30. October 2011
Festival of the Reformation
Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3; John 8:31-36
When St. John saw another angel flying directly overhead, what was this angel’s name? It is opinion of the church of the Reformation that this angel was none other than God’s messenger—the blessed Martin Luther. For Luther returned to the church—languishing under medieval corruptions and authoritarian papal rule—an eternal gospel. This good news is Christ crucified and risen, the only means of salvation which is for every nation, tribe, language, and people.
It is as if St. John was transported through time and space to hear the preaching of our father Martin Luther, straight out of the pulpit of St. Mary’s in Wittenberg: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
This angel brought an eternal gospel. The Book of Heaven was opened before this angel to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he read: “For by works of the law no man will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
Apart from Christ, the angel Luther and all mankind is in bondage. Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. Slaves cannot free themselves. Nor do slaves remain in the house into eternity. Freedom from slavery comes only by the Son. If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples , and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Your Lutheran birth does not save you. Your moral upbringing does not save you. There is no boasting, for we are all powerless to save. Only by faith in Jesus, the one who died and rose, only by Him are we freed from sin and bound once more to our gracious God.
By this Holy Word, the angel was set free. His tongue was loosed to confess Christ’s name only. His dead flesh was crucified with Christ. God now passed over the angel’s sins because God’s wrath and judgment was propitiated by the Son of God’s own blood. Righteousness is given, not earned. Sins are forgiven, not repaired through acts of penance. All this makes God just and gracious. He only is justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
This message rocked the 16th century world and continues to this day. The modern division and schism of Christianity is tragic. For over a millennia, Christianity was marked by two divisions, East and West.
Even then, faithful Christians could not agree on the procession of Spirit from the Father and the Son nor could they arrive at a common date for the celebration of Easter. And so—the split. Despite these two traditions continuing apart from each other, they remain the dominant distinct confessions for a thousand years.
Then came Dr. Martin Luther, a Roman priest of the Augustinian order, the angel of God. The way the historians like to write the story, Luther was the instigator of our religious potpourri. By rejecting that the papacy retained the sole authority to interpret the Word of God, it is thought he caused all these little schismatic and heretical denominations or non-denominations that continue to sprout up all around us.
There is an element of truth to this. Evangelicals banded to together to form churches or around princes who shared their confession. A new split emerged from East and West—and they are the Evangelicals (or Lutherans as our opponents named us). Large swaths of western Europe and nearly the whole of Scandinavia become Evangelical in their confession.
But to blame Luther is to miss an important piece of the puzzle, one which is still relevant today. Dr. Martin Luther was not interested in leaving the church of Rome. No, he sought reform through a church council.
Today we celebrate the anniversary of this Reformation. Unfortunately neither the papal authority nor the holy Roman emperor Charles V would hear their call for reform. For their confession of the Gospel, priests and nuns, noblemen and professors were declared outside the Roman church.
It is clear from the ecclesiastical and secular histories, Rome and her Pope were the primary party responsible for the Reformation. The pope and all his cardinals could not abide by the teaching of Luther and his students. They found it incompatible with their man-made authority and aims. Rather than allow the teaching of the Scriptures be restored in their midst, they excommunicated Luther and the lot.
The name for Luther and those who follow in his steps is Evangelical, or according to the Gospel, the evangel. Lutherans will not allow anything to infringe on Christ and His work to save you. All that hinders this work of God in you through faith and by the Scriptures is to be omitted. Yet, we are not rightly called Protestants, at least not by today’s standards.
Today, Protestant means not Rome and not East. It describes all sorts of false-teaching churches, many of which might not even be called Christian. For example, there are protesting Christians who say we cannot pray the prayer our Lord taught us because its not “from the heart.” This is a clear rejection of God’s Word, as it is our Lord who commanded us so to pray.
There are “Christians” who are unwilling to confess the Creeds, saying they are man-made documents. Most have serious issues with the confession of Christ, His essence, and His life. Yet, examine the Creeds and tell me whether they are not truthful expositions of God’s Word.
Are they not necessary to be believed? How can one call himself Christian and deny God is maker of heavens and earth, or that Jesus died and rose again, or that the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith, granting the forgiveness of sins? Yet, there are protestants who make this claim.
Then there are “Christians” who deny that Baptism now saves you, or that is a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. No, they say, baptism is a work, something we do, and it only saves if we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and savior, and then only if we’re after the age of accountability. Thus, they deny our Lord’s command and the Apostolic injunction to teach and baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity. Christian? Protestant?
Never mind the mess with the Holy Communion! Most protestant churches deny Christ’s bodily presence under bread and wine, received into the mouth, received for the edification of the faithful and the condemnation of the impious.
Now it is acceptable to receive bread and wine anywhere you want, even if the church doesn’t believe its Christ’s very body and blood received for the forgiveness of sins. Its become some sort of great agape meal, where we can all sing about peace, love, and understanding and put aside our differences.
Just as before, this is a clear rejection of the command of Christ, who clearly says “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” The Apostles’ ate and drank Christ’s body and blood when they gathered. It was a statement not of personal faith but of the corporate confession, that is, the Apostles’ doctrine. St. Paul clearly teaches to avoid false teachers and their union. He clearly teaches as well those who do not believe the Apostolic doctrine each and drink to their judgment.
So is the case for you. If you receive the Supper without faith in these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” then you receive it to your judgment. St. Paul says that such eating caused some in Corinth to become sick and others to die.
Do not think to receive the Sacrament without preparing with repentance. So also, do not receive the Sacrament in a church that teaches contrary to your confession. Their false teaching makes a mockery of this saving grace and you cannot join in union with them no matter what is in your heart.
These things all sound pretty Roman catholic, don’t they? And they should. Luther sought reform of Rome not a new church body. We live in perennial hope that the church of Rome will reject their council of Trent and return to the evangelical teaching of the Scriptures.
Yet, we do not protest. No, we do not hate Rome nor do we hate the Protestants. We confess not protest. We confess the truth. We are a light in the darkness, markers in the wilderness of American protestantism.
We retain that which can be retained without sin, standing on the shoulders of our spiritual fathers. Thus, we retain the prayers, the propers of the mass, the ordinary divine service, the priestly vestments, images, and other accoutrements. We do not protest that which is indifferent or edifying. We confess that which is necessary and true.
Luther summarized this essential Evangelical confession in the three solas—Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone. In other words, the good news of salvation is known only be the Scripture, given purely out of God’s grace, and received only by Holy Spirit-inspired faith. There can be salvation by none other than Christ, his gracious lifeblood, received through faith in His gracious Word of promise.
If you believe this, can confess the Creeds, pray the Lord’s prayer, know that the pastor’s forgiveness is Christ’s forgiveness, that there is only one baptism and it saves, and that the Holy Communion is truly Christ’s body and blood received in your mouth for the forgiveness of sins—well, then you are truly Christian for you trust in the Word of the Holy Scripture and that this is all received in faith without any worthiness or merit in you.
This may describe many Roman catholics and it may some Protestants. Yet, they remain in their false communion despite their public error and false teaching. There is the only true confession, the one attached to the one holy catholic and apostolic church. This was the aim of the Reformation.
“Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” He spoke with God’s authority, freeing bound sinners to be free in Christ. We are sons of God, knowing the truth, and this truth setting us free. We thank God he used his servant Dr. Martin Luther of blessed memory to bring the Gospel to light.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church