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Why Do You Follow the Teachings of Martin Luther?

What's so special about that guy Martin Luther that you follow his teachings? Shouldn't you just follow what Jesus teaches? These are two questions that I get asked from time to time. The short answer is that we follow the teachings of Martin Luther because they are the teachings of Jesus.

There was a blog post that did an excellent job of explaining this much better than I did. Unfortunately, it's no longer available for me to link to it. I'm copying it here and will update the blog if I'm ever able to find it on-line again. The originally was posted here.

Are Lutherans no different than Mormons following Joseph Smith or Seventh Day Adventists following Ellen G. White or Pentecostals following the imagination of the latest charismatic preacher or Roman Catholics following the Pope? Absolutely not! First of all, while Martin Luther is a very important teacher and pastor in the history of the church and was used by God to help restore very important things to the church, Luther was not restoring anything to the church that was not already the possession of the Christian Church not only in Scripture but also in better times among the early church fathers, as many quotations from them could readily prove. Lutherans find the source of what they teach in Holy Scripture, God’s written Word, and we also find the continuity, or continued teaching, of God’s Word in various times and places throughout the history of the Church, including the time before the Lutheran Reformation among the church fathers of the early church and the medieval church. Jesus promised that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church. God preserves His faithful remnant until the end, though it is not always easy or happy. So because of this we do value church history and what treasures God has preserved among us throughout the centuries. Lutherans believe that what they teach is nothing new – the Lutheran reformation was a restoration, not a revolution or a start of a new religion, but a restoration in repentance.

But what about the Creeds and the Book of Concord, are these being “added on” to the Bible? Absolutely not. The Creeds and the Book of Concord are simply echoing the teachings of Scripture to help address doctrinal issues which have arisen in the history of the Church so that we have a faithful test and roadmap to Scripture. They are a standard of teaching and practice that is in full agreement with the Bible, but which also do not add to Scripture but find their source in the Bible. The very words of the Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions demonstrate this clearly. We hold to the Creeds and Confessions of the Church because they are in full agreement with Scripture, God’s inspired and authoritative Word. Our Creeds and Confessions continue in Peter’s faithful confession of Christ, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Upon the rock of the confessing Christ faithfully, through that ministry the Church is built by Jesus. So we rightfully hold to the Creeds and the Confessions without compromise because they are faithful. In this sense Lutherans are in substance evangelical and catholic.

Lutherans hold their teaching to be “catholic” in the original sense of that word. The word catholic originally meant, “according to the whole or entirety.” We hold that what we confess is fully in agreement with Scripture, is identical to the apostolic faith, and does not add to or take away from the Word of God, and therefore is universal and should be believed by all. Upon that certainty the Church teaches, engages is evangelism and mission work, knowing she has a priceless treasure given to her from the Lord Jesus Christ. It gives peace that surpasses understanding, peace that the world cannot give. This is what enables us to say, “This is most certainly true.” Our Confessions, hymns, liturgy, Catechism, prayers, all confess this openly. There is no gap, no daylight between our doctrine and the doctrine of Scripture. To be a Lutheran is no less being Christian, in fact it is the fullest teaching of Christianity on earth. Otherwise, why be Lutheran at all? That is no cause for arrogance, it is a cause for humility before God, who gave this to us without any merit or worthiness on our part. It is a pure gift to us – grace alone! We have a treasure to tell the world about! We have a unique treasure in the world.

We are not Lutherans simply because our parents or grandparents were. We are not Lutherans simply because we might enjoy a Garrison Keillor story from Lake Wobegon or because we like potlucks. We are Lutherans because what goes under that nickname (which we did not choose for ourselves) confesses Christ most faithfully, purely and completely from Holy Scripture. Because it is the one true faith that we can die into with confidence knowing that we have a gracious God with us who declared us holy in Christ, the crucified and risen One. In teaching and practice, we remain Lutheran because among us we see the Word preached faithfully and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, even when others lean in the wind and water things down to entice the sinful nature. In the time of the Reformation, one Lutheran territorial prince put it well. George the Margrave of Brandenburg wrote:

I am not baptized in the name of Luther; he is not my God and Savior; I do not trust in him and am not saved by him."Therefore, in such a sense I am not a Lutheran." But when I am asked, if with heart and mouth I profess the doctrine which God has restored to me through His blessed instrument, Dr. Luther, then I entertain no scruples about calling myself a Lutheran, nor do I fear to do so; and in that sense I am and will remain a Lutheran all my life.

When Lutherans fall into the trap of relying on “official positions” rather than confessing the faith, it runs the risk of jumping both feet into sectarianism. No synod can claim to be “the official interpreter” of the Lutheran Confessions anymore than any individual can claim to have a monopoly on biblical teaching or interpretation. The Lutheran Confessions are not simply “what we as Lutherans believe” or worse, “what Lutherans once believed” (as museum pieces), but are manifestations of the catholic faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), apostolic doctrine in the sense of Acts 2:42.

The preservation or reclamation of a synod cannot therefore fall into the realm of simply repristination of its founding or early days or some “glory days” nor even to reassert the influence or writings of an individual theologian. That is simply refighting previous wars and ignoring the real issues of the day. Church history keeps moving forward to the Last Day. Doctrine remains the same, though its articulation always comes forth into new controversies and battles. The devil does not relent and the world continues to send its erosive forces against the Church, seeking to push her off the foundation of Christ and the unchanging marks of the Church. Lutherans, of all Christians, ought to have a keen awareness of the church militant, the theology of the cross, and the eschatological (end times) nature of the Church on earth and in heaven. We are not waiting for the end times to begin (Hebrews 1).

There is much more at stake among us than buildings, nostalgia, and benefit plans. The Church is a pilgrim people that has no permanent city of residence in this world, no incorporated 501c3 or left hand organization that cannot be taken away by the Lord. The Church in this world is in her state of humiliation as was her Lord until His bodily resurrection from the dead. We cannot expect to always have an “ecclesiastical Mount of Transfiguration” before our eyes, since we live now in the time of hearing rather than seeing. To be sure, we do not evaporate the church on earth into mere invisibility (as if the church is ontologically invisible), but the Church is certainly hidden under battle, strife, shed blood, argument, slander, and a cloud of dust all around her. Where this is not, we wonder if the devil sees a reason to attack, any threat against him?

We do not simply follow Martin Luther alone, nor any one individual alone, except Christ Himself. But our path is not a new trail to be blazed in the wilderness, but a well-worn path, dare we say even a “rut,” that includes Christ, the apostles, the early church fathers, many medieval fathers, Luther, Chemnitz, Paul Gerhardt, and so many others. And we would be remiss to point out men, women, children, and those who are not famous on that Holy Way as well. We do not blindly follow ruts of those who slipped off the road here and there (many of them driving back up on the road, but some not). But the test of the true way, the road, is Christ and His Word. That’s what makes a real synod, a genuine walking together, not just with each other, but with the Lord who speaks and provides those who speak in His name according to the rule of faith, the apostolic doctrine.

On Death by Suicide

Last week a fellow pastor died by his own hand. John Gerlach was a good friend and mentor as I was beginning as a pastor. As I was struggling with my first congregation in Southwest Missouri, John was always there to listen, advise, lay down the Law when needed, but most importantly, to proclaim the sweet Gospel of sins forgiven for the sake of our Lord, Jesus Christ. John will be sorely missed, but his death brings up questions as to what happens to those who take their own life.

I was just having a conversation with a member yesterday about the death of a loved one by suicide. I told the member that I have always been careful when passing judgment on a Christian who took their own life. You never know what was going on with that individual at the time of their death.

Dr. Saleska, one of my professors at CTS, told the story of an elder who was very faithful in his confession of faith and life. One Sunday, the elder worshiped with his family, received forgiveness as it was proclaimed in the absolution, heard forgiveness proclaimed as the Gospel was read, and received again forgiveness as he received the very body and blood of his Lord. This elder went out to his barn after dinner as was his habit. When he did not return for supper, the family found that he had killed himself.

Dr. Saleska pointed out that mental illness is a tricky thing. We don’t fully understand the way our mind works. A chemical gets out of balance, and an otherwise sane person does what seems to be insane. The thing that is important is whether or not faith was present, something that is difficult if at all possible to ascertain.

In the case of John Gerlach, I have no doubt about that. Why John took his own life is a question I can't answer. but I do look forward to the day when I will see him in paradise. The following is the sermon that was preached by the Rev. Steven Flo at John's sermon. I believe it does a great job of explaining what I'm poorly trying to explain.

Funeral Sermon for the family and congregation of Pastor John William Gerlach Luke 18:9-14

Immanuel Lutheran Church, West Plains, Mo December 8th, 2008

13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified …”

Alva, Bethany and Brody, Laura, Michael, family and friends…

Grace to you and peace from God our Father through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord.

Please bear with me as I speak about another John for just a moment:

Just after his release in May 1973, John McCain detailed his experience as a P.O.W. in a lengthy account in U.S. News & World Report. He described the day Hanoi Hilton guards beat him "from pillar to post, kicking and laughing and scratching. After a few hours of that, ropes were put on me and I sat that night bound."

"For the next four days, I was beaten every two to three hours by different guards . . . Finally, I reached the lowest point of my 5 1/2 years in North Vietnam. … I came to the end of my rope."

McCain was taken to an interrogation room and ordered to sign a document confessing to war crimes. "I signed it," he recalled. "It was in their language, and spoke about black crimes, and other generalities." "I had learned what we all learned over there," McCain said. "Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine."

And then the article ends by saying: That McCain broke under torture doesn't make him any less of an American  hero. (http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2005/11/29/100012.shtml)

Beloved in Christ, isn’t it interesting how most everyone in our country mercifully understands how even our best, most noble soldiers can “break” under duress during times of war, and yet we, the Church Militant, not only need to be reminded of the fact that we can fall during times of spiritual torture and temptation, we even need to be  reminded that…we are in a war in the first place!   And I suppose that is because we are dealing with a spiritual reality and not a physical one.

The Apostle Paul said:  “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.” (2 Cor. 10:3)

The Apostle Peter said:  “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,” (1Peter 2: 11)

And again, Paul said to the Church at Ephesus: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”. (Ephesians 6: 11ff)

So why, in the end, didn’t our brother, Pastor John Gerlach, stand?  

Was he lost?  Was he a traitor?  Confused?   Did he lose the Holy 

Spirit so we can’t be sure where he is right now?

Dr. Martin Luther said in regard to Christians who sometimes self

destruct: “I do not share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. 

My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. . . . They are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence He must teach us in this way.” [Vol. 54:29].

So do you see!  God uses these “examples” to show us how weak we really are!!  But that’s frightening, you might think.  If our leaders can fall, then who’s to say I won’t fall?  And that’s the point isn’t it!  St. Augustine, the greatest theologian in the early church, understood this as he looked at a drunk in a gutter one day and said, “Except by the grace of God, there go I.”

And that’s the story for all of us!  Except by the grace of God, we’d 

all be drunks.  Except by the grace of God, we’d all be thieves.  

Except by the grace of God, we’d all be prostitutes, wife beaters, child abusers, fornicators, adulterers, idolaters, murderers of ourselves and others.  We are all “by nature sinful and unclean” and all these sins – and many, many more – are in our very own hearts and minds fighting daily against the new man that God has put within!  We were all born dysfunctional, in a fog, living in a foreign land where Satan rules, and he will do anything he can to keep us from being rescued.

But praise be to God, the devil is fighting a futile battle because the RESCUER has already come!  He’s the world’s greatest Soldier;  a mighty Warrior;  the greatest General of all generals;  the King of Kings!  And His battle strategy is something from “out of this world”  because, instead of coming first in all power and glory and might as you’d expect, He came lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Incognito so to speak!  In a disguise!!

Why would He do such a crazy thing like that?  He did it out of love for us!  He knew that if He came into our POW compound called “this world”, and put on our uniforms called “flesh”, then He could be our substitute and take the beating and the torture and death that we deserved.  This death should have been ours because we went “awol”  from God way back in the Garden of Eden thousands of years ago.  But, again, our Lord, out of great love for us, took our sins and the “awol status” in which we were born, he placed it on Himself , suffered the condemnation and death that was ours, and then put on us the freedom, righteousness, and liberty that He paid for by His very own blood.  And now, God the Father, the Judge of the universe, looks at us covered in the blood of His Son in Baptism, and He declares to us that He is satisfied, appeased, no longer angry!  For the sake of His Son, He declares us Forgiven, Free, loved, Victorious, Winners of the War!!! 

This proclamation isn’t just for you and me, it is declared to the whole world!  How sad for those that refuse to believe it.  How glad for those that do!  It moves us to want to tell everyone!  The Apostle Paul couldn’t constrain himself.  He said: 20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  (2Cor. 5)

And so we are!  We are the righteousness of God in Christ!  God is satisfied with you!  He now speaks to us, as He did His Son so long ago:  “These are  my beloved sons, my daughters, my people with whom I am will pleased!!”  By the power of the Holy Spirit coming to you through His Word today…Believe it!  Receive it!  Be liberated by the Good News that you are free!  Jesus comes to us and delivers His freedom in the most humble of means:

*In His Word preached by the most sinful, lowly, flawed people call pastors;

*In common water connected to His Word in Holy Baptism;

*In, with, and under bread and wine in Holy Communion today, giving us His real body and blood on the cross 2000 years ago.

These are the “camouflaged” means, the means the world does not recognize, by which our victorious savior comes!  Neglect these means, you neglect Christ.  Hear, read, and feed upon these means and He will graciously keep you in the fold, in the family, in the army of the Lord even if you break, stumble, or fall a millions times.

You know, Senator John McCain became a better representative or ambassador for the United States after having suffered in that hellish P.O.W camp in Hanoi.  Remember how he said that experience “humbled him” and made him love the United States of America and her liberty and freedom even more.

Well then, now you know why your Pastor Gerlach was such a wonderful ambassador for you here at Immanuel!  He suffered and was continually humbled by the torturous blows of the devil, reminding him what a terrible sinner he was. He often felt all bound up, like ropes all  around!   That pain made him love the Lord and His blood bought forgiveness and freedom even more!  You were privileged to hear him preach it Sunday after Sunday for many years.  He didn’t speak like the self righteous Pharisee who said… “I  thank You God that I am not like other men extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”  No, Pastor Gerlach believed just exactly as a true Christian should believe, just exactly as his obituary so eloquently reads (and thank you Gerlach family for writing these words):

His nightly prayer was "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." Aware of his own brokenness, Rev. Gerlach confessed the forgiveness of sins won for all on the cross, given through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Still, we mark his passing not as those without hope but confident in the hope that he preached… and which is now fulfilled for him in the presence of the Savior who bought him.

Christ bought Pastor John Gerlach, and He has bought us as well!  

Will we be lost if we mess up at the end of our lives and don’t have time to quickly say we are sorry?  No, our salvation is not based on our actions, our perfect faith, our perfect sorrow, our perfect repentance.  It is based solely on Jesus Christ and His perfect grace coming to us through Word and Sacrament.  So should we sin that grace  may abound…is that what you are saying Pastor Flo?  By no means!  

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6)

But what if we don’t live that “new life” just right – to the end – and we are worried about it?  What if we stumble?  What if we do sin?  What if, in a rash moment, we do something terrible and we don’t have a chance to make it right and say we are sorry to God and those whom we’ve hurt?  Can we be assured that God will catch us,  rescue us, and that His grace is big enough to save us in the end?  

By all means!!  The Apostle Paul, by divine inspiration, said:  38For I am convinced that
neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
(Romans 8)  Do you hear that?  Nothing will separate us,  not even a rash act in a moment of weakness.

Again, the article I read to you at the beginning of this sermon ended by saying:  “That McCain broke under torture doesn't make him any less of an American hero.”  And, by the grace of God, this holds true “spiritually” for Christians as well.  Should we break under demonic assault, it does not make us any less of a Christian…a true, Soldier of the Cross!

So, go in peace you weary soldiers.  Be lifted up!  We are forgiven for all of our sins!  We live and breathe and have our being in an ocean of grace…and so, be assured, we will see our brother, John William Gerlach, on that Great and Glorious Day to Come!

In Jesus name…Amen.

Pastor Steven Flo……Grace Lutheran Church……DeSoto, MO

Soli Deo Gloria

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