Last year I started a bit of a firestorm by suggesting that the appropriate color for Reformation is not so much red, as violet. That this is a day of sadness, as well as joy. For it marked the splintering of the Western Church in opposing confessions and the situation remains much the same after all these centuries. Purple IS appropriate to challenge each of us: have I perpetuated the divisions of Christendom by my own biting words and bitter judgments? Have I explained my neighbors actions in the kindest way? Have I sought to bear witness to the truth of God with the humility which is fitting those who know themselves to be miserable sinners saved only grace?
And yet the question still need to be answered: does the Church ever need to be reformed? There are those, mostly our sisters and brothers in the East, who insist "No! The Church is the Body of Christ; she does not err."
St. Paul spoke of what happens when Christians take their bodies and join them to prostitutes: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!" (1 Cor. 6:15)
The members of Christ, the members of His body, can MISUSE their bodies by sexual sin. When such happens, it is no use to say: "Look, my body is a member of Christ and Christ is without sin, so my body is without sin." St. Paul warns us "Flee sexual immorality!" It does the Christian in such an instance no good to cry out: "The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!" as did the faithless inhabitants of Judah whom God condemned through Jeremiah so long ago.
And that this may happen beyond the physical, and in the spiritual, in the realm of the Church's teaching is the Scriptures indisputable teaching. Recall how the Apostle Paul warned the Ephesian presbyters:
"I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert!" (Acts 20:30)
The fact is that error also arises *from within the Church*, *from among your own selves.* When such error arises, St. Paul had a solution. It was not simply submitting to whatever happened to be commanded by that which went by the name of Church. It was rather the path of humility, the path of testing what is said.
"And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32)
The word of God's grace, the Gospel, that is what has the awesome power to build you up, to keep you the Lord's, and to give you the inheritance that belong to all who are sanctified, made holy in and by Him.
It is by testing out the message proclaimed against "the word of God's grace" that we discern in those who speak for the Church either the voice of our Good Shepherd or the voice of the Wolf that would lead us away from the life of repentance and faith into unrepentant presumption, pride, or despair.
Those who lead the Church in her earthly pilgrimage are not immune to error, and to every Christian Christ has given the command:
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits." (Matt 7:15-16)
And the Holy Apostle Paul has commanded all Christians:
"Do not despise prophesies, but test *everything;* hold fast what is good." (1 Thes 5:20-21)
St. Jude, whom we commemorate this day, warned:
"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." (Jude 3,4)
Remembering that Antichrist presumes even to take his seat in God's temple, in the Holy Church, we know that as Christians we must always be vigilant about what we are taught. The supreme measure of the truthfulness of what we're taught is the Word of God's grace in Jesus Christ, the word that will neither let us continue in sin with impenitence nor lead us to presume to trust in our own goodness before God. The Word of grace that unfolds to us the riches that our loving heavenly Father has given to us in His beloved Son - forgiveness of sins, a share in His divine life, a salvation that is eternal.
Because the Church is in process toward becoming all that Jesus has declared her to be, the pilgrim Church heeds the warning of her Lord to beware of deception, especially from those who hold office in the Body of Christ and are called to be her teachers. To test out what they say and hear in their words the voice of our Shepherd, we have been given the Word, especially the Gospel.
In this sense, the color of the day should be red. Red for the fire of the Holy Spirit who has inspired the Word and who works mightily through it to bring people to faith and to keep them in faith and to give them an inheritance which will never fade. Let your Reformation motto be: "Test everything; hold fast what is good."
[And I'm sure that red being the color used on the Sunday of the Reformation is utterly coincidental with the result that Lutheran Churches across our land this Sunday are wearing the color of the Cards...]