The Confessions teach us to preach: Sin

April 30th, 2011 Post by

Over the past years of my personal study of the Lutheran Confessions, I have noticed something that I think I have often experienced pastors overlooking and also myself overlooked as a pastor, more specifically as a preacher.

It is overwhelming in our confessions how often when “sin” is referred to, it is meaning “Sin” or Original/Inherited Sin.  I think this truth often goes overlooked in our preaching.  I have heard many a pastors (specifically us young ones) hammer hard away with the Law preaching against actual sins mainly.  This is like treating the symptoms rather than the disease.  A common danger of this type of preaching is that people become moralists, or worse yet, they think that if they can just get those pet actual sins under control they are getting better.

There are a few ways to preaching Original Sin (comments on other ways are highly welcomed).  The first is to preach the situation around us, the rotting world.  This then puts the hearer in the place of being in the same pit.  The second and better way is to preach the disease of Original Sin.  We are condemned not by what we do, but by who we are.  This of course leads to the Gospel of salvation not by what we do, but by who Jesus is and what He has done.

The situation is much like what Dr. Harold Senkbeil says in his book “Dying to Live”.  In critiquing the common error of moralism in today’s churches, Senkbeil writes about Original Sin.  (My paraphrase) If we only seek to clean up the actual sins, then it is like cleaning out a sewer without doing anything with the source of the sewage.

Another key aspect of this is that Original Sin is one of the articles of the faith that Lutherans differ from most other denominations.  Errors in Original Sin have produced all kinds of false teachings, including syncretism and believer’s baptism.  In striving to preach more about this article, the differences between Lutherans and those in error will become more clear to those who hear as well.

For those clergy out there, most of you already probably know all of this, but let this serve as a reminder.  For the laity, listen closely to hear the preaching, and encourage your pastors in their preaching.


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  1. John
    May 1st, 2011 at 08:18 | #1

    Pr. Scheer – I agree with you.

    But, I also note a curiosity. Some Lutheran folks, especially those associated with the confessional movement, have put a lot of emphasis on symptoms. And, in the process, they also advocate separation from others who share the Lutheran article of faith regarding both the disease and the cure.

  2. mames
    May 1st, 2011 at 21:11 | #2

    But preaching regarding our sinful STATE from which sin is emitted might make visitors feel uncomfortable. :) And then how would we grow? :)

  3. A Beggar
    May 1st, 2011 at 21:15 | #3

    We will grow through the comfort of the Gospel. After all it is not about “us” growing, it is about Christ growing His church. Just like He grows my garden! I plant, weed, water, He gives the growth. ; )

  4. May 2nd, 2011 at 06:49 | #4

    Ah, I am reminded of the adage or is it cliche, “We must be afflicted in our comfort before we can be comforted in our affliction” People must learn to become unsure of themselves before they can become sure of God; they must learn to see their own insecurity without God before they can find security in God.

  5. Rev. Matthew Dent
    May 2nd, 2011 at 08:11 | #5

    Thank you Pr. Scheer! It’s an excellent reminder.

    A word to prepare you for the inevitable — when you talk about original sin, you’ll begin to hear more comments that the sermon is too “doctrinal” and “doesn’t connect with the real life of your hearers.” I submit that mames is on to something… but it isn’t about making “visitors feel uncomfortable” it’s actually about MEMBERS feeling uncomfortable.

    The culture around us preaches, teaches and confesses that people are basically good at the core and the “sins” we commit are anomolies and not the outgrowth of an inherent condition. A little consideration shows how the enlightenment ideals of our political and economic systems (the fodder for most news, talk radio, talking head TV and other “real world” information sources that shape the “non-entertainment” experience of the world) have this principle at their core. One hour (ok… really, about 12-20 minutes) spent hearing a contrary message in the sermon 2-3 times PER MONTH (the AVERAGE attendance of members in many congregations) doesn’t compare to the 2-4 hours PER DAY that the average media consumer spends hearing messages of self-actualization and the inherent goodness of mankind.

    The preaching of Original Sin tends to shock and take people by surprise – even those who have been sitting in the pew faithfully for many years. It’s something they learned in confirmation, but they were done with that YEARS ago and don’t feel that it’s important to think about anymore (like High School physics or calculus). Not that they’ve “graduated” – just that it “doesn’t apply to my life”. This is nothing but code for, “there’s nothing *I* can do about it, so it isn’t worth my time thinking about it”.

    The difficulty is preaching Original Sin in such a way that it not only applies but is something that can actually be seen in every aspect of life… and doing so in a way that “doesn’t take too long,” “makes sense” to the hearer — and MOST IMPORTANTLY preached in such a way that the hearer “can do something about it.” — which is not only a difficulty – but an impossible task – because there is NOTHING we can do about it, someone else must do all the doing… and that goes against EVERYTHING our culture teaches.

    I don’t have answers… rather, I find myself in the same quandary. It is certainly something we need to be speaking more about – not just in the sermon, but in Bible Study, Newsletters, blogs, etc.

    How to do it in a way that will be received is another question. But, perhaps, it really isn’t up to us. We’ve been called to be faithful and been commissioned to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them to KEEP/TREASURE [not OBEY - although obedience is implied] everything that has been AUTHORITATIVELY SPOKEN [not COMMANDED - although the authoritative speech includes commands] to us. Original Sin is something that Jesus taught a lot about (tree/fruits, the “father” of the Pharisees and Sadducees, etc.) – we need to speak it too.

    Sorry for the bold. The preview didn’t show space between paragraphs, so I bolded the first line of each new paragraph.

  6. May 2nd, 2011 at 12:29 | #6

    I’m not sure which Lutheran radio personality I heard this from (Wilken or Rosebrough?), but I paraphrase: “Are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners?” I like the question because it forces you to consider original sin, and what you think about it. And that’s why nearly all the talk radio I listen to is the new Lutheran media. :-)

  7. helen
    May 3rd, 2011 at 11:16 | #7

    @Rev. Matthew Dent #5
    …but it isn’t about making “visitors feel uncomfortable” it’s actually about MEMBERS feeling uncomfortable

    Exactly. It only takes a few longtime “comfortable” members disturbed by hearing the basic truth of original sin and an invitation to absolution to make a Pastor very “uncomfortable”.

    [He's got some nerve; we're all good people here!]

  8. helen
    May 3rd, 2011 at 11:18 | #8

    The preview actually works very well here. Thank you!

    (And somebody tell geneveith’s webmaster how it’s done!!)

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