Insightful Devotion on “Congregations Gone Wild,” in Dr. Murray’s Memorial Moment

Dr. Scott Murray of Memorial Lutheran Church – Houston, Texas and recently elected fifth vice president of the LCMS, has written another insightful devotion. For the full color view of the devotion and for information on subscribing to the daily feed click here.

In his New York Times op-ed piece entitled “Congregations Gone Wild,” G. Jeffrey MacDonald, didn’t have any solutions for the phenomenon of clergy burn out except that parishioners must begin to understand what the church really exists to do: call people to repentance and to save those who would perish without Christ. He called on parishioners to ask for and accept challenging daily devotional materials and the call to reach out in the community with the gospel. While I love the idea of challenging daily devotional materials, I think what is causing clergy burn out is much deeper and more fundamental.

God has called his pastors to preach the gift of divine salvation as Paul says: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The church is the precious possession of God bought by the infinitely valuable blood of God’s Son. We dare not play fast and loose with His possession. The flock must act like sheep of the One shepherd and the undershepherds must proclaim what the Holy Spirit sends to the overseers by the word of God.

While I agree that parishioners must continue to hold out the expectation that their pastors preach Christ and His gospel, I also think we have actually reached this crisis point because pastors failed in their courage to preach the truth no matter what the cost. They were often too afraid to proclaim the difficult truth and so they compromised to keep restless and undisciplined parishioners happy and snoozing contentedly. Such compromise averted disaster in the short run only to lay the groundwork for a future catastrophe of much larger proportions later on. Just wait until churches find someone to lead them who can tell better jokes than their present pastor and replace him with someone far more entertaining.

Years ago, my wife’s grandfather who was an old Slovak Lutheran would leave church immediately after the service. He would go and sit in the car, no matter how hot or cold it was until the rest of the family emerged from chatting with their friends. And when he was asked about this odd habit, he said in his broken English, “If we have heard the Word of God, why would we need to hear any more talk?” Unfortunately the reverse is also true, for when there is just talk, we have no need of the Word of God. It’s no wonder pastors trained to care for souls by preaching the gospel are giving up in frustration these days because Congregations have Gone Wild.

Martin Luther (from the Commentary on Galatians)

“Paul pronounces these words (Gal 5:2) out of great indignation of mind and spiritual disturbance: ‘If you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you; that is, absolutely no benefit will come to you from all His blessings, but in vain He has offered al this to you.’ This makes it abundantly clear that there is nothing more pernicious under the sun than doctrines of human traditions and works; because at the same time they overturn the gospel, faith, true worship of God, Christ Himself, in whom the Father has comprehended all things. As Colossians 2 states: ‘In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’; ‘in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:3, 9). Therefore anyone who is a founder or a worshiper of the doctrine of works overthrows the gospel, nullifies the death and victory of Christ, obscures His sacraments and abolishes their proper use, is a denier, enemy, and blasphemer of God and of all His promises and blessings. This is why Paul called the law of God a “yoke of slavery,” because those who say that circumcision must be observed for salvation make Christ useless. Anyone who is not frightened away from the law and circumcision, much less from human traditions and from trust in his own righteousness and works and who is not incited to yearn for freedom in Christ is harder than rock or iron.

Therefore the statement is crystal clear: If anyone receives circumcision, that is, trusts in his circumcision, Christ is useless to him; that is, He will have been born and have suffered uselessly. For, as I said earlier, Paul is not discussing the actual deed in and of itself, which has nothing wrong in it as long as there is no trust in it or opinion of righteousness. However, here he is discussing how the deed is used, namely, the trust and the righteousness that are added it. We must understand Paul in accordance with the subject matter under discussion or the argument as he undertakes it, which is that men are not justified by the law, by works, or by circumcision. Heis not saying that works in and of themselves are nothing, but that trust in works and righteousness by works causes Christ to be useless. Therefore anyone who receives circumcision with the idea that it is necessary for justification, to him Christ is of no value.

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.

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