While many others and I, myself, have spoken of the great need to return to the Lutheran Confessions, to a renewed catechetical emphasis within the parish, and to the Divine Service as the basis for the liturgical life of the parish, I want to make it clear that it is not Luther's Reformation that we need to fight again. The world has changed, people have changed, and the battle before us is far different than that battle of Luther's day.
Everyone believed there was a God in Luther's day -- but most believed this God was an angry ogre who would rather punish than forgive, who forced people to jump through hoops to satisfy Him, and whose Word was more Law than anything else. The Gospel had been shrouded in Law to the point where its voice was hidden and almost silent within the average parish. Fear had replaced trust. Luther's own personal struggle was a reflection of the fears and concerns of the people of his day.
Today we live in a different world. The God of today is no consuming fire or even a present force. The God of today is distant from day to day life, who holds to no abiding truths except love and acceptance, and who treats sin and rebellion with the casual shrug of an indifferent deity. The God of today is an individual creation with ingredients from many holy books, philosophers, theologians, and spiritual guides -- a conglomeration of of pieces stitched together and restitched in the minds of people -- to fit the prevailing mood.
Where once people were captive to the voice of the priest and the words of the Mass, now they are captive to the voices of their own hearts. Though with information in abundance, they have become Biblically illiterate and therefore susceptible to the mood of trend and change in the ebb and flow of human ideas and ideals. They have the Gospel but are not so sure they have sin. They have the resurrection but choose to overlook the death.
We do not need to battle the Reformation of Luther's day all over again. We have a new battle and it requires a New Reformation. This Reformation is not a representation of old ideas but an embrace of that which is yesterday, today, and forever the same -- the abiding truth that alone allows us to abide in Him and He in us. This Reformation is a ship adrift on a sea of uncertainty seeking to hold anchor in the truth that does not change. This Reformation may require more Law before the Gospel can be heard again, the conviction of sin and death and our desperate need before we can rejoice in the holy hope that the cross and empty tomb affords.
This Reformation needs no friend in culture but needs to confront the old friend in culture which has betrayed her and mark the boundaries. This Reformation needs no Luther to tip the scales but millions of faithful who will walk in the steps of Luther, and those before and after him, who dare to speak the whole truth of God, to live before Him through the Word and Sacraments, and to proclaim to the world the need of a Savior and the one and only Savior who is Jesus Christ. This Reformation needs to learn how to use technology as well as it is being used to promote the empty and self-serving truths of today that last only as long as we want them and are only as big as we want them to be. This Reformation needs to be concerned not only with the Church but with the parachurch, with those things that live around the Church and in many cases pass as the Church (so much so that people follow them and ignore what takes place on Sunday morning where two or three are gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord).
Yesterday's confessions need to be heard again but new confessions may need to be written that speak to a world where education has worked to separate us from what we believe, where science has become the smug enemy of faith, where sophistication laughs at church going, where humor can belittle no one except Christians, and where morality is the feel good moment justified.
Lutherans approaching Reformation Day cannot afford to speak of what was once and how it was changed... unless we are also willing to speak of what is and what must be done to confront the deathward drift of a faith unleashed from Scripture and Truth and unfocused upon the Cross and Empty Tomb.
This is how the Church will reclaim its power and place in the world... and without it I believe the Church will become the hospice center that is herself dying. This is no doomsday prediction but a call to take up the mantle of the prophets and apostles and engage the world around us with the one and only Word that brings life and the one and only Savior who can rescue and redeem us from all our enemies... but mostly from ourselves.