By Mike Poole
Martin Luther begins a discussion, and is interrupted by the Apostle Paul.
LUTHER: Good morning friends and fellow Christians. I am Martin Luther, former priest of the Holy Catholic Church and Monk of the Augustinian Order. I have been invited by the pastor to deliver a lecture dealing with my role in what you have come to call the Reformation. Certainly I do not intend to bore you with my entire life's story. From the beginning of my ministry, I had deep-seated difficulties with some of the Church's practices and about my own relationship with God. I saw God as a fearsome, judgmental figure whose wrath no one could escape. The weight of my sins pressed down upon me with such force each day of my life. I'm sorry to admit it, but I had actually come to have feelings of hatred toward God. Then, during my studies of Scripture, a strange revelation came upon me. As I was reading St Paul's letter to the Church at Rome, these words just leaped off the page at me: "The just shall live by faith." I'd read those words a hundred times before. But suddenly, they took on new meaning for me.
PAUL: Did they indeed?
LUTHER: Who are you? And what gives you the right to interrupt my lecture? Do you know who I am?
PAUL: Oh very much so, Martin. You see, those were my words you just quoted.
LUTHER: You are the Apostle Paul?
PAUL: Yes. You see, the pastor also invited me to be present this morning.
LUTHER: You know Me. You know my work?
PAUL: Indeed I do. In fact I am well acquainted with your whole career. I am flattered that you quote me so often in your writings and sermons. But I wonder sometimes if your actions at the time of the Reformation were perhaps hasty and ill-advised.
LUTHER: I beg your pardon.
PAUL: Well, you were certainly very disruptive to the church in your day. Remember that, as a pastor, you had been called to be a shepherd to your people. Yet, your behavior more resembled that of a bull in a china shop. The church leaders of your day regarded you as a trouble-maker, a rebel, even a revolutionary!
LUTHER: Now wait just one minute! With all due respect to you as an Apostle, let me remind you that you didn't exactly play nice with others in your day either. I may have disrupted the serene life of the church, but it was done out of necessity. I was seeking to restore a true understanding of the gospel. You, on the other hand, consciously and deliberately opposed our Lord's work. In fact, I am told that you actually assisted with the murder of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Wasn't it you who held the coats of those who stoned him to death?
PAUL: Well, yes. I must admit that there is much in my life of which I am deeply ashamed. But that incident took place before I experienced our Savior come to me. You must be aware that my life before the Damascus Road was much different than it was afterward. You had a similar life-changing event on a road in a storm, didn't you?
LUTHER: That's true. I changed my whole life after I was saved from that storm. But even after you became a Christian, there were plenty of people who felt you were nothing but a trouble-maker. Don't your own writings speak of the beatings, and even the imprisonment you suffered!
PAUL: No question about it. I was driven out of more than one town by angry religious authorities or government officials. And I've spent months at a time in jail just because I rocked the boat a little and challenged people's entrenched religious beliefs.
LUTHER: Then you surely ought to understand the kind of pressure that was put on me. People like to settle into comfortable ways. And it doesn't seem to matter what day or age you live in - if you dare to disturb those comfortable ways, you're in trouble. I had plenty of trouble, too. I was ex-communicated from my Church. Declared an outlaw by the emperor. Still, when you know you're pursuing a just cause and trying to champion the truth, God gives you the courage and faith to go ahead, in spite of the opposition. Paul, I really have to admit that it was your words that turned my life around. "The just shall live by faith!" What a profound truth that is for Christians to understand.
PAUL: It wasn't me that turned your life around. It was Christ that turned your life around. I felt so strongly about what I said. That's why I said it again and again in my letters to the young churches. You see, I came from a legal background. Not only had I studied the law for years, I had devoted my life to keeping every jot and tittle of its regulations. I was a Pharisee, and proud of it. When I first heard about Jesus and how he often made light of our Jewish laws, I was enraged. In opposing him and his followers, I thought I was being loyal to God. Then came that almost unbelievable happening on the road to Damascus. I was struck totally blind. But through that blindness, the true light about Jesus finally dawned on me. I guess nothing short of that could have changed me. And nothing short of that changed you.
LUTHER: Paul, I think I understand, because I, too, originally set out to become a lawyer. Maybe that's why it took me so long to understand the Gospel. I, too, was trying to win God's favor by obeying all the laws of the church, by keeping religious rules and regulations. As a monk I had led an irreproachable life. I even took to beating myself physically in hopes of making myself pleasing to God. My confessor once asked me why I did all that, when my confessions were very boring. Yet with it all, I had no peace. I still knew that I was a sinner deserving God's judgment.
PAUL: You were a fool, Martin, as was I. Salvation is God's gracious gift to us. That was the whole purpose of Christ's coming into this world; to live and die and rise again. When the truth of God's grace in Christ finally breaks through our stubborn resistance, what a difference it makes.
LUTHER: Didn't you write something like that in one of your letters? Something about a person being a new creation when they have received God's grace?
PAUL: I told the Corinthians: "If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God."
LUTHER: What did you mean by that?
PAUL: I believe it's as though a person has been freshly created by the hands of God through Christ. And this is God's free gift of grace to us.
LUTHER: My friend, do you know that many Christians still don't seem to understand that truth? We have a difficulty accepting God's freely-given gift of grace. We want to do it for ourselves. We want to win God's favor through our own good deeds and pious works. In fact, we feel we have to win God's favor.
PAUL: My old friend Titus once had that problem. Perhaps you recall my letter to him when I said, "God has saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration."
LUTHER: The washing of regeneration! That ought to remind all Christians what a perfect example of God's grace we have in Holy Baptism, especially that baptism of an infant or little child.
PAUL: What do you mean?
LUTHER: I've often thought, when a family in my parish brings a child to be baptized, this little one brings nothing to God to try to win God's favor or earn God's love. The child is a screaming, self-centered infant who has no concept that there even is a God. Yet in that moment, and in spite of what the child is, God is claiming them as a child, receiving them into the Kingdom, planting within them the seed of faith, granting them forgiveness and the promise of salvation, marking them with the cross of Christ, and sealing them with the Holy Spirit forever. And the child has done absolutely nothing to bring it about. That is how awesome God's free gift of grace is!
PAUL: It is indeed a beautiful and valid picture of God's grace at work. Yet the thought that we work for our own salvation dies slowly. We just cannot believe that God's gift is given with no strings attached.
LUTHER: Yet how perfectly that gift frees us up from a faith that is built on fear. Though I continue to sin throughout my life, I know that God does not count it against me. Through prayer, repentance, confession, absolution and faith, I know that God will never leave me nor forsake me.
PAUL: My friend, if I might change the subject, I have a final question for you. What is this word "Protestant"? I hear about the Protestant Reformation which you are credited with starting. And what about this word "Lutheran"? I myself know no name except Jesus Christ. I call myself nothing but "Christian".
LUTHER: As do I. I will always be first and foremost a Christian. Actually, I never sought to begin a new church, nor did I ever desire to have any part of the church bear my name. But when I and others protested against some of the abuses in the church in our day, we became labeled "Pro-testants" or "Protestants". It was used as a derogatory name in my time. But it has seemed to have stuck all these years. I've never really liked that word very much.
PAUL: Nor have I!
LUTHER: When it comes to calling oneself "Lutheran", I told the people of my time that they shouldn't worship me, but worship God. The name they should always bear is that of Christ, not of Luther. When it comes to faith, we should all claim Christianity, not Lutheranism.
PAUL: I ran into the same problem in my time. People would say they were Paul's or they were Peter's or they were Apollo's. And I said the same thing you did. You don't belong to me, you belong to Christ. It is Christ's name you should bear, not anyone else's.
LUTHER: But the word Protestant also has another meaning. If you break it down into it's parts, the "Pro" means "for" and the "testant" means "one who testifies". Accordingly, a Protestant Christian is one who testifies for Jesus Christ. On that, I will always stand firm.
PAUL: Martin, we think alike in so many ways. And our lives and experiences have been remarkably similar.
LUTHER: I am much in your debt Paul, as are all Christians in every age. It was your words that opened my eyes and helped restore the Gospel to my life.
PAUL: But it was your courage and fearless pursuit of the truth that made those words come alive and re-create in your life.
LUTHER: Some say that the church is never without the need for a new reformation. That Christians need to be constantly re-awakened and re-directed toward Christ. Do you believe that?
PAUL: So long as our sinful nature asserts itself, I'm afraid that is true. But I do not despair, Martin. God's Holy Spirit is still abroad in the world and active in the church. All things are truly in God's hands. And I am confident that God can and will continue to raise up faithful servants to do the work of the Kingdom in every generation. And thanks be to God for that!
Copyright Mike Poole, all rights reserved.
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