Reformation Update

By Hans Wiersma, Augsburg University

Okay, it’s time for a little reality check here. The 95 Theses were not such a big deal after all. Sure, they made a bit of a splash when they first hit the streets. And Brother Martin gained a little fame and got into a bit of trouble because of them. But the theses themselves didn’t really ask new questions or raise new objections. Even Luther didn’t think they were all that. After 1518, the theses were sort of forgotten. In the end, Luther had bigger fish to fry. But, hey, if you want to go ahead and believe that something started on October 31, 1517, feel free. But Luther’s really big stuff—the teachings that would shake the church big time—didn’t start rolling out to the public until 1519. And the really, really big stuff landed one after the other in 1520. And then there’s Luther’s famous Here-I-Stand at Worms in 1521 and his scandalous marriage to Katharina in 1525. The point is: the really important 500thanniversaries are still to come!

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the notion that 2017 was the end of something. The German government and the German church sponsored something called the “Luther Decade.” They started it in 2008 and ended it in 2017. Dummköpfen! What they should have done is declared the “Luther Three Decades,” started it in 2017, and end it in 2046, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s death. Also to blame are the historians and other scholars who went along with the 2017 bit, writing books timed to cash in. But truth be told, these academics knew all along that the 95 theses were mainly an exercise for eggheads; they contained almost nothing of the core theology and public proclamation of the Gospel that eventually inspired and shaped Luther’s movement. Finally, the blame goes to pastors and other leaders who hyped things to such an extent that it made 2017 a very tough act for 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, etc., to follow.

Well, it’s time to put on your forward thinking caps, people. There are 500th anniversaries coming up that need celebrating—celebrating via special worship services, bratwurst feeds, and trips to Germany! For instance, this coming summer is the 500th anniversary of the “Leipzig Debate”—the event that got the excommunication dominos falling for Luther. Today, Leipzig is one of my favorite cities in Germany. Why? Because it’s the home of the Leipzig Debate, yes, but also because it’s a wonderfully walkable major German city with a great history. For a quarter century, Leipzig was home to a little church musician we like to call Johann Sebastian Bach. A bit later on, Leipzig was home to the Monday morning prayer meetings that helped bring about the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Talk about the power of prayer! And it’s all just a quick ride from Wittenberg, home of the 2019 Luther500 festival.

If you missed the chance to visit Germany to observe the 500th anniversary of 1517, or if you made it out and want more, fret not. The Luther500 Festival is here for you!


Hans Wiersma is a Religion professor at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. His published work includes submissions in a variety of journals and books. In 2016, he completed the second edition of Jim Kittelson’s Luther the Reformer. In 2017, Hans’s work appeared in four different resources on the theology of Martin Luther, including The Oxford Encyclopedia of Martin Luther. Hans has also contributed to a variety of popular religion-themed books and curricula, including Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms.

Hans is an ordained Lutheran pastor; prior to joining Augsburg’s faculty in 2004, he served congregations in the Netherlands, California, and Minnesota. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his wife, Kristin, and children, Jacob, Elianna, Garret, and Marielle.

A Dream Come True

Travelling to Europe is a fabulous experience.  So much fun, and there is so much to see.  It can give you a perspective on the breadth and age of culture.  It gives you insights into the origins of things and also the legitimate yet different ways of doing things.  These might be as simple as making your mid-day meal larger and dinner smaller, or taking a walk through town in the evening, or finding a manageable work-life balance. And these insights can also be motivations for one’s calling or for a deeper appreciation of relatives and neighbors, even a reflection on the forces that shape the sweep of history.  In other words, as the young people might say, “it’s all good.”

And if these are valuable, even formative, experiences, wouldn’t it be even more valuable to bring your kids? But travel to Europe with kids can be complicated. What do you do in the evenings?  How can you manage two or three restaurants every day?  Is there anything specifically geared toward kids on a European vacation that is known to more than the locals?

That’s one of the ways the Luther500 experience serves families well.  It’s an intergenerational week in Germany with activities and set ups for everyone.  Bring grandparents, mom and dad and the kids! Or, bring the congregation to Germany like any intergenerational event at church.  The days are framed by brief morning and evening prayers in the historic churches. The mornings and afternoons are full of activities ranging from museums and workshops to bicycle rides or disc golf to arts and crafts and walking tours. The town of Wittenberg, our home for the week at Luther500, is full of playgrounds even a zoo, in the shadow of the historic Castle Church. And then, in the evenings, the gathered community enjoys fun together whether it’s a variety show, sing-alongs or a concert, a Rock Opera about the life and times of Martin Luther, group games or even a full-group version of Jeopardy. And after the evening prayers, the Biergarten is always open for those who like to extend the fellowship!  Even the Biergarten has a little playground.  

You know what it’s like? It’s like Family Camp in a medieval town where Martin Luther set in motion the Protestant Reformation.  If you are like me, and you love Lutheran Camps and you love History, and you love Europe, then Luther500 is a dream.  And joining us for a week in 2019 would be, well, a dream come true.  

Let us know if you are interested in Luther500 2019. Or get even more details at

Luther: The Rock Opera

Before we know it, Reformation Day 2017 will be here.  Every year, it's a cause to stop and think about the transformation that began when a stormy monk uttered three words, "Here I Stand," and helped western society move from the Medieval to the Modern Age.  This year, the 500th Anniversary of the posting in Wittenberg of the 95 Theses by Martin Luther -- an act that preceded the three famous words but touched off the events that led to Luther's trial -- is one of the special 500's.  There are plenty more to come including the burning of the Papal Bull and of course the Diet of Worms, as in, Here I Stand.

In advance of Reformation Day this year, George and I completed work on Luther:The Rock Opera.  It's a series of 24 songs that can be sung back to back to tell the story of the start of the Reformation and the life of Martin Luther.  It's based on the graphic novel Luther, by Rich Melheim.  You can order a copy of the Rock Opera at  You can learn it in about three rehearsals, and with a friend or two, or a band, you can perform it for your congregation, camp, or community.  It's a memorable and enjoyable way to remember the highlights of the early years of the Reformation.  There are some more complicated versions of the Rock Opera(Stage Version and Small Stage Version) which include extra songs by the Faith Ink team in Minnesota for those who have a bit more time and want to make a real musical of it.

Once you try the Rock Opera and you know (and can sing by heart) all about Luther's frightening experience in the forest near Erfurt, his parents' opposition to his decision to enter the monastery, his time with the Augustinians, his travels to Rome, his teaching in Wittenberg, his posting of the 95 Theses, his back and forth with the Vatican, his theological breakthrough, his trial at Worms, his time at The Wartburg and so on, you can come see it all in person!

You've sung about The Wartburg, now come walk the halls.  You've sung about his posting the theses, now stand at the door and pray inside the Castle Church.  You've sung about his life in Wittenberg with Katie, now tour their home -- the largest Reformation museum in the world.  And while you are at it, have a ton of fun with your family and friends in and around the Luther sites of Germany.  And then, see the show at a historic location like the castle at Mansfeld.  All kinds of fun!  Let us know you are interested, and we will send details of the tour we call Luther For All The Ages, but you call also thin of as Luther:The Rock Opera Tour.

Check out the songs, music, background animations and slides along with ideas for promoting your show at and look specifically for The Concert Version.

Luther500 Festival 2017 May and June

When my seven-year-old daughter turned to me while using modeling clay and said, "I am making a sculpture,  should I make Staupitz or Elector Frederick," I had the feeling that something about being around the City of the Reformation for a week was staying with her.  I knew that she and her four-year-old sister loved the Wittenberg zoo, the playgrounds, the treasure hunt through the home of Philip Melancthon, the period-clothes dressing up and role playing in Martin Luther's house, the printing-press practice, the Luther Rose creation, the Luther Rock Opera, the daily ice cream and the general Gemutlichkeit, but I was surprised that they'd also picked up on so many of the other players and the story in the Reformation drama.  And when I checked in with others at the Festival, they reported the same things: people had quite a lot of fun being blessed by a robot pastor (for real), with morning and evening prayers in the sacred and historic churches, music, museums, day trips, castles and Gemutlichkiet, but they also seemed to learn more about the Reformation than they'd remembered from catechism.  And that feels like a nice way to observe the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation.  The work that Luther and his fellow reformers began, continues to this day as we are refreshed, revitalized and reformed. Plus, we made some cool bracelets, did a lot of bicycling, and enjoyed the Gemutlichkeit.

The 2017 Luther500 Festivals of May and June are in the history books. Three groups will join us in July and then another in October.  How fun.  Check out some of the photos, here if you like. And send your contact information if you'd like to learn about joining us for in 2018 or 2019 for Alpine Family Fun, for an all-ages Luther immersion based in Eisenach, The Luther500 Festival back in Wittenberg in 2020, or the rare and memorable Passion Plays of Sommersdorf (2018), Erl (2019) or Oberammergau (2020).

The Lutheran Backpackers Union

Be a part of the fastest growing union in the world of travel.  Get your rucksack, your ge-backe-pack, and get to Wittenberg in May of 2017 for the Luther500 Festival, "backpacker style."  Well, you don't really need a backpack, you just need to be willing to have a great time, soak in some history and fun, and make new friends.    You register as a single or a group of single traveler friends and stay in dormitory-style rooms.

It's super affordable as European trips go, but it's also jam packed with activities and chances to meet folks with similar interests.  The days are sandwiched by brief morning and evening prayer in the historic churches in Wittenberg, and throughout the days you can select from a wide variety of interest centers including recreation, history, art, lectures, service projects or day trips to The Wartburg Castle or Eisleben where Luther was born and died, or Erfurt where Luther was ordained at the Augustinian Monestery.

Spend time in Berlin as part of the Luther500 Festival.  Or, even better, keep that backpack on, get a train ticket and spend another week exploring since you've already crossed the ocean. When you get back to school in the fall or head out to work after your trip, you'll be changed. Your vision will be expanded, your horizon widened and your circle of friends enlarged.

Sign up on the Contact page and let me know you are interested in the Luther500 Festival "backpacker style" trip.  If we get enough folks signed up to fill a room, or fill a few rooms, we'll get your trip confirmed.  Hey, for that matter, recruit five friends, and fill one of the six-bed rooms with your own group of fellow travelers.

More to come....