Great Devotion by Rev. Dr. Scott Murray, One of our New VP’s

The Rev. Dr. Scott Murray of Memorial Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas, writes  a daily devotion that we have highlighted on occasion. Today’s is particularly insightful and so we share it with you. For the full color view of the devotion and for information on subscribing to the daily feed click here.

Dr. Murray was elected to the LCMS presidium at the recent convention in Houston.

Martyrs of the Devil
Friday in Pentecost 11
13 August 2010

Pastors are dropping out of the ministry of the church and choosing secular vocations at an accelerating rate. Why? On 7 August, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece entitled “Congregations Gone Wild,” and I don’t think the author, G. Jeffrey MacDonald, meant it in a good way . He pointed out that Christian congregations are increasingly demanding that their pastors dumb down the message, preaching merely to entertain or to make their congregants feel good. He recounted his own experience, when as a parish pastor about ten years ago the advisory committee of his congregation told him to keep his sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories, and leave people feeling great about themselves.
Lots of congregations are making similar demands on their pastors these days. The problem is that these demands run completely counter to the prophetic role to which the Bible calls our pastors. The Lord called on the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel and said, “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (Ez 33:7). Sometimes the warning the pastors give rubs the people who hear it the wrong way. They don’t appreciate having their wickedness pointed out to them. Some years ago, I conducted a funeral for a young mother in my congregation who had died quite suddenly. I preached about her sin and the great grace of God given to her in Christ Jesus, who forgave her sins and called her to everlasting life with Him. Many of the young professional people in that funeral service were angry because I called their friend or colleague a sinner. Her husband came to me afterward and recounted this to me saying: “Way to go, Pastor, you preached what I wanted you to preach and what we all needed to hear.” I could not ignore death and sin because its results were so obvious in the casket that stood in the middle of church. Many people went away from the service that day profoundly angry, but angry because what I said about this young woman was also attributable to them; they were sinners and they too would die.
Increasingly, this inconvenient truth is being denied, rejected, dimmed, muted, and finally rejected. Instead we desire to be entertained. MacDonald rightly pointed out that “churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches.” Pastors are increasingly presented with the dilemma of reducing the sharpness of their preaching, such as calling people to repentance, or to look upon the cross for their salvation, so that if they do not they will be looking for other work. They have become entertainers or dispensers of soothing spiritual Kool-Aid; the mind-numbing soma of the modern religious institution. And the excuse is: “It gets people in the church who wouldn’t be here otherwise.” But the problem is that if the message has become unbiblical is it really the church of which Christ says the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, or has it become merely a smarmy religious club?
If our pastors are dancing to the devil’s tune, they will have to dance rather hard, like those old fashioned dance contests that awarded the prize to the last couple left standing. It becomes a double whammy; those who must dance for their dinner will never be able to stop and then they will continue to dance for their father forever. Let Christ do everything by preaching His gospel. It is so much easier. And it actually works too.

From Martin Luther
“The workers of the Law are very rightly called ‘martyrs of the devil,’ if I may use the common expression, because they procure hell by greater labor and trouble than that by which the martyrs of Christ gain heaven. They are worn out by a double contrition: while they are in this life, performing many great works, they torture themselves uselessly; and when they die, they receive eternal damnation and punishment as their reward. Thus they are most miserable martyrs both in the present life and in the future life, and their slavery is eternal.
“It is not so with believers, who have afflictions only in this life, while they have peace in Christ, because they believe that He has defeated the world. Therefore we must stand fast in the freedom Christ has acquired for us by His death, and we must be diligently on our guard not to be enticed once more into a yoke of slavery. This is what is happening today to the fanatical spirits: falling away from faith and freedom, they have condemned themselves here in time to slavery, and in eternity they will again be oppressed by slavery. The majority and greater part of the papists have today degenerated into nothing better than Epicureans, who, as they are accustomed, use the liberty of the flesh and sing securely: ‘Eat, drink, and play, for after death there is no pleasure.’ But truly they are slaves of the devil,who holds them captive to his will. Therefore the eternal slavery of hell awaits them.”

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Great Devotion by Rev. Dr. Scott Murray, One of our New VP’s — 34 Comments

  1. I recognize that as a part of the laity it is easy for me to say this since I don’t have to face this choice.

    But shouldn’t pastors keep their ordination vows and preach law and gospel and consider any negative consequences to be a part of taking up their cross?

  2. Yes, David, Pastors should keep their ordination vows.
    They should also be supported by the congregation in all ways so long as they are keeping them.

    When a Pastor is installed, the congregation is also asked to promise things that some of them find all too easy to forget!
    Rejection of a Pastor for unScriptural reasons should mean that no replacement will be found for that congregation.

    I wonder if this administration will have time to take up the problem of CRM’s driven to resign for some unScriptural reason before those men are driven altogether out of the ministry, not by choice, but by the necessity of eating.

    If you believe what you say, David, Augustana Ministerium could use your help. They are the only “relief” organization for displaced pastors that I know of.
    [Perhaps others can add to the list?]

  3. Preach the Truth, no matter what! No need to limit the time of the Sermon. Share God’s Word with us, and explain it to us. We can get our entertainment elsewhere.

  4. First of all the synod should be doing some of what the Augustana Ministerium is doing. The failure of the synod to do this is why AM was created and needed. As one who has been in the position of dealing with such unscriptural demands, it is a difficult thing. Plus, in many cases, it is either a narrow majority or raucus minority that are the problem. I resigned in one case because others would have gotten hurt in the crossfire. The other thing one must realize is that sometimes these battles become personal rather than theological. They hate you because they hate YOU. We can moan all day about how wrong this is, but if you’re the one they hate, you will never convince them of their sin. At that point you must shake the dust off your feet and move on.

  5. @helen #2

    Indeed. For those of us who serve as worker-priests, it is a strange mixture of the bitter and the sweet. We may speak freely, without regard to the source of our mortgage and food bills, but live with our time divided by the cares of the world and our secular vocations. When I came through colloquy to the LCMS earlier this year, I was advised this kind of pastoral ministry was becoming more normative.

    I do not lament my calling, nor the circumstances in which I seek to faithfully live it out. God provides, and His Word indeed does all the work.

  6. The problem that I’ve seen with the worker priest model is that in many communities there is not the opportunities for employment. So, in my community, unless were a professional, such as a lawyer or accountant, they would have great difficulty finding supplemental work.

  7. @Rev. Jody Walter #7

    You’re absolutely right. I already had a secular profession in the defense industry, after my active duty years, which I was able to maintain throughout my seminary education. Now, where I currently live and serve, I retain my secular employment which takes care of the bills, and largely donate my time to the parish which called and installed me earlier this year.

    I’m also very aware, that this is not normal, and that worker-priests in other situations are struggling much more than I, just to make ends meet. For them, as for all of us, I continue to pray.

  8. @Rev. Jody Walter #5

    > At that point you must shake the dust off your feet and move on.

    For the sake of the other sheep, considering praying for a board of elders to arise and help in these situations. Church war is terrible, but if you did not start it, and believe me I hesitate to say this, ‘winning’ is SOMETIMES an option. Church discipline should not be despaired of out of hand. Again, I say all of this with trepidation. It’s ok and can be Scriptural for YOU to yield to evil force for you own part, but it is NOT decent conduct for your elders and supportive members to run away the moment there’s trouble.

  9. Prayer for the Board of Elders is certainly needed in many cases. 🙁

    Myself, I pray for their victims in the OHM.

  10. @helen #10

    > Prayer for the Board of Elders is certainly needed in many cases.
    > Myself, I pray for their victims in the OHM.

    I’ve seen what you refer to. Talk about a nightmare for the pastor.

  11. I was going to suggest these congregants who demand their Pastors “dumb down the message” give up the charade of being Christian and take up golf for their entertainment. Then they’ll realize just what miserable sinners they are for nine holes takes longer than ten minutes, the only funny stories told will be in the clubhouse about how lousy they are and they certainly will not be feeling great about themselves. Let ’em try a round with me and I’d be willing to point out just how sinful their golfing ability is – then let ’em know this applies to their entire life. Repent!

  12. MWB,
    Each situation is unique and sometimes one pastor will handle the same situation differently. But I guess I would have to see that some good would come out of the fight. In the case I cited I was able to resign but effective a couple months down the road. I used those weeks to preach sermons that hammered on the authority of Scripture. In that context, they were well received by many, and taken to heart. They’ve had a fine confessional pastor for nearly 10 years now and the relationship has been good. I do think my work helped paved the way for that. BTW, there was a conflict involving my predecessor which actually led to him being removed from the synod. The congregation was totally unhealed from that conflict when I arrived. I’ve survived all the conflicts of my own making. The conflicts I’ve not been able to resolve all long predated my arrival in those parishes. I’ve been in my current parish for 9 years. Things have been pretty decent here.

  13. It has always amazed me that the same person who feels that 15-20 minutes is too long for a sermon will stand in line for some special kind of tickets for hours, even all night if they have too! Those who feel that 60 minutes + 1 is too long for a worship service but has no problem with a 3 hour football game or a baseball game; that those who find it hard to put $5 per week in the offering plate think nothing of $50-60 for an evening out–each week and sometimes more than once. On the other hand I met a beautiful family who when they bought gave 10% of the price to the congregation–that is when they bought something special. I well remember the surprise in their pastor’s eyes [not me] when they presented the church with $9000 for their 10% of a recent purchase. Their reasoning was simple–certainly if God has blessed us to be able to afford such an item the least we can do is give Him 10% of the cost–all this on top of their regular giving!!!! So in every place and congregation we will always find those who love to hear the word and those who love to look at their watch! 🙂

  14. It is to my experience that those who complained that the congregation would not stand still for 10 minutes but willing to wait for hours fall in several categories.

    1) Pastors with moralistic theology putting on a guilt trip (You should give to missions…every second is a soul lost!).

    2) Pastors who forget that they are not teaching in the ivory tower classroom. Dry and pedantic. The examples are abstract, law and gospel not fully grokked. Theology becomes an obscure pursuit for the tweed set. And the people would resort to personal spirituality disciplines that are easily accessible. NOTE: this is NOT an appeal to dumb down the sermon.

    3) Pastors who speak on hot-button practical topics rather than the lectionary. When I was single, hearing how to have a better sex life or marriage means absolute crap for me.

    I heard this sermon with that complaint in Apache Junction, AZ. I was tempted to yell out: “Because you are moralistic, you are slipshod with the Liturgy, and you confused Law and Gospel. In essence, YOUR THEOLOGY SUCKS!” Blessedly, I just walked out, went to my base, and listened to Pirate Christian Radio.

    Do yourselves a favor and read this essay from Dorothy Sayers:

    Adapt it to our Confessional Lutheran understanding. If we act like our “dogma is the drama”– a can-not-be-missed event that offers what people really really need, then that’s the first step.

  15. Adapt it to our Confessional Lutheran understanding. If we act like our “dogma is the drama”– a can-not-be-missed event that offers what people really really need, then that’s the first step.

    @Carol Rutz #15

    Thank you for posting that! It’s a Sayers I’ve missed except for a couple of quotes, and I collected Sayers. We read “A Man born to be king.” (once upon a time in a land far away) for Christian literature. The Rev. Prof. Gerhard Belgum also got some of us “hooked” on Dorothy L. Sayers’ mysteries. 🙂

  16. @Rev. Roger Sterle #14
    I well remember the surprise in their pastor’s eyes [not me] when they presented the church with $9000 for their 10% of a recent purchase.

    That’s very good. (Better if the congregation weren’t indirectly told how much they could afford to spend.) 🙂

  17. This was, we’ve almost forgotten, took off from Rev. Dr. Scott Murray’s topic.
    I read him most mornings; (I hope he will be able to keep that up.) I was so pleased to hear of his election! We are truly blessed with men of his calibre serving us at synod!

  18. Yikes! It’s obviously too far past my bed time. I’ve put up fragments of two thoughts.
    [I think ignoring was will make it almost intelligible.]

    G’nite now and God bless!

  19. @Helen #17
    Only the pastor and financial secretary knew of the gift–well he did tell the circuit men about the dollar amount but not about who.

  20. @Rev. Roger Sterle #21
    Good. (What!? Pastors gossip?) 😉

    @Rev. Roger Sterle #22
    Don’t know Sayers and would rather read Louis L’Amour anyway!

    If you don’t know Sayers, how do you know?
    Dorothy L Sayers was a Brit author of the 30’s & 40’s. All my favorite fiction authors are British, (perhaps because I got hooked on Kipling in third grade?) I said, “They are less ‘vulgar’ and leave more to my imagination.” A friend replied, “Perhaps you don’t recognize their ‘slang’.” Perhaps not; if I read right past it, it’s the same thing, though.

    Now my shelves are filling up with “Luther, Gerhard, Preus” [clan] and CPH “burgundy”. 🙂

    I have read Louis L’Amour but I haven’t collected him. My equivalent is Zane Grey, whose volumes are still in a box somewhere, I hope. [My library has suffered several “reductions by half” in the “throws of moving” (always to less shelf space.)]

  21. @Rev. Jody Walter #5
    First of all the synod should be doing some of what the Augustana Ministerium is doing. The failure of the synod to do this is why AM was created and needed.

    Pr. Walter,
    Most of the CRM’s I know would have been termed “speedbumps” on the road to generic prostestantism, till last month. A synod which thinks in those terms is not about to set up a soup kitchen. [Rather, it licenses “lay ministers” (oxymoron) and others more malleable to its aims.]
    I pray that changes!

  22. @Helen #24
    Sayer’s is worth the read just for her priceless “seven deadly Christian virtues” (Respectability; childishness; mental timidity; dulness; sentimentality; censoriousness; and depression of spirits.)

  23. @Rev. Allen Bergstrazer #26
    Sayer’s is worth the read just for her priceless “seven deadly Christian virtues” (Respectability; childishness; mental timidity; dulness; sentimentality; censoriousness; and depression of spirits.)

    That is Sayers being serious and painfully accurate, too.

    Her murder mysteries are fun, if you like the genre.
    And they reflect a period “gone with the wars”….

  24. @Rev. Roger Sterle #22

    I’m glad you do not preach that crummy. I did heard of L’Amour. Which book you recommend?

    It is a good thing Pr Peterson preaches consistently well, and that one of the books I want to read [Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay] will be released on a Tuesday instead on the weekend. LOL

  25. As one who has been trying to get a call for 2 years now, this devotion really hit the spot, so to speak.

    Pastor Murray has been publishing these devotions for several years now and are fantastic.

    I was just advised to seek secular employment to care for my family since my name has been distributed to appropriate churches and nothing has come of it.

    I’m not complaining about my DP because he has been fair to me. But, this secular employment comment is prob realistic. Who would think after 20 years of being a pastor and serving the synod, that at 51 I need to consider secular employment.

    Thy will be done is really a pain. I hate having to practice what I preach. 🙂


  26. @Carol Rutz #28
    I recommend just about anything that Louis L’Amour has written–including his non western books. I am constantly amazed that when he mentions something in its historical context, you can actually find such a thing or place. Many has been the time when traveling across our vast west I have found a creek named in one of his books at the location as mentioned in the book!

  27. @Helen #24
    Sayers’ type of liturature just doesn’t fit with what I like to read. IF I don’t read theology or L’Amour I will read historical accounts–such as the Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler and anything about any of the major wars we have fought–Civil War, I,II, Keorea, Vietnam, Gulf War etc.

  28. @Rick #3
    Here’s how I look at the issue of sermon length: Love rules.
    The pastor loves his people, wants to give them solid Scriptural meat, and also recognizes the “training” they have received from the world around them, so he will work hard to be concise, and to communicate clearly, so as not to tax the butts of his hearers unnecessarily.
    The people love the Word, and are thankful to God for the gift of the pastor (even if he isn’t scintillating), and will be more than happy to learn, receive and hear all they can from the Word in the sermon, so they won’t complain.

    So, from my end, I do try to keep my sermon length reasonable, long enough to develop the main idea textually and properly. For me, this ends up somewhere around 1900 to 2000 words, most of the time–I think, 15-20 minutes. I do want to “hold the line” and not bow too far on the time issue–I want them trained to listen and think and grow in their knowledge and thirst for the Scriptures.

    There are exceptions, of course. There have been times when the sermon was quite well developed and complete at 12 minutes or even shorter. Upon occasion, I’ve gone longer than 20 minutes. It depends on the text and the theme–and on how much time I’ve had to go back through and “tighten up”.

  29. @Rev. Roger Sterle #31
    Sayers’ type of liturature just doesn’t fit with what I like to read.

    That’s OK. I don’t collect L’Amour. 🙂

    I have Eisenhower’s history of WW II, because it was a prize in a current events contest once.
    I read it. But I don’t collect war novels.
    I take that back. I have everything I can find of Nevil Shute’s. But he’s dated, too, I suppose… WW II and following. One you may recognize is “On the beach.” because it was made into a movie, back when everybody who was anybody was required to write a book about “THE BOMB”.
    (I read them when they were authors I was reading otherwise
    and most of them were pretty bad.)

    HOW did we get off on literature!? This is Dr. Murray’s topic, supposedly! 😉

  30. If I can jump in here with a non-theological comment, I would suggest Louis L’Amour’s Last of the Breed. It is a gripping story of a native American pilot who has to find his way out of Russia during the cold war. As an added bonus, it mentions a Lutheran pastor in a positive light near the end of the novel! How rare is that?

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