Lutherans Accused of Abolishing the Divine Service

In 1530, Lutherans had an opportunity to explain themselves in defense against a number of unfair accusations. It was said that they were abolishing the divine service (with the Lord’s Supper, then called “the Mass”), and getting rid of many long-standing church ceremonies. Here is part of their defense:

> Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. The Mass is > held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all > the usual ceremonies are also preserved, except that the parts sung in > Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns. These have > been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed for this > reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know > about Christ. … All those able to do so partake of the Sacrament > together. This also increases the reverence and devotion of public > worship. No one is admitted to the Sacrament without first being > examined. The people are also advised about the dignity and use of > the Sacrament, about how it brings great consolation to anxious > consciences, so that they too may learn to believe God and to expect > and ask from Him all that is good. This worship pleases God. Such > use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion toward God. Therefore, > it does not appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our > adversaries than among us.

Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV. *Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions*, p. 47-48

God’s Forgiveness Transforms Us into Saints

When the apostle Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians, it’s clear that he had many problems to address. We sometimes hear about the problems in church organization and practice, but the more basic problems were personal. In 1 Cor. chapter 6, Paul began by explaining why Christians should not have to bring fellow Christians to court before a civil judge. We should rather accept wrongdoing from our fellow Christians, because we share the same Savior from our sins. It means we can joyfully forgive one another, and confidently rebuke those who are still caught up in sin, so that they might also repent and return to the same forgiveness.

You might wonder what happens after someone caught up in certains sins has repented and received God’s forgiveness. Is the forgiveness purely theoretical, affecting us only in some intangible way? Must that person continue repenting of the same sin for the rest of his life, enduring its shame while also suffering its worldly effects? Or is the forgiveness we receive from God powerful enough so that we never need to feel the shame of that transgression again? Are there certain sins which, even after we have received God’s forgiveness for them, somehow leave a lingering taint upon our status as Christians or our lives upon the earth?

In 1 Cor. 6, Paul urges his Christian readers to understand that their Christian faith in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ has changed them. Secular judges are important, but Christians should not need them to resolve their own differences, because unlike the secular world, we have received the most powerful gift: forgiveness.

But what about that particular sin, the one you suspect may leave a permanent smudge upon our character? You may be reminded of it in the way others look at you sometimes, or when you see the way other Christians worship, conduct themselves privately, or even serve God in some capacity at church. I’ve heard many times how some non-Christians think that the church is full of hypocrites, because they know the terrible sins that have been committed by the same people who find such joy and comfort when they attend church. In fact, they often know that some of those Christians continue to commit those sins, while seeming to pretend to be good people.

I can’t deny that there are hypocrites in the church, but it’s more likely that their favorite sins are the internal kind (envy, malice, anger, greed, pride, etc.) than the outward kind their neighbors would notice. Meanwhile, honest Christians must deal not only with internal vices, but also with frequent visible sins and temptations. Is it hypocrisy for such a person to come to church the following Sunday with a smiling heart and return home joyful and cheerful? Not at all. The forgiveness of sins makes the difference.

In fact, forgiveness not only creates a new status before God, but it creates and sustains a new character within us, willing and able to resist sin and to fight against temptation. Thus, St. Augustine, one of the most preeminent fathers of the Church, began his famous career as a pastor only after having broken off a marriage engagement, fathering a child out of wedlock with his first concubine, leaving her and a second concubine, and pursuing two of the prominent non-Christian religions in his day. As a bishop, Augustine later helped to lead the orthodox Christian church away from false doctrines, and he pointed generations to Jesus Christ alone as their certainty of forgiveness.

Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

Do you have a crucifix nearby? If so, look at it closely. See how it represents the body of Jesus hanging upon a cross? That is what He truly did for you, and for *every* sinner. When we repent, whether it be for some peccadillo, a white lie, for fratricide or for genocide, we are asking God to place our burden of guilt upon His Son, whose flesh was hanging by those nails from two pieces of blood-stained wood. We are confessing that we deserve His mercy no more than any other individual on earth. We are asking Him to accept the death of Jesus in place of the punishment we deserve, so that we might receive the status that Jesus obtained by His perfect life. God grants this to you, to me, and to every penitent Christian. The Church gathers every week for no greater purpose than to receive this forgiveness.

Is it possible for a person to start over? With Jesus, it is certainly possible, and more than once. He takes away our sins, and He creates us anew through the rebirth of water and His Word. This is not only some theoretical, abstract kind of rebirth, but a true spiritual regeneration, resulting in a new creature with a new nature and a new character. Unfortunately for us, the old nature still fights to survive, but when we consider ourselves and our fellows as Christians, remember that our identity is no longer found in the sinful flesh. As Paul wrote in Col. 3, “you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” It is this new self, created by the forgiveness of sins, that will live eternally.