Baby Boomers and the Reformation – 6 part series by Geoff Riethmuller
Baby Boomers and the Reformation – Part 6 – The Christian Family
The protest movement known as the Reformation commenced 500 years ago on 31 October 1517.
What is the legacy of the Reformation in a modern secular Australia?
Due to the cultural impact of the translation of the Bible into local languages and the writing of new Christian praise and worship the legacy will last, but how persuasively?
The legacy also had negative results – violence and disunity disrupted ‘Christendom’.
In this final piece I want to consider the impact of the Reformation on the family unit.
Martin Luther, a celibate monk within the Augustinian order, investigated the vow of celibacy and decided it was unbiblical.
In 1521, his year of seclusion and hiding, he wrote a detailed book challenging the validity of monastic vows which had developed over a period of 1000 years.
Church practice reflected older classical notions that the soul was burdened by the body and its carnal appetites. Consequently the search for wisdom (for pagans) or holiness (for Christians) required an individual to renounce ‘the body’ to focus on ‘the soul’.
In response to his writings some monks and nuns began leaving their orders, seeking marriage as a more godly way of life.
This is possibly the most startling change in Christian theology and practice initiated by the Reformation – the notion that marriage was better and more holy than monastic celibacy.
In 1525 Luther married a former nun – Katie, who is an unsung heroine of the Reformation.
Martin and Katie had 6 natural children and also adopted 4 orphans of distant relatives.
Apart from lecturing on theology, overseeing Bible translation, reforming the liturgy, writing, and guiding the Protestant movement, Luther also had to establish a Christian household and contend with family issues such as sickness and infant mortality.
His example was copied across Europe and resulted in a great Protestant institution – the parsonage or manse (if you are Scotch).
The minister and his wife were now expected to model Christian virtue for the flock, live what they preached and raise their children like everyone else.
This was a far reaching decision. There may be some wives and children – the children popularly known as ‘PKs’ – who may have wished the ministry had remained celibate. It has been a rewarding life for some and a hard road to follow for others.
Baby Boomers and the Reformation – Part 5 – Writing songs for God
The protest movement known as the Reformation commenced 500 years ago in October 1517.
I was born in the last generation in Australia to be immersed in Reformation cultural values.
What is the lasting legacy of the Reformation in a modern secular Australia?
Apart from being a theology lecturer in a small German university, Martin Luther was a competent ‘lutenist’ – a stringed instrument with some similarity to the guitar.
In his role at the university Martin Luther lectured regularly on the Book of Psalms.
It is remarkable the monk who debated Rome, produced 6,000 sermons and over 100 books and pamphlets, was also a Christian song-writer.
Luther wrote 38 hymns most of which are no longer sung. Nevertheless the impact of lyrics and singable Christian songs in German was incalculable.
Not only could the average German hear the Bible read in her local language, but she could sing a new song to the Lord – in contemporary German, broadly patterned on the Old Testament Psalms.
The Protestant movement unleashed a wave of song writing that continues to this day – resulting in numerous manifestations – the magnificent cantatas of JS Bach – massive 19th century hymn books such as ‘Sankeys 1000’ – and more recently, the ‘Hillsong’ style of praise & worship music.
I recently watched The Finest Hours – a movie telling the story of the 1952 US Coast Guard rescue of 32 seamen off a stricken tanker during a massive storm.
At a certain point in the story the heavily overladen motor launch is about to return to shore, without a compass, as its only ‘navigation system’ had been taken by a massive wave. In this brief moment of calm the sailors sing a sea shanty to encourage themselves.
One of my daughters sensed the lack of historical verity and quickly ‘googled’ the real story.
The hardened sailors actually sang the well known Christian hymn ‘Rock of ages, cleft for me’.
In 1952, American sailors, many of whom may not have been to church for years, knew what song to sing in a moment of crisis.
Where would a ‘modern secular’ generation turn? What encouraging song would they choose in this situation?
Baby Boomers and the Reformation – Part 4 – The Bible
The protest movement known as the Reformation commenced 500 years ago in October 1517.
In this series of reflections I am looking, in a very personal way, at the legacy of the Reformation.
History is a complex combination of individual stories which somehow show a pattern of social and cultural change in a particular direction.
One important strand of history is the personal story of Martin Luther whose life, more than any other, reflects the pattern and direction of the Reformation and suggests its lasting legacy.
After nailing the ’95 theses’ to the chapel door on 31 October 1517 the situation went from bad to worse. Luther replied to Rome publicly, producing more pamphlets, some with illustrations, which were printed and distributed by the entrepreneurial printing industry.
Luther was a well educated Renaissance scholar with a wide knowledge of Greek philosophy, church history and medieval theology. Rome was not prepared for this type of argumentative and intellectual response. He was also a hard worker.
In 1521 Luther was invited to appear before the Holy Roman Emperor at the city of Worms. Luther arrived for a debate but in reality it was his last opportunity to recant – to renounce his writings and to publicly express contrition for leading the people of God astray.
Luther was being protected by the Elector of Saxony and other German nobles, who managed to prevent his immediate arrest.
Luther was banned as a heretic and his guardian angels smuggled him into a pre-prepared safe place.
Luther spent the next 10 months in almost total seclusion. Within 4 months Luther translated the Greek New Testament into German.
One of the key features of the Reformation, and its most lasting legacy, is the belief that ordinary people should be able to hear the scriptures read in their own language, and if educated, to read it for themselves.
The long terms effect of translating New Testament into a local language was incalculable. The translation of the whole Bible into German followed in 1534.
The Bible would remain central to the Protestant movement – stimulating intense debate, stirring consciences and eventually driving social changes such as the abolition of slavery.
Baby Boomers and the Reformation – Part 3
The protest movement known as the Reformation commenced 500 years ago in 1517.
It created a deep division in western Christianity between believers who stayed in the old church, and those who left, and who created a remarkable and confusing number of new churches.
Apart from a long lasting division amongst Christian believers what is its legacy?
I was born into a world that inhabited the Reformation and its values.
By the time I left high school that was changing.
Despite widespread cultural change the Reformation still affects my thinking and lifestyle.
One of the main by-products of the Reformation is the profusion of informal Christian meetings and groups operating within the Christian faith.
Religious commentators almost never mention the informal networking of Christians.
The most lasting legacy of the Reformation appears to be the numerous bible study groups, fellowship groups, prayers meetings, church camps and special interest groups creating opportunities for Christians to meet and talk.
Christians have invented special language for their informal meetings.
Meeting outside a church service and talking, with a plate of food is called “sharing”.
Another expression is “Bring a plate” – which means “Bring transportable food on or with a plate to share with others”.
As everyone who participates in an informal Christian group knows, life isn’t divided into neat boxes called “religion”,”family” and “job”.
Life is messy and these boxes frequently burst.
Everyone in the room eventually sees your boxes aren’t neat, and the contents are more or less similar to everyone else. At which point people begin to “share”.
This article is dedicated to the daughters and sons of the Reformation – who have organised and hosted informal Christian gatherings – chopping raw vegetables for the dip, and waiting for the boxes to burst and spill.
Baby boomers and the Reformation – Part 2
The 500th Anniversary Reformation will be celebrated in a few weeks.
There are Anniversary lectures and Anniversary musical celebrations being planned.
For once a major historical event can be dated precisely – the early morning hours of October 31,1517 – when a list of 95 theological ideas were nailed on a German church door.
The Reformation is interesting for a whole range of reasons.
It is the beginning of modern European history.
It changed the political landscape of western Europe.
It initiated destructive cultural responses including wars and conflict.
It changed the ordinary person’s experience of church and what faith meant.
It was the first mass media campaign in western history.
The reason why the Reformation occurred in 1517 and not earlier was because the printing industry was able to rapidly print, translate, distribute and sell an extraordinary range of pamphlets, letters and books to a relatively small number of prosperous people throughout Europe.
Due to the medium of printing people could follow the robust conversation between an obscure theology lecturer called Martin Luther and the largest corporate entity of its time, the Church.
When William Tyndale translated the New Testament into English in 1526 it was printed, bound and smuggled into England.
We now know many of the printers and ship owners were Roman Catholics.
History is a multi-faceted and comprises many individual stories.
The Reformation stirred national and ethnic tensions in Europe.
The Protestants descended into deep conflict amongst themselves.
As a baby boomer I grew up in a society in which most Australians had a religion – Christianity – which was deeply divided into sects and denominations.
A significant number of this generation began leaving the Church during the 1970s for numerous reasons. The baby boomer generation was the generation that experienced the end of the Reformation and the beginning of its replacement, post modern secularism.
Baby boomers and the Reformation – Part 1
Several days ago I attended a meeting in a church that I had never previously entered.
Despite the building being owned by the Uniting Church the secular organisation directed several hundred people to go to a Presbyterian Church.
While sitting with two men of retirement age we were looking for a conversation “starter”.
One of the men, an architect, observed there was a problem in the foundations, as there was a crack above the stained glass window.
Although neither of my neighbours had been in this church they guessed its history by observing the building.
There was little evidence of the Uniting Church in the main auditorium, probably due to heritage restrictions.
It was agreed the auditorium looked “very Presbyterian” due to the position of the pulpit which was prominent.
The other man said: “I wouldn’t know much about Presbyterians – I was raised “Scottish Anglican”.
I had never encountered one of this tribe until now.
The architect indicated he was a former altar boy.
He remembered earning “2 bob sixpence” for a wedding.
“On a busy weekend this meant 10 bob which was good money for a kid in those days”.
The conversation then drifted into the negative impact of religion on society today.
Why is this conversation interesting?
In a few weeks many Protestant churches will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
One aspect of being a baby boomer is we were born into a strongly divided religious world.
When enrolling at a Government School you were asked “what religion are you?”
Saying “I’m a born again Christian” earned a deep frown.
I learned to answer “Church of England” even though I wasn’t.
People avoided conversation about religion as it was sensitive territory.
This sensitivity commenced 500 years ago.