Friday, August 16, 2013

A Listener's Guide to the Pulpit

Is there a way to objectively evaluate a sermon we hear, whether in our own congregation, community, on TV, or online? Todd Wilken, pastor and radio host of the Lutheran radio show Issues, Etc. provides a resounding yes, and offers some greats tips to do just that. He starts with the Biblical purpose of pastors, namely to rightly divide the Word and preach the Word and to distinguish between the Law and the Gospel...Not to entertain, tell personal stories, or offer up one's own ideas about life, the Bible. It should challenge us to listen objectively to a sermon, and encourage those pastors who are preaching the Gospel and Christ in every sermon.

Here are a couple tidbits since the whole thing is a little long.

Walther was simply following Martin Luther’s lead. Luther explained this Law–Gospel distinction and the danger of ignoring it:

It is therefore a matter of utmost necessity that these two kinds of God’s Word be well and properly distinguished. Where this is not done, neither the Law nor the Gospel can be understood, and the consciences of men must perish with blindness and error. The Law has its goal fixed beyond which it cannot go or accomplish anything, namely, until the point is reached where Christ comes in. It must terrify the impenitent with threats of the wrath and displeasure of God. Likewise the Gospel has its peculiar function and task, viz. [namely], to proclaim forgiveness of sin to sorrowing souls. These two may not be commingled, nor the one substituted for the other, without a falsification of doctrine. For while the Law and the Gospel are indeed equally God’s Word, they are not the same doctrine.3
Further on:

John Pless comments on Walther’s answer.
The content of the preaching may be correct in that it uses words from the Bible. The preacher does not deny the truthfulness of scriptural claims. Nonetheless, the sermon fails as evangelical preaching in this regard: The Law is presented as good news, or the Gospel is presented as something we do. Such preaching, regardless of how many Bible passages are quoted or referenced, is not the preaching of Christ crucified as the only Savior of sinners.
And another:
Christian preachers aren’t called to preach the Bible in general or truth in general; they are called to preach a very particular biblical truth. In Paul’s words, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”12 A sermon that lacks this truth can’t be called a good sermon, and it can’t be called a Christian sermon.
One last one, for now:
Many of today’s preachers are apparently wiser than God. They have something better to preach than Christ crucified for sinners. From many pulpits today you will hear more about the Christian than the Christ. You will hear about marriage, family values, conflict resolution, financial security, and a host of other suburban moralisms. Instead of Paul’s “Christ and Him crucified,” the standard fare to today’s pulpit is “Me and Myself Improved.” Today’s preachers seem determined to know anything and everything except Christ crucified.

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