The Lutheran Reformation: Not For Its Own Sake

The Lutheran Reformation: Not For Its Own Sake

Lutheranism has no particular claim or right to existence. Rather, what is at stake is the radical gospel, radical grace, the eschatological nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen as put in its most uncompromising and unconditional form by St. Paul.

~ Gerhard O. Forde

Dear People of God,

October 31st designates what is known as “Reformation Day.” The date is chosen because October 31st, 1517, the reformer Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

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That moment is viewed as the catalyst for what would become the Lutheran Reformation, or more widely, the Protestant Reformation (though this latter term “Protestant” is a misnomer for Lutherans who have no interest in being Roman or Protestant).

That moment Luther nailed the 95 Theses is viewed as a moment that changed the world forever. As with all things there is way more to the story than that simple explanation. But that story is for another day. Every year Lutheran and some Protestant churches will commemorate this occasion decking out their churches in red to symbolize the fire of the Holy Spirit and his activity in the Reformation.

Let me be clear, commemorating the Lutheran Reformation is not about being self- congratulatory. Nor is it about celebrating the birth of Protestantism. If we take the point of the Reformation seriously there is no room for patting ourselves on the back. It’s never been about elevating ourselves above others. As Christ says, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled” (Matt. 23:12). The Reformation is about the gospel of Jesus Christ—that we are justified by grace, through faith, for the sake of Christ, apart from works.

Luther’s Rose.

Therefore, it’s not about what we do but about what God does. To put it more clearly, I will quote my beloved professor from seminary when I was training to be a pastor:

When I say the radical good news of the gospel, I mean the gracious message of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ. This gospel is a wonderfully inclusive message that does not divide us from others but assures all people of God’s loving intentions for them. Luther puts it this way, ‘Jesus is the mirror of the Father’s heart.’ It’s a gracious heart, a loving heart. It embraces us in spite of who we are. This assurance is God’s gift that we have been given. It is the gift hat we are privileged to share – not to impose – but to share.
~The Rev. Dr. Kurt Hendel, Distinguished Ministry Professor Emeritus of Reformation History

Christ died and was raised for sinners. We qualify. Lutheranism has no particular right or claim to existence. It does not exist for its own sake. Instead of pointing to ourselves, to remember the Reformation only has meaning if it points us to God’s faithfulness in Jesus the Christ. It is he who will never abandon you. It is he who meets you where you are no matter the situation you find yourself.

It is the Christ who says “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses” (Ezek. 36:25). Not only does he say these things, he does what he says.

Peace and joy,
Pastor Levi Powers
Mount of Olives Lutheran Church
Rock Springs, WY