Between Organ Bench and Pulpit
Pastor Greg Shook
“The law says, ‘do this’ and it is never done. “Grace says, ‘believe this,’ and everything is already done.” —Martin Luther
I have been pondering . . . OK, fretting . . . about something to write for this edition of our newsletter. I felt strongly that my musings needed to be some-thing on the Reformation, but what? The brochure developed by our local Lutheran Coalition gives a fairly detailed tim
eline, covering the historical perspective. An amazing hymn festival (“The Kingdom’s Ours Forever”) will be held 4 p.m. on Trinity on Reformation Sunday, led by Dr. Wayne Wold, covering the blessings of music and the Word. What to do?
At the risk of this sounding like a high school term paper on “How I Learned to Love Luther,” I decided to offer some personal thoughts on the Reformation. I spent some time reflecting back on my Lutheran beginnings in the late 60s and early 70s. What impacted me most was what I heard and experienced here at Trinity. Of course, I remember hearing Dr. Clair Johannsen play for the first time, and the impact that his music had then and continues to have in my life. However, the Word also played an important part in my theological development. That came a little later, when I studied organ with Clair and he let me read Luther’s Small Catechism. So, what I share with you in this writing is what I’ve gleaned from my early experiences here, over my years of study, and of course, in staying in close contact with Dr. Clair through the years.
What exactly is the appeal of Martin Luther’s journey? We know that this whole movement was fueled by what he and other critics saw as abuses in the Roman Catholic Church that ended in the establishment of the Reformed and Protestant Churches. Luther’s journey started some- thing that began an entire new movement in the history of religion! All other Protestant Churches were formed and branched out from this initial movement. Have we perhaps forgotten this “minor” detail in our history?
Another perspective to embrace from this movement was that Martin Luther made the Word available to all people. Until Martin Luther took on Rome, worship and writings were in Latin, music in the church was sung or performed only by professional musicians, and did not seem to be accessible or available for the common folk. Each section of the Small Catechism works toward getting God’s work in Christ to penetrate deep inside our hearts, and Luther accomplished this simply and peacefully, and brought the love of Christ to his people. Luther realized just how far removed the Gospel had become from his people’s experience. So, he translated the Bible into German, fashioned hymnody that was approachable, and crafted and promoted a religion that was for all people. Martin and his wife Katharina modeled hospitality and wel- coming for the common people. They opened their homes to students and pilgrims who wanted to learn more and more about this new religion.
As I have prepared for my candidacy process, I realized more and more just how my life, spirituality, and theology has been shaped by Luther. One of the things that I adopted years ago comes from Luther’s comparison of the Lord’s Prayer to our coming to God like children who trust a loving parent. So, in my invitation to pray the Lord’s Prayer, I always will say, “Let us pray with the confidence of children.”
There are five central teachings of the reformation that I believe we should affirm because they reflect the Bible’s teaching: (1) The Bible alone (Sola Scriptura), (2) Grace alone (Sola Gratia), (3) Faith alone (Sola fide), (4) Christ alone (Sola Christus), (5) To God alone be glory (Soli Deo Gloria).
God should be thanked, praised, and given full credit for his sovereign grace and spiritual and physical provision. Our theology should be God-centered, not man-centered. God, not us, should be the center of all things. In our work, in our play, in our communities of faith. That is why your presence at worship is important. Yes, yes, we hear the Word and the message, sing and pray and all that great stuff; however, when you opt to be elsewhere on Sunday mornings, you opt out of the physical gathering and presence of God’s community. Ponder this a little, please?!?
Reformed and Redeemed. We have roots in a movement and a theology that offers its believers grace and love. This reformed and redeemed me as a young Christian who knew he was searching for “something,” but not quite sure what it was. This is something to celebrate, for sure!
I have been reading some writings of Nadia Bolz-Weber who is pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO. She offers the following reflection on the Reformation:
“Luther knew what it felt like for the law to convict him, accuse him, leave him nowhere to rest. And if you want to know what really sparked the Protestant Reformation it is the fact that feeling this way, Luther . . . believed that God’s grace is a gift, [and] no longer accepted what the church had for so long taught: that we are really saved by the works of the law. The medieval church had pawned off law as gospel, and Luther dared to know the difference, and then he became a preacher of grace, and that changed everything.”
Invite those you haven’t seen for a while to join you in church this month to celebrate our heritage, the Word, and the grace and love that creates “home” for us as sinners and saints. Think about Luther, what drove him to be a pioneer and reformer, and the strength of his faith. His teaching and writings are as relevant today as they were 500 years ago. Why? Because they were God-inspired, Jesus-modeled, and Spirit-driven.
Do I hear an “Amen” from God’s people?
Soli Deo Gloria! —Pastor Greg