Book Review – Martin Luther: An Ecumenical Perspective

Bishop Michael Rinehart

Lutherans know how to read Luther from the Lutheran perspective; this goes without saying. It is vitally important to read Luther from an ecumenical perspective, in this case, Martin Luther An Ecumenical Perspectivefrom a Catholic cardinal and theologian.

Cardinal Walter Kasper was born the same year as my father, 1933. This makes them both 84 years old, as of this writing in 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Kasper has a PhD in Theology and is a Professor of Dogmatics. From 1989 to 1999, he served as Bishop of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. In 2001, he became cardinal. He served as the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from 2001 to 2010, among many other appointments. He is the main author of the first volume of the Katholischer Erwachsenenkatechismus and the editor-in-chief of the third edition of the Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche.

Kasper does something extremely difficult. He gives us a snapshot of Luther in just 56 pages.

  • Chapter 1: A Transitional Period of Decline and New Beginnings
  • Chapter 2: Luther’s Concern: The Evangelical Renewal of Christianity
  • Chapter 3: The Beginning of the Age of Denominations and Its End
  • Chapter 4: Luther and The Spirit of the Modern Era
  • Chapter 5: The Ecumenical Age as the Rediscovery of Catholicity
  • Chapter 6: Martin Luther’s Ecumenical Relevance
  • Chapter 7: An Ecumenism of Mercy – The Outlook

Luther and the Reformation are extremely complicated, multi-faceted topics. Kasper does not disappoint. His books are able to capture the key landscapes in so few pages. Martin Luther: A Very Short Introduction by Scott H. Hendrix is one exception. To Hendrix, I would add Kasper.

Kasper recognizes Luther’s piety and intellect. He names the corruption that led to the Reformation, while at the same time pulling no punches as to the problems left in the wake of the bloody Reformation.

All the usual catalysts for society are mentioned: Copernicus, Columbus, Guttenberg, the fall of Constantinople, the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain in 1492. Kasper mentions efforts at church reform before and after the Reformation. He recognizes the sale of indulgences as an abuse, and points out that it was outlawed five years before Luther was born, though not stamped out. He summarizes the state of medieval theology with a synchronous that only someone who has taught systematic theology and history can achieve.

Kasper goes on to summarized the theology of justification with a clarity that most Lutherans will find stunning. In so doing, Kasper characterizes Luther as a reformed Catholic, stating, “Luther vanquished a Catholicism that was not really Catholic and consequently rediscovered something that was primordially Catholic.” He believes that Luther’s concern in the 95 theses is a thoroughly Catholic concern.

Kasper goes on to say, “Luther’s call for repentance was not heard in Rome and by the bishops at that time. Instead of being penitent and responding with the necessary reforms, Luther was answered with polemic and condemnation.” Luther went to the Leipzig disputation expecting a debate but instead received an ultimatum: recant or else.

Hearing a doctor of the church recognize Rome’s complicity in the church-dividing Reformation should free us to be honest about the Luther’s challenges. His vicious and vulgar invective did not lend itself to debate. His anti-Semitism left a legacy whose damage cannot be quantified. And the emergency ecclesiology left by the schism somehow became calcified into a somewhat convoluted ecclesiology today.

Kasper spends a little time on any of that. He does pointed out that the Reformation left us with state churches and denominational Christianity. He has firm command of many of Luther’s key writings, such as To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Papacy in Rome (1520) and On the Bondage of the Will (1526).

Melanchthon made it clear the Lutherans were prepared to submit to the Pope and recognize the historical office of bishop, as long as priests were free to preach the gospel of justification by grace through faith and not the indulgence. But these overtures failed. The split was complete.

While the Catholic Church spread to Latin America and other places of the world, taking on an increasingly global character, the state-church situation of the Lutheran territorial churches led to local, particular culturally-bound churches. Any Lutheran bishop can confirm that this is still a challenge today. Various Lutheran bodies often define Lutheranism in cultural rather than theological terms.

Kasper looks to the 500th anniversary as an opportunity for Lutherans and Catholics to update their understanding of Luther. We can ask what Luther has to say to us in the age of ecumenism. As my friend, John Nunes, said to me once, “When we speak of diversity in the church, are we not speaking of catholicity?”

Catholics, Lutherans, and others have now an opportunity to overcome our denominational self-reference. “Catholics have learned from Protestants the importance of the Word of God and the Bible, and Protestants have learned the importance of sacramental symbolism and liturgy. Both churches have been enriched by ecumenism.” Our bilateral dialogs have revealed that many of the antitheses between our churches have been based on misunderstandings.

Kasper admits that the Protestant model for church and the Catholic model for church are incompatible, and therefore our dialogues have resulted in a little visible unity in the life of our congregations. Protestant and Catholic thesis/antithesis polemics have blocked the proclamation of Christ.

While Luther and his opponents were not ecumenism in the modern sense, there is room for hope. Luther was open to the historic episcopacy. He said he would kiss the feet of a Pope who would acknowledge the gospel of justification. We can listen, be on the polemical Luther to the mystical Luther. We can listen deeply to On the Freedom of a Christian. We can embrace an ecumenism that listens to and learns from each other.

Kasper invites us to think about a perhaps apocryphal statement of Luther, “If the world was going to end tomorrow, I would still plant a little apple tree today.” Indeed, Cardinal Kasper planted a linden tree in Luther Garden in Wittenberg. As a return gesture, Lutherans planted a small olive tree at the Roman Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls. Perhaps the way forward for the church lies in some simple acts of kindness and mercy. The work is slow, but we are closer today than we were 500 years ago.

The good cardinal reminds us we are no longer on the path of division, but on a path of unity. Books like this give me hope that we can commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with an eye to proclaiming the gospel, rather than tearing one another down

Fly Through the Crash

Deacon Peggy Hahn

airplane wingI got some of the best leadership advice ever, the night before I was about to launch the biggest project of my life, from Sally Ahrens, my partner in ministry. She looked me in the eye and said with all seriousness, in a way that only she could do: “No matter what happens, fly through the crash.”

At this point in our preparation, I knew she wasn’t kidding. I also had no idea what she was talking about, so I just gave her the “huh?” look. “Fly through the crash. You just might land the plane,” was her response. This was only a few weeks after the plane had landed in the Hudson River. I got it.

airplane crash in water

I am sharing this with you today because I have come to realize that the language of “being on survival mode,” as people use it regarding their congregation, does not fit at all. Every story I know about survival mode has a high level of “fighting for life” that includes a willingness to fly through the crash.

The behavior of survival is hopeful because it means an instinct for living that overcomes a willingness to die. It is true of prisoners of war who tell horrific stories of pain and suffering, always aware that death is very real yet always hanging on to a glimmer of hope that life may come tomorrow. You can see it in the eyes of people who have survived hurricane, fire or tornado devastation. Survival has a do-what-it-takes-to-live kind of courage.

I honestly wish I saw more of this in congregational leadership. More often I see stubbornness wrapped in nostalgia. That digging-in-our-heals posture is not survival, it is (you won’t like this) death. Once we become closed to new ideas, even about our faith, we start to die. This is true for people and for organizations.

The great news is that we can change our mindset. We have a choice on how we will react to things we don’t like, things that are thrust upon us, or even things we choose that have unexpected outcomes. We have the power to survive.

Theologically, I think that God has wired this into our humanity. It is the Holy Spirit wrestling with our ego, offering us glimpse of hope, if we can let go of our stubbornness to grasp it.

My prayer for leaders is that they get in touch with their survival instincts, let go of their stubborn egos, and fly through the crash. In this time of re-generation of the world, the church as we know it is in a metamorphous not a death. What looks like death are places where people stop surviving.

Take Sally’s advice (trust me, I always did) and fly through the crash.

Thanks to her encouragement, together we created a way for 36,000 people to serve in New Orleans in 2009. This was the largest servant event. From the air traffic control tower, there were countless opportunities to crash, including a few minor collisions. Yet we landed the plan with a city blessed by our church, young people engaged in a faith that made a difference, and a church with a new way of doing a Youth Gathering. Not too bad for a 4-day gig.

Imagine what leaders who serve every day in a particular neighborhood could do if they started to survive?

Hurricane Season

Hurricane season is upon us, running from June 1 through November 30. We may not be as prepared as we should be. We encourage each and every one of you to become a 72 Hour Lutheran, a person who has enough supplies in their home to meet their household’s basic needs for 72 hours.

Being prepared to take care of your own family allows you to then reach out and help others within the community.

  • Use the 72 Hour Lutheran checklist for supplies
  • Determine escape routes
  • Make an evacuation plan for all pets
  • Share one out of state emergency contact with all your family and friends
  • Call you church and be sure your information is correct
  • Know the vulnerability of your home and the safest areas within it

Gulf Coast Leaders & Congregations

  • If a hurricane hits your area, make sure you and your family have all the necessary supplies to be a 72 Hour Lutheran.
  • If you are planning on evacuating, let the synod office know where you are going. Please include a contact number, address, and the name of a local contact.
  • Once the hurricane hits your area, please contact us by email, call873.5665, or using social media, and let us know how you’re doing.
  • Make sure you have a system to check on the elderly and their caregivers to make sure they have a plan to evacuate or shelter in place with food and supplies. Also, include checking on single parents or parents who work in emergency services (EMS, medical personnel, firefighters), who may not be home during a hurricane leaving family with needs.
  • Plan to gather for worship on the Sunday following a storm, even if you do not have electricity – a prayer service in the parking lot or something for the community to gather and pray.
  • Plan to respond to needs in your own community once you have cared for your members.
    • A place for cell phone charging, if you have a generator
    • Child care for parents whose homes are impacted
    • Cold water
    • Grills to cook food (that would spoil in the freezer)
    • Crews to cut trees and help households

Live in the Freedom of Christ

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Recently I discovered Google Earth. I know, I’m a little late to the dance. But this is fascinating. You type in an address and up pops a photo. You can zoom in on places all over the world. And you can zoom out for, literally, a 35,000-foot view. I invite you to give it a try. In fact, this will be a great group activity for all of us in the ELCA.

First, find your congregation. Now expand the field and find other ELCA congregations near you. In some places this will be easy to do. In the “Fertile Crescent” of Lutheranism—the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania—there are more ELCA congregations per square mile than there are gas stations. In other places, ELCA congregations are few and far between. But we’re there.

Next, find your synod office. You can see them spread out across the U.S. and the Caribbean.

And the ELCA is not alone in North America. Find the congregations, synods and national office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. We are all over North America.

And now, find all of the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). We are all over the world, on every continent except Antarctica. We are 145 member churches in
98 countries. There are 74 million of us. And
your congregation is part of this worldwide Lutheran movement.

In May the LWF met in assembly in Windhoek, Namibia. Lutherans from Africa; Asia; Latin America and the Caribbean; North America; and Western, Central and Eastern Europe gathered to worship, sing, deliberate, study and dance.

Our contexts are very different. Climate, cuisine and cultures all vary. Our challenges are different. Lutherans in many parts of the world are a minority community, face persecution, contend with war and forced migration, and deal with the devastating effects of climate change. Lutherans in many parts of the world are ministering and serving faithfully in an increasingly secularized culture, or in parts of the world where the church was suppressed for nearly a century resulting in entire generations that have not heard the gospel. But there is something that we all have in common—our life in Christ.

We have our life in Christ—in the crucified and risen Savior, in the one who poured out his life for us, the one who gave himself away for the life of the world. In baptism we have already experienced the only death that really matters, the death of the power of sin, the death of our death. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

Now, go to Google Earth and find St. Petersburg, Russia. At the LWF Assembly a delegate from Russia told this story of freedom in Christ. There used to be a Lutheran church in St. Petersburg. It was a beautiful structure witnessing to the glory of God where the Lutheran immigrants who arrived in the 18th century could worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. It was skillfully crafted out of wood. St. Mary’s Lutheran Church still stood in St. Petersburg, renamed Leningrad.

The church was a place of worship and hope during the siege of Leningrad during WWII. But people were freezing and starving to death in Leningrad. There was no wood for heating or cooking. So the Lutherans looked at their beloved church and then looked at the suffering around them. Piece by piece they dismantled their building and gave it away for the life of their community.

This is what being free in Christ looks like. This is part of our Lutheran story. This is part of your congregation’s story. We live in the freedom of Christ.


A monthly message from the presiding bishop  of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This column originally appeared in Living Lutheran’s July issue. Reprinted with permission.

Live On Board Approves Grants

Bill Mintz

Live On, the Gulf Coast Synod’s endowment fund, provided financial aid for eight clergy candidates and increased funding for the synod’s campus ministry programs when it Live On Funding Lutheran Leadersapproved grants from the $2.7 million endowment.

The endowment’s board, meeting at Living Word in Katy, also approved grants for new mission starts and for immigration workshops organized by St. James Lutheran Church/Santiago Apóstol in Houston.

The Live On board awards grants twice a year. The grants are aligned with established priorities—seminary scholarships, campus ministry, mission development, and seed money for innovative, emerging ministry ideas.

Spring grants totaled $48,500. With $87,000 in grants in 2016, Live On has provided more than $900,000 to our focus areas.

The Spring grants marked the fourth consecutive grant cycle in which Live On met the goal of the seminary financial aid program: enabling Gulf Coast Synod candidates for Lutheran ministry to complete their graduate studies without taking on new student debt. Pastor Blair Lundborg, Assistant to the Bishop, works with ministry candidates to determine their need and makes funding recommendations to the Live On board.

The synod’s campus ministries include Houston Lutheran Campus Ministry at Rice University and the University of Houston, Treehouse at Texas A&M University and Blinn College, and Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. Live On’s funding is in addition to support from congregations, individuals, and other synod funds.

Live On photo

Pastor Chris Markert, the synod’s Mission Catalyst, said Live On grants supplement other funding for starting and revitalizing congregations.

“Through Live On’s generosity, we are able to support pastors and deacons as they start new missions and revitalize existing ministries.”

Live On’s seed money grants are a grassroots aspect of the endowment’s work. Robert Rivera, who submitted the immigration workshop proposal, said the workshops are valuable for the immigrant community, important outreach for the congregation, and an avenue for ecumenical outreach to other faith communities.

The endowment, which was established in 1999, has grown through gifts from congregations and individuals. To learn more about building a culture of generosity at your congregation, please contact Lizbeth Johnson, the synod’s gift planner.


Youth Gathering Training for Adult Leaders

Youth Gathering logo 1The synod’s Gathering Synod Coordinator will be holding two trainings for adult leaders. This first training, on August 13, 2017 will be held prior to Gathering registration opening (September 15), at Kinsmen in Houston from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. Please RSVP with Kristen, if you plan to attend.

If you would like to receive regular communication from our Gathering Synod Coordinator, please notify Kristen Schulze with the name and email of your congregation’s primary adult leader for the Gathering.

One of the best resources for your congregation during the months spent planning for the Gathering is your Gathering Synod Coordinator. People with past Gathering experience have been chosen by each synod to serve in this capacity. They are field workers for the Gathering and will be the first to have the answers to your questions.


World Hunger Toolkits

Looking for an activity to help others learn about hunger?

ELCA World Hunger ToolkitsWorld Hunger toolkit are the perfect place to start. Each toolkit includes a variety of activities designed for groups of different ages and activity levels, from folks who like to sit and talk to those who prefer to be up and moving around.

These activities will help participants learn about different aspects of hunger, including food systems, disease, access to water, and climate change.

  • World Hunger Basics
  • Animal & Hunger
  • Disaster & Hunger
  • Disease & Hunger
  • Food & Hunger
  • Climate & Hunger
  • Water & Hunger

Financial Best Practices

counting offeringOne of the key things you can do to prevent embezzlement at your church, that most churches do not do, is to have two people opening the mail at the same time. If one person opens the mail alone, it is too easy to slip checks or cash out.

A second “best practice” is to only give credit cards to staff, and only a few. Always have a non-staff person carefully match credit card receipts to statements.

Third, and this gets disregarded a lot, the offering should not be counted by one person alone or by one family alone. There should always be two to three people from separate families counting the offering. No church is too small.  In fact, small churches are very vulnerable to pilfering or even larger financial misconduct.

You can’t stop people from stealing, but if you have good internal controls, you will minimize temptation and the opportunity for theft.

For more guidelines for internal control best practices, check out this resource from churchwide, provided by the Office of the Treasurer, along with other helpful resources.

A Legacy of Love and Care for the Church

Liz Johnson, Gift Planner

Evelyn and Melvin Maurer lived in Brenham, Texas and attended Immanuel Lutheran in Wiedeville throughout their marriage. Evelyn was a full-time mother to four boys (Jimmie, Rodney, Douglas, Neil) and Melvin worked for the city of Brenham as a water superintendent. The couple had a deep caring for the church and treated the facility with Legacy of Love 1great respect.

Evelyn enjoyed sewing and together with her church circle friends created many banners for the church. She is remembered for the homemade cinnamon rolls she made for dessert at gatherings. Melvin, had a tremendous sense of responsibility for the grounds and the maintenance of the church buildings. He would often keep an eye on areas of need and spent many hours working in the church yard, watering and cleaning weeds from flowerbeds.

The Maurers decided along the way to leave a legacy gift to their congregation. Their last will and testament included a bequest to their church. The four boys understood the values of their parents and facilitated their wishes through the gift to the congregation.

Recently, with the blessing of the church council, one of Maurer’s sons, Doug, took on the responsibility to supervise the drilling of a new water well on the grounds, provided through the legacy gift of Evelyn and Melvin. The couple would appreciate the idea that their funds would help nurture the landscape at the facility. The day of installation, Doug went about the business of ensuring the job was done well and did what his dad would have done.

Legacy of Love 2

The water well will give life to the grounds of the church and cemetery for many years to come. Evelyn and Melvin would be pleased to see the completed project. Every detail was attended to by Doug with the same care in the same way Melvin would have provided, if he were there himself. Once Doug had inspected the well and the housing to protect the well components, he assessed the needs for the irrigation system to follow, as a next step in the process. Doug walked the grounds and noticed the need to address the ball moss that would eventually do damage to the trees if not addressed soon, probably the same kind of inspection Melvin would have given the grounds years before.

Legacy giving is similar. It is the practice of “passing the torch” from one generation to the next by planting the seeds of love and care for the church and families of faith. Financial gifts keep what we value in place, making a difference to all of us in the church. Thank you, Evelyn and Melvin, for your care and raising your sons to do the same.

Legacy gifts for the church and ministry can be greatly facilitated by the synod’s gift planner through Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest. For support with your gift, please contact Lizbeth Johnson, 713.775.1595.

Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

Lisa Brenskelle

Lutherans Restoring Creation

The mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas: worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy. For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

For more information on any of the above or for creation care assistance/information, please contact Lisa Brenskelle of the synod’s Lutherans Restoring Creation Team. The team is seeking additional members. If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.