What do others say about your church? Do you hear, “Oh, you’re the church that’s against abortion. Your church is against same-sex marriage. You’re against praying with other Christians”? Sometimes the perception is that we are all about being “against” things, things which our world sees as perfectly fine. The conclusion drawn is that we are simply disgruntled malcontents who do nothing but complain.
It is true that we are against much of what is commonplace in the world. We are against it because God is. In His moral Law God lays out very clearly His will for human behavior. It doesn’t matter what country one calls home or in what era of time one is living, sin is sin and always will be. Love for the Lord and faithfulness to His Word call for us to be against what offends the holy God and incurs His condemnation.
Martin Luther too was against much of what was going on in his day. The “Ninety-Five Theses” were written against the abuse of indulgences which people bought believing that a piece of paper could forgive sins. Luther was against the worship of Mary, prayers to the saints, and the veneration of relics. Luther and other reformers were against so much that they and their followers were labeled “protestants.”
Yet it is wrong to think of Luther as someone who was anti-everything. Why was he such a popular preacher and professor? It wasn’t because of a prickly demeanor and an angry message. Not at all! People flocked to hear him because he communicated news of freedom, hope, joy, and peace to people beaten down by life. It wasn’t an inspirational, “you-can-do-it if you follow my plan” message. Luther simply proclaimed God’s truth as revealed in the Spirit-breathed Scriptures. To people who had been taught that God was against them and would send them to hell unless they made things right by doing enough good works, Luther preached God’s unconditional love for all. He assured the fearful and troubled that God is not willing that any should perish. His love is so great that He sent His Son Jesus to fulfill the Law for all humankind. He laid on His Son the iniquity of us all. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NIV84) There is not a single sin which has not been fully paid for on the cross. Jesus promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 17:16 NIV84)
Justification by faith in Christ filled Luther with heartfelt joy and determination to spend his life proclaiming the good news. He lived by Paul’s bold statement: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32 NIV84)
When someone says, “Aren’t you the church that is against . . . ?” be ready to answer, “No, we are the church that is ‘for.’” We are for telling the news of freedom from guilt and fear, a blessing which Jesus earned for all by His life, death, and resurrection. We are for comforting all people with the truth that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 NIV84)
It is the news which people in Luther’s day needed more than anything else. It is just as essential today. In this time of crumbling morals and economic and political upheaval when nothing seems stable, there is still one place of safety. “God is our refuge and strength!” (Psalm 46:1 NIV84)
We’re all “for” that!