What, then, are the true questions? There is no difficulty in answering. Martin Luther answers. How did he start? How did he become the man he was? What led to the Protestant Reformation? Do you know the answer? Here is the first question, and here is the first question that the Christian Church needs to ask today: What is a Christian? – that is the first question. What is a Christian? Is he just a man who objects to atomic bombs and to war? Is he just a man who objects to apartheid? What is a Christian? Luther, I feel, is thundering down the ages to us until this very night, and he is saying to us – Ask that question, What is a Christian? Do not start with organizations and institutions, do not start with territorial churches or the idea of getting them all together, do not start with social and political questions, ask the great question which the Scriptures raise – What is a Christian?
And the second, and, oh, how vital it was to Luther! How does one become a Christian? How does one find a gracious God? How does one get forgiveness of sins? Is it because I am christened as an infant; is it because I am born in a particular country? What makes me a Christian? How do I become a Christian? Do I get pardon and forgiveness by paying for indulgences or by doing good works? How does one become a Christian and get this assurance of being reconciled to God? That is the question that led to the Protestant Reformation. It was this intense personal experience of salvation. And these are still the fundamental questions.
And they lead to the next: What is a Church? Is she but an organization or institution, or is she the gathering of those who have had this experience of salvation, and sins forgiven, and who know God, whoa are born again and have the Spirit witnessing within them? What is the Church? Before you begin talking about amalgamations and unions let us ask the first question, What is a Church? I suggest to you that if we start with those questions we shall inevitably find ourselves following precisely the same path as was trodden by Martin Luther. It is inevitable. Why? For these reasons: To a man who knows this experience, to a man who has his only authority in the Scriptures there is no possible compromise with, first of all, the church of Rome – no possible compromise. The man who asks these questions and find the Scriptural answer finds, as Luther found, that it is impossible to come to any agreement with Rome. She teaches “another gospel”. It is entirely different. There can be no compromise with sacerdotalism. There can be no compromise for the Evangelical with those who say that a bishop is of the “esse” – the very essence – of the Church. There is no compromise for the Evangelical with a man who says, that unless you have received episcopal ordination you are not truly ordained. It is impossible. There can be no accommodation between the Evangelical and those who believe in the blasphemy of the “mass”. There is no possible compromise for the Evangelical with a belief in baptismal regeneration: it is impossible. Luther found it impossible as he went on studying and preparing his lectures on Romans, and his sermons on the Psalms and Galatians; and so the break was inevitable.
But not only is compromise with such people impossible for the Evangelical, it is equally impossible for him to be yoked together with others in the church who deny the very elements of the Christian faith; with men who seem to deny the very being of God, and who convey the impression that the Lord Jesus Christ was a homosexual! There is no agreement between Evangelicals and such teaching for it is a question of light and darkness! The very desire to hold such groups together in one territorial church is surely a virtual denial of the Christian faith. It also raises the questions of guilt by association. If you are content to function in the same church with such people – the two groups I have mentioned – you are virtually saying that though you think you are right, they also may be right, and this is a possible interpretation of Scripture. That, I assert, is a denial of the Evangelical, the only true, faith. It is impossible.
- excerpt from “Luther and His Message for Today”, 1967, by Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, minister of Westminster Chapel in London, given before a congregation of over 2, 500 people – at the British Evangelical Council Conference, convened in London to commemorate the 450th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.
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Cover image, Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms 1521, c/o National Geographic.