Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What to do with Luther and the Reformation...

Over at First Things are a couple of things worth noting.  One is an essay by Joshua Genig in which he raises the question of the color of the Reformation Day liturgical observance as a cue to how we take the day itself.  He wonders if the color should not be changed to purple as the color of mourning and that the observance should include, if not predominantly, the sense of regret and grief over the circumstance in which the Reformation was born.  On the one hand, I agree that if all Reformation Day observance has become is a day to beat the chest, look down the nose, and say with the Pharisee, "Lord, I thank you that I am not like those others."  Well, then, yes, the color should be changed with the attitude.  But if the point here is our lament over the obscurity of the Gospel and the encroaching shadows into Christ's light, then, no, not purple but red.  We Lutherans may and should take the blame for many things but the circumstances that created the necessity for the Reformation are not ours to regret.  Ours to lament, well, maybe, but not ours to regret.

First of all this idea obscures the fact that the Church, rather the sinners who make up that Church, will always live amid temptation, doubt, heresy, and apostasy.  It is our weakness inherited from the Fall.  We are, as the Lord well knows, moved by every wind of change, swamped by every wave of doubt, and obsessed by every new trend or fad.  So it is with us in the Church.  We may abhor the need for it but we should give thanks to God for raising up the faithful voices in every age who have recalled the Church to the voice of her Lord speaking the Gospel, the Word of the Cross, with clarity and light to cut through the tangle of opinion and the darkness of doubt that would compete or obscure His Truth.  We may regret that we need repentance but that should not keep us from repenting or rejoicing when repentance brings recovery and restoration to the fallen and lost whom God declares His own people (holy, just, and righteous in Christ).

But another tidbit from First Things points us to a great perspective on the Reformation and Luther.  Carl Truman calls it the forgotten insight. The profound insight that often gets overlooked in our quest to speak with Paul and Luther -- by grace, through faith, without works.  That is the theology (theologians) of the Cross.  This is the great paradox of the God who is not found in thunder but in the still small voice, not in the holiest of men but in the innocent Son wounded and dying under the weight of our sin, and not in the great and mighty but in the simple water to which He has added His Word and the simple bread and wine which He has made to be His body and blood (with the bread and wine).  That the cross is not the darkness of defeat but the shining moment of triumph continues to be the paradox that defines Christian faith and truth.  So on the Sunday coming up, what some call Christ the King, the King shows Himself not as the One who avoids the cross and its pain but as the only One who bears it fully and for the sake of others (namely, the whole world).  The great tension between earthly power and might and the cross continues to be Luther's greatest of contributions -- though not simply his own but the recovery of that which the great fathers have always believed, taught and confessed.  Perhaps this, even more than justification, is the Word we need from the Lord today.  We are so enamored with ourselves and the presumed greatness of our accomplishments that we disdain the very means of grace that bestow upon us the gifts won by the cross.

Ahhhhh, what to do with Luther.... should we be proud of him, embarrassed by the need of a reformer, or stand in awe of someone who saw so clearly what it seems so easy to forget.... Indeed!


knittin' mama said...

Over at First Things are a couple of things worth nothing.


Pastor Peters said...


Terry Maher said...

I think you had it right the first time.

Larry Luder said...

Rev Peter,

Maybe not ours to regret perhaps, but it seem to me the reformation is something to be mournful about in that, who would have imagined the church continues to splinter and reform itself out of the church catholic? I’m certainly grief-stricken by this and the unwillingness to strive toward ut unum sint. I noticed the snarly attacks there were brutal by Lutherans brothers. From the outside looking in, it makes me wonder why anyone one would want to join the Lutheran Church and subject themselves to that. Doesn’t Colossian 3:16 mean anything? President Harrison is calling for a unity within our own church body. Until we can achieve that, I say the color purple. Anyway, thank you for posting your thoughts.