500 Years of Formation


John 8:31-36; Romans 3:19-28

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

500 Years ago, something amazing happened. Cairo was captured by the Ottoman Empire, and, finally, the Mamluk Sultanate fell. No? Oh ya, that’s when the Fifth Council of the Lateran ended. No? Of course, how could I have forgotten? Today we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation started by our namesake Martin Luther.

At high-noon Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. This simple act of inviting the officials of the Catholic Church to debate 95 different areas of church doctrine touched off the largest religious movement in history and here we are today still seeking the truth in its truest form.

Now, I’m not going to ply you with more Reformation trivia, I believe we have done a lot to paint the picture already. But I would like to look a little at its history to make my case that a new reformation might be in order.

We are gathered here today at Redeemer Lutheran Church because one man had the courage to address problems within the church he had given his life to. Back then, it was not Luther’s wish to break up the Roman Catholic Church. As he nailed the 95 theses to the Castle Church door he was not planning to leave the church and start his own.

He simply wanted to reform the church back to the church it once was. The body of Christ who stood for the truth of Scripture and the humility and devotion of its members. He wanted to debate certain issues he felt needed to be addressed so that the Church he loved could find itself once again.

But he touched off a powder keg of emotion that had been swelling up within most of the population. His was not the first call for reform, nor would it be the last. He just happened to nail the right document on the right door which I believe had everything to do with God Himself wanting the same thing. Reform.

Martin was very entrenched in the church. As a professor at Wittenberg College, and Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, he was privy to many of the activities within the church and he didn’t like what he was seeing. As we even see in our churches today, the wishes and wants of man were clouding the picture of what our Heavenly Father wanted his church to be.

The main problem in Luther’s time is that the church had gotten too powerful. And with great power often came great corruption. As it grew, it came to be the main governing body in all of Europe. Even its kings were guided by it politically. By now, the pope was even more political than spiritual. Luther saw this and knew something had to be done.

In those days the church was much different than it is now. Only priests were allowed to read Scripture, thinking they were the only ones who could interpret it correctly. People either attended church or they were excommunicated from it and ostracized from the general population and services often lasted from 4 to 6 hours and in them only Latin was spoken.

The church had a hold of the minds of everyone and with that power, the shallowness of man is bound to surface. Can you imagine the blind trust that was involved? The church could basically make any rule they wanted and the population had no choice but to follow it, fearing the wrath of God if they didn’t.

What upset the church so terribly much was that the Reformation was dangerous in that it threatened to end this grip of power the church had over the people. And that’s what it did. It exposed the problems and corruption within the church that people had been carrying the weight of for so long. The selling of indulgences was just one of many examples of man-made rules established to keep the population in Holy Roman order.

The Reformation brought to light what the populace had been complaining about for years. Martin did much more than most men were doing to expose these problems and, were it not for his determination and bravery under the threat of death, the church would have continued its evil. Only the Spirit of Christ could have given him this strength.

And now we find ourselves in the 21st century, still being reformed, over and over again. In fact, our churches look much different than the churches we all grew up in. If someone had suggested to add drums and guitars to the church service when I was a kid they would have been tarred and feathered (figuratively of course).

I look at the church, however, and I see many of the problems that once plagued us creeping up again but in much the opposite way. I see worship taking a backseat to praise. I see pastors with little or no training running churches with thousands of people in them. I see dangerous teachings and man-made rites expressed freely and passionately. I see the Word of God twisted and turned until it no longer makes any sense except to the person who has shaped it into something that accepts pretty much anything the reader chooses.

Honestly, I think we’ve taken this reformation thing too far and are in need of a counter-reformation back to a Christ centered church that preaches Law and Gospel as a rule. A church that shows praise but not at the expense of true worship. A church that isn’t afraid of liturgy and an unchangeable doctrine based on Biblical principles. A church that doesn’t bend the rules so that it might accept worldly ways. A church with its foundation as Christ and each member focused on their part within it.

Sometimes I think we focus so much on ourselves in worship and praise that we fail anymore to see the big picture of salvation.

It hurts me to say that many of our churches are no longer places of moral leadership but, rather, have become bastions of political correctness no longer governed by Holy Scripture but bowing to the whims and wishes of the world. We’re so afraid to offend someone that we forgo God’s Holy Voice due to the crying’s and complaining’s of those who have invested nothing in the church.

We have replaced Sola Christus, by Christ alone, for a God of our own design.

We have replaced Sola Gracia, by grace alone, for worldly acceptance.

We have replaced Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone, for a twisted up version that has become a shell of itself to better suit the world.

We have replaced Soli Deo Gloria, by glory to God alone, for the glory of mortal men.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need a new reformation that brings us back to Christ, Sustained by His grace, propped up by His Word and enveloped in His glory. We need to come back to reverence and the teachings He has given us, not for our own glory but for his.

I look back on my life and I see how God is still forming me to be the person He has called me to be. Some of the forming was difficult, especially when I resisted His gentle touch. Some of it was glorious as He brought me into new ways of serving Him.

Well, just as He formed me, He is forming you. But you can be sure that His ways of formation will not change. His Holy Spirit and His Holy Word have remained unchanged as a solid foundation of faith. His love has not diminished, His grace is still always with us, His peace still resides in our hearts and His mercy is unending. Never does He look back at what a mess we have made of things and wish He had never been in relationship with us. We know this because he still works in our hearts to reform us into His image, every day.

He wishes His church to focus on this kind of change and not the kind of change that changes His holy plans. He still directs through His word with the same emphasis as he did when He inspired the writers of the Gospel to write it. He still calls us to be one body under Christ focused on Him above all other things and He still calls us to be separate from the world, to be in it but not of it.

Yes, I believe it’s time for a new reformation back to the understanding that God is unchanging but ready to make Godly changes within us. I yearn for the time when our common faith will bring us to a greater understanding that we are stronger together than we are apart. I pray that God will continue to challenge the faithful to resist the worldliness that has crept into our sanctuary’s and that the truth will shine its light so very brightly that the whole world can’t help but to take notice.

For that to happen, it will require us to be in the front lines of the battle, unashamed of the faith we profess. It will challenge us to stand up for truth even when it’s no longer fashionable in the world. It will ask great things of us, some we never thought we were capable of, but, together, we can make that kind of kingdom difference in the world. The only thing holding us back is our attraction to things that are not of God.

We look at our little church and its only understandable to wonder how we can start this reformation process ourselves. To that I remind you that Martin Luther was just one man who was courageous enough to speak the truth and, because of that, the whole Christian world changed. With God with us who can stand against us.

Jesus said, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Free from the world and its enticements, free from the sin that binds us. Free to stand up for the truth proclaimed and practiced by the people of God. Stand up for truth as a disciple of Christ and lean not on your own understanding. Together, let’s start a reformation revolution.

Martin Luther showed what standing up for the truth could do. Trust in God to work in you just as He worked in Him. Amen

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