An Entirely Wrong Scriptural Sermon

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C.F.W. Walther gives us some insight into why not every sermon (or song, for that matter) that is built from the Scriptures is a true or orthodox sermon.

That is the litmus test of a proper sermon.  The value of a sermon depends not only on whether every statement in it is taken from the Word of God and on whether it is in agreement with the same but also on whether Law and Gospel have been rightly distinguished.  If the same building materials are provided to two different architects, sometimes one will construct a magnificent building, while the other, using the same materials, will make a mess of it.  Because he is dim-witted, the latter may want to begin with the roof, or place all the windows in one room, or stack layers of stone or brick in such a way that the wall will be crooked.  One house will be out of plumb and such a bungled piece of work that it will collapse, while the other will stand firm and be a habitable and pleasant place to live.  In like manner, two different sermons might contain all the various doctrines–and while the one sermon may be a glorious and precious piece of work, the other may be wrong throughout.  …

This frequently happens when students give sermons. [Walther is giving lectures to seminary students.]  You will hear comforting remarks such as “It is all by grace,” only to be followed by “We must do good works,” which are then followed by statements such as “With our works we cannot gain salvation.”  There is no order to such sermons.  Nobody understands them–least of all the person who needs one of these doctrines most.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel, 37-38

Walther and Luther on Open Altars

“[The itinerant (e.g., Methodist) preacher] uses the holy Supper as bait, as a means of luring the people into the net of his fanaticism and sectarianism. But do not many so-called ‘Lutheran’ preachers follow a similar practice! We have sadly experienced that not a few of the preachers who call themselves Lutherans, when they have prepared the holy table for the Sacrament, invite to this means of grace anyone who wants to come and admit them without any examination of their faith and life (in the opinion that this is truly evangelical). It is to be feared that many act this way for impure reasons, to be considered really ‘nice, broad-minded’ men and to be praised… There is hardly anything in all pastoral care [lit. “care of souls”] that gives a faithful minister of the church more trouble than if he wants to act conscientiously in admitting people to the holy Supper. If an orthodox Lutheran pastor takes over a new congregation and wants to admit no member to the Lord’s Table until he has spoken to each individual and learned from his mouth that he knows what the holy Supper is; that he acknowledges that he is a miserable sinner; that he in his heart believes in God’s Word; that he desires grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s Blood; also that he earnestly intends to follow Christ in a holy life, unspotted by the world, and the like; what harsh resistance he usually meets right away! How many enemies he usually makes right away! How seldom it proceeds without divisions arising! How often he sees himself required to travel on right away and to hear it said that he wanted to lord it over the congregation” (Walther, Pastoral Theology, transl. John M. Drickamer [New Haven, Missouri: Lutheran News, Inc., 1995]), 108.

“Christendom should remain united, should have the same faith and doctrine. To assure this unity among Christians, these must not only congregate for the preaching service—in which they hear the same Word, whereby they are called to the same faith and all together adhere to the same Head—but they must also congregate at one table and eat and drink with one another. It may well happen that someone who is listening to my sermon is nevertheless my enemy at heart. Therefore although also the Gospel holds Christians together, the Lord’s Supper does so still more. By attending it every Christian confesses publicly and for himself what he believes. There those who have a different faith part ways, and those meet who have the same faith, whose hope and heart toward the Lord are one.

“This is also the reason why the Sacrament has been called Communio in Latin, a communion. And those who do not want to be of the same faith, doctrine, and life, as other Christians are, are called excommunicatis, people who are dissimilar in doctrine, words, understanding, and life. Therefore these should not be tolerated in the group that has the same understanding; they would divide it and split it up. The Holy Sacrament, then, serves as a means whereby Christ holds His little flock together” (What Luther Says 812:2521).

“It terrifies me to hear that in one and the same church or at one and the same altar both parties are to find and to receive one and the same Sacrament and one party is to believe that it receives nothing but bread and wine, while the other is to believe that it receives the true body and blood of Christ. And I often wonder whether it is credible that preacher or shepherd of souls can be so hardened and malicious as to say nothing about this and to let both parties go on in this way, receive one and the same Sacrament, everyone according to his own faith, etc. If such a person exists, he must have a heart harder than any stone, steel or adamant; he must, in fact, be an apostle of wrath….Whoever, therefore, has such preachers or suspects them to be such, let him be warned against them as against the devil incarnate himself” (WLS 813:2522).

On Synod Conventions

From the first president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:

Here in America, we also use the arrangement of a synod [or council] to carry on the business of the Church; God forbid that we ever get to the point where we merely put on a big show and then have a convention in which we discuss all sorts of peripheral piffle about ceremonies, rules, and insignificant trifles.  Instead of that, may we always concentrate on the study of doctrine. …

To be sure, many synods have tried to imitate us in this practice….But how do they go about it?  One particular synod presented more than a hundred theses for discussion! … You see, whenever they got to the point where the synod had to make a decision, they repeatedly postponed a decision until the next year.  The only proper procedure is that you do not rest until you have achieved a clear and complete agreement.  When you then go home, you go your separate ways only in a physical sense, but spiritually you remain totally unified so that the devil cannot stir up any divisions. …

Therefore a synod’s primary purposes are 1) unity of confession and 2) integrity of practices.

Thank God, there is hardly a single primary doctrine that we have not thoroughly discussed in our Synod during the past thirty years.  And that is what we must continue to do.  That this is so important is evident from, among other things, the fact that more laypeople attend our doctrinal discussions than attend our business sessions[!].  It is our doctrine that makes our Synod so dear to their hearts. …

If the study of doctrine is not the number one priority at synodical conventions, then one of two things will happen: Either the convention will be manufacturing laws, or even worse, it will degenerate into an affair of mutual praise, love, assurance, and life insurance.

(C.F.W Walther, “Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” At Home In The House of My Fathers, 299, 300, 301.)

May God preserve an Evangelical Lutheran Synod this week, and keep the convention from being “an affair of mutual praise, love, assurance, and life insurance”!



When a Lutheran candidate of theology is assigned to a parish

Today is not only the anniversary of my wedding, but it is the anniversary of my ordination into the Office of the Holy Ministry and installation as pastor in my current parish.

This is the first thing that came to mind:

My friends: When a Lutheran candidate of theology is assigned to a parish where he is to discharge the office of a Lutheran preacher, for him that place ought to be the dearest, most beautiful, and most precious spot on earth.  He should be unwilling to exchange it for a kingdom.  Whether it is in a metropolis or in a small town [yes], on a bleak prairie [yes–well, not so bleak] or in a clearing in the forest, in a flourishing settlement or in a desert–for him that place should be a miniature paradise.  Do not the blessed angels descend from heaven with great joy whenever the Father in heaven sends them to minister to those who are to inherit salvation?  Why, then, should we poor sinners be unwilling to hurry after them with great joy to a place where we can lead other people–fellow sinners–to salvation?  [C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel, 20th Evening Lecture (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010), 225]


Walther’s 200th Birthday and the Festival of the Reformation

In his Reformation sermon of 1872, Walther wrote this:

Unfortunately, there are now many who are called Lutheran, who do not know what a great grace it is to be a member of the true church of God on earth.  They consider this such a minor thing that, even on a day like today, they do not consider it worth the effort of showing up in the house of the LORD along with their brothers to thank God for it…They only remain with the evangelical Lutheran Church because they were born into it or because their relatives or good friends are in it.  When they are tempted to leave the church they depart from it all too easily. …

Well then, my brothers, let us retain what we have, so that no one rob us of our crown.  Let us not be offended or angered that our evangelical Lutheran church stands before the world, small and insignificant.  That is exactly how a true church must look in an age of general apostasy, as in our time. [!]  Oh, let us not forsake the banner of the pure doctrine of the Gospel which God has raised upon the steeple of Zion for the redemption and the warning of souls in this terrifying age!  In these turbulent times the task confronting us is too great to be put into words.  Oh, as much as we value our salvation, let us not become unfaithful to her.  Let us not only reject and trample under foot every benefit we might gain by falling away from her, but let us also be prepared to suffer a thousand deaths rather than deny or surrender even one iota of the pure Gospel that has been entrusted to us Lutherans. (p. 16, 17-18, transl. Joel Baseley)

I, for my part, cannot understand why people who leave the Lutheran Church, who have denied and forsaken their confirmation vows, who hate everything she stands for, who would never darken a door of one of her congregations unless compelled by family, funeral, or wedding, who despise our “legalism” and our “arrogance,” still manage to huff and puff that we will not allow them to commune at Christ’s altar with us.  Go back, please, to your “open-minded,” “progressive,” “Gospel-motivated,” “open-hearts-and-open-arms” church, then.  We refuse to change; what’s the point of continually getting upset about it?  Go be happy in your “nice” churches, and leave us to our “meanness.”  Everyone wins, no?