■ By Ronald Ritter / Contributed
In less than three months, 74 million Lutherans around the world, including 3.7 million in the United States, and many other Christians, will observe the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It was on Oct. 31, 1517 when the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany.
The Reformation that followed marked a point in world history when traditional beliefs and practices of the Christian Church were subject to intense biblical scrutiny that produced many changes throughout the world in the ensuing years with regard to the Christian religion. Luther’s enunciation of the biblical principles of “Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone and Christ Alone” became the doctrinal cornerstone for most Protestant church bodies under many denominational names, including Lutheran, throughout the world since then.
One of Luther’s understandings based on his own negative experiences within the medieval church and fortified by his vast knowledge of the Scripture was the requirement for the establishment of a strong and necessarily balanced relationship between religion and government. This teaching has come to be known as the “Two Kingdoms Doctrine.”
This doctrine teaches that God is the ruler of the whole world and that he rules in two ways. Accordingly, God rules the “worldly” or “left-hand kingdom” through secular government by means of law and enforcement with the goal of the maintenance of civil order in the secular world. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 13:1-2 in the New Testament describes this kingdom.
In the “religious” or “right-hand kingdom,” Christians are a new creation in Jesus Christ by the water of Holy Baptism and voluntarily follow in faith, by God’s grace, the teachings of Jesus and the Scripture. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians 5:17 describes this feature of the Christian faith.
This understanding of the relationship between religion and government migrated to America’s 13 Colonies years later. The founders of the American republic were well aware of this startling and radically revolutionary view of the requirement for a balanced relationship between religion and government and embraced it wholeheartedly.
The fourth president of the United States, James Madison, later known as the “Father of the Constitution” and principle author of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, credited Martin Luther as the theorist who led the way in providing the proper distinction between the civil and ecclesiastical spheres. The first freedom contained in the First Amendment is this: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church will host a 500th Protestant Reformation Celebratory Service on Tuesday, October 31 at 2 p.m. in the main sanctuary. The Rev. Dr. Larry Stoterau, president of the Pacific Southwest District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, will be the main speaker. Jean Will and DeLoise King will serve as the leaders of a joint choir. A specially catered meal will follow the service. Christians from all faith groups are invited to this once-in-a-lifetime service.
Pastor Ronald Ritter ministers at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church located at 701 N. Sanderson Ave., Hemet.