[Revelation 14:6-7] Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Reformation: 500 Years Later, Days of Confusion
There is one eternal Gospel to be proclaimed. This Gospel works the true fear of God, gives all glory to God, and leads us to the true worship of God – our faith. And this one Gospel delivers the repentant-guilty from the judgment of God.
We proclaim this Gospel clearly, yet we live in times that are cloudy. Everything is now uncertain. The Lutheran Reformation was an event 500 years in the past, and today we live in a time of confusion. We hold to the truth in a whirlpool of new, doubting questions.
Unity or division? Who now aligns with who? Where are the lines drawn? Should there be lines drawn? The churches in America came about through immigration. Each wave of immigrants had its own denomination. Each group stuck to itself. Life was simple. You knew who you were. You knew what church was yours, and that all the others were wrong – whoever you were. You didn’t know why your group was right and the other was wrong. You just knew it. And they thought the same of you. It was simple. It was easy.
But now we live in a time of many questions. And many more answers. Yet with just as little knowledge as before. We are quick to question; quick to disagree; and slow to study. We live in a time of opinion and personal preference, even in the Christian faith.
500 hundred years ago, in the days of the Lutheran Reformation, the big question was the question of man’s salvation – “How is a person justified before God? How am I, the sinner, made right with God?”
That question, with its several answers, and the questions and answers related to it, drew the denominational lines that we still see today these 500 years later. And, in truth, the resulting divisions were well worth it – because the question of man’s eternal salvation is at stake. It’s better to have a thousand churches where some of them get that question right, than to have one church which gets that question wrong.
But today, there are new problems, new lines drawn. The long-established denominational lines, now, no longer draw the lines of the new questions being asked. Yet the old questions still exist too, and are no less important than before – the result can feel like chaos.
What do I mean? What are the questions being asked in the Church today? Today’s questions: The Bible, God’s Word or Man’s bigoted word? Women’s ordination, yea or nay? Homosexual marriage, yea or nay? Ordaining married homosexuals? In our Synod - can only men serve in other roles of spiritual headship, yes or no?
And it goes deeper: What is the human person - Is a man always a man and is a woman always a woman? Should the church now help transition a man or woman’s new gender identity with an official ceremony? That’s being done in some churches.
What is male and female in regards to God? Should we still baptize in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit – is God Father and Son – is God a He and a Him, or can we now say “Mother”? And there’s more! As a Church, should we attend a Pro-life rally, or, instead, should pastors be blessing abortion clinics in God’s name? This is one of the questions of today.
Most of you, in this room, including myself, are saying – “That stuff is nuts. It’s crazy. And it’s wicked.” And you’re right. It is crazy. It is wicked. More, it’s demonic. But all of it is happening, is being taught in churches, in the Christian name, and the world and the newer generation is none the wiser – as far as they know, this is simply what some Christians teach – normal church stuff. We live in days of confusion.
Where do the lines fall today? Today, among the church-descendants of the Reformation, there are Lutheran churches like our Missouri Synod – churches which still mirror what we were 500 years ago. But then there are Lutheran churches which deny Scripture’s authority, deny Male and Female, deny the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, openly support abortion, openly marry men to men, openly ordain homosexuals, and so on.
And – this sounds unreal, but it is actually happening – there are now other Lutheran (ELCA) congregations in our nation who have been holding worship services worshipping ancient pagan goddesses, and they’ve remained in good standing with their Synods. These are times of confusion, and very evil times, and the lines are falling in very strange places.
How about on the other side of the Reformation line? The Roman Catholic Church today, officially, holds to all the same teachings and practices, aside from one our two, which divided them from us those 500 years ago. Officially, the old questions and answers have gone unmoved.
Unofficially, it’s much worse. Today, there are Roman Catholic congregations, priests, archbishops, and cardinals who – until recently, quite quietly, but now more openly – are denying male and female, are denying the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, support abortion (not openly), and are becoming open to marrying homosexuals and to open homosexual practice among their clergy.
And – believe it or not – it has recently come to light that pagan goddess statues – one in particular is the Pachamama, a mother-earth, fertility goddess worshiped in the Amazon – these are being venerated, even in cathedrals, by bishops and others, even at the level of the Vatican. Google Pachamama; you’ll see it.
Yet, other segments of the Catholic church have remained wonderfully steadfast in ways which put us in great friendship with them, and we’ve found ourselves walking hand-in-hand with them.
The lines are falling in strange places. We are living in times of confusion. The lines of these current issues have not fallen along denominational lines, but instead have cut right through them. This has caused, at the same time, both unexpected unity and increased division. Confusing times. What’s happening makes no sense and the future is unclear.
So, what can we say? What’s the solution to today? What answer is there? As your pastor today, I don’t have an answer to offer – we don’t know what’s going to happen. But, as faithful descendants of the Lutheran Reformation, there are some things we should do and some things we should not do.
We should not grow angry. We should not be cynical. We should not be pessimistic. We shouldn’t live frustrated with the world. We should be committed to being the light in a dark place – “You are the light of the world”, Jesus said [Matt. 5:14]. A dark world should be no surprise. You are called to be a light.
We should not try to become like the world in order to win the world. That’s a self-defeating venture. Once the church becomes like the world, the church is no longer needed. We should teach and live the truth of God’s Word together, and leave the consequences up to God.
While addressing the questions that people struggle with today, we should not give up on addressing the spiritual questions – the old questions of salvation – which we know men and women still truly need to ask today. You should seek to give to others the truth truly needed.
We should not count the church as defeated – “the gates of hell will not prevail against it”, Christ said [Matthew 16:18]. And, “this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” [1 John 5:4]. Even if a small remnant, the faithful church is victorious.
And lastly, we should beware of this: All congregations, pastors, and churches which have gone astray on today’s many questions have this one thing in common – they deny the supreme authority of Scripture. Each, in their own way, denies the supreme authority of Scripture. We should not do that, not in the least. We should – as in the days of the Reformation – insist that the Word of God, the Bible, is supreme over the Church and over the world and over each of our lives.
Ultimately, the questions of the Reformation are still the root questions today. Scripture alone; saved by God’s grace alone; through faith in Christ alone – these root answers are being denied, or made peripheral, and it’s killing all the branches. We should continue to stand strong as Lutherans who are truly Lutherans.
500 years later, days of confusion – many questions, many more answers – but the same question and the same answer still prevail. How is a man made right with God? How is a woman made right with God? How is a person like me, who is guilty of wrong, made right with God?
The one answer: God has taken the initiative. By the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, God has set Himself at peace with us. By the voluntary death of Jesus, God has atoned for – forgiven and wiped away – the guilt of your sins. Sins are forgiven. It’s a promise to you from God. It’s done. Receive that promise. Believe it. Sinful man is forgiven and saved by God, through Jesus.
By this true Gospel message alone, we come to respect, love, and trust in God above all things. To this end, even the angels circle the earth proclaiming this message of salvation. Trust Jesus. Even in a world and church of great confusion, we are not alone – angels and even God go with us when this message of His is our own. Still, 500 years later, all glory and thanks is to God alone. Amen.