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Words out of place for today’s church?

False Prophets“Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the LORD, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ “Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the LORD, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the LORD.”

Jeremiah 23:31-32

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.  To many, even in the church today, these words from Jeremiah the prophet seem out of place.  “They are too rigid, too condemnatory, too judgmental.  They are words from an historical narrative, an unenlightened past, and don’t deserve our hearing.”

Though many in the church in today’s Christendom would immediately dismiss these words of our Lord through the prophet as irrelevant, irrelevant these words certainly are not!  To say that they are irrelevant to our day is essentially to declare that God’s Word for God’s people is only applicable for a certain time, place, and locale.  But a closer look at what God says reveals the truth far differently than that of today’s “enlightened” and “advanced” “Christianity.”

A closer look at Holy Scripture reveals that God’s people today face the similar temptations of those who have come before us in the faith, to deny the truth and to go after their own gods, even while claiming faith in the true God.  Today’s church faces the same struggles as the people of God in the Old and New Testaments and throughout the history of the Church, to compromise the faith, to follow the popular and “acceptable” way, and to live by sight (and experience) and not by faith in what the Lord says.

In Jeremiah’s day, prophets preached, not according to the Word that God had given them to preach, but according to the content of their own heart and that which the people wanted to hear. This was the easier way to go.  Just look at Jeremiah!  Look what his preaching got him—thrown into a pit, ridiculed, despised, rejected by the people.  Who wants that?  I know that I don’t.

Jeremiah didn’t have an easy time with the people, for they didn’t listen.  Yet his calling was not to please people or to say what they wanted to hear (Ephesians 6:6).  His calling was to speak the truth, the very words that God gave him to speak:  “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’ Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ But the LORD said to me: ‘Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,’ says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

Jeremiah’s words were not to be his own, but God’s.  The same applies to those who preach with the name clergy today.  However, as in JerNo Compromiseemiah’s day, so today, there are those who say that the Lord says where the Lord has not said.  Today, there are those who say what people want to hear, who compromise the truth for acceptance by the world, and who condemn those who speak the truth as unloving, intolerant, and hate-mongers, even though they are simply making the same distinctions that God Himself makes in Holy Scripture.

Most certainly, there are those who do say what they say in spite or in anger.  There are those, too, who speak uncharitably and not out of love for neighbor.  Yet how something is said should not take precedence over what is said.

The litmus test for the truth is not how we sinners view or respond to the message.  Just because we get excited about the preaching because of the dynamism of the preacher, or “get into the service” because of the beat of the music, these don’t immediately translate into “God at work.”  In contrast, just because the preaching is unappealing and the service slow or dull doesn’t mean that God is not at work.

The true litmus test for cross1true preaching and the faithful worship service is not how you feel during or afterwards or what you get out of the sermon, how moving the message was, or how people react.  The true litmus test is simply this, the Gospel rightly preached and the Sacraments administered according to the Lord’s institution.  The music, hymns, responses, etc. should all point to Christ and what God has done in Him.  Where they do not, be on guard, and closely examine Scripture.  Yet, even where the preaching is right, and the congregation seeks to be faithful, and the worship is Christ-centered, continue to examine Scripture, for those who are of God hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27).  They continue in His Word (John 8:31-32), and they know Him and His ways, not according to what they see, feel, or experience, but according to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

Also to remember is this, as St. Peter reminds us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  We remain sober and vigilant as we look to the Lord and His Word (See also Ephesians 6:10ff).

We most certainly have the devil to contend with throughout our earthly lives, as well as the world and our sinful flesh.  Therefore, does our Lord give us His Word, that we remain in the faith.  He gives us prayer, that we call upon Him in every trouble (Psalm 50:15).  He joins us together with others that we encourage one another in the faith (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:23-25).  In effect, God doesn’t leave us alone, but gives us what He would to keep us in the faith.

The reality is, in Jeremiah’s day, as in ours, not all preachers preach the truth.  False preachers and false preaching continue.  Falsehood, however, is not of the truth.  And false gospels, though appealing and man-centered, do not confess the truth, nor do they lead to heaven.  False gospels, essentially, teach salvation apart from faith in Christ alone.  They teach another way to heaven than the way God has already given (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

It is necessary, therefore, to make distinctions, to clarify, and to avoid that which is false, according to the Word of our Lord.  Not doinWalther's-L&Gg so leads away from Christ and His Word.  It also leads to self-security or despair.  Either direction does not lead to heaven, but to eternal death.

God’s people do make such distinctions between truth and falsehood, and they long to abide where Christ is.  Indeed, where Christ is, there also are they (John 12:26).  They forsake the false, even denying themselves, and follow Christ, carrying their crosses and burdens, and rest only in Christ, where true rest and genuine peace are found (Matthew 11:28; Romans 5:1-5)

Luther

Now when Paul speaks of “the truth of the Gospel,” he shows that there are two uses of the Gospel, a true one and a false one, or a true and a false gospel. It is as though he were saying: “The false apostles proclaim a faith and a gospel too, but their gospel is a false gospel. Hence my stubbornness and refusal to yield. I did this in order that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved among you.” Thus in our day the pope and the sectarians brag that they proclaim the Gospel and faith in Christ. Yes, they do, but with the same results that the false apostles once had, those whom Paul (Gal. 1:7) calls troublers of the churches and perverters of the Gospel of Christ. By contrast he says that he is teaching “the truth of the Gospel,” the pure and true Gospel, as though he were saying: “Everything else is a lie masquerading as the Gospel.” For all the heretics lay claim to the names of God, of Christ, of the church, etc.; and they pretend that they want to teach, not errors but the most certain truth and the purest Gospel.

The truth of the Gospel is this, that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the Law. The falsification or corruption of the Gospel is this, that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the Law. The false apostles preached the Gospel, but they did so with this condition attached to it. The scholastics do the same thing in our day. They say that we must believe in Christ and that faith is the foundation of salvation, but they say that this faith does not justify unless it is “formed by love.”7 This is not the truth of the Gospel; it is falsehood and pretense. The true Gospel, however, is this: Works or love are not the ornament or perfection of faith; but faith itself is a gift of God, a work of God in our hearts, which justifies us because it takes hold of Christ as the Savior. Human reason has the Law as its object. It says to itself: “This I have done; this I have not done.” But faith in its proper function has no other object than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was put to death for the sins of the world. It does not look at its love and say: “What have I done? Where have I sinned? What have I deserved?” But it says: “What has Christ done? What has He deserved?” And here the truth of the Gospel gives you the answer: “He has redeemed you from sin, from the devil, and from eternal death.” Therefore faith acknowledges that in this one Person, Jesus Christ, it has the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Whoever diverts his gaze from this object does not have true faith; he has a fantasy and a vain opinion. He looks away from the promise and at the Law, which terrifies him and drives him to despair. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p87-88)

Prayer: Gracious Father, forgive us for turning from you to our own way.  Continue to have mercy on us, through Your only Son, Jesus Christ, that we remain steadfast in the true faith, and denying all others, boldly confess Your Holy Name.  In Your Name we pray, Amen.

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Reflections on the words ‘missionary,’ and ‘call’


In the rhetoric of today’s church, clarity is greatly lacking.  Confusion abounds, often due to sloppy language (of which I am also guilty).  Technical language is left to academics, while words in the non-academic world are thrown around left and right and can mean anything and everything under the sun.

Missionary

Take the word missionary, for example.  Today, without hesitation, men and women are called ‘missionaries,’ even with the LCMS.  Historically, the word missionary was reserved for the man only (like the pastor), for only the man was the called and ordained servant of the Word ‘called’ to preach and teach.  Missionary used to refer to one who proclaimed the Gospel to a foreign people, baptized, catechized, and even distributed the Lord’s Supper to those who were united in the same confession of faith.

Today, the word missionary has additional meanings.  It sometimes means the above, but more often than not, it refers to a person who serves (often in another country, but not necessarily so) the physical needs of the people and not primarily the Gospel proclamation.  Thus, missionary today has a broader definition, which is not a little confusing.

Churches now call husbands and wives missionaries, though according to Scripture, only men are to preach publicly (1 Timothy 2:12).  This is not in the least consistent with proper theology.

Certainly, needs exist for humanitarian aid.  But why call them ‘missionaries,’ esp. since that word implies public proclamation of the Word?  It wouldn’t hurt to refer to those who help others simply as Christians, or even servants.  It at least would keep the distinctions clearer.  Perhaps such terms might sound less ‘godly’ or pious to our human ego.  But they are according to Holy Scripture.

By the way, in the dictionary, missionary is someone who is sent on a mission.  One might ask, then, what kind of mission is the missionary sent on?  Maybe this would help clarify.  For some reason, we in the church seem to have guilt if somehow we only help others in their physical need, as if we shouldn’t take joy in this, or as if this is ‘not enough’.  Certainly, the Gospel is to be proclaimed.  But I find it interesting that few, it seem, rejoice in simply helping others, and in alone helping others.  Guilt seems to pervade among Christians if only physical help is given.  Maybe that’s why that word missionary is used today.  We don’t want to imply that we only help people in their physical needs and nothing more.  Would it be so wrong, however, simply to do so, and give thanks to the Lord for doing so, rejoicing even in it? (Luke 10:37).

Call

“Call” in the church historically meant a solemn call from God to serve in a particular service (i.e. A pastor is “called” to serve a congregation as pastor).  St. Paul also talks about “callings,” with the sense of vocation (i.e. parent, spouse, child, teacher, etc.; 1 Corinthians 7).

In the LCMS, call in the past has referred exclusively to pastors “called” to congregations.   This kind of call is non-durative.  It is a call with no established time limits (Today there is debate about this in  our circles, for missionaries, interim pastors, and others, though “called,” are given a certain time frame for their service, though this is contrary to a Scriptural understanding of “call” and our understanding of the word).  Stopping at this point, again, confusion ensues.

Now, add the word “call” for a Parochial school teacher, principal, or District executive for schools.  The word “call” here is often used in connection with a contract, based on the performance of the “called worker,” with an “evaluation” of that performance by an individual or group given such responsibility (by the congregation, school, or even district).  Such a process sounds a lot like “hiring” and not calling in the Scriptural sense—more in line with the secular world, but not the church.  Another question raised is the basis/content of such evaluation (the Word, character, activity, performance, results, etc.).

The word “call” here might be used to sound more ‘churchly,’ even as the word “missionary” has now taken on the meaning of “helper” apart from the public proclamation of the Gospel.  But what would be wrong in simply saying “hire,” even for a teacher or principal or district executive for schools?  Maybe the answer is…nothing.  At least in this way, we would be more honest and consistent in our vocabulary, calling a thing what it is and not further blurring distinctions.

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