Grievance Debate: THE LUTHER QUINCENTENARY


Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:19): Five hundred years ago this very day, Martin Luther, a former Augustinian monk, ordained Catholic priest and doctor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, wrote a scholarly presentation to his bishop, protesting the church's practice of selling indulgences: taking coin and in return granting absolution from sins.

One account suggests that he did so by nailing his essay, now known as the 95 theses, to the Wittenberg Castle Church door. Whether or not that story is true or apocryphal, I would prefer to believe that is how it happened. I can tell you now, having been to Wittenberg to look at the church door, that it would be hard to do again: the door has now been replaced with vast bronze gates inscribed with the 95 theses for all to read for evermore.

In doing so, Luther set off a chain of events that led directly to the Reformation, a tide of upheaval across Europe and the world, wherever the Christian message had been spread. The evangelical church founded by Luther – he would have been appalled at the idea of a church being named after him – spread its teachings according to his catechisms. Other Protestant movements spread, and in time the Catholic Church too changed its practices and adapted. Luther was in correspondence with them all, sharing theological arguments and influencing most of the political and religious thinkers of his time in one way or another.

Luther was an extraordinary figure, a complex man whose willingness to challenge institutions and authorities, if they were concealing the truth, emboldened many others to follow their principles, even if it came at a great cost. It is no coincidence, of course, that Martin Luther King Jr shared the same name and embodied that integrity, which was instilled in him from birth.

Luther's translation of the Bible into German was transformational: the conduct of services in the languages of the congregation rather than in Latin ensured that the word of God could be accessible to all. Most importantly, Luther called the church back to its basic task: to help humans receive forgiveness from sin as God's free gift rather than as a commodity that could be bought or sold.

He had a good deal to say about politics, members might be interested to know.  His theology of the two kingdoms argued firmly for the separation of church and state, as Christ instructed us to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God those that are God's. Many of the freedoms we enjoy today come as a result of the Reformation.

Luther teaches that the task of government is to ensure the common good: not to impose Christian belief or morality but to legislate what is just. In turn, he argued, the government must not overstep its domain to impose transient ideology on the church or the private lives of its citizens. Limited government, constitutional government, government under the law – he would have been no fan of the nanny state.

If anyone wants to challenge my theology, that last paragraph I got from a tremendous fellow, Dr John Kleinig, formerly of the Lutheran seminary, to whom I spoke about this this morning. The task of government is to maintain good order and justice for its citizens. The task of the church is to provide forgiveness of sins.

I turn to the Lutheran influence in South Australia, which is tremendously important. It started in Prussia in the early decades of the 19th century. Kaiser Friederich Wilhelm III was attempting to impose the reformed union church, of which he was also the bishop, upon the whole population. Lutherans whose families had practised their faith for centuries were persecuted. By the 1830s Lutheran churches were outlawed, Lutherans were gaoled for maintaining their theological understandings and pastors had to conduct their ministry in secret. Many looked to leave and find new homes.

With financial help from George Fife Angus, in 1838 Pastor A.L.C. Kavel, followed two years later by Pastor G.D. Fritzsche, brought their congregations to South Australia. At great personal cost and with great suffering and hardship – many died en route – these communities formed an integral part of our young state and have contributed to it ever since in increasing ways.

The fact that this state gave them the freedom to flourish is a credit to our history and testament to why they have been able to give so much in return to our state. I note Pastor Fritzsche's role in particular in the establishment of the town of Lobethal, in my electorate, in May 1842, 175 years ago, as opposed to the butcher, Fritz, of that town, who has given us our name for processed meat.

Subsequent waves of migration in the years since have brought many more Lutherans, and their mission has seen many people from different backgrounds, including myself, find their faith strengthened through the Lutheran Church. Those early settlers who gave up so much would have been very pleased to see the Lutheran congregations of the Adelaide Hills – Birdwood, Lobethal, Spring Head, Woodside, Springton and Eden Valley – join together with many other local Christians to share in worship on Sunday 22 October at Lobethal.

It was a special day, and I was pleased to be joined by the member for Kavel, and Dan Cregan, the Liberal candidate for Kavel, in the celebrations.

The church was overflowing. Many people came in period costume, and Tom Playford, son of the former premier, was outstanding as a town crier. Many came dressed as Luther or Melanchthon. The pastor, David Kuss, and the other pastors led a wonderful service and on this special anniversary I thank them for their spiritual leadership in our community, particularly on this occasion.