Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Means or the End

The trouble with so much preaching today is that Christ is seen merely as the means to another end.  To those in bondage, Christ is the means to freedom.  To those afflicted, Christ is the means to healing.  To those overcome with disappointment and despair, Christ is the means to hope.  To those adrift on a sea of turmoil and upset, Christ is the means to peace. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

The problem with this preaching is that Christ is not merely the means to anything.  Christ is the everything we need and the everything we seek by the Spirit's power.  He is not some key we place in the door that has our passageway blocked.  Christ is the passageway and He is the end goal.  Salvation is not some pie in the sky when you die and forgiveness is not some utilitarian procedure to prevent the success you want and the Lord wills for your earthly life.  Christ is both the source of these and the content.  But we have lost some of that and even when we preach Christ we forget that He is not merely the means to another end.

In this respect, the troubles we have in the pulpit and at the altar share a common problem.  We treat worship and we treat Christ (and the Gospel) as if these were not ends in and of themselves but merely means to other ends.  Worship ends up having an agenda thrust upon it.  It is evangelism and outreach for those not yet of the Household of Faith.  It is community and support for the wounded who come to be healed up and gassed up to get back out there into life.  It is the pedagogical arena in which we are instructed (in what is wrong, how to fix it, and how to get what we want).  Preaching falls into the same trap.

What a shameful sham to speak of Christ as if He were merely the means to an end -- like the car that takes us from point A to point B, or where we want to go.  In such preaching and worship, Christ is reduced to propositional truths or bullet points designed to get us saved or make us happy or transform our lives from failure into success. 

We do the same thing to the means of grace.  We study the Word of God because we want certain things or we want certain things to happen or we want to know how to make things better.  It is not so awful or evil to think this way but it is not Biblical and it is not reflective of Christian witness and preaching since the earliest of days.  Christ is not the power to help us become righteous; He is our righteousness.  He is not some power to forgive our sins; He is our forgiveness, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away our sin and the sin of the whole world by becoming flesh with us and sin for us.

We approach our devotional lives in the same way -- this private moment is filled with an agenda and so we listen to the Word for words to the wise instead of for Christ, the living Word of God who speaks with the voice of Scripture.  We pray because we have things we want or need and we tend to sign off before we give God any chance to respond.  Our prayers become the one sided conversations of a people who do not trust in the Lord or His good and gracious will and therefore must tell God what we need and how to deliver what we need to us.

I am convinced that we misunderstand the "I AM" statements of Christ and turn Him into a metaphor speaker instead of the embodiment of all that He speaks.  He becomes the Lord who is like the door or like the way or like the truth but not really THE way, truth and life.  The Sacrament of the Altar becomes a means to an end in the same way and Christ is distanced from the physical element and the whole thing becomes a spiritual exercise that ends up merely a metaphor instead of reality. To preach the Gospel is to preach Jesus Christ. To worship in Spirit and truth is to worship the living Christ who is the Divine Service to whom we render our divine service of worship, witness, prayer, mercy and service. 

This is one of the reasons I appreciate so the words of the introduction to Lutheran Worship:  Nagel will live forever if only for the genius of these few words that say so much:

     Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.
     Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us.
     The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psahns, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.
. .

Christ is the source, He is the means, He is the Giver, He is the Gift, and He is the Goal....  From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things.  When the Spirit imparts faith to our fearful and stubborn hearts, we finally realize that it is all about Jesus!  I often wonder what would happen if we preached this as fervently as we try to preach improvement, morality, responsibility, and success.  Do you think maybe a new Pentecost?


Anonymous said...

Gospel-centered preaching proclaims
the power of Christ to change a
person's life. The Gospel-focused
sermon proclaims that the crucified
and resurrected Christ changes our
attitudes and transforms our behavior

Christ forgives us in order to
empower us to make a new beginning
as a new person in Christ. He does
this through His Word and Sacrament.

Janis Williams said...

Too much focus on WWJD (don't think I have to spell that out). Not enough focus on WHJD-WHAT HAS JESUS DONE?

Even sermons that preach Law and Gospel, then end again with Law (lettuce-let us do...) fail. The focus is to be on Christ and Him crucified. Sermons should not end with what we should do; that's Law. If we focus on "how we're doing" we've already taken our eyes off Jesus, and begun to sink into the water upon which He has graciously allowed us to walk.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: a truly edifying and uplifting post. I do not write that just as a lead-in to my “but”. However, whether a gift or a curse, there is this thing that makes me cringe at certain concepts:

First: “To preach the Gospel is to preach Jesus Christ.” Now who could take exception to that? Our Lord did, when He spoke about the “Gospel of the Kingdom” in many places including, (Luke 4: 43) “but He said to them, “I must preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” I don’t mean that this is “another” Gospel, but “to preach Jesus Christ” is not the complete Gospel. Our Lord spent about three years preaching the “Gospel of the Kingdom”, while the Synoptic Gospels record that He only spoke three times about His suffering and death until the final discourses on Maundy Thursday. He also urged us to pray “Thy Kingdom come,” as the second petition of the prayer He taught us Himself (One could even argue that it is the first, inasmuch as “hallowed be Thy Name” could be thought of as part of the address, related to the traditional Hebrew, “baruch ata Adonai”). Therefore, I submit that it is necessary and salutary that the Gospel of the Kingdom also be preached to our people, because it tells us about the provisions our dear Lord made for His children after His Resurrection and Ascension. In addition to other things, it says a great deal about the work of the Holy Spirit in guarding us in this Kingdom and assuring us of God’s favor.

Leading seamlessly into, “When the Spirit imparts faith to our fearful and stubborn hearts, we finally realize that it is all about Jesus! I often wonder what would happen if we preached this as fervently as we try to preach improvement, morality, responsibility, and success. Do you think maybe a new Pentecost?” I find this really disturbing. Is faith not a gift that most of us have received in Baptism? Does the work of the Holy Spirit depend on how fervently the Gospel is preached? Was the Spirit Who worked the miracle of Pentecost not the same Spirit who dwells in the heart of each one of His children today?

There is no such thing as the “Spirit of the Early Church”; it is one and the same Holy Spirit. Pentecost was a single event, not one in which the Apostles received the Holy Spirit. According to our Lord’s promise, on that day they “received power” (Acts 1:8), but if we think such an event could be repeated, we diminish its significance. Because it is of this St. Paul speaks in 2 Cor. 3:7ff, “7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Attention George A. Marquart

Jesus said: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand,
repent and believe in the gospel"

In the person of Jesus Christ the
kingdom of God was now a present
reality as he began his public
ministry. It came in the life, death
and resurrection of Christ. The
consummation of the kingdom of God
will come with the parousia of Christ when he returns to judge the

Ultimately, the kingdom of God
refers to God ruling in the hearts
of people as they come to faith
in Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: Almost everything you write is true, though being slow on the uptake, I am not sure whether you agree with me or not. You may be aware of the fact that in the Mark 1:15 quotation you cited, “other ancient authorities read ‘gospel of the Kingdom’”

But ultimately, the kingdom of God does not refer only to God ruling in our hearts. The passage in Luke 17:21 is the only one in all of Scripture that refers to the Kingdom being “in” us. So this does not define exclusively where the Kingdom is, even as the passage I quoted, in which our Lord says, “I was sent for this reason” does not mean that there were not also other reasons, as indeed there were. There are many passages that say that we are in the Kingdom, as opposed to the Kingdom being in us, as, for instance, Colossians 1: 13 ”He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” The Apology says simply, “Besides, the Church is the kingdom of Christ, distinguished from the kingdom of the devil.” (The Defense of the Augsburg Confession Articles VII and VIII: Of the Church.)

One of our most ancient hymns, The Te Deum, contains these words, “having overcome the sharpness of death, He opened the Kingdom to all believers.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Paul said...

If I may my favorite: the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Unknown said...

I think Luther said it best when he wrote,"But what is the kingdom of God? Answer: Nothing else than what we learned in the Creed, that God sent His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil, and to bring us to Himself, and to govern us as a King of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience, for which end He has also bestowed His Holy Ghost, who is to bring these things home to us by His holy Word, and to illumine and strengthen us in the faith by His power." (Large Catechism Part 3 Paragraph 51)