A Sermon by Dr. Walter A. Maier

"They . . . sanctified themselves and came . . . by the words of the Lord to cleanse the house of the Lord. And the priests . . . made reconciliation with . . . blood upon the altar."
2 Chronicles 29:15, 24

God of our Fathers:
 Thankfully we come before thee, to praise the love which, through the Reformation four and a quarter centuries ago, restored to the world the truth of Thy Word and the assurance of Christ's redeeming mercy. Help us treasure this glorious grace and realize that without Jesus we are lost sinners! But then, O Father of love, turn us to the cross to discover the free forgiveness of all our transgressions, the rebirth of new life and the promise of heaven – not by our own supposedly good works, but by faith in the Savior's atoning blood! Preserve Thy saving truth for us! Rebuke all enemies of the Gospel, and so cleanse Thy churches that they may emerge from this war purer and stronger! Again we beseech Thee, grant us a victory which will insure freedom of religion to all people. Protect all Thy followers in our armed forces! Help them to flee evil, resist temptation! Above the roar of battle let many who do not yet know Thee hear the call to repentance and, answering, accept Thee as their God, and Jesus Christ, Thy Son, as their Savior! We plead in His ever-blessed, never-failing name. Amen!

 For millions of Americans today, the thirty-first of October, is just another Sunday, and for far too many a time to recover from wild Halloween celebrations. Why people in our country have time, money, and interest for this pagan carnival, when American men daily lay down their lives in the nation's defense is a deep mystery. A Senator in Washington cries out that the United States is loosing its democracy; but who among the throngs that last night crowded hotels, cocktail bars, taverns, was seriously concerned whether he is right or wrong? Social experts warn that the nation's homes are being broken and family happiness shattered. Who cares? Thousands of young people, including teen-age boys and girls, were swarming the streets until the early hours of this morning. Their parents actually did not know where they were and what they were doing, although some of them were facing moral ruin. A war is still to be fought and a victory won; but you would never have realized it in the thousands of places of amusement, where until early this morning loud, loose carousal held sway. Masses are sleeping off the effects of the night before, with no thought for God, no glance at His Bible, no ear for the church bells that call for Sunday worship.

 To millions of Christians this Sunday is simply another Lord's day. In some circles it is true, October 31 has been set aside as Temperance Sunday. As vital as temperance is, during this time of widespread drunkenness that disgraces an increasing number of women, the battle against alcoholism could be observed on any one of a dozen other Sundays. For today – mark this on your calendar! – is one of the most noteworthy of all dates in history. A British writer says that there has been no day like it for 1900 years, except Pentecost. This October 31 brings the 426th anniversary of the day on which God's truth was restored to the world, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ returned to man, the faith of the Bible reaffirmed for a sin-sick world, when Martin Luther – thank God for his courage! – began the blessed work of the Reformation. This day should be commemorated on our battlefields, for it helped give us the first two of the four freedoms for which we are fighting this war: freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The Reformation Festival should be observed by churches in all parts of the world, because as even the foes of Martin Luther have admitted, his epochal work removed many abuses practiced in the name of Christianity. This anniversary should be commemorated in every believing home, for through this mighty re-establishment of God's truth, marriage has been exalted, the Christian education of children promoted, family life hallowed. Reformation Day should be an outstanding, glorious occasion for every one, above all because it marks the beginning of the magnificent movement by which the full and free Gospel of our crucified Savior was given back to the world.

 Four hundred and twenty-six years is a long time – too long, in fact, for the legions of hell to have reclined in idleness; too long for many churches to have remained loyal to Jesus. As we survey the religious life of America and behold unmistakable evidences of spiritual decay, disloyalty, and destruction, the conviction forces itself on us that the world needs another Reformation; that many churches in our beloved land should be cleansed and purified, reformed, and rededicated to Christ. Therefore let our Reformation Day message send this prayer and appeal to the throne of the Almighty:


 In the midst of war and its many problems may the Spirit help us do what God's people did in another national crisis, when, as our text (2 Chronicles, chapter twenty-nine, verses fifteen and twenty-four) testifies, "They . . . sanctified themselves and came . . . by the words of the Lord to cleanse the house of the Lord. And the priests . . . made reconciliation with . . . blood upon the altar."


 This account of the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem takes us back to the days of King Hezekiah, who began to rule Israel according to God's Word. If only those in charge of governmental affairs throughout the world were guided by the same loyalty to God which that young ruler showed, we would certainly witness much less of the brutality and bloodshed provoked twice in ourgeneration by men who worshipped themselves instead of the Almighty. Hezekiah's father, King Ahaz, was an utterly godless ruler, one of the most wicked and willfully degenerate men denounced by the entire scriptures. He introduced pagan worship, polluted the Temple, built idolatrous altars. When his land was besieged, the Lord, in His limitless love, offered him divine help; yet Ahaz, unbeliever that he was, refused to accept Heaven's mercy and instead trusted in human help – the same serious error which causes unspeakable suffering today, because men spurn the lord and in sinful shortsightedness place their hopes on human promises.
 Hezekiah, then, was the God-fearing son of a God-hating father. If the Lord has given you believing parents, thank Him for this priceless gift every day that you live! Yet even if you have never known a father who brought you to church; if you have a mother like the Salt Lake City woman who wrote me – may God have mercy on her! – she was happy since her children were free from religion, or like a mother who declared she got one bit of joy from my recent broadcast: the news that the printing of Bibles would be restricted; if you have heard cursing and blaspheming, quarreling and godlessness, in your home, think of King Hezekiah, and remember that you have a Savior who can help you when parents fail!
 Hezekiah, a young man when he started to rule over Israel, had no sooner come to power than he resolved to help bring his people back to Jehovah, cleanse the temple, and destroy the hideous idols his own father had built. Heaven give us young men and women who are likewise moved by a consuming zeal for the Lord, stalwart, valiant young Christians, at home and in the armed forces, who are not ashamed to exalt and defend Jesus; who, as they see others ridicule and reject Him, revere and respect Him; who as they behold others casting the divine command for temperance, purity, and honesty to the heedless winds, resolve that, Christ strengthening them, they will keep themselves clean for their future husband or wife! These young people, and especially those among our fighting forces, who courageously testify to Jesus and would rather be in the minority with Jesus than in the majority with the world, are, under God, the salt of this nation which can prevent spiritual disintegration and moral decay.
 It took courage for Hezekiah to oppose the practices of his own father, just as it required bravery and determination for Luther to battle against the errors of his forefathers. Fearlessness and firmness of faith will also be demanded in our times if we are to cleanse some of the buildings in America that are called temples of God. But they must be cleansed! Examine them and you will find seven glaringly conspicuous sins in modern church life:
 Church Sin 1 is worldliness, through which the line of demarcation that used to separate godless throngs from the godly company of those who worshipped Christ is being removed. People can join thousands of churches in the United States without making a profession of faith; they can remain members in good standing even though their whole wanton, wicked conduct shrieks in protest against God's Word. In the tragedy of divorce and broken homes, for example, you will find that ministers have eagerly functioned at the wedding ceremonies of repeatedly divorced public figures. When a newspaper columnist, George Sokolsky, stated in a syndicated article last week: "We seem to have grown accustomed to all sorts of social horrors, and, what is more, even the clergy, whose business is faith and morals, say nothing these days in condemnation of the lack of family responsibility. They condone misconduct by tacit acquiescence. They are too busy making speeches about politics and international relations to have time for the less popular job of fighting downright sin"; when the public press can openly denounce men who call themselves ministers of God, either for their sniveling money-grasping tactics or their utter indifference to what the Lord calls right and wrong, conditions in some churches have reached a new low level!
 Church Sin 2 is commercialism, the grasping of certain groups by which they hope to heap up property, bank reserves, influence, though neither the example of the Savior, who drove the money changers from the Temple, nor the civil law, which prohibits gambling, restrains these greedy clerics. Chicago is in the throes of a vast gambling investigation; yet churches there, as in other cities, continue to violate the ordinances with public bingo parties. Any gambler will tell you that these church gambling parties are among the worst religious rackets. In some games the victim has one chance in three or four of winning; but in bingo, practiced under parish auspices, he has about one chance in twenty. Do not let anyone tell you that the end justifies the means, and do not believe that these ill-gotten gains will bring permanent enrichment! The wealth of thousands of churches on the Continent has been destroyed overnight; and millions of atheistic communists in Europe have looked at the smoldering ruins of their altars without regret because to them these churches represent proud, arrogant capitalism, parading itself in silk and satins, while the masses remained impoverished. The quickest and surest way to arouse resentment in the financial and social reconstruction period which, I feel certain, will follow the war, is to have American congregations pile up money, increase their real estate holdings, and display their wealth.
 Church sin 3 is the power craving by which certain religious groups would exercise force and assume a dominant role in national or world politics. Although Jesus, gentle and meek, declared, "My kingdom is not of this world," and forbade His disciples to wield the sword in His defense, the separation of Church and State is being repeatedly violated. Churchmen are in politics and politicians are conniving with churches. If both only had the wisdom, reviewing the pages of history, to see the streams of martyr blood that have flowed because of the violence and persecution practiced by churches which forgot the Lord of love!
 Church Sin 4 is the class and color discrimination that often flourishes in the name of the God whose Word tells us that He "made of one blood all nations of men." Medical research has proved that the plasma given by the blood of an American Indian, a Negro, a Chinese, can under God, save a white man's life. And how eagerly many who call themselves Christians, yet look down on people of the red, black, and yellow races, would accept that blood in a life-or-death emergency! Yet these same people are not willing to have a Negro enter their church buildings, though they may have no other place to worship. I am told that in some cities white pastors who engage in colored mission work are hardly recognized by the pastors of white congregations. Can you not understand that, if the crash conditions of 1929 are repeated in 1949 0r 1959 and the Communist agitator says to the Negro, "These churches have kicked you out, but our doors are always open to you," many Negroes will easily be recruited for the ranks of those destructive radicals?
 Church Sin 5 is empty ritualism – the error that substitutes ceremonies for the sin-destroying Gospel – in which form comes before faith and the cut of the preacher's robes is of more concern than the soul-searching appeal for repentance. History shows that when pageantry and procession overshadow trust and obedience, as too frequently happened in our time, the night of religious decay has fallen.
 Church Sin 6 is the spiritual sleepiness by which many congregations have become comfortable middle-class social organizations. They lack the virile, self-sacrificing missionary policy dedicated to send out the Savior's message into the highways and byways, searching for lost sinners that must be brought to Him. In such groups some of the most strenuous activities are the social functions on the church calendar: the teas, the plays, the bazaars, the parish dances, the card parties, the vaudeville shows – all based on the utterly absurd notion that these entertainments are the Lord's work.
 Church Sin 7 – and this outweighs everything that I have told you – is the opposition to Bible truth and the damning rejection of the Redeemer. The deepest sin of American Christendom is that it has to a great extent turned from the Book which has made it great, denied Jesus, whose Gospel brought the founding fathers to our shores. Preachers in anti-Christian churches who cunningly undermine the faith are rewarded with widespread applause. In this crisis, when the churches of the United States should call a penitent people to Christ; when our theological seminaries should be graduating young men who are spared the horrors of war because the government realizes that they are more valuable at home than on the field of battle, at this crossroad in our history where everything we love is at stake, some pulpiteers are piddling around with pet theories which can never lead men to their Lord, because these preachers, like the Pharisees and Sadducees of the Savior's day, do not know who God is and have become "blind leaders of the blind."
 With the churches wavering when they should stand fast; denying when they should affirm; upholding men when they should exalt Christ; sending sin-troubled, care-burdened souls away unconsoled when they should be comforted by divine love, I repeat, we need a real reformation in many sections of our American church life. We must have men in the clergy with the Heaven-sent unswerving courage of Martin Luther and valiant defenders of the faith among the laity who have followed Hezekiah and "sanctified themselves . . . to cleanse the house of the Lord."


 Hezekiah carried through his reformation by returning to the Word of God. Luther was successful because he, too, went back to sacred Scripture and based all his teachings on its truths, not on human speculation or errors of man. He was nineteen years old before he saw a copy of the Bible and studied its truth. He had been instructed to place his reliance on the opinions of church fathers, church leaders, and church teachers. As a result he constantly lived in doubt and distrust, fear and terror. But from the moment his eyes alighted on God's Holy Writ, hope and assurance began to illumine his troubled soul. As he continued to study the treasures of Scripture, the joy of absolute certainty filled him, and he knew that one word from heaven was worth more than a thousand volumes of human theory.

 American churches today need that loyalty and love for the whole Bible which, Saint Paul promises, "is able to build" us up. We must accept the entire Book, not merely selected portions that we like, while we reject other parts that seem to have no appeal for us. "All Scripture," means every page of God's Word, including sections that are often regarded as valueless. I read recently of a man whose conversion started by reading the fifth chapter of Genesis, one of those widely criticized genealogical lists, which in much the same language tells how old each patriarch was at the birth of his first son, how long he lived after that, and what his total age was. Even Bible students often wonder what spiritual help such ancient records offer; but this man noted that at the end of each section the words followed regularly ". . . and he died." Reading how each patriarch, despite his long life, finally went down to the grave, he realized that he, too, must die and "face God's judgement." This thought so moved him that he sought spiritual guidance and was soon brought to Christ.

 It is not enough, however, that the Bible is considered a noble, inspiring, uplifting book; it must be regarded as an absolutely errorless revelation of the divine will. Churches will never have the power and fire of the Holy Ghost if preachers quote Scripture with their fingers crossed; if they study its pages with mental reservation as they read of God's marvelous grace in protecting His people, building His Church, punishing evil, and then, surrendering to unbelief, say, "This can't happen here, in America today!"

 The reformation of these anemic, namby-pamby, spineless churches must start not with pulpit antics and novelties designed to lure people into the sanctuary. Ministers have preached on "The sweetest thing in the world" and passed candy to the people in the pews, taken "The Bread of Life" as their theme and distributed biscuits. (They ought to preach on the text – if they use a text – "It is high time to awake out of sleep," and then ring alarm clocks to arouse themselves from their stupor.) The transfusion of full, red-blooded Christian faith must come through an unquestioning, uncompromising return to the Bible.

 To help restore the Bible to American churches is definitely the personal and sacred duty of every sincere Christ-confessing believer. Through the Reformation which began 426 years ago today, when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses, the Christian layman came into his own once more, because the truth was again taught that in the Savior's Church no minister or priest, no high and mighty official, no ecclesiastical ruler, has any exclusive rights which the simple believer, as a member of the universal priesthood, does not possess. That glorious assurance brings with it the grave responsibility of defending God's truth against error, of speaking up unmistakably when His Word and His honor are attacked. Therefore, Christian laymen of America, if you are members of a church which claims to accept and exalt the Bible, but in which the preacher who is paid with your contributions disloyally seeks to destroy its authority, you have no choice if you would be true to your Lord. You must act; you must prayerfully seek to convince your pastor of his error. If he insists in his perversion, you must seek to have him removed, as hard as this is. If you are unsuccessful and your protracted protests are unheard, you yourself must come out, for "what communion hath light with darkness . . . or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel"? If the American Christianity would begin to assert itself in this way, we would witness the beginning of a startling twentieth-century reformation.

 When Hezekiah restored the divine Word, he knew that atonement would have to be made for the sins of his people. For this reason, as our text tells us, "the priests . . . made reconciliation with . . . blood upon the altar." Jesus is the Christians' Reconciliation with the heavenly Father, the "Lamb of God," not having spot or blemish, "that taketh away the sins of the world." Therefore, when Luther undertook the Reformation of the Church and his eyes were opened to the fact that in Christ alone, but in Him completely, every believer has the forgiveness of his sins, it became his all-consuming object in life to exalt the atoning Savior, to preach the crucified, sin-destroying Christ, the risen, life- bestowing Redeemer; and because he humbly dedicated his marvelous mentality and tireless energies to teach Christ, preach Christ, exalt Christ, write Christ, sing Christ, love Christ, live Christ, always as God's Son and the world's Savior, there was not enough power on earth or in hell, among men and devils, to restrain his work. Nor can the churches today ever hope to be used of the Spirit in saving men's souls unless they, too, concentrate their efforts on Jesus. Our creed is not an easy, pretty thing that clusters vaguely around rose windows and chanting choirs, mumbled monotones and wafted incense. The true Christian faith asks us to behold the most shrieking injustice, the most fiendish crime, ever committed the crucifixion and murder of the Lord Jesus Christ by the guilt and sin of those whom He loved with His life, but who sentenced Him to death. And if you are still ignorant of the immeasurable and eternal importance He bears for you, turn your eyes this day to the Savior bleeding on Calvary's cross; see the crimson flow from His pierced hands, His lacerated feet, and His thorn-crowned head; and listen as His faltering lips form His dying words into a heaven-directed plea! He is praying for His executioners. Fellow sinners and fellow redeemed, He is your God, praying for you, as he begs, "Father, forgive them!" He is dying for you as He cries, "It is finished!"

 This Christ – and I pray that in these moments some of you will say, "From henceforth He is my Christ" – is the one curative Power also for all the ills of modern churches. Clergymen of America, as I thank you sincerely for the prayer, encouragement, and support many of you, of all denominations have given this broadcast, I plead with you to help bring any Christless, crossless, bloodless, Gospelless churches that you may influence back to Jesus and the central doctrine of Scripture, the cornerstone of the Reformation: justification by faith. Sound forth the triumphant truth, "By grace are ye saved, through faith"! Do not regard any sermon, no matter how forceful, logical, or eloquent it may be, as a Christian sermon unless it preaches the full atonement through God's Son and, in effect, repeats the words of Saint Paul, "We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law"!

 In the Savior's name, and as a further appeal for a real twentieth- century reformation, we tell every sin conscious soul in the vast radio audience that through faith in the Redeemer there is a complete canceling of all sins, the positive and absolute removal of all iniquity, so that in God's sight those who belong to Jesus have no sin, since the Father Himself has said, "There is . . . no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." Through faith you realize, even though you know you have never deserved such mercy, that the guilt and the punishment of all your transgressions have been removed, the fearful penalty they incurred fully paid by the glorious grace, the boundless compassion of your Savior. This salvation which you yourself could never have earned in a thousand thousand lifetimes of penance and soul sorrow, which no saint or army of the earth's holiest men or women could secure for you, the pardon and peace that not even the legions of angels could grant you, this limitless love is assured to you without money or price, without punishment in this life or purging in the next, only by the purest, deepest, highest, holiest mercy your Savior showed on the cross.

 What Marvelous blessings flowed to God's people from Hezekiah's reformation! They, who had returned to their heavenly Father, were not to be spared the trials of war; but when Sennacherib, the Assyrian wolf, came up against Jerusalem and it seemed that the city would be captured, The Almighty showed His devotion to His reconsecrated people; 185,000 of the Assyrian troops were killed in a single night by the angel of the Lord. What was left of their proud regiments scurried back to Nineveh in overwhelming defeat. Think of the blessings that followed Luther's Reformation, despite the scurrilous attacks on his work – blessings that, according to competent authorities, have helped make the United States what it is today, a haven of religious freedom, with Church and State separated, the rights of man respected, and free course granted to the saving Gospel. Today, too, if American churches would devote themselves to the teaching of Scripture as the inspired Word, to the obedience of every truth it contains, and to the preaching of the Atonement as the only way of salvation, a startling reformation could be recorded in which our people, humble and penitent before the Almighty, yet joyful and exultant in Christ, might be spared many difficulties, dangers, and disasters ahead.

 Whatever happens in our country, you individually can find comfort, strength, and love through childlike, trusting faith in Christ; you can be reformed into a new existence, in which the old things of sin have passed away. Keep this truth always before you: nothing but your personal faith in God's mercy can save you! Some of you, I am sure, are coming close to the kingdom. Some of you are almost persuaded to receive the Lord Jesus. Some of you are near the path that leads to life; yet being close and near, being almost convinced of Christianity is not enough. On September 5, in 1870, a party of eleven mountain climbers ascended Mont Blanc. They were overtaken by a blizzard which lasted more than a week. Before it subsided, ten of the eleven died. After having wandered about blindly and bewilderedly over a space only a hundred yards square, they at last fell down in death, not realizing that they were so near the path of safety that five more steps would have led them on to it. So close to deliverance, yet destroyed by death! God grant that today you will follow the Spirit's bidding and take the few steps required to lead you to Him who says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life," even to Jesus Christ. Give yourself to Him now, for time and eternity! Amen.

The preceding "Lutheran Hour" sermon by Dr. Walter A. Maier aired on October 31, 1943