Continuity in teaching was important not simply to prove that the Evangelicals were not heretics but also to demonstrate that God had never abandoned the church or its gospel.~Timothy Wengert
Grace to you and peace,
In the quote above the term “Evangelicals” isn’t what we understand in the 21st Century American use of the term. It is to be understood in the 16th Century German use of the term. In other words, an “Evangelical” is a Lutheran. When the Reformation was taking place Luther never wanted the children of Christ to be named after him. He’d rather they go simply by the term “Christian” or “Evangelical.” Luther would say, “What am I? A stinking bag of maggots.” Nevertheless, for various historical reasons, the name stuck on those churches that currently bear his name. And, I happen to be a Lutheran pastor. But Luther is right. A Christian follows no one but Christ. Luther is only useful to us when he shows us Christ. The term Evangelical has nothing to do with the current American political scene. It simply comes from the Greek word for “good news.”
A true Evangelical is someone grounded in the good news. That is, that we are justified by grace, through faith, on account of Christ, apart from works. We do not contribute to our salvation. Not even our will has anything to do with it. Rather, people become children of God by the will of God (cf. John 1:13). That, my friends, is truly good news because that means it is all in God’s hands, which are the only hands you would want to be found in.
Now, why would Luther shy away from having Christ’s holy church and its teaching named after him? One word: continuity. After calling himself a stinking bag of maggots Luther would say, “This teaching is not mine, it is Christ’s, it belongs to him, not me.” The teaching of the gospel comes from Christ himself. And because Christ established it, it will always be in the world until the Last Day. Luther was not out to start a new church. Nor, did he think the church died off with the apostles as many assume. God has never abandoned the church or its holy gospel. He never has. He never will.
The Reformation sought to center everything to that gospel—that we are justified by faith alone. Being centered in this gospel is something the contemporary Protestant church needs just as much now as the medieval Catholic church needed then.
Thankfully, God is used to using us imperfect, stinking bags of maggots to shine his gospel in the world. It is true we have no divine spark or goodness that comes from ourselves. But God comes to us through the external Word of Christ. You are claimed by God because God is merciful in Christ. God approaches you not because you are lovely, but because he makes you lovely. Your sins are forgiven not because you are a good person, but because you have a God who is good to you. This gospel cannot fail.
Peace and joy.
Pastor Levi Powers
Mount of Olives Lutheran Church
Rock Springs, WY