What is the heart of the Reformation? What is its center, it's key. What is the true and great reform that sets it off?
Now, this is a tough question, for there were many things that were impacted or reformed in those heady days. But what was the heart, the center, the main thing from which all others flow?
Was it clarifying the use of the Sacraments? Luther is wonderful on speaking on Baptism and the Supper, in removing the false burdens from Confession and Absolution. And while the release from the Babylonian Captivity of the Church is vital and important, that's not the heart.
Was it the restoration of Christian Freedom? Was it a return to a proper focus on what Good Works are? Well, even though On the Freedom of a Christian may be my favorite writing of Luther - it's not the center.
Oh, well, it must have been that we were released from the Tyranny of the Pope - that we discovered that we have the right to reform the Church how we want! Um - that's not quite what Luther said (see To the German Nobility if you don't understand why Luther wasn't a rabble rouser), nor is the right to rebel, despite what Patriotic Germans might tell you, the heart of the Reformation.
Was it the reform of the Mass and Liturgy? I'll say no, for while this is important and vital, it took time, and wasn't the center of things. We don't even get DS5 until 1526.
No. The heart is this - that Christ Jesus died and rose for the Justification of Sinners - and that this is to be proclaimed.
Luther says, "When God's Word is not preached, one had better neither sin nor read, or even come together." (AE 53:11) In the Smalcald Articles, when he lists the ways in which the Gospel is given to us, what does he put first? Not Baptism, nor the Supper, nor the Keys, nor even the much malaigned mutual conversation of the brethern, but first and foremost is preaching - "God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preaching in the whole world. This is the particular office of the Gospel."
Those of you who are pastors - the most important thing you will do this week is Preach the Gospel. Not preach about the Gospel, not simply give advice for Christian living, discourses on the third use, not admonitions to Christian living, not merely exhorting people to remember Jesus - but your highest task will be to preach the Gospel - to speak Words that give life and forgiveness and salvation to those who by faith have ears to hear. To preach Satan away from your people and back into hell by preaching Christ Himself - for Christ comes to people by the Word of the Gospel you proclaim.
This is more important than anything else you will do this week. Period. It should be the center of your focus and thoughts as well.
Those of you who are hearers of the Word - the most important thing that you will do this week is hear the Gospel of Christ proclaimed unto you. The Law of the sermon will break your heart, drive you to sorrow for your sin... and if the sermon does not, ask your pastor - "Where is the 2nd use of the Law here? Where is my sinfulness that my flesh would hide brought to light? Why do you not care for me so?" And indeed, you will hear the Gospel proclaimed in straight, concrete fashion. Christ Jesus has died - for you. He has conquered sin - for you - especially the sin you struggle against. Christ Jesus is always with His Church through His Word and Sacraments - for you. And if your Pastor does not preach this Gospel for you, ask your pastor - "Where is the Gospel? Where is Christ for me in your sermon? Why does your sermon not give me Christ, give me forgiveness, give me life? I need the Gospel, and it is your call and duty, you have been ordained to give it to me! Why are you not!"
Preaching the Gospel is the heart of the reformation. It is the heart of worship, for the 3rd Commandment means, "We should fear and love God so that we do not despise. . . preaching. Preaching and His Word, but we should glad hear and learn it." Tend to it if you are a preacher, gladly hear and learn it if you are a hearer. And be centered in the Gospel always.