Stewardship Resource

How Luther on DVD Might Grow Stewards

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  • Author: Salt 2005
  • Updated: 07/17/2009
  • Copyright: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Any part of Salt Seasonings can be reproduced with attribution. All Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV).

This articles gives a description of the movie while provides reflection for understanding the messages of stewardship that are present within the movie.  The article speaks of Biblical references and allows the reader to see the messages of Stewardship more clearly.

How Might Luther on DVD Grow Stewards

The feature film LUTHER had a successful run in theaters during the fall of 2003, and was released on DVD and VHS earlier this winter.  Thrivent Financial for Lutherans made significant investments in the film, and recently a study guide was released for use in homes and congregations.  That resource has a number of interesting conversation guides--put "Luther movie study guides" into a search engine to find it, or contact your Thrivent representative--but let's spend a few minutes examining how the film might grow stewards in your congregation.

The opening scene shows a young Luther caught in a violent thunderstorm.  It's the famous incident that leads to Luther's promise to become a monk.  Luther's snap decision in a thunderstorm ended up changing the world.  But that decision was not made under ideal conditions, was it?

How often are stewardship decisions made because we are in a jam?  A pastor in Florida tells his congregation that he doesn't believe in spontaneous tithing.  Think about that term:  giving the 10% that Scripture talks about in a way that included no forethought.  In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul suggests a different standard:  "On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come." Unlike Luther's decision in the thunderstorm, our giving should be thought out in advance.

If consumer data and surveys like those done by people like George Barna are to be believed, giving decisions most often go in the other direction.  Lots of givers pay all their bills and obligations first and then drop whatever is left over in the offering plate.  That evaluation stereotypically happens as the plate starts it's trip down the giver's row.  Certainly a spontaneous giving decision, but once again running counter to Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 16.

The LUTHER film does suggest some solid motivations for giving.  There is a scene about 25 minutes into the film of a young Luther--newly consecrated as a monk and fresh from saying his first mass--praying his way up the steps of St. Peter's basilica in Rome.  He has purchased an indulgence to gain a relative's entrance into heaven.  When Luther reaches the top, a puzzled look settles onto his face.  A moment later, Luther visits sacred relics and has the same reaction when he is rushed from the room.

Here's the thing:  throughout the first part of the film, Luther challenges the church to re-direct it's giving to more God glorifying opportunities.  The funds that believers hand over for indulgences go to re-build and improve the basilica.  Luther wrestles with the financial connection between the heavenly freedom his relative will experience and the building of the huge structure in Rome.  How does your congregation settle the same challenge?  What is the relationship your congregation promises between giving and spiritual freedom?  What does your congregation promise giving will accomplish?  How is giving related to building a building in your congregation?

Luther summed up his objections to fundraising and building a structure in the 95 thesis.  The practice of selling indulgences ran completely counter to God's grace in Luther's eyes and he demanded accountability from the church.  His A Sermon on Grace and the Selling of Indulgences was one of the key statements on which Luther was demanded to recant during the Diet at Worms--which is also depicted beautifully in the film.  His stance centered on the scriptural tenet that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8), and that financial giving had nothing to do with gaining entrance to heaven.  How does your congregation handle questions of motivation for giving?  How does your congregation build on Luther's example of standing for God's grace?  How could an explanation of this scene in Luther's life impact financial giving in your congregation?

Luther's rival John Tetzel provides another powerful stewardship message in the film.  As the pope's messenger--and chief fundraiser--he arrives in Wartburg to sell indulgences and delivers a dramatic appeal in the town's square. The very next scene shows Tetzel preaching a passionate sermon in a beautifully adorned sanctuary. "When a coin in the coffer rings," Tetzel purrs, "a soul from purgatory springs.  Good sir, do you have a coin for Christ?"  A confident male voice answers "yes" without missing a beat.  Tetzel has been authorized to offer a sale on indulgences, and the town's people are lapping up the promised heavenly freedom.

The film spares no detail for dramatic impact in this scene.  Tetzel is wonderfully played by Alfred Molina--the evil villain in the latest SpiderMan film--and lighting, music and sound are emphasized to great effect.  Which points out a parallel--how does your congregation ask for growth in giving?  The character of John Tetzel connects with every member of that congregation and inspires a great round of giving, but fear with a side order of guilt as his primary motivator.  What motivators does your congregation use?  (See Reflections on Life Management below for some thoughts on appropriate motivators.)  How does your congregation connect with individual givers in an effort to encourage growth in giving?  How does your congregation use sound, music and lighting to connect?

Leaving the theater after seeing the LUTHER movie, a man commented to his wife "That was really just a stewardship film.  I didn't know that Luther took so many solid stewardship positions."  Consider picking up a copy an looking for stewardship messages as a congregational activity!

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