Does the Lutheran Reformation have a future?

Article by Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

Edited by Marcia Hopp, Our Savior Lutheran Church, Danville

“Reprinted with permission of The Lutheran Witness.” 

Five Hundred years ago in October, a 32-year-old Martin Luther lived as a monk in Wittenberg, Germany.  He earned his doctorate and soon began lecturing on the Psalms and Romans and would eventually preach well over 2,00 sermons in the City Church before he dies in 1546. What began with Luther studying and lecturing on Scripture eventually led to an explosion that rocked the Christian world and continues to do so! That explosion can be summarized by the three “solas” – that salvation is free by grace alone ( Sola gratia), apprehended by faith alone (Sola fide) and believed from Scripture alone (Sola scriptura). 

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, you will increasingly see reports of what Luther and his message meant and means today. So what is the Reformation? Herman Sasse described it as an episode in the history of the Church. As an episode in church history, this anniversary of the Reformation may be part of the greatest revival of the Church and certainly the Lutheran Church, since the Reformation itself. We, the LCMS (The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) have so many requests for dialogue, partnership and church fellowship that we can’t keep up. These are from huge churches like the Mekane Yesus of Ethiopia and smaller but substantial churches in Ukraine and Norway and elsewhere. What do these churches want? How do they interpret the Reformation? Sola gratia, Sola fide, Sola scriptura. They want the Gospel.  They want clear Lutheran teaching, based squarely on the clear Scriptures.  

The real story of the Reformation is about the march of the Church of Jesus Christ in the face of impossible odds – thirsting for Christ and His Means of Grace, trusting in the Bible as God’s inerrant Word. The Reformation was a movement of repentance. The first thesis of the 95 Theses reads: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘repent,’ He willed that the entire life of the Christian be one of repentance.”  There is much to repent of in our lives: greed, impure thoughts, gossip, and faithlessness. There is much to repent of as a Church: shoddy Communion practice; lack of responsible visitation; gossip; second-rate preaching; inadequate teaching of the faith (e.g., one-day instruction classes to join the church); poor relationships among church staff; lack of care of pastors and church workers; lack of Bible class attendance; poor Bible class preparation; disregard for our Magnificent Lutheran Confessions; lack of outreach and visitation of members and prospective members; lack of zeal for outreach and sharing the marvelous Gospel of Christ with our unchurched and de-churched neighbors.  “Repent!” (Matthew 3:1. 4:17)

Does this make you angry?  Have you nothing to repent of? “Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner or to be one.” (Luther wrote to his friend in Spenlein in April 1516)  

If “Christ dwells only in sinners,” you’d better be one.  The future of the Church does not depend upon us sinners.  The Reformation has a future.  Even more the Church has a future because Jesus Christ has a future.  

Throughout 2017, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.We will eat salty pretzels and sing “A Mighty Fortress” with gusto.

Learn about the Lutheran faith. Join us for 9:30 a.m. worship on Sundays (Our Savior Lutheran Church, 285 Hill n’ Dale, Danville, KY.) Contact Pastor Witten  at (606) 365-8273. Or reach us through Facebook:  facebook.com/oursaviordanvilleky/