Quite often when I attend a Lutheran function I have to explain how a person with a surname like mine ended up, not just in the Lutheran Church but as a Pastor of the Lutheran Church. Surnames are an important heritage of the Lutheran Church because it identifies you with a particular family line that migrated to Australia in the early 1800s. Those who came out then were different to my mother who came out in the 1950s as a post-World War 2 immigrant in search of a new and hopefully better life.
Those who came in the early 1800s came for a different reason. They came because they wanted to express their religious freedom. They were immigrants from Prussia, who arrived in 1838 with Pastor August Kavel because of persecution of Lutherans who refused to use join the Prussian Union under King Frederick Wilhelm III. The Prussian Union was an amalgamation of the Protestant Churches, namely the Lutheran and Reformed Churches. Under this union a new liturgy was produced which churches had to follow.
The liturgy was not well received by many Lutherans because it compromised the wording in preparing Holy Communion, to a point where the Real Presence was not proclaimed. As a result many Lutherans refused to use the liturgy and conducted their own Lutheran services. However, those that did were threatened with imprisonment and fines. The Lutherans who refused to compromise therefore planned a mass exodus from Prussia and headed to the United States and Australia.
Several boatloads came to Australia under the leadership of 2 pastors – Kavel and Fritzsche.
With the common thread of escaping religious persecution, a common denomination and theology and a common language, the group of migrants became a large group and began to spread throughout South Australia. But as with any large groups with more than one leader a split became evident. But as is common in churches the split was over something we might not necessarily deem to be that serious.
Obviously it was to them. The split was mainly over a teaching in the church called Millennialism. Millennium meaning a thousand and a reference to Revelation 20 which reads, in part: “I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended”.
So the question arose whether the thousand year reign of Christ on earth before judgment day was a literal thousand year reign by Jesus on earth or was it figurative. Kavel believed it was literal – Fritzsche believed it was figurative. Kavel walked out of the Synod meeting in 1846 which began the split that would last, not a thousand years but 120 years. But those 120 years must have felt like an eternity to those who gave up their homeland for religious freedom only to now be faced with a split in the church.
It was a sad state of affairs that a group of Christians that were prepared to give up homes, family, employment, security and much more, were divided over such an issue. But that’s how Satan works. Satan works much more in the little subtle things where we don’t realise he is at work. Like St Paul says about our anger which often leads to division: He says: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Sadly and too often, disagreements in churches leads to anger. Satan attacks the very heart of the unity of the church which is the unity that we have as the family of God. So often we allow the trivial things to divide and conquer us undoing the work that has shaped our existence. Peter reminds us just what we sacrifice when we allow our anger to guide our behaviours. He says: “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood. You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession … called out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God;”
What a pity when we allow our human natures to destroy what God has created in us. How sad when sometimes all it takes is a simple word: I’m sorry. I forgive you. Can we talk about it? Instead we allow our hot-headedness to see us split. I’m leaving – I’m not coming back.
Today we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the coming together of the 2 Lutheran Synods in Australia: The Evangelical Lutheran Church and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church. It was not an easy time for many who still felt the bitterness of the division. Not all churches embraced it immediately. If you go through parts of Adelaide in the Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills you will see the remnant of the division with many towns still having the 2 Lutheran Churches. Both struggling with low numbers but both wanting to hold on to their heritage.
Division in the church is where Satan does his work. There are differences as St Paul says when he describes the church as a body with many parts. But those parts work together not against each other. It’s okay to have differences as Paul again talks about when he says there are many gifts but one Spirit who gives them.
The Lutheran Church continues to face challenges today particularly as we continue to discuss the topic of ordination.
Each time we have gone before Synod to vote there have been the threats that this will divide our church once again.
For 50 years, we have repeatedly shown our commitment to one another. Discussing any matter of theology is a sensitive matter. As Christians we must face these important questions and go back to God’s Word, we pray, talk and worship together, and sort things out.
That’s what we do as God’s chosen people. In this present age people are hostile to church. The church is not a trusted institution. It doesn’t draw the same respect. It doesn’t wield the same power and authority it once did. So there has never been a more important time to be a united body of Christ.
We bring a message of hope for society in a time when many people, despite their physical richness, live in spiritual poverty. God has set you apart as his people – his royal priesthood. But when we bicker and fight we do not send out a message of hope to the world but a message of “we are no better than anyone else”.
The only way that Satan can attack the church is to attack its unity. As Jesus once said – If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand (Mark 3:25).
Even one of the very first churches was attacked by division. In First Corinthians we see Paul impassioned plea with them to restore their unity. He says: I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10). Is Christ divided? (v13).
Division is Satan’s foothold. That doesn’t mean we cannot disagree or have differing opinions. No. We are all individuals and we will have differing opinions on various topics. But we are united in that we are part of the body of Christ; a body made up of many parts but all working together for the building up of the Church.
50 years is a very short time as we consider the church is around 2000 years old. But it only takes one word spoken in anger to undo all the work that has been built upon. There will be differences but that’s part of the gift of freedom that God gives. The reformers of Luther’s day knew that and so when they formed the teaching of the church in the Augsburg Confession – the confession of the church they said: The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all (AC VII).
Unity is created by God but division is created by humans. The good news is that unity can always be restored where we once again live under God’s Word and Sacraments. Division doesn’t just hurt the church it hurts people as well. It divides friends and family and we are to work as hard as we can to keep and restore unity. Sometimes that takes sacrifice and consensus but as we are reminded by King David is Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (verse 1).