The Sum of Christian Preaching

Some pastors do not know how to preach the Gospel.  They have confused motivational speaking and music with the power of God’s word.  So here is a brief summary of what the preaching of the Gospel is.

The sum of the preaching of the Gospel is this:

•  to convict of sin;

•  to offer for Christ’s sake the forgiveness of sins and righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life;

•  and that as reborn people we should do good works.

So Christ includes the sum of the Gospel when He says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).

Book of Concord: “Apology of the Augsburg Confession,”
Article XIIA (V). Repentance, 29.

This is why Paul resolved to know nothing in Church “except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  The Gospel was not preached “in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that … faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”  (1 Corinthians 2:2-5, ESV).

We Can Choose Our Opinions, Not Our Facts

Sane men can choose their opinions, but they cannot choose their facts.  The Holy Scriptures are not just a collection of God’s opinions, but rather they are factual assertions.  (2 Peter 1:12-16).  The Scriptures say: “This happened.”

Many think that faith is defined as belief apart from evidence.  Some even say that faith is virtuous because it believes without evidence.  In so doing, they actually define faith as self-delusion.

On the other hand, true faith is trust in Christ who himself is the factually incarnate evidence of God’s love and mercy.  God does not expect us to trust in him apart from the evidence (Christ), but rather that we trust in him only because of the evidence (Christ).

True faith is created only by Christ through the promise of word and sacrament, not by our choices.  True and reliable trust is created only by that which factually is trustworthy.  God alone is factually true, reliable, and trustworthy, therefore, he alone can create and maintain true faith.  (Hebrews 12:2 & 2 Peter 1:20-21).

We are saved through faith, and faith is not from ourselves, “it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Give Thanks for Thanksgiving

In a good sense, Thanksgiving is about what we do: we give thanks.  In a better sense, it is about what we have to be thankful for.  All the living have something for which to be thankful.  In the best sense, Thanksgiving is about the God who has given us every good thing.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  (James 1:17).  So let us give thanks in everything and at all times.  God gave us these gifts, and continues to give, not just so that we have, but so that we would be thankful.  One of the best gifts God gives is a heart full of thanksgiving: a heart that recognizes its need and is grateful for every thing.  And that is his goal: not just to give us good things, but to make us good things.

That is the Law & Gospel: that we so profoundly do not deserve what in Christ we so abundantly have.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16).

Give thanks for true thanksgiving, forever.

Intrepid Lutherans on Plagiarism

Recently, Intrepid Lutherans hosted a poll dealing with the topic of pastoral plagiarism.  This poll asked the question: “Is it acceptable for a pastor to commit plagiarism?”  Here are the results of their poll:

  • No.  Plagiarism is fraudulent misrepresentation — 166 votes – 87%
  • Maybe, if everyone else is doing it — 1 vote – 1%
  • Maybe, if it’s not copyrighted — 9 votes – 5%
  • Maybe, if it helps spread the Gospel — 14 votes – 7%

This poll was then followed by a series of blog posts on Intrepid Lutherans.  Each post is a worthwhile read:

It is good that Intrepid Lutherans attempted to tackle this issue.  They made many good points, and appear to have brought some WELS pastors to repentance.  There is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents.  (Luke 15:7).

However, what about the WELS pastors who were confronted privately by other laity & pastors, and they refused to repent?  What about a District President who appears to justify plagiarism by saying that “many WELS pastors” do it?

Plagiarism is a Sin.  It is foolish to attempt to justify plagiarism because (allegedly) many WELS pastors routinely take credit for other people’s work.  Church leaders who say this not only defend sin, they defame other WELS pastors who are children of God.

It is likewise foolish to attempt to justify plagiarism because one is allegedly spreading the gospel.  Plagiarism is a sin, and the wages of sin is death.  (Romans 6:23).  The Gospel brings life, therefore, the Gospel is the antithesis of sin.  Trying to excuse sin for the sake of the Gospel is damnable heresy.  (Romans 6:15).

Why do so many religious leaders think that the rules do not apply to them?  What causes such arrogant pride, that those whose full time vocation is to teach Law & Gospel and to conquer sin, would so brazenly engage in sin, and teach others to sin?  Oh pastors, the rules do apply to you!  Do you think that because you are pastors, God will be more lenient?  No, those “who teach will be judged more strictly.”  (James 3:1).

How long shall we wait for repentance?  How many times should we call to repent?  Should we wait a year for pastoral repentance?  Should we wait a year and a half?  Should we wait two years for repentance?  Is it too much to expect that pastors would be forthright and honest?  Is it too much to expect that WELS pastors would not teach others to sin by their bad example?  Is it too much to expect that when confronted a WELS pastor would confess his sin and repent?  Or should we expect unending deceit until Christ returns?

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.  Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.  I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

— Matthew 5:25-26.

Be clear that the judge spoken of by Christ in Matthew 5 is not the District President.  When Christ demands an accounting of His shepherds and how they have cared for His flock, the District President will not be able to defend.  District Presidents cannot save (Psalm 146:3), and God does not tolerate those who teach His children to sin.

“… if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin!  Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!

… if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”

— Matthew 18:6-7, 9.

The “wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23).  Therefore, repent.  Then “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves,”  We are WELS pastors who grow the church.  For out of the very stones God can make true Christians.  (Matthew 3:8-9).

It is good that Intrepid Lutherans were able to proclaim truth, and call some to repentance.  However, what about the rest of the WELS?  There needs to be repentance.  And there also needs to be resignations from those church leaders who have engaged in sin and refused to repent, and also those who have defended and protected sin.

Images in His Divine Service

In response to the post “PowerPoint makes us stupid,” some readers raised the issue of images in the Divine Service.

The use of images during the Divine Service and even during the sermon is not wrong, however, the use of a TV during the Divine Service does make it very easy to use poorly chosen images.  Some images I have seen on TV in church, but never in a stained glass window, are: a tacky tie, a fruitcake, and a car wash pass, etc.  (These examples were drawn from a sermon preached by District President Engelbrecht for St. Peter congregation‘s 140th anniversary celebration).

Clearly, the standard for the teaching quality of images on TV is lower than for statues, banners, flags, and windows.

The TV also makes it easier to display images of created glory as opposed to images of the revealed gospel.  Depictions of natural wonder and beauty on TV are common.  Many can go out and take pictures of trees, but painting a good picture of the life of Jesus is much more difficult.  (And even then, someone still needs to confess who the man in the picture is, and why he is important).

Pictures of falling snow, beautiful clouds, flowers, mountain ranges, and smiling faces could be used to teach about the glory of God; but they cannot teach the Gospel.  Most Lutheran stained glass windows do not depict natural wonder, but instead opt for images and symbols that teach about doctrine and Church history.  Lutherans allow and praise images for their teaching ability, but what would the Reformers say about pictures of golden sunsets and rubber duckies during the Divine Service?  Are such pictures frivolous?  Do they teach the Gospel, or do they detract?

There is a popular saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.  That may be, but is every picture worth a thousand words of the Gospel?

“Seek God’s will rather than the rewards.”

Obedience to the Law apart from faith does not justify, but those who have been justified will necessarily produce fruit worthy of the Holy Spirit, repentance, and justification.

“[W]hen obedience happens in those who have been justified, it merits other great rewards.  [However] God puts His saints to work in various ways, and often holds back the rewards of works-righteousness.  He does this so that they may learn not to trust in their own righteousness, and may learn to seek God’s will rather than the rewards.  This can be seen with Job, Christ, and other saints.”

Book of Concord; “Apology of the Augsburg Confession:”
Love and Fulfilling the Law, paragraphs 76-77.  Emphasis added.

Plagiarism is a Sin

The WELS produced video below teaches us that it is wrong to plagiarize.  The description says: “Sinning results in breaking the trust of God and of others, and has consequences, but grace always forgives.  (Psalm 51, Proverbs 16:13).”

The young lady in the video repented of her sin, and received forgiveness.  She also was put on report, and received the consequence of getting an F on her paper.  Even though there are consequences for sin in this world, heaven rejoices when we repent of our sins, and avoid the eternal consequence.

However, what would have happened had Ginger (the young lady) not repented?  What if she had said, “I’m offended that you would even ask me about plagiarism”?  What if she had refused to answer the charge of plagiarism, and then defended her plagiarism by saying that she had the permission of the original author to surreptitiously copy?  What if she had stood by that phony defense even after it was explained to her that that was wrong?  What if after repeated private rebukes she continued to plagiarize paper after paper, week after week, year after year, and refused to stop plagiarizing?  What if she expected and demanded passing grades for her plagiarized work?  What if she started teaching others that plagiarism was not a sin, but rather was an acceptable practice in school and the workplace?

What should the Church do with someone like that?  Should the Church continue to sweep such behavior under the carpet?  Should the Church do nothing?  Should the Church defend and promote unrepentant sinners who teach others to sin?

Martin Luther wrote in his Commentary on Galatians:

But if they obey the flesh in fulfilling the lusts thereof, then do they lose faith and the Holy Ghost.  And if they do not abhor their sin and return unto Christ (who hath given the keys to his Church, to receive and raise up those that be fallen, that so they may recover faith and the Holy Ghost), they die in their sins.  Wherefore we speak not of them which dream that they have faith, and yet continue still in their sins.  These men have their judgment already:  They that live after the flesh shall die [Rom. 8:13], … they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

[Martin Luther, Selections from his Writings by John Dillenberger; Anchor Books, 1961, pages 152-153].

Plagiarism is a sin.  This law applies to laymen, students, teachers, and pastors.  Plagiarism is a sin.  Anyone who repeatedly rejects rebuke over this sin is on the road to hell, and should not be a leader in the Christian Church.  There must be consequences for those who openly engage in sin, and teach others to sin.

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  (Matthew 18:6).  “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.”  (1 Timothy 5:20).

Recently, a WELS pastor in Fond du Lac resigned over allegations of theft.  (Fond du Lac Reporter).  Plagiarism is a form of theft, it steals wages that are payed for original work and the trust of those who listen.  Plagiarism is also deceit.  Plagiarism is a sin, and the Church needs to deal with sin by exercising the office of the keys, and also by removing from the ministry those who persist in unrepentant sin.

The Church needs to rebuke and discipline for the sake of the eternal souls of those involved in sin and also those who may be led astray by their bad example, and for the sake of proclaiming the truth.  The Church is called, not to condemn just the sins we personally find abhorrent, but also those sins we personally cherish.  All sin leads to death, and plagiarism is a sin.

Repent.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23).

“Christ’s Love, Our Calling”

wels_logo“Christ’s Love, Our Calling” is a summary of God’s word that the WELS has decided to proclaim in unity.  When we practice a unified proclamation, we proclaim powerfully.

Why do we proclaim?  Because in love, God has made us his own in Christ.  In Christ we are new creatures, we are new creations.  We, the hate-filled and unwilling, have been and are being metamorphosed into those who are willing to love with courage.

This post is the first part in a series studying President Schroeder’s report to the WELS 2009 convention.  (The second two studies are “Called to Proclaim” and “Maintaining our confessional identity“).  Especially poignant in this section is the fact that Christ loved us from eternity, loves us now, and will love us forever.

Christ’s Love, Our Calling

by WELS President Mark Schroeder

Christ’s love.  It was Christ’s love for a world of sinners that compelled him to step down from his heavenly throne, to enter our world, and to become one of us.  It was that love that moved him to find us, even as he saw our weaknesses, our failures, and our willful rebellion.  Christ’s love led him to do all that we could not do—to live in perfect and complete harmony with the will of our holy Creator.  Christ’s love moved him to suffer what we deserved—bearing the brunt of God’s righteous justice, dying the death we rightly deserved, and experiencing the pains of hell itself.  In that love Christ came to this world to save us, to redeem us, and to set us free.

Christ’s love is not limited to what he did for us during his life on this earth.  His love extends eternally—into the past, now in the present, and forward into the future.

Even before time began, God’s love in Christ put his name on us.  “He chose us in Christ,” Paul says, “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:4-6).

Not only did he choose us in love from eternity.  His love surrounds us now and every day we live in this world.  It was Christ’s love which covered and adopted us in baptism.  It was Christ’s love which has brought the message of his saving work to our ears and which generated saving faith in our hearts.  Paul continues, “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure …  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13).  It’s a love that says to each of us in Word proclaimed and in sacrament administered, “My son, my daughter, be filled with joy, your sins are forgiven!” It’s a love that reaches out to us and says, “I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).  When we look at a sinful world with tear-filled eyes that so often do not see or understand, it is the assuring love of Christ that enables us to say with confidence, “We know that in all things—all things—God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

It’s a love that extends his promises to the future, to all of our days in this world and beyond, reminding us with solid comfort and assurance, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).  It’s a love that directs our eyes beyond this life and reminds us of our eternal destination: “I am going there to prepare a place for you … that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

It is this love of Christ—eternal, constant, undeserved, unfathomable, unbounded—that was demonstrated on the cross and proclaimed by the empty tomb.  It is Christ’s love which has established our relationship with God as his adopted children.  And it is this love which has brought us together as a Christian family, as spiritual brothers and sisters, in congregations large and small, and in a synod we love so dearly.

****

Our calling.  Christ’s love is not just an abstract concept.  It touches us.  It is active in us.  It has an effect on us.  It changes us.  And it compels us to respond.

This is not the compulsion of someone who feels a guilt-ridden sense of obligation.  This is not the compulsion of a debtor who feels a grudging duty to repay his debt.  Rather, this is the Spirit-worked compulsion of a child of God who says with eagerness and joy, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” (Psalm 119:32).  This is the compulsion of someone who has been the object of Christ’s love, who has been brought to believe his promises, and who responds with the apostles, “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).  This is the compulsion of people who gladly recognize their responsibility to defend and articulate God’s revealed truth.  This is the compulsion of people who have known the love of God in Christ and who embrace the God-given purpose for their lives-joyfully “declar[ing] the praises of him who has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Christ’s love, our calling.  It’s so much more than a slogan.  Rather, it’s a clear statement of timeless and wonderful truths: Christ’s love had made us who we are; our calling is all that God has privileged us to do in response.

IE Recognizes WELS President Schroeder’s Article

issueswidget-khaki-2

On Friday, February 27, 2009, the nationally renowned Lutheran talk radio program Issues, Etc.™ chose excerpts from an article written by WELS President Mark Schroeder entitled “How Do You Define Success?” for their segment Blog of the Week.  President Schroeder’s excellent article recently appeared in Forward in Christ, and was excerpted on this blog in the February 23 post: “Success” by WELS President Schroeder.”

Here is the downloadable Issues, Etc. clip:

The other blog chosen was a post entitled “Joel Osteen, Pork, & Shrimp” on WELS Pastor Strey’s WeblogPastor Strey’s Weblog is worth a visit.

“Success” by WELS President Schroeder

WELS President Mark Schroeder recently had an article in the February 2009 edition of Forward in Christ entitled: “How Do You Define Success?”  Here are some excerpts from that excellent article:

By most standards, his ministry was not much of a success…

From almost the beginning, he was embroiled in public controversies and disagreements with his coworkers and fellow believers.  He never stayed long in any one congregation.  No matter where he went, there were those who had no use for him and who did all they could to make his life and work miserable.  Often he would leave for his next congregation quickly, painfully aware that not everyone appreciated his efforts.

He never viewed himself as a particularly gifted preacher; he often stated that he was not up to the task in terms of his speaking skills.  He looked at his own personal failures and remarked to himself and others that he was not worthy to be doing this work.  He struggled continually with some kind of ailment that made his life and work difficult.  He never mentioned what it was…

In the end, he died alone, and the world did not much notice.

His was not a very successful ministry—unless you measure “success” in ministry by other standards.  This pastor and missionary who might be judged as a failure by any human standards was the apostle Paul.

Paul would agree that his personal abilities and accomplishments were few and far between.  But he did not—nor should we—measure the success of his ministry in those terms.  This was the man who recognized that the words he preached were not his words; they were the words of God himself.  He recognized that the power of his message was not in himself but in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  His was a ministry of the cross, proclaiming that God’s way of saving people through the cross, while foolish to the world, was nothing less than the wisdom and power and love of God.

Paul’s purpose was not to meet the “felt needs” of people but to lead them to see their real need: the need for forgiveness and redemption.  His mission was not to make the church grow in terms of numbers; his mission was to pummel hardened sinners with God’s law in all its condemning force and then follow with the precious news of forgiveness in Jesus.  He knew that his role was to plant the seed of the gospel in hearts; others would water it and watch the Holy Spirit make it grow and flourish after he was gone.  His confidence rested in knowing that it was God and God alone who would make it grow.

What kind of pastor do you want to serve as the shepherd of your congregation?  A powerful and dynamic speaker who draws people by the sheer force of his personality?  Someone with fantastic organizational skills?  Someone who is up on all the latest techniques for connecting with people?  Someone who seems to be “successful”?  Or would you prefer someone like the apostle Paul: always preaching Christ, always pointing to the cross, always demonstrating a love for souls by faithful proclamation of law and gospel?

Success, I suppose, all depends on how you define it.

True success is measured by the word of God, and by that standard alone, President Schroeder’s article is a success.