Monday, March 3, 2014

On the problems of Lutheran preaching. . .

Anthony Sacramone has hit on a nerve again:

I think one of the reasons Lutherans are not as widely known for their preaching as are the Reformed and Arminians is that they’re constantly preaching conversion to the converted.

For my part, I would have phrased it slightly differently -- preaching justification to the justified -- but the gist of it all is common to us both.  You can read the rest of his post yourself but I want to focus upon this point only.  Everyone sermon needs to preach justification by grace through faith but not only nor even primarily justification.  Let me say it again.  While it is certainly true that we need to hear how God has, without any merit or worth on our part, justified us through the blood of Jesus on the cross, this should not and cannot be the every Sunday sermon we hear, only slightly differentiated, week after week.  That is not preaching the whole counsel of God's Word and it represents a misreading of where the people are at who sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday.

Weedon is right that we ought not neglect the terrified conscience but neither should we neglect to terrify the consciences of those who feel no thorn of guilt or shame for their sins and neither should we neglect preaching sanctification for those who know the comfort of God's gift of salvation and seek, by the prompting and aid of the Spirit, to do amend their sinful lives.  In other words, Weedon is right and Sacramone is right.  Weedon is not saying that we should preach justification to the justified week after week without end.  Amen.  Don't believe me?  Read the old sermons he has posted on his blog (aptly named Weedon's Blog).  Sacramone is not saying that we have grown up and beyond the message of justification and can now focus on the higher things of Christian living.  Listen to him.

What both lament is that Lutheran preaching has become a one track mind.  When I was in seminary, the sermons we wrote were great Biblically but terrible personally.  We were preaching to nobodies, to virtual pew sitters of our own creation.  When I got into the parish, I began quickly to realize that the folks in the pew were not the same as the imaginary pew sitters of my seminary years.  Neither is any parish made up of a homogenized contingent of Lutheran Christians, at the same point in their spiritual lives or facing the same circumstances in those Christian lives.  The key here is to know your people.

Lutheranism began when preaching was moralistic and legalistic.  It simply compelled the folks to be good by their fear of the consequences of being bad.  Lutheranism was the trigger for a rebirth of preaching in part because we remembered that the job of the sermon was to preach faithfully the Word of God, rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel, and to engage the people where they are at.

Furthermore, Lutheranism is, if anything, conscious of the baptized and their new vocation.  Preaching serves to direct, encourage, and, if necessary, correct the baptized so that they may live out the new life which is their gift in baptism.  Lutheran preaching is vocational.  We are who we are by the grace of God but we are not yet who will shall become by the grace of God.  The whole antinomian debate fits in here as well.  The preaching of good works is not the preaching of works that will please God but the preaching of good works that flow from the new life which is ours in baptism and which we live out by grace through faith. Lutheran preaching directs us, the baptized, to the life worthy of our calling.  Though we will most certainly fail and will need the rescue of God's grace to restore us, Lutheran preaching should direct us to the noble task of our high calling.  This is no different than what it is we pray for as we confess our sins:  Forgive us, renew us, and lead us,, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name.  Unless these are mere words and lofty intention, the sermon will direct us to that good and gracious will and how we, as the baptized living in the strength and power of God's grace, walk in His ways to the glory of His holy name.

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