Lutherans mark the 500th anniversary of the Diet of Worms

Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms (Mural by Hermann Wislicenus, 1880).

WORLD – April 18, 2021 marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s testimony before the Diet of Worms, with Lutherans around the world observing the event in different ways.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (Iglesia Evangelical Luterana Argentina – IELA), for example, held an online conference April 16-18, 2021 to mark the event, featuring three lectures by faculty members of the IELA’s seminary in Buenos Aires. Professor Antonio R. Schimpf spoke on reflection on the Word of God in relation to the anniversary, Professor José A. Pfafenzeller discussed the historical context of the Diet of Worms, and Professor Sergio R. Schelske addressed the event’s continued significance for the church today.

These lectures (in Spanish) are available to watch online at the IELA’s website here.

In the United States, meanwhile, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) officially designated April 18 “Here I Stand Sunday.” The LCMS made a number of materials available to mark the date on its website, including a Bible Study and bulletin insert.

The church also released several videos highlighting the anniversary. LCMS President Matthew Harrison, for example, highlighted how the faith which inspired Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms also led in time to the founding of the LCMS, which will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2022. “It’s quite impossible to imagine the existence of the Missouri Synod or any Lutheran churches in the world without the events of this week 500 years ago,” he explained. “500 years later the church is increasingly called to confess before the world and even political authorities. We stand firm with the confession of Luther. We believe in the Scriptures, and our conscience is bound to those Scriptures, which teach us the free forgiveness of Christ in His cross and resurrection.”

President Harrison also conducted an interview with Rev. Dr. Cameron MacKenzie to discuss the history of Luther’s confession at the Diet of Worms. Dr. MacKenzie is a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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Martin Luther at the Imperial Diet at Worms

Luther at the Diet of Worms: Anton von Werner, 1877. (State Gallery in Stuttgart).

500 years ago from April 17-18, 1521, Martin Luther appeared before the imperial assembly in Worms, a major event in the history of the church. Dr. Andrea Grünhagen, in charge of the church and theology division at the Hannover headquarters of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche), explains the significance of this event:

by Andrea Grünhagen 

Dr. Andrea Grünhagen

Luther in Worms! It’s easy to imagine this image in your mind’s eye, the lowly monk standing up to the emperor and the assembled leaders. And in general, the life of the Reformer does seem like a series of impressive scenes, each of which seems to serve as an example to be emulated, depending on one’s personal predilection. In humour, one could observe: some think that Lutherans should be able to sing like Luther; or get married like Luther. Others say we should take a firm stand like Luther, always ready to oppose injustice.

But originally it was not a question of opposition, as if Luther was intent to really give the emperor a piece of his mind. It was the other way around. The young Emperor Charles V had opened the imperial assembly in January of 1521. Various problems were to be dealt with concerning the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. At the outset the dispute about Luther was not on the agenda. Only at the insistence of Luther’s ruler, Frederick the Wise, did this become a topic to be discussed. And Luther thought he’d be given the opportunity to defend himself and his teachings before the assembly. He had been promised safe conduct. But appearing before this august gathering on April 17, the only question to be dealt with was whether he was willing to recant his writings. No discussion. Yes or No.

After a day of consideration he made the famous statement that ended with these words: “If I am not overcome by the witness of Holy Scripture or on the basis of clear reasoning—for I neither believe the pope nor the church councils alone, since it is evident that they have often been shown to be in error and have contradicted themselves—I therefore remain convinced by my quotations from the Scriptures and with my conscience being captive to God’s Word. I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither certain nor salutary to act against your conscience. God help me. Amen.”

That’s what he said. The famous phrase “Here I Stand” is a rather free summary of his remarks. But the point at hand is not why someone might be convinced that he cannot do otherwise; the point is the conscience that is bound by the Word of God! Everyone must for himself hear and follow this admonition not to act against the conscience that is bound by the Word of God—just as Luther had to struggle with this before the emperor and the nation.

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“Glory to God in the Highest” – Where Did it Go?

The annunciation to the shepherds, Govert Flinck: 1639.

by Timothy Quill

This past Sunday was the last in Advent, and once again immediately following the Kyrie ,the pastor went directly into the Greeting and Salutation: “The Lord be with you,” “and with your spirit.” The Gloria in Excelsis was nowhere to be found. It has been gone since the first Sunday in Advent.

When Martin Luther undertook his remarkable 1526 restoration and German translation of the Latin Mass, he did not include the ancient Gloria in Excelsis. How was it possible for someone as theologically and musically gifted as Dr. Luther to delete the Gloria? At first glance this seems a bit baffling, but a closer look reveals that the reason for the omission was most likely because the German Mass was first sung in December of 1525 which put it during the penitential season of Advent when the Gloria was not customarily sung. New compositions of the Gloria would eventually be composed by Nicolaus Decius, Luther, and others.

The Gloria is also omitted during the penitential season of Lent, but its omission is most striking during the Advent-Christmas season since it is the song of the angels to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.

Lutherans greatly value and retain the traditional liturgical practices of the church.

In the Introduction to his 1523 revision of the Latin Mass, Luther explained: “It is not now or ever has been our intention to abolish the liturgical service of God completely, but rather to purify the one that is now in use from accretions which corrupt it and to point out an evangelical use.” He commends those parts of the service added by the early church fathers and recommends they be retained in the liturgy: Psalms and Introit Psalm, Kyrie, Readings from Epistle and Gospel, Gloria in Excelsis, and so forth (LW AE 53:20-21).

In 1530, the Lutherans confessed in Article 15 of the Augsburg Confession, “We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquility, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify” (Ap XV, Tappert 220:38, emphasis mine).

One year after the Diet of Augsburg, Luther was preaching at St. Mary’s parish church in Wittenberg. He expressed amazement that the evangelical movement was still alive: “A year ago, at the Diet of Augsburg, the [general] opinion was that everything would go topsy-turvy within four weeks, and that all Germany would founder. [No one knew how things would end up,] or from what source help and comfort might come. The situation baffled and defied all reason and wisdom, and one was constrained to say: ‘It all depends on God’s power, and it is all staked on His Word’” (LW AE 23:400).

It is now 489 years after the Diet of Augsburg and the world in which we live—including numerous churches which bear the names “Evangelical” and “Lutheran”—are in many respects topsy-turvy, upside down, and in a state of confusion. And we too are led to express amazement and thanksgiving that after all she has gone through, the Lutheran Church has not foundered. She continues to depend on “God’s power, and it is all staked on His Word.” This is articulated on the International Lutheran Council website: “The International Lutheran Council is a growing worldwide association of established confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God” (emphasis mine). It is extremely encouraging to know that we are not alone. Over 50 churches worldwide have chosen to be part of an association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which share this commitment to the Gospel and the Word of God.

Martin Luther retained the historic liturgy but insisted that it be in the vernacular, so that the people could understand and participate meaningfully in the Divine Service. For this reason, the Gloria in Excelsis was also composed in hymn form in order to foster congregational singing.

As Advent gives way to Christmas, ILC Churches from many countries and cultures will worship in different languages yet share in the common faith, the common Lutheran confession, and common Lutheran liturgical tradition. In the Divine Service the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word made flesh, comes to us through the Word and in his very Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament to bestow upon us the forgiveness of sins, life, and eternal salvation. Lutherans from all ages and throughout the world join the angels, who sang to the shepherds when Jesus was born in Bethlehem: “Glory be to God on high; and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).

All glory be to God alone,
Forever more the highest one,
Who did our sinful race befriend
And grace and peace to us extend.
Among us may His gracious will
All hearts with deep thanksgiving fill.
– Martin Luther, All Ehr und Lob, stanza 1

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Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill is General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council.

Antwerp marks Reformation 500, inaugurates Martin Luther Place

German Ambassador Rüdiger Lüdeking and Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever unveil the nameplate of Martin Luther Place in Antwerp, Belgium

BELGIUM – On October 31, 2017, “Martin Luther Place” (Maarten Lutherplein) in Antwerp, Belgium, was inaugurated by the city’s Mayor, Bart De Wever, and Germany’s ambassador to Belgium, Rüdiger Lüdeking.

The inauguration was part of Antwerp’s celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Antwerp played an important role in the early years of the Reformation. The Augustinian monastery there had several monks who studied with Luther in Wittenberg, and brought his ideas to Antwerp. Two of them—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—became the two first martyrs of the Reformation, executed in Brussels on July 1, 1523.

President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België, EKLB), directed the ceremony, as the local Lutheran church initiated efforts to name a place after Luther.

The ELKB is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. President van Hattem also serves as Secretary of the ILC’s Executive Council.

Antwerp, Belgium will be the venue of the International Lutheran Council’s next world conference in September 2018.

President van Hattem’s inauguration speech for “Martin Luther Place” follows:

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ELKB Gijsbertus van Hattem leads the ceremony to unveil Martin Luther Place in Antwerp.

We warmly welcome you to this festive inauguration of Martin Luther Place.

In particular, Mr. Bart de Wever, mayor of Antwerp, and Mr. Rüdiger Lüdeking, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Herzlich Wilkommen!

Today marks exactly 500 years since the monk and university professor Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis about and against indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Church doors acted as message boards at that time.

Throughout the world, October 31, 1517, is seen as the symbolic date for the start of the Reformation, a movement that has had a major impact on our Western culture and society.

Since Antwerp came into contact with the Reformation early in the 16th century, and Protestantism played a major role in the city, Antwerp might have remained a Protestant city—if it did not had been brought back under the Spanish crown in 1585. For these reasons, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation may certainly be celebrated in Antwerp.

This has already happened and is happening through many activities throughout the year, not least through the exhibition at St. Andrew Church, with its focus on the early years of the Reformation in this city.

What was missing was a visible reminder of the Reformation in the Antwerp cityscape. It is for this reason that the Lutheran church, with the support of the Antwerp Council of Churches, applied to City Council to name a street or place after the Reformer, which made the city council decide to call this place “Martin Luther Place.”

We now invite the Mayor and the Ambassador to proceed to the official inauguration of the Martin Luther Place by revealing one of the nameplates. (The mayor and ambassador revealed the nameplate.)

ELKB President van Hattem presents Ambassador Lüdeking and Mayor De Wever each with a Martin Luther figure from Playmobil.

With this the square is inaugurated. As a souvenir at this moment and this day, we would like to present you with a figure of the Reformer. (The mayor and ambassador both received a Playmobil Luther figure.)

We thank everyone for their presence and ask you to join us in St. Andrew church nearby for a few speeches alternated with music, after which will follow a reception by the District of Antwerp with Lutherbier provided by the German Embassy.

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