Saturday, October 31, 2015

Conformation to the One True and Everlasting Gospel Requires Constant Evaluation

TRUE TO THE REFORMATION

On this Reformation Day let us once again thank God that as Lutherans we have been called to believe, teach and confess the eternal Gospel of Christ. The Gospel we believe, and from which we draw all true comfort is of divine and not human origin.  It’s not the social gospel of liberal Christianity; the self-affirming gospel of Evangelicalism; the free-market gospel of political conservatives, the Marxist gospel of political liberals or the prosperity gospel of television evangelists.  It is, rather, a proclamation of divine mercy to sinners in Christ whose sole purpose is to save us from the eternal death and condemnation that our sins merit, and to give us Life with Christ that has no end.  It’s not a gospel of earth but of heaven, sung by angels on Bethlehem’s plains, preached by them at the Lord’s empty tomb, and now seen in a vision by aged St. John as he was exiled on the Isle Patmos because of the Word of God he preached, and the Testimony of Jesus he Confessed. (Rev. 1:7)

Other gospels, false ones, rise out of the earth just like the beast in Revelation chapter thirteen which St. John also saw in his vision.  These false gospels which deceive and delude people all seem to have their little day, they come in with great fanfare but then they are done because there’s nothing divine or durable about them.

But the Gospel of John’s vision was conceived before the world began, in the Secret Counsel of the Holy Trinity and is thus an everlasting gospel.  It is the same for every age, ever glad, ever fresh and ever-enduring.  It speaks to the heart of man and addresses itself to the soul’s long estrangement from God. It declares and imparts reconciliation to enemies of God. It sweetens man’s soul with forgiveness of his sin and unites his scattered spirit with the peace of God which surpasses understanding.  It is a gospel so good and glad and true that it lifts the souls of men to heaven “to sit together in heavenly places with Christ,” and “to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6-7) who Himself is the Gospel; the very “lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world,” (Rev. 13:8), “the Alpha and Omega the Beginning and the End.” (Rev. 1:11) In this Gospel we can see God’s love so early and so deep that He promised it before the foundation of the world; proclaimed it through thousands of Old Testament years; brought about its realization in the Word made flesh; and guaranteed its power to save sinners throughout all generations.  Here is good news that lasts, and lasts and lasts, never to fade, never to disappoint, never to change.  It is the one, dependable, persisting reality in a world whose only constant is change and decay.

But we don’t only believe the life-giving and everlasting Gospel, we also teach and Confess it, pure and entire as Luther and our fathers in the faith did before us. We must never be satisfied to “serve up half a Christ,” minus His deity, minus His cross, minus His blood or His bodily resurrection from the dead. Our Gospel must be the gospel of divine revelation, exact and accurate as God gave it to His holy apostles and prophets; adding nothing to it and taking nothing from it. It must be the same for us as it was for the Reformers and the faithful of all ages. Herein lies hope for the individual man, and for the whole world of men, “for all nations, and kindreds, and tongues, and people.” So we proclaim that God loved the world; Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; God reconciled the world to Himself by the death of His Son, and we are saved by faith and faith alone. Not by works, prayers, suffering, sacrifices or by being ever so good…but only by grace through faith in Christ and in Him alone.

This everlasting Gospel is also a universal gospel.  It is meant to be preached and carried and spread everywhere to everyone. No one is excluded. Nothing, either in ourselves or in others, dare hinder or prejudice the onward preaching of it to all people – without regard to their status or culture be it ever so high, or ever so low.  The world is awash with pious meddlers who want to improve the world, but nothing can improve the condition of men on earth, or truly unite those separated by culture and language, or make people amenable to one another, like this gospel of peace and the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our dear Lord and God. Faithfully proclaimed and sincerely believed our Gospel produces the exercise of true faith, urged by the angel in John’s vision when he says: “Fear God, give glory to Him and worship Him.”  This is the true practice of faith which the Reformation has bequeathed us.

But where is the voice of Luther today? May it be heard in the church of the Reformation! In her pure doctrine, her catholic practice, her Law-Gospel preaching, her faithful prayers and her blessed sacraments. And may the Holy Spirit of God be gracious to us so that this eternal Gospel might ring out, not just in Lutheran churches but in all churches, in every land, so that all people might know the confidence in Christ and the joy that we have this Reformation Day.

And whenever the church needs reforming, which it always does because sin clouds her judgment, may God grant it to us. When our thoughts, words and deeds need reforming, which they always do because the desires of the Flesh are corrupt, may the everlasting Gospel forgive us our sins, transform us, reform us and conform us to the image of the Son, even Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

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