Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The Church is not the pastors. It is the people. The only reason we need pastors is because we need the word of God that the pastors preach and teach. What we really need is God’s word. What good is a pastor who doesn’t preach the true word of God? Besides, pastors come and go. The word of God remains forever! As the prophet Isaiah writes:
The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:6-8
The word of our God stands when everything we have cherished in life has faded away. And everything else that we cherish in life most certainly will fade away.
How much attention do we pay to it? How much time do we spend reading it? How much effort do we put into studying it? The explanation to the Third Commandment in the Small Catechism reads: “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and his word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
There are reasons why we don’t do what God tells us to do. We are by nature sinful and rebellious, thinking we know better than God what we should be doing. We are by nature selfish and self-serving, thinking that by doing what pleases us we will be doing what is best for us. There are many reasons why we don’t devote ourselves to the teaching of God’s word, learning it, pondering it, discussing it, talking about it, and taking a stand upon it. One reason might be that we have breathed in the spirit of our age that says the truth of God is unknowable anyway. So why bother?
Doctrinal ignorance in the Church today is so widespread and profound that religious con artists regularly lead entire churches away from God’s truth. Denominations with millions of members adopt the fashionable opinions of the world in opposition to the clear teaching of the Bible. We who hail from a conservative tradition that upholds the truthfulness of the Bible and the faithfulness of the Catechism might think we can’t be led astray. If so, we should think again.
Do you know how to boil a frog? You don’t toss the frog into a pot of boiling water. If you do, he’ll jump right out. Instead, you put him in a pot of lukewarm water and turn on the stove and let the water gradually come to a boil. By the time the frog realizes the water is too hot for him his muscles won’t respond to his instinct to jump. He’ll be boiled alive.
So it is with Christians who neglect the lifelong study of Christian doctrine. They make a false assumption. They assume that the water hasn’t changed. But it has. And so have they. They have adopted attitudes and opinions and beliefs that run counter to the faith they once confessed. It was so gradual that they didn’t even know it was happening.
I recall a theological conversation I had with my wife’s dear aunt back when I was in my twenties and we were visiting their home in Michigan. Her family was Christian Reformed. She was very concerned about a movement in her church body to ordain women as pastors because she knew it was forbidden by God’s word. Things change. The Christian Reformed Church changed its position. Her congregation followed along. So did she. The Bible doesn’t change, but times change.
Examples could be multiplied. A generation ago nobody would have dreamed that most nominal Lutherans in America would belong to a denomination that advocated homosexual “marriage” and favored ordaining homosexuals as pastors. Today we are used to it. How many churches teach that God sends unbelievers to hell? Can the average churchgoer in America confess the Trinitarian faith? But does the average nominal Christian in America even go to church?
We have the opportunity to attend Divine Service and Bible class every Sunday morning, as well as Bible study or Vespers (depending on the season of the church year) on Wednesday evening. In the Divine Service, God feeds us with a well-balanced diet of good spiritual food, including the reading and preaching of God’s word, the reception of Holy Communion, prayers and hymns of praise, and a liturgy filled with well chosen portions of God’s word.
Bible class is also of great benefit. It provides us with the opportunity to ask questions, to discuss God’s word in (ight of current issues in the Church and in the world, and to grow in our understanding of how God’s word applies to the concerns we face in life. Right now we are studying the Revelation of St. John in Sunday morning Bible class and we are reading the Large Catechism in the Wednesday evening class. Once a month, at the parsonage, we gather together to read a portion of the Lutheran Confessions together. This custom began when Pastor Warner was here, and it continues.
What else can we do? How about a Bible study at the parsonage on a morning once a month? Or a Bible class after breakfast at a restaurant once a week? Or maybe a Bible class during or after lunch? Maybe you have an idea you would like to share. Please let me know what interests you, and let’s see what we can get going.
It is the duty of every Christian to know the teaching of God’s word. Even as our Lord Jesus warns us to beware of false prophets (St. Matthew 7:15) and St. John teaches us to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), it is the duty of every Christian to judge the teaching of his pastor by the standard of the Holy Scriptures. This is one reason why we catechize the young, requiring them to memorize Luther’s Small Catechism. St. Peter teaches us to be ready at all times to give a defense of what we believe [1 Peter 3:15). Our Lord Jesus tells us to confess him before men (Matthew 10:32). This requires a constant searching of the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-11) so that we can distinguish truth from error. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (St. John 14:6). Everything the Bible teaches us pertains to our relationship to Christ as our Savior. When we are grounded in God’s truth we will not be tossed this way and that by every trendy wave of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14).
We lose many of the things we love in life. What God gives us in his word cannot be taken away. It makes us wealthy and brings us peace.
Sincerely in Christ,