The Reformation and Laity Today-Part III

The life of the baptized lay person today should look very similar to the life of the baptized in the sixteenth century.  Most importantly, this baptized priest will gather with the communion of the saints weekly (or more often) to remember his or her baptism, hear the Holy Absolution, receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, and hear God’s Word preached in its truth and purity. Consider: the most significant thing a believer may do is to freely receive God’s gifts.  That’s what true faith does, right?  So, when someone asks: What can I do to be more a more active Christian?  Tell them to receive Christ’s gifts from the ministers appointed to distribute them.  These divine gifts, and these gifts alone, will keep the baptized priest in the true faith. Attend divine services, listen attentively to the preaching of God’s Word, and receive the Lord’s gifts.  Christ wants lay persons to be like Mary sitting as his feet listening to his teaching because his doctrine is the “one thing necessary” and a “good portion.” (Luke 11:39-42)

Dr Luther often instructed Christians to know the Scriptures and listen dutifully to the preaching of God’s Word.  This certainly reflects Luther’s teaching on the Third Commandment in the Small and Large Catechisms.  Here Luther pointed out that a specific holy day served the laity’s need to hear and learn God’s Word because they had other temporal duties throughout the week. [Large Catechism on 3rd Commandment] In a sermon Luther refuted those who said they no longer needed to hear preaching because they could read at home.  He suggested that most actually did not read at home and even if they did read at home, “…the Word is not as productive, nor as dynamic, as it is when publicly proclaimed through the mouth of the preacher whom God has called and ordained to do such preaching for them.” (Emphasis added) [Luther, “Eighth Sunday after Trinity (First Sermon),” The House Postils 2:337 (1532)]

Pious prayer and confession of the faith arise out of the reception of the gifts too.  Having heard God’s Word and received His gifts, the lay person will pray privately and practice personal devotion through the reading of sacred Scripture and other texts (like Catechisms or prayer books).  Additionally, lay people will confess God’s Word and Christ.  Faith speaks.  It confesses Christ.  (Matthew 10:32-33)  This confession of Christ may be as simple as Christian parents teaching their children at home.  A public confession of Christ could also mean a public stance before worldly rulers and kings.  This may include a public testimony of the Christian faith, loss of reputation, public property, or even martyrdom.  However, one’s vocation will determine the circumstances when one confesses his or her faith.  Christians are not called to be busybodies. (I Thessalonians 4:11)

What about the daily lives of laity? As Dr Luther and the Reformers taught in the sixteenth century, we fulfill our vocations with faith in Christ and love toward our neighbors.  Are you a husband? Love your wife as Christ loved the church, honor her and do not be harsh with her.  Are you a wife? Submit to your husband as to the Lord and respect him. (Ephesians 5:21-33) Are you parents? Love your children, don’t provoke them to anger, and instruct them in divine matters. (Ephesians 6:1-4)  Take them to church, pray with them at home, and model a Christian life.  If possible, teach your children at home or send them to a Lutheran/Christian school.

Do you own a business?  Provide your product or service honestly.  Do you have a profession? Work diligently and perform your duties as if you are working for God in heaven.  Are you member of a city, a State, or a Nation?  Participate in the civic order for the good of your neighbor.  Hold the civic leaders accountable to their oaths and bind them to their sworn duties according to the Constitution or other legal documents.

Knowing that Christ saved us by grace through faith, we may freely serve our neighbor in various ways.  Christians do not perform good works to gain salvation, but they do seek to fulfill God’s commandments in and through their various vocations.  This is what it means to be a lay person today and in the sixteenth century.  Or as Dr Luther put it in 1520:  “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”[Martin Luther, The Freedom of A Christian, LW 31:344.]



About Dr. Matthew Phillips

My name is C. Matthew Phillips and I am Professor of History at Concordia University, Nebraska. I completed my Ph.D. in medieval European history at Saint Louis University in 2006. My research has focused on medieval monasticism, preaching, devotion to the True Cross, and the Crusades. Additionally, I have interests in medieval and early modern European education and the writings and life of Martin Luther.

At Concordia I teach World Civilization I, World Civilization II, Europe Since 1914, Early and Medieval Christianity, Renaissance and Reformation, The Medieval Crusades, The History of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, and The Modern Middle East.


The Reformation and Laity Today-Part III — 3 Comments

  1. From the article: “Consider: the most significant thing a believer may do is to freely receive God’s gifts. That’s what true faith does, right?”

    Interesting question.

    Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
    And: “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16)
    And: “You are the salt of the earth…, the light of the world….” (Mt. 5:13,14)

    And Scripture also says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

    And, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

    So which is more significant, to receive God’s gifts, or to share them?

  2. You also ask an interesting question, but I notice that in most of the passages you cite there is a receiving from God and then the encouragement about sharing with others.

    John 15:3, Already you are clean because of the Word….”

    Ephesians 2:8-9

    “Who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.”

    Without receiving from the giver of life, there’s nothing for us to give.

  3. @T-rav #2

    @Carl H #1
    To both,
    You have stumbled on to the debate and tension between justification and sanctification. 01) Yes, we are justified by the Gospel, the gift given freely by the love of God.
    02) Now, given the gift, walk in the light, use it, love your neighbor, walk in sanctification with the Holy Spirit guiding. Lest “faith without works is dead”.

    So, we can shout to the Lord and say, “I want nothing to do with you.” We have free will (and can beg forgiveness when we come to a right mind).

    And we can shout to the Lord by our “lack of…”, many things. Eventually, do we by our actions harden our hearts and stumble away from God. He will not from us, we can from Him. Once again, free will.

    Now you understand why Church and Word and Sacrament is SO IMPORTANT. God does not just give us a gift of life, He sustains it.

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