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A Wakeup Call


Has the Reformation become a victim of its own success?

Remember lying in bed suffering from the telltale red rash of measles, burning up with a fever one minute and shivering uncontrollably the next? How about being told not to scratch the itchy chicken pox scabs, but still frantically doing so when Mom wasn’t looking? The swollen glands of mumps made it painful to swallow for days. If you are sixty or older you may vividly remember all these symptoms and truly appreciate the value of modern vaccines. On the other hand, if you’re a millennial who never experienced these diseases firsthand, it’s hard to relate to the danger they pose. As a result, vaccination rates in the U.S. have fallen and outbreaks of measles have been reported in a number of cities. It’s been said that vaccines are a victim of their own success. They have controlled disease so well that people have become apathetic toward the threat.
The same could be said of the Reformation.
By God’s grace, we are the beneficiaries of very many gifts that reformers like Martin Luther fought hard to win. At the top of the list is the Gospel, which proclaims our forgiveness; clothes us with Christ’s perfect righteousness; and proclaims us heirs of heaven by faith in Jesus, not by virtue of our own efforts and works. A Bible translation in our own language, a wealth of hymns with which to sing God’s praises, and a thorough Christian education in the Small Catechism all have come down to us through the Reformation.
Most of us have had these blessings our
entire lives.
None of us lived through those dark, tumultuous Reformation times when the battle for the truth of the Word was outwardly vicious and dangerous. So has the Reformation become a victim of its own success? Do we take our blessings for granted and undervalue their importance? Do we make it a daily priority to sit at Jesus’ feet to read His Word? Or is all our time swallowed up by the cares and pleasures of life? Every Sunday the Lord spreads a feast for the soul in Word and Sacrament. But has it become routine to tell ourselves, “I’ll catch church next week when I don’t have other things to do”? Can you imagine losing our spiritual treasures—not having the Word at hand to read, not having fellow believers with whom to gather, and not knowing where to turn for comfort and strength? If we don’t take the threat seriously, it could happen.
The Lord sent the Christians of ancient Laodicea a wakeup call in a letter: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16 CSB) Lukewarm coffee isn’t very palatable. Likewise, lukewarm Christians deserve God’s condemnation for their lack of appreciation for the saving Gospel.
The good news is that it is not too late.
Health officials have intensified their push to have children vaccinated in order to prevent more severe and widespread epidemics. If physical well-being is that important, how much more so is one’s spiritual health! There is no time to waste. The Lord’s mercies are new every morning. He assures us of His unwavering love and forgiveness for all our failings. We still have the priceless Gospel. We still have the Word readily accessible. We still have the freedom to gather as believers to praise the Savior and take His Word out to the world. We still rejoice in the Lord’s invitation, “Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the water; and you without silver, come, buy, and eat! . . . Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods.”
(Is. 55:1-2 CSB)
May that joy and peace show in humble service, harmony with one another, and love for all souls. Instead of slipping into careless indifference, may we with each passing year treasure more and more the salvation Jesus sacrificed His life to win for all sinners.
Michael Eichstadt is pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, and president of the Church of the Lutheran Confession.