Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Reform of the Reform

As we approach Reformation Day it is worth spending some time reviewing the legacy of our name's sake.  If there is anything we take away from Luther and his co-workers, it is that reform is not an event but an ongoing process.  The Reformation is not simply an event but a continual work of reform and renewal.  What was faced in the sixteenth century may or may not be the tests and temptations that face the Church today.  But one thing is sure, the Church will continue to face tests, trials, and temptations.  We will always stand in need of those whose clarion voices call us back from the brink into the evangelical and catholic stream of doctrine and life.

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.


Anonymous said...

There seems to be confusion about
Lutheranism versus Christianity.
We are Christians first and Lutherans
second. Christ established the
Holy Christian Church not any
denomination called Lutheranism.

Our renewal comes through daily
repentance of our sins and the pardon
we receive from Christ. When Christ
returns on the Last Day, He will
be looking for Christians.

Pastor Peters said...

But do not we as Lutherans claim to be the Church in which Gospel is rightly proclaimed and the sacraments rightly administered? Or do we claim we only confess one version of what is a faith of many different versions?

You must have missed the post below. Read it.

Anonymous said...

If Lutherans claim to be the only
church in which the Gospel is
rightly proclaimed and Sacraments
rightly administered, then we are
claiming to the be the only true
church. That type of claim is
conceited, because there will be
Christians in heaven who are not

Segfault Reloaded said...

Anonymous commenting above me is equivocating. Many will be saved who do not proclaim the Gospel rightly; right proclamation is not necessary for salvation. So being in Heaven with Our Lord does not mean you got it right.

Irenaeus said...

"So being in Heaven with Our Lord does not mean you got it right." Maybe it's the Sunday dinner talking, but I find that statement positively fascinating. As a sweet grandmotherly parishioner I know might say, "That's embroidery-worthy!" A tip of the Grey Goose to you, Segfault Reloaded.

Carl Vehse said...

C.F.W. Walther did write "The Evangelical Lutheran Church the True Visible Church of God on Earth."

Terry Maher said...

Reform of the reform? Judas H Priest, first we get a Calvinist phrase (semper reformanda) now we get an RC one, used to describe yet another effort in the RCC to revive the failed Vatican II but yet another version of the "real" Vatican II. Lutheran stuff is not explainable in either of these foreign phrases.

And no we are not Christians first and Lutherans second. We are Lutheran, as by convention it is called, because we believe this IS the Christian faith rightly confessed. The BOC says Christian, not Lutheran. Certainly saving faith is possible outside confessing Lutheranism, but that is God's business, not ours, to judge, and saving faith carries the promise of Christ that not even the gates of hell can overcome it. Not even the RCC.

What is confused here too is that the "evangelical Lutheran church" is no co-extensive with LCMS.

Anonymous said...

Jeepers, Terry, can't a guy read from a source or borrow a phrase from outside Lutheran tradition (or post 1839 Lutheranism)??? You seem poised to jump on every remark as if you were the Lutheran police. BTW, unless I am mistaken, Pastor Peters never used semper reformanda -- a commenter did!

Anonymous said...

Judas H. Priest....Terry is the
star contributor to this blog. Let
the man have some slack, he is only
trying to keep everyone honest since
Vatican II. His wisdom exceeds
the narrow confines of the BOC.

Terry Maher said...

Why sure they can, whichever anonymous you are. That's about all you see in the synod to-day, people reading sources and borrowing phrases from outside Lutheran tradition to be "post" whatever Lutheran benchmark they set and make it Lutheran -- Bull Hybels, Benedict XVI, Rick Warren, Timothy "Kallistos" Ware, doesn't matter. A real novelty would be turning to a Lutheran source to learn to be Lutheran!

"Reform of the reform", as with all the other borrowings, has a specific meaning in a specific context, neither of which meaning not context are ours.

BTW, unless I am mistaken, I did not say Pastor Peters used semper reformanda, I said "we get", as in it appeared, not :he said".