Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This year's theme is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation of the church in the 16th century. The Reformation began when the monk and priest, Martin Luther, posted 95 Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. For the church in Europe at that time was tainted with much false doctrine, particularly concerning indulgences, purgatory and penance. Luther raised these points in his theses for discussion.
We believe that we are saved only by the grace of God, not by our own works. Only through faith in Jesus Christ do we have the promise of eternal life that we receive in baptism. But, at that time, and still today, the church of Rome teaches something different. The Roman Church says: In baptism we receive the forgiveness of original sin and the personal sins we committed before baptism, and in this way, we are free from eternal damnation. However, if we fall into sin after baptism, we must do penance in the form of good works. If we do not do penance before physical death, we can not enter the presence of Christ immediately. We have to fulfill our penance in purgatory, a state between this earthly world and the heavenly realm.
There is more. We can receive from the church, specifically the Pope, a letter, it is called an indulgence, that reduces the time in purgatory for ourselves or for a family member or friend. Because the church has the authority to withdraw from the treasury of merits of Christ, the Virgin and the saints, who have done more good deeds than they needed to gain eternal life, to apply to our account. Supposedly, a saint is someone the church has figured out is in heaven because of miracles in response to the prayers to that person.
Among the many points of the 95 Theses, Luther said thus: If the Pope has the authority to cut the time in purgatory, why not release all souls from purgatory out of Christian charity? Why ask for money to relieve the suffering of souls in purgatory?
The infiltration of the church by false doctrine proceeds little by little. This is the pattern. In the beginning say false teachers, we have a teaching that is not found in the Bible, but it is not worth the trouble to fight about it. Let's keep the church together. Then they say orthodox teaching and the foreign teaching are equal. Both are valid. Finally, when false teachers have power, they forbid sound doctrine in favor of error.
This was the case at the time of the Reformation. Luther affirmed that Scripture teaches salvation only by grace, not by works. There is no purgatory, no need for penance or indulgences. In baptism we have all the promise of eternal life by faith in Jesus. For this Luther was condemned, but thank God, not killed. Other people died for the confession of this truth. For example, in Venezuela in the seventeenth century, Juan de Frias, an Augustinian friar born in Caracas, preached the true doctrine and was imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, which was active in Venezuela in those days. After 16 years in prison, he was burned at the stake.
Therefore, there is the rephrase, "The church always needs reformation," because the source of false doctrine is not a man, but the devil. The devil has his agents outside and inside the church. Its mission is the same: To deceive the people of God, and to sow divisions and false doctrines. The church must be united, but not only in an outward form, but in true doctrine.
Therefore, our text reads: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inside are rapacious wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do they gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thorns? Thus every good tree bears good fruit; But the malicious tree beareth evil fruit."
Sometimes false prophets show their nature in their way of life. They clearly have an interest in riches and fame. How does one gain wealth and fame as a man of God? By the preaching of anything people want to hear. Many times, Biblical teaching is difficult for each of us to hear. But to make a lot of money, the falso prophete preaches that all are good people. Believe in yourself and you will realize all your dreams. However, the way of Christ is the way of the cross. In this world, we will encounter difficulties and trials, many times through our own fault.
Sometimes false prophets are good examples in some respects. They do not live in open sin. They speak with pious words and with biblical quotations. But, the devil can quote the Scriptures to deceive us. In the temptation of Jesus, the devil tried to deceive Jesus with biblical quotations, but our Lord said that we should listen to all the counsel of the Scriptures, not just the part we want to
hear. We must study the Scriptures in our homes to recognize at what point a false prophet departs from the Scriptures. For this is his fruit also: To divert from the Word of God. We must listen to the preaching of the Word in a church that has a solid, Scripture-based confession. That is why, Luther and the Reformers said, "Scripture alone" is the standard of faith. We must avoid preachers who preach only part of Scripture and deny other parts. Also those who proclaim a revelation apart from the written Word. What does our Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 23: 16-29) say about the prophets with whom God did not speak, but they prophesied? "I dreamed, I dreamed."
The Holy Spirit acts by means. Some are the Holy Scriptures, written by the true prophets and the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In them we have everything we need to know for salvation until the Lord returns in glory. We also have the means of grace in baptism and the sacrament. In them we have all the promises of God. That is why we have the hope and the peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.
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