February 24, 2015

“[I]f the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalms 11:3).

“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Basic Reformation Idea: The church is always to be measuring itself by Scripture and thus always seeking to change in ways that make its testimony more faithful to God’s revelation.

Today many pick up the theme of the need for reform and use it to emphasize change. It is thought that we must bring the church and its message up to our modern sensibilities. We need to modernize our attitudes toward sexuality, toward marriage, toward sin and to fully understand the depth of God’s love, which now means total acceptance of anything we do.

While the church does need change, these are not the changes to which this reformation principle pointed. In fact, any move toward giving the people what they want within the church must be viewed with suspicion and apprehension. In Exodus 32, Aaron gave the people what they wanted, and out came a golden calf. It was not to the benefit of the community but to the destruction of many.

Many Scripture passages speak of foundations and the need to build on the foundation given shape by the cornerstone who is Jesus Christ. We are called to recognize the way storms and trials shake the church, but the imagery is right. If we lose the foundation, the whole structure will fall. We can’t shape the church to our own design because God has given shape and direction to us. Paul tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Luther placed primary emphasis on the Word. He understood that scripture is the final authoritative source for the church’s life and doctrine. Everything the church says or does is to be consistent with God’s Word and is to be regulated by God’s Word. God has spoken, His Word is truth, and it is the church’s responsibility to regulate her speech in the light of God’s speech. That is what continual reformation is.

In Genesis 3, the serpent’s temptation began with the words, “Did God really say?” That temptation confronts us daily. We listen to that voice and sin constantly. But God keeps calling us back to His Word, to Christ as our Savior. “Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice’’ (John 18:37). May we listen and learn, and in learning from Him be built into a spiritual house, holy and acceptable to God.

Rev. Mike Stangeland is pastor at Highwater Lutheran Church, Lamberton, Minnesota, and Old Westbrook Lutheran Church, Westbrook, Minnesota.