Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 31, 2009

Reformation Reflections

During last week’s WELS Arizona-California District pastors’ conference, our district president, Pastor Jon Buchholz (Tempe, AZ), began his report with some thoughts about the Lutheran Reformation and its theology.  On this Reformation Day, I thought I’d share with you what he shared with us in his report:

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:6, 7).

This season of the year carries us into the End Times, when we remember that Christ our triumphant King will return to judge the living and the dead and to take his people home. God wins!

It’s also the season when we celebrate our gospel heritage as heirs of the Lutheran Reformation. Through the frail human instrument of Dr. Martin Luther, God restored the clear preaching of the gospel to his church. The Lord opened Luther’s eyes to see that “in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:17). This “righteousness from God” is the active obedience of Jesus Christ, our vicarious substitute and our Savior, whose death atoned for our sins, and whose perfect life is imputed to us as die Gerechtigkeit, die vor Gott gilt.

I have no hard data to support my observations, but I see attendance at area joint Reformation services generally declining. Could this be because our people have their once-a-week fill on Reformation Sunday morning and don’t need more gospel from another windy preacher? Could it be that Sunday afternoon sports on television have more appeal than gathering with like-minded believers in a celebration of God’s Reformation victory? Could it be because being Lutheran means very little to Lutherans anymore? Could it be because sin doesn’t sting and the grave doesn’t appall and the sweet gospel doesn’t comfort the unafflicted? Perhaps it’s all of the above.

Permit me a couple of observations on Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel in Scripture. His rediscovery was not that Jesus died for the sin of the world, or that the atoning sacrifice of Christ was sufficient to pay for all sin; the Roman church always taught that—and does to this day. Churches of many stripes teach that Jesus died for all. Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel centered in two points: (1) How the forgiveness won by Christ on the cross actually reaches a sinner, and (2) what it means not just to be forgiven but to be righteous in the eyes of God. Contrasted with the Roman teaching that Jesus’ forgiveness must be merited through repentance, prayer, sacramental participation, and satisfaction, Luther discovered that “all . . . are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Sola gratia! Sola fide! Through the gospel in word and sacrament (Sola Scriptura!) God not only delivers the forgiveness that removes our sin, he also imputes the righteousness of Christ as the iustitia aliena that makes the Bride of Christ as radiant, pure and beautiful as the Bridegroom himself. The gospel tells you that in Christ you are always forgiven, always righteous, always holy, always pleasing in God’s sight, always ready to cross the threshold of death and meet your Righteous Judge, for your “life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

This is the heart of what it means to be Lutheran. Contrast the common idea that forgiveness must be earned by those who are truly sorry and make amends; or the common notion that we become forgiven in God’s eyes through faith, but we become good in God’s eyes by following Jesus and conforming our lives to his teachings (WWJD?); or the common opinion that good Sunday preaching offers practical moralizing for Monday; or . . . ? You are Lutheran, an heir of the gospel triumph called the Reformation. Don’t let the fickle breezes that blow across the American religious landscape turn you from a front-and-center focus on the gospel!

Christ Our Righteousness, Christus pro nobis, is the heart of the gospel and the heart of the Lutheran Reformation. Cherish it! Celebrate it with the people of God! Hold it high before those whom you serve, and let the pure gospel be a beacon to your neighborhood and your community!

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