Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Festival of the Reformation: A Devotional Commentary

Revelation 14:6-7 I saw an angel flying in mid heaven, having a Gospel everlasting to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation, tribe, language, and people. He said with a loud voice, “Fear the Lord, and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and the springs of waters!”

Matthew 11:12-15 From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. If you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Today, we celebrate the Festival of the Reformation. The Reformation was not a revolutionary act or the beginning of a movement. The Reformation was not anti-Catholic, it was pro-Jesus. Martin Luther simply desired to proclaim the Gospel everlasting that had been proclaimed since the beginning of church history but which over time had been obscured and diluted. Luther had no desire to start his own church but was calling upon the church to reform. The Roman Church responded to his call to return to the Gospel everlasting by excommunicating him. The temptation to teach that we are saved in some sense by our own works is always present. It was the teaching of the Jewish leaders at the time of the incarnation, it is the teaching of all Pagan religions, it had become the popular teaching in the church of Luther's day, and it remains the popular teaching even among those who consider themselves to be heirs of the Reformation today.

The Reformation was about the centrality of Jesus Christ in worship. Worship is not about what we do for God but about receiving God's good gifts through faith. The historic liturgy at the time of Luther was centered upon Christ but had picked up certain distractions as it developed. Luther removed these distractions from the liturgy. Complete abandonment of the historic liturgy as we find in Protestant churches today is contrary to the spirit of the Reformation because it takes something that was Christ-centered with some distractions and replaces it with something man-centered. The man-centeredness of the liturgy is the problem, not the Christ-centeredness. Some of the most extreme anti-Roman Catholic groups commit a much worse error in their worship by abandoning the Christ-centered liturgy completely. In the Divine Liturgy the Lamb on the Altar is central. Jesus Christ gives us His very body and blood. We receive. The Roman Church introduced some distractions but the modern Protestant church has done much worse. The Protestant church denies that this could possibly be the body and blood of Christ and says it's something we do in obedience to God to remember what Jesus did. Often, the Sacrament that Christ instituted is omitted completely from the service and in some traditions it is replaced with the man-centered altar call.

The Reformation was about the centrality of Jesus Christ in preaching. In the typical Roman Catholic sermon, Jesus gets mentioned quite a bit but it tends to all be about what we need to do for Jesus. In the typical Protestant sermon, Jesus doesn't get mentioned much at all and all you get is law. The central message of all the Scriptures is Jesus and what He did for us. If a sermon is not about what Jesus did for us then it is not a Christian sermon. The Bible is not about us. The Bible is all about Jesus. The Bible is not a collection of sayings or an instruction manual. It's about how you failed to follow the instructions and are a damnable sinner. It is about the Gospel everlasting. The Gospel everlasting is Jesus.

The centrality of Christ is worth fighting for. We must never think that we have arrived. When we start thanking God that we are not like those sinners over there, we miss the point of the Reformation. If we think our salvation is found in not being Roman Catholic we will no doubt fall into worse errors than the Roman church has and many Protestant certainly have. The Reformation is about Jesus crucified for your sins. The Reformation is about Christ alone. The Reformation is about how you are a poor, miserable sinner--you are the chief of sinners. You are in no way better than your brothers and sisters in Rome. You desperately need Jesus and Jesus gives you everything. That is why we cannot accept or be in communion with institutions that give us something other than Jesus. There are pastors in every denomination that give people something other than Jesus and we must demand Jesus from them. The church's only mission is to distribute Jesus. Your pastor's only duty is to give you Jesus. Accept no substitutions! Demand Jesus! Demand Jesus in the preaching of the Word. Demand Jesus be placed upon your tongue in the Sacrament. Do not neglect the assembly where Jesus is distributed. Your very life depends on receiving Jesus! There is no such thing as too much Jesus. Jesus gave His life to give you life.

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