The Beginning of the Gospel
Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr
30 July 2018
Luther never called himself a "reformer" nor did he describe what he did as a "reformation." Like many other Christians of his time, he prayed and hoped for a reformation of the church, which had fallen into a theological and moral lassitude. Even Pope Julius II (1503-1513) publicly campaigned for a church reformation, although he would never have conceived or owned what came to be called the reformation when the Lutheran movement arose in the Western church following his violent pontificate. The closest Luther came to calling the Lutheran movement a "Reformation" was the phrase initium evangelii, "the beginning of the gospel." And perhaps it is a preferable denomination for what started in Wittenberg in 1517 with the nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church. Historians used this ponderous term, which often names moral reformation and other cultural freight, to describe the Lutheran movement. Luther might even have mocked the name, just as he was unhappy with the term "Lutheran;" but like that moniker, it stuck like mud flung at a wall. Ultimately, Luther thought that reformation was far too big for any one man.
 
Luther's reform was decidedly a different sort than the one advocated by Pope Julius or many other reformers disgusted by the decay of the church. Luther was not primarily complaining about the complacency and moral laxity of the church's leaders; especially in the Roman Curia and papacy. Pope Leo (1513-1521) was decisively right when he described Luther as a wild boar loose in the vineyard of the Lord. Even if the indulgence trade had been brought to a screeching halt, Luther would not likely have been able to keep his mouth shut about the theology of the papacy. However, this is not because Luther was a noisy and contentious German. No, Luther was driven by a love for the gospel. He continued to charge through all opposition to disclose the righteousness of God, which comes as a gift from Christ through faith.
 
Ultimately, the church is not reformed by humans or their efforts, schemes, or programs, any more than the church's children are themselves made right by their own efforts, schemes, or programs. If there is to be a reformation it must come from God and it must occur through the Word of the Lord to His church, His precious possession. The church's faithfulness must ever be and remain a rich gift that the church receives from her Lord. No one, no matter how powerful will ever have the power to do what God will accomplish only through grace, out of sheer mercy, for Christ's sake. The reformation emanating from Wittenberg occurred through the Word of God. This made it a reformation of the gospel; not a reformation in morals alone. Sinners remained sinners, just forgiven by the work of the Word of God.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"The church needs a reformation which is not the work of one man, namely, the pope, or of many men, namely the cardinals, both of which the most recent council [Fifth Lateran Council 1512-1517] has demonstrated, but it is the work of the whole world, indeed it is the work of God alone. However, only God who has created time knows the time for this reformation. In the meantime, we cannot deny such manifest wrongs. The power of the keys is abused and enslaved to greed and ambition. The raging abyss has received added impetus. We cannot stop it. 'Our iniquities testify against us' (Jer 14:7), and each man's own word is a burden to him." 

Martin Luther, Explanations of the Ninety-Five Theses, 89
2 Timothy 4:1-8

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, You have reformed Your church through the preached Word. Grant us in our day to faithfully conform our teaching and practice to that Word, that you might continue to cleanse the church until the day of Your coming. Amen.
 
For the faculty and staff of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, that God would confirm them in the mission of the church to proclaim the faithful gospel of Jesus Christ to the world
 
For all orphans that God would be their Father and defender and that all institutions supporting orphans would be endowed with divinely given strength
 
For the family of Doris Schimm, that the Lord of life would enable them to confess the Life of all the living in Christ their Lord in the midst of their grief and sorrow
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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