Great Stuff Found on the Web — That’s Not Very Pastoral . . . or Is It?

Found over at Blogia, the blog of the Journal Logia, a fine Lutheran work.  Blogia is a great place to find articles that may not have fit into Logia but are still filled with great theology.

A sermon preached by Prof. John T. Pless on 24 October 2012, in Kramer Chapel, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Text: Jeremiah 23:16–17; 23–32

In an essay entitled Union and Confession written just prior to WWII in 1938, Hermann Sasse penned these words: “Where man can no longer bear the truth, he cannot live without the lie” (Union and Confession, 1). In this wonderfully lucid little booklet, Sasse goes on to contrast the truth with the lie. He notes that from the beginning the lie and the truth have done battle within the church. So it was in the days of the apostles as Paul said to the congregation at Corinth: “For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (I Cor 11:17). The lie, Sasse said, takes on various forms. There is the pious lie, that hypocrisy with which man lies to himself, to others, and even to God. The pious lie easily becomes the edifying lie. This is the lie that takes comfort in untruth. Sasse sees an example of the edifying lie embraced by medieval Christians when they trusted in the power of the saints, relying on the excess of their merit to further them in the struggle toward righteousness. The edifying lie was the lie unmasked and expelled by the Reformation. Then there is the dogmatic lie,the assertion that we have come to greater doctrinal maturity and old teachings are to be changed for a more contemporary, relevant theology. Finally there is, Sasse warned, the institutional lie when the churches embody the lie in their own life, instituting false teaching as normative.

Jeremiah has the lie, in all of the forms Sasse described: pious, edifying, dogmatic, and institutional lie in the crosshairs as he takes aim at Jerusalem’s prophets. With inflated visions of peace and prosperity, they have lulled the people of Israel into a state of spiritual drowsiness. Instead of proclaiming the certainty of the promise, they have peddled the sweet security of the flesh. Thinking themselves to be pastoral they say: “It shall be well with you; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jer 23:17). It is a soothing homiletic to be sure; but it is devoid of consolation for it is not true. It is not a message that God has authorized. It is a lie that edifies only by building up a hardened resistance to repentance. No talk here of God’s wrath and judgment on unbelief; no mention at all of a God who both kills and makes alive. Just sweet spiritual nothings whispered into ears plugged to the voice of God.

Instead Jeremiah harangues against prophets whose lips God did not open, whose mouths give exposition to dreams woven out the deceit of their own rogue hearts. With their reckless sermons they lead the Lord’s people astray, so that the Lord is not remembered as the God that He is. Rather than awakening faith which is bold to call upon the name of the Lord, these preachers lull their hearers into complacency with unauthorized promises of well-being: No disaster will come upon you. They cannot preach the invasive God, this wild God of the Old Testament, the Lord who is jealous to have a people exclusively for Himself, so they advertise a domesticated deity who will put his benediction on the desires, the plans, and the programs of the heart whatever they might be.

Jeremiah denounces this as idolatry, no different in substance from the way that Israel’s fathers had been seduced into the worship of Baal. God’s ears are not closed to these lying words. From his sight nothing is concealed and no utterance is so quietly or softly spoken so as to be beyond his ears. Truth and falsehood have no more in common than wheat does with straw. God comes, and his coming is in judgment. The fire of his Word ignites the stubble of unbelief. The hammer of his law pulverizes hearts that have become granite monuments of unrighteousness. The Lord sets his face against these lying prophets. That’s about as far as today’s text takes us. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! Not a very good place for teachers and students at a seminary to be! There is plenty of dire warning in Jeremiah for us who are preachers or aspire to the preaching office lest we be numbered with those lying prophets who preach peace when there is no peace, who proclaim that all is well when disaster is imminent. There is much here to remind us that we are to “afflict the comfortable if we are ever to comfort the afflicted.” But there is not much in our text to give opportunity for the comfort and consolation of the Gospel to predominate. Not much, but something. Listen again to verse 28: “let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.”

We have the promise of the Righteous Branch proclaimed by Jeremiah, the One who for all time will be known as “The Lord is our Righteousness.” We have Jesus’ word and his “words are spirit and life” (John 6:63). His word is truth–the truth of God’s attitude toward sinners for the sake of his Son. The truth that when we confess our sins God “is faithful and just and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We have the word of the cross, the certain truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself through the blood of the cross. We can live without the lie, because we have the truth in Jesus Christ. It is him that we proclaim. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.

Prof. John T. Pless


Prof. John T. Pless is associate professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff Found on the Web — That’s Not Very Pastoral . . . or Is It? — 5 Comments

  1. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Thanks to Norm, for finding more of his Great Stuff!

    Professor Pless does an excellent job here in his sermon, which is related to a subject that we here at BJS have often discussed: May a Lutheran pastor reprove his people or other Lutherans who sin or err publicly?

    I have been reading carefully through Johann Gerhard’s second volume on the ministry, titled in English: “On the Ministry, Part Two” ( available here: ).

    There is no doubt that Gerhard, and other orthodox Lutherans, upheld the duty of the pastor to issue reproof and rebukes. Such rebukes have to be based on accurate knowledge of the sin rebuked, accurate knowledge of the law being trespassed, not based on hearsay, public rebuke only for public sin, “the medicine should not exceed the proper measure,” and “the gentleness of mildness should always temper the severity of discipline and correction.” (ibid., p. 133, sec. 286). Gerhard defends this position on the basis of plenty of Scriptural testimony as well as quotes from early church fathers.

    In Gerhard’s book, check out these sections for a fuller discussion:

    *Preaching the Word, pp. 101-103 (sec. 266).
    *Sermons, pp. 104-105 (sec. 268).
    *Whether the magistracy can forbid the refutation of heretics, pp. 105-108 (sec. 269).
    *Whether the formulas of condemnation [in the Book of Concord] conflict with Christian love, pp. 108-110 (sec. 270).

    *Those who sin publicly and provide a public scandal because of their fall must be corrected publicy, p. 132 (sec. 286).
    *Should permission be granted or conceded to bring a lawsuit against a minister of the Word who is too vehement in censuring the sins of his hearers? p. 134 (sec. 287)
    *Is it lawful for ministers of the church publicly to censure a sinning magistrate? p. 134-136 (sec. 287).

    In section 268, in the section on Sermons, Gerhard compares pastors to shepherds who both feed the flock and protect them from wolves; to the rebuilders of Jerusalem, who held a sword in one hand and shovel or trowel in the other; to physicians who both preserve health and fight disease; and to farmers who both plant crops and kill weeds. He also quotes Jerome to the same effect (Letter 83 ad Ocean): “The madness of the wolves must be kept off by the barking of dogs and the shepherd’s staff.”

    In section 287, in the section on Discipline, Gerhard states “Men who desire only to behave well concerning the eternal salvation of others and the entire church are exposed to the plots and slanders of many.” In other words, the duty of rebuking and reproving is dangerous business, and is definitely “unpopular.”

    For the rest, I recommend you purchase the book and read it yourself!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  2. It seems to me that the Office of the Keys has lost one of them, the one that withholds forgiveness. So…what does this mean?

  3. W #2,
    They haven’t lost any one of them. They have abstained from their full duties, not just the nice bits.
    Abstaining, is making a choice, we are either for or against. Middle is a myth & fiction. But, appeases many.

  4. time to bring church discipline back into practice with a good Wauwatosa Doctrine as some of our churches are out of control- and our so-called leaders know who are mocking God’s truth—and turn away and wash their hands while the faithful weep with the Savior

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