Some good stuff from Luther in his treatise To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (from Three Treatises). Luther attacks the way in which the church of his time had (largely for financial gain) promoted pilgrimages, shrines and other “glittering show” over and above the ordinary life of the parish church, and writes:
Let every man stay in his own parish; there he will find more than in all the shrines even if they were rolled into one. In your parish you find baptism, the sacrament, preaching, and your neighbour, and these things are greater than all the saints in heaven, for all of them were made saints by God’s word and sacrament. (p.77)
Luther’s words apply equally well to the church today, in particular the evangelical church. It may not be shrines and pilgrimages and canonizations that attract evangelicals today, but famous preachers, Christian conventions (such as Keswick or Spring Harvest), charismatic “celebrations”, “revivals” and so on. Many of those may be good in themselves, but they easily overshadow the more mundane existence of our local congregations.
It can feel like the big convention or conference provides the annual (or quarterly, or whatever) fill-up of our spiritual petrol tanks, in order to sustain as we plod through the rest of the year in our local church: certainly that has been something of my experience in the past. But Luther compares this to “what the devil did in ancient times to the people of Israel, when he led them away from the temple at Jerusalem to countless other places”, all “in the name of God and under the pretence of holiness”.
Moreover, attending such events (or watching them on subscription channels whose lines are always open for your call) can become an expensive business. It is not just the pope who “leads you away from the gifts of God, which are yours without cost, to his gifts, for which you have to pay.”
So Luther’s message is highly pertinent for us today: that whatever benefit we may get from these additional events, it is nothing compared to the seemingly mundane and unimpressive things which we find in our local church and which we must never despise or look down upon: “baptism, the sacrament, preaching, and your neighbour”.
Luther’s counsel to the Christian of his own day applies equally to us:
Let him stay at home in his own parish church and be content with the best; his baptism, the gospel, his faith, his Christ, and his God, who is the same God everywhere. …