Happy 500th! Everybody is Martin Luther

By Joel A. Hess

This year marks the 500th year since Luther nailed his 95 reasons explaining why he objected to the selling of indulgences. We now call that seemingly ordinary day in 1517 the beginning of the reformation. While there were many who sought reform in the Church before Luther, he was the one who lit the match. God gave him the unique gift of being both highly intelligent and passionately pastoral. His enthusiasm for the Gospel and ability to communicate it was unmatched.

Surely, we thank God for Martin Luther. Unfortunately, we now have too many Martin Luthers. Well, not real Martin Luthers but people who think they are the fat doctor. Every couple of days, someone is announcing, “Here I stand” whenever they think the Gospel is at stake. A couple of years ago, a fellow pastor visited my church with his elderly parents. It was Christmas time, and my altar guild moved the Baptismal font out of the way for all the poinsettias. Sure, that might not be the best thing to do with the font. But this yahoo declared, “Here I stand!” to his parents. Not to me, of course. He didn’t have the cojones. Like Satan whispering in their ear, he expressed his outrage to them, even complaining that he could not focus on the sermon due this work of Beelzebub. Next thing you know, his parents stood in my office offering their righteous anger and fear that our church was on the slippery slope. They aren’t members anymore. Good job to their wannabe Luther son!

When the Rev. Jerry Kieschnick began his presidency of our tiny church body, he surely made some mistakes in my view. Alas, I thought, my chance to “Here I stand!” with the best of them! A couple of friends and I attended an outrage conference in Chicago. All sorts of Martin Luthers gathered there. They were huffing and puffing. Everybody was “Here I stand-ing.” We especially made fun of the sign-up sheets to protest this and that. What brave confessors. The whole group was giddy about the possibility of declaring in statu confessionis until a wise young man explained what it actually means. And of course, the sainted Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn brought perspective to the gleeful martyrs.

Today, the internet is full of Martin Luthers accusing each other of being the next pope. They grab a phrase or an article, and instead of discussing it, they declare “Here I stand!” Someone mentions that a Christian has duties and 95 Theses are hammered on some internet wall, “You’re preaching works righteousness!” Another writes a couple blurbs on the freedom of the Christian, and he is declared to be the second coming of Friedrich Schleiermacher. I am just as guilty.

I knew Martin Luther. I worked with Martin Luther. You sir, you are no Martin Luther. Well, not really, but you get the point!

Sit down all you hopped-up Reformation heroes. Just like in basketball, let the game come to you. It may be that the Church needs a great voice to steer it clear of error and preserve the Gospel. Perhaps the Lord will use you to do it. But if you keep crying wolf, no one is going to listen to you when the Emperor’s armies really do drag you before the whore of Babylon.

In the meantime, let us be anonymous, slow-cooking martyrs. The world and Christ’s Church need those ordinary heroes more than anything. Let us keep preaching and teaching the clear Word of God to those lost in our communities and found in our parishes until the revelation of our Savior. Then we will indeed stand resurrected and without enemies.