+ In Nomine Jesu +
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
October 31, next Wednesday, will be the 495th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. The date is marked by Dr. Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His theses challenged established Church doctrine, particularly the doctrines of penance and indulgences, the two chief money makers for Rome.
The Latin Vulgate, the translation of the Bible the church had used for well over a thousand years, supported the church's teaching on penance because it rendered Jesus' admonition to "repent" as "do penance," giving the church opportunity to hold the sins of Christians over them until such time as they had sufficiently atoned for them through acts of devotion and service..
Thus, in his very first theses, Luther wrote, "when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said "repent" He intended that every day of the Christian's life would be one of repentance." Repentance is not about atoning for one's sin. To the contrary, the act of repentance is a confession of utter helplessness in dealing with sin. It is the Christian's plea for the redeeming blood of Christ crucified to wash away what mars him and makes him unacceptable to Almighty God. Repentance is the very antithesis of penance because, while penance calls the sinner to do something about his condition, repentance is the sinners admission that he can do nothing about his condition, thus he throws himself before the grace and mercy of God.
We Lutheran's, rightfully so, have marked and celebrated the Reformation all these many years. We've done so because it was a monumental event in the life of the Church. It was a time when men were willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel and their right to believe and confess that Gospel! It was a time when Kings and Princes were forced to kneel before the compelling power of the Word of God confessed by those who had been taken captive by its promises! It was a time when sinners, burdened by the weight of their sin, were set free to live joyously before God, knowing that He had done for them what they could never do for themselves, namely lift the weight of guilt and condemnation off their shoulders!
We anxiously await the year 2017, when we celebrate the 500th year of the Reformation. But, we would err in that celebration, as well as in our celebration today, if were to consider the Reformation only an historic event, as if the church didn't need to be continually vigliant and watchful of the need for reform.
As it was in the 16th century, so it is today...the Church is made up of sinners the likes of you and me. Thus, here the Word of The Lord regarding the Church's precarious position in believing and confessing the truth of the Gospel of Jesus' life, death and resurrection for the sins of the world. Jesus declares "From the days of John the Baptist until the now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent have taken it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come...For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'he has demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at Him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds."
In addition to that sobering reminder of our need to be watchful and vigilant is Paul's admonition regarding the coming distain of the Word of God. To Timothy, his son in the faith, he says, "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."
Nias Island is one of the places I recently visited to teach about the Reformation and its impact on the Church today. Nias is a little Island off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The body of water that surrounds it is the Indian Ocean. The people of Nias consider themselves Lutherans. Why!? Well, because Herr Sunderman, the pastor who brought Christianity to them back in the late 1800's was a Lutheran! Their pastors, however, have been trained in state controlled seminaries where the curricullum is dictated by the government.
The results, in many ways, have been disasterous. At one point in our seminar, I asked the pastors, "who died on the cross for your sins?" "Was it only the man Jesus, or, did God also die for you? They insisted that it was only the man Jesus, mainly because they coudn't wrap their minds arouund the concept of God dying. In their case, human reason had been allowed to rule over the Word of God. Consequently they fell prey to a heresy that the church had soundly rejected back in the early centuries of its history. Jesus is the God / Man from His conception to this very day. In Christ, the Godhead took on humanity in order to restore it, to restore you and me, to our place at God's side.
As mundane as it may seem at times, we confess, still today, boldly and vigilantly that Jesus was then, and is now, the God / man, "who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." Indeed, God did die for the sins of the people of Nias, even as He died for your sins and mine.
The Church, you see, is always in need of reform. She must always stand before God humbly, full of repentance, craving forgiveness and the truth of God's Word. She must also be vigilant because "the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent have taken it by force." The church's foe may be called 'Pope' or 'Enlightenment thinking' or any number of other movements that have sought, perhaps innocently, to make the church more relevant to a changing culture. The church, however, can never allow the culture to define who she is, or, what she believes and confesses.
On the flight over to Indonesia from Tokyo to Bangkok the man sitting next to me asked me what I would be teaching in Indonesia. I said, "16th century Reformation theology." He got sort of blank look on his face and said, "do the people there really care anything about that topic?" I said, 'indeed they do! It is their heritage! It is the source of their Christian faith.' In fact, they very desire a similar reform in their church today. Sometime after that the man next to me proceeded to spill his beer all over me. Our converstation pretty much stopped at that point.
By God's grace, the people of Nias seek reform for their church. They want to be Lutherans, in part to honor their founding, but, also because they want to beleive and teach according to God's Word! One pastor at the seminar said, "I don't understand how God could die for me, but, I believe He did, and that is what I will teach the members of my congregation!"
Interestingly enough, while the people of Nias want to be Lutheran, back across the pond, here in our own country, there is a movement among some Lutherans to make the Lutheran Church look less Lutheran! While the people of Nias have been deprived of their heritage, we have lived freely and openly in ours. Could it be that familiarity really does breed contempt?
Some would argue that there is nothing unique about the Lutheran faith and that if Lutherans want to see their congregations grow they will need to make their worship and teaching more palatable to non-Lutheran eyes and ears. Consequently, some insist on calling themselves Lutherans when they allow for the ordination of gay and lesbian pastors. Some insist on calling themselves Lutheran when they teach that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child. Some insist on calling themselves Lutheran when they deny that God created the world in six days, or, that He fed the thousands with a few fish and a few loaves of bread, or, that He brought forth His Son from womb of a Virgin named Mary.
Granted, most of these attrocities are not tolerated in our little segment of Christendom called the LCMS, however, we are not immune to the same sort of wanton abandonment of God's Word. Remember, "the kingdom is always subject to be taken by force," and that force will always target God's Word, which is the Church's glorious confidence, her only hope and the only ground on which she can stand in peace and confidence before Almighty God!
"Wisdom is justified by her deeds!" Jesus is God's Wisdom, given to you from on high. While you, like everyone else were inclined to clamor for what's new, He gives you timeless gifts and changeless blessings. He is the Rock of your salvation, the Anchor of your soul, the Mighty Fortress who defends you from every error and from every childish whim and every corrupting influence that would drive you away from His cross and resurrection from the dead.
"With might of ours cannot naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is,
Of Sabbaoth Lord,
And there's none other God;
He holds the field forever."
And all God's people said "Amen!" "Yea Lord, let it be so among us now and always!" In Jesus' name.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
Send Rev. Alan Taylor an email.