Martin Luther vs. David Oakerhater

"It's not fair!" We sometimes hear such complaints about Lent Madness. And..of course it's not fair. Which is why we call this little devotion Lent MADNESS and not Lent FAIRNESS. Thus, we end up with matchups such as today's that pit a well-known Reformer of the Middle Ages against a lesser known late 19th, early 20th century Native-American convert to Christianity. So while all may be fair in love and war, all is decidedly not fair in Lent Madness.

Yesterday, to further illustrate this point, was the Battle of the Augustines aka Augustine Anarchy. Going into this matchup one thing was crystal clear: Augustine would emerge victorious. In this case Augustine of Canterbury bested Augustine of Hippo 57% to 43% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen.

And if you missed yesterday's epic edition of Monday Madness, you can watch it here. Tim and Scott discuss the week ahead and answer some very pertinent viewer mail.

Martin Luther

Just before the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Arts & Entertainment Network (A&E) compiled a list of the 100 most influential people of the millennium. A sixteenth-century former monk from a small town in Germany would have been very surprised to find himself ranked number three on this list!

Born in 1483, Luther’s parents encouraged him to study law. But in 1505, he was caught in a terrible thunderstorm while returning to the university from a trip home. Fearing for his life, Luther pledged to become a monk if his life were spared. He survived the stormy night and honored his commitment.

Luther served as a monk, university professor, and parish priest. As he studied, taught, and preached, he became increasingly distressed by what he saw as pernicious failures of the Roman Catholic Church. Among the most troubling were the selling of indulgences (paying to receive pardons for sins), a focus on vocation as being under the sole purview of those called to religious life, the insistence upon clerical celibacy, and the crippling lack of faith formation among the common people.

The posting of his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, is commonly regarded as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Five hundred years later, we can clearly see his legacy. He was intent on making worship the center of the life of the Church, including excellent preaching and music, and focused his teaching and preaching on God’s grace. He admonished priests to teach parents how to make their homes the center of childhood faith formation by using his Small Catechism. Luther called for an end to corruption in the Church, especially through the sale of indulgences, and translated the Bible into the German vernacular, allowing common, literate people to read the word of God in their mother tongue.

His marriage to former nun Katarina von Bora and the lively home they created together offered a space for Luther and other scholars to debate around the kitchen table while enjoying Katarina’s generous hospitality. Martin Luther died in 1546, but his influence continues to echo mightily across new generations, as they discover his theology of a grace-filled God.

Collect for Martin Luther 
Almighty God, gracious Lord, we thank you that your Holy Spirit renews the church in every age. Pour out your Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your word, protect and comfort them in times of trial, defend them against all enemies of the gospel and bestow on the church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

— Beth Lewis

David Oakerhater

Making Medicine (O-kuh-ha-tuh), also known as David Pendleton Oakerhater, was born into the Cheyenne nation (Oklahoma Territory) around 1847. He participated in his first war party at a young age, and over time, he gained a reputation among the Cheyenne as a skilled warrior.

Making Medicine first came into conflict with the United States after a retaliatory raid on poaching settlers. The US government responded to the Cheyenne with a war of attrition to deprive the Cheyenne and other affiliated tribes of food and supplies. By 1875, Making Medicine and several fellow warriors surrendered to the United States at Fort Sill. A group of seventy-four of those who surrendered were arrested, detained without trial, and moved to Saint Augustine, Florida. Making Medicine and his fellow captives were forced to assimilate into American society. At Fort Marion, he and his fellow captives learned English, taught art and archery lessons, and had their first encounters with Christian missionaries. By 1877 Episcopal deaconness Mary Douglass Burnham made arrangements to sponsor the remaining Cheyenne prisoners for positions of service in the church.

Making Medicine was sponsored by Alice and George H. Pendleton and brought to Paris Hill, New York, where he became affiliated with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Under the guidance of the parish priest, he was educated in the scriptures and baptized in 1878, taking the name David from the Bible and Pendleton in honor of his sponsors. His theological formation continued, and in 1881 he was confirmed and ordained as a deacon.

Not long after, Oakerhater returned to Oklahoma as a missionary and took part in the founding of schools and missions, including those in Bridgeport and Whirlwind. He continued serving his people until his death in 1931. Upon his return to Oklahoma, he told the Cheyenne, “You all know me. You remember when I led you out to war I went first, and what I told you was true. Now I have been away to the East and I have learned about another captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is my leader. He goes first, and all he tells me is true. I come back to my people to tell you to go with me now in this new road, a war that makes all for peace.”

Collect for David Oakerhater
O God of unsearchable wisdom and infinite mercy, you chose a captive warrior, David Oakerhater, to be your servant, and sent him to be a missionary to his own people, and to exercise the office of a deacon among them: Liberate us, who commemorate him today, from bondage to self, and empower us for service to you and to the neighbors you have given us; through Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

— David Sibley

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Martin Luther—Lucas Cranach the Elder, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
David Oakerhater—By A.B. Gardner, Utica, NY, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons


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269 comments on “Martin Luther vs. David Oakerhater”

  1. I first learned about (and loved) David Oakerhater in Lent Madness 2015, and am glad to see he's back! It is a pleasure to vote for him again. Go, Making Medicine!

    1. How could David Oakerhater, with his humble desire for holiness, be losing to Martin Luther? By turning Nominalism into the mainstream philosophy of the Church, Luther began the destruction of the Church's vision of God as the Beautiful Mystery in whom we are called to participate, and replaced Him as a dogmatic Lawgiver who we appease by vain individualism.

      1. Totally disagree about Luther. While I love the mystery of God, I also love what Luther gave us: a God who was not approachable only by trained clergy but one whom everyone could know, who loves us, who stands at the center of the family, and whom we can celebrate simply in joy and song and laughter and the simple pleasures of everyday life as well as in the great mysteries.

        1. Yes, I too found the dismissive comments about Martin sad. His main impetus was the utterly corrupt state of the authorities at that time, and they adamantly declined to consider the possibility that they might need reform. His change of focus from legalism to simply being saved by believing was certainly revolutionary for its time. I also think that this man is the most warmly remembered of all of the reformers, something that counts for a great deal.
          As a musician, I also love his insistence on appropriating and using great tunes, and the heck with where they came from. "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?" he supposedly once said.
          Why indeed!?!?

        2. I completely agree with your thoughts. Saved by grace--3 years of Lutheran confirmation classes:) But am very happy with our 40 years in the Episcopal Church.

      2. Luther's theology of the cross; his acceptance of the paradox of both/and in so much of his theology: sinner/saint; God hidden/revealed; two kingdoms; the mixed character of Scripture shows him more open to mystery than many who came after. I could wish that Luther had not privileged the metaphor of forensic justification above all the other ways to talk about our salvation, but my overall impression is that the theologian who loved good music; kept the Eucharist central to worship, and threw an inkwell at the devil was open to God who cold be experience in both mystery and in revelation.

      3. Martin Luther followed right in the steps of Paul of Tarsus and Augustine of Hippo. "Someone somewhere is happy and having fun, and we must put the quietus on THAT!

  2. In this 500th anniversary year, I had to vote for Martin Luther. Especially as I am soon to make a pilgrimage to Wittenburg in Germany in a few weeks.

    1. I agree. In this 500th anniversary year, we honor Luther. He certainly wasn't perfect, but his work continues to influence us today.

  3. I've got Luther going to the final. He is a great example of how we should carry our Christian mission within the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. (Episcopal seminarian here, while still proud of my Lutheran upbringing)

    1. I'm with you on this one. Martin Luther is my choice to go all the way to the finals. Just think how brave it was to post those 95 Theses! Go Martin!

  4. I must vote for Making Medicine as a step in my commitment to reconciliation with First Nations Peoples.

    1. I'm torn because there was so much pressure on Native Americans to give up their cultures, including their religions, and that makes it hard for me to vote for some of the missionary saints. I will have to research David Oakerhater a little more on my own before deciding.

      1. I voted for David Oakerhater. Of the two men, he had to change himself the most. What does Christ ask us to do? Give up our old life and be born anew. Oakerhater did this. Luther followed a scholarly path, and merely changed from law to theology. David, on the other hand, was a Cherokee warrior--- how did that change happen in him? How can I turn so completely to Jesus? Can I?
        I love that he returned to his home in Oklahoma. Well, we all know how that turned out for the Cherokee. Despite the travails of Native Americans, David ministers to his people, teaching a new way in Christ.
        What did it take for David to change?

        1. I voted for Luther, but this is the best argument for Making Medicine aka "David Oakerhater" that I've heard. I HATE that anglicized transliteration of his Cherokee name, translation is better.

        2. Thank you, Susan, for voicing my thoughts! David's transformation inspires all of us to truly allow Holy Spirit to make us "new creations in Christ!" Even though David is lagging behind in the votes, he walks forward in my book!

      2. Holly, I have this same struggle. I feel sad for David that his transformation came at the cost of his original culture, and the struggle that precipitated it was based on manifest destiny.

      1. Forced albeit! Is it not Christ within us. Amazing to see God amongst the displaced, and even more to see traditional Native spirituality become strong and interwoven in our fellowship!

      2. While Martin is very important to the move to reform the Church, Oakerhater brought the word of God to the Native People of our country. I must go with Oakerhater!

    1. Agreed. In the end, I thought if not for Martin Luther, Making Medicine might not have come to his conversion.

  5. I agree; it is a terribly lopsided matchup. There is much to admire in David Oakerhater, but the great Martin Luther has to get my vote.

  6. I really wish David Oakerhater had been put up against someone else in this first round - I would have loved to vote for him.

    Martin Luther had such a great impact on the structure that was (in my observation) killing Christianity by what they were busy doing as "the church"... he earned my vote.

    1. Agree. Luther began the reformation of the church . He deserves to win
      But really would like to have seen Oakerhater up against a less known person

      1. Technically the Protestant Refor ation began 70 years earlier with Jan Hus and the oravians.

  7. David Oakerhater all the way! I love his inspiring story, especially as he is from nearby Oklahoma. He is an example of the saint that lies within each of us, even those caught in the worst of circumstances. Also, I got to stick with the deacons. Oakerhater vs. Stephen in the final round?

  8. I wish I could vote for both men because they both exemplify the wisdom of seeing a better way , following it, and encouraging others to do likewise. I'll have to go for Martin Luther while tipping my hat reverently to David Oakerhater.

    1. My sentiments also - in this tough match-up, much as I respect and admire Making Medicine, I just have to go with Luther.

  9. Both of these men were determined to make Christianity more accessible and relevant to the people around them. While David Oakerhater's story is amazing since it seems that Christianity was forced on him (I thought it was pretty amazing when I read about it in Lent Madness 2015), I had to vote for for Martin Luther. His story spoke to me and I think I would have liked to be one of those around his table discussing theology.

  10. Internet is acting weird due to the storm. Indie not mean to vote twice, if I did. Please do not cast me out!

  11. You're right. This is not fair! I know what Martin did changed organized religion, but my vote went to David, a man taken from his home but still having the faith to find God and return home to make a difference.

  12. I voted for David Oakerhater because he was defeated in war, and kidnapped from his people, and still managed to find a moral, hopeful way through his life.

    1. I totally agree with Alan, "he was defeated in war, and kidnapped from his people, and still managed to find a moral, hopeful way through his life".

  13. I found David Oakerhater's story compelling in a time when people seem to be unwilling to listen and hear opinion's other than their own. He sounds like a good man from beginning to end, and was willing to listen to new information when it came his way. I wish I could see how his conversion would go down in social media today. My guess is that it would be diced and spliced to be shown as some sort of oppression. God works in ways we don't understand.

  14. This combination was unfair to David. A Episcopal church I believe has been known for helping the American Indians I'm a big supporter of our Indian tribes so had to vote for David. Sorry Martin .

  15. The collect for David Oakerhater was the final impetus to vote for him. "Liberate us, who commemorate him today, from bondage to self, and empower us for service to you and to the neighbors you have given us..."

  16. I find I must abstain from this round of Lent Madness.
    I cannot vote for Luther despite his importance to the Reformation, because of his writings against the Jews, recommending the burning of all synagogues and Jewish homes, banishing if possible, forbidding rabbis to teach, forbidding all Jews to praise God in public (that is, worship as Jews), or to teach; that they be forbidden safe conduct on roads and highways; refusing to offer Jews food, drink, shelter, or any neighborly treatment; and so on. Setting Luther in his historical context (I am a historian) does nothing to erase Luther's reaction to Jews' general refusal to convert to Christianity. There's no question of his not understanding the suffering engendered by his recommendations; indeed, that is precisely Luther's aim.
    As to David Oakerhater: While I'd happily vote for a Native American to be part of the next round of Lent Madness, I can't in good conscience vote for someone -- even a Native American -- who took enthusiastic part in the attempt to destroy indigenous languages and cultures. While I understand the mission of spreading the faith, the unfortunate fact is that in most cases, when it came to missions to First Nations peoples in the Americas, this was accompanied by cultural genocide on top of the actual genocide that had already occurred and was continuing.
    For those reasons, I'm sitting out this round. I look forward to tomorrow's choice.

    1. Thanks for all this information! I too could not vote for Luther because of his anti Semitism as well as a few other things that really bother me. I did vote for Oakerhater, but you make a very valid point regarding indigenous people's language. Although it doesn't seem to be as intentional as the damage Luther inflicted. Thanks for your post!

      1. Most Lutherans are surprised that Luther authored, "On Jews and Their Lies" in 1543. In the 1994 Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the Jewish Community, the ELCA states "Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people." All of this just underlines Simul justus et peccator, simultaneously Saint and Sinner, applies to all of us, even Martin Luther.

    2. Sofie, what a thoughtful and informative response. I'm glad I read your post before I voted. And now, I'm not sure I will. Thank you.

    3. Good reasons for abstaining, Sofie. Luther's unmentioned anti-Semitism bothered me. And I, too, see where the Christian mission to First Nations people contributed to their destruction. The saints are sinners,too.

      1. The Christian mission to First Nations people did not always contribute to their destruction. The first Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, the Rt. Rev. Mr. Whipple, was tenacious in convincing President Lincoln to spare the lives of quite a number of the Sioux/Lakota/Dakota. Read the excellent book Lincoln's Bishop for more on this important work of Bishop Whipple (who should be given a bracket berth in Lent Madness 2018).

    4. I hear you, Sophie. I researched Luther's anti-Semitism and found this: "Luther . . . proposed seven measures of “sharp mercy” that German princes could take against Jews: (1) burn their schools and synagogues; (2) transfer Jews to community settlements; (3) confiscate all Jewish literature, which was blasphemous; (4) prohibit rabbis to teach, on pain of death; (5) deny Jews safe-conduct, so as to prevent the spread of Judaism; (6) appropriate their wealth and use it to support converts and to prevent the lewd practice of usury; (7) assign Jews to manual labor as a form of penance." (Eric Gritsch, Christianity Today) This is troubling indeed!

      And I agree with Sofie's concerns about Oakerhater. I have mixed feelings about conversion-oriented mission work and its subsequent eradication of "inferior" cultures and world views. However, I NEVER abstain from voting, so I'm voting for David in the vain hope of saving my bracket. I can't resist the underdog!

      1. I am sorry for casting my vote for Luther and would love a do over. So,probably would he.

        1. I feel the same; wish I had read this discussion first:( - will the Supreme Executive Committee weigh in???

    5. Thank you for a thorough treatment of the lesser known sides of both. I'm grateful for all comments which add to our knowledge of each day's "contestants."

    6. Hear hear! I like Luther's contribution to the world of church music, but not his theology. Oakerhater sounded like a good choice, but he was involved in establishing those horrid schools. A Navajo friend of mine still has nightmares about the she attended. Abstain I must.

      1. In my class on Literary Studies, we listened to Luther's "Eine Feiste Burg" this morning. Rousing. (This is not a comment about how I voted; I have trouble with the anti-Semitism, too.)

    7. Wish I had know this before I voted. I had never thought of abstaining in certain votes, but I will keep this in mind. Thank you for the info.

      1. Just keep that vote abstaining limited to things like Lent Madness. Do not let it spread to civil elections. Voter apathy is dangerous to American democracy.

    8. Sophie - I appreciate your thoughts on today's "contestants" and wish I had read this before I voted. However, I ultimately voted David Oakerhater and feel better about that choice than I would have about Martin Luther after reading your post. Oakerhater was forced to join the church and turn his back on his native culture, but made the best of an otherwise despicable situation he was placed in.

    9. Thanks for this, Sophie. I, like so many who have commented, am having the same internal debate. However, I am going to vote for Oakerhater because he returned to his home to help teach his people to navigate the new invasive culture being imposed upon them.

    10. I am aghast, Sofie. There's much I dislike about Luther, but I had never heard of his virulent hatred of the Jews. Jesus, a Jew, must have wept.

    11. Wow! Whew! Some really astounding information here regarding Luther's position on the Jewish people. I certainly knew I wouldn't be voting for him prior to seeing Sofie's comments but I did cast my vote for Oakerhater although I agree with much of what Sofie stated. The difference for me is that he was basically stolen from his people and forced into Christianity. Then...he was saved by grace. Basically a very sad, sad bio but for the grace of God.

  17. Very unfair match up! However, to throw in another thought, sure to be considered heretical by some, Martin Luther under the guise of reforming the church, actually split it. David Oakerhater, "Making Medicine," built it up

  18. Despite his important work I can't vote for an anti Semite. The twisting of the doctrine of faith alone has left too many people out. Going with Oakerhater for these reasons.

  19. What a mismatched contest. Could the Exec Committee explain how they put their brackets together? Seems like just a roll of the dice. My sympathy was with Oakerhater but I vvoted for Luther because of his monumental impact on Christendom. Sad the Episcopal Church is still celebrating the "civilizing" of Native Americans and destruction of their culture. Is this really what Jesus wanted? You can introduce people to Christianity without taking away their land, their heritage and even their name.

  20. Well, in the first round of the basketball version, there are #1 seeded teams playing #16 teams and the result is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, it's good to learn about David Oh-kuh-ha-tuh through the write-up and thoughtful comments.

  21. For Martin Luther and David Pendleton Oakerhater aka Making Medicine
    Hymnal ’82, 493 Azmon, O For a Thousand Tongues

    Two saints have we from different times
    Who served without surcease.
    One sought reform with vigor strong
    One led the way to peace.

    It was a dark and stormy night
    When Martin Luther found
    That being scared to faithfulness
    Could with God’s grace resound.

    “Reform!” he pleaded oft to Rome,
    But power would not heed.
    At risk of life he stood his ground
    To reform he would lead.

    Courage and strength were not enough
    To save the great Cheyenne.
    But through imprisonment and loss
    He learned with Christ to stand.

    The medicine he learned to make
    Brought hope in sad defeat.
    He led his people, not to war
    But to the Prince of Peace

    Glory to God for saints like these
    Who bore the tempest blast;
    And found their way through loss and pain
    To Christ the first and last.

    1. I may know you.
      So, are you going to tell us for whom you voted?
      I'm Oakerhater all the way, and thinking of Sister Mary Elizabeth on this day.

      1. You may indeed know me. And I suspect that I know you. As we shared a Novice Guardian, you already know who I voted for.

    2. Are only the Oakerhater fans commenting? Why is he behind in the polls? Will the SEC look into this?

  22. Part of the joy of Lent Madness is learning about lesser-known Saints. So my vote is for Making Medicine.

  23. I remember Oakerhater from 2015. Today I voted for him for several reasons none theological. I just like that he did not forget his people after his conversion and I like the way he presented Jesus as the new Captain. I know he will lose this round but he deserves votes.

  24. David Oakerhater was an estimable person but I doubt he was no more perfect than Martin Luther. Neither was faultless. I could not balance them though. I am a Lutheran from infancy and had to vote for Luther who was not only a brave pastor and theologian, also a good husband and father, the same as my Lutheran spouse.

  25. I really liked David's quote on putting Jesus first, and think that in times of trouble, we need to remember that more. However, for voting purposes, Martin Luther was a game-changer. Anytime you can celebrate the 500th anniversary of an accomplishment (and I marked my calendar for 10/31/17) which still resonates to this day, it earns the checkmark.