October is the month of Reformation Day, the eve of All Saints. It is a day that all Lutherans tend to mark because that was the day that an Augustinian friar and professor at Wittenberg University named Martin Luther posted 95 theses for theological discussion concerning the sale of indulgences on the castle church door. And so began what we now call the Reformation of the western catholic church.
When you reform something, you don’t start from scratch. You conserve what you can and you fix what you can’t. It’s like pruning or trimming a tree. You don’t dig out the whole plant and put another in its place. Nor do you whack down the whole tree to the root. You prune selectively, skillfully, carefully.
Luther did not intend to split an already fractured church. Nor did he intend to start a new church, as if such a thing were possible. This was not about shaking a defiant fist at the Pope, nor was it about breaking away from the Catholic Church, nor was it, as the radical reformation believed, some pure church emerging from the impure Catholic. This was supposed to be, and always is, about reformation. Correcting what is wrong, conserving what is right.
The Church is always and ever being reformed. It’s not simply a once-and-done deal. There is always error rising, always drift, always a little sideways current or wind that blows the Church slightly off course. That’s true for each of us justified sinners too. We are ever in need of reformation. It’s not about once confirmed always (you fill in the blank), or whatever other false security blanket we try to wrap ourselves in. Our baptism is a daily thing, a daily dying and rising, a daily justification, a daily reformation.
In John 8, Jesus spoke to the Jews who had believed in Him. They used to believe, but not anymore. What went wrong? They turned from the Word (and you are free to do that). Faith is born of the Word, is fed by the Word, is sustained by the Word. And without the Word, faith dies.
“If you abide in my Word you are truly my disciples.”
To be a disciple is to abide in the Word of Jesus. That is, to be connected to Jesus by hearing His Word and having His Word have its way with you.
There is a promise for those who abide in the Word of Jesus. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus Himself is the truth. His Word is truth. To abide in the truth is to abide in Jesus, which is the only place in which a sinner may abide and live before God. Abide in that justifying Word, and you are a disciple of Jesus. Abide in that Word, and you are forgiven. Abide in that Word, and you are free.
May we all celebrate a happy reformation.