Born Again Lutherans
Certain types of non-Lutheran Christians once regarded as Christians only those who would say they were born again. The passage usually cited was John 3:3 where Jesus says, "Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven." But the word there probably means, "Born from above." Our text is one of two places where the actual word "born again" is used. What we need today as we celebrate the 497th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation is born again Lutherans.
Why is there a need for them? Because you can get the idea that the Lutheran Reformation was a done deal 497 years ago. Martin Chemnitz, about 50 years after Luther's death, said, even though the Reformation was a great light we still need to fear the shadows. He "was often horrified that Luther with some kind of foreboding often repeated. After my death this doctrine will again be brought into obscurity" (Loci, II, 443).
The doctrine he was speaking of is justification: that a man is justified by grace for Christ's sake through faith without works. This doctrine we all take for granted. This doctrine we all assume is pure in every church that calls itself Christian. Only the non-Christian religions reject it. Wrong. The Reformation happened because this doctrine wasn't pure in the Roman Catholic Church. It officially damned anyone who believed this doctrine. This is still their official position. Other Protestants agreed that the Catholics were wrong here, but denied how justification got to babies, Baptism, and lived in adults, Jesus' Body and Blood in Communion.
We need Lutherans born again by the imperishable, living, and enduring Word of God because the largest Lutheran denomination has been in fellowship for decades with Reformed churches who never have wanted anything to do with the Body and Blood of Jesus on their altar for Christians to eat and drink for forgiveness. They've never had a sacrament where God comes and does something for man. The Protestant churches have an ordinance which they keep in obedience to God. Furthermore, in 1999 the 144 member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, including the American ELCA, concluded that they and the Catholics now share "a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ" (JDDJ, Preamble, 5) which is simply not true.
Most of you don't know or don't remember this took place 15 years ago. Many of you don't realize that our doctrine of fellowship and closed Communion protects you from these errors. The Missouri Synod Lutherans who do joint weddings or funerals with Catholics or admit all Lutherans or all Christians to their altar at best are saying these differences in doctrine don't matter or at worse that they don't care if they do.
But don't you want to just go along? You don't hate Catholics; you don't think ELCA Lutherans or Baptists, or Pentecostals, or Methodists are going to hell. How much more loving it sounds to invite all who love the Lord to Communion like the Methodists do, or all who believe in the Real Presence, or all baptized, or all who agree with what you say about Communion. How un-American it feels to forbid people the choice to commune at your altar! How undemocratic it feels to have the pastor and not the person decide who communes! How unloving it feels not to admit some Christians let alone fellow Lutherans to Communion!
Apart from being born again as Lutherans, you will never feel any different. You won't be able to see that what is being protected by the practice of closed Communion is the Gospel that saves you. You won't be able to see that any error that departs from the Word takes away from the very Word that rebirths you into everlasting life.
That's how born again Lutherans come about. Not as you might think by studying distinctively Lutheran doctrines, not by going to a Bible class on the differences between churches. You're born again by the imperishable, living, and enduring Word of God. The word used for "Word" of God is interesting. The first time Peter uses logos; the second time he uses rhema. "Word" is a fine translation for both. But logos lays stress on the thought expressed; rhema lays it on the fact God spoke (Lenski, Hebrews, 183).
In the 70s and 80s, there was a commercial for a stockbrokerage firm with the tag line "When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen." Well, when God talks things happen. Apart from the Word made Flesh, God only speaks words that judge, condemn, kill. What else can He say to sinners who've rebelled against Him in every way imaginable and even in unimaginable ways? What can God say to sinners who refuse to acknowledge that He even exists, has created, or has established Laws for His creation to survive by like don't kill the unborn you need them for the future and marriage is between a man and woman because that's the only way to produce children?
All God can say apart from Jesus, the Word made flesh, is what He said to Belshazzar, "You've been weighed in the scales and found wanting." All He can say apart from Jesus is what He said to pre-Flood world, "Drown in your miserable unbelief." All He can say apart from Jesus is what He said to Sodom and Gomorrah, "Burn in your love for material things and in your decadence." All He can say is what He said to Jerusalem, "Oh often I would have gathered you together under My wings of mercy, but you would not. Your house, your life, your future is left to you desolate." When God talks things happen. When God talks outside of Jesus, judgment, death, and damnation do.
When God talks in Jesus, something else happens. He speaks to the adulterer and murderer, David, and he doesn't die but lives. He speaks to the hater of Christians, Paul, and he is born again. He speaks to fornicators, homosexuals, unbelievers, rebels, and that becomes something they were not are. How can this be? How can one little Word from God do that? Because of the Word made flesh.
The Word made flesh came into the world tapped you on the shoulder and said, "I'm taking your place. I'll live your life as a husband, father, mother, wife, daughter, son, citizen, church member, person." And the Word did that in the flesh. Think of all the ways you and I sin every single moment of every single day even when we don't mean to. See Jesus doing, thinking, and speaking your life but never sinning. And remember it's Him for you. The Father sees you as living that perfect life when He sees Jesus.
But there was pain, suffering, and hell to pay for what you and I have done. The Word made flesh went here too, all the way here. That pain from a guilty conscience that you know, Jesus bore. The shame of a sinful deed that you know, Jesus bore. That fearful eternity of dying and separation from God and all things good that you keep trying to push to the back of your mind, Jesus endured, bore, suffered, and defeated.
You are free! Do you hear me? You are free from the Laws of do's and don'ts that you can't bear. Why? Because the Word made flesh kept them and now tells you in His Word that He did. You are free from a conscience that never stops accusing you. You are free from the judgments of the Devil, others, and yourself. Why? Because the Word made flesh already suffered them in your place, and there's none left to bear or suffer.
What do born again Lutherans do? We don't storm the gates of Catholic churches telling them they're going to hell unless they join us. We don't storm the gates of other Lutherans or other Christians saying we're saved because we're right and they are damned because they are wrong. What born again Lutherans do is be ever born again.
The word "born again" is a perfect passive. That means the strong Word of God rebirths us again and again. This is not some nightmare scenario where the person dies only to come to life to go through the horror of dying all over again. No the imperishable, living, and enduring Word of God ever rebirths us out of a nightmare. You've all had those dreams when there is a moment before fully being awake that you can't believe the shameful, horrible, unthinkable thing you did, and then you awake to the fact that it was all a dream, a nightmare. By God's Word that was put on your skin in Baptism, that is put into your ears in Absolution, that you eat and drink in Communion, you are ever born again out of a nightmare.
You're ever born again out of the nightmare that Sin, Death, and Devil are your reality, that you belong to them, that at the end of your days you will be carried way by them wailing. You're ever reborn out of the nightmare that God hasn't put away your sins on Jesus but is coming to get you for them. You're ever born again out of that nightmarish feeling that your sins or that sin is too much for even God to forgive.
I can't express how different the life you are reborn into is. You're the fish put back in the water where you belong. You're the broken bird suddenly restored to flight. You're the sinner bent by your load of sin and guilt having the backpack taken from you now able to run and not be weary. What precedes our text shows this. It's a call to a radically different life where the world's standards, your opinions or feelings don't govern or guide you. Then Peter says, "You can do this because you were born to it; I mean reborn to it."
The Word of God not the words of men or the Word of God polluted by the words of men is what does the miracle. The Word of God is what changes you, empowers you, comforts you. Anyone who takes away from that Word takes away from it's power, comfort, and miraculousness. Doing that is like the farmer who to save on feed mixed sawdust in with his donkey's oats. Things went on fine, so the farmer put more and more sawdust in. Still nothing happened. The donkey did fine right up till the day the farmer fed it nothing but sawdust, and then it dropped dead.
Closed Communion and not having fellowship with those who teach contrary to the Word of God keeps the sawdust out of your oats. If you're getting the forgiveness, the hope, the joy, from the Word of God that ever rebirths, forgives, and feeds you, you will thank God not only for the Lutheran Reformation that happened almost 500 years ago, but for the fact it's ever going on where you are. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Reformation Sunday (20141026); 1 Peter 1: 23-25