A Reformation of Confidence

The Reformation was about many things. It was about papal abuses and church reform. It was about worship and the sacraments. It was about repentance and indulgences. It was about the Bible and the priesthood of all believers. And of course, the Reformation was about justification.

But it was also about confidence. Not self-confidence, but confidence that God is for us not against us, confidence that we can go to heaven without a sentence in purgatory first, confidence that though we cannot rest in our works, we can rest in Christ’s.

Consider, for example, this powerful reflection from Luther on the confidence we should have in prayer.

Therefore, since it is commanded that we pray, do not despise prayer and take refuge behind your own unworthiness.

Take an example from other commands. A work which I do is a work of obedience. Because my father, master, or prince has commanded it, I must do it, not because of my worthiness, but because it has been commanded.

So it is also with prayer. So, when you pray for wife or children or parents or the magistrates, this is what you should think: This work I have been commanded to do and as an obedient person I must do it. On my account it would be nothing, but on account of the commandment it is a precious thing. So you should pray for the prince, the city, the burgomaster, and so on. Therefore I admonish you most faithfully, do not despise your prayers!

But do not pray as the clerics do, who merely pray at a venture and think: I am not holy enough and fit enough to be heard.

Or:  I if I were as holy as Peter and Paul I would pray too! You must rather say: The commandment which applied to St. Peter applies to me also, and Peter’s prayer was no more holy than mine, for I have been given the same second commandment as he.  Therefore my prayer is just as holy and precious as St. Peter’s.

Your prayer is not one cent less valuable than St. Peter’s. And this is the reason: I will grant that he is holier as far as his person is concerned, but the commandment and obedience upon which St. Peter based his prayer I base my own also.

You have needs enough: You are lacking in faith, in love, in patience, in gentleness, in chastity; my wife, my children are sick. Then pray undauntedly and with sure confidence, because God has commanded you to pray. He did not command it in order to deceive you and make a fool, a monkey of you; he wants you to pray and to be confident that you will be heard; he wants you to open your bosom that he may give to you. Sermons on the Catechism (1528)

To be sure, we can’t tell the story of the Reformation without talking about the printing press and political turmoil in Europe. And we’ll certainly want to say something about Eucharistic controversies and the important influence of Renaissance humanism. The Reformation has been written about for 500 years, and it will be written about for 500 more. There’s a lot to say.

And yet, one of the things we must never forget to say is that the Reformation mercifully allowed fearful sinners to have a new kind of relationship with God. The Reformation reminded God’s people that they can have direct access to God through Christ. It re-centered the church on the lavish, scandalous good news of the cross. And it reassured them (and us) that God is on the side of the justified saint, even though they were still struggling sinners.

Praise the Lord. This is gospel indeed.