by Marcia Hahn
Reposted from the January 2015 STAR
This year marks the 600th anniversary of the execution of Jan Hus, a Czech priest, and reformer who believed that scripture, instead of the Pope, should be used as the most important authority of the church. Hus’ beliefs echoed those expressed by John Wycliffe, a reformer born 40 years before him, and influenced Martin Luther, who posted The Ninety-Five Theses more than 100 years after Hus was born.

Bold leadership has been an earmark of the church of the reformation since the 14th century, and that legacy continues to strengthen Northeastern Iowa Synod rostered leaders in their ministries today.

“On a basic level, every rostered leader is called into a situation where someone worked there before,” says Kit Kleinhans, a Wartburg College professor of religion who holds the Mike and Marge McCoy Family Distinguished Chair in Lutheran Heritage and Mission. “It’s important to honor that work and recognize that what we are able to accomplish is, in part, because of the people who came before us, like Luther and Hus.”
Hus stood firm in his belief that Christianity needed to focus on a more Biblical understanding of the church, rather than the pope as all powerful ruler.  Hus asserted that Jesus gave bread and wine to everyone at the last supper, and the church should do the same.

“This seems like a little thing to us today, but that was a really big change back then,” Kleinhans explains. “In the Catholic Church, they continued to give only bread to lay people until the 1960s.”

Hus’ ideas caught on in the Czech region, but were critical of the authority of church leadership and resulted in him being summoned to the Council of Constance to defend his views. Hus was promised that he could have the conversation and nothing bad would happen to him. According to Kleinhans, Hus essentially told the Council that if they could show him in the Bible where his views were wrong, he would listen. They couldn’t show him that, but he could show them in the Bible where his views were correct. The Council found Hus guilty of heresy, threw him in jail and sentenced him to be burned alive at the stake.
Hus was part of a stream of people who were trying to reform the church but weren’t successful. Luther had the benefit of political protection, and wars and other conflicts during Luther’s time made dealing with church issues less of a priority for the Emperor, so Luther wasn’t killed. He was able to start a different kind of Christianity and change the church and the world.

“Nobody wants to be killed, but part of the behavior with Hus and Luther is that what they believed in was more important than their desire to be liked or popular,” Kleinhans said. “Hus’ bold leadership was that he was willing to go against the grain, stand up under a lot of pressure for what he thought was right, and put his life on the line for what he believed.”

Kleinhans points out that people are always influenced by those who came before them and who shaped their views. “The question is when our time comes, are we going to do what needs to be done?”

Very few church leaders today are in situations where their lives are on the line, but Kleinhans cites the Ebola crisis as a good example of mission and medical personnel who understand their calling to care for others with Ebola.

“It can put their own lives at risk, but they do what they have been called to do,” she says. “Their own life isn’t what’s most important; their calling to serve others is, and sometimes that’s risky.”

Bishop Steven Ullestad describes bold leaders as people who listen to God, to the people they are called to serve, and to those in need who are not part of the church.
People in need of healing and liberation and hope are listened to, and bold leaders are compelled to respond and take action,” Ullestad says. “The work and witness of this kind of leadership continues even beyond death, in the same way, that those who were inspired by Jan Hus continued his work for generations after his martyrdom until the next bold leader, Martin Luther, was called to renew the church.”
In this synod, Kleinhans cites the response in Postville to help families affected by the 2008 immigration raid as an example of bold leadership. The recent statement on immigration from the Conference of Bishops is another example of being bold. “People may not agree, but that’s not an excuse not to say or do something,” Kleinhans says.

A challenge for rostered leaders, Kleinhans suggests, is to look at how they are empowering and equipping others.

“Our preaching and teaching does make a difference, and sometimes we’re not always around to see it,” Kleinhans says. “Hus was killed, but his followers were so committed to his principles and communion that they really fought for that. It shows that a good leader creates followers, so you’re not the lone ranger doing this yourself. If you’re empowering others, you’re an effective leader.”
To learn more about what other Reformation leaders we will be lifting up during the next 5 years, see Looking to Our Past as We Move to the Future

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.

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