This year, a record-breaking 491 people attended the seminary’s Symposium on Reformation 500. To note the Reformation’s anniversary, several unique features highlighted this annual event.
To kick-off the week, almost 1,100 people attended and participated in a festival of the hymns of Martin Luther held on Sunday, Oct. 1. The Seminary Chorus, the Wisconsin Lutheran College Choir, and the Lutheran Chorale of Milwaukee, as well as a host of instrumental musicians, led the concert. Pastor Aaron Christie was the featured organist.
On Monday, Oct. 2, the essays began with Dr. Kenneth Cherney, a 1988 graduate and now professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. He presented on “Luther and the Standards,” reviewing the core of Luther’s confession.
“Luther shows an uncanny ability to separate information from noise, to glide past the ‘peripheral piffle’ that is distracting everybody else and get to the nub of the issue. The nub almost always turns out to be faith and a clear conscience, and this only makes sense. Faith and the resulting good conscience is the reason God sent his Son to die, the principle by which the Church exists and the believer lives,” wrote Cherney. “What promotes faith is the work of God. Whatever undermines it is of the devil.”
Pastor Nathaniel Biebert (WLS ’09), pastor at Risen Savior, Austin, Tex., served as the reactor for the paper. He shared, “No one save the inspired writers themselves does a better job of strengthening us with the grace that is in Christ Jesus than Martin Luther. With his paper, Prof. Cherney has renewed our gratitude for this heritage.”
Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary President Paul Wendland (WLS ’79) presented the second paper of the day, “Luther and the Scriptures.” Focusing on pastors as preachers, he wrote, “A consciousness of being servants of Christ should fill us with both joy and holy fear. . . . This is a holy boast in the Lord, remembering constantly that we are also men who must give an account. Those who presume to speak a word in the name of God will be judged for every idle word they speak.”
Justin Cloute (WLS ’02), pastor at Living Savior, Missoula, Montana, reacted to the paper. “We live in a world of constant noise and distraction in which we are bombarded by sound bites, tweets, video clips, text messages and popup notifications. . . . Professor Wendland’s essay is a powerful reminder that Lutheran preachers can speak with confidence into this noise. Not because of our own eloquence or charisma, but because of the power behind the Word we speak.”
In the evening, a banquet of German food was held at The Watermark in Thiensville.
On Tuesday, Oct. 3, Martin Luther College President Mark Zarling (WLS ’80) shared his essay on “Luther and the Saints,” reviewing Luther’s teaching about the universal priesthood of all believers and its relationship to the public ministry. “Christ has graciously given to his believers, all his believers, the ministry of the Word of God. We are to live and serve our neighbors as priests before God, having been washed in the blood of the Lamb and dressed in his righteousness,” he wrote. “Christians are content in our vocations knowing that everything we do as a priest of God, dressed in Christ, is a labor in which our thank-offering brings joy to Jesus. That means that no labor is unimportant. How this treasure can demolish the false levels of prestige sinners often ascribe to various careers!”
In a reaction, Jon Zabell (WLS ’97), pastor at St. Paul, Green Bay, wrote, “The public ministry of the gospel is indeed a glorious thing, and public ministers of the gospel deserve the respect that accompanies their office. At the same time, Pastor Zarling, again drawing from Luther, points out that the public ministry dare never overshadow the glory and far-reaching impact of the ministry of the priesthood of all believers.”
To close the symposium, Wisconsin Lutheran College Professor Mark Braun (WLS ’78) shared his essay “Martin Luther and the State” where he explored Luther’s maturing positions on the Two Kingdoms—church and state—during his life and how they continue to affect churches and government today. In the end, however, “No other institution has the calling to proclaim the gospel in word and sacrament, and no other institution will carry on that responsibility if the church fails at that task.”
Reactor Paul Naumann (WLS ’79), pastor at Good Shepherd, Benton Harbor, Mich., shared, “for the individual Christian or Christian church body maintaining a strict separation of church and state is a practical impossibility, since we live in both realms and owe obedience to both. Our task is rather to keep from confusing the roles each play in our lives as Christians and as a church.”