Soli Deo gloria
The Feast of the Reformation (22. Sunday after Trinity, Proper 26C)
Wolfgang, Bishop of Regensburg, Germany. † 994
31. October 2010
O Merciful God and Everlasting Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who in the fullness of the times did send forth Your only begotten Son, who has declared unto us whatsoever He saw and heard in Your bosom: most heartily do we praise and thank You, that You have rekindled among us the light of Your Holy Word, and graciously delivered us from the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy, and maintained that work done years ago by Your elect servant Martin Luther. In spite of the wrath and temptations of the devil You have preserved Church and School, given power to Your Word, and granted faithful teachers and ministers to Your congregations. And we acknowledge and confess that we are not worthy to receive such manifestation of Your mercy and goodness, but rather deserve Your judgment and condemnation and on account of our indifference, sins, and hypocrites to be left without the light of Your Holy Word. But we beseech You of Your mercy, deal not with us after our sins nor reward us according to our iniquities. Abide with us, O LORD, for it is toward evening. Keep us and our posterity in the faith of Your Word and in the right use of the Holy Sacraments. Sanctify Your Church in our midst; further and advance Your Reign; glorify Your Name; put down Satan under our feet, and destroy the Son of Perdition by the brightness of Your appearance. Preserve us from all false teachers, hypocrites, and enemies of Your Word who seek to overthrow Your Church purchased at so great a cost by Your dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; but at all times send us faithful ministers and teachers who shall lead us into the knowledge and confession of the heavenly mysteries, and finally into the glorious righteousness of Your everlasting Reign. Amen (Löhe 149-150).
Our sermon text for this morning, dear brothers and sisters, is from the Revelation given to St. John where the holy evangelist writes: 6Then I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, with an eternal gospel to preach to those living on earth and to every nation, tribe, language, and people, saying with a loud voice: ,,Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” This is our text.
Before there was Luther, the Germans had Wolfgang the Bishop of Regensburg, Germany in the 10th century. He is considered one of the three greatest German ecclesiastical leaders in German history. Five centuries later, God gave Germany its greatest theologian, a man named Martin Luther.
If you ask any Lutheran when the Reformation began, the answer you would receive would be 31. October 1517, for that is the day Martin Luther walked from his apartment at the Augustinian monastery and posted his famous 95 Theses on the doors of Allerheiligen Kirche (All Saints Church), which is more commonly known as Schloßkirche (Castle Church) because Duke Frederick III the Wise, Elector of Saxony, built this church in Wittenberg from 1490-1511. When the University of Wittenberg was founded in 1502 by Duke Frederick, the Castle Church became the university’s chapel. Luther was a well-educated man. He was an Augustinian friar (1505), a Catholic priest (1507), and a professor at Wittenberg University with the degree of Doctor of Theology (ThD) (1512). Luther posted the theses to announce that he would debate and lecture at Wittenberg University on the topic of indulgences. It took him fifteen minutes to walk down the street from the Augustinian monastery to the Castle Church. It took fifteen minutes for the Medieval world to change, a change that still reverberates into the 21st century.
At issue in 1517 for Luther was the future of the Church. It is still the issue before us five hundred years later. The thesis before us today is:
The future of the Church
1. does not lie in what we do, but
2. lies alone in what God does through Christ# (Martens).
There is one heresy that consistently infects and infests Christ’s Holy Church, and that is the heresy of Pelagianism. The central doctrine of Pelagianism is that men and women have the ability to keep God’s law and therefore merit eternal life. A number of polls are conducted each year by different denominations where the question is asked, Q: How do you get to heaven? The answer given most often by Christians and non-Christians alike is, A: I have to earn my way into heaven. When asked what things earn entrance into heaven, the usual responses are given, A: be a good person, go to church, give an offering, obey the Ten Commandments, and other similar things. At this point Lutherans hold up their head and puff out their chest and proudly proclaim: ,,We are the heirs of Luther and we know the answer to that question!“ Polling data, however, consistently reveals that even 66% of Lutherans give the answer as ,,I must earn my way into heaven.“ Some of these Lutherans say this because, sadly, that’s what they are taught and have preached to them on a regular basis. Most Lutherans, however, give this wrong answer because Pelagianism agrees so much with our fallen nature and way of thinking. There is something in the fallen, sinful nature that reasons that we must do something to save ourselves and restore our broken relationship with Yahweh.
This desire to do something in regards to our salvation results from the uncertainty that attends to our fallen nature. We are uncertain whether enough has been done to merit our forgiveness, therefore, we reason that if we add our own merits to the mix then a certain level of certainty will result and ease our unsettled consciences. In Luther’s day, Medieval certainty involved many different things, including pilgrimages, masses, and indulgences. Instead of providing certainty, such activities actually heightened one’s uncertainty because one never knew if they had merited enough through their acts of piety and penance to reach heaven. The common Medieval portrayal of Jesus in painting and stained glass windows showed Him as an angry God casting sinners into hell. In the face of such anger, no one was sure if they had enough forgiveness and their faith was directed away from Christ and onto other means of certainty.
Little has changed since Luther’s day. Christians are still tempted to doubt their forgiveness and salvation. Is Christ’s merit enough? What can I do or what can I add that will bring me more certainty? Christians are not helped and their Anfechtung (angst) is not relieved when they turn on their TV and see Rick Warren declare: ,,You see, it takes more than faith, it takes more than belief to really please God“. Christians will think ,,Surely, if one of America’s preeminent Evangelical pastors says this, then it must be true.“
Fortunately for us, the Church does not exist in a vacuum. Countless Christian men and women have struggled with such doubts, and they found their answer in the gospel. The future of the Church, and their own eternal future, did not lie in themselves, but it lies upon solus Christus (Christ alone). Luther is perhaps the most well-known theologian to proclaim this answer.
Luther’s 65th thesis is a precious jewel; he writes: ,,The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.“ Not only does John see in his Apocalypse an angel proclaim this gospel in mid-heaven, but the Holy Spirit has throughout all ages sent prophets, apostles, and pastors who are bishops and teachers to preach this glorious gospel of Christ. True Christian preachers proclaim the opposite of Rick Warren, for true Christian preachers proclaim the pure gospel which is ,,It takes only faith to really please God.“
Let us be clear here, the emphasis is not on ourselves or the faith, but the emphasis is on the subject of the faith, which is Christ. Faith looks to Christ and only Christ. Faith looks to Christ Jesus who suffered on the cross as the ransom price for our sins and who then rose on the third day in victory over sin, death, and the devil. Christ on the cross and Christ risen from the dead are the only merits that please our Heavenly Father. Christ pleases God on our behalf, and faith trusts in Christ and therefore has Christ’s good pleasure credited to the individual who believes in Jesus. Thus faith pleases God.
Do not let the devil or your conscience weigh you down, arguing that you must do something more, something else, to be sure of your righteous standing before our Heavenly Father. Do not believe the lies of Rick Warren, or any other preacher, who tells you that you must put your certainty of salvation in Jesus plus something else, or faith in addition to some other work to be assured of your justification. We only need Christ alone. We only need faith alone in this great and glorious Redeemer.
Such is the purifying message of Luther’s Reformation. He brought certainty to uncertain sinners. He brought them Christ, and only Christ, as the cure and balm for the forgiveness of sins. We must be vigilant with this precious gospel, for it is easily lost. The landscape of Protestantism is littered with denominations that have jettisoned or corrupted the pure gospel of Christ crucified. American Christianity assuredly needs the Reformation with its doctrine of justification just as badly as the Medieval Church needed it in Luther’s day. May the Holy Spirit raise up this day men and women who will ensure that the proclamation of the gospel endures and may He raise up bishops, pastors, and theologians who will ring the bells with their joyous peals of the gospel in sermons, in books, and on the Internet. It took Martin Luther fifteen minutes to change the world with the gospel of Christ penned in his 95 Theses, and it only takes a pastor fifteen minutes to proclaim this same gospel from the pulpit. For when the gospel is purely preached, Christ is rightly glorified and His Church is strengthened and expands because sinners are assured of their forgiveness through the merit of solus Christus (Christ alone). Amen.
Let us pray. O Lord Jesus, the Shepherd of Your Church, take away our fear and give us peace so that we are certain and assured that on account of You and Your merit alone that it is Your Father’s good pleasure to give us the reign of heaven and that we enter into this blessed reign solely on account of the fact that You, O Christ, has opened heaven for us. Amen.
One Message: Christ crucified and risen for you!
All Scriptural quotations are translations done by The Rev. Peter A. Bauernfeind using the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 4th Edition © 1990 by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, the Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 27th Edition © 1993 by Deutsch Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, and the New Testament Greek Manuscripts, Luke © 1995 by Reuben Joseph Swanson.
Löhe, Wilhelm. Liturgy for Christian Congregations of the Lutheran Church. Copyright © 1997 Repristination Press.
Martens. Gottfried. A sermon preached on 31. October 2009 (Gedenktag der Reformation) in Berlin-Zehlendorf, Germany on John 2,13-22. Copyright © 2009 The Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens. The Rev. Peter A. Bauernfeind, Tr. © 2010.