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.
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.”