By the Rev. Will Weedon
LCMS Director of Worship, International Center Chaplain
Does the Reformation still matter? I put that question to some of the folks I work closely with and thought their answers might provide some interesting food for thought as we approach the Festival of the Reformation.
From the Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr., first vice-president of the LCMS:
The Reformation brings a constant (re)focusing on the Gospel: God’s grace for Christ’s sake, received through faith alone. Since the Day of Pentecost, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church we confess in the creed lives wherever the Word of God is heard. The risen Lord Jesus Himself gathers believers by His Spirit through Word and Sacrament. No persecution can snuff out the life of this body, for we have Christ’s promise that He builds the Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). Yet the Gospel can become encrusted with man-made requirements obscuring the pure message of justification by God’s grace in Jesus, received through faith alone. For that reason the Church always needs reformation (re)focus, that is, repentance. The Word of God calls us away from self-chosen works and worship so that the Church finds her life again only in the life of Christ for us, the life delivered to us in Word, in water and in the body and blood. Lutherans pledge themselves to the confessions gathered in the Book of Concord because they are in accord with God’s Word and because they help us keep Jesus at the center of our life and faith. Our goal is not academic, but eminently pastoral, for we are convinced Lutheran teaching brings the greatest possible comfort to penitent sinners, i.e., hurting and broken people, by pointing them to Christ alone. Our confession says that “we do not obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us” (Augustana IV). This is our reformation (re)focus and the promise by which we live. In a world of uncertainty, here is one thing completely sure: “… since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1 ESV). Reformation then is always the call to repent and to believe the Gospel.
From the Rev. Bart Day, the executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission:
The Reformation still matters because Jesus matters. The heart of the Reformation was rejoicing to confess and live in the complete person and work of Christ. That rejoicing and confessing still happens in the church where the Word of God has free course, where the Sacraments are received in faith, and the body of Christ lives in love and fellowship.
From the Rev. Paul T. McCain, publisher and executive director of the Editorial department at Concordia Publishing House:
The Reformation matters because the reformation never ends. Until the end of time sinners will need to hear the thundering condemnation of God’s holy law and the sweet comfort of the precious Good News of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone on account of Christ alone. Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word!
From the Rev. Todd Wilken, host of Issues, Etc., talk radio:
The Reformation still matters because the Gospel still matters. The question of the day in the 16th Century was, “Is the dead and risen Jesus really enough to save a world of sinners?” That is still the question of the day in the 21st century. And the answer is still “Yes.”
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The Reformation will continue to matter as long as the Roman church continues to teach false doctrine: works-righteousness, the Pope as divinely instituted head of the Church, the unchurching of all outside of Rome and the East (and maybe Anglicanism), the invocation of saints, the false teachings concerning the Communion, etc.. Luther was right on these issues 500 years ago, and he remains right.
I want to thank each of these men for their insightful responses. But I find myself thinking that each of these fall under the category of stating the “blatantly obvious.” At the same time, not one of them seemed willing to tackle what I believe is the more pressing question: “Is the Reformation really mattering to the people we are trying to reach?” The question is not “should it” but rather “is it”.
In the lives of most people today in our country, if they were surveyed, in my humble opinion, the number of people that even know what the Reformation (really) is, let alone how it really impacts their lives, would be abysmal. And as much as it hurts to admit this, I even wonder how much better the numbers would be in Christian churches today.
I think this article would have served us better to ask a question like, “What can we do to make the Reformation REALLY matter in the lives of people on a day-to-day basis, more and more of whom never step inside a church or pay any attention to history to learn such things.
Of course the Reformation still matters, and the message of justification by grace through faith is timeless. But in a time where we can’t even keep such words in a dictionary (as they are being replaced by words like twerk), finding ways to make the Reformation alive and relevant will be the church’s REAL challenge.