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Lutheran Reformation Day Apology

October 27th, 2007
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Once a year I find myself feeling the need to apologize for Reformation Day messages that are not much more than apologetic hand-wringing wimpering, "Oh, we should all be so, so sad on this day that the Reformation happened. Isn’t it so sad? The church was divided." Huh? What kind of drivel is this? If you are one who is afflicted with this kind of message on Reformation Day, I apologize for such apologies.

Let’s review:

(1) The Gospel had been obscured to the point of  being lost in many ways.
(2) The Reformation had to take place.
(3) Rome could have prevented it by repenting of its damning error.
(4) Yes, it is sad that it had to happen, but not sad that it did happen.

I’m not advocating some sort of "all praise be to Luther" fest either. Hermann Sasse wisely noted once that when the Luther statues started going up, that was about the same time that Luther’s theology began to recede into the background in favor of rationalism, while Luther the hero was preserved.

But, don’t let me hear any of this sniveling, "Oh, boo-hoo, the Reformation happened" bunk on this day. Let me hear a glorious celebration of the great blessing and gift of the Reformation of the Church, a glorious celebration of the Gospel of Christ!

Repentance? Of course. Repent for our sin. Repent for our weak resignation. Repent of the sinful pride and arrogance that is always a present danger to a focus on Christ. But repent for the Reformation? Never. Of course not. How silly.

Happy Reformation Day!!!

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Categories: Lutheranism
  1. Peter Bauernfeind
    October 27th, 2007 at 19:15 | #1

    I expect that “every” Sunday (yes, every day!) in our Lutheran churches is a Reformation celebration of sola gratia, sola fides, sola scriptura, and solus Christus. If we aren’t preaching justification by faith through grace for Christ’s sake, then we are preaching another gospel (and a damning gospel, at that). The only way the Holy Spirit is going to evangelize America, Europe, and the world is if preachers actually preach the gospel of Christ alone–Christ crucified and risen for our justification. None of this Christ and (fill in the blank) stuff, but only Christ. Rev. Armin Wenz preached an awesome sermon on this theme last Reformation day in Oberursel, Germany. May God’s Word and Luther’s teaching remain forever.

  2. Mike Baker
    October 28th, 2007 at 13:03 | #2

    Division in the church is bad.
    Error in the church is worse.
    Unity among Christians is important.
    But unity under the truth is essential.

  3. Rev. James Roemke
    October 28th, 2007 at 13:28 | #3

    I am with you 100% on this. I will not apologize for Martin Luther’s insistence on the eternal Gospel. It is funny that people who are apologetic about Reformation Day do not seem to demand or even expect any kind of apology from heterodox communions. It is a shame Christians aren’t united, but union under anything but the eternal Gospel of Christ Jesus is a perverted one.

  4. October 28th, 2007 at 21:29 | #4

    Long time no post…but…I figured this was a good one. I just preached on John 8 – Jesus told His disciples that the truth (the Gospel) would set them FREE. I’m glad old Martin got the hint and freed the church from a need to give up on the truth for the sake of ecumenism.
    jW

  5. October 28th, 2007 at 21:59 | #5

    So, who exactly is crying, “Oh, boo-hoo, the Reformation happened”? (Proof works better at convincing than mere claims.) That’s a far cry from genuine and needed repentance over the sad state of affairs in a divided Christendom. *That* is what we should really lament and pray our gracious God and Savior to resolve.

  6. October 29th, 2007 at 02:25 | #6

    I haven’t run into the crying about this holiday yet. Everyone is usually pretty jazzed and happy.
    It might be from other denominations, the boo-hoo thing?

  7. mommy
    October 29th, 2007 at 07:59 | #7

    I would have been glad for such a sermon. Instead ours (yes, LCMS!) was an infomercial for the Catholic church, the theme of which was that it was all just one big misunderstanding because we don’t listen to one another. If we did, we’d see that we all really believe the same thing, and, in fact, coordinated efforts in the past have resulted in significant reconciliation. It concluded with something to the effect that we shouldn’t be so stubborn in our beliefs but rather listen to others because we could be wrong. I left in tears and don’t think I will ever go back.

  8. October 29th, 2007 at 13:26 | #8

    You should tell your pastor your concerns, and consider talking to the circuit counselor or district president if he is teaching false doctrine without repentance. Surely things haven’t gotten so bad in the LCMS that a man can preach against the doctrine of justification.

  9. mommy
    October 29th, 2007 at 13:56 | #9

    Mr. Hess – He didn’t specifically preach against justification but that the Catholic church believes in it the same way we do. He *praised* the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification for helping us to realize that our big problem was that neither “side” understood what the other meant by the word “cooperate” and once we “listened” to each other, we realized we believe the same thing. He also said (and repeated for emphasis) that the Catholic church never sold indulgences – it was just one wayward and overzealous fund-raiser who happened to come to Luther’s town who was selling them (but even so, after all, it was for a good cause – the beautiful cathedral in Rome). He concluded by saying something to the effect that we shouldn’t be so stubborn in our beliefs but rather listen to what others believe because we could be wrong.

  10. October 29th, 2007 at 18:16 | #10

    mommy – If I may ask, what would have been your preferred/ideal message to hear for “Reformation Sunday”?
    Also, if I may ask on a separate but related matter, is there any place in a “Reformation Sunday” sermon for speaking as the Preface to the Augsburg Confession does, “We…are prepared to discuss, in a friendly manner, all possible ways and means by which we may come together” (AC, Pref. 10)?

  11. Pr. Jim Roemke
    October 29th, 2007 at 19:45 | #11

    I was at a Roman gift shop that was connected with a shrine in northern Michigan last week. They sold there a small, metal crucifix with an indulgence card issued by Pope Pius X, a pontiff who sat in Peter’s chair rather unworthily around the turn of the 19th century. Catholics do STILL sell indulgences and they certainly did in Luther’s day. This very fact is contrary to the assertion that they believe, teach, and confess the Biblical and Christ centered doctrine of Justification.

  12. Karl Hess
    October 29th, 2007 at 21:09 | #12

    Mommy–
    Every pastor in our Synod has taken an oath to teach according to the Book of Concord because they believe it to be a correct exposition of Scripture. There’s no room in that oath for us to imply that “we might be wrong,” nor to say that the Roman teaching on justification is really the same as the teaching of the Augsburg confession. For him to teach that is a denial of the things he took an oath to teach, and it is harmful to the sheep Christ has given him the responsibility to feed with Christ’s pure gospel.
    It might be hard to speak to your pastor about this, but it is the most loving thing you could do for him if he is teaching false doctrine. I’m a pastor and I know I would listen if one of the people in my congregation came to me and told me they thought I was teaching contrary to Scripture. Perhaps you misunderstood him, or perhaps your talking to him may help him to see his error.

  13. mommy
    October 30th, 2007 at 07:39 | #13

    Pastor Hess (forgive me for addressing you as “Mr.” yesterday – I didn’t know you were a Pastor), Thank you for your thoughtful answers. I started responding but found that I was uncomfortable sharing any more details about this “in public.” The bottom line is that for me, the best solution is to go elsewhere – at least for now. Trust me, however, that there is no way I misunderstood what he said. It is very sad. BTW, he is our Associate Pastor. I don’t know why our Senior Pastor allowed it – perhaps he’s dealing with it offline this week.

  14. Rev. Al Bergstrazer
    October 30th, 2007 at 17:15 | #14

    The Reformers said: “Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.” (Romans 3 and 4)
    The Augsburg Confession, Article IV, Concordia Triglotta, page 45, 1921 Concordia.
    Rome responded: “If any one says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary to be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.” (‘anathema’ was the declaration of exclusion of heretics from the society of the faithful).
    Canon 9, of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent.
    “The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent” Trans; H.J. Schroeder TAN books, 1978
    The Reformers defended: “For they condemn us both for denying that men obtain remission of their sins because of their own merits, and for affirming that, through faith men obtain remission of sins, and through faith in Christ are justified. But since in this controversy the chief topic of Christian doctrine is treated, which, understood aright, illumines and amplifies the honor of Christ [which is of especial service for the clear, correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, and alone shows the way to the unspeakable treasure and right knowledge of Christ, and alone opens the door to the entire Bible], and brings necessary and most abundant consolation to devout consciences we ask his Imperial Majesty to hear us with forbearance in regard to matters of such importance. For since the adversaries understand neither what the remission of sins, nor what faith, nor what grace, nor what righteousness is, they sadly corrupt this topic, and obscure the glory and benefits of Christ and rob devout consciences of the consolations offered in Christ.”
    Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV (II). Concordia Triglotta, page 121, 1921 Concordia.
    The consequences: May 26th 1521, Charles the V signed the Edict of Worms, which called Luther a devil in monk’s clothing. It accused him of destroying the sacraments and of encouraging war, murder, robbery and other crimes. Luther was an outlaw, no German was to have anything to do with him except to capture or kill him on sight. His followers were to be treated in the same way. No one was to print, buy sell, read or own any of Luther’s writings. No books were to be published that argued against the Roman Church or its teachings. Anyone publishing such books would be arrested and put to death, and his property would go to the one who had caught him. (Ref; “Here I Stand” Roland Bainton, Abingdon Cokesbury. Page 189)
    The reformers did not want to start a new church, they wanted to have an open and frank debate on their concerns, but Rome did not. Or should I say Rome would not yield. Despite the initial conciliatory tone of the reformers when speaking to the leadership of the church, both sides clearly understood what they were saying and put it into writing. Luther understood the deadly seriousness of his words; after all, John Huss had died for far less than what Luther was saying. The Saxon Princes, Electors, Landgraves and others who signed the confessional documents understood the consequences of defying the Pope and the Emperor.

  15. mommy
    October 31st, 2007 at 07:38 | #15

    Rev. Al, Thank you for this concise compilation of information. It is very helpful to me. However, our Pastor preached that if they had all just stopped being buttheads and listened to one another, they never would have had these disagreements. I know this sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. As I mentioned above, he even referred to the “reconciliation” over the word “cooperate” in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. (I’m not sure why he didn’t bother researching this – there’s a wonderful refutation of that declaration right on the LCMS website). For a lot of reasons not worth going into here, I don’t want to do anything about this, so I’ll just have to move on.

  16. Rev. Al Bergstrazer
    October 31st, 2007 at 10:39 | #16

    God’s peace to you.

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