Nov 2, 2017

We are beggars

We are beggars: that’s the truth—Luther’s last recorded words, (Wir sind pettler, hoc est verum)

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A REFO Thursday reflection by Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Thirteen months ago, we kicked off our series of Refo Thursday posts with my initial reflections on Luther’s deathbed remark. In between, we’ve heard from everyone from seminary professors to songwriters to bloggers to pastors to farmers to college students to our own staff. They’ve reflected on quotes from Martin Luther and John Calvin in great quantity, but also from many others who contributed to the turbulent sixteenth century: Katie Luther, Erasmus, Menno Simons, Thomas Cranmer, Jeanne d’Albret, Katharina Zell, Philipp Melanchthon, Huldrych Zwingli, Pierre Viret, Johannes Bugenhagen, Argula von Grumbach, Catherine Parr, and Andreas Karlstadt. We’ve thought about issues of prayer, Scripture, fasting, church fellowship, worship, and following Christ--but also about education, war, suffering, marriage, children, politics, and so much more. Life, really. 

luther on death bed

Luther on his death bed.


That was how it was for the reformers, too. They didn’t have the luxury of sitting quietly in a room thinking spiritual thoughts alone. Many were pastors or otherwise in church leadership. The women among them had particular responsibilities of childbearing and child-rearing (though it’s obvious that quite a few fathers, like Luther, changed diapers too.) Even those who were primarily scholars and professors wrestled with the stuff of life: spouses and children growing ill and dying, money troubles, arguments with friends, unwelcome houseguests, and more. Quite a few feared for their lives from hostile governments or, sadly, from other Christians. The tremendous change they wrought came out of their attempts to deal with the problems of what it meant to live a Christian life, and how they thought the church was or was not helping them in that regard. 

As we mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, perhaps that’s the most important thing to take away from this Refo Thursday experience and from our accompanying four-issue series on the Reformation and our documentary, This Changed Everything . We know (at least we hope we know!) much more about the names, dates, faces, doctrines, books, and battles of the sixteenth century after this experience. But what we hope most of all is that this series has taught us all how to follow Christ better: how to be valiant for the truth, and also how to meet those whose views differ from ours with love. 

Which brings me back to Luther’s last words. The man who raged against his enemies and celebrated his victories was also, in the last analysis, the man who knew that we are all beggars before the grace of God. Beggars to whom God has given abundant charity, far more than we could ask or desire.

We at Christian History Institute hope you have enjoyed our year of #RefoThursday blog posts and that you will carry the Reformation conversation well into the future. Happy Reformation Day.

Reflections by Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History Magazine


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