As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation today, some have wondered if it is time for another Reformation. In typical Lutheran fashion I would answer that question, “Yes and No.”
No, in the sense that what Martin Luther taught starting 500 years ago is still true and is still being taught in many churches around the world, even many non-Lutheran churches.
It is quite an accomplishment to remain faithful to anything for 500 years, much less to remain faithful to a set of beliefs that is regularly challenged and attacked. Yet, by God’s grace, it has happened. The same teachings that the reformers taught are being taught by Lutherans today.
Now in my opinion, some who still call themselves Lutherans teach things that I don’t think Martin Luther would recognize. But still there are millions of faithful Lutherans around the world today.
Just ask yourself, “Is there anything that has happened in my lifetime that people will still be remembering and celebrating 500 years from now? We’ve all seen a lot of changes but will any of them still be remembered 500 years from now?
In my opinion, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod denomination has been blessed with some very qualified Lutheran teachers and scholars. Leading the way is our Synod president, Dr. Matthew Harrison. One of our seminaries, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana is being called by some “a little Wittenberg.”
In John 8 Jesus says to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, ESV) Martin Luther did not come up with a new teaching; he simply called upon the church to be Jesus’ true disciples by holding on to the things that Jesus taught.
Frankly, the teachings that were being promoted in Luther’s day did not bring freedom. They brought slavery. There were endless man-made rules and regulations that people had to follow to be good church members. And in the end, all these rules did not bring them peace and hope.
By remaining faithful to Jesus teachings, he promised we would know the truth and the truth would set us free. In the following verses he explains that the freedom he is talking about is freedom from sin, the most important freedom of all. There is no point in talking about any other kind of freedom without first establishing freedom from sin.
Why would we not hold on to the true teaching that Jesus, our Savior, set us free from sin by dying for us on the cross and rising from the dead? So in the sense that we are still holding on to Jesus’ teaching, no we do not need another Reformation.
But in the sense that so much more could be done to help people know the truth and hold on to it as true disciples, yes, we need another Reformation. But it needs to be God’s doing, not ours.
Martin Luther did not set out to start a Reformation nor did he or anyone else control it. The Lord made it all happen by keeping Luther and his followers faithful to the teachings of Jesus and by opening doors for countless people to hear and respond to those teachings. So if God brings about another Reformation it will be all his doing, not ours.
Another reason why we need another Reformation is that there are still far too many teachers and teachings, both inside and outside of the church, that do no more than make slaves out of people. They simply re-package the same, man-made rules and try to pass them off as God’s truth. And they have no power to set people free from sin.
People still need to hear that through Jesus, the Son of God, they are set free from the power of sin. In Romans 3 the Apostle Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24, ESV)
This Gospel is the only way truly to change people. And Paul says in Romans 1, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, ESV) If the Gospel is the power of God for salvation, it is also the power of God for sanctification, that is, for leading holy, God-fearing lives.
Now abiding in Jesus’ word does not mean that we all do things exactly the same. If that were the case, as someone said, we could have one pastor write one sermon each week and send it out to all the churches. That’s not what Jesus means when he says to abide in his word. Different churches will do things differently as they hold to the teachings of Jesus.
That being said, we also need another Reformation so that people will once again realize that the most important thing about a church is its teachings. These days so much emphasis is placed on the different programs that churches offer and that is often how people judge a church. The programs are all great but the most important thing, as it was in the days of the Reformation, is what the church teaches.
Conclusion. If you were to ask someone who lived through the original Reformation, they would probably ask, “Why isn’t more being done to celebrate this important event? Thanks be to God that we still have the same teachings of the Reformation, the only teachings that lead us to freedom from sin through faith in Jesus Christ.