Monday, October 02, 2006

Does the Reformation Mean Anything for Us (and Our Neighbor) today?

The Reformation begun under the re-discovery of the Gospel by Martin Luther in 1517 seems a long time ago. It happened way before our parents or even their parents were living, and in a country that more often than not thinks history began in 1776, October 31st continues to be for most merely a day of trick-or-treating.
A fellow pastor once commented that the problem with the Lutheran church today is that no one is asking the questions about salvation that Luther answered in his Ninety-Five Theses and in his sermons and in his other theological writings. "People are asking other questions, and it seems the Lutheran church has no answers." he quipped.
Well, truthfully, we need the Word of God in our lives not simply to answer the "questions of our age," but in order to know what are the right questions to even ask.
The Christian Scriptures reveals everything we need to know about our salvation. That is the starting point in any discussion about questions of salvation and God's answers to questions of salvation. That's why we don't take a vote on whether or not we will talk about the forgiveness of sins on Sunday morning or whether we will celebrate the Lord's Supper only twice a year or whether we throw out the Lord's Prayer or the Creed or the hymns of the Church.
And what is the basic question that Scripture presents, that Luther re-discovered, that Redeemer Lutheran Church & School holds up as central to a basic understanding of salvation according to Christ? "How can I attain spiritual happiness and comfort?" "What do I need to do for God to then save me?" "How can I better imitate the example of Jesus?" "How can I have just a closer walk with God?"
Each of these are fatally flawed questions to build salvation upon. Each of these questions are dead-ends when it comes to enjoying a gracious God and his life-giving presence in our lives and hearts. The question of salvation that only God and his Word can enable us to ask ourselves and God is this: "How may I, a lost and condemned creature, stand before a holy and righteous God -- and live?"
This was the central theological question revealed in the Old and New Testaments and re-discovered, by the grace of God, during the time of the Reformation.
The Church's festival of the Reformation on October 31st isn't a day of celebrating the assertion of the individual Christian conscience or the Christian freedom to throw out anything in the church that doesn't pass the trendy test. Luther's legacy was a return to the Bible and the central teaching of the Bible. He didn't make up some new teaching or doctrine. He wasn't the creative innovator of 1517.
This year our congregation celebrates some important and unique events. We will welcome a Lutheran missionary dedicated to the truths of Scripture and the Small Catechism (The Rev. J. May on Sunday, October 15), we will hear about our calling as "the priesthood of all believers" (The Rev. Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto on Sunday, October 22), we will celebrate Reformation Sunday with special music and a Reformation Book Fair (Sunday, October 29), and we will prepare for the dedication of new hymnals, pew Bibles and the sanctuary organ on Sunday, November 12th!
A few months ago someone at Redeemer was a little discouraged about the less than stellar numerical growth exhibited in this year's membership figures. My response: if we would only be blessed with a greater appreciation for the good and saving gifts we already possess for the glory of God and the salvation of many, we would find it a lot easier to be excited, "contagious" Christians among our family and neighbors and co-workers.
God grant that this Reformation season Christ will grant us deeper understandings of his grace, mercy, forgiveness and patience as he continues his work of "calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying" Christians within the fold of his Church.
A blessed Reformation to each of you.