The sickness behind denominational divisions and its tough cure: 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation

Critics regard the Reformation as a failure, pointing to the many denominations that sprung up in the 500 years since Martin Luther called for reform in 1517. The confessional Lutheran church is not in Christian fellowship with the vast majority of nominal Lutherans. The Reformed church splintered into innumerable Presbyterian, Baptist, and nondenominational sects. What went wrong?

The problem is not new. By 1530 Lutherans found it necessary to officially distance themselves from the Reformed and Anabaptist teachings they were accused of. Did you know Dr. Martin Luther had already not only diagnosed the disease but also prescribed its cure?

Here is the reason for the church’s fragmentation at the time of the Reformation. Recently some have considered it the result of a necessary “historical development” that there is a Reformed church with its army of sects in addition to the Lutheran church. . . . So common is this view of the formation of the Reformed church, so absurd and foolish it is. The reason for a Reformed church in addition to the Lutheran church comes simply from this: the former makes reason into the principle of theology in a number of doctrines, and thus actually ignores the fear of God’s Word, in spite of their assurance that they deeply revere it. Luther proved this origin of the Reformed sects again and again and showed their leaders how they were “thoughtless despisers of Scripture.” To be sure, the enthusiasts maintained that they had God’s honor in mind when they did not take hold of the words in the Lord’s Supper as they actually are. For if someone accepted that Christ’s body and blood actually and essentially were in the Lord’s Supper, then he would have to believe contradictory things, namely, that Christ’s body and blood are in heaven and earth at the same time, and indeed in many places on earth at the same time. But Luther was not deceived by this. Rather, he showed the enthusiasts again directly from this contradiction that they were lacking the fear of God’s Word, in that they wanted to determine according to the thoughts of their reason, instead of according to God’s Word, what a contradiction in divine matters was. Therefore, when they also discussed at Marburg how they could end the conflict between the Lutherans and the Zwinglians, Luther said, “I know no other way, than that they (Zwingli and his associates) give God’s Word the honor and believe with us.” (Francis Pieper, excerpt from “The Fear of God’s Word,” trans. Andrew Hussman, Studium Excitare: The Journal of Confessional Language Studies at MLC)

What? “Give God’s word the honor and believe with” confessional Lutherans? That would even include believing the words “This is my body” exactly as Jesus spoke them! That’s saying the source of the disagreement is human unbelief, not the fact that Scripture is hard to understand. No, standing on Scripture alone is too simplistic.

Yes, we need Scripture, but we also need a healthy dose of common sense. If you think about it, it’s okay to have lots of denominations because their petty little differences about abstract things like grace and faith really don’t really matter anyway. That’s why open communion was invented.

But common sense isn’t quite enough, either. We also need the writings of respected Christian leaders to shed light on the darkness of the Scriptures. From John Calvin on, Protestant scholars have learned a lot since Luther’s time. Granted, each sect has its own revered leaders, but that’s not the point. Let’s learn what we can from the best of them and not sweat the details.

The point is this. Luther’s simple faith in Scripture alone was a good place to start in 1517. It’s not a good place to stand in 2017.

Or is it? Could it be that our own wisdom and traditions have blinded us to the light of God’s word? If so, let’s indeed “give God’s word the honor” and pray with the Psalmist, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. . . . The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:105,130).

On this 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, let’s turn from the unbelief of Zechariah. Along with the most highly favored maiden, may we simply believe the word that the Lord has spoken.

Reformation devotions, December 1517+500 (homologoumena, part 8 of 8)

Morning prayer

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

As time allows, read a passage from the schedule found below or a reading from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

Evening prayer

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Next, consider reading a passage from the schedule or a passage from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.

Schedule of readings in December

December

1

Acts 1:1-11 1:12-26

December

2

Acts 2:1-13 2:14-47

December

3

Acts 3:1-10 3:11-26

December

4

Acts 4:1-12 4:13-37

December

5

Acts 5:1-16 5:17-42

December

6

Acts 6:1-15 7:1-53

December

7

Acts 7:54-60 8:1-24

December

8

Acts 8:25-40 9:1-19

December

9

Acts 9:20-42 10:1-23

December

10

Acts 10:24-48 11:1-18

December

11

Acts 11:19-29 12:1-19

December

12

Acts 12:20-25 13:1-43

December

13

Acts 13:44-52 14:1-28

December

14

Acts 15:1-12 15:13-35

December

15

Acts 16:1-13 16:14-40

December

16

Acts 17:1-15 17:16-34

December

17

Acts 18:1-17 18:18-28

December

18

Acts 19:1-10 19:11-41

December

19

Acts 20:1-16 20:17-38

December

20

Acts 21:1-14 21:15-40

December

21

Acts 22:1-21 22:22-30

December

22

Acts 23:1-11 23:12-35

December

23

Acts 24:1-9 24:10-27

December

24

Acts 25:1-12 25:13-27

December

25

Acts 26:1-23 26:24-32

December

26

Acts 27:1-13 27:14-44

December

27

Acts 28:1-10 28:11-31

December

28

Psalm 103 4

December

29

Psalm 130 8

December

30

Psalm 4 91

December

31

Psalm 7 104

About these devotions

1517-2017 grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone

God’s law condemns—but his good news promises forgiveness and joy!

I feel the most vital and necessary teaching we Confessional Lutherans are “still standing” by is the proper distinction between the law and the gospel. Before I became Lutheran, I attended and was involved in many Christian churches that were good at preaching the ways I didn’t fulfill God’s word but never clearly preached that Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s law so I didn’t have to do anything else to be saved. Their teachings mixed the law and gospel by conveying if I just did my part, God would do his and my life would be prosperous, fulfilling, and happy. I did believe Jesus died to save me, yet the sermons that promised an “easy yoke” and an enjoyable, “Spirit-filled life” left me insecure, burdened, unhappy, and unsatisfied. I wanted to do good, but I couldn’t do enough to prove to God how thankful I was. I could not understand others saying that reading the Bible made them “feel better” or “comforted.” I kept trying the next book, experience, or deed, but got bitter results: being ashamed of my life, feeling both sad and inadequate by my “good” actions.

At the end of my rope, I read Lutheran articles that clearly separated the law from the gospel. In those articles, salvation was sure, based on Jesus’ works, not man’s. I finally understood the comfort Scripture offered! Now, my trust in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is where my treasure lies, my satisfaction will never disappoint, and my heart finds contentment. I confess with Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Romans 1:16-17).

This post by Evelyn Bickel commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation (31 October 2017).

Reformation devotions, November 1517+500 (homologoumena, part 7 of 8)

Morning prayer

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

As time allows, read a passage from the schedule found below or a reading from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

Evening prayer

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Next, consider reading a passage from the schedule or a passage from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.

Schedule of readings in November

November

1

Luke 1:1-25 1:26-56

November

2

Luke 1:57-66 1:67-80

November

3

Luke 2:1-20 2:21-52

November

4

Luke 3:1-20 3:21-38

November

5

Luke 4:1-13 4:14-44

November

6

Luke 5:1-11 5:12-39

November

7

Luke 6:1-19 6:20-49

November

8

Luke 7:1-17 7:18-50

November

9

Luke 8:1-25 8:26-56

November

10

Luke 9:1-27 9:28-62

November

11

Luke 10:1-16 10:17-42

November

12

Luke 11:1-28 11:29-54

November

13

Luke 12:1-12 12:13-59

November

14

Luke 13:1-17 13:18-35

November

15

Luke 14:1-15 14:16-35

November

16

Luke 15:1-10 15:11-32

November

17

Luke 16:1-18 16:19-31

November

18

Luke 17:1-20 17:21-37

November

19

Luke 18:1-17 18:18-43

November

20

Luke 19:1-27 19:28-48

November

21

Luke 20:1-19 20:20-47

November

22

Luke 21:1-9 21:10-38

November

23

Luke 22:1-23 22:24-53

November

24

Luke 22:54-71 23:1-12

November

25

Psalm 23:13-32 23:33-56

November

26

Psalm 24:1-12 24:13-53

November

27

Psalm 19 127

November

28

Psalm 104 134

November

29

Psalm 121 139

November

30

Psalm 90 121

About these devotions

1517-2017 grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone

500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation! It began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther started calling the church to return to these teachings of the Scriptures:

More information:

Celebrating in Ottawa at 3:30 pm on Sunday, November 5:

Keep all the commandments to enter life

As I opened my New Testament, I expected to read a passage and then return to life as usual. Instead I found this:
Once a man came to Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” “Why do you ask me concerning what is good?” answered Jesus. “There is only One who is good. Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.” “What commandments?” he asked. Jesus answered, “Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; respect your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “I have obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied.
Matthew 19:16-20a, Good News Translation
But I obviously had not obeyed all those commandments! Condemned by Jesus, I fell to my knees, begging to be allowed somehow to enter eternal life as a slave.
Years later I learned that because “the only One who is good” was sentenced to death for my crime, I not only received eternal life but received it as God’s forgiven child. Grace alone.
I did not receive it by doing a good thing but simply by believing that good news. Faith alone.
No church council or Pope could take the joy of this full pardon from me, for I had not learned it from mortals but from the very words of God. Scripture alone.
Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
This post by David Bickel commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation (31 October 2017).

Reformation devotions, October 1517+500 (homologoumena, part 6 of 8)

Morning prayer

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

As time allows, read a passage from the schedule found below or a reading from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

Evening prayer

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Next, consider reading a passage from the schedule or a passage from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.

Schedule of readings in October

Month Day Book Morning Evening

October

1

2 Corinthians 1:1-11 1:12-23

October

2

2:1-11 2:12-17

October

3

3:1-11 3:12-18

October

4

4:1-6 4:7-17

October

5

5:1-10 5:11-21

October

6

6:1-10 6:11-18

October

7

7:1-4 7:5-16

October

8

8:1-15 8:16-24

October

9

9:1-5 9:6-15

October

10

10:1-7 10:8-18

October

11

11:1-15 11:16-33

October

12

12:1-6 12:7-21

October

13

13:1-10 13:11-14

October

14

Galatians 1:1-10 1:11-24

October

15

2:1-10 2:11-21

October

16

3:1-14 3:15-29

October

17

4:1-20 4:21-31

October

18

5:1-12 5:13-26

October

19

6:1-10 6:11-18

October

20

Ephesians 1:1-14 1:15-23

October

21

2:1-10 2:11-22

October

22

3:1-13 3:14-21

October

23

4:1-16 4:17-32

October

24

5:1-21 5:22-33

October

25

6:1-9 6:10-24

October

26

Philippians 1:1-11 1:12-30

October

27

2:1-18 2:19-30

October

28

3:1-16 3:17-21

October

29

4:1-9 4:10-23

October

30

Psalm 4 91

October

31

7 104

About these devotions

1517-2017 grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone

Reformation devotions, September 1517+500 (homologoumena, part 5 of 8)

Morning prayer

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

As time allows, read a passage from the schedule found below or a reading from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

Evening prayer

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Next, consider reading a passage from the schedule or a passage from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.

Schedule of readings in September

Month Day Book Morning Evening

September

1

Mark 1:1-12 1:13-28

September

2

Mark 1:29-45 2:1-13

September

3

Mark 2:14-27 3:1-12

September

4

Mark 3:13-35 4:1-25

September

5

Mark 4:26-41 5:1-20

September

6

Mark 5:21-43 6:1-13

September

7

Mark 6:14-32 6:33-56

September

8

Mark 7:1-13 7:14-37

September

9

Mark 8:1-26 8:27-38

September

10

Mark 9:1-13 9:14-29

September

11

Mark 9:30-50 10:1-16

September

12

Mark 10:17-52 11:1-14

September

13

Mark 11:15-33 12:1-12

September

14

Mark 12:13-27 12:28-44

September

15

Mark 13:1-23 13:24-37

September

16

Mark 14:1-11 14:12-42

September

17

Mark 14:43-72 15:1-15

September

18

Mark 15:16-21 15:22-47

September

19

Mark 16:1-8 16:9-20

September

20

Psalm 104 134

September

21

Psalm 121 139

September

22

Psalm 90 121

September

23

1 Peter 1:1-12 1:13-25

September

24

1 Peter 2:1-12 2:13-25

September

25

1 Peter 3:1-7 3:8-22

September

26

1 Peter 4:1-11 4:12-19

September

27

1 Peter 5:1-5 5:6-14

September

28

Psalm 63 3

September

29

Psalm 103 4

September

30

Psalm 130 8

About these devotions

1517-2017 grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone

Reformation devotions, August 1517+500 (homologoumena, part 4 of 8)

Morning prayer

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

As time allows, read a passage from the schedule found below or a reading from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

Evening prayer

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Next, consider reading a passage from the schedule or a passage from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.

Schedule of readings in August

Month Day Book Morning Evening

August

1

Romans 1:1-17 1:18-32

August

2

Romans 2:1-16 2:17-29

August

3

Romans 3:1-18 3:19-31

August

4

Romans 4:1-12 4:13-25

August

5

Romans 5:1-11 5:12-21

August

6

Romans 6:1-11 6:12-23

August

7

Romans 7:1-12 7:13-25

August

8

Romans 8:1-16 8:17-39

August

9

Romans 9:1-13 9:14-33

August

10

Romans 10:1-13 10:14-21

August

11

Romans 11:1-16 11:17-36

August

12

Romans 12:1-8 12:9-21

August

13

Romans 13:1-14 14:1-12

August

14

Romans 14:13-23 15:1-25

August

15

Romans 15:26-33 16:1-24

August

16

1 Corinthians 1:1-17 1:18-31

August

17

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 2:6-16

August

18

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 3:10-23

August

19

1 Corinthians 4:1-7 4:8-21

August

20

1 Corinthians 5:1-13 6:1-8

August

21

1 Corinthians 6:9-20 7:1-20

August

22

1 Corinthians 7:21-40 8:1-13

August

23

1 Corinthians 9:1-14 9:15-27

August

24

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 10:14-32

August

25

1 Corinthians 11:1-16 11:17-34

August

26

1 Corinthians 12:1-13 12:14-31

August

27

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 14:1-19

August

28

1 Corinthians 14:20-40 15:1-11

August

29

1 Corinthians 15:12-28 15:29-49

August

30

1 Corinthians 15:50-58 16:1-24

August

31

Psalm 19 127

About these devotions

1517-2017 grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone