themed sermons.

The problems of poverty, homeless, immigration motivated church groups in the United States to organize social ministries. This movement was less popular in Europe. Walter Rauschenbusch was a pastor in New York City and promoted the social gospel. The Salvation Army was organized by William Booth in London to aid the homeless and destitute. The mission is based on the call of the disciples of Jesus Christ to assist people in need.  Today they are an international organization. The Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) also began in London and promoted its evangelical mission in cities around the world. The social gospel movement was prominent with denominational Protestant churches and evangelical churches. During the civil rights movement, the social gospel evolved in promoting social justice in the United States.  The popularity of the Sunday School and social gospel ministries sparked the establishment of the parish church structure we have today in communities and neighborhoods around the world.

The Industrial Revolution also led to globalization in the name of imperialism and colonialism. As capitalist businesses acquired natural resources in other countries and looked for new markets to sell products, the Christian Church saw the need to convert people in other countries to their faith.  Missionary work first began with Ignatius Loyola at the University of Paris with the Society of the Jesus. His followers traveled throughout Europe, Africa and Asia to convert Muslims, counter the teachings of Martin Luther with the Roman Catholic faith, and eventually organizing schools.

The missionary work of the Christian Church began around 1820 in Europe with the end of the Napoleonic wars. In the United States, the missionary work before the Civil War was mostly invested in spreading the gospel with the expansion west to California. After 1850, the work of foreign missions exploded in China, Korea, India, Africa and continued on a global scale with the translation of the Holy Bible into vernacular languages. Missionary work was an opportunity for men and women to start hospitals, orphanages, and schools. Missionary work continued to increase throughout the 20th century and continues to be important to the goals of Protestant, evangelical, and Roman Catholic institutions.  

With 21st century people concerned about social injustice, are there lessons to be learned from the social ministries of the 19th century?

How did the Christian Church meet the needs of the people during this time?

Is missionary work in other countries critical to the vision of the Christian Church today or does the Church need to focus on different needs and issues?

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series

How Historical Events Have Impacted the Christian Church – Part 3 of 7: The Enlightenment

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time.

The Enlightenment (Age of Reason)

18th Century

Attacks Against the Roman Catholic Church in France

Unfortunately, the Enlightenment forced the Christian Church underground. The extremely conservative Puritan Revolution in England introduced a strict moralism on religious beliefs while the extremely radical French Revolution banned the Roman Catholic Church and removed statues and monuments. This was the Age of Reason, not the Age of Faith or Grace. Although many people identify with the liberal democratic principles and values of this era, it was not a productive period for the Christian faith.

While many Americans celebrate the political ideas of Thomas Paine in Common Sense and the Rights of Man, his book, The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology, exposed the corruption of the Christian Church and celebrated the laws of nature (Newton) as superior to the laws of God. The world accepted Deism, removed the miracles from the Bible, and deemphasized worship.

Actually, Thomas Paine’s ideas were conservative, although 21st century Christians would view them as extreme. He argued for religious toleration and the freedom of worship. Paine had the acceptance of the educated in Europe.

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

For centuries, Martin Luther’s explanation of the authority of the divine right of authority in the Fourth Commandment was challenged as democratic ideals in the name of popular sovereignty changed this deterministic view of God’s role in history.

In America, the voices of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and the missionary work of John and Charles Wesley opposed the worldly views of the Age of Reason and called people to the theological ideas of John Calvin and Martin Luther. This was not an awakening of God’s love but one of fear of an angry God calling sinners to repentance. Predestination was a popular belief as was the truth of God’s Word in the Holy Bible. The Great Awakening occurred in the middle of 18th century colonial America. It was theologically powerful, supported by the new universities of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton and popular with the people.

How should the Christian Church have responded to the philosophy of the Enlightenment?

How did the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin provide different answers to the spiritual needs of people?

Are there lessons to be learned from the Great Awakening that might apply to the 21st century?

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series

How Historical Events Have Impacted the Christian Church – Part 2 of 7: The Renaissance

The Renaissance

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time.

The Renaissance

16th Century

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

The Renaissance took place over many years, even centuries, in Europe.  However, if we were to document a date for when the Christian Church began to change, it would likely be December 25, 800 with the coronation of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or we could use the year the Crusades ended with relinquishing Acre (in Syria) to the Muslims in 1291 A.D.  The date is less important than how the Renaissance changed the Church.

During this time the Christian Church (the Roman Catholic Church) was the most powerful institution in Europe.  It was a time of trade with China and the Middle East, people were moving to towns, cathedrals were constructed in these new towns, universities developed, and merchants emerged as a new class. It was also a time of a short life expectancy (perhaps 35) because of unsanitary conditions, plagues, pollution, and crowded living conditions. As a result, people looked to the messages of the Church in the promise of baptism, faithful and obedient worship, and Christian burial.

The teachings of church councils and Pope were perceived as infallible. Anyone who challenged the teachings of the church was likely declared a heretic and put to death. Kings received their power from the blessings of popes and in return they used the threats of excommunication and interdicts (excommunication of a large territory) to check the power and decisions of kings. As a result of the political and religious power of the Roman Catholic Church, corruption was widespread. Because the corruption (bribery, immorality, nepotism) involving the clergy was well-known, it negatively impacted the laity or the masses. Although monasteries continued in some places, many were closed and properties sold in northern Europe and England. The Reformed or Protestant churches allowed the clergy to marry.

The Christian Church supported the ideology of scholasticism. The Scholastics combined the truth of the Holy Bible with the reasoning of church councils and theologians. The source of truth came from reason, experience, and authority of Church Councils and the Pope. When competing ideas or arguments emerged, universities provided the forum for debates and disputations as did church councils. This pattern of reason would continue in the 16th century until it was challenged by the Christian humanism of Martin Luther.

The Church also changed as a result of the Renaissance as three-dimensional images were created to educate the illiterate about the teachings of the Bible, the lives of saints, and the printed word. The Renaissance motivated the “Golden Age” of religious art in painting and sculpture. While the 15th century was dominated by Roman Catholic artists, the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century became the catalyst for the humanistic art of Durer, Rembrandt, Bruegel, Cranach, Gerung, and Holbein.  The Protestant Reformation and the translation of the New Testament into the languages of the people in Europe contributed to new styles of music and literature. The music of Bach, Mendelssohn, Gerhardt, Schutz inspired the faith of people that sustained Christian worship for centuries.

The Renaissance changed worship from passive worship to active worship. As people left Europe because of persecution and religious wars for the opportunity to worship freely in America, the Christian Church faced new challenges with Native Americans, the absence of trained clergy, and theocratic governments in some of the colonies.

Why did Scholasticism become discredited as a source of truth?

How did music, literature, and the translation of the Bible significantly change the way people worshipped?

Did the Christian Church capitalize or miss opportunities in the settlement of North and South America?

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series

How Historical Events Have Impacted the Christian Church – Part 1 of 7: Fall of Rome

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time.

The Fall of Rome

5th Century

The Ruins of the Roman Empire

After the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., Christians were free to come out of hiding and organized public worship began. The church was organized in different cities. The Christian Church experienced the leadership of St. Jerome and St. Augustine. The first ecumenical council met in Nicea, (Turkey) in 325 A.D. and adopted a strong statement influenced by Athanasius that defeated the Arian heresy with explicit statements about the Trinity.  St. Jerome began collecting the Latin texts to organize the Vulgate Bible, which became the de facto Bible until it was adopted by the Council of Trent in the 16th century. and the prolific writings on faith and grace by Bishop Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine) in the first quarter of the 5th century. Augustine’s the City of God.  Although historians record a line of church leaders, bishops or popes, dating back to Peter in 29 A.D., Pope Leo I is considered the first Pope of Rome who was supported by the local rulers outside of Rome in 440. A.D.  

The decline of Rome was slow but consistent.  It failed in multiple ways with the movement of populations from northern Europe, a declining in cultural values, loss of independent farms, deteriorating infrastructure, inflation and debt, and corruption. The Roman Church began to emerge as the leader and protector of the people. Churches were built as fortresses and monastic orders in the mountains protected church records and became safe places of opportunity for the youth.

As western Europe declined into chaos and fighting among feudal lords or kings, the Roman Catholic Church provided for both the physical and spiritual well-being of the people.  As the Eastern Roman Empire located in Constantinople and Asia Minor became a center for trade and political stability, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church divided on their teachings of the authority of the pope, importance of the Holy Spirit as coequal to God the Father and Jesus the Son of God, the historic dating of Easter, and the presence of statues in churches. These disagreements continued for centuries and eventually the Roman Catholic Church split into the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The main theological differences between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic faith is that in the Eastern Orthodox Church the pope is considered a bishop and is not infallible, the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity but ‘does not proceed directly from the Father and the Son (Nicene Creed), Easter is dated on the Sunday closest to April 14, (although it can be celebrated on a date between April 4 and May 8) and icons (two-dimensional images) are used in place of statues (three-dimensional images). The Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church split into two separate institutions in 1054 A.D.

Why were there threats to the Christian faith in the first centuries of the Christian Church?

Why have the creeds of the Roman Catholic Church remained popular throughout world history?

Will church doctrine continue to be central to the beliefs of Christians in the 21st century?

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series