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Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:10-13 KJV

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lutherans Write about the Sermon - Worship - III -
Thy Strong Word

Luther was the swan that rose from the ashes of Hus, as the Czech reformer predicted.
Lutherans follow Schwan instead.
Art by Norma Boeckler.

Part 3

Lutherans Write about the Sermon

"Now, all who wish to be saved ought to hear this preaching [of God’s Word]. For the preaching and hearing of God’s Word are instruments of the Holy Ghost, by, with, and through which He desires to work efficaciously, and to convert men to God, and to work in them both to will and to do. This Word man can externally hear and read, even though he is not yet converted to God and regenerate; for in these external things, as said above, man even since the Fall has to a certain extent a free will, so that he can go to church and hear or not hear the sermon."
Formula of Concord, SD, II, #52. Free Will. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 901f. Tappert, p. 531. Heiser, p. 246.

"Likewise those fastidious spirits are to be reproved who, when they have heard a sermon or two, find it tedious and dull, thinking that they know all that well enough, and need no more instruction. For just that is the sin which has been hitherto reckoned among mortal sins, and is called akedia, i. e., torpor or satiety, a malignant, dangerous plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives the hearts of many, that he may surprise us and secretly withdraw God’s Word from us."
The Large Catechism, #99, The Third Commandment, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 609. Tappert, p. 378. Heiser, p. 175. Exodus 20:8-11. Akedia: Aristotle's Ethics, IV.

"Against both these parties the pure teachers of the Augsburg Confession have taught and contended that by the fall of our first parents man was so corrupted that in divine things pertaining to our conversion and the salvation of our souls he is by nature blind, that, when the Word of God is preached, he neither does nor can understand it, but regards it as foolishness; also, that he does not of himself draw nigh to God, but is and remains an enemy of God, until he is converted, becomes a believer [is endowed with faith], is regenerated and renewed, by the power of the Holy Ghost through the Word when preached and heard, out of pure grace, without any cooperation of his own."
Formula of Concord, SD II. #5. Free Will. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 881. Tappert, p. 520f. Heiser, p. 241.

"All this is the old devil and old serpent, who also converted Adam and Eve into enthusiasts, and led them from the outward Word of God to spiritualizing and self-conceit, and nevertheless he accomplished this through other outward words. Just as also our enthusiasts [at the present day] condemn the outward Word, and nevertheless they themselves are not silent, but they fill the world with their pratings and writings, as though, indeed, the Spirit could not come through the writings and spoken word of the apostles, but [first] through their writings and words he must come. Why [then] do not they also omit their own sermons and writings, until the Spirit Himself come to men, without their writings and before them, as they boast that He has come into them without the preaching of the Scriptures?"
Smalcald Articles, Part III, VIII. #5-6. Confession. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 495. Tappert, p. 312f. Heiser, p. 147.

"Moreover [On the other side], both the ancient and modern enthusiasts have taught that God converts men, and leads them to the saving knowledge of Christ through His Spirit, without any created means and instrument, that is, without the external preaching and hearing of God’s Word."
Formula of Concord, SD II. #4. Free Will. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 881. Tappert, p. 520. Heiser, p. 241.

Gerhard: "The more purely the Word of God is preached in a Church, and the nearer the preaching and doctrine comes to the norm of the Holy Scripture, the purer will be the Church; the further it recedes from the rule of the Word, the more impure and corrupt will be the Church."
Cited in Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, p. 383f.

"Since the Word of God is this weapon [sword], it behooves us to make use of it at all times and to this end become acquainted with it both by means of public preaching and by earnest Bible study at home. Cursory reading must be supplemented by careful memorizing of proof-texts and strong passages. Only in this way shall we be able to make the proper use of the Word of God as a true weapon of offense at all times."
Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the New Testament, 2 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, II, p. 292. Ephesians 6:17.

"So much, we see, depends on the kind of men who preach the Gospel. Let all preachers keep this in mind! In the last analysis, however, the decisive assurance for all believers is the Word itself with its divine effects. See Galatians 1:8. In Thessalonians, too, the ultimate ground of assurance is the Word."
R. C. H. Lenski, Thessalonians, Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1937, p. 259. 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Galatians 1:8.

"So it goes in the spiritual government of the Church, as specially indicated in the narrative now before us. Where I have preached and taught during the past ten or twenty years, there another could perhaps, have done more in one year; and one sermon may bring forth more fruit than many others. Here, also, it is true that our labor, diligence and effort can accomplish nothing These two things must go together, namely, that each one does his duty, and that he, nevertheless, acknowledges with Peter: 'My labor cannot bring forth anything, if thou dost not give the increase.'"
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, IV, p. 153. Luke 5:1-11.

"God has chosen despised and frail human beings for the ministry of the Word that the divine power of the Word might become apparent—a power impossible to suppress even in the weakest of persons. Moreover, if the mighty of the world were to preach the Gospel, people would be captivated more by the authority of the person preaching than by the Word itself."
What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed. Ewald M. Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, III, p. 1118.

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables... "That is, we preach not the nonsense of men, but we are sure that what we preach is of God and has become so through our eyes and ears. That is to say, When we were with Christ upon the mountain, we saw and heard his glory."
Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude, ed. John N. Lenker, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990, p. 245. 2 Peter 1:16-18.

"That is the reason why our Church from the very beginning declared that it requires its preachers 'not to depart an inch' from its confessions, not to turn aside from the doctrines laid down in them, non tantum in rebus, sed etiam in phrasibus, that is, both as regards the matter offered in their sermons and the manner of their teaching."
C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 277.

The Pastor’s Role

"The Gospel ministry should spare no one, no matter how high the position may be which he occupies, but should rebuke wrong in everybody. This is why ministers and preachers exist. A very heavy burden is placed on them. They should so conduct their office that they stand ready to answer for it on Judgment Day. If they do not speak to you and rebuke in you what their office requires them to speak and to rebuke, God will require your blood from their hand. Tell me, why should we preachers burden ourselves still more by preaching to you as you desire? It is not our word. Nor do we live for your sake, as though you had ordered us, and we had to preach what you like. Preachers can, will, and should not do this. Therefore he who will not listen is free in God's name to walk out through the church door and let our Lord God keep His ministry unhindered."
            What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, III, p. 1114.

Lack of trust in the efficacy of the Word has led to a scornful attitude toward Lutheran pastors. Synodical leaders have no love for the Word of God, so they also despise the divinely called pastors under their oppressive and corrupt regimes. Synodical leaders effectively convey their contempt toward the Word and the clergy in dealing with congregations. Even if the congregation shares this contempt for the Word and deals with the pastor in the most evil and underhanded way possible, the minister is still obligated by his call to teach the Word in its truth and purity, regardless of the consequences. If the congregational leaders engage in adultery and have to be taken to court to pay support for the children of their previous marriages, they will not likely endure the pure Word of God. If the treasurer is a man who lives with and assaults his girlfriend and then damages the police car when he is arrested, he is only going to like corrupt pastors who flatter him. If the minister cuts a deal with the synod or the congregation to preserve his comfort through doctrinal compromise, he is no longer a shepherd, but a wolf with a shepherd’s crook, all the more dangerous for his disguise. Wolves love to run in packs, so the other wolves welcome him, especially if he has the sniveling, groveling attitude they crave.
Strangely, pastors have abandoned those who love the Gospel in favor of those who hate the Word and only see it in terms of benefiting themselves. The pan-Lutheran effort to promote unionism has created several generations of those who are completely indifferent to sound doctrine. Nevertheless, some remain who have not bowed the knee to Baal. The Word and Sacraments gather the congregation, so if the Gospel cannot be tolerated by one group of people, then there will be another who will listen and appreciate.
Now we are at the lowest point in Lutheran history, worse than the days before the Book of Concord was published. Pastors and congregations have the opportunity of re-discovering orthodox Lutheran doctrine. Many old Lutheran books are still circulating through book sales, so it is possible to gather a fine library in spite of what the synods are failing to do. When people read the Lutheran classics for the first time and discover names they have never known before, such as Loy, Jacobs, and Krauth, they are amazed that men could live in another century and deal with the same problems we are facing today. Even more exotic are the famous but obscure theologians of Europe. When I became a Lutheran, I could find their books in the college library in Latin, but nowhere else. Now I can at least own a selection of Gerhard, Chemnitz, Chytraeus, and Quenstedt, who are no longer just names in a Lutheran encyclopedia but clear, Gospel teachers, honored in the past for their great learning but scorned in the present for not marketing the Gospel with gimmicks and graphs.
Pastors, whether they are in a synod or independent, have the greatest flexibility in their use of time. They can control how to spend their time more easily than most professionals, or they can make themselves into victims of busy-work. Sometimes they are just lazy. A pastor’s time should be consumed with preparation for the sermon, adult classes, catechism, and visitation. He can and should ignore almost everything else. He is not the social director of the Love Boat. At meetings he should invoke the famous Kiwanis rule, “If you are in favor of this activity, you must also support it by helping out. Otherwise, do not talk in favor of something you have no intention of supporting or attending.” Pastors do not need to dither about social events, taking care of the property, or where to take the youth group on the next outing. Congregations have cleverly pushed their responsibilities onto the pastor by abandoning their own duties, then insisting that these non-essential jobs be done by him or his wife. One congregation railed at the previous pastor for taking too long on the production of the newsletter, then copied and assembled it themselves for two or three months. Suddenly they concluded that the newsletter was not needed at all. “No one reads it,” claimed the woman who had grown weary of Xeroxing, stapling, and addressing.

"Your first desire will be that all men may obtain the same knowledge of divine grace. Hence your love will not be restrained from serving all to the fullest extent, preaching and proclaiming the divine truth wherever possible, and rejecting all doctrine and life not in harmony with this teaching. But take note, the devil and the world, unwilling that their devices be rejected, cannot endure the knowledge of what you do. They will oppose you with everything great, learned, wealthy and powerful, and represent you as a heretic and insane."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 147.

I am quite sure that Luther did not have a Sunday School program, a baseball team, a flower chart, worship bulletins, or a coffee hour. If a congregation cannot get these going with their own labor, they should abandon them and not tell the pastor, “We refuse to do this on our own. It is now up to you to motivate us.” I was always impressed that members thought it was a good idea for me to deliver flowers to the shut-ins, whom I saw all the time. My idea was that shut-ins would love to see their own members every so often. Many times I organized an effort where all the members visited one another, and this was very beneficial for the entire congregation. It also frustrated those who loved being unhappy.
The lack of pastoral visitation today speaks eloquently about the lack of trust in the Word. If ministers believe in the power of the Word, they naturally take this power to people’s homes, to nursing homes, and to hospitals. They do not make appointments for people to see them in their offices. Hospital stays and family emergencies are so important that the minister should clear his schedule to be with his members when needed. In my opinion, one of the best uses of time is to sit with a family during an operation, to visit daily in the hospital, to spend extra time with a family during and after a funeral. Visiting with families in times of difficulty and in normal times will establish trust and build an interest in God’s Word.
Many skeptics will say, “This preaching, teaching, and visiting will consume all of a pastor’s time. There will be no more time left.” That is true. We all have 168 hours per week given to us by the Creator. It is best spent on important matters. Lutherans need to abandon the Methodist model of having special interest groups (World War II discussion groups, stamp collectors), special Sundays to bring out the crowds (girl scout, boy scout, Masonic Lodge recognition day, Civil Air Patrol, favorite cookie day), and ecclesiastical intramurals.518 Some people think that the ideal church has a gym, although few if any secular gyms have chapels. Of course people are free to organize sports through the congregation, but they should see all social activities as fruits of the Gospel and not as Gospel. One evangelism expert ran all around the Michigan Synod, LCA, telling pastors how to organize baseball teams in their congregations. That’s how he built up his congregation, with baseball teams. He was no longer serving a congregation or married to his wife, but he wanted to make a baseball game into the Means of Grace. Even the most jaded ministers were shocked by his devotion to gimmicks.

"Infinite and unutterable is the majesty of the Word of God, and we can never thank God enough for it. Human reason, however, thinks: Ah, if I could hear the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth, I would run to the end of the world! Listen, brother, God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does speak with you through His preachers; it is He who baptizes, instructs, and absolves you through the ministry of His Sacraments. These words of God are not words of Plato or Aristotle, but God Himself is speaking. And those preachers are the most suitable who very simply and plainly, without any airs and subtlety, teach the common people and youth, just as Christ taught the people with homespun parables. And those are the best and most suitable hearers who listen to the Word and do not doubt its teaching. They may be weak in faith; but as long as they do not doubt the doctrine, it is possible to help them."
            What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed. Ewald M. Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959 III, p. 1118.