God’s Gift–And the Blessed Battle For It

✙Prof. Kurt Marquart✙

What made Wittenberg the epicenter of a cataclysm was its single-minded devotion to the Gospel, and so to theology.  Luther was past shallow symptoms and clever diagnoses to the root of the trouble: not moral looseness or bad administration were killing the church, but the rampant perversion of the Gospel.  The cure for the church’s ills then was not a lot of scolding, hectoring, and endless reshuffling of liturgy and organization.  Rather, it was to be found in a faithful return to the fount and source of all spiritual life: God’s own Gospel of full and free salvation in Hi Son.

This Bread of Life was eagerly received by multitudes who had languished under the torments of Pharisaism.  Pope and emperor, needless to say, did not thank Luther for his troubles.  They might have tolerated a servile presentation of another view or opinion.  What they could not endure was the evangelical certainty of faith which insisted not only the pre preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments, but also on the rejection of all contrary errors.  As Luther remarked: The wolf doesn’t mind the sheep being fattened up for him with good pasture; what he can’t stand is the hostile barking of the dogs!  Hence a faithful shepherd must always do both: feed the sheep and defend them against the wolf.  If people don’t like this “negativism,” it is because they are naive bout fallen human nature and about their reality of the demonic forces seeking at every moment to destroy and disrupt God’s good and gracious will and work among us.  Hollywood’s ever-smiling pop-religiosity and the sturdy Biblical realism of the Reformation simply cannot be reconciled.

The Reformation Confession has something very vital to say about the church and her unity.  It all depends, says Article Seven of the Augsburg Confession, on the Gospel being unanimously preached in its full truth and purity, and on the sacraments being rightly administered.  From these gifts of God the Church lives, and in these there cannot therefore by any compromise.  The truth of the Gospel is central to the existence of the church–yet in our age of ecumenical diplomacy the question of truth is most embarrassing and unwelcome.  It is just this question truth that is central to genuine renewal in the church (John 8:31-32), and if it is by-passed, all alleged “renewal” is illusion and fantasy.  “With might of ours can nought be done….”

Once the Missouri Synod and other confessional synods in America knew very well what the Reformation stood for, and what it means to confess its treasures.  Today there is increasing confusion of tongues, even in formerly conservative churches.  Of the bureaucratic plans for the formation of the ELCA Richard Neuhaus wrote: “the reality is an absence of any compelling vision of Lutheranism as such, and it purpose in this historical moment.”  A Missouri Synod obsessed with numbers, to neglect of doctrine, cannot fill this void.

Pluralism does not renew the church but destroys it.  Pluralism is the very opposite of the Reformation’s unanimity in the pure Gospel and sacraments.  Reformation Day is a time to take sock of our and our Synod’s stewardship of the evangelical treasures entrusted to us.  It is a time to return in penitent yet joyful confidence. To the Rock whence we were hewn, there to seek healing, strength, renewal.

Prof. Marquart was a professor of dogmatics at Concordia Theological Seminary (of the LC-MS), Ft. Wayne, IN.  This article was first published in Affirm, Vol. 14. No. 5 Oct. 1990