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Reformation 500th invites reflection on church life, Christian unity

Paul Brueggemeier and David Kappus

In tune with Reformer Martin Luther’s belief that “next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world,” David Kappus, pastor of Central Lutheran, and Paul Bruggemeier, the choir director, recently reflected on the importance of recognizing the 500 years since German theologian Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.

Their church is the venue for the community Lutheran Reformation 500 Hymn Festival on Oct. 29, a musical recognition that honors Luther, who wrote many hymns.

Paul, who has been chancel choir director at Central for 25 years, said the church usually holds a hymn festival in the fall.

This year, it coincides with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, so they joined area Lutheran churches to plan the festival on the Sunday closest to Reformation Day, which is Oct. 31.

Over the 500 years, the Protestant and Catholic relationship has improved since Luther posted the theses in 1517 to challenge practices in the Roman Catholic Church at that time, like the sale of indulgences to buy forgiveness for sin.

“The 500th year of anything is something to note,” said David, who comes from German roots in North Dakota and lived many years in Minnesota.

Ordained in 1990 after studying at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, he served Lutheran churches in Kendrick and Julietta, Idaho, Reardan and Coeur d’Alene before coming to Central Lutheran.

“The break brought by the Reformation was harsh and painful on both sides, but over the years, we continued to communicate,” he said.  “In 1999, the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation issued the Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith, which resolved many issues that sparked the Reformation, including the role of “works in salvation.”

“For Lutherans, good works are the result of gratitude for gifts God has freely given,” David said.  “In the Catholic tradition, good works often played a more direct role in the path to salvation.”

People then did not know the Scriptures because they were in Latin and Greek, Paul said.  Luther translated them into German, and, with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, the Scriptures were spread so people could read them.

“Other reformers disagreed with Luther, and other churches have continued to split off,” said Paul, who grew up in Emmanuel Lutheran in Walla Walla, where his mother was choir director.

In 1968, he earned a degree in music at Eastern Washington University (EWU), and then taught band 11 years at Sacajawea Junior High, chorus 20 years at Ferris High School, EWU and Whitworth as adjunct instructor.

Speaking on the impact of the Reformation, David said that in any religious tradition, people gather and there are disagreements. 

“Luther said the Church is always to be about reforming.  God always is at work in the church to create something new,” he added. “The Church continues to reform and change itself to model itself more closely to God in Christ revealed to us in Scriptures.”

David said Catholic and Protestant churches have come a long way.  Pope Francis celebrated a service of prayer with the Lutheran World Federation on Reformation Day 2016 in Lund, Sweden.

“We still do not celebrate communion together,” he said, “but it is remarkable how we have grown closer out of more than 50 years of intentional dialogue to find common points in life and ministry.”

For example, a year ago, the choir from The Madeleine, Paul’s sister’s Catholic church in Portland, Ore., brought their choir to sing anthems with Central Lutheran’s choir. Paul’s sister, who also grew up Lutheran, became Catholic because she taught many years at St. Joseph Catholic School.

Luther wanted to move people in congregations from being spectators, simply listening to trained professionals sing and preach, Paul said.

“There used to be screens in German churches, separating the congregation from the celebrants,” said Paul. “Luther believed in the priesthood of all believers. So he wrote many hymns using tunes familiar to the common folk and easy for everyone to sing.”

“Vatican II moved the altar to the transept in the midst of the people, rather than against the east wall,” said Paul.

David credits Pope Francis, as a Jesuit out in the world responding to human needs, with moving forward the unity of the Christian Church. 

He pointed to some of the ways the Christian Church is finding unity.

Presbyterians, Reformed Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal, Moravian and Lutheran churches have signed Full Communion Documents in recent years. 

A Lutheran pastor serves St. David’s Episcopal, and there are joint Lutheran-Presbyterian ministries in Fairfield and Potlatch.

In 1988, the ELCA formed when the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church united.

“Although we are new as a denomination, we had deep roots in German, Swedish, Norwegian and other culturally based churches,” he said.

One way churches find unity is through outreach, David added. For example, Central Lutheran houses a Clothes Closet, and serves with other churches through Meals on Wheels and Crosswalk.  Wednesdays from June through August, it has barbecues with homeless neighbors.

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National Lutherans plan Oct. 31 commemoration

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton co-hosts a commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation on Tuesday, Oct. 31, at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The event will be available online via livestream.


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