“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation of the Church will be formally recognized October 31, 2017. The Lutheran Church continues to pursue the unity of faith promoted in Ephesians 4:3—“…eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is accomplished as God “…gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…” (Ephesians 4:11-13a).
Martin Luther did not set out to create a new denomination; rather, he was standing firm to not submit to the yoke of regulations, works, or indulgences that had afflicted the church of the 1500s. Christ set us free from sin, death, and the devil through His work on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. For the church of Martin Luther’s time, this point was cloudy, to explain it in the kindest way. Luther taught, preached, and wrote, trying to work within the church to reclaim historical Christianity.
Yet Luther’s ideas were a challenge to the established practices of the Roman Catholic Church. He was invited to a formal assembly, called a Diet, in Worms, Germany. Note: it is advantageous to explain that there was a formal assembly in the community of Worms, Germany, because just saying that Luther went to the Diet of Worms can cause some to visualize a rather silly event.
At that Diet, Luther stood firm when he was commanded to recant, that is to withdraw his writings. Luther responded: “…Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason….I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
Luther set Scripture as the rule and norm for the doctrine that was basically being reclaimed from the early church. Let us be encouraged with his openness to discuss and to listen to “plain reason” with Scripture as the rule. Factions have and can occur in the church universal, as well as the local congregation, when there is refusal to have Scripture be the rule and/or when there is refusal to engage in discussion that involves “plain reason.”
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) continues to “stand firm” that “Christ has set us free,” which other Christians should not argue. However, there are further points of understandings, which lead to divergent practices and divisions that Christians have discussed since the beginning. We can read about some of these in the book of Acts and in the Epistles. The LCMS has formal meetings, “Diets” with other bodies with Scripture being the norm and “plain reason” is involved. This is done extensively and cooperatively as full altar and pulpit fellowship are pursued. There are other invites for discussions with many, if not all, church bodies. I was encouraged while attending Concordia Theological Seminary when the professors shared about a “Diet” they had at Notre Dame with Roman Catholics scholars. The Reformation continues--Alleluia!
The Lord be with you,
Pastor Sam Wiseman