Reformation Sunday–What Is It?


The font and graphic design choices displayed here make this a much more exciting event than it probably was.

Today marks an important day in the church calendar for Lutherans and many Protestants in the United States and around the world, and is especially notable this year as preparations are underway for the Reformation 2017 Celebration (in, you guessed it, 2017).  “Why?” ask the uninitiated.  In Lutheran and Protestant circles, the last Sunday of the month of October is often celebrated as Reformation Day in commemoration of Martin Luther’s posting of his “Ninety-Five Theses” on the door (which at the time was more or less the community bulletin-board) of the Castle Church at Wittenberg in Germany on the Eve of All Saints in 1517.  These theses were, in essence, a set of debate points concerning the theological and ethical implications of the sale of indulgences (reprieves from purgatory granted by the Church for payment) by church officials in Germany.  After he posted his debate points, someone took them and copied them, proliferating the copies all throughout the German states, which were being financially exploited to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  What Luther had intended to be a relatively quiet scholarly debate between university professors turned into a religio-political firestorm seemingly overnight, the seed of what we call the Reformation, and the rest is history.

Thus, we celebrate this seemingly innocuous event–a scholar posting a debate notice on a public bulletin board–each year to commemorate what it began, the act of the reformation of the Catholic Church in the West, and the theological and doctrinal clarity that came with it. It is also a time when many Lutherans take pride in their religious and ethnic (often German) heritage, so many congregations celebrate Reformation Sunday as an Oktoberfest, with food, music, and games for the church and surrounding community.  If you are curious about Reformation Day celebrations and the history and theology behind them, feel free to visit your local Lutheran church.  They’ll be more than happy to talk with you (and save you a beer and a sausage).

The Collect for Reformation Sunday (LSB, via

O Lord, keep Your household the Church in continual godliness that through Your protection she may be free from all adversities and devoutly given to serve You in good works; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Reblog: “Why Karl Barth Should Have Just Read Johann Gerhard” (Just & Sinner)

Given that our featured work for the podcast is Gerhard’s Sacred Meditations, I found this piece to be happily timed. Just posted today, and worth the read: “Why Karl Barth Should Have Just Read Johann Gerhard“, by Nathan Rinne and Paul Strawn on Just and Sinner.

Here’s an excerpt:

Hermann Rahtmann was a Lutheran pastor who, in seeking to defend the orthodoxy and usefulness of the writings of Johann Arndt, came to promote the idea that the Bible had no power in and of itself to convert, but it was only useful and helpful to those who had already been directly enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Thus the question was raised again, which had been raised years before by Casper Schwenckfeld, and that is: What is the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Bible? To preaching? Could the Bible, could the conveyance of the Word of God in written and oral form be said to have any power in and of itself?


Rahtmann’s rejection of the idea was a result of observing that not all who read or heard the Word of God repented of their sins, believed the gospel, or were comforted by it. Since that is so, Rahtmann reasoned, it just must be that the Word of God as it found in creation is nothing out the ordinary. It merely contains signs pointing to the greater things signified.

Gerhard responded to this assertion by noting the similarities of the relationship of the written and spoken Word of God to the Spirit of God and that of (1) the divine and human natures of Christ, (2) the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the altar, and even (3) the relationship of the human soul to the body. As Christ died on the cross for all mankind, but many reject what was won for them there, as Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper, but not all benefit from that presence, as the soul of man exists within his body, but cannot be seen, so the Holy Spirit is present in and united with the Word of God as it is found in the Bible, and as it is proclaimed. Thus whether in use or not, the written Word of God must be said to have power, power which nonetheless is effective only when it is properly deployed.

As it is, however, it is a word that does what it says, and says what it does. The preaching of the Word was just as much an audible sacrament as the sacraments were the visible Word. Even then, the Sacraments were “Word events” occurring through the preaching of either the Trinitarian invocation or the Words of institution.

Yes, distinctions had to be made between (1) the Word which Christ brought with Him “from the womb of the Father,” (2) the Word engraved in the hearts of the apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit, (3) the Word transcribed by biblical Scribes and included in the Scriptures, and (4) the Word that is read today in the Bible, heard in sermons, and believed. In other words the Word of God is both Trinitarian—flowing from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—as well as incarnate: Appearing in time and space. Here the Lutheran Gerhard, so Steiger, predates Karl Barth’s similar (revolutionary!) Trinitarian presentation of the outgoing of the Word of God—a fact never acknowledged by Barth.

More Great Music: “Mit Paul Gerhardt durch das Kirchenjahr” (2012)

At some point in the near-distant future I’ll begin uploading spoken-word recordings of Gerhardt’s hymns (as a solo-singer, I consider myself more in the “goose-farts on a muggy morning” camp that Leo Kottke so eloquently described–I like to hide in the four-part harmonies 😉 ), but until then, here’s a gorgeous recording from the Choir, Orchestra, and Organ of St. Michaeliskirche in Hamburg of Paul Gerhardt’s hymns in their full choral glory:


Happy listening!

Great Music from the Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy

HT to Trent Demarest of Pseudepigrapha for originally posting a link to this album.  This album presents a good assortment of the music of Gerhard and Gerhardt’s time, with pieces and settings from Nikolaus Hermann, Melchior Vulpius, Philipp Nicolai, Johann Walther, Johann Christoph Pezel (who, in addition to his compositions and works on music theory, is known for having engaged in a disputation concerning the werewolf problem in Bohemia), and Johannes Crüger, known for having set many of Paul Gerhardt’s hymns to music.