No Other Foundation - Reformation Sermon
October 25, 2020 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
Verse: 1 Corinthians 3:11–3:15
Reformation NO OTHER FOUNDATION I Corinthians 3:11-15
Any number of dates might have been chosen to celebrate the Reformation. One logical date would have been June 25, the date on which the Augsburg Confession was first proclaimed in 1530. Or we might have chosen Invocavit Sunday, the Sunday following Ash Wednesday, when Luther returned from the Wartburg and preached his famous Reformation sermon. We might have chosen November 10, Luther's birthday. But we chose the Eve of All Saints because it was the occasion on which Luther posted his 95 Theses that made the public aware of him. That is also the time of year we pray for all Christians. That part is ironical because the conflict Luther began divided the Church. Yet that is an appropriate date because we cannot talk about solutions unless we understand the problem. At first it looked as if it were all about indulgences. But that was just the surface. Nobody was willing to back down, so the result was the church-rending division of Christianity.
The lesson read at the beginning of this was written to a badly divided congregation. Paul had been the original founder. His message was the Gospel of Jesus Christ, thus the Foundation of the church was secure. But Paul didn't stay. Other teachers and pastors followed him, with various styles, causing commotion, creating parties within the church, making the differences all important. We can sympathize with the Corinthians, because in our country today there are over 200 denominations who say that Jesus is their Lord, who pray in His name, who truly desire to love and serve Him. The doctrinal differences are obvious. It can be very confusing. You and I need to be certain of what we believe and why we believe it. So, following Paul, we begin with the Cornerstone, the cross and resurrection of Jesus. No church can survive on any other foundation. Do you want forgiveness of sins? You can only find it at Calvary. Do you want certainty? Our Lord was vindicated by His resurrection. Because of original sin, we could not be righteous but by Christ's action. That is the bed rock on which we can depend. If we are built on that, we can be certain that we are part of God's spiritual temple.
On that Foundation each age builds a superstructure. We must build something, and what we build could be weak and shaky. We have to interpret the Scriptures, we have to apply them to our own time, we have to call sinners to repentance, stir up the faithful to love, be instructed in righteousness by the True Teacher of the church, to build up the Body of Christ. We have a choice of building materials. Every generation in the history of the Church has had that choice. The past generations added the lower stories on which we stand. The three great Creeds are the first three stories. They are the Rule of Faith, by which we interpret Holy Scripture. All three creeds are rooted in the Gospel, and steadied by the teachings of the Apostles and Prophets. In the past some have rejected these creeds. They denied the Trinity, or the Two Natures of Christ, or the seriousness of the Law, or original sin, or the authority of the Holy Sacraments. Later Confessions had to be written to apply the truth of Scripture to new denials and speculations. And the latter day Confessions come from Luther's time.
So let's look at the floor Luther built. The Trinity was not so much in question any more. People were more concerned about how to become righteous before God. The theological term for that is soteriology, the science of salvation, the process by which one moves from the "ungodly" pile to the "righteous" pile. The floor Luther built was his teaching that God makes people righteous by faith. He learned that from the Apostle Paul. But it caused conflict. In fact, it rocked the entire building, so that Luther had to build walls as well as a floor. The old Foundation was unmoved, but now there were a number of superstructures rising from it. Luther went to work writing new hymns, translating the Bible into German, assembling his Catechism, so that one of the superstructures bore his name: the Lutheran Church.
Conflict raged everywhere. Almost everyone knew a new floor had to be added, but some wanted it to be just like the previous one, only with the most glaring holes filled in. The year Luther died these called the Council of Trent, which dragged on for 17 years before they all signed the papers called the Canons and Decrees. This superstructure is the Roman Catholic one. Others thought Luther's floor was too much like the one below it. So they looked around for foreign building materials. They became the Reformed, the Anabaptists, and various kinds of sectarians. The Apostle told us that not all building materials are gold and silver. Some of it is really cheap stuff. Of course it's always easier to see the faults in the other guy's church, and we all like to think we're doing our best, but the division of Christianity remains a given fact.
In I Corinthians the solution is what Paul calls "The Day." The Day will disclose every man's work. He doesn't even claim his own floor was built of silver and gold. He let's God decide that. But he is greatly concerned to deliver to his people what he received from the Lord. We are called to do the same. There is a floor in the temple that we have to build. If you are in doubt about what materials are gold and silver, hear the Apostle say Keep to the form of sound words. Remember your Catechism. Remember the great hymns you learned in parochial school. Remember the passages that present the cross of Jesus with all of its power. While you're here, look at the artwork in the sanctuary, all of which draws you to the cross. Some might try to drive a wedge between the Bible and the Catechism. That's not from God. If you know your Catechism, then you know the Bible. Isn't it amazing how people who say they don't believe in Catechisms then mark their Bibles? A marked Bible is nothing more than a Catechism in a Bible's cover.
We have to concern ourselves with the purity of our building materials. Whenever we see straw and stubble, we have to root them out. It's a little easier to see the straw and stubble in other churches, but don't forget that they also have gold and silver. Know the marks of the Church, listed in Augsburg Confession VII: wherever the Gospel is preached in its purity, and the sacraments are administered according to Christ's institution. Care enough to accept nothing less than that. What about "one, holy, catholic, apostolic?" Those are not marks. You can see marks, while those other attributes are articles of faith, which is why we confess them in the Creed. We cannot see those things, therefore we must see what we can in a spirit of meekness, and thus build a solid floor on the One Foundation, AMEN.