21st Sunday After Pentecost November 6, 2011


The After-Math of the Reformation

Luke 12:32-40, 49-53

Scripture Readings

Deuteronomy 4:9-14
Romans 3:19-28


276, 263, 266, 366(1-2,6-7)

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

May the pure sweet truth of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, restored to the human race through the Reformation, forever remain for you your single most precious gift and possession. Amen.

Dear fellow Christians:

Have you ever heard someone that actually knows very little about a subject trying to wax eloquent or appear knowledgeable in a field in which you do know something? It can be any field—gardening, sports, any given trade or subject. If you have experience in that area—if you “know your stuff”—it doesn’t take very long to recognize when someone else does not. So also on the subject of the Reformation and especially it’s aftermath.

It is fascinating to hear all of the different theories regarding the cause and effect of the Reformation. Do an extensive internet search sometime and you will find theories ranging from “economic circumstances created by the rise of the middle class” to “a desire by egotistical men to make a name for themselves,” and everything in between. Most seem to judge the reformers by their own worst standards. Secular men seem absolutely incapable of granting any higher motive to men like Martin Luther than they could imagine of themselves. In other words, they seem to first decide why they would have attempted the Reformation, and then try to ascribe those base intentions to the actual reformers.

Even a quick review of how secular individuals today view the Reformation will invariably leave a Christian sad and disheartened for those who just don’t get it. Clearly the godless flounder badly in a subject they just do not understand. Their base criticism of the motives of men like Martin Luther presents a damning indictment of themselves. They seem absolutely incapable of recognizing God’s hand in anything! They seem utterly incapable of accepting that men of faith could truly operate selflessly and that others really can and do give more than just lip-service to their religious convictions.

One of the standards that is commonly used to judge the success or failure of the Reformation is numbers—both then and now. In other words, the fact that the Reformation did not “break” the Roman Catholic Church renders it more-or-less a failed pursuit in their eyes as does the fact that there are still many more Roman Catholics than there are Lutherans.

Today we will evaluate the success or failure (the aftermath) of the Reformation on the basis of the math (or after-math) of the Reformation. The text upon which we will base our study is found in the 12th chapter of Luke’s Gospel account:

[Jesus said], “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

…I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

So far the very words of God—words recorded not for our entertainment but as examples for our instruction, correction, and growth—words meant to perpetuate our own ongoing reformation. We pray to God the Holy Spirit that these gifts might be ours when we pray, “Sanctify us by Your Truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.

The Apostle Paul wrote very bluntly to the Christians in Corinth: “Bothers, I do not want you to be ignorant…(1 Corinthians 12:1, 2 Corinthians 1:8, and to the Thessalonians, 1 Thessalonians 4:1). Isn’t that really what the Bible is all about? Mankind is born ignorant and must be enlightened by God the Holy Spirit before he (we) can really know anything at all. By nature we could never know that faith alone in Jesus Christ saves. We could never understand and believe that faith in Jesus—a gift that is given to us by the Holy Spirit—is now credited by God as the perfection we could never hope to offer Him by our works.

Yet the biggest problem with an ignorant person is that he neither knows nor believes that he is ignorant. “You don’t know what you don’t know.” While that is certainly true in secular matters, it is doubly true in matters spiritual. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can even begin to realize just how spiritually ignorant we really are. As an antidote to ignorance, the Holy Spirit gave us the Bible—His pure and holy Word. In all of creation there is absolutely nothing like the Bible. Nothing. All of the combined wisdom of sinful mankind is suspect at best. Much is just plain silly (e.g., Our ancestors were apes.). The Bible alone is pure truth.

It, therefore, ought to come as no surprise to us that secular folks believe that the Reformation was more or less a failure with this evaluation based solely on those measures they can grasp like numbers. To the world, numbers are the best indicator of success. Big churches are successes, small churches are not. Yet note well how Jesus Himself addressed His Church in our text: “Little flock.[v.32] It has almost always been so, hasn’t it? Even when “Christianity” is listed as the dominant religion in an area, true Christians are always a small minority.

As evidence, consider a man I know who in the last 20 years or so has carried out an informal poll by asking a very simple question: “If you were to stand before God this instant, how would you answer Him if he were to ask you why He should let you into Heaven?” The right answer, of course, is any answer that points to the goodness of Jesus as that which is credited to me: ”God will let me into Heaven because Jesus paid my sin-debt.” The wrong response is any answer that points to some goodness or deservedness in self: “I think I’m a pretty good person. I’m kind. I give to charity. I go to church, etc.”

Disturbingly enough, nearly everyone this man asks outside of conservative Lutheran circles gets the answer dead wrong. In his experience, all point to their own goodness rather than to the goodness of Jesus, credited to them by grace through faith. While no one but God can read hearts, this is certainly discouraging evidence.

The true Christian Church has always been a little flock. Numbers, therefore, have never been a good indicator of what is true and right. We tend to crave numbers mostly because we tend to take comfort in them. If everyone believes it, it must be right. Yet not only the Reformation, but the entire history of the Christian Church teaches us the folly of this line of reasoning.

The math of the Reformation and, therefore, also the “after-math” must first of all be “plus one.”

The after-math of the Reformation is the joy of one sinner who is brought to faith in Jesus Christ. The point is that it was through the Reformation that God restored the truth of the Gospel to mankind. He did this so that human beings could be saved one at a time. We read nothing in Scripture about joy among the angels when churches are full. We do, however, read of great joy when one sinner repents and is brought to saving faith (cf. Luke 15:10). That’s why the first part of the after-math must be a simple plus-one mentality.

There was certainly more to the math of the Reformation than just addition. There had to first be subtraction. Man had to be stripped of his natural tendency toward work righteousness—the idea that man could in any way earn God’s favor. Paul mentioned this subtraction in Philippians 3:8: ”Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” Chief among those things Paul had to subtract from his salvation plan was the notion that he could earn God’s favor through his works.

Our text then touched on the division that would naturally result between those who trust alone in the merit of Jesus Christ and those who do not: “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.[vv.51-53]

Many of you have experienced this first-hand. You know the heartache of the division of which Jesus spoke—separation from friends and family members who do not trust the goodness of Jesus Christ as their hope for Heaven. Obviously, this is not what our Savior wants, but in love He does want to make clear to us that faith in Jesus Christ alone is the dividing line between those who are saved and those who are not. This truth was lost for many centuries and returned by our merciful God through the Reformation. We trample our precious Reformation inheritance whenever we compromise the truth in an effort to avoid or mask the inevitable division that is a permanent part of the Reformation after-math.

The math of the Reformation therefore seems rather straightforward, albeit at times profoundly difficult. There is also a bit of geometry in the after-math—the sort that deals with straight lines.

Travel in your mind’s eye back 1,981 years. It is 30 AD and the Son of God has just risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven. As you visualize this scene, let me ask you some questions to make a point. Was Jesus doctrinally sound? The answer is obviously, yes. Were also the Apostles doctrinally sound? The answer again is rather obviously, yes. Now travel forward from that point in time. The date is 1517—exactly 494 years ago. Gather round with the crowd of people trying to figure out the Latin words a monk named Martin Luther had nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. On the paper were 95 accusations of corruption leveled against the church of Luther’s day, the Roman Catholic Church. Even officials in the Church itself admitted that many, many problems existed in that organization. They refused, however, to acknowledge the most tragic aberration: the false teaching that mankind is saved by his own good works.

The geometry of the Reformation after-math is that every single Christian Church ought to be able to draw an absolutely straight line from where they are today, back through the Reformation and the Book of Concord, and from there directly to Jesus and the Apostles and their teachings and doctrine. In other words, everything a church teaches today should agree in all points with the truths restored through the Reformation, exactly with what Jesus Himself taught, and then back through time all the way to the Garden of Eden. That line should never jog, bend, or curve. If it was true and right in the Old Testament, if it was true and right in Jesus’ day, if it was true and right after the Reformation, it is also true and right today.

The Roman Catholic Church had obviously wandered badly from what Jesus originally taught. The true Christian Church was snapped back into line through the Reformation. By God’s amazing grace, we stand on that exact same line today. What the prophets taught, the Apostles taught. What the Apostles taught, Martin Luther taught. What Martin Luther taught, we still teach by God’s grace today. That straight, unbending line of truth is formed always and only by God’s Word, the Bible. Luther recognized this truth which is why he made “Scripture alone” one of the three pillars of the Reformation.

Now the Church on earth rests on these three powerful and immovable pillars—solid rocks that cannot, will not, shift or change: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Scripture Alone. We had learned the hard way that following sinful men rather than the Word of God is a recipe for disaster. The good news is that we learned not to do that. The bad news is that Satan, realizing that he can not even begin to budge the three solid pillars upon which the post-Reformation Church was and is built, is now struggling mightily to shake or discredit that Word itself.

Here then is the desperate condition of mankind today. The Devil has succeeded in casting doubt on the Word of God itself. Though our forefathers cared deeply about every doctrine or teaching of God’s Word, many modern Christians seem to care very little. Where centuries ago a Bible was considered a prized possession, now we have so many Bible lying about that they have become common in the very worst sense of that word. Back when Bibles were rare, men and women were ready to die for their convictions—their belief that every single word in the Bible was and is truth from God the Holy Spirit. Now men teach that the Bible says and means whatever they want it to say or mean. No doctrine is sacred, no word of God is revered as holy and without flaw or error.

Hear these sobering words and recognize the tremendous danger in which the Christian Church finds itself today, but respond with a heart-felt: “Not here, not today, and not us!” Here we will continue to revel in the profound and sublime message of the Gospel: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.(Romans 3:23-24). What perfect, holy, life-giving words of hope and comfort. All have sinned, that includes me. All have been declared not guilty or justified, that also must include me. Because of what Jesus has done, I am not guilty in the eyes of God my only Judge. Again we read, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.(Romans 3:28). Nothing that I did could ever pay the penalty for my sins, not even a part of what I owed to God. My faith, established and persevered in my heart by God the Holy Spirit Himself, that faith God credits as righteousness. That means that when God sees faith in my heart, it is as if I had never once sinned. Indeed in his eyes I never have, since the last trace of each and every sin has been purged from my eternal record forever and placed upon Jesus Christ who carried it to the cross.

God preserve these precious truths in our midst, for this is the Gospel itself, the mystery of eternal life. To this end, each day in every way the Reformation must continue—in a straight line, for that line alone leads to Paradise.

Therefore, continue to ask one of Luther’s favorite questions: “What does this mean?” Continually ask this question of yourself and your children. What does “grace” mean? What does “justified” mean? What does it mean that I am justified “apart from the deeds of the law”? Never allow that precious message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified to become dull and lifeless. Spend time each day admiring and appreciating the gift you have inherited, and God grant that Christ Jesus who is the very heart of the Reformation, might be all in all to each one of us.

So help us God, our Mighty Fortress. Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl

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.