Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reading that dag-nasty Luther guy again...

In light of recent events in my beloved Synod (which you can read plenty about here and here,), I think what bothers me most about all of these shenanigins [sic?] is the willingness of many, most and almost all to lay down and be quiet, lest the terror of the current administration fall upon their own heads.

Perhaps I am not one to speak. Then again, I have already experienced a slight degree of these most advanced and "churchly" leadership styles which serving as a missionary and congregational revitalizer in my first call (to the now defunk "Our Savior Lutheran Church of Perryville, NJ.)

Placed into a congregation of no more than 40, with an average worship attendance of about 32, reliant almost exclusively on financial assistance from a sister congregation (who, stammering on cold feet, murmured about withdrawing that support within two weeks of my having arrived on site - a mere two weeks after my graduation,) and finding this small group deeply divided between an old guard who viewed me as the Synod's hatchet man, and a small group of hanger's on who (from what I could tell,) had never heard the Gospel before, I strove to be faithful to my ordination vows, to champion the weak, to advocate the district's good intentions, and to court the sister parish.

Well, it didn't work. We closed. That hurt. What hurt more was the front continually given by the powers that be to others who were curious about what had happened in Perryville. I don't know what was ever actually said, but to this day my name is rumor-tinged with being one of "those guys" who "destroy churches."

Should I expect the leadership of a Church body to be willing to take a hit for its pastors? Should I expect those who would preach Jesus to the world, to be men of repentance themselves? If a man claims that he is for the name of Christ, invokes Christ, and says, "Look at me and my office, I am obviously the one who is right and sees everything clearly," should others therefore back down because of the 4th and 8th commandments?

Thus, this week, watching my measely story play out on a much larger scale, Luther has brought me much comfort:

If the world will not follow, it need not. Let anyone who does not want to hear this be on his way. We do not preach for the sake of the ungrateful and sneering people. We preach because it pleases God.

The same principle applies to any social position on earth. A man who is to administer an office and to rule well dare not follow his own ideas. ... This never makes for good government. Such people have little interest in the country or the nation. They think that they alone must be feted and honored. They are unwilling to endure peril, ingratitude, contempt, and disgrace. Or, when they do encounter such things, they grow furious and foolish, begin to rage, and turn everything topsy-turvy. They are determined to avenge themselves and to carry their point even though everything is ruined and the government collapses. These people are not fit to rule.

He who would govern well must be able to ignore his own honor and welfare, to scorn and forget ingratitude and malice, and to be intent solely on the well-being of country and people. He must place the public good above his own welfare, honor and comfort.

This applies in a far greater measure to the spiritual realm in Christendom! Here infinitely greater danger and trouble are involved, and higher power comes into play. If a preacher strives for the attainment of honor, money and good days, and wants to shape his sermons with that end in mind, he will never accomplish anything, nor will he last. If this ambition fails, he retreats and becomes a non-Christian. ... He who governs and preaches only for his own benefit will never be serious about his business ... If he has the public welfare at heart, he follows through and speaks and acts according to his knowledge of what is good and right, regardless of either the anger or the ridicule he may arouse, and regardless of his own advantage or disadvantage.

But where do you find such people? Men seek to harvest honor and glory from their office. They use it only for their own profit, and then they have no conscience scruples, as though they had done their work well.

In Christendom, it is necessary that those who love their Lord Christ stand ready to do and suffer everything, with this thought in mind: "Whoever wants to be angry because of my words, or to laugh, let him do so! I am unconcerned about any man, be he prince, scholar, or saint; I look to Christ alone. What Christ has commanded, I do out of love for him, and for the sake of his precious blood...." Where such a heart and mind are wanting, no preacher or Christian remains a believer. For what he seeks outside of Christ will soon tear him away. ... For all our doctrine and actions are not based on ourselves, nor are we involved in this; but all this has to do with this Christ, from whom we have everything, and for whom we preach, live and suffer. ... Let him worry about it. He says that He will see it through.

But the opponents will let their eyes roam about in the wide world, and see the incalculable number of those who despise, blaspheme, and persecute our doctrine, and see that these are not simple and insignificant people, but generally the wisest, the most learned, and the mightiest folk, and also those who presume to be the most pious and saintliest - and they begin to reflect: "Can all these prominent people be wrong, and call all that they say, maintain and decree be untrue and damnable?"

For our own reassurance, Christ affirms clearly and bluntly that such things cannot be otherwise. He declares that there are people who cannot understand Him - nor can such be expected or hoped for that the great multitude of the world's noblest, greatest and best should have the truth. This is a strong condemnation! They cannot have and do not want to have the Spirit of truth. They are property of the devil's spirit of lies, even though they make a great fuss and exclaim, "Here is the Church! Here is God's Word! Here is the Spirit!"... matter how much they boast, it is all directed against Christ. Even if they confess and make much of their faith in Christ with their lips, they deny him in fact and in deed. Their actions bear out that they are lying. ... In opposition, they adduce their doctrines about [pleasing God, the real Christian life, etc], and they are resolved to preserve and defend these beliefs by force.

Now, think: it would be poor recognition of a prince if I were to accept and praise him as my master, and at the same time pay his letter and seal no heed, ignore his command, cast it to the winds, and act and talk against it as I chose. ... No, my dear man, it will never do. But thus these people read the Bible, pray the Our Father, confess the Creed, and praise the Holy spirit, but it is all falsehood and lies, because they do not have Him and do not know Him, since they refuse to accept His instruction and proclamation.

Thus we hear this judgment, which informs us for our comfort that our opponents do not have the Holy Spirit, as they boastfully claim against us.; In fact, they cannot have Him and know Him. No matter how much they see, hear, boast and preach of Christ and the Holy Spirit, they still do not know Him. For their path to this goal is obstructed by the huge blocks and boulders of their personal notions, which they follow. ... They will not hear or tolerate any other doctrine or teacher.

To this and to us Christ says, "Be of good cheer and unafraid! You will never succeed in making the world pious. It is, to be sure, a matter of grave offense and great pain to see so many excellent, learned, prominent and wise people, together with the great multitude, strive and storm against God's Word and the clear truth of the Holy Spirit. Yet you must realize that it cannot be otherwise. Pay no attention, even though you are small in number and all alone. ... Remain with the little group which gladly hears and receives my Word and has the steadfast Spirit. Do not be afraid if the other multitude refuses to follow you. ... Be convinced that you have the Holy Spirit, of whom your persecutors are not worthy.

How do you know you have the Holy Spirit? Christ says, because you adhere to Him in faith, and because you love and cherish the Word. "If My name is a bone of contention, if I am the cause of strife, thank God." ... Do not judge by numbers. Though they be great or small, many or few, you will remain in the right, not they. ... The Church or Christendom has a guarantee, a formal promise and a strong consolation from Christ that never, till the end of days, will it be without the Holy Spirit. ... So long as Christendom endures and the Day of Judgment tarries, this text must stand, and there will always be people who believe and confess it.

It must be noted that this is exceedingly offensive and hard to believe. We must observe what we say and preach about it, because there are so few who are really Christians and have the Holy Spirit remaining and dwelling in them. These words seem like an abominable lie to all the world. ... For, just as there are few of us who believe, even the Holy Spirit makes Himself so extraordinarily small and weak that the world takes offense.

Thus, those who make the boast to be the Church have the numbers and the strength, and they give every appearance of being the apostles' successors. They have governed long, and have cultivated a great holiness and worship of God. We, on the other hand, are so few, so destitute of all reputation and all outward appearance, and, in addition, so timid that we ourselves cannot believe firmly enough. ... We are alone, small and insignificant, isolated, forsaken, poor and wretched. We are condemned by them and must allow them the spiteful boast that they act aright and in accord with the Holy Spirit. ... They enjoy a great advantage, in that they have the name and the earmarks of Christendom until now, and still do. And the world chimes in with them and believes what they say. We, however, have nothing like this to boast of, nor does the world believe us. Yet we must be sure of our claim: the Holy Spirit is with us.

To this we look and judge solely on the basis of one criterion: when the Holy Spirit comes, His one office, as Christ says, will be to preach Christ and glorify Christ. If you believe and preach this message, then you surely have and know the Holy Spirit, who alone glorifies Christ.

Investigate the preaching. Do they extol Christ, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the Gospel? Then you will find that the great multitude which boasts of being Church and of having the Holy Spirit preaches a false proclamation and a lying spirit, the devil's church and vessel, even though it decks and adorns itself with names like God, Christ, Holy Spirit and Church.

Whether you truly believe [in the Christ] will be seen. You need nothing else. All are overcome. There is no more death, wrath, hell or sin. Thus, you will live accordingly, preaching and professing freely and intrepidly, hazarding property and honor, life and limb. ... This will be the test.

Here then, Christ says, there will be many in the world who will make much of His name and His Word, but will not keep His words. For they are not disposed to be willing to lose or suffer anything for his sake.

It's almost cogent enough to make you forget he was talking about Rome.


hausnfef said...


Not Alone +++ PAS said...

In case anyone would like to find this reading for further study, it is Luther's commentary on John 14:19 in Luther's Works volume 24, page 132 ff.

As an additional note, his statements were not against Rome and the papacy alone, but against all who worship the true God falsely and thereby use the Word and preach about the Gospel but never actually posess or administer the Gospel. In this connection, his emphasis was less of the nature of "against them" and more of the nature of "hold fast and stand firmly in the separation (sanctification) that the Word effects, rejoicing in knowing that this is God's doing for your safety.

The loneliness of clinging to the true faith alone drives the saint to Christ crucified where alone solace is found rather than in the false security of the communion of the many.

But as it was even in his day, who is willing actually to stand alone, apart from the larger communion?

RevFisk said...

Isn't that just the trick. I have for years lamented that I would like to live a more pious life, sacrifice more, give more time, and surround my life with prayer and Scripture, all for the sake of the Gospel, because of the grace - not to merit, but because such is the life of faith! And yet, where is the community that will support such action? Rather, do not most Christian communities fight *against* such action.

The answer is, of course, the preaching and teaching of Word and Sacrament, which, we must trust, will do His work in His time. And in this way, even though we may not stand alone as we would, against the world, we can stand in faith and trust that He who begins the work, will finish it.

Thanks for the comments! (and the source :P)

steve martin said...

Luther said this, and Luther said that...does it always have to boil down to what Luther said?!

...Yes...most of the time, anyway.

- Steve Martin San Clemente, CA

RevFisk said...

Well...if you get to know me, you'll eventually find that I don't always agree with Luther. However, the case is rare.

Regarding the above text, it is a different story. Yet, I still believe that anyone who wants to if free to go ahead and argue with him. Really. Go ahead. *Try*.


steve martin said...


I am a huge Luther fan. I don't always agree with him either. But on this one(post)I'm not messin' with him.

Thanks Rev.!

- Steve M.

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