Hopefully by now you’ve seen the beautiful red banner that is hanging next to the kiosk in the Narthex of our church. Across the top are the dates 1517 - 2017 over the word Reformation. Then there is a depiction of Martin Luther’s rose seal and at the bottom stands a cross with the letters VDMA surrounding it, one letter in each quadrant. I’m sure you already get the fact that we are celebrating 500 years of the Reformation, and you’ve seen Luther’s seal before, but those letters, VDMA, at the bottom surrounding the cross may be a curiosity to you. With this little article, I hope to impress upon you the great importance of those letters first used by the reformers and why they are still so important to us today.
The letters surrounding the cross stand for Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum, the Word of the Lord Endures Forever. These words became the official motto of the Lutheran Reformation, and this symbol became the first official symbol of the Reformation, even before Luther’s rose. In 1522, Luther’s prince, Frederick the Wise of Saxony, had this symbol sewn onto the right sleeve of the official clothing worn by all members of his court, from the lowest servant all the way up, including himself. Frederick the Wise’s successors continued to use the symbol. Eventually, it became the official motto of the Smalcald League (the defensive alliance of Lutheran cities and territories). It was used on flags, banners, swords, and uniforms as the motto of the Lutheran Reformation.
The words were carefully chosen by Frederick and are taken from 1 Peter 1:23-25, where the apostle Peter writes, “Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ’All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
But why these words? Because they point to the source and the goal of the Reformation. The Reformation was not simply about correcting certain abuses such as indulgences or purgatory. The Reformation wasn’t about breaking free from the tyrannical rule of the pope. The Reformation was about the Word of God. That Word’s power and authority endures forever. The words of man, like their bodies, are like the grass that withers and decays. Human traditions and doctrines of men cannot give us peace with God or confidence of salvation. Only the Word of the Lord can do that. The Word of God is finally the only word that can be spoken that will endure forever.
That’s why this is still a wonderful motto for the Church today, worth remembering and repeating: “The Word of the Lord endures forever.” It’s a word given to the church to proclaim to the world. The world today, like the world of the Reformation, rants and raves against God’s Word and what it teaches. But the word of this world will finally perish with the grass and be blown away in the wind. The Lord’s Word moves mountains. It will endure the attacks of both the world and the devil. The Word of the Lord gives us peace which endures forever, for the Word of the Lord says “Take heart, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”
Unfortunately, just as Luther found when he made visitations to churches in Germany, what we find today in our own church is incredible ignorance when it comes to the Word of God and what it teaches.
Luther wrote in the preface to the Small Catechism: “The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.
Oh, you bishops! How will you ever answer to Christ for letting the people carry on so disgracefully and not attending to the duties of your office even for a moment? One can only hope judgment does not strike you! You command the Sacrament in one kind only, insist on the observance of your human ways, and yet are unconcerned whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or indeed any of God’s Word. Woe, woe to you forever!
...Although we cannot and should not force anyone to believe, we should insist and encourage the people. That way they will know what is right and wrong for those among whom they dwell and wish to make their living.”
So as we approach the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation I am encouraging you to be people who are in the Word. Hear it regularly in Divine Service. Study it diligently in Bible classes. Meditate deeply on it in devotions. Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum, the Word of the Lord Endures Forever, as excellent a motto today as it was 500 years ago for the Lutheran Reformers.
~ Pastor Christensen