This post is intended mainly for Lutheran pastors. But you’re free to join in as well, if you like.
If I may, I would like to give you pastors some thoughts now as you prepare sermons for this Sunday, the Festival of the Reformation.
By the grace of God, the Church of the Lutheran Confession–that is, Lutherans that believe, teach and confess what their confessions actually say–still exists today. And, God-willing, we will mark the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 thesis next year.
We Lutherans might face the temptation to feel proud:
We got the Reformation started!
We stuck it to the Pope.
A Mighty Fortress is our fight song! Patriotism!
Lutherans are “the sleeping giant”. And so on.
This arrogant boastfulness has no place among us. It is good (even helpful) to know our heritage, but it is wrong to get our own chests puffed up about it as if we won some sociopolitical revolution.
The churches of the Lutheran Confessions are good, not because of anything wonderful in themselves, but because of that confession which they profess. Our Lutheran heritage wouldn’t be worth a hill of beans if she had strayed from God’s Word. Our church wouldn’t have anything worth celebrating if it became bored with the Law that binds people’s hearts, and the tidings of great joy that changes people’s hearts for eternity.
The church, the bride of Christ, gives glory to Jesus. Even on Reformation Sunday. If the church focuses on herself this Sunday, and thoughtlessly brags about how they triumphed over the Roman foes with righteous might, then she is a rather saddening church. Don’t let the Church of the Reformation be a Bridezilla in a Reformation-themed wedding service, consumed with her self, her image and success.
Indulgences didn’t go away
A number of pastors take opportunity on Reformation Sunday to take a slap at the Roman Catholic church. This might feel good, especially since the RC church still holds to the false teachings it did 500 years ago, and because the reformers (Luther especially) had such biting, choice words for the Catholics. You can tell of the church history, yes; but don’t make the Pope–or worse, your Catholic neighbor–to be your personal punching bag.
Lutherans should not sneer at Catholics’ selling of indulgences as some silly, foolish thing those ancient clowns did, as if Christians of today don’t have such idols or superstitions. In our own day, and in our own congregations, we have members who love the drippings of Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and a bunch of other false teachers. Rome corrupted people’s faith with coercion and threat of hell, but today’s false preachers damage people’s faith with a smile.
You preach against indulgences? Well and good (since, you know, the Roman church has brought that back again). But what about now? Are you warning your flock against the indulgences of the 21st century?
Don’t say “we have Luther as our father”
I know of some people in our churches who’s confidence is placed in the Lutheran church itself. Their parents, grand-parents and great-grandparents were Lutherans. Maybe there was even a pastor in the family heritage. Well and good. But what do you believe? Despite whatever heritage we may have, the church is always one or two generations away from extinction, if it is not passed down to the next generation.
[Jesus said to them,] Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:8-10 ESV)
Lutherans: do not presume to say to yourselves: “We have ‘Lutheran’ as our church.” No, God is able to raise up Lutherans from mere stones. Your Lutheran heritage means very little (as discussions with life-long Lutherans can sometimes reveal, sadly).
Instead, we need to repent. And bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
It’s worth remembering that the first of the 95 theses reads as follows:
- When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Repent of what?
Your congregation will not repent of anything if your sermon consists only of a retelling of Reformation history.
Now, and in every age, people need to be called to church, to be killed by God’s Law and made alive again by God’s Gospel. So that “the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” (Luther’s Small Catechism)
Let’s be that church.
The Reformation is, in a narrow way, sort of a tragedy. It was an enormous schism that seems to have forever fractured unity in the church. Unfortunately, 499 years ago, it was a necessary fracture, for the sake of the Gospel. Clearly, it still is necessary today.
False doctrine is a sin, and is nothing to smirk at. It is necessary to contend for truth, and sometimes, even to fight for it. But we shouldn’t celebrate the winning of the fight. Celebrate that our Lord has preserved His church, undeserving and cantankerous though she may be.
The Lutheran Confessions does battle against the teachings of the Christian faith. You really should read it! Yes, you, dear pastor. And your congregation too.
And then give thanks and glory to God that this church community and this profession of faith has been allowed to remain. Don’t take it for granted. The Word of God itself is a gift from Him.