The Reformer’s Pastor

Today the church remembers a 16th Century reformer who pastored The Reformer: Saint Johannes Bugenhagen, Pastor, Reformer, and Person of Unending Patience.

We should just get this out of the way at the beginning: St. Bugenhagen was Martin Luther’s pastor and the pastor of St. Mary’s Lutheran Church in Wittenberg. And, look, if you can imagine a more irritable or irritating parishioner than Martin Luther…well…I cannot. So blessings to this guy already!

Born in Pomerania in 1485, Bugenhagen was smart, well educated, and a beneficiary of necessity: there weren’t any theologians to be ordained, and he happened to be smart enough to pass as one, and so he was ordained a priest in 1509. He began teaching Bible courses at Belbuck Abbey, and in 1520 he picked up a little pamphlet entitled Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church by an exiled fellow priest, Martin Luther, and thought it was largely rubbish.

He eventually, though, became warm to the idea (perhaps his heart was strangely warmed?) and in 1521 moved to Wittenberg to support the growing Reformation in person.

Bugenhagen quickly grew into his Reformation role and was drafted into Luther’s writing team, tackling the daunting task of translating the entire Bible into German. He used his scholarly knowhow to take on Ulrich Zwingli in the inter-Reformation arguments, and he became a sought after lecturer and teacher in his own right.

Along with all this, he had to listen to Martin Luther’s confessions which, legend has it, were long and detailed. Bless.

Bugenhagen’s leadership is still felt today as it was he who ordained that first new cadre of Lutheran pastors into this fledgling movement of a church. He became one of the first three protestant doctors of theology, sponsored and paid for by Frederick III, Luther’s patron and protector.

While Luther took to traveling and speaking, Bugenhagen tended the ship at home in Northern Germany and Scandinavia, piloting the new church into a new frontier. He organized and wrote the rules for new church plants throughout the region, effectively becoming a Bishop for the parishes that sprang up in the Reformer’s wake. Under his influence the church in Denmark-Norway lost their Apostolic Succession as it was Bugenhagen, and not the local Roman bishop, who crowned Christian III and ordained local pastors. He was derisively called “The Second Apostle of the North,” but the name, though a bit of a slur, was true: he not only set up new rules for the churches in the area, he actually got leadership and the locals to follow the rules and fall in love with them.

He moved hearts, not just heads.

And all the while he had to listen to Blessed Martin Luther’s confessions. Bless him.

When Saint Martin died in 1546 it was Saint Bugenhagen who took care of Kadi and Luther’s children, faithful to his friend and parishioner to the end.

Saint Johannes Bugenhagen died on this date in 1558. He was more than just a pastor, but an influencer, and a brilliant community organizer. He knew how to get people together for a common goal and meet that goal…he deserves to be studied if only for that amazing gift.

And I would bet a large sum of money that most Lutherans, though we’ve lived eating the fruits of his labor for our entire lives, didn’t even know about him (or much about him) until reading this. I didn’t know much about him until I went to seminary, and my love for him primarily came from my Church History professor who, bless his German heart, loved him.

Saint Johannes Bugenhagen is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that in the shadows of great people we often find great people who quietly move mountains.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-information gleaned from public sources and from the memory banks of Church History II (thanks, Dr. Hendel)

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