by Greg Alms
When one thinks of the Reformation, one might easily think of a door. It is easy to visualize the great door of the castle church in Wittenberg. There Martin Luther nailed the Latin text of his 95 Theses and unleashed a torrent that we call the Reformation.
For centuries, Lutherans around the world have celebrated that moment and remembered it with thanksgiving to God. That door even got its own day in the Church Year calendar — Reformation Day, October 31 — the day Luther affixed that document to those doors.
When we think of that door and reflect on that day and what followed we rehearse in our mind the great truths of the Reformation: sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura (grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone).
That great door brings to mind such phrases and the great doctrinal debates and clashes between pastors and popes and princes. But there are other doors that Reformation Lutherans could rightly celebrate.
How about door to your home where your family lives? Or the door to your workplace where you earn your living? Or the doors to the school where you learn and grow?
The Reformation’s great work for the sake of the Gospel affected not only church doctrine and church life and worship, it reached right into the daily lives of Christians. It affected how we regard our daily tasks and duties and how we go about doing them.
In many ways, the church of Luther’s day had disparaged the common life of marriage and family and work. The monastic life was often upheld as the highest and most spiritual way of life.
There in the monastery one could pursue “spiritual” things and pray and meditate on the Scriptures and religious texts free from the burdens and distractions of family or employment.
The cloistered life was also praised in connection with a vision of the Christian life where one merited righteousness before God by one’s actions. So being a monk or a nun was a way to devote one’s life to earning righteousness.
One could devote oneself entirely to piling up merit before God, praying for other family members, doing monastic good works and generally being a “superstar Christian.”
But Luther came to object to all of this. A monk himself, he began to see that the Scriptures saw things differently. He could see this in Genesis with its detailed account of the household lives of the patriarchs all the way to St. Paul who wrote out instructions for Christian parents and children.
The Christian life, said Luther, doesn’t begin at the door to a monastery; it begins at the door to the family home. There God has actually commanded and promised to bless Christians who marry, raise children in righteousness, and serve one another in real, burden-bearing, sacrificial love.
What Lutherans call “vocation,” the calling of God to serve the neighbor in specific God given ways (church, state and family), is the true location of good works and service to God. The doors of the home and the workplace open up to a real assurance and certainty that we are indeed serving God in what we do.
When we change a diaper, cook a meal or instruct a child, we are being the real “superstar Christian.” In those unassuming areas of service, we can know that we are serving God rightly for God has said that we are to do these very things.
The church of Luther’s time had belittled families and “normal life.” Luther exalted them. He recognized that the little things we do, the common everyday things of love and service are wrapped in God’s glory and honor.
For the small insignificant things of vocation take part in the humility and dishonor of Christ himself. Christ took on human flesh and lived a common human life of toil and family and even death, all for our sakes.
That common insignificant life of cross bearing is His very glory. We praise and honor Christ precisely in that He humbles Himself for our sakes to give us salvation.
In the same way the Christian who humbles himself for neighbor in the small humble ways of family and work and community is walking in the ways of Christ and following God’s very words and promises that direct him to that life.
To walk through those doors is to walk in the way of Christ.
The Rev. Paul Gregory Alms is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Catawba, N.C.