Happy Reformation Day. If you’ve been following MBird for a while now, then you’ll not be surprised that we get pretty fired up about Reformation Day, but we might celebrate it a bit differently than you might think. For one, our major concern here is not about any particular church vs. another, or even a set of particular doctrines over and against others. Now, to be sure, we have our commitments in these areas, but fundamentally we are concerned about celebrating Reformation Day because of our need–shared across each of our contributors–to hear the pure and unadulterated Good News–the Gospel—of God’s justification of the ungodly on a day-to-day basis (if not hourly!). The events surrounding the Reformation ensured that this message would never be lost, and its ministers have never tired of preaching this message of Amazing Grace.
This is why we care about the Reformation. Sure, there were liturgical changes, there were political and social revolutions, there was the cessation of some of what Luther would call the menschenlehrer–the teachings of men—that were certainly to good purpose (one thinks of the canceling of indulgences, for one!), but all of these are penultimately important in light of the fundamental redirection of the church, because the Reformation was nothing if not a complete reversal of the direction of devotion; no longer would people be singing of salvation as something done by us or something done in us, but something done for us.
The ramifications of this cannot be overstated and are still being worked out in fear and trembling! The idea that God condescended to a lost humanity on its behalf in spite of itself, freely giving of his mercy and grace without anything asked in return, well, that just seems too good to be true; however, that’s the very incredulity that marks the beginning of an awareness of why the Gospel continues to capture the hearts and minds of “those who have ears to hear.” Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Good News that Jesus was and is not a life-coach, a mentor, a guide, a model, or even a judge for that matter (cf. John 3:16-19), but a savior. We thank God for the Reformation simply because by the rediscovery of the Gospel, the redirection of the church was secured as always being (in its best iteration!) a hospital for the sick, a refuge for the outcast, and a comfort for those who mourn. Thanks be to God!
Don’t take my word for it, hear how Luther recounts his Gospel discovery in his recollections from 1542-43:
No. 5518: Distinction Between the Law and the Gospel
Winter of 1542–1543
“For a long time I went astray [in the monastery] and didn’t know what I was about. To be sure, I knew something, but I didn’t know what it was until I came to the text in Romans 1 [:17], ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ That text helped me. There I saw what righteousness Paul was talking about. Earlier in the text I read ‘righteousness.’ I related the abstract [‘righteousness’] with the concrete [‘the righteous One’] and became sure of my cause. I learned to distinguish between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of the gospel. I lacked nothing before this except that I made no distinction between the law and the gospel. I regarded both as the same thing and held that there was no difference between Christ and Moses except the times in which they lived and their degrees of perfection. But when I discovered the proper distinction—namely, that the law is one thing and the gospel is another—I made myself free.”
Then Dr. Pomeranus (aka. John Bugenhaggen) said, “I began to experience a change when I read about the love of God and what it signifies passively, namely, that by which we are loved by God. Before I had always taken love actively [namely, that by which we love God].”
The doctor [Martin Luther] said, “Yes, it is clear—by charity or by love!—that it’s often understood [in the Scriptures] of that by which God loves us. However, in Hebrew the genitives of ‘love’ are difficult.”
Then Pomeranus added, “Nevertheless, other passages afterward make these clear.” Indeed!—JDK