Mud That Sticks
Friday in Pentecost 20
27 October 2017
The Reformation was not a religious movement committed to Martin Luther. Luther himself was deeply chagrined to have had his name cast upon the children of God who had had the gospel preached to them in Northern Europe. As mud slung by small children clings to a brick wall, the opponents of the Lutheran Reformation called the adherents of the Wittenberg confessional movement "Lutheran" as a term of derision. However, the church of the Lutheran Reformation was not Luther's church. It was the church of Philip Melanchthon, courageous political leaders, like the electors of Saxony, and countless German laypeople. Her faith is not just the opinions and teachings of the Wittenberg Reformer, some of which she has completely, even if sometimes reluctantly, repudiated.
 
Instead of blindly following the leadership of one man, the Lutheran Church has followed one man's certain confession of the sufficiency of the Word of God to lead and direct the church. All humans are liars, only God is always true. That is the truth about Luther as well. Thus the Lutheran Church has committed herself with bride-like submission (Eph 5:22-33) to the word of the bridegroom, Christ and not to any other man, no matter how illustrious. We dare not substitute mere human authority for the divine speech, for to do so is to become an adulterous church, which has not one Lord and Master. She becomes a bride who will listen to any upstart who sings under her window. Instead, the Church must be made up of those who are "all taught by God" (Jn 6:45). So the Lutheran Reformation does not, indeed cannot, stand or fall on Martin Luther or any other man. Her life must begin with Christ and end with His Word spoken to her.
 
The Lutheran Church acknowledges and confesses her dependence on the Word of God in the confessional writings to which she has unreservedly committed herself. Luther authors only a small portion of the Lutheran confessional writings, the two catechisms and the Smalcald Articles. The greatest expressions of the biblical gospel come to us in the Augsburg Confession and the Apology (defense) of the Augsburg Confession, documents penned by Philip Melanchthon, not Luther. These two confessions are particularly insistent that the sinner is declared righteous in the sight of God through the work and merit of Christ alone. That merit is received by faith alone. As we read the Lutheran Confessions, we find in them not obscure or dusty theology, but deeply evangelical expressions of Christ's full ability to save sinners like us from sins. This is eminently practical for sinners. The Lutheran Confessions strive to bring comfort to troubled sinners by proclaiming that sins have been forgiven for the sake of Christ and that that is received by faith alone. If that is mud, then let it stick.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Apology of the Augsburg Confession
"The forgiveness of sins is a thing promised for Christ's sake. Therefore it can be accepted only by faith, since a promise can be accepted only on faith. In Romans 4 Paul says, ' That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed ' (Rm 4:16), as though he were to say, 'If it depended on our merits, the promise would be uncertain and useless because we could never determine whether we had merited enough.' Experienced consciences can readily understand this. Therefore Paul says, 'T he Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe ' ( Gal 3:22). Here he denies us any merit, for he says that all are guilty and consigned to sin. Then he adds that the promise of the forgiveness of sins and justification is a gift, and further that the promise can be accepted by faith. Based upon the nature of a promise, this is Paul's chief argument, which he often repeats (Rm 4:16; Gal 3:18). Nothing anyone can devise or imagine will refute Paul's argument. So pious men should not let themselves be diverted from this declaration, that we receive the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake only by faith; here they have a certain and firm consolation against the terrors of sin, against eternal death, and against all the gates of hell (Mt 16:18).
 
"Faith alone justifies because we receive the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit by faith alone. The reconciled are accounted righteous and children of God not on account of their own purity but by mercy on account of Christ, if they grasp this mercy by faith. Thus the Scriptures testify that we are accounted righteous by faith. We shall therefore add clear testimonies stating that faith is the very righteousness by which we are accounted righteous before God. This is not because it is a work worthy in itself, but because it receives God's promise that for Christ's sake He wishes to be propitious to believers in Christ and because it believes that it is Christ ' whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption ' (1Co 1:30).
 
"In the Epistle to the Romans, especially, Paul deals with this subject and states that when we believe that God is reconciled to us for Christ's sake we are justified freely by faith. In chapter 3 he advances this conclusion, embodying the basic issue of the whole discussion: 'We hold that man is justified by faith apart from works of law' (Rm 3:28). This our opponents interpret as referring to levitical ceremonies, but Paul is talking about the whole law, not only about ceremonies. For later on he quotes the Decalogue, 'You shall not covet' (Rm 7:7). If moral works merited the forgiveness of sins and justification, there would be no need for Christ and the promise, and everything that Paul says about the promise would be overthrown. Then he would have been wrong in writing to the Ephesians that we are saved freely by 'the gift of God, not a result of works' (Eph 2:8-9). Paul also mentions Abraham and David, who had God's command regarding circumcision (Rm 4:1-6). If any works justified, therefore, surely these works, having a command, would have to justify. But Paul is talking about the whole law, as Augustine correctly maintains in his lengthy discussion on The Spirit and the Letter, where he says toward the end, 'Having therefore considered and discussed these matters according to the ability that the Lord saw fit to grant us, we conclude that a man is not justified by the precepts of a good life, but through faith in Jesus Christ.'" 

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 4.84-87
Romans 4:1-17

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin." Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
 
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
 
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring- not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations"- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, You have spoken to Your bride, the Church. Keep us from committing our allegiance to mere men, but preserve us always as students of Your Word, that we might always faithfully judge all opinions and doctrines according to it. We praise You for freeing Your church from tyranny to human opinion through the proclamation of the eternal gospel of forgiveness for poor sinners through faith in You and Your life, death, and resurrection. Amen.
 
For Lutheran churches throughout the world, that they might once again faithfully confess the eternal gospel as so beautifully confessed by the Lutheran Confessions
 
For all sanitation workers who keep our cities free of refuse and collect our garbage, that they would be blessed in their work and that all people would appreciate their labor
 
For all those plagued by burdened consciences, that they might know the freedom that comes from the forgiveness of sins in Christ
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
©  Scott Murray 2017