What happens when Justification becomes peripheral and not the central article? I’ll tell you what happens: Doctrine becomes not life. Doctrine becomes something not for the people. The word Doctrine becomes theological jargon that is used only by theologians and a few pastors. You can’t expect the people to care about Doctrine when the central article does not remain that God justifies the ungodly for Christ’s sake through faith in His Name.
Why is this? This is because Justification is personal. Justification reaches you even when no one else knows your hidden faults, but your heart is kindled, and you are comforted by the saving Word that proclaims to you that God justifies the ungodly for Christ’s sake. And it is because of this Truth – the Truth that Jesus came to bear witness to – that you have peace with God. It is therefore because of this Truth that you should care about what is taught, that you should care about Doctrine. And when you care about Doctrine, you won’t care so much about your own planning and programs and methodologies.
The answer to the church’s struggles is not to learn more methodologies and strategies for church-growth. The answer has always been the same: learn more about God our Savior. We pray as Luther prayed:
…Teach us to know our God aright
And call Him Father with delight.
From every error keep us free;
Let none but Christ our Master be
That we in living faith abide,
In Him, our Lord, with all our might confide.
I am convinced that the reason why people are more prone to follow their own strategic plans and methodologies for church growth is that they have divorced the gospel from Doctrine. Doctrine becomes a peripheral detail, and it becomes too intimidating for the average layman to know.
But Doctrine is not scary. Doctrine is comforting. It is not just something for pastors and seminary students. God’s Doctrine is for God’s people!
Why should we learn about the Trinity? Because it is God who justifies and makes us His own. Why should we learn about the office of the ministry? Because God justifies you through such preaching and administering of the sacraments. Why should we learn about the six chief parts of the Catechism? Because God justifies you for the sake of Jesus’ “holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death (SC II, 2).” So we do just as poorly by withholding God’s Doctrine from His people as we would by only using academic jargon. God wants to teach His people. He wants to teach them in the same way that He wants to justify them: personally.
God’s justification is personal. Therefore, His Doctrine is personal. The answer is not making God’s Word more relevant. The answer is teaching God’s Doctrine with Christ at the center. Those who struggle with their sins and wonder sometimes if they are really Christians don’t need to hear a minimal standard of Jesus loving them. They don’t need to hear about how they can share Jesus’ love as much as they need actually to hear about Jesus’ love for them. They need to hear the Counsel of God. And we should expect them to hear God’s Counsel with Christ and His saving merit is at the center. They don’t need to hear a pep-talk on how to share their faith. They need to hear that even their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. They need to learn more and more about their Heavenly Father who loves them. They don’t need to be attracted to “church” or motivated to be “active” in church. What is the church without Doctrine? And what is Doctrine without Christ and His righteousness at the center? So may the pastors preach Christ in season and out of season. Let the faithful pastors preach Jesus’ Doctrine to all who hear. Let those who preach preach, and let those who hear hear and believe. This is how God’s Kingdom comes (SC III, 2).