Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Who are we Lutherans?
When somebody wants me to eat what I do not want to try, I am always told but it tastes like chicken. Since chicken can taste like anything we choose to use for seasoning, I suppose there is an element of truth to it. But if I wanted chicken, I would have asked for it.
Definitions born of comparison are inherently flawed. They may sometimes be helpful but they are never fully accurate or complete. One of the great temptations for Lutherans in a sea awash with Protestants of various stripes and Roman Catholics is to explain ourselves in relation to others. We are like Roman Catholics, except... we are like Methodists except... But we must be more than just not Roman Catholics and not Methodists and not Baptists. We can't merely be against but must positively stand for what we believe and confess. If we would claim to be heirs of the great Reformation we must speak boldly and positively who we are and why it matters to the world.
The heart and core of the Reformation is not an antagonism against Rome or the Pope but a quest for authority – what can I trust. We know that even the best intended people fail us. We have to have something more than our own feelings or the opinions of one or many on which to base our faith. So Lutherans confess Scripture alone.
Scripture alone is trustworthy and reliable. God cannot lie to us or deceive us. Scripture alone reveals God to us and is that which norms or shapes what we believe, confess, and teach. Yet this Scripture is more than just error free, it is efficacious. The Word of the Lord is factual but not just a book of facts. It is the living voice of God who speaks and in His speaking, His work is done, faith is imparted, and His grace delivered to His people.
Yet this Scripture is not the domain for the individual to decide what it says. If this were true, we would have exchanged one pope for everyone a pope and ended up even further removed from knowing the truth that sets us free. The Scripture speaks consistently, yesterday, today and forever the same truth. This is what that word catholic means – unchanging! The Reformation was not about change but about continuity with Scripture and the catholic tradition.
The quest of the Reformation was not a better morality but hope for the sinner, caught up in sin, guilt, shame, and death. This was personal for Luther and it is personal for us. Our salvation is sure because we fickle people contribute nothing to that salvation. It is God's grace alone that we are saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. His free gift and unmerited favor has redeemed us lost and condemned sinners, not with silver or gold but with the holy and precious blood of Christ.
The power of the Reformation is Christ alone. Christ reveals the Scriptures to us. He is the key to that Word. He alone fulfills the Father's will and apart from Him we have no certain knowledge of God at all. He is the face of God, the voice of God, and the power of God to release us sinners from our sins and restore us to our place as His children, that we may know Him and live under Him in His kingdom now and forevermore. Therefore the Gospel is THE message of God to us – Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Our Lord Himself insists that the Law, the prophets, and the writings – the whole of the Old Testament – testifies of Him. This is our confidence. If we know Christ by baptism and faith, then we are saved, then we have the Spirit working in us His purpose, to display the good works that do not earn our salvation but do show forth who we are and whose we are.
We make a great claim. We insist that we have departed not from the catholic faith delivered to the saints and handed down from generation to generation. That claim is true ONLY when we affirm God's Word as the infallible truth that does what it says to and for us, that grace alone is our glory and our confidence in salvation, and that Christ alone has shown to us the face of God as our Savior and Redeemer. These will remain only words until we speak them to our children and tell them to the world.
Today we will witness the baptismal affirmation of some of our youth. They will speak forth their faith and make bold promises of lifelong faithfulness. But these remain only words unless we support them, unless we hold them accountable, and unless we encourage them in these vows with our prayers and example. All of us are bound together in Christ to do just that – hold each other accountable and encourage one another in the faith.
Those confirmed today will, like us, have to wear our faith before the world. The faith we wear before the world cannot be defined by comparison. We cannot afford to define ourselves as like Roman Catholics except or like Baptists except or like Methodists except... We must learn to identify who we are why it matters in a positive sense. We are Word alone, Grace alone, Christ alone people. We insist that who we are and what we confess is not sectarian. We insist that we confess the fullness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith, once delivered to the saints. This great confession IS a confession of Scripture, of grace, and of Christ.
What we have received, we pass on. To those confirmed today, and to those who will hear the Gospel... and to a world waiting to know the Gospel that forgives, restores, sustains, and saves. So from us the Word goes forth to the world. Unless we are willing to do this, we are unworthy of the name Lutheran and of the great heritage of the Reformation. Therefore, let us do no less for the future than was done by the faithful who went before us. Amen.