Sunday, September 25, 2011
The Reform of the Reform
The reform of the reform does not mean that we go back to pick apart what Luther and his contemporaries accomplished. The Confessions do not need to be re-argued in every age. We confess them not as temporary truths which each age and generation must prove orthodox. We confess them because they are orthodox and catholic and evangelical -- the truth held in trust by those who bear the name Lutheran for those who do not. In fact, it is the claim of the Lutheran Confessions that we are the legitimate heirs of the catholic faith and the true community of Christ -- not just one derivation or incarnation of that truth or church.
The reform of the reform means that every age brings its own allure, its own cause to depart from the way, the truth and the life, and, therefore, the reform is continuous -- we never reach the end of our temptation and therefore we never overcome the need for constant renewal. Our great temptation is not the same as another age or time but it is equally as dangerous and destructive. We live under constant threat and the devil roaring about is as relentless in his waning hours as God is victorious. With each approaching day he grows ever more daring and sows the seeds of our destruction with greater and greater fervor. We cannot afford to be lazy or complacent. Like the danger to the faith in Luther's day, what we face is often more threatening from within than without.
Lutherans are not a people seeking to recapture a golden age or era of Christendom or the liturgy or church music or ritual. We are a people seeking to be as faithful in our own time and place as were our fore fathers in the Great Reformation and those who came before them as well as those who came after them. The Confessions are the tools of this work of renewal, both in the application of what they define, direct, and describe and in the application of their principles and values to the situations not even envisioned by those who wrote and confessed them. We receive, we commend, we add the best of the present, and we pass on. It is not pretty and is often rather messy but we cannot afford to ignore or forget this ongoing reform.
Some of us might feel a kinship for a particular era or epoch in church history and life, but Lutheranism knows no date or time other than the living legacy of our fathers, the rich and grace-filled present moment given to us by God, and the future for which we prepare by being faithful today. Every now and then we have a snap shot of a moment but it is one frame in a long reel of individual frames that form the living history of God's work -- past, present, and future.
Before we beat our chests the last Sunday in October, perhaps we had better take a good look at the state of the Church and our own confession and practice. For we betray that past every bit as much by exchanging God's gift for a pot of present day lentils as we do trying to repristinate a bit of the past in the present moment. The confessional and liturgical folk I like to hang around with are often accused of being blind to the changes in the world around us. Those who trade Lutheran identity for the latest in church growth tools and methods are accused of betraying our identity for statistics. We can afford to do neither. We cannot ignore the present and its challenges or hide from the world within the closed doors of the sanctuary nor can we bring the world into the church and let it determine what is needful and salutary. We are called to bring the Christ of the sanctuary into the world where He has promised to awaken faith in His elect, to work through the seed of His Word to bear the good fruit of His kingdom. In order to bring this Christ to the world, what happens in the Church must be faithful, must not confuse the worship we bring with the gifts Christ offers to us, and must not abrogate the sacred deposit handed down to us by those who came before. In order for us to bring Christ to the world, we must see the world for what it is and not some cut and paste version of a reality with which we might be more comfortable. It is a constant tension and from the Great Reformation we learn to hold both together -- maintenance and mission, liturgy and awakening, faithfulness and fervor.
We are not of the world but we are certainly in the world -- not to mirror its empty values and hopeless end but to stand as beacons to the Light that enlightens the darkness. We cannot afford to be casual and we must take seriously the Church, the faith, the means of grace, and the witness. We should not take ourselves so seriously for we are just as much the sinners in need of redemption as those who are outside the kingdom. Yet what a marvel of grace it is that God has chosen to work through the flawed and the failed to do His bidding. Every day that we awaken to the great privilege of our partnership in the Gospel is a good day -- just as long we remember what we are called to do and what we dare not presume.