28 October 2006

Reformation Musings

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...]

12 comments:

ConcordiaFan said...

If you read Hermann Sasse's book "Here We Stand" again, as someone recently suggested I do, you will find much to take joy in over the fact of the Reformation; chiefly: the rediscovery of the Gospel.

Chaz said...

Concordiafan,

I trust you understand that you're overstating the case. If the Gospel truly needed rediscovery in the Reformation, then it was lost, Christ's promise in Matthew 28:20 was broken, and AC V is patently false.

The Gospel was present before the Reformation but it was much abused, beaten up, maligned, bruised, and bleeding. It was hard to see it behind all of the wounds, but it was there. There were Christians before Luther and after the Gospel had started to take all that abuse.

I rejoice that Luther pierced through all the crap and polished the jewel that was there. The purity of the Gospel, that is what was rediscovered.

William Weedon said...

Well said, Chaz. The image our Symbols use is "buried." The Gospel was buried beneath a ton of other, well, crap. But the things that were in danger of obscuring it were cleared away and it was set forth in all its beauty. But even in the darkest days of the medieval papacy, as the previously recommended Hermann Sasse, liked to point out the Church still lived from the Gospel contained in the liturgy and occasional sermons: from the canon of the Mass: "not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses" and from the Requiem: "King of Majesty tremendous, who dost FREE salvation send us."

ConcordiaFan said...

Chaz, of course the Gospel needed rediscovery! It was there, no doubt, thanks be to God, but so covered over with the detritus of human ceremonies, rites, laws, regulations and traditions that persons like Luther were struggling to keep their head above the water of Roman error and darkness. Check out "Dear Christian One and All Rejoice" and...oh, yes...the introductions to Luther's Small Catechisms and the Large Catechism for a sobering dose of what Christendom was like in his day.

The foolishly romantic notion that somehow the Gospel was a bright and shining light in the depths of 15th century Romanism is a delusion.

So, let's throw off the old "sack cloth and ashes" routine at Reformation time and rejoice in the great gift of Martin Luther and his Gospel rediscovery. Away with the foolishness that the Festival of the Reformation is one marked by mournful penitence and "boo-hoo the Reformation happened." No! Thanks be to God that out of the damning darkness that was Rome in Luther's day the Gospel was brought to light again. I call that REDISCOVERY and rightfully so.

The Gospel was right in front of their noses, so close it could have bitten them, and should have...and that is the great tragedy that is Rome to this day. So close..and yet...so far away. Simply put, if you have a problem with the "rediscovered" concept, tough cookies. That is precisely what happened. Note: the word is REdiscovered, not discovered.

Some guys said it a lot better, some time ago:

In these last times God, out of especial grace, has brought the truth of His Word to light again from the darkness of the Papacy through the faithful service of the precious man of God, Dr. Luther

Solid Declaration
Rule and Norm
Paragraph 5

Latif Haki Gaba said...

ConcordiaFan,
It is most interesting that you bring up the Catechisms of Luther. What their prefaces actually show is how bad the situation was even well after the Reformation. Recall their occasion, and that they were written not before 1529, well into BML's "mid-career." This helps exemplify, I think, the truth of Fr. Weedon's point about how penitence ought always be at least one major aspect of this festival. Ecclesia semper reformanda est. LHG

ptmccain said...

You guys have a real knack for missing the point. Stop all this stupid "apologizing" for the Reformation and stop denying the absolutely dire need for it.

Good grief.

Yes, duh, the church always needs to be reformed, and, thanks be to God, is always being reformed, by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Drop all this, "Oh, boo-hoo, the Reformation happened! How tragic! How sad!" BALONEY.

Thanks be to God for the Reformation.

[By the way, who said that the 'Reformation' was restricted to 1517? Of course it was just moving out into the hinterlands in the 1520s and into the 1530s].

ptmccain said...

I need to bonk you guys over the head with a big old Book of Concord, maybe the second edition of "Concordia" -- which I hear is going to be bigger and better than ever.

***Happy Reformation Day***

And now, in honor of the day, I share one of my favorite little ditties:

Good Old Martin Luther

I love Martin Luther,
Good old Martin Luther,
I think the Reformation's grand,
His five and ninety theses,
They tore the Pope to pieces.
And now on the solid rock I stand.

William Weedon said...

Paul,

Let's put it this way: the Reformation began as a call to repentance. Think 95, No. 1. It can only continue to be relevant as a call to repentance. The Reformation is NOT a day for a theology of glory with hero worship of the Blessed Reformer. It is a day to heed his words that when Christ our Lord said "repent" he meant that the whole life of a Christian should be one of repentance. The WHOLE life. You would not exempt the Reformation from that, would you? If you do so, you gut it at its source.

Of course we give thanks for Luther's witness, his preaching and teaching above all, for the awesome gifts of the Catechisms - shoot, on Reformation you may even get me to give thanks for the Smalcald Articles ; )

But you can keep any triumphalism. It has no place in the Church that preaches the wisdom of the cross - and that IS what Reformation day celebrates.

My favorite quote for Reformation day? "As Nicholas and I drank Wittenberg beer, the Word of God went out and did this thing." Pass me a beer and let's rejoice in the power of the Word to call men to repentance and to give them faith!

Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott hilf mir! Amen!

ptmccain said...

Missing the point, again.

Everything you say is true, but still no reason to put on sack cloth and repent *for* the reality and fact of the Reformation in the 16th century. You are setting up straw men.

Repent for sin? Always.
For "triumphalism"? Of course.
For "hero worship"? Absolutely.

Celebrating and *thanking God* for precisely what our Confessions say? Thanking God for the light that shone forth in the dark days of the Papacy's strangle-hold on Christ's Church? You bet!

For "apologizing" for and "regretting" the Reformation itself? No way.

William Weedon said...

But Paul, no one is suggesting that we need to apologize for teh Reformation or regret it. At least if comments were made like that I completely missed them. My initial thoughts were to suggest that the Reformation was imperative, and if we wear purple (we didn't, we wore red - and it had nothing to do with the Cardinals, though they MIGHT have been mentioned), it was because of the sadness that the Reformation did not succeed in what it set out to do: not to reform a piece of the Church, but the whole of it. And that IS sad, dude. Really.

Latif Haki Gaba said...

PTMCain,
I am not certain who is missing what point. I for one neither "apologize" for the Reformation nor deny its absolutely dire need in each generation. That surely is the point of my quoting the famous motto, "Ecclesia semper reformanda est." How can it be taken any other way? You do seem to have taken issue with my claim that 1529 was well after "the Reformation." This is not a disagreement worth arguing over, in my view. For I agree of course that the Reformation, in many ways, was an ongoing process, and was the main thrust of BML's career as a whole. On the other hand, the 31 October Festival we have come to hold so dear in the church each year commemorates, first of all, an event that took place on that day in 1517. In 1527, a year of great trouble and heartache for Luther, he and a small group of friends celebrated the 10 year anniversary of what he called the "crushing of the indulgences." We need not deny that it was an event that took place one day in 1517, though of course it has far reaching and long lasting ramifications. LHG

ptmccain said...

Bill,

"Dude?" -- you are so hip and happening.

LatifHakiGaba,
Thanks for your clarification.

General comment: I'm glad that none of this discussion is intended, in any way, to imply, suggest, hint or otherwise indicate that the Reformation is something for which we Lutherans must be made to feel guilty, apology for, or regret.