Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Day

Today is known by many as Reformation Day.  This is on account of an event that occurred 495 years ago on October 31, 1517.  On that day, a relatively obscure monk and doctor of theology posted 95 theses concerning abuses within the Church of God, or at least what people had been taught to believe was the Church of God.  The truth is that the Church had been taken captive by a larger body that was really not the Church at all.  Yet within this larger body, God had preserved a few who miraculously still clung to the promises of God in Christ, though they were terribly persecuted whenever they dared to speak openly concerning these things.

Dr. Luther wrote his concerns in the form of the famous, or infamous in some circles, 95 theses and he posted them on the community theological bulletin board, that is, the door of the Wittenberg Church.  His intention was to begin discussions regarding what the Holy Scriptures declare for the Church, especially in contrast to the posted abuses.  From this grew a mighty firestorm as the validity of these challenges became apparent to more and more theologians and people.  This reaction to Luther and his challenges, which grew to become a movement throughout the world, became known as the Protestant Reformation, and that which remained closer to the doctrine exposed by Dr. Luther and his fellow theologians was more narrowly labeled the Lutheran Reformation.

Having shared this background information, it is fitting to ask a larger question: “What is Reformation Day really about?”

If a house is handed down within a family from generation to generation, there could be a number of occasions for celebration regarding this house.  One occasion for celebration could be the day of the purchase of the land.  Another could be the day of first breaking ground for the laying of the foundation.  Another could be the day of completion of the building.  Another could be the day the family actually began to reside in the house.  If a loan or mortgage was involved, the day of the payoff could be another occasion.  The birth of the first child could be another.  On and on the occasions for celebration multiply.

Perhaps the house caught fire and burned in the seventh generation and had to be rebuilt.  This would become yet another occasion, one that may even encompass many of the previous occasions and combine them all into one great celebraton.

Reformation Day is much like this.

However, if such an occasion were to be celebrated in perpetuity, would those who enjoyed the benefits of the house make one of the tools the focus of the celebration?  Would they make the focus the pick axe that was used to break the ground?  Would they choose the saw that made the first cut in the new timber for rebuilding the burned house?  Moreover, would they name the house after the pick axe or  rename the rebuilt house after the saw?

Does this sound ridiculous?

What is the Reformation really about?  Is it about the tool, Luther, whom God used to call out His children from a burned out and crumbling house?  Or is it about the house of God to which He called out His children and the joyous and blessed life within this house that He provides for all who hear His calling and gather to the means of this blessed life?

Moreover, what is the house of God, anyway?  Is it the building upon which people place their signs after they erect their stones or bricks or lumber?  Is it the corporation that they charter and define with a constitution and bylaws?

Did Luther and his brethren who stood with him in the face of threats against their lives and persecution of many kinds have anything to say on this?  Did they give a clear definition of what they believed the house of God, the Church, to be?

Indeed they did.  They spoke of this in the confession of faith that they were required to present to the Emperor in 1530 at the Diet of Augsburg.  This has come to be called the Augsburg Confession.  Within this confession many of the articles of the faith are addressed, stating what these churches and teachers who stood together in concord believed, taught, and confessed from the Word of God.

Article VII: Of the Church.

1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4, 5. 6.

Article VIII: What the Church Is.

1] Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: The Scribes and 2] the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, etc. Matt. 23, 2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men. 3] They condemn the Donatists, and such like, who denied it to be lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.

Do those who celebrate the Reformation today share with these confessors of the Faith the same understanding?  Do they celebrate what the “Reformers” celebrated?

What really is the cause for celebration this day?

Is it not that God worked through various men throughout the many generations to proclaim His saving Gospel and to administer His Sacraments for our salvation and preservation as His children within His holy household of faith?  When we celebrate Reformation Day, is not the true cause for celebration the gifts of the Gospel and the Baptism by which God regenerates us as His true children and the Holy Supper by which He nourishes us with His forgiveness and renewal in the one true faith in His Holy Communion?

How many times does the Lord Jesus emphasize the fact that the Gospel is the call of the King to all of His scattered children to be gathered to the wedding banquet?

Is this not the true focus of Reformation Day?

Is this gracious activity of the Lord our God not true cause for celebration?

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