Vol. VIII — No. 45 November 12, 1967
I believed, therefore have I spoken.
In Christ Jesus, whom we are to confess out of a fulness of faith that is obedient to His Word, Fellow Redeemed:
During this month we have been meditating upon some of the blessings which the Lord our God has given us through the Reformation. We have named some of the errors that had become current teaching in the church before the Reformation. We observed how the Reformation restored the apostolic teaching. But we also have noted that in our day, 450 years after the Reformation, the same errors have crept back into the churches of the children of the Reformation and are plaguing us today. We find that our greatest need today is yet another reformation of the church.
We began by noting the perversion of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper: how the sacrament was converted from a means of distributing the blessings of Christ’s one sacrifice to the continuous and repeated sacrificing of Christ’s body in an unbloody way to manufacture, as it were, sufficient grace to forgive the sins of the living and the dead. We noted the struggle that Luther had with the Swiss reformers who judged the sacrament by the standard of their reason and ended up by mutilating the sacrament by denying the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament. Both of these errors persist to this day. Many Lutherans today make themselves partakers of the error of denying the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament by fellowshipping with the Reformed in what is commonly known as the practice of “open communion.”
We have observed how the authority of the Word of God was replaced in the church before the Reformation by the authority of the church itself and ultimately of the pope. We observe this same situation in churches today. The word of man, either of the leaders of the churches or the majority of the people at a church convention or at a congregation meeting, has replaced the authority of God in His Word. Instead of God speaking in His word and man listening, we find that men and women in the church want to speak and expect God to listen.
We dedicated the message of one Sunday to the question of the certainty of our salvation. That certainty had been lost to the church before the Reformation because man was directed to his own works and efforts rather than to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The same thing has happened and is happening in the churches today. The doctrine of salvation by works has infiltrated into the churches on all levels. When that happens, the certainty of salvation cannot but be lost, for the certainty of your and my salvation lies not in what we do or leave undone, but rather in what our Lord Jesus has done for us and still does for us.
Last Sunday we studied how the doctrine of the Church was externalized before the Reformation and how that is being done again today. Whenever people identify the Church of Jesus Christ with any organization, past or present, the essence of the Church, as the congregation of believers in Jesus Christ, is obscured and violated.
We find, then, that the conditions in the churches of the children of the Reformation resemble to a great degree conditions that existed in the church before the Reformation. Four hundred and fifty years ago the Lord brought about a reformation in the church. Today any sign of a trend towards reformation in the churches is small indeed. Were is the difference between then and now? How was a reformation possible then, but unlikely now? What is necessary to bring about a reformation in the church? The single verse of our text, taken from a psalm written centuries ago, gives answer. This is the answer:
The church deteriorates when unbelief takes over in the hearts of churchmen. When that happens, then the mouths of men begin to express doubt concerning the Word of the Lord and end up by replacing the word with their own thoughts and opinions. The Lord’s antidote to this situation is to raise up men and women and children who say, “I believed, therefore have I spoken.” When the Spirit of God fills the heart of a man or a woman or a child with faith in Christ, the Lord and Savior, and with humble obedience towards His Word, then that man or woman or child cannot but confess what is within him. When the heart is full, the mouth does run over. The shepherds on Christmas Eve could not keep to themselves the Good News that they had heard. Their hearts overflowed through their lips and they made known abroad all that the angel had told them.
Who has it been that God has used to reform the church down through the ages? It has always been men whose hearts were filled with faith that made them bold and fearless confessors. Such people have always been chosen by the Lord of the Church to undo the work of the unbelievers in the church who pollute it with their human doctrines. When deterioration set in amidst the Congregation of Israel during the times of the kings, whom did the Lord send to stem the tide and hold off judgment? He raised up godly kings and sent His prophets whose hearts were filled with that faith which made them bold confessors. A Hezekiah, an Isaiah, a Jeremiah were such people. When God was ready to send His Son to redeem fallen mankind, the entire church was under the control of unbelieving men who had cast out of the church the Word of the Lord and had replaced it with their own traditions. Then it was that God sent His own Son to confess Him and His Word. He confessed, even though it meant for Him death upon the cross. How did the first Christian Church get started? Through common, ordinary people whose hearts were filled with the Good News of salvation and whose lips could not but proclaim what was in their hearts! When unbelieving men tried again and again to insert their own notions and opinions into the church, the Lord sent His Apostles, whose hearts were filled with the Spirit of God, to preach and teach, admonish and rebuke, so that the troublemakers in the congregations could be exposed as enemies of the Truth and so that the Word of the Lord could be hallowed among His people.
In the centuries after the Apostles darkness settled down upon the church once again. It seemed as though God had abandoned His people and Satan was ruling in the church. Then—
History recognizes Luther as one of its giants—a bold and fearless and courageous man. But he was different from an Alexander the Great or a Napoleon. His courage was a gift of the Spirit of God. The Spirit opened His eyes once again to the glory of the grace of God in the face of Christ Jesus. Luther learned again by the Spirit what had been long forgotten—that the word of the living God is an unbroken whole. The moment man puts his unholy hands on one jot or tittle of the Word, that moment he begins to attempt to dethrone God in His Temple. Filled with such a Spirit-wrought faith Luther battled all the powers that be and was given victory. His friends warned him against going to Worms. They feared the teachery of the Emperor and the church princes. Luther went. He stood his ground. He confessed his faith and was ready at all times to seal his confession with his life’s blood.
But Luther stood not alone. The Lord raised up an entire generation of confessors who were unashamed and unafraid to confess their Lord and His Word. For me one of the most inspiring scenes took place at Augsburg on June 25th in the year 1530. Then it was that the Lutheran princes presented the Augsburg Confession before the Emperor. Luther could not be there, for he had been declared public enemy number one because of his fearless confession. But the Lord raised up bold and fearless lay confessors. One of them kneeled solemnly before the Emperor and confessed that he would rather have his head chopped off then and there than recant and so deny his Lord and Savior. Through such men and women and children the Lord of the Church brought about the reformation four hundred and fifty years ago. What about today?
He have the truths of the Reformation today. They are known. They are recorded in endless volumes. They are piously mouthed by many who bear the name “Christian” and “Lutheran.” They Bible is today the most widely distributed book in the world. Yet the churches have and are departing from the Truth. What is the trouble? A leading church magazine put its finger on the difficulty when it said “We lack the faith of the reformers of old. What an indictment of the leaders of the churches and of the men and women that sit in the pew! Why is it that so many bemoan conditions in the churches, but so few do anything about it? There isn’t enough faith in the heart to move the mouth to confess and the body to act. “O for a faith that will not shrink, Though pressed by many a foe!”
But let us not make ourselves feel good by making others our whipping boys! Let us rather examine ourselves, confess our weaknesses, and pray for a faith that will move us to confess and act fearlessly and unashamedly!
When you people left your former congregations to found this congregation, you did what had to be done because you realized that the situation in your former churches demanded a reformation. You found that the Word of God had been replaced by the word of man. You wanted to establish a church in which the Lord would rule through His word. You had difficulties because you could not find a man in your former fellowship that had sufficient faith to preach what should be preached and lead you in the direction that you wanted to go—regardless of the personal consequences to himself. You had difficulty also because you had over the years become accustomed to man-made perversions of the Word. In March of this year you made a basic decision: to go all the way, to become a conservative, orthodox Lutheran congregation which would be ruled by the Word of God. You knew that there were certain practices in your midst that would have to be changed—for the simple reason that they were in conflict with the clear word of God. In your call, which was unanimous, you bound me “to preach and teach publicly and privately the word of God in its truth to old and young.” You did not ask me to adjust my preaching and teaching to what any individual or any family or any group in the congregation wanted. On the evening of April 19th I stood here in the church and made my confession. Then I went outside while you considered the matter again. You called me back shortly to inform me that you had again re-affirmed my call. I came because you asked me twice—unanimously—to come and preach the whole Word of God to you so that, in the midst of all the surrounding congregations which are to a greater or lesser extent governed by the opinion of man, there might be one congregation that would be governed by the Word of God alone. What you did was an act of faith, well pleasing unto the Lord, for He wants His Word to rule in the church. If you would have left your former congregations only to found another congregation just like the ones you left, that is, a congregation in which the members rather than the Word of God rule, you would have sinned in leaving your former congregations and also in founding a new congregation. Let us be sure that we see these things clearly.
What has happened since June? We have experienced blessing beyond expectation! Men and women and children have heard old truths, long covered by the dust of man’s perversions of Scripture, and have rallied around them. Seven family units have heard the message proclaimed by us and have joined our ranks. More are in the process of hearing and learning so they can make an intelligent decision. Some may have found the preaching of the word to be a “hard saying.” For them especially, but also for all of us, we pray that the Spirit of God will so fill our hearts with faith in Jesus our Savior and obedience to His word that we fearlessly, unashamedly, boldly confess His Holy Name. In so doing we may well be instruments of the Lord to be used by Him in the reforming of the church of our day. Lord, increase the faith of each of us so that each of us may say: “I believed, therefore have I spoken.” Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.