I’ve had an interesting relationship toward Martin Luther. From being brought up in a family that is half Roman Catholic, to going to a university that seemed to over-elevate Martin at times, I’ve wrestled with how to healthily appreciate Luther as a contributor to our Church and also just another dude in need of saving. Only in recent years has my affinity for Luther grown, as I’ve seen the richness of what he stood for and how I think it translates to where we are today. Dare I say it…I think Luther would be considered missional (actively engaged in God’s mission of seeking and saving the lost) and here’s why.
- He rediscovered the Gospel in Scripture. Luther rediscovered and refocused the eyes of
the Church to the pure Gospel that we are saved by grace through faith, not by
anything we could or could not do.
Congregations and movements that are run by and filled with humans can often
unintentionally add practices or expectations to what it means to be saved or
part of God’s Church. Luther gets to the
heart of things. It’s not about anything
we could or could not contribute. The
Gospel is Christ. Salvation is a
gift. The rest falls into place from there. It’s found in the Scriptures and
he could not be moved from it. Nor
- He started hard conversations with honest
intentions. I shared with our campus
community this week that the Wittenberg Door was one of the original and most
powerful forms of social media. Luther
had questions and insights and wanted to start a conversation, so he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church. It was not for the sake
of stirring the pot, but for the sake of further understanding and
correction. Are we willing to ask
questions even when we’re not sure how our audience will respond? Are we willing to give ear to the hard
questions of others and wrestle along with them as Philip did with the Ethiopian? Are our intentions pure in the conversations
we seek to have or is it motivated by pride or shaming someone else?
- He was about putting Scripture in the language of the
people. Luther saw the power of God’s
Word. He experienced the peace and confidence
it brought in his own life. He saw that
it held the truth and wanted to be sure everyone had that gift. Faith comes by hearing. How do we hear (or read) the Good News if it’s
in a different language? Luther was
passionate. We can’t expect all of
Germany, from princes to peasants, to suddenly know and read Latin. We must give them God’s Word in their
language. We must ask ourselves, is our ministry more apt to organize Latin classes in our
building or start translating German to take to the streets?
- He was about putting worship in the language of the
people. What a powerful statement
and gift to our Church, that many would be able to hear God’s Word and worship
with meaning in their own tongue. This challenges me to think in a mighty way. What’s
the language of the people today? It’s
not the same everywhere, but we have the freedom and the challenge to put Scriptural worship in the language and context of the people we are among. In the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, (X. Church Rites, Affirmative
Thesis 2), our own doctrine gives and embraces huge freedom to bless our people
with worship that is useful and edifying as we gather around Scripture, prayer, and Sacrament.
We believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has the power, according to its circumstances, to change such ceremonies in such manner as may be most useful and edifying to the congregation of God.
What does it mean for us to stand strong in the Word of God and faithful teaching, while putting worship in the language of the people?
- He loved the Church enough to wrestle. Luther could have easily left the ministry, left the Church, and said “forget it.” He was not looking to start his own church, but loved her so much, he sought to work within her, realign her, and hold her accountable. My generation is especially notorious for just tossing broken things aside, especially institutions. I confess that I am guilty of that as well. There are many times I have considered throwing in the towel because of the brokenness on display in the Church. But then we see in Scripture, this incredible love Christ has for his broken Bride. It’s the goofy relative, that we all would like to disown, but we love deeply because they’re family. I am called to be part of this Bride--warts and all. And it is because I, too, am among the broken, in need of a Savior. We walk together justified, being sanctified, and sharpening one another by the truth of God's Word.
- He accepted that there will be consequences to standing boldly. I’ve always thought it to be incredible that Luther never intended to start a movement, split the Church, or start a new denomination. He only wished to refocus the Church he loved so dearly. It is a powerful reminder to us that as we stand boldly for God’s Word in a subjective culture, there will be push back. As we ask hard questions of a church we love, there will be push back and possible consequences. Luther is widely revered now, but lived a terribly difficult life. There are consequences to stepping out of line, even when it comes to standing in the truth, both in a culture that attacks and a church that may not appreciate challenge. We should not be shocked by this, but be willing to say “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for is the power of salvation for all who believe.” (Romans 1:16) I love that Luther was open to rebuke, but demanded it be from Scripture. May we be so open to being challenged, but confident in the foundation of God’s Word. May we be slow to attack when others take a bold stance.
So much of what Luther was about in 1517 resonates so loudly for us in the world's culture and Church's experience of 2014. We can point to Luther as we wrestle with being missional today, because he unapologetically points to Jesus. May we rediscover what it means for us to say, for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, “Here we stand. We can do no else.”