Entries tagged with “Luther”.

My article “More than Straw: The Importance of James to Contemporary Society” has recently been published in the October 2009 issue of The Canadian Lutheran. Read the article here, or the full issue here. Alternately, you can visit your friendly neighbourhood Lutheran Church – Canada congregation to pick up a copy of the magazine in print.


The Canadian Lutheran is the award-winning magazine of Lutheran Church–Canada. It is published nine times a year and features inspirational and educational articles.

Today is Reformation Sunday. Technically, Reformation Day falls upon October 31 (that being the date upon which Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Church door in Wittenburg). This is the Sunday before that great anniversary, and so it is our day of remembrance. Across the globe, churches today proudly sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” They dress their altars with red paraments, reflecting both the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Reformation, and the martyrs’ sacrifices during this era. It seems fitting then, that on this day we should pause to consider what Reformation is – and what it most certainly is not.

Some time ago, I was sitting with an acquaintance of mine, and our conversation moved to a discussion of Luther. It seemed to me that we had common ground. We both praised him as a hero of the faith, and as a man through whom God did wonders. He was, we agreed, a true follower of Christ, one of those saints in whom we may find inspiration and example. And then this young woman said something which struck me: “I like to think that if Luther was alive today, he’d be right there proclaiming that social Gospel.” I asked her to elaborate and soon discovered that she believed Luther would be pushing for female ordination, homosexual-inclusivity, and all manner of other “justice” issues. But what was remarkably lacking in her depiction of the man was any reference to his faith: no theology of the cross, no salvation by grace alone, and, inexplicably, no sola scriptura.1

It was evident that the Luthers we both so admired were not the same man. She saw a revolutionary; I knew the reformer.

Reformation, contrary to what some liberal factions in the Church today might state, is not about becoming relevant. Quite the opposite, actually. It is about being re-formed, that is to say, formed again into the original image. It is not a new creation, but a returning to the way things once were. The argument, in Luther’s day, was that the Church had departed from its original moorings of Scripture – that they, just as the Pharisees before them, had “for the sake of [their] tradition… made void the word of God” (Matthew 15:6).2 Luther’s desire was to help the Church get back to an authentic and historical Christianity. Consider Luther’s words from his introduction to his Commentary on Galatians:

“I have taken in hand, in the name of the Lord, yet once again to expound this Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians; not because I do desire to teach new things, or such as ye have not heard before, especially since that, by the grace of Christ, Paul is now thoroughly known unto you; but for that (as I have often forewarned you) this we have to fear as the greatest and nearest danger, lest Satan take from us this doctrine of faith, and bring into the church again the doctrine of works and men’s traditions.”3

Luther did not condemn tradition per se, but he did condemn anything which would contradict the Scriptures (and thus, that instrument through which we receive faith). And most certainly Luther would have included in his condemnation those liberal teachings which ignore biblical pronouncements on such issues as female ordination, homosexual-inclusivity, and others where people are so keen to pander to the “values” of our contemporary society. Martin Luther had no desire to be either relevant or rebellious. He wanted to be faithful to Scripture.

And so we see that Luther would never, absolutely never, have become an advocate of the modern concept called the “social gospel.” Doing good works, helping the poor, fighting true injustice… These are necessary things, to be true. And Luther agreed we must do them. But they are not the Gospel, and they should never be confused with the Gospel. The Gospel, in the words of St. Paul, is simple and pure: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This was Luther’s message. This was the message of the Reformation. And this is the message we should reflect upon in this season of remembrance: we have been saved by the grace of God alone.

1Lat. “Scripture Alone.”

2English Standard Version, as are all other Scripture quotations.

3Luther, Martin. A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Translation Robert Middleton, 1553. Adapted, unknown. Smith, English & Co. Philadelphia: 1860. p. 130.