Preaching assurance vs. preaching doubt

I have noticed that there are two kinds of preachers, especially when addressing young people: One kind tries to assure the listeners of their salvation in Christ, underscoring His grace and mercy and His atoning work on the Cross. The other kind tries to make the listeners question whether they are “really” Christians. (“Did you REALLY give your life to the Lord? Do you show the fruit of true faith? Does your life show evidence of true conversion? Maybe you need to commit your life to him again, just to be sure.”)

Granted the problem of nominal Christianity. And granted the need to make people realize how sinful they are so as to help them grasp their need of the Gospel. But I would argue that the latter approach can do great harm. The one thing that DOES make a Christian is faith in Christ. Doubt is the opposite of faith. To make a person doubt his or her salvation is, ironically, to destroy faith, rather than to build it up. Furthermore, these “are you really a Christian” messages have the effect of making the hearers look within, at their good works or their feelings or their piety or whatever. Surely, whenever we look honestly at ourselves we will find nothing to commend ourselves before God. Rather, what needs to happen is to encourage troubled or doubting souls to look OUTSIDE themselves to the Cross of Jesus and the promises of God’s Word, to objective facts about God’s disposition towards them (“Did God cause you to be baptized? Have you taken the Lord’s Supper and heard the words “given for you”?)

I wonder if the attempts to scare young people into greater piety may be having the opposite effect.

The Cross at Ground Zero

Although I did not want to dwell too much on the 9/11 ten year anniversary, the occasion brought out some fascinating stories that are worth our reflection, even though the anniversary is behind us.  Like this one, on the Cross at Ground Zero:

The shape was oddly identifiable in the blasted wreckage of the World Trade Center, standing upright amid beams bent like fork tines and jagged, pagan-seeming tridents. A grief-exhausted excavator named Frank Silecchia found it on Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the terrorist attacks. A few days later, he spoke to a Franciscan priest named Father Brian Jordan, who was blessing remains at Ground Zero.

“Father, you want to see God’s House?” he asked. “Look over there.”

Father Brian peered through the fields of shredded metal. “What am I looking for?” he asked. Silecchia replied, “Just keep looking, Father, and see what you see.”

“Oh my God,” Father Brian said. “I see it.”

As Father Brian stared, other rescue workers gathered around him. There was a long moment of silence as he beheld what he considered to be a sign. Against seeming insuperable odds, a 17-foot-long crossbeam, weighing at least two tons, was thrust at a vertical angle in the hellish wasteland. Like a cross. . . .

Shortly after its discovery, Father Brian persuaded city officials to allow a crew of volunteer union laborers to lift it out of the wreckage by crane and mount it on a concrete pedestal. They placed it in a quiet part of the site, on Church Street, where on Oct. 3, 2001, Father Brian blessed it with the prayer of St. Bonaventure. “May it ever compass Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee . . . ” When he finished, the crane operators sounded their horns, a choral blast.

Each week, Father Brian held services there. He became the chaplain of the hard hats. Whenever crews working to find the dead needed a blessing or a prayer or absolution, Father Brian would offer it. Sometimes victims’ families came to pray. The congregations grew from 25 or 35 to 200 and 300. . . .

In July, the nonprofit group American Atheists sued to remove it [from the National September 11 Memorial and Museum], calling it an unlawful and “repugnant” attempt to promote religion on public land. One group member told ABC News that it was “an ugly piece of wreckage” that connoted only “horror and death.”

via 9/11 memorials: The story of the cross at Ground Zero – The Washington Post.

It’s not necessary to accept this cross as a miraculous relic to appreciate what it means:  In the midst of the horrors of 9/11 and in the midst of all horrors, Christ–who took them all into Himself on His Cross–is there.

 

 

The Cross at Ground Zero

 

 

Cross at Ground Zero

 

What defines an “evangelical”?

Al Mohler has an interesting piece trying to define what is meant by “evangelical.”  He goes back into history, though strangely he says nothing about the source of the word in Lutheranism.  “Evangelical” used to be the name for “Lutheran,” in distinction to both Roman Catholics and Calvinists, a.k.a., “Reformed.”  The term comes from  evangelium, the Latin version of the Greek word for “good news”; that is, the Gospel.  And the Christian Gospel is that  salvation is a free gift, won by Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who atoned for the sins of the world when He died on the Cross and who rose from the dead for our justification.  “Evangelical” was used to describe Lutheranism because the Gospel is the “chief article” of its theology–not God’s sovereignty, not morality, not church government, but the Gospel–the linchpin of every other teaching, including Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

But I acknowledge that many other kinds of Christians–not just Lutherans–also believe in the Gospel and make it central, and they too can go by the name “evangelical.”

Dr. Mohler, whom I think highly of,  says that the term refers to conservative Protestants to distinguish them from liberal Protestants, as well as from  Catholics.  He then gives some description of evangelicals as a social group.  But I think that the term, to be meaningful, must retain its core meaning of holding to the centrality of the Gospel.  And some conservative Protestants do NOT make the Gospel central, not really, and so shouldn’t use the name “evangelical.”

If you believe that you are saved by your good works, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that salvation comes from how good you are, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you no longer believe in justification by grace through faith in Christ (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you do not believe in the Atonement (as many “evangelical” theologians don’t anymore), you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about creating a perfect society on earth,  you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe that Christianity is all about giving you prosperity, that the good news is about your earthly success, rather than the Cross of Jesus Christ, you are NOT an evangelical.

If you believe in faith, but put your faith in yourself, rather than in Christ (as I have heard “evangelicals” preach on TV), you are NOT an evangelical.

I’m not saying those I’m referring to may not be Christians–if they have even a trace of faith in the work of Christ, buried under all kinds of other teachings, they may be–but they should come up with other words for themselves.

What Makes Evangelicalism Evangelical?, Christian News.

The greatest in the kingdom of Heaven

More great preaching from our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, on the text Matthew 18:1-20.  Read it all.  Here is the beginning and the end.  Notice how the law passages are all brought down on Jesus:

In common thinking, the phase of life called childhood is something to pass through. But for Jesus, to become as a child is something to attain, and a place to remain.

In common thinking, children need to be taught to become adults. But for Jesus, adults need to be taught to become like children.

In common thinking, children grow up to become something great. But for Jesus, greatness is in being like a child.

Clearly, Jesus is looking at things quite differently than we often do.

For being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with your age. Whether you are the youngest of the young or the oldest of the old, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

Being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with how much you know. Whether you have been a Christian all your life and know your Scriptures and catechism well, or you are just beginning in this life of faith, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

Being a child with Jesus has nothing to do with how you act or your level of spiritual maturity. Whether you are a pastor or a layman, an apostle or a catechumen, a leader or a learner, you are a child in Jesus’ eyes.

And so the disciples’ question today, “Jesus, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” betrays the fact that they are not thinking as Jesus thinks, or seeing as Jesus sees. And so Jesus rattles them good! No beating around the bush with Jesus. He grabs a child – who, by the way, always seem to be around Jesus, have you ever noticed that? He grabs a child, stands him (or her) right in the midst of these big disciples and says: Here you go. Greatness. Be like this child. Humble yourselves. And if you don’t, you will never, ever, not in a million years or a million tries, enter the kingdom of heaven.

As usual, the disciples got more than they bargained for. But its always that way with Jesus. He is always giving more than we ask or imagine or think. And so the disciples ask a greatness question, and Jesus gives a faith answer.

For that’s really what this is. It’s not primarily about what we do, it’s about faith. For to be a child as Jesus is describing here means to be dependent. To be dependent upon your Father in heaven, like a child, for everything – to supply your needs, to give you your identity, to rescue you, and to protect you from your enemies. It is to acknowledge that you are, in fact, utterly dependent and in need of Christ and His provision. It is to be weak and vulnerable, and to learn to see yourself in this way.

For no matter how strong or high or learned or powerful you may be in the world and in the eyes of the world, none of that matters when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. Here, greatness is quite different. Here, greatness is to be among those whom Christ serves. And to see others and to serve others in the same way. . . .

And so you are the greatest when you are the least, for then all that you are and all that you have is of Christ and not of yourself, as He supplies your need, as He gives you your identity as His child, as He rescues you, and as He protects you. For greatness in the kingdom of heaven is not to accomplish the most, but to receive Christ and what He has done for you. For He has come and given His hand and feet and eyes in place of yours. He has taken the millstone you deserve and put it around His neck. He was cast into the hell of fire on the cross, for you, in your place.

And so if it is better for you to be hacked and plucked and drowned, far better is it for you that Jesus has come to do this for you! That the Father has sent His child, His beloved Son, to seek and to save the lost. That you have a faithful Father, a Good Shepherd, and a Spirit given to you and living in you. A Spirit by which we pray, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) as His children, and knowing that our Father has heard our prayer for Jesus’ sake, and will always do what is best and good for us. . . .

For Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Working! More huge words! Promise words. Words you can count on as you ride the Gospel all day, until your Father calls you to come into your heavenly home.

And with those words – did you notice? – we’re back where we started – except now the child in the midst of us is the very Son of God. And He really is. Not just in some mystical way – He really is! In His very Body and Blood, given to you here in the midst of your sin and mess. But He is not ashamed of you, to give Himself to you, to forgive you and give you life again. He is happy that you’re here. Not because of all that you accomplished this week, but because you are His little one. Which makes you great. For in the end, greatness is not what you do, it’s who you are. And you are a child of God.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 12 Sermon.

Not tasting death until Christ comes in His Kingdom

There is that passage in Matthew 16 in which Jesus says that there are among those listening to him at that moment who will not taste death until He comes in His kingdom.  Liberal Bible critics say, “See, Jesus and the early church thought that the Second Coming would be imminent, and of course they were wrong.”   Some more conservative Bible scholars say, “See, Christ’s  Second Coming happened with His resurrection, or was some kind of spiritual event that happened before the Romans destroyed  the Temple,” while others explain it in other ways.

But look what our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, did with it in his sermon on Sunday (part of the sermon I linked to yesterday):

You are among those who will not taste death until you see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. For the Son of Man and His kingdom is coming not just in the future, on the last day – His kingdom is coming already now, and is here, where His Word and Spirit are working, gathering, forgiving, sanctifying, and strengthening. For as the catechism teaches us to understand the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Thy kingdom come: How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity (Small Catechism: Explanation of the Second Petition).

And so as our heavenly Father gives His Holy Spirit here in baptism, in the preaching of the Word, in absolution, in His Supper, His kingdom is coming. Coming to you. It is His work, the work of the cross, for you. For the cross is how Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God for you. The cross is everything. Or as Luther put it around the start of the Reformation: The cross is our only theology.

Jesus must go to the cross. You must bear your cross. This talk should not surprise us. For it is how your Father in heaven loves you and saves you. Which doesn’t make it easy, but does make it good.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 11 Sermon.

Many people treat the Bible as just an assemblage of facts, history, and doctrine.  Of course it includes such things.  But consider another dimension:  It is God’s Word; that is, God’s voice personally addressing those who hear it, with the purpose of bringing them to repentance and faith.

A lot of texts we fight over, perhaps with good reason (the details of creation; the last days), and yet what does it do to them to read them as means of grace?

“Get behind me, Satan!”

What we heard from Pastor Douthwaite on Sunday, preaching on Matthew 16:21-28:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Ouch. Poor Peter. He meant well. He really did. He loved his Lord. He had come a long way since that first day by the Sea of Galilee. And yet, with this word of Jesus, he seems back on square one. No, actually, it’s worse than that. For while before he might not have known Jesus from Adam, at least he wasn’t working against the Lord – he was minding his own business. But now, not only does Jesus call him Satan, an enemy of God, he then says you, Peter, are getting in my way! You are a hindrance to me. You’re not thinking right. Your mind is not on the things of God but on the things of man. . . .

Now, what did he say that caused such a violent reaction from Jesus? He said: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” in response to Jesus’ statement that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter was thinking: Jesus, as I just said, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are the Son of the God who brought His people out of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea for them, who kept them through the wilderness, fed them with manna, gave them water to drink from a rock, and who is mightier than all the armies of the world. You are the Son of the God who created all things and keeps the sun and moon and stars and earth in their courses. You are the Son of the God who feeds all living things, like you fed the over 5,000 in the wilderness not too long ago. There is no one greater than you and your Father in heaven. He won’t let this happen to you. He will protect you. He will stop those who oppose you and seek your life. . . .

Peter is trying to tell Jesus how to do His job; how to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Which is what we do, too. We confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And maybe even one better than Peter, we know the story of the cross, of His death and resurrection, and forgiveness and all of that. We got that. . . . Yet when we find out what that means for our life, how often do we think as Peter thought? When pain and suffering come into your life. No, Lord. When faithfulness to God’s Word means giving up what you want and think you need. No, Lord. When we’re told, as we heard from St. Paul today, to bless those who persecute you . . . to be patient in tribulation . . . to feed and give drink to your enemy. No, Lord. When earthquakes and hurricanes threaten. No, Lord. When being a Christian means bearing the cross. No, Lord. I’d really rather not, Lord. Some other time, Lord. Somebody else, Lord. No, Lord, I’m your child. Shouldn’t I get good things, Lord? Long life, Lord? Blessings and not sadness, Lord? No, Lord. No. . . .

The cross is how Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, still today, is for you. For the purpose of His cross, and the crosses that you bear, are not just His death and resurrection, but your death and resurrection with Him. You’re going to one day die because you’re a sinner. You cannot get around that. But to die with Christis quite a different thing. It means to die a death that ends in resurrection and life. And it is a death and resurrection that is already taking place in you, as you die and rise with Christ in baptism, as you die and rise with Christ in repentance. As you die to your old way of life, your old way of thinking, your Old Man’s “No, Lord,” and rise to live a new life, a “yes, Lord” life, a right-side-up-in-an-upside-down-world life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 11 Sermon.


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