MARSHALL - The history of religion can be a complicated subject, even for those who have studied it for many years.
On Monday, 45 Marshall High School students in Rick Purrington's Advanced Placement European history class had the opportunity to enhance their understanding of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and its impact on the Protestant and Catholic churches of today as guest speakers, the Rev. Paul Wolf from Holy Redeemer Church and the Rev. Amber Ingalsbe from St. Stephen Lutheran Church, led a discussion in the media center.
"I'm not a theologian, so I can't speak from that perspective for students," Purrington said. "I can speak from a historical perspective that the textbook offers, but what I can't give the students a religious perspective on the events. It also allows the students to see how something that happened almost 500 years ago, still rings true for two people and their congregations today."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
The Rev. Amber Ingalsbe of St. Stephen Lutheran Church, left, and the Rev. Paul Wolf of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church were guest speakers Monday in Rick Purrington’s Advanced Placement European history class at Marshall High School.
Wolf made sure one thing was clear, though.
"We don't have all the answers," Wolf said.
Ingalsbe explained that Martin Luther didn't set out to separate the church.
"Luther thought that no one understood his interpretation yet," she said. "He didn't want people following him."
Wolf explained that politics had played a huge role in the split.
"The split happened because of politics," he said. "They had to decide where to pay taxes to, so it ended up being a political movement. There's so much politics that go on in churches."
Senior Emily DeSchepper said she found the discussion to be beneficial.
"I thought it was very helpful in understanding the differences between the churches and what happened during the Reformation," DeSchepper said. "It was nice to see the Lutheran perspective because I'm Catholic. It was an eye-opener, but they're not that different."
The AP class begins at a time when there is corruption in the Catholic church, so Purrington makes sure students understand.
"I tell them that I might be insulting some of you, but I'm talking about a Catholic church of 450-500 years ago," Purrington said. "I'm not talking about today's church. It does require a number of disclaimers whenever you talk about religion. But we talk about the history of it, not the theology of it."
The concept of "grace" was debated from different viewpoints, as was the belief in predestination. Wolf quoted from the Book of James.
"Show me how you live your life," Wolf said. "Catholics live out the grace."
A student asked Wolf if a murderer was condemned in the eyes of the church.
"Each day, we make a choice, a commitment to God," Wolf said. "If you make a mistake, I believe it can be restored, but you have to make up for it."
When asked whether the Book of James contradicted John 3:16, Wolf said there was no simple statement for salvation.
"You don't become a teacher just by stating it," he said. "And, you can't just say you belong to the football team and then not show up for practice or do anything."
When a student asked, Ingalsbe said that Luther hated the Book of James. She also explained that the Bible is considered a fluid notion, even today.
"We wouldn't look to James," Ingalsbe said. "Lutherans always look to grace first. Everything good we do, we believe God is at work in us."
Ingalsbe said that there are still differences in the way each denomination approaches faith and Scriptures. Wolf clarified that they have more in common than different.
"Grace is really important to us," Ingalsbe said. "But we honor both."
Wolf pointed out that not everyone should teach Scripture.
"I'm not a medical doctor, so you wouldn't want me to do surgery on you," he said. "Not every opinion is as valid as others."
There was some discussion centered around how churches view tradition.
"We value tradition, but not to the same value of Scripture," Ingalsbe said. "What's in the Bible is more important than something like worship tradition."
One student asked where tradition came from.
"Did it come from Scriptures or did it just appear?" he said.
Both guest speakers explained the differences in the interpretation of baptism, whether the tradition originated with the baptizing of adults or infants.
"It was nice to be able to have this discussion in an academic setting," student Bo Erickson said. "I liked getting a two-fold opinion, with the Lutherans versus the Catholics. It was interesting, and they put it in a real-world setting."
Wolf said that the two churches don't differ on the New Testament, but they do on the Old Testament. He also identified with the Islam and Muslim religions.
"The Christian Scriptures are similar to part of the Koran," he said. "The first five books are the same as ours."
In later chapters of the class, students will get into the 17th and 18th century history.
"That's when you start seeing a lot of questioning of religion and an embracing of science," Purrington said. "When the scientific revolution hits religion, you end up with a number of conflicts. We talk about Galileo and his conflict with the church and a number of other people. Religion comes up constantly, so we can't talk about the history of Europe without talking about religion."
After the discussion time was over, students handed in three questions each. The following day, students were required to hand in a reflection essay on what they learned.
"When the guest speakers were talking about the differences within the two churches, that really brought the history alive for the students, to see that it is happening today," Purrington said.