The newly installed president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), Matthew C. Harrison, had an excellent article in The Lutheran Witness entitled “Beginning with Repentance.” However, everything that Pastor Harrison said applies to all Lutherans and Christians in America. Too many of us are focused on what will make earthly congregations grow, when what we need to focus on is repentance.
The greatest eras in the history of the Church have all begun with repentance. Those times when the Gospel of free forgiveness by faith in Jesus Christ has shone brightest … have all begun with the preaching of repentance.
It’s hardly a coincidence that John the Baptizer’s first recorded words were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2). It’s no accident that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth when He began His public ministry were likewise, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 4:17). And note that the text says, “from that time [forward] Jesus began to preach” repentance.
Jesus, the greatest preacher ever, was throughout His ministry a preacher of repentance. After Jesus’ death and resurrection … Peter repented and was restored following his own miserable defection and denial. And then Peter and the rest of the apostles burst upon the world with a glorious preaching of repentance. At Pentecost, Peter preached the thunder of the Law: “‘This Jesus whom you crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Peter responded with the sweet comfort of the Gospel: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:36–38).
The Reformation began the same way. The very first words of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses declare: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ says ‘Repent,’ he wills that the entire life of the Christian be one of repentance.” The Reformation began with a divine call to repentance—with a confession of sin and a rejection of the delusion that human activity can in any way, whole or in part, bring about salvation or divine favor.
Why have we lacked missionary zeal? Why have we been so divided? Why have we failed to love each other? … Why has our preaching so often lacked urgency and biblical depth? Are we preacher therapists, or are we prophets of God with a clear message of Law and Gospel? Are we still the Church that preaches Jesus’ own message of repentance?
Pastor Harrison then reminded his flock that they have no right to be smug. All Confessional Lutherans in America should take this reminder to heart. We have a tremendous gift, a tremendous wealth of blessing; but too often we take God’s grace for granted. We imagine that it is within our power to hold on to God’s grace & truth, and that God’s grace & truth cannot be lost. However, the prophet David cried out to God: “Do not cast me from your presence, or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11). Also,
Luther reminded the Germans of his day that the precious Gospel can be and has, in fact, been lost by whole nations…
The good news is that the Lord delights in having mercy upon sinners, just like us. In fact, “Christ dwells only in sinners” (Luther). That means that Christ dwells only in a Church made up of sinners—people and pastors just like us. If we won’t be sinners (Repent!), we shall have no Savior…
May the Lord grant us repentance, all of us, that the Gospel not pass from us and that we poor sinners … might be His own tool to preach repentance, forgiveness, and faith in His name …
A call to repentance is the proper way to begin a Christian ministry. Click here to read the entire text of Pastor Harrison’s excellent article.