by Randall Golter
A careful reading of a letter Martin Luther wrote to Cardinal Albert of Mainz on the same day (Oct. 31, 1517) he nailed the 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church shows his pastor’s heart. This letter delightfully details Luther’s deep concern for the laity.
What was his concern? For their clean conscience and that they remain clean, a cleansing made possible by hearing the comforting Word of Christ! Luther simply asks: “How can the [indulgence agents] then make the people feel secure and without fear [concerning salvation] by the means of false stories and promises of pardon?”
Luther goes on to identify what is most crucial: “The first and only duty of the [pastors], however, is to see that the people learn the gospel and the love of Christ.”
For Luther, the fundamental issue for the church of his time was proper pastoral care, that is, the sweet and clear preaching of Jesus Christ alone, without addition.
The church in America is under fresh and aggressively hostile attack. God’s weaponry — the church’s surgical sword — remains the same. “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). And the apostle John chimes in some 40 years later, “They have conquered [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11).
Right around the corner is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation! Some people will consider this event an opportune time to highlight Luther’s heroism. Others might complain about his later caustic words or the church division that resulted.
Fundamentally, the anniversary is not about Luther but the One who forgave Luther freely by grace through faith. It’s the perfect time to confess Jesus Christ alone as our conscience cleanser! In other words, it is still all about Jesus! “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7b). This remains the Father’s way of bringing everyone home to Him.
Make plans for how you and your church might magnify the Savior’s name inside and outside the walls of the church. Take a look at LutheranReformation.org, and mark your calendar for the four dates of celebration that begin in November 2016 (Nov. 10, 2016 — Luther’s birth; Feb. 18, 2017 — Luther’s death; June 25, 2017 — Presentation of the Augsburg Confession; and Oct. 31, 2017 — Reformation Day).
Along with Reformation opportunities and resources, a renewed focus on preaching is starting, called “Preach the Word.” This effort will provide pastors an opportunity to improve on the craft of preaching and the laity in their hearing of it. Oh, how the devil hates this focus on the communication of God’s enlivening Word!
Luther says it so well: “The Word is so effective that whenever it is seriously contemplated, heard, and used, it is bound never to be without fruit [Isaiah 55:11; Mark 4:20]. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness and produces a pure heart and pure thoughts [Philippians 4:8]” (Large Catechism I 101).
The Rev. Randall Golter is special assistant to the LCMS president. He is responsible for leading the Synod in planning the 2017 Reformation-anniversary celebration.