GOD OF GRACE AND GLORY: We raise our hearts in thanks to Thee for the mercy and might which have preserved Thy Church unto us despite the heaped sins of the centuries and the treacherous assaults on Thy truth. Give us courageous, consecrated congregations, pulpits which will fearlessly proclaim Thy Word, Thy Law with its terrifying punishment of all unforgiven sin, and then Thy Gospel of grace in Christ, Thy beloved Son and our compassionate Savior! Show us all, particularly the self-righteous and the self-sufficient, that without Jesus we are hopelessly and eternally lost, banished from heaven and Thy presence! Then, by Thy Spirit, strengthen us to believe from our innermost souls that by humble faith in the cleansing power of our royal Redeemer's blood we are more than conquerors in life's heaviest afflictions and death's darkest woe! Restore the Gospel to churches which have forsaken it, revive the spirit of the Reformation throughout the ranks of American Christendom! Help us tear down the barriers of sin and spread Thy Word so that Thy kingdom may come into many hearts! Bless this radio mission despite the difficulties surrounding it! We pray especially for Thy children called to the nation's colors; protect their bodies according to Thy might, but especially keep them always faithful to the Savior in soul and spirit! Make us all repentant, reliant on Christ's grace, and thus prepare us for peace, blessed peace with Thee, our conscience, and our fellow men! Hear us and help us for Jesus' sake! Amen!
One lesson stands out boldly and clearly on the pages of Holy Writ: every time His people forgot the Almighty and rejected His grace, punishment, in the form of war, defeat, or disaster, overtook them. Yet, whenever they returned to the Lord in sincere repentance, humility, and faith, they were received and restored. That is the repeated record in the Book of Judges; that is the background of religious revivals started by Asa, Jehoiada, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah and other kings, who saved their people from ruin by a complete cleansing of corrupt practices.
The same divine power to bless every real reformation may also be seen, outside the Bible, in the heroic restoration of Christian belief which began 427 years ago this week, when a humble monk, Martin Luther, posted his ninety-five theses, or statements of faith, and thus, under the Spirit's guidance, started the titanic task of purifying the churches. Before Luther: the dark ages with superstition, spiritual ignorance, fear of Jesus, terror of His Judgment, the poisoning of the pure Gospel truth, the misinterpretation of His sacred Word, the hopelessness of earning one's salvation without the Redeemer, the racket of selling forgiveness for past, even future transgressions; and after Luther: great enlightenment, the open Bible, justification by faith, assured salvation, the universal priesthood of all believers, the right of private judgment, popular education, the laity exalted, the people's participation in worship, the entire Lord's Supper, Christian hymns, the sanctity of marriage, the civil and religious liberty, which helped lay the foundation for our American freedom!
Because our country has
often forgotten the radiant blessings
rescued by the Reformation; because many of our 250,000 churches are no
longer houses of God; because as a nation we have not heard nor heeded
the summons to personal repentance, without which even America cannot
prosper, we plead:
When Josiah — he was only twenty-six years old — began his reformation, he started by purging "Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, and the altars of Baalim." He wanted his country cleansed, and he began the task by removing religious abominations.
That is where we must start, too. Far greater even than the material benediction which rested on Israel are the blessings with which our gracious Father has remembered America. We have become the wealthiest, most powerful, most comfortable, most advanced of all nations, because the Lord has given us rich lands, protected us by His wisdom, and prospered us with His heavenly might. How have we reacted to this unparalleled grace? More than half our people are so indifferent to divine guidance and compassion that they have no membership in any church. We count more scoffers in America today than ever before. Masses have set aside the Giver of "every good gift and every perfect gift." The first Commandment warns us, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me"; yet in our overbearing pride we too have bowed before the idols of our own exaggerated greatness, our own mighty achievement, brain power, financial power, productive power, industrial power, social power, political power, forgetting all the while that without God we would have nothing; that except for His undeserved mercy we would be no better than the impoverished peoples of Europe and Asia. As Israel of old, many in the United States have forsaken their trust in the Almighty. Look at our churches from coast to coast, ask yourself: "Do they hew straight to Scriptures's line? Do they meet its requirements? Do they preach the pure Gospel? Are they really houses of the Lord, holy habitations of His love?" You will agree that many congregations, which should be the strongest source of the nation's defense, have by-passed the Bible and urgently need a thorough reformation. Thus we have power-seeking churches working with the ruthless dictatorialism we decry in the Nazis. Do you know that there is in this country a religious council which is officially pledged to keep broadcasts like ours off the air and to place its officers in control of every Protestant religious radio program? This policy is neither American nor Christian; and while our military men have laid down their lives to protect our liberties, let us turn to the Lord, praying: Reform these would-be dictators! Put every self-appointed power seeker to naught!
Our churches are moved by a money mania, as they raise their funds contrary to God's Law and man's. An Iowa ecclesiastic, high in rank, is said to have bought a house for $6,000.00 and raffled it, at a dollar a chance, for $42,000.00 How can anyone justify this even according to a worldly standard — selling a house worth $6,000.00 for $42,000.00? Pray for public officials strong enough to enforce antigambling laws! Ask the Holy Spirit to reform the hearts of religious leaders who actually think the kingdom of heaven can be advanced by raffle rackets!
Many churches systemically cater to the wealthy. Built in fashionable sections, priding themselves on their elite, exclusive membership, they make no effort to win the poor or gain the slum dwellers. To some of these groups, which own endowments of many millions, yet are poor spiritually, comes the appeal for inner, soul-deep reform: Repent and return to the Almighty! Christ loves everyone, the rich and the ragged. Make your church "an house of prayer for all people"!
Not a few religious leaders are devoting their energy to preach hatred; they want all our enemies, individually and collectively, destroyed. "Kill them soldiers and civilians!" their pulpits scream. They have forgotten the Savior's explicit command, "Love your enemies ... do good to them that hate you." May they experience the complete reformation which will make them messengers of Jesus' forgiving mercy!
We see other materially minded churches, new sects in which leaders display two-carat diamond rings, ride in expensive touring cars, own attractive mansions, and tell their audience, "You can have all this," ignoring the Christ who had "not where to lay His head"; congregations that spend most of their energy on externals, fashion shows, suppers, dramatics, and other activities void of all connection with the Savior's kingdom. A Saint Louis department store, short of help for the coming holidays, offers churches $25,00 for every worker they can furnish. I dare say that sometimes the search for these pre-Christmas saleswomen will be greater than the quest for souls. Now to all religious groups which have sought the Lord's work in socials, recreations, entertainments, may the Holy Spirit re- emphasize this reformation message: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God!" Learn to pray and work rather than play and shirk!
Similarly, some churches are in error because they selfishly crave power. They seek to control State and Federal representatives and senators. Pointedly they oppose the separation of Church and State. They want the Government to act as the arm of religion in carrying out their purposes and persecutions, but they reject the gentle Redeemer and His declaration, "My kingdom is not of this world." He pleads for complete reformation of the heart, and He warns, "Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."
We need a twentieth-century reformation in our American religious life also because some headline preachers are helping destroy the Christian home. They proclaim that parenthood should often be avoided and childhood restricted. Unhesitatingly they marry people guilty in divorce, as though no word of Scripture denounced this evil. Because these destructive practices encourage youth to reject the sacredness of marriage, God asks for reform, telling all believers, "Ye shall be holy; for I, the Lord, your God, am holy."
The coming election is coaxing many preachers into the public arena as agents for political parties, always, however, at the cost of neglecting precious, blood-bought souls. When Abraham Lincoln came to Washington as President, he is said to have declared, "I wish to find a church whose clergyman does not preach politics." Millions of common people in the United States share his feeling. They, too want pastors who give them spiritual comfort and eternal truth rather than party programs and campaign promises. To those preachers who think their chief activity is to help elect this man or that, Scripture says, pointing to Jesus: "‘Behold the Lamb of God!' Find in His Gospel the eternal, inexhaustible subject of your messages, the first and the last Hope in your sermons! Reform your ministry, return to the Redeemer!"
Especially is a top-to-bottom reformation required for inactive, unproductive churches. These smug, complacent, self-satisfied congregations usually have everything in their favor: wealthy memberships, no debts, comfortable buildings, generous incomes; but they are dying spiritually. They are surrounded by people who need the Gospel; yet the pastor is too much ashamed of Jesus to bring them His consolation, and the parishioners in these large but lukewarm groups are often too preoccupied — the men with playing cards, the women with arranging mock weddings and bazaars, the young people with making the round of ‘teen-town entertainments — to direct a perishing soul to the Lord. Because on the Day of Judgment those who had the truth but refused to spread it heroically and ceaselessly will receive a more severe sentence than those who failed because they never knew the promise of pardon, we should constantly ask our heavenly Father to prevent our faith from becoming a cold, passive, lifeless creed and to renew us daily with a living, energizing, fruitful trust in the Savior, Strengthening Spirit, reform all who bear Christ's name, yet refuse to live courageously in loyalty to Him!
The desire for far greater spiritual power should also change the churches which push the message of Calvary's Cross aside and, instead, stress pet doctrines not even essential for salvation. Some churchgoers are so excited about prophecy as fulfilled in this war that they have little time for Jesus. Every Sunday thousands hear so much about the kind of food to eat, clothes to war, the Sabbath, foot washing, and related topics that the central message of a Savior crucified for the race of ruined sinners receives only a secondary place. May the Holy Spirit produce a thorough return and rededication to the Gospel in those circles where favorite side issues, ceremony, ritual, mean more than teaching and applying Christ's grace, where tradition overclouds the atoning Cross!
Thus many other churches need reformation: the loud and boisterous which disturb the peace of their neighborhood; the lead-line seeking, sensational groups which turn their sanctuaries into theaters or public forums, sometimes with circus-ring, night-club tactics; the separatists' churches which refuse to heed Jesus' prayer for Scripturally grounded unity and seem to delight in the tragic fact that 200 and more divisions in the churches exist in this country, the one affirming what the other denies, yet all claiming to take recourse to the Bible.
However, one mass of churches remains, the most dangerous yet named, which must be purified within and without, from beginning to end: those religions which call themselves Christian yet deliberately deny the Savior's Gospel, tear down His Cross, remove the cleansing power of His blood, ridicule the truth of His Word. These are the unbelieving, unfaithful churches, in many communities with the best-located, the most attractive buildings, often the highest-paid preachers, but always marked by the most pronounced failure in bringing men the blood-bought pledge of salvation. Modernists have so multiplied since the last war that they have been able to coax entire sectors of their denominations away from the Son of God. They have usurped control of mission boards, colleges, and especially theological schools. Moreover, they have made their form of apostasy popular and fashionable. But they have torn down American religious life and reduced their creed to a series of moral generalities, which have no word for the sin that sends souls to hell, no thought for the Savior who died to grant us heaven. With all your hearts pray for a twentieth-century reformation to bring these Modernists on their knees in recognition of their Redeemer as the one and only Hope men have for this life and the next!
Survey for a moment the disastrous results of these weaknesses! Millions of our countrymen consider every church a mistake. More than half our population is not enough interested in spiritual matters to join any Christian group. Some may attend services, but what they often hear — and you should read the letters they write to me — does not bring them closer to God. They listen to a sermon hoping to have the Bible expounded, but frequently, instead, they are bombarded by amateurish discussions of world affairs. They come to worship because their soul is burdened by crushing sin; but they depart, their hearts still weighted because they have received only a combination of jokes, a fanciful life philosophy, and a few apologetic references to the Lord. Is it any wonder, then, that the nation has thousands of unused churches, tens of thousands only one-fourth or one-half full on Sunday, when all the people of the United States should humbly beseech the Almighty for His pardon and the peace He alone can give? Can you not see why atheists in growing numbers are trying to make all American churches suffer for the sins of some, as they cry out, "Religion has failed"?
Last year, with the many opportunities these twelve bleeding war months offered, on of the largest denominations in the United States recorded that almost 3,000 of its pastors did not win a single convert! Such glaring failure cannot be explained by assuming that this group is poor, that these 3,000 men lacked the means required to meet the demands of their ministry or lived in out of the way districts or in blighted areas with a decreasing population. No; some of the men who in 365 days could not count a single convert did not regard Jesus as the Savior. A pastor in this denomination tells me that some of his brothers have forsaken even the basic doctrine of the Trinity. Disturbed over the number of his clerical associates who are turning from Scripture, he wrote in protest to church officials and editors who admitted that many within this denomination deny God the Father, the Son, the Spirit as the true Deity. If they start by rejecting the Biblical Lord, how can we expect that they will keep the Scriptural teaching of sin and grace, heaven and hell? In the deepest tragedy of these war-racked days we see neglected churches, half-empty services, puny congregations, which testify that the inner lives of millions in America remain untouched by the Holy Spirit.
God, revive us with the spirit of Luther's Reformation! May it move the clergy which has proudly rejected the Redeemer, the laity that lives without Jesus! Give us a heart-and-soul reformation in denominations once faithful to the Bible and its Christ but now untrue to the Gospel; in theological seminaries founded, built and paid for by fundamentalist believers, yet today listing not one teacher who accepts the inerrancy of Thy Word and the redemption of Thy Son! Give us a reformation in our homes and schools, among parents and teachers; give us teachers who will train our sons and daughters in the one thing needful, the knowledge of their Savior! Above all, give us individually a real, personal reformation which teaches us the appalling price our Lord paid for our deliverance! May Thine enlightening Spirit guide us to esteem Jesus' blood-bought pardon as earth's and heaven's highest treasure, the truth for which, if necessary, we should lay down our lives!
Give us the loyalty of
Josiah and the faith this young monarch
showed! It took courage for him to tear down the altars his
had built, to incur the hostility of the sensual priests whom he
It meant serious self-denial for him to stand up for the truth.
he did. O Holy Spirit, give us a large measure of Josiah's
Make everyone of us ready to tear down evil, to battle sin by our
our testimony, our actions, so that the churches of Jesus Christ in
which have forsaken the heritage of the Bible may return to their only
hope of salvation! Reform our hearts, our homes, our churches,
country, in this crisis hour when, we are persuaded, the fear of Thy
Father, Thy love, O self-giving Savior, Thy enlightenment , O blessed
should be our greatest defense, our highest assurance, individually and
If we would take part in reforming American Christianity, we must, first of all, have the faith which led Josiah when he dedicated his energies and income to the Lord. We must return, as he did, to sacred Scripture and find within the covers of Holy Writ the true trustworthy revelation from Heaven itself. Not our emotions, our religious excitement, our friendly feelings for the Gospel; not the church fathers, the saints, the martyrs, are to be the final authority for our trust. Like the Evangelists and Apostles, like Luther and his co-reformers, we must go back all the way, unconditionally, to the Bible, not as to a book which contains God's Word, but which is God's Word, from its first statement, "In the beginning," to the last, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all Amen."
American Christianity experienced the deepest sorrows when men began to question and deny Scripture, when college professors held the two Testaments up to ridicule, when theological leaders gloated over the so called "mistakes" of Moses, when Old Testament exegetes denied that David wrote the Psalms which bear his name and created a second, third, or fourth fictitious Isaiah. Because no nation can flourish in opposition to the Bible, we need churches that will help bring our land back to the source of its blessing. We in this country should have the sincerest reverence for the Sacred Volume. God's Word led the colonists to our shores; its pages helped them battle against the wilderness and lay the foundation for history's mightiest republic. It took Holy Writ to produce faith and courage in George Washington, to strengthen the patriots at Valley Forge, and to form this nation in its cradle days. When the first Bible was printed on our shores, the Congress of the United States officially approved and recommended the Scripture to our people. As long as our country continued to abide by its principles, we enjoyed progress and benediction far more magnificent than any other nation has ever received; but when during the last two generations, masses within our borders began to disregard the repeated "Thus saith the Lord; when teachers started to question the divine promises and preachers contradicted their truth, serious trouble arose, from which our posterity will long continue to suffer. Therefore, as Josiah went back to the inspired Oracles, as Luther returned to Heaven's Revelation, so this skeptical but war-swept age can rebuild its hope only by pledging itself to hear and obey God's Word.
Unless obedience to the divine will is a personal, vital factor in your life, you are starving your soul, dwarfing your spiritual hopes, sowing the seeds of future sorrow. Therefore, read God's own Record! Examine it for yourselves, reverently, without hatred or prejudice, but with a prayer for the Spirit's enlightenment! "Search the Scriptures" in your family circle! No other power on earth can give your dear ones the peace, strength, and blessings the Lord grants in the pages of His Word. Fathers and mothers of America, our country and its churches need the support of a Christian home base. It is more important that we have Bible-searching homes, Bible- revering parents, Bible-exalting children, than that we have an election a week from Tuesday, as vital as this certainly is.
If you are a church member, see to it that the Sacred Volume is the center of your worship! If you belong to a congregation where Heaven's truth is set aside as a child's book of fairy tales, where the preacher proclaims that the two Testaments contain many mistakes, then, if you love the Almighty, protest! Demand that every insult hurled against Holy Writ be withdrawn; and if any layman or clergyman refuses to retract his attack on the Bible, insist that he leave the church! If he refuses and is sustained in his treachery, come out, and if you separate yourself, the Lord will surely bless you.
It is not sufficient, however, that we go back to Scripture and stop. We return to the Christ of Old Testament prophecies and of New Testament fulfillment, God's Son and the world's Savior. Here, once more, we come to the climax of this message: Do you know the Lord Jesus as your very own Redeemer? Does your heart beat with the clear, courageous, comforting faith which openly proclaims Him your Ransom and Rescue from sin, the Atonement for all your transgressions, the eternal Victor over evil and its penalty, hell and its torture, death and its destruction? Be sure of this: it is not enough to admire Christ as a mighty Leader, a merciful Guide; it is not sufficient to have pictures of Him in your home, to belong to a church where He is honored, to spurn using His name profanely and to speak it only with awe and devotion! You must have more than a warm, kindly feeling for Jesus; you must rather be strengthened by the firmly founded conviction that He, with all the riches and resources of heaven and earth at His command, is your Savior. You must understand the terrifying guilt of your own crimes against God. You must see the torture and torment of hell as the certain penalty of your transgressions, but even more clearly, you must behold the marvelous mercy of our Father's Son, who left the celestial glory, entered earth's misery and permitted Himself, though innocent, to be condemned in your behalf, to be found guilty of the wrong you have committed, to be sentenced to the cross in your stead. What endless compassion that He shed His blood to wipe away your scarlet stains, that He not only removed your transgressions but completely destroyed them! What unfathomable love that the Lord grants the blessings of salvation and eternal glory without price or prejudice, without condition or class distinction, without purging or preparation after death, without intercession of saints or angels, without good intentions or good words, simply by personal faith in His cleansing blood!
Before we talk of
reformation in the Church, we need the reformation
of our own lives which comes through this living trust in the
Therefore I ask you once more, are you Christ's? God grant that
last Sunday in October may be a real reformation day for every one of
who until this time have tried to live without Jesus! Salvation,
spiritual strengthening, soul
comfort, a reborn life, hatred of evil, love of good, the Father's guidance, the Son's intercessions, the Spirit's enlightenment — all these, together with inner peace and calm of conscience, are yours through reliance on your Redeemer.
What still keeps you from heaven? Your sins? Jesus has wiped them all away. Your doubt as to His power to save? Give Him the leadership in your life, and all questions will be answered! Is it your pride that separates you from the Savior? Ask yourself honestly, "Why should I be proud? And as you recall your selfishness, your impurity, your greed, your hatred, your disobedience to the Lord, all self-justification will vanish. You will find yourself as you truly are: sinful, envious, guilty, condemned, God-forsaken; but as your faith looks up to Jesus, you are redeemed, restored, reformed.
Josiah, repairing and rebuilding the Temple, could see the Messiah only from the distance of unfulfilled prophecy. You, beholding Him in the marvelous fulfillment of His Word, as the one Hope of our blood-drenched age, can help perpetuate the Reformation of Martin Luther, who more than any other man since the Apostles' day exalted Christ as the divine, unfailing Redeemer of mankind. You can become a witness and a worker for the Lord. You can oppose blasphemy and repel attacks on His name. You can cleanse churches that have side-tracked the message of His salvation. You can enjoy peace in your home if it has been torn by strife. You can help lead our country closer to the Gospel of grace. You can be strengthened by the confident assurance, through war and peace, suffering and happiness, death and life, that eternal victory is yours through faith. The true Church must ultimately prevail. You will always win with Christ.
The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in October 1944