Augsburg Fortress
One Mission Blog - reflections on the ministry of publishing

Gutenberg to Google: Priesthood of all believers, Volume 3

October 10th, 2006 by Beth A. Lewis

In the last “Gutenberg to Google” eNewsletter, I talked about the need for 15th century printers to be both ministry and business and the heritage between that and the vocation that calls those of us who work for Augsburg Fortress to be business people proclaiming the Gospel.

When Martin Luther talked about “vocation” he didn’t use it simply to mean a call to work within the Church. He talked about vocation as the purview of all people. He talked about vocation in one’s church, at one’s profession, in one’s home with family, and in the community. And, rather than having theology be “owned” solely by the learned priests, he spoke eloquently of encouraging the “priesthood of all believers.”

With the pamphlets and tracts through which Martin Luther and other reformers conveyed their messages, there was congruence between the message and the media. And the printers who worked with them were happy to publish these bestsellers.

Mark Edwards’ research for his book, Printing, Propaganda & Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 2004) shows “Over the period 1518 to 1544, Luther’s publications (that is, printings and re-printings of his works in German, excluding Bible translation) numbered at least 2551. For the same period the Catholic publicists produced 514 printings….In stark terms, this translates into about five printings of Luther for every Catholic printing…..And, of course, Luther was seconded by a number of other prolific Evangelical authors.”

While there were other Evangelical authors, Luther was far and away the most prolific. It is estimated that 20% of the German pamphlets produced in this 30-year period were written by Martin Luther. A conservative estimate puts his output at 3.1 million copies in circulation during this time.

The Catholic writers of the day missed the opportunity to reach the people. They were still primarily writing in Latin and publishing for their traditional audiences: clerics and rulers. This publishing dominance by the Evangelicals, in terms of sheer volume being produced and shared with a hungry, untapped readership of literate laity, helps to partially explain the successful and rapid spread of the Reformation, even though the power and authority rested with the “establishment.”

Luther tapped a hunger among the people to learn about Scripture, to read it or have it read to them, and to think and debate among themselves.

At Augsburg Fortress, we have extended that invitation for children, youth, and adults of the 21st century. I mentioned earlier that for Luther and the other reformers using the small 4 to 8 page tracts, there was congruence between the message and the media. They were accessible and in the language of the people.

In our “Internet-speed” world, we are doing the same thing. We are inviting children, youth, and adults into the Gospel using media that is familiar and comfortable. According to a survey conducted in January-April 2006 by the Pew Center for People & The Press, 73% of adults in the USA now have access to and use the Internet for work and/or entertainment. These numbers are up from 66% in their January 2005 survey. And, the share of households with broadband service for their Internet connections has now grown to 42%. In their “Generations Online” report, the Pew Center for People & The Press offered these statistics for Internet access: “While 88% of 18-29-year-olds now go online, 84% of 30-49-year-olds, 71% of 50-64-year-olds, and 32% of those age 65 and older say they use the Internet.”

And, as traditional “Ozzie & Harriet-like” families are fewer and fewer in our society, new family-types are created: – single-parent households; – split custody households where the children spend every other week with a different parent; – unmarried adult households, sometimes male-female and sometimes of the same gender; – older adults whose children and grandchildren live thousands of miles away, so they are “invited” into community with a local family.

These creative, adaptive, intergenerational “families” need faith formation resources as creative and adaptive and intergenerational as they are! As Martin Luther saw the need, so have we at Augsburg Fortress. He translated materials into the language and format accessible to the people: small pamphlets in German. A report completed by the Pew Center for People & The Press in 2005 states, “The Web has become the ‘new normal’ in the American way of life; those who don’t go online constitute an ever-shrinking minority.” We translate faith formation today into the language and format accessible to the people: through the Internet.

Akaloo is one such dynamic, intergenerational resource for our time. Web-based and print supported, it meets the needs of people living fast-paced lives. Sometimes Sunday morning Christian education works and sometimes it doesn’t! Sometimes the household is tradition and sometimes it isn’t!

Since Akaloo was just launched in August 2006, these are early days in hearing responses from today’s “priesthood of all believers:”

From Angie Avers, WPW Children’s Ministry Coordinator at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in Archbold, OH:

“Everyone is excited about the opportunity Akaloo offers for the entire congregation. Now families will be able to share what they’ve learned around the dinner table. Even our adult Sunday School teacher is impressed with Akaloo—–it’s make her smile!”

From Mark Jackson, Professor of Youth & Family Ministry at Trinity Lutheran College in Issaquah, WA:

“Finally there’s a senior high resource I can recommend that isn’t laced with cheap theology and full of pat answer to complex questions. A warm, inviting dialogue on the tough questions of our faith in attractive to teenagers who won’t respond to simple answers. Akaloo’s content itself provides a solid Lutheran perspective on matters of the Bible, vocation, discipleship, and the role of the church in the world.”

And, as I sat watching the Rally Day launch at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Phoenix, AZ, where my husband is the senior pastor, I had one of the most heartwarming experiences of all. During worship, the Akaloo theme song DVD animated video was shown. I enjoyed watching the rapt attention of people from the smallest children to Irene, sitting in her wheelchair, who had turned 95 years old the day before. As the animation was projected on two large screens at the front of the sanctuary, one of the characters depicted was a young Asian child. At that moment, I saw the twins—two five-year-old girls adopted from China—turn to their mom and aunt with their eyes lit up in delight. They had just seen a child on the Akaloo screen who looked like them and loved Jesus.

It brought tears to my eyes and reminded me why I love being in this ministry and business serving the priesthood of all believers.

After the worship service was over, I introduced myself to the mom and aunt and made sure that what I had seen was what I thought I had seen. They assured me that the rare and welcome portrayal of a little animated character for a few seconds on the screen had, indeed, thrilled and helped their little ones be excited about coming to church and learning about Jesus.

In Akaloo, the media and the message have congruence for our day the same as those small pamphlets did in Luther’s day.

We want to hear from you!

Please e-mail Beth Lewis directly at ceo@augsburgfortress.org or join the discussion at www.augsburgfortress.org/blog under the “Gutenberg to Google” section.

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Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO Augsburg Fortress
  • kerreader

    Your story reminded me of a time 10 years ago when I was picking my kids up from children’s choir. The director had given them a sheet to take home to learn the words of a song. On the word sheet was a picture of Jesus blessing the children, and whoever had done the illustration had drawn Jesus to look Asian. A 7 yr old Chinese American boy who I did not know well at all (because we had just moved to the area) showed me the sheet and said, “Look, he’s Chinese!” He was so proud to see a Jesus that looked like him! It was the same kind of moment you describe (except that I wasn’t responsible for providing that image for him to see!)

  • Beth A. Lewis

    Thank you for your story. This is such an important concept for all of us to remember as we strive to be inclusive. Sometimes we are accused of being “politically correct” when we make certain that we include people of a wide range of races, ethnicities, ages, etc. in our resources. But, I don’t think that is the case at all!

    Instead, this is a part of “the great commission.” We are called by Jesus to proclaim the Gospel. We are called by Jesus to be evangelists! Part of that proclamation and evangelical outreach includes being hospitable and inviting. One of the many ways we in the ministry of publishing and all of us as Christians can do this is by being intentional about being inclusive in any ways we can.

    Other stories from other readers about the need (or not if you disagree) to be inclusive are welcome on this blog!

    Blessings,
    Beth

    Beth A. Lewis
    President & CEO
    Augsburg Fortress



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