Sunday, April 29, 2018

It is not enough to preach Jesus. . .

I guess I got your attention.  That was my intention.  We live in a curious time in which there has been said to be a preaching crisis.  Perhaps that is overstated.  Perhaps not.  But we are talking less here about the obvious bad preaching (sermons about anything and everything else but Jesus) but rather the less than obvious preaching that is still, to use a word, defective.  This preaching preaches Jesus but it does not call people to repentance nor does it call the repentant to live holy, upright, and godly lives.  It does a fine job of accusing the sinner of his sin, of eloquently describing what God in Christ has done to pay the price of that sin and set the person right before Him, but it fails in that it does not urge the sinner to "go and sin no more" nor does it lay before the sinner the voice of the Law that charts the path to such a life.  It ends too sin, no matter how long the sermon goes.

If it is true what the polls tell us, namely that Christians, in particular Lutheran Christians, do not live much differently than non-Christians (except that they go to church once in a while), why is this the case?  Of course, no one is saying that Christians are perfect or sinless.  The point of this is not to say that Christians ought to be living without sin compared to those who are not Christians who live in sin without fear.  Could it be that Lutherans have become so comfortable with the simplistic formula that it is God's job to forgive sin and my job to give Him something to forgive that we do not even try to live holy, upright, and godly lives?  Could it be that in the preaching of Jesus but mainly justification, the people have either the mistaken idea that sanctification will automatically come or, worse, it does not need to happen at all?  Could it be that the people in the pews have gotten the idea from our preaching and catechesis that God meets us where we are, saves us as we are, and leaves us where we are?  Could it be that we have done such a profound job of preaching and teaching the bondage of the will that people have gotten the idea that the saved can say only one thing to God, "no"?

Everyone of us knows that accusation of those outside the Church who complain that if it were only Jesus they would be interested but because Christians also come with the deal, they are not so inclined to Christian faith.  In other words, the oft repeated charge is that Christians are such a sorry and sinful lot that it does not give much weight or power to the Gospel to change lives.  Yes, I know it is an excuse.  Yes, I know that even if Christians were perfect once they were saved, those outside the Church would find something else to blame for why they do not hear or heed the Word of the Lord.  No, I am not suggesting that the reason for holy, upright, and godly living is to remove this impediment from those who would believe except for the failure of Christians.  Rather, I am suggesting that to preach only justification is not to preach Jesus faithfully or fully and this fails those who do hear and believe.

If only to read St. Paul, the preacher finds that the apostle's focus and interest lay not simply in the precious Lutheran verses of salvation by grace through faith but in living holy, upright, and godly lives, doing good works, and being the new creation born of baptismal water.  How is it that St. Paul spends so much time and ink on the cause of urging Christians to let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27).  Count the number of verses in which St. Paul proclaims justification and then count the number of verses in which he urges the people of God by baptism and faith to live a holy life.  Is the preaching of a holy, upright, and godly life a tangent or is it, in St. Paul's estimation, preaching Christ and Him crucified?

In our Confessions, we do not shy away from preaching this full counsel of God.  In Article VI of the Solid Declaration:
Although those who believe in Christ are truly motivated by the Spirit of God, and do the will of God according to their inward person from a free spirit, nevertheless the Holy Spirit uses the written Law on them to teach them so that through it believers in Christ learn to serve God, not according to their own ideas, but according to His written Law and Word which is a certain rule and guiding principle for directing the godly life and behavior according to the eternal and unchanging will of God.

Listen to what Luther taught:
“The gospel is simply the promises of God declaring the benefits offered to man. Among these benefits are those declarations of God’s commandments and the exhortations to keep them, which Christ made in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.” (Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows [1521], LW 44:256)

That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today, who are preaching beautifully and (as I cannot but think) with real sincerity about Christ’s grace, about the forgiveness of sin and whatever else can be said about the doctrine of redemption. But they flee as if it were the very devil the consequence that they should tell the people about the third article, of sanctification, that is, of the new life in Christ. They think one should not frighten or trouble the people, but rather always preach comfortingly about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and under no circumstances use these or similar words, “Listen! You want to be a Christian and at the same time remain an adulterer, a whoremonger, a drunken swine, arrogant, covetous, a usurer, envious, vindictive, malicious, etc.!” Instead they say, “Listen! Though you are an adulterer, a whoremonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all!”

Tell me, my dear man, is that not granting the premise and denying the conclusion? It is, indeed, taking away Christ and bringing him to nought at the same time he is most beautifully proclaimed! And it is saying yes and no to the same thing. For there is no such Christ that died for sinners who do not, after the forgiveness of sins, desist from sins and lead a new life. Thus they preach Christ nicely with Nestorian and Eutychian logic that Christ is and yet is not Christ. They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach de sanctificatione et vivificatione Spiritus Sancti, “about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit,” but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extoll so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, he has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men— we die unto sin and live unto righteousness, beginning and growing here on earth and perfecting it beyond, as St. Paul teaches. Christ did not earn only gratia, “grace,” for us, but also donum, “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin. Now he who does not abstain from sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians; the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry, “Christi! Christi!” He must be damned with this, his new Christ.

Now see what evil logicians we are in sublime matters that are so far beyond or remote from us that we simultaneously believe and disbelieve something. But in lowly matters we are exceedingly keen logicians. No matter how stupid a peasant is, he soon understands and figures out this: he who gives me a groschen is not giving me a gulden. This follows as a matter of course, and he sees the logic of it clearly. But our Antinomians fail to see that they are preaching Christ without and against the Holy Spirit because they propose to let the people continue in their old ways and still pronounce them saved. And yet logic, too, implies that a Christian should either have the Holy Spirit and lead a new life, or know that he has no Christ. Nevertheless, these asses presume to be better logicians than Master Philip and Aristotle— I must not mention Luther because the pope was made to feel only their logic— they soar far too high for me! Well, then, the logic of Nestorius and Eutyches is a common plague, especially with reference to Holy Scripture; but in other matters it acquits itself better, although it plagues jurists and rulers enough in subtle matters, where they have to hear a yes and no at the same time and have difficulty in distinguishing the two.   (Blessed Martin Luther, On The Councils And The Church; AE 41:114-116)
Luther's Small Catechism reminds us:
What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.  This is most certainly true.  (or read the Table of Duties at the end of the Catechism)

Read here an article by the Rev. Edward Engelbrecht.

Read here an article by the Rev. Todd Wilken.

Listen to Dr. Kurt Marquart on the subject of the Third Use of the Law here.


Anonymous said...

Extremely well said, Pr. Peters.


Anonymous said...

And then there is the other side of the horse. See Dr. Rod Rosenbladt’s video titled, “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church.” Which condition is more pervasive? Moralism, as Pelagius developed it, or antinomianism?

Anonymous said...

There is no "other side of the horse" and suggesting there is and then once more again appealing to Rosenbladt is simply a false alternative. The antidote to "moralism" is not ditching Biblical content in our preaching and teaching.

Anonymous said...

So, what Rosenbladt said is invalid? I’d like to see the evidence. Please provide the links and I will be grateful.

Pastor Peters said...

The words of the Law are the same but they are far different in preaching when they are directed to those who need to be brought to repentance and when they are directed to those who have received the fullness of God's gift and blessing in baptism, who confess faith, and who should be encouraged in their new life of worship, witness, and works that flow from that baptism. Rosenbladt is speaking to a different concern -- the broken who hear the call to repentance over and over again and find themselves broken and stained and those who have born the scars of the daily battle with the sinful self and the world. My concern is those who come to church but do not seek or strive to be the new person baptism says they are. You preach to both and not to one or the other. The Law always accuses but it does not only accuse. It also directs the baptized in their life of faith. We preach to pain and hurt but we do not leave them without comfort and without the grace of the Spirit to not only be encouraged but to do, as best we may, better (amending our sinful lives while at the same time knowing fully the healing grace in which we stand).

Anonymous said...

The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side. One can't help him, no matter how one tries. He wants to be the devil's. (TT 630, 1533. LW 54:111)

I was thinking of this quote when I referenced Dr. Rosenbladt because it reminded me of how easily people err without solid doctrine. They either put too much emphasis on obedience to the Law or too much emphasis on their freedom in the Gospel to justify being lazy and not serving their neighbor and that is why understanding Scripture in view of Law and Gospel as Walther and the Confessors teach is so important. It is the Third Use of the Law that comes into play that the “average” Lutheran should not neglect.