Gospel Preaching–Our Reformation Heritage
Jesus instructed His disciples; “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). He also declared the blessing of the Gospel, saying: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” (16:16). Paul carried the Gospel into Asia and Europe. He who had persecuted the Church in its infancy had himself been won by the Gospel. Paul declared: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). We understand the reason for his appreciation of the Gospel. He said: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… ” (1 Tim. 1:15). He further declared by the power of the Spirit: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8). This message of the precious Gospel of our Lord Jesus we believe and preach!
Though the Word of God has not changed through the centuries after the establishment of the Church at Pentecost, the Gospel message unfortunately became diluted, diminished, and rejected. By the time of Luther, the emphasis was no longer on the authority of the Word and an unadulterated Gospel. The authority of the Word was replaced by papal authority. The question was no longer, “What does the Word say?” but “What does the church say?” Further, the message of the Gospel of salvation in Christ without works was replaced by indulgences, penance, meritorious works, pilgrimages, relics, and purgatory. Masses were purchased for a price. The result was indifference on the part of some, slavish fear on the part of others, and an empty exercise of religiousness on the part of most. Certainty of salvation through faith in the finished work of Jesus was replaced by an uncertainty of whether one had done enough to merit salvation.
We have Luther to thank. Under God Luther unwittingly spawned the rebellion against spiritual tyranny that would eventually return the Gospel to its rightful place in the life of the church. The Reformation put the Gospel in its rightful place as the focus of Christian teaching and preaching. The Gospel was “the sermon that Christ gave Himself for us that He might save us from sin, that all who believe this might certainly be saved . . . and that thus sinners, despairing of their own efforts, might cling to Christ alone and rely on Him” (What Luther Says, Vol. II, p. 562).
The Law does not save. It condemns. We preach the Law, but the Gospel is at the center of our preaching! Sadly, much of Lutheranism has come full circle. In our age the focus is again away from the Gospel. The Law for its own sake, universalism, political correctness, mere religiosity, compromise, self-aggrandizement, indifference, together with the inherent fleshly emphasis on salvation by works, and charismatic pursuits–these all have fleshed out Luther’s lament when he said: “But this is what happened to the Gospel before, and it will happen again. The children of Israel were badly plagued in Egypt . . . But after they got out and were redeemed from the Egyptians, they soon completely forgot their former plight and remembered only the onions and flesh pots. This is what is happening to this day” (loc. cit., p. 564).
The repository of the pure Gospel after the Reformation was the Lutheran Church. Today the Lutheran Church for the most part is in need of another Reformation lest another word of Luther come true. Said the Reformer: “Very well, all sorts of plagues will follow upon this attitude”–an attitude of indifference and lack of unadulterated Gospel preaching manifested by a failure to hold Christ and His cross at the center of things.
Purity of doctrine, sanctification, a fervent spirit of religiousness, a social conscience are important. But unless they are born of the Gospel and are in the service of the Gospel, the exercise and pursuit of the same is a replay of the self-deception that enveloped the church before the Reformation.
For our part we say with Luther that the Gospel of eternal salvation by grace through faith in Christ shall “be diligently presented in my sermons, for I see well enough what it does where it is present and what harm is caused where it is absent” (loc. cit., p. 564). God help us!
As we are committed in our church to proclaim the Gospel of Christ without shame or apology, we invite “all who are in distress of mind and heart because of their guilt and condemnation in the sight of Almighty God and seek the pardon and comfort which only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can confer” (CLC Statement of Faith and Purpose).
–Pastor Daniel Fleischer