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Monday, October 27, 2008 

The Danger Of Reformation Day Sermons

Yesterday was Reformation Day where most protestant churches around the world celebrated Dr. Martin Luther nailing his ninety five theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. A quick history lesson might be in order here; Dr. Luther had some “issues” with the Roman Catholic Church and he was trying to start a debate with his ecclesiastical superiors by nailing ninety five points that he wished to deliberate concerning a false salvation based on works and indulgences on October 31, 1517. It should be noted that nailing such statements on the door of the castle church was as a common practice as posting something on your town hall bulletin board. Remember there were no internet message boards thingys in the sixteenth century.

So at my congregation we celebrated Reformation day and it got me thinking how easy it would be for us to slip into something very dangerous. How easy it would be for any pastor to slip into making his sermon a mere history lesson that focused on the great reformer Martin Lutheran.

I have no problem with history lessons whatsoever. It is a fact that it is only the Old Testament Israel and Christianity that have history on their side. This statement continues to be supported and further bolstered as science advances in the areas of discipline like archeology as well others. Christian history is important as it ties us to real events in real time in the real Biblical narrative. If you look at the gospels of Matthew and Luke you can get a glimpse to how important it is to the authors that they lay out real genealogies and real world events like roman emperor’s taking censuses and all that cool history stuff to the audience that they are addressing.

But, when we focus on a real world history and stop there, we end up running into trouble. When we focus solely on Dr. Luther’s very praise worthy effort in reforming the abuses of the Roman Church, we take our eyes off Jesus and His Cross. When we spotlight Dr. Luther’s work over Christ’s work we fall into the same fatal trap that Dr. Luther’s opponents fell into; a theology that relies on church history, councils, and rulings and statements by important figures apart from Jesus.

I’m thankful that I do get to hear about what Christ did and does for me on His cross week after week. I’m thankful that I get to hear about what Christ does for me now in the preached Word and in His Holy Supper. I’m also thankful that yesterday I didn’t have to sit through a history lesson that focused on a reformer’s work instead of Him who took on my sin, was nailed the cursed tree in my place, and died in my place that I might have eternal life.

All through his letters, the apostle Paul has to remind his readers that he preaches nothing but Christ and Him crucified. I wonder how many folks left church yesterday thinking about the day Dr. Luther nailed his ninety five theses to a door and how many left thinking about a day further back in time where He who was without sin, became the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

Just wondering…

You're right to assert that Luther's actions were purely focused on the work of Christ. However, there are many folks in the church who NEED a history lesson when it comes to what he started. Would you say that most Lutherans know about the man and his work? My guess is that a lot of evangelicals don't really know about him--which is sad.

I think many Lutherans know the very basics. That being said, there are a good many that think that the details of what led up to the reformation and the century that followed is just old history from a bygone era. For too many Luther and the confessions against the false doctrines of Rome and works that came out of the reformation are merely a Germanic cultural oddity and not relevant for today’s discussion in the church.

These same people are just as happy to follow Warren’s “deeds not creeds” which put them right back into relying on our own works which is what Luther had a problem to begin with.

Our pastor was good. Preached on what real Christian freedom is, ie freedom from the tyranny of sin and the finality of death as opposed to the so-called freedom to "do whatever you want."

We also sang all TEN verses of Salvation Unto to Us Has Come.


EC, we had something of a history lesson that went like this: what would Dr. Luther Preach? Answer, the Gospel because that is what should be preached!

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
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