Let’s Get Together
Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” These are the words I read in the Treasury of Daily Prayer on the first day of the Wiki15 conference in Katy, Texas. When I told some people that I was going to this conference they made a funny face and said, ‘Why would you do that to yourself.” Yes, I’m all the adjectives you can use to describe a hard headed Lutheran in the LCMS. Why would I ever want to go to a conference that is clearly on the opposite side of what I believe and practice? Why would I go to a conference that clearly doesn’t have the same practice or belief of what it means to be a pastor in the LCMS? Why did I go? Because of the words in Psalm 133. If we stop talking to one another and taking the time to listen, then all we will do is put the worst construction on everything. Yes, I could’ve stayed at home and watched the streamed videos on their website, but that isn’t the same. When you watch the videos you can abstract your brothers and sisters in Christ to people on a screen, rather than fellow believers who are baptized with the same water and Word as we are. No, if we believe that those who went to this conference have gone astray, then we have to follow the words of St. Paul that say, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgressions, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). We have to take the time, to listen, put the best construction on things, and speak as given to by Christ, rather than listen to what the Old Adam has to say. This was the attitude I prayed the Lord would give to me over the three-day conference in Katy and I pray that this is the demeanor that the Lord will continue to give to me as long as He gives me breath. I pray that this would be the true disposition of all brothers and sisters in at least the LCMS.
Rather than try to summarize and therefore miss some important issues in a 4-page report, or bore people with a 25-page tome on the topic, I am going to divide my experience at the conference into a three-part article. This first part is a few overview issues and also will describe the opening service at the conference. Psalm 133:1 replayed in my mind the entire time and I had to repent numerous times during the conference because I transgressed it.
One thing confessional guys can learn from the group assembled at the Wiki15 conference is their fraternal spirit. These men and women gathered came to encourage one another and support one another in their ministries. They didn’t come in and find ways to rip each other apart, nor were they picking apart every sentence for a hint of false doctrine. Not that it is a bad thing to reveal the false teacher, but we shouldn’t go into a conference or meeting with the hope that we will triumph as the champion of Orthodoxy. This conference was a genuine opportunity for these men and women gathered there to build each other up and go out stronger and more courageous. Everything from the worship to the coffee hour was a time for them to speak words of strength and support. Let us repent when we don’t do this and look for opportunities to speak words of strength and endurance to one another.
I felt very welcomed at this conference when I first arrived. The greeters at the doors were extremely friendly and they were helpful with making sure I knew where to go. I wasn’t lost for a minute. There was always someone to help me find my way. The air was filled with laughter and you could see that all gathered were excited to see one another. It was in the midst of this atmosphere that I got my name tag and proceeded to the worship center for the opening worship. I could write an entire series on the look of the center, but it is a typical look. No altar, pulpit, or visible font. No cross up front and center. There was instead the stage with the band and the screens on either side. I expected this look at the Church. However, it is not the main issue. The deeper issue is not what the church looks like, or what the pastor dresses in, but rather is what is said and sung within the walls of the Church. What did the band sing and what did the pastor preach? These are the questions that need to be answered.
What did the band sing? The opening song was “This I believe”. It was a sung version of the creed. I had the assumption that we wouldn’t sing anything remotely biblical or creedal. Was it the best song? No, it was a summary of the creed and therefore skipped a lot of important things like baptism, and the nature of who Jesus is as the Son of God. There was nothing wrong with the song, but because it didn’t confess the fullness of the Creed, it was lacking and when something is assumed in our confession it is lost. This lack of certain articles of the faith would play out throughout the rest of the service.
The next was, “The King is calling.” The lyrics are:
Come every beating heart that longs to find its worth Come every aching soul in need of something more Come with your questions Come with your doubts Bring them to the Lord Come all you castaways, left out of every crowd Come all you outsiders, unwanted until now You are a people You have a place Waiting with the Lord Troubled and restless, hungry and helpless Sing for joy, the King is calling Strong in justice, rich in mercy Sing for joy, the King is calling And His love is never-ending Come all you servants, with no candle left to burn Come every broken body, tired from years of work Lay down your tools Lift up your hands Lift them to the Lord Lift up a shout Our King is full of grace Lift up a shout He’s worthy of our praise
Again, this song has some good things to say. It confesses the tiredness that comes with struggling in this earthly way. However, it doesn’t confess Christ as the one who gives us rest. The singer went into a mini sermon about finding rest, but then never preached Christ crucified and resurrected as our rest. He didn’t preach baptism, the Lord’s Supper, nor absolution for our rest. The song ends up being more about us singing to the King who is calling, rather than about what the King is calling us to, which is life everlasting in His death and resurrection. The important part of the song isn’t the grace of the King, but rather that His grace makes Him worthy of our praise.
The third song made up a little for the lack of Christ in the second. The title is ‘Free to Worship.” The lyrics are:
We have gathered to sing these songs Wretched sinners and desperate frauds Fully covered in Jesus’ blood Free to worship the three in one Free to worship the three in one Holy is the Lord Holy is the Lord, Almighty Holy is the Lord, our mighty God We have gathered to sing these songs Sons and daughters of every tongue Bound together in Jesus’ blood Free to worship the three in one Free to worship the three in one Chorus The curtain was torn through We stand before you And mercy is all you speak
This song does confess that the Blood of Christ covers our wretchedness. This song had more clarity on the work of Jesus Christ to save us and have mercy on us. However, the Gospel, the Blood of Christ, was a means to an end, rather than the end itself. The blood of Christ frees us to worship and that was the focus of the song, and the title itself. Yes, in freedom we worship the Triune God. However, it would’ve been nice to have one song that focused on what Jesus does for us and the forgiveness we receive in Worship.
These were the songs sung before the message. One of the things we can learn from this is that the band had these songs memorized. Yes, we could say it is because they are simple and repetitive and therefore anyone can memorize. However, instead of critiquing it we should be encouraged by it. We should inwardly digest every hymn we are to sing on Sunday morning during the Divine Service. We should not have to look at the hymnal once during the service because we have made the hymnody and the liturgy our daily bread throughout the week. Yes, the band knew the songs because they sing the same rotation and that is one of the reasons they know them all. However, putting the best construction on it, they know the songs because they love them and believe that these songs confess the truth of their salvation. Are they right? No, the songs are lacking at best.
After the songs, then came the pastor to preach the message for the opening worship. He used the account of Mary and Martha from Luke 10 as the text. The preacher was very good at his task. He didn’t stand behind a pulpit and look down at his manuscript every two seconds to make sure he didn’t miss a word. He had constant eye contact with the assembly and had a connection the entire time. We can learn from this. We should not have to look down every two seconds at our text, but should have a confidence knowing that as we preach to our congregation it is like we are talking to our children. You don’t tell your wife, “I love you,” by reading it on a piece of paper. No, you look her in the eyes and say it. We should do this as preachers. When we preach the Love of Christ, it is better to look at the sinner who needs to hear it. Secondly, you could tell with the preacher that he spent a lot of time meditating on what he would preach. Not necessarily on the text, but he did spend a good amount of time preparing to preach. So the desire to preach a good sermon is there. However, the content did not flow from a true biblical and confessional reading and meditation of the text.
The pastor opened by asking everyone why they are in ministry. The people had the typical answers, that you could find at any conference. People shouted out, “Make Disciples. Make Jesus Known. Reach the lost. Live Love. Advance the Kingdom. Share the Word.” All the answers centered around what we do. These were the hearers. They all answered with what they have to do. This gave the preacher immediately what the people need to hear. They thought it was something they do in the ministry, rather than being stewards who hand over the gifts of the cross. The all gave law answers, “what must I do” answers.
The pastor then went into the exegesis of the text. Martha is like those pastors or sacramental entrepreneurs who are too focused on just getting the ministry done. We want to do the work and get the daily stuff done. He showed that Martha is concerned with her work and that this is not what is good in Christ’s eyes. Martha even went so far as to bring Mary down because she wasn’t doing the ministry like her. The pastor then went on to say that Jesus’s main concern isn’t to teach us a lesson, but to love us. I was very pleased with this. YES. Jesus created us to love us.
The message continued with preaching that Jesus doesn’t want to teach us a lesson and then used the Last Supper as an example. When St. Peter is talking about his steadfastness, Jesus says, “Take Eat, This Is My Body. Take Drink. This Is My Blood. In my head, I was saying, “YES! That’s the stuff.” Jesus calls us out of our righteousness and into His work. He calls us to hear, eat, drink, and be baptized. This was good. However, he didn’t then preach the cross where Jesus took that works righteous transgression and our Marthaisms and put them to death on the cross. He didn’t take us to Calvary and announce the blessed exchange. He didn’t say, “Take heart, beloved ministers. You who have condemned your fellow brothers. You who have acted like you founded your ministry. You who believe you sustain the ministry. Take heart and know that Jesus did all the work for you on the cross and there did He reveal His Love for you.” No, the preacher proclaimed an abstract love of Christ, a crossless love of Christ, where the Gospel is but a mere footnote in the context of the sermon. He ended this section by saying that Christ called us into the ministry to Shepherd our hearts. That sounds great, but how does He shepherd our hearts? He does so in the waters of Holy Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, in the Gospel proclaimed, and in Holy Absolution. Because of this, no one heart is shepherded more than another. Just because you are a pastor doesn’t mean that Jesus shepherds you more than he does the garbage man or the stay at home mom. No, we are all fed and guided by the same means of grace that hands over the same gifts of the cross in equal measurement. Meaning that they hand over the full Christ, not parts of Him.
It would have been alright if he had ended with the Lord’s Supper, but he continued by quoting Luther and his little saying, “We are nothing but snow covered dung heaps.” He said that he didn’t agree with Luther because it wasn’t biblical. No, we are not dung heaps anymore. “NO, we are a new creation”. This was how the sermon ended with our identity as a new creation. Yes, we are a new creation in Christ as St. Paul declares to the Church in Corinth. However, as the Holy Spirit inspired him to write to the Church in Rome, we are still sinners as well until we die. If it’s all about the new creation, what about the man who still looks at porn, the husband who beats his wife, the mom who ignores her children, or the citizen who disobeys the law of the land. Our comfort is not derived from our identity as a new creation, but rather from the love that Christ proclaims to us in the words of Holy Absolution. These words were talked about in the sermon, and even encouraged to hear and pronounce. However, when the time came to forgive the assembly we instead prayed and asked God in our hearts to forgive us. The sermon was crossless, with the gospel as a footnote, and sanctification comforted the new creature. There were some really good points in the sermon, but they were swallowed up because we ended with what we need to do, rather than what Christ did and continues to do for us.
We concluded the opening worship by singing, “Whom shall I fear.” A contemporary view of Psalm 46. Would A Mighty Fortress be better? Yes. Why? Because it preaches how Jesus does the work for us. This song had God by our side with angels, but it didn’t preach what Jesus does for us. This was the overall problem with the opening worship, that Jesus is not the actor and we the recipients of His work for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. The cross, the gospel, and the person of Jesus Christ were assumed and therefore lost in the opening songs and preaching. The sinner was not forgiven, but rather encouraged to limp a little less this week in their love for their neighbor. Can we say that they don’t preach Christ and Him crucified? No, they do. However, it is not the priority or the main focus. Justification by faith in Christ Jesus alone is not the beginning and the end of their hymnody and preaching, but rather an aspect of it. No matter how much Jesus you preach, it all comes crumbling down when you place the believer in any capacity to accomplish anything on his own.
To summarize what happened in the opening worship. We heard the name of Jesus, the work of God, but never heard or received the forgiveness of our sins. That is the only authentic and genuine thing the Church is given to hand over to all fallen sinners. Let’s preach that then and let the Holy Spirit do the work of guiding us in faith toward God and in fervent love toward our neighbor. These brothers and sisters are not outright heretics or deniers of the cross, they just don’t preach the cross as fully as it should be preached and therefore do not hand over the gifts of Jesus as they are given to do. Let us pray that we keep this in mind as well, lest we be tempted to do the same.