Lutheranism – The First 500 Years, Part Two, 1617 to 1717

The second 100 years of Lutheranism began with what caused many people to immigrate from Europe to America. For many centuries the princes, kings and emperors of Europe engaged in an endless succession of wars. Many of these wars started over petty grievances or insults or due to attempts by these monarchs to enlarge their territories.

And, as is often the case with war, it was the average people, the foot-soldiers, who paid the highest price for these wars. So when people saw the chance to enjoy some peace and prosperity in America they took it.

The war that took place at the beginning of the second century of Lutheranism is known by its length, the Thirty Years’ War; thirty years of war swept over Europe from 1618 to 1648.

It began when Ferdinand II was elected as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Ferdinand was a devout Roman Catholic and he was determined to force everyone in his realm into the Catholic Church. In response to Ferdinand’s threats, the Protestant princes banded together to form the Protestant Union.

Things did not go well for the Protestant Union and many of the Lutheran lands were at risk of falling under control of Ferdinand. When Gustavus Adolphus, the King of Sweden, heard about this, he decided to intervene. He was a brilliant military commander and had a large, well-equipped army. So he brought his army from Sweden to Europe and turned the tide for the Lutherans in the Thirty Years’ War.

On a side note, there is a Lutheran college in St. Peter, MN named after Gustavus Adolphus, the man who is credited with saving Lutheranism.

Meanwhile, Spain, which had seen its empire crumble, decided to join the war in hopes of regaining some of its former glory. And when Spain joined the war, France decided to join too. Ironically, even though France was a devoutly Roman Catholic country, it joined the war on the side of the Protestants.

Finally, by the year 1648, after eight million casualties, a series of peace treaties were signed that are known as the Peace of Westphalia ending the Thirty Years’ War. After the Thirty Years’ War Lutherans never again faced a serious military threat to their territories.

The practice of territorialism or the territorial imperative began to change during the second 100 years of Lutheranism. The idea that citizens could be of a different religion than the king became more accepted. The territorial imperative, of course, is totally foreign to those of us in America. When we hold our presidential elections we all want to know the religions of the different candidates but no one expects to become a follower of the religion of the person who wins the election.

As I said in last month’s installment of this series, the first 100 years of Lutheranism ended with what was called the Age of Orthodoxy. In 1580 the Book of Concord had been published which brought together all the officially accepted teachings of the Lutheran Church. As time went on, more Lutheran scholars added extensive orthodox writings to support and expand on the Book of Concord.

In a sense, it’s understandable why Lutherans would do this. They had fought very hard, often at the risk of their lives, to get their teachings established. They had been attacked by so many enemies. They didn’t want to lose the teachings for which they had fought.

But soon the emphasis became more on proper teachings rather than proper living. As long as people said and taught the right things they were considered orthodox. What you did with the rest of your life was not emphasized.

Pietism arose as a reaction to “dead orthodoxy.” Pietists agreed with the teachings of orthodox Lutheranism but emphasized that our faith should not just be about what’s in our heads it should also be about what’s in our hearts. Our faith should never be just about a series of teachings that we accept and never apply to our lives.

The danger with Pietism was it bordered on works-righteousness. So much emphasis was placed on good works and right living that the Gospel of free salvation through faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ, was being overlooked.

Lutheranism is still relevant today because it has always been about keeping a good balance between the two emphases of right teaching and right living. Luther’s Small Catechism has remained such an important tool for teaching Lutheranism because it strikes a good balance between right teaching and right living.

For example, in the Small Catechism’s explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed we have one of the greatest doctrinal statements of Lutheranism:

“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who had redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.”

But then in the section on the Ten Commandments the Small Catechism focuses on daily living:

The Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder. What does this Mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

The Sixth Commandment: You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a pure and decent life in what we say and do and husbands and wives love and honor each other.

The Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

So in its second century, Lutheranism survived the last major military threat to its existence, adjusted to the end of territorialism and was challenged by the pietists to keep things real.



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