By Chaplain Mike
The Festival of the Reformation
Reformation Day is a liturgical festival celebrated by Lutheran and Reformed churches on the final Sunday in October. It commemorates Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on Oct 31, 1517. This act, calling for debate on issues of corruption in the Catholic Church, is traditionally viewed as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
Today, we who call ourselves “Reformation Christians” celebrate God’s work in reviving and restoring his church in all generations when it goes astray. We also mourn the divisions and schisms in the “one true holy and catholic church,” and pray that God’s people everywhere will be united in Christ, in God’s Word, and in fulfilling the Missio Dei in the world.
- Sermon on Good Works
- The Papacy at Rome
- To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate
- On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church
- Concerning Christian Liberty
When his friend Erasmus read The Babylonian Captivity, he remarked, “The breach is irreparable.” In that tempestuous year, Pope Leo X issued his papal bull, “Exurge Domine,” which called upon Luther to recant, Luther’s books were publicly burned at the University of Louvain where Erasmus resided, Luther was called to appear at the Diet of Worms (1521), and Luther openly burned the papal bull at Wittenberg. The die was cast.
The following is an excerpt from one of Luther’s foundational 1520 publications.
From Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther (1520)
We first approach the subject of the inward man, that we may see by what means a man becomes justified, free, and a true Christian; that is, a spiritual, new, and inward man. It is certain that absolutely none among outward things, under whatever name they may be reckoned, has any weight in producing a state of justification and Christian liberty, nor, on the other hand, an unjustified state and one of slavery. This can be shown by an easy course of argument.
What can it profit the soul, that the body should be in good condition, free, and full of life; that it should eat, drink, and act according to its pleasure; when even the most impious slaves of every kind of vice are prosperous in these matters? Again, what harm can ill-health, bondage, hunger, thirst, or any other outward evil, do to the soul, when even the most pious of men, and the freest in the purity of their conscience, are harassed by these things? Neither of these states of things has to do with the liberty or the slavery of the soul.
And so it will profit nothing that the body should be adorned with sacred vestments, or dwell in holy places, or be occupied in sacred offices, or pray, fast, and abstain from certain meats, or do whatever works can be done through the body and in the body. Something widely different will be necessary for the justification and liberty of the soul, since the things I have spoken of can be done by any impious person, and only hypocrites are produced by devotion to these things. On the other hand, it will not at all injure the soul that the body should be clothed in profane raiment, should dwell in profane places, should eat and drink in the ordinary fashion, should not pray aloud, and should leave undone all the things above mentioned, which may be done by hypocrites.
And, to cast everything aside, even speculations, meditations, and whatever things can be performed by the exertions of the soul itself, are of no profit. One thing, and one alone, is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty; and that is the most holy word of God, the Gospel of Christ, as He says: â€œI am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me shall not die eternallyâ€ (John xi. 25); and also (John viii. 36) â€œIf the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed;â€ and (Matt. iv. 4), â€œMan shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.â€
Let us therefore hold it for certain and firmly established, that the soul can do without everything, except the word of God, without which none at all of its wants are provided for. But, having the word, it is rich and wants for nothing; since that is the word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of justification, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of virtue, of grace, of glory, and of every good thing. It is on this account that the prophet in a whole psalm (Ps. cxix.), and in many other places, sighs for and calls upon the word of God with so many groanings and words.
Again, there is no more cruel stroke of the wrath of God than when He sends a famine of hearing His words (Amos viii. 11); just as there is no greater favour from Him than the sending forth of His word, as it is said: â€œHe sent his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.â€ (Ps. cvii. 20.) Christ was sent for no other office than that of the word, and the order of apostles, that of bishops, and that of the whole body of the clergy, have been called and instituted for no object but the ministry of the word.
But you will ask:â€”â€œWhat is this word, and by what means is it to be used, since there are so many words of God?â€ I answer, the Apostle Paul (Rom. i.) explains what it is, namely, the Gospel of God, concerning His Son, incarnate, suffering, risen, and glorified through the Spirit, the sanctifier. To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching. For faith alone, and the efficacious use of the word of God, bring salvation. â€œIf thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.â€ (Rom. x. 9.) And again: â€œChrist is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believethâ€ (Rom. x. 4); and â€œThe just shall live by faith.â€ (Rom. i. 17.) For the word of God cannot be received and honoured by any works, but by faith alone. Hence it is clear that, as the soul needs the word alone for life and justification, so it is justified by faith alone and not by any works. For if it could be justified by any other means, it would have no need of the word, nor consequently of faith.
A Hymn of Martin Luther, 1524
O Lord, look down from heaven, behold
And let Thy pity waken:
How few are we within Thy Fold,
Thy saints by men forsaken!
True faith seems quenched on every hand,
Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
Dark times have us o’ertaken.
With fraud which they themselves invent
Thy truth they have confounded;
Their hearts are not with one consent
On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
While they parade with outward show,
They lead the people to and fro,
In error’s maze astounded.
May God root out all heresy
And of false teachers rid us
Who proudly say: “Now, where is he
That shall our speech forbid us?
By right or might we shall prevail;
What we determine cannot fail;
We own no lord and master.”
Therefore saith God, “I must arise,
The poor My help are needing;
To Me ascend My people’s cries,
And I have heard their pleading.
For them My saving Word shall fight
And fearlessly and sharply smite,
The poor with might defending.”
As silver tried by fire is pure
From all adulteration,
So through God’s Word shall men endure
Each trial and temptation.
Its light beams brighter through the cross,
And, purified from human dross,
It shines through every nation.
Thy truth defend, O God, and stay
This evil generation;
And from the error of their way
Keep Thine own congregation.
The wicked everywhere abound
And would Thy little flock confound;
But Thou art our Salvation.
Gracious Father, we pray for your holy catholic church.
Fill it with all truth and peace.
Where it is corrupt, purify it;
where it is in error, direct it;
where in anything it is amiss, reform it;
where it is right, strengthen it;
where it is in need, provide for it;
where it is divided, reunite it;
for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and forever.