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Archive for August 23rd, 2011

This is the first part of a series:

Luther’s 7 Marks of the Church

“(The Church) is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.”

(The Large Catechism,
“The Creed”, by Martin Luther)

Luther was imprisoned for his own safety by his prince, Frederick the Wise,  in the Castle in Wartburg because Luther  could have been killed on the spot by the Holy Roman Empire.  He was a declared heretic and outlaw.  After many months, he learned that back in Wittenberg, Pastor Karlstadt began a series of radical reforms that this pastor thought were in keeping with the Reformation.  His reforms eventually caused riots to the point of the actual destruction of images and altars.  Luther decided he must return and he did on March 6, 1522.  It was Lent.  On March 9th, Invocavit Sunday, Luther preached and did so everyday for the next 7 days.  These 8 sermons are called the Invocavit Sermons:  these sermons stayed a riot, restored order  because  the Word of God was truly preached.  The quote below is from one of those sermons and FWIW, one of my favorites:

For the Word created heaven and earth and all things [Ps. 33:6]; the Word must do this thing, and not we poor sinners. In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26-29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf,  the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. (emphasis my own)

This great quote points us to the centrality of the Word of God, both Law and Promise, in the teaching, preaching and administering of the Sacraments in the life of Lord’s Church and what the Lord’s Word does.

“Word of God”   is used 44 times  the Bible.   The phrase “Word of the Lord” is used 256 times in the Scripture! As in,  “The Word of the Lord came to fill-in-a name-of-a-prophet.”  Pastors and theologians can wax rhapsodic about the phrase “the Word of the Lord”, and rightly so, but probably leaving devout brothers or sisters in Christ wondering why the pastor is getting so worked up about this.  I would say that in our time when words are processed,when we are daily flooded with words (as I am adding to the tidal wave right now!), when the rarest of things is that some politician or pastor is “true to his word”, then this might seem downright “blah-blah-blah”.

One way to get a handle on the centrality of at least words and their potential power is exemplified in a comment recorded in the Gospels.  A Roman Centurion comes to Jesus with a request.  Now a Centurion, base word “century”, that is a 100, had a 100 men under him.  I think a centurion was like an army master sergeant.  The request was would Jesus heal his servant.  Jesus offered to come to his house, but the Centurion responded:

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Say the word!  His societal analogy was spot on:  he was a man also(!) “under authority” and if I say to a soldier Jump!, he jumps!  Jesus response was of sheer wonder and joy:  “…he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. ”  This is recorded in  Matthew 8.

The Centurion knew Jesus was also “under authority”.  The root word of “authority” is author and at this juncture the Centurion may not have known that the Author of life was in front of him (see Acts 3:15).   One needs authority behind the words to give them power.  Disobeying a lawful order is with the tug that says:  “This is wrong”.  Or to obey a lawful order with the tug, “I don’t want to do this”, both demonstrate the power of words.  When the word of a friend or a wife or husband is “I love you”, the word creates a stir because there is type of authority behind that word.

The Latin word for “word” is verbum, which we derive “verb”, the word that carries the action of a sentence.  The Word is Verb.  The Author of life is behind, with and under His Word and by that Word alone the Holy Spirit works.  God works through His Word alone, in fact the Sword of the Spirit is the Word of the Lord (see Ephesians 6:16-18).  The Lord only works through His Word, as He did for the Centurion: “just say the Word”.  Yes, there is the threat of temporal and eternal punishment and so the tug.  But in the fullness of time the Word became flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior.  In Him is also the tug of the Gospel, the promise:  In Me, you are forgiven.

So the first way “…a poor confused person tell where…Christian holy people are to be found…”(Luther) is the Possession of the holy Word of God.  Not primarily the way the Word is defined but the way it is use: Law and Promise.  “…for God’s Word cannot be without God’s people, and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s word.”  (Luther) One sure way to tell that a congregation is hardly on life support when the “studies” are all about anything than the Scriptures:   about denominational task force statements, surveys of religious opinions, eternal dialogue, ad nauseum;  or a Bible-study, so-called, is a religious debating society, or a time to share one’s Bible feelings, that is feelings about the Bible.   One sure way to tell it is a faithful congregation is the expectation that in God’s Word we are confronted and comforted by none other than the Lord in all His just judgments (the Law) and in all His grace fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, the sure  Promise of forgiveness  in godly repentance.

A good way to wrap this up for now is to pray as Luther prayed and sang:

Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from your Son
And bring to nought all he has done.

Lord Jesus Christ, your power make known,
For you are Loud of lords alone;
Defend your holy Church that we
May sing your praise triumphantly.

O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth;
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death of life.

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