Monday, January 26, 2015

I did not hear any Gospel. . .

Everyone once in a while a Lutheran pastor will be told by a parishioner that they ware just not being fed and they are now attending another church (in nearly every case a non-Lutheran church and in most cases one of the non-denominational kind).  It is generally met  by a Lutheran pastor with a serious case of angst and a serious review of old sermons to see what he is preaching.  There are few things that hit as hard as the judgment that your preaching is not "feeding" the people.

In the same vein, a Lutheran pastor will sometimes be told "I did not hear any Gospel" in that sermon.  This is met with an equally urgent case of self-doubt and the same kind of sermon review to see if there is merit to the complaint.  There are few things that make a Lutheran pastor feel as sick to his stomach as being told that Gospel was not heard in his sermons or that the Gospel does not predominate in his preaching.

There is another problem, however. That is the problem of identifying what the Gospel is.  We have come to define "gospel" in rather generic terms -- anything that makes me feel better.  So the gospel is love without strings, tolerance without judgment, forgiveness without repentance, heaven without hell, Easter without Good Friday, and a good man without the Godhead.  The trouble is that defining the gospel in this way means that the criteria for hearing gospel in preaching is whether or not I feel better.  We all want to feel better and it is tempting to believe that whatever makes us feel better is good.

The truth is that the Gospel (the real one of Christ crucified and the Scriptures which all point to Him) is scandalous to our sinful minds and hearts and offensive to the world apart from the faith.  It is not the law only that shocks and offends but the Gospel.  It is not logic or reason but the wisdom that comes not from within and the wisdom which must come down from above.  The Gospel is sweet but its sweetness has its own bite.  I do not mean the same bite as the Law but a far different bite -- the shock of the God who wears a diaper and nurses at the Virgin Mary's breast, who is our Rescuer but who must be rescued from Herod's wrath, who saves us by wearing the dirt of the sins we don't want to admit or allow into the light of day, and who does this by dying the death we deserved.

I am NOT saying the every judgment that the Gospel was not heard is a false one.  Preachers are human and need to be held accountable.  What I am saying is that the Gospel does not always make us feel good or even feel better.  The Gospel is the unsettling Word that man could not invent and God delivers by becoming flesh and blood.  The Gospel does not mean God has ditched His standards or now shrugs His shoulders over our sins.  The Gospel does not mean anything goes as far as our wants, desires, or behavior.  The Gospel does not mean there is a reason for everything that happens to us -- especially the bad ones.  The Gospel does not mean that everything works out like we want.  The Gospel does not mean that life is one happy thing after another.  The Gospel does not mean that we can look forward to a fairy tale happily ever after ending.  A good example is the Gospel for Holy Innocents.  It is the Gospel even though it is the painful and heart rending story of the Holy Innocents who bore witness to Christ by dying.  There is no happy ending here but the profound yet confusing mystery of the God whose ways are not our ways but whose ways redeem us from our sin, from our death, from our despair, and from ourselves....  Thanks be to God!


Anonymous said...

I agree with the post but most of the time I hear people say we never taught the Bible. Mainly it is because the evangelical church either A. Does expository preaching or B. Does a sermon series, usually on some obscure verse/s, with a so called lofe application (law). What is happening is that these accusations come from people who do not attend the Pastor's Bible Study, which is our primary expository mode... The sermon leaning proclamatory. As to reason B., we must also consider that we may not be preaching the law well... And God forbid, but if that is the case they will not be able to receive hear the Gospel in its full sweetness.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

It is true that sometimes a pattern of sermons over a period of time by some pastors may address contemporary social norms and "church" issues but lack Biblical clarity and exclude Gospel truths. Taken together with too much entertainment as worship, too many personal anecdotes, too little serious insights, and perhaps a too casual or even silly atmosphere can indicate that it is time to go to another church. Pastors are not perfect, as none of us are, but those who no longer lead their flock, but want to just entertain them, have lost the light they have been given....Being a pastor is a calling and not all are worthy of it.

Unknown said...

The Gospel is indeed a stumbling block. But I cannot agree with the statement that “We have come to define "gospel" in rather generic terms -- anything that makes me feel better”. I cannot include myself in that “we”, and neither does St. Paul, when he writes, in the same place where he describes the Gospel as “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles,” 1 Corinthians 1:24, “but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”.
Quite honestly in my 78 years of life I have never heard anyone describe the Gospel as “anything that makes me feel good”. What I have noticed, time and time again, is that most of my fellow believers cannot get their heads around the fact that the Gospel is all sufficient for their salvation. In other words, they simply cannot believe that there is nothing they must do in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Even committing the same sin over and over again does not disqualify them. And here I have to blame most of the preachers I have heard who, under the compulsion to preach both Law and Gospel, present the Law in such a way that it makes people doubt their salvation. In my entire life I have only heard one LCMS pastor make the statement, “When are your sins forgiven? As soon as you commit them”.
For some reason, most believers accept the idea that they have done nothing to become sinners – they were born that way. But they have difficulty understanding that to become righteous they do not have to do anything either. They are simply born into the Kingdom by water and the Spirit, and thereby become righteous before God. Just as we received an inheritance from Adam, which we did not ask for, we receive an inheritance from our Lord, which we did not ask for, and according to Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, could not and did not want to ask for. But, as it is written in Hebrews 9: 15, “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. 16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living”.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart