Monthly Archives: February 2017

Reformation of the Keys: David M. Wilson Reviews Ronald K. Rittgers’ Book

[As shown in the copyright notice at the end of this quoted review, permission has been granted for this redistribution of this review. This review is the work of David M. Whitford.]

Whitford on Rittgers, ‘The Reformation of the Keys: Confession, Conscience, and Authority in Sixteenth-Century Germany’

Author: Ronald K. Rittgers
Reviewer: David M. Whitford
Ronald K. Rittgers. The Reformation of the Keys: Confession, Conscience, and Authority in Sixteenth-Century Germany. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004. xii + 318 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-01176-2.

Reviewed by David M. Whitford (Department of Philosophy and Religion, Claflin University)

Published on H-German (January, 2005)

In Matthew 16, Jesus promises to give the keys of heaven to the Apostle Peter. Along with the promise of the keys, Jesus asserts that Peter will have authority on earth to bind or to loose sins. The historian of Christianity cannot underestimate the importance and influence of these two promises on the history of the church and the societies shaped by it. Almost immediately the two promises were combined. Originally, their power extended only to the spiritual life of Christians as they related to their local congregations. Over time (and especially after the Constantinian settlement), their power began to creep into other aspects of life. By 1302, in the bull Unam sanctam, Pope Boniface VIII (d. 1303) could claim that the power of the keys gave him authority over all living creatures (including kings and emperors). Needless to say, not everyone agreed with Boniface’s interpretation of Matthew, and the authority of the church over the spiritual and temporal lives of people continued to be a point of contention well into the era of the Reformation.Ronald K. Rittgers, assistant professor of the history of Christianity at Yale, offers a thorough and thoughtful examination of the Power of the Keys during the Reformation in this revision of a dissertation written at Harvard under the direction of Steven Ozment. The book begins with a short introduction to the history of the Office of the Keys in the Western church. Rittgers then turns his attention to the city of Nuremberg and uses that city as a case study for his examination. Nuremberg is an excellent choice of cities for a number of reasons. While its size, history, and importance in the life of the Empire are key factors, more importantly Nuremberg adopted the Reformation of Martin Luther fairly early and became a model for the evangelical city as a consequence.

In chapter 2, Rittgers turns to examine the theology and practice of penance in the theology of the church. Penance was the process by which one paid the penalty for breaking the laws of God and of the church. This very detailed chapter highlights the religious milieu of the late medieval world. Chapter three examines the early critiques of late medieval penance by Luther and other early reformers. Rittgers highlights how the religious critique of penance and the Office of the Keys were welcomed by cities like Nuremberg who saw an opportunity to forward their social and political aims while reforming religion. This chapter, perhaps more so than the others, highlights Rittgers’s ability to weave theological insights and historical narrative together.

Chapter 4 examines how the reformers and city magistrates dealt with the repercussions of their critique. It is one thing to call for dismantling a system; it is another thing entirely to try to put something new in its place, and Rittgers explains this difficulty well. Chapter 5, then, turns to look at the new system of the keys and authority (both spiritual and temporal) built by the reformers. The clergy and the civil magistrates had to struggle to find a balance between order in the church and the community and freedom to proclaim the new Gospel. Given the history of the Peasants’ War, the Knights’ Rebellion, and the Edict of Worms, finding this balance was both essential and rather difficult. Chapters 6 through 8 present vignettes that highlight the struggles and successes of the Nurembergers as they tried to walk this fine line.

The last chapter is perhaps the most interesting because it turns to assess the relative success or failure of Nuremberg to create a Lutheran city both in doctrine and life. The degree to which the Reformation was successful in this regard has been a heated debate in Reformation studies since at least Gerald Strauss’s important Luther’s House of Learning: Indoctrination of the Young in the German Reformation (1978). In that book, Strauss argued that this endeavor was largely unsuccessful. Rittgers offers a breathtaking critique. On point after point, Rittgers points out that Strauss’s critique is overstated and at times says more about the author than it does about early modern Lutherans.

In the first chapter, Rittgers notes that the Power of the Keys has been largely ignored in the scholarship of the Reformation. As I read that, I thought that such a claim must surely be impossible. It is like ignoring the proverbial elephant in the middle of the room. And yet, Rittgers is absolutely correct. This book is a welcome remedy to such a striking deficiency.

Printable Version:

Citation: David M. Whitford. Review of Rittgers, Ronald K., The Reformation of the Keys: Confession, Conscience, and Authority in Sixteenth-Century Germany. H-German, H-Net Reviews. January, 2005.

Copyright © 2005 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at

Catechism Bible Illustrations — Part 3 — The Lord’s Prayer

This is a table of Bible illustrations to help parents, teachers, and pastors illuminate truths taught in the Small Catechism.

Links to parts:

Part 3 – The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer in General

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11, 1-13)
And when you pray (Matthew 6:5-15)
Ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7-12, Luke 11:9-13)
The Canaanite woman prays for her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28)
Praying in Jesus’ name (John 16:23-27)
The leper’s request and thanksgiving (Luke 17:11-19)
The request of the mother of James and John (Matthew 20:20-23)
Abraham prays for Sodom (Genesis 18:23-32)
Solomon prays for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-14)
Paul prays about the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:1-9)
The widow persists in prayer (Luke 18:1-8)
Jesus prays for believers (John 17)

Our Father who art in heaven

I bow my knees to the Father (Ephesians (3:14-20)
Elijah and the priests of Baal pray to different gods (1 Kings 18:25-29, 36-39)
The people of Lystra would sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:8-18)

The First Petition
Hallowed by Thy Name

Solomon prays at dedication of the temple (1 Kings 12-30)

The Second Petition
Thy kingdom come

The little Syrian maid (2 Kings 5:1-17)
The Reign of Messiah (Psalm 72)
Kings of the earth gather together against Christ (Acts 4:23-31)
Parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-29)
Parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32)

The Third Petition
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

Jesus prays in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-44)
Abraham’s trial (Genesis 22:1-19)
God uses the sin of Joseph’s brothers for good (Genesis 15:15-21)
Peter and John pray for boldness (Acts 4:13-37)

The Fourth Petition
Give us this day our daily bread

Do not worry (Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:22-31)
Jesus heals a centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13.
Jesus heals a paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8)
Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52)
Jesus Heals ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19)
Parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:15-21)

The Fifth Petition
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

Jesus prays for his enemies (Luke 23:32-35)
Steven prays for his enemies (Acts 7:54-60)
Joseph forgives his brothers (Genesis 50:15-21)
The unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35)
The prodigal son’s father forgives him (Luke 15:17-24)

The Sixth Petition
And lead us not into temptation

The devil tempts Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-6)
Jesus uses the Word against temptation (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13)
The world tempts Peter to deny Christ (Luke 22:54-62, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:54-62, John 18:15-18, 25-27)
David’s flesh tempts him to commit adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-4)
Joseph flees from temptation (Genesis 39:1-20)
God tests Abraham (Genesis 22:1-19)
Put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18)

The Seventh Petition
But deliver us from evil

God delivers Job from his troubles (Job 42:10-17)
Three men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3)
Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:1-23)
God does not let the Devil destroy Job (Job 1:1-2:6)

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for every and ever. Amen.

The King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:13-16)
I will extol you, My God, My King (Psalm 145)

Catechism Bible Illustrations — Part 2c — The Third Article of the Creed

This is a table of Bible illustrations to help parents, teachers, and pastors illuminate truths taught in the Small Catechism.

Links to parts:

Part 2 – The Creed

Part 2c – The Third Article – Sanctification

The Holy Spirit

Joel’s prophesy of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32)
Fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy (Acts 2:1-13)
Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14-31)
Ananias lies to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11)
Jesus sends the Helper (John 16:5-15)

The Holy Christian church

The 7,000 in Israel (1 Kings 19:9-18)
Solomon builds the temple (2 Chronicles 6:1-14; 7:1-3)
Birthday of the church (Acts 2:1-4, 37-42)
The church commissions Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1-5)
Weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30)
Beware of false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20)

The forgiveness of sins

David’s prayer for pardon (Psalm 51)
Jesus heals the man with palsy (Mark 2:1-12)
The king forgave the servant all his debts (Matthew 18:23-35)
The publican justified (Luke 18:9-14)

The resurrection of the body

Elisha raises the widow’s son (1 Kings 17:17-24)
The judgment scene (Matthew 25:31-46)
Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection (1 Corinthians 15)
Lazarus raised from the dead (John 11:17-44)

Life everlasting

The holy city (Revelation 21:1-7)

The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps

“Called me by the Gospel”

Invitation to the wedding banquet of the king’s son (Matthew 22:1-10)
Invitation to the great banquet (Mark 14:16-17)

“Enlightened me with his gifts”

Philip preaches Christ to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5-8)
The Philippian jailer and his family come to believe (Acts 16:25-34)


Jesus dines with a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50)


Abraham’s faith (Genesis 12:1-4; 22:1-19)
Heroes of faith (Hebrews 11)
Many of the Apostles hearers believe (Acts 17:1-12)
Peter’s confession (Matthew 16:13-20)

Justification and regeneration

The blessedness of forgiveness (Psalm 32)
The woman of Samaria (John 4:1-26)


Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-19)

Sanctification and preservation

The Psalmists prayer for pardon (Psalm 86:1-12)
The Christian’s daily life (Colossians 3:1-17)


“Say It!” Says the Little Girl — by Pastor Ryan Loeslie

Editor’s Note:  The following is a guest article by Rev. Ryan Loeslie, Pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Merna, Nebraska.

Most Lutherans who went through junior high confirmation class at one time in their lives are familiar with Luther’s famous question from his Small Catechism, “What does this mean?”  Sadly, this is all many remember.  But at the same time, this proves Luther’s genius.  He devised a simple, childlike question which all people can relate to as they are learning the basics of the faith.  Whatever failure the church has had in retaining its children after confirmation is its own fault, not that of the Small Catechism.

In the original German, Luther’s question was framed a bit differently than what we’ve come to know in English translation.  “Was ist das?,” the Small Catechism reads.  Literally we would translate this as “What is it?” or “What is that?”  As you can see, this is an even more basic question than “What does this mean?”  It is simpler.  It is more childlike.  We can picture a small child pointing to a colorful flower or a strange-looking insect and asking the same question: What is it?  What is that?

I never knew the genius of Luther’s question until having my own child and teaching her the Small Catechism.  We started teaching our daughter the Small Catechism even as she was starting to speak her first words.  She started learning by repeating after us the last word which was said.  So if we said the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” she would say “gods” when we were done.  It didn’t take long before she could say more and more, and even at two and a half years old now she can say the Lord’s Prayer, most of the creed, and most of the commandments.  And actually, her favorite thing to do is answer Luther’s question, “What is Baptism?”  On the one hand, this is very special.  We are glad such a small girl whom we love so much can pray and say the commandments.  On the other hand, it’s not so special.  I imagine this is within the capability of almost any child the same age.

What I find fascinating about this is how she grew into the routine.  We always do a bit of Catechism work after reading a Bible story at bedtime.  And our daughter came up with her own name for our little time of catechesis.  She says it’s time to “say it!”  What is fascinating about “saying it” is that my daughter with her words hearkened me back to Luther’s question, “Was ist das?” or “What is it?” I learned in the most profound way, through the lips of a child, that our simple home catechesis with our children was truly the vision that Luther had when writing the Small Catechism.  He didn’t have in mind 7th and 8th graders with the pastor on a late Wednesday afternoon.  He envisioned parents “saying it” with their children.

And this is a much more joyous way to pass down the faith, one which does not require cumbersome worksheets, tedious homework, and scheduling hassles. Children love to please their parents, and so also our daughter loves to “say it.” I have a funny story to illustrate this, too.  One evening we were visiting friends and came home much later than our children’s bedtime.  It was our intention to say the Lord’s Prayer with them quickly and put them to bed.  But what happened?  Our daughter broke down in tears because she wanted to “say it.”  She would not let it go.  So as I tucked her in we did “say it,” however little time we had.  The day wouldn’t be complete for her otherwise.

I mention this not because it’s cute, but because it demonstrates the joyous and powerful effect that the Small Catechism can have on our children.  When people remember the question “What does this mean?,” it is often in a nostalgic manner.  It’s a relic of their past when they went to confirmation class.  Perhaps it is something remembered fondly, but it doesn’t serve much use in the present, nor does it make them more faithful Christians.  But when we “say it” with our kids, this is something that is a part of them every day, something at the very fiber of their being.  When we “say it” with our kids, the Small Catechism becomes something which will actually form a worldview and serve us in our lives.  Children who can “say it” will be bright lights in this world because the very Word of God is actually written on their hearts.  And when they grow up, the Small Catechism will not be a relic of their past.  It will be a treasured possession, something they have always known, loved, and will never let go.

And so take this as a word of encouragement.  You can go to and find some easy schedules to use so you can “say it” together as a family.  These are very helpful if you’ve had good intentions about this but never had the support or resources to follow through.  It takes very little natural skill.  It does not even require much time or effort, only consistency.  And yet the rewards are enormous.  We learn our faith better.  We learn to love it more.  We learn a beautiful pattern of sound words which will serve us well in this world.  And we can raise up a new generation of children who love God and his Word, who love the Small Catechism and the Lutheran Church, and our lives will be better for it.

Help Drive Down this Fake #1 Ranking

Publishing is an interesting activity. Apparently, one of the publishing industry’s techniques is to try to hype something into reality.

Take as an example what distributors do with my slim little book, Catechetical Evangelism in the Newspaper. Smashwords released this as an eBook on January 14, 2014. As the Smashwords Style Guide says, that led to 15 minutes of fame.

Tip: Immediately after publishing your book at Smashwords, it’ll be featured on the Smashwords home page if it has a cover. Your home page feature typically lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending upon how quickly you roll off the page when others publish after you. Therefore, don’t upload your book to Smashwords until you have a good looking cover image because you want to take full advantage of your 15 minutes of fame. If you upload without a cover, the book will miss the home page feature, even if you upload the cover hours later.

While Smashwords distributes a .mobi edition of eBooks (along with other formats) that works on the Kindle eReader, Amazon itself does not pick up that edition and distribute it. So, an author must make an arrangement with Amazon itself, and must reformat the work according to Amazon’s style guide. So, I did that with Catechetical Evangelism in the Newspaper.

Then Amazon notifies me that this book also could be reformatted again into a paperback edition. I wondered why anyone would want to pay for a paperback edition of a book originally distributed as an eBook for free, but maybe there are some who prefer paper. Besides, I admit, I wanted to see how it would look. So I reformatted it again, and indeed, Amazon did release it as a paperback. At first, my cover design for the paperback was not very good, and I muffed the formatting of the title page. So I had to fix those things, and wait for the fixes to take effect.

Well, that took effect yesterday, and now already today, Amazon has tagged it as “#1 New Release in Catechism.” Do you believe that? I am skeptical. Seems more like trying to hype something into reality. I certainly hope it does not mean that so few books in the topic of Catechisms are purchased that this one really is the #1 new title in the topic. If that is true, we have work to do. Help me drive my book down in the rankings, by buying other great books in the topic of Catechisms on Amazon. Here is a starter list for you.

Martin Luther’s Catechisms: Forming the Faith, by Timothy J. Wengert.

Luther’s Large Catechism: With Study Questions, Paul T. McCain, Editor

Praying Luther’s Small Catechism, by John T. Pless

That I May Be His Own: An Overview of Luther’s Catechisms, by Charles Arand

Studying Luther’s Large Catechism: A Workbook for Christian Discipleship, by Ryan C. MacPherson

Teaching God’s Children His Teaching: A guide for the study of Luther’s Catechism, by Robert Kolb

How to Teach Luther’s Small Catechism, by H. J. Boettcher

What’s That Supposed To Mean?, by James A. Lucas

Teaching Luther’s Catechism, by Herbert Girgensohn

Teaching Luther’s Catechism II, by Herbert Girgensohn

Amazon Distributes Paperback Edition of Catechetical Evangelism in the Newspaper

Previously available only as an eBook, Catechetical Evangelism in the Newspaper now is available as a paperback from Amazon. Because of costs of production and the mandatory terms of distribution through Amazon, this edition has a price, currently $3.59. But, the good news is that it qualifies for Amazon Prime, which means shipping is free. All but one of the eBook editions still are free, and the Kindle Edition on Amazon is $0.99, or $0.00 with KindleUnlimited.


Evangelism springs from Luther’s Small Catechism into the newspaper. This book shares from the author’s experiences in writing religion articles published in his local newspaper. It presents ideas about catechetical evangelism and newspaper evangelism. It explains an approach to writing catechetical newspaper articles and includes three dozen of the author’s published articles as examples of the approach.



Evangelism and the Small Catechism
– Reformation of the Catechism
– Evangelical Even Where Not Expected
– Throbbing with Genius; Ready to Give an Answer

Newspaper Evangelism
– Fountain of Ideas
– Have Something to Say
– Welcome Your New Friend: the Word Limit
– Wisdom Cries Out in the Street
– Interest and Illustration
– Inspiration and Perspiration
– Confessional Fidelity

Example Newspaper Articles
– Christ’s State of Humiliation
– Christ’s State of Exaltation
– Trinity
– Baptism

For a description of the various eBooks formats and a linked list of distributors of Catechetical Evangelism in the Newspaper as an eBook, click here.

Catechism Bible Illustrations — Part 2b — The Second Article of the Creed

This is a table of Bible illustrations to help parents, teachers, and pastors illuminate truths taught in the Small Catechism.

Links to parts:

Part 2 – The Creed

Part 2b – The Second Article – Redemption

“Jesus Christ, true God”

Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary (Matthew 1:18-25)
The Holy Spirit will come upon you (Luke 1:26-38)
The transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8)
The load of fish that started sinking the boat (Luke 5:5-11)
Jesus sees Nathaniel under the fig tree (John 1:43-51)
The woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:16-26)
Jesus knows his betrayer (Matthew 26:20-25)
Jesus predicts his death and resurrection (Luke 18:31-34)
The man carrying a pitcher of water (Luke 22:1-13)
Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-11)
Jesus rebukes a storm (Luke 8:22-25)
Jesus heals a paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8)
Jesus raises Lazarus from death (John 11:38-44)
The centurion’s confession (Matthew 27:51-54)

“Jesus Christ, also true Man”

Jesus is born of Mary (Luke 2:1-21)
Son of Man came eating and drinking (Matthew 11:18-19)
Jesus appears to his disciples (Luke 24:36-43)
Thomas sees the print of the nails (John 20:24-26)

“Who has redeemed me”

The chastisement of our peace was upon him (Isaiah 53)
As Moses lifted up the serpent (Number 21:4-9, John 3:14-17)
Trial before Pilate (John 18:28 to 19:16)
Why have you forsaken me (Psalm 22)
Jesus on the cross (Matthew 27:33-56, Mark 15:21-41, Luke 23:26-49, John 23-30)
Better covenant, sanctuary, sacrifice, priest (Hebrews 9)

“His innocent suffering”

Temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11)
Jesus Christ pays tribute (Matthew 17:24-27)
To do your will, O Lord (Hebrews 10:5-10)
Temptation in Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46)

“A lost and condemned person”

The fall into sin (Genesis 3)
Effects of the fall (Romans 3:9-23)

Who died

Jesus yields up his spirit (Matthew 27:45-50)
Jesus breathed his last (Mark 15:33-37)
Blood and water came from Jesus’ pierced side (John 19:28-37)

Who was buried

Joseph of Arimathea buries Jesus in his new tomb
(Matthew 27:57-65, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 13:50-55, John 19:38-42)

He rose again from the dead

He is not here, for He is risen (Matthew 28:1-10)
The empty tomb (John20)

He ascended into heaven

A cloud took him out of their sight (Acts 1:6-11)

Sits at the right hand of the Father

Jesus prays for us (John 17:16-26)
He always lives to make intercession (Hebrews 7:11-28)

From thence He will come

Look, the bridegroom is coming (Matthew 25:1-13)
Signs of the last times (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21)
The Lord himself will descend from heaven (1Thessalonians 4:13-18)

To judge the living and the dead

As a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46)
In the last days, perilous times will come (2 Timothy 3:1-9)
The falling away comes first (2 Thessalonians 2)
Some to everlasting life, some to shame and contempt (Daniel 12)

“That I may live under him in his kingdom”

Jesus enters Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9)
Are You the King of the Jews (John 18:33-38)
I have set my King on the holy hill of Zion (Psalm 2)
The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness (Psalm 24)
He who sits on the throne will dwell among them (Revelation 7:9-17)