These days much is rightly made of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. God used Martin Luther as His servant to reform the church and restore the Gospel to its rightful place. As we celebrate and praise God for the good works of Dr. Martin Luther, it’s also good and right for us to ask ourselves a serious question:
What sort of reforming work needs to take place among us today?
There are two words that need to be a part of every church’s vocabulary.
The first word is healthy. Churches are healthy when they are able to adapt to cultural change, when they have healthy family systems and when they know how to maintain vitality as they age.
The second word is missional. While not everyone appreciates that word, it does describe an essential characteristic of healthy churches. They are able to think, plan, and act in alignment with the Great Commission. They understand their community and are engaged with it for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel.
What connects these two words is God’s mission (missio Dei). Healthy churches know that they are sent. ‘Sent’ is the meaning of the Latin word ‘missio.’ The members of these churches know that they are part of God’s missionary force, called, gifted and sent by God to make more disciples who make still more disciples who then gather into groups of disciples. Their vision is to make and multiply disciples. That’s why God put us Christians here in the first place.
As we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, we give praise to God for His work through Dr. Martin Luther. Let’s consider what the great Reformer had to say about God’s mission as lived out by His people, the Church.
Luther encouraged the prayers and missionary work of God’s people in his exposition of John 14:12-14:
When a Christian comes to know Christ as his Lord and Savior, who has redeemed him from death, and is brought into His dominion and heritage, his heart is thoroughly permeated by God; then he would like to help everybody attain this blessedness. For he has no greater joy than the treasured knowledge of Christ. So he begins to teach and exhort others, confesses and commends his blessedness before everybody, and sighs and prays that they too, may come to this grace. He has a restless spirit while enjoying rest supreme, that is, God’s grace and peace. Therefore he cannot be quiet or idle but is forever struggling and striving with all his powers, as one living only to spread God’s honor and praise farther among mankind, to cause others also to receive this spirit of grace and through it also to help him pray. (Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, vol 2. Concordia Publishing House, 1955, page 959).
In a letter written in 1522, Luther gets to the heart of the missionary task, that is, a heart that knows the preciousness of Christ for itself and simply cannot keep it to himself or herself:
This noble Word brings with it a great hunger and insatiable thirst, so that we could not be satisfied even though many thousands of people believe on it; but we wish that no one should be without it. This thirst ever strives for more and does not rest; it moves us to speak, as David says: ‘I believed, therefore have I spoken.’ (Ps 116:10) (Plass, page 959).
In his lectures on Genesis 45:9-11, Luther says that those who have come to know God’s salvation must make it their business to tell others:
After we have learned to know God in His Son and have received the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit, who endues hearts with joy and with the peace of soul by which we look with contempt on sin and death, what remains to be done? Go, and do not be silent. You are not the only one to be saved; the remaining multitude of men should also be preserved. (Plass, 960).
Two more quotes will show Luther’s conviction that the best way a Christian can serve his or her neighbor is to bring the neighbor to Christ:
We live on earth for no other purpose than to be helpful to others. Otherwise it would be best for God to take away our breath and let us die as soon as we are baptized and have begun to believe. But He lets us live here in order that we may lead other people to believe, doing for them what He has done for us. (Plass, 961).
No one can deny that every Christian possesses the word of God and is taught and anointed by God to be [a] priest, as Christ says, John 6:45 and Psalm 45:7… as Peter says too, 1 Peter 2:9, You are a royal priesthood so that you may declare the virtue of him who called you into his marvelous light… Here again it is certain that a Christian not only has the right and power to teach God’s word, but has the duty to do so on pain of losing his soul and of God’s disfavor. (Volker Stolle, Klaus Detlev Schulz, trans. The Church Comes from All Nations. Concordia Publishing House, 2003, page 21). …
The Reformation work God performed through Martin Luther is not merely an historical event to celebrate 500 years later. Luther’s call for every Christian to share the life-changing Gospel message of Jesus with their family, friends, and neighbors is the ongoing re-formation work needed today. Making disciples who make more disciples who make still more disciples who gather in groups of disciples (planting new churches) is the task of every Christian and Christian church in this day as it was in the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries.