"(T)he pastor is to preach from the Bible text how the death of Christ can save even a Christian! Of the many possible themes in Scripture that may be preached, he is particularly to preach as central the forgiveness of sins wrought by Christ on our behalf.
"If the pastor does anything else that eclipses this, he is guilty of forsaking his call. If, for example, he uses the Bible text only for a call to deeper Christian living, he has forsaken his call. If he only placards Christ as an example of what we Christians are to emulate by the power of the Holy Spirit within us, he has forsaken his call. If he only preaches Christ as an answer to some perceived need we may have, other than the forgiveness of sins, he has forsaken his call. If he preaches only some laudable social or political action the congregation should take, he has forsaken his call. If he only does solid Bible-based education on some tangential topic in the Scriptures, he has forsaken his call." (emphasis in the original)
-- Dr Rod Rosenblatt, Christ Alone, Wheaton, Ill., Crossways Books, 1999, pp. 38-39. Dr. Rosenblatt is a professor of Theology at Concordia University, Irvine, Calif. He is also an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a co-host of the program, White Horse Inn, which can be heard in this area on KDCR (88.5 FM) Sundays at 8:30 pm.
Guests discuss the 9 parts of The Lord's Prayer with Pr. Todd Wilken:
Our Father Who art in heaven - Pr. Peter Bender, Peace Lutheran Church and Concordia Catechetical Academy, Sussex, Wisc. (mp3, 53:59, 22 MB, 2009-Aug-03)
Hallowed be Thy Name - Pr. Paul McCain, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo. (mp3, 54:00, 22 MB, 2009-Aug-04)
Thy Kingdom come - Dr. Laurence White, Our Savior Lutheran Church, Houston, Tex. (mp3, 53:59, 50 MB, 2009-Aug-05)
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven - Dr. Scott Murray, Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, Tex. (mp3, 53:59, 22 MB, 2009-Aug-06)
Give us this day our daily bread - Pr. Bill Cwirla of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Hacienda Heights, Calif. (mp3, 53:59, 22 MB, 2009-Aug-07)
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us - Pr. William Weedon, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel, Ill. (mp3, 54:00, 22 MB, 2009-Aug-10)
Lead us not into temptation - Dr. Steven Hein, Concordia Institute for Christian Studies, Monument, Co. (mp3, 53:59, 22 MB, 2009-Aug-11)
Deliver us from evil - Pr. Steven Parks, University Hills Lutheran Church, Denver, Co. (mp3, 54:29, 22.2 MB, 2009-Aug-12)
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen. - Dr. John Saleska, Concordia University Wisc., Mequon, Wisc. (mp3, 54:29, 22.2 MB, 2009-Aug-13)
The internet is full of allegations that the historical records of the life of Jesus are examples of a kind of religious plagiarism rehashing dying-and-rising-god fictions of ancient mythology. Read Mr. Koukl's article in Solid Ground magazine about the false connections being made of Jesus to mythology. (pdf , 352 KB, 4 pgs)
Pr. Daniel Preus of Luther Academy discusses Christ-Centered Theology with Pr Todd Wilken:
Law and Gospel (mp3, 35:02, 14 MB, 2009-May-06)
Baptism and Lord's Supper (mp3, 28:30, 11 MB, 2009-May-13)
Conversion (mp3, 33:25, 13 MB, 2009-May-20)
The above discussions are based on Pr. Preus' book, Why I Am a Lutheran: Jesus at the Center
By Pastor Sean L. Rippy
As one who has written contemporary worship (CW) services in three different congregations, started it in one congregation, who has been raised on much of its music through radio and worship services, who sought for something in CW that he thought could not be found in LW, who actually likes much of the music of CW and who believed firmly that you could make contemporary worship, Lutheran, but has now rejected CW as profane, allow me to chime in.
The primary question in relation to any kind of worship style is to determine whether it is Christian and to what extent it is Christian. For example, Voodoo rituals are said to be a mixture of Roman Catholicism and pagan rites. To the extent that their rituals are "Christian" it would still not be wise to use their worship styles or rites, as most of us would agree that there is way too much paganism (even evil demon worship) involved. I think most of us would agree that even a drop of unchristian theology or worship would be intolerable.
Furthermore, as Lutherans, we understand and believe certain things about the scriptures and about what the scriptures say about worship. In relation to the question of worship, it is important, in order for us to be Lutheran, that we determine what kind of worship is Lutheran. In essence, as Lutherans, we seek a worship that conforms to the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions; which, in our understanding, is synonymous with Christian worship. (i.e. Lutheran worship and Biblical Christian worship are one and the same)
To this end we ask the question: "What does the Word of God say about worship?"
The Word of God teaches us:
1. To use doctrinally pure material - i.e. no heresies, nor even a hint of heresy (Gal. 1:6-10; 1 Tim. 1:3-7; Titus 1:9-2:1, etc.)
2. A particular form which includes:
Hymns (Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19, etc.)
Prayers (2 Chron. 6:40; 7:15; Psalm 141:2; Luke 1:10; 2:37; Eph. 6:18; 1 Tim. 2:1; 1 Kings 8:33; Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4, etc.)
Reading of Scripture (Acts 13:14-15, 27; 15:21; 1 Tim. 4:13; Luke 4:16-22; Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27, etc.)
Preaching which is focused on Christ (Acts 15:21; Matt. 4:23; Mark 1:39; Rom. 10:14; 1 Tim. 4:13, etc.)
Worship which is focused on Christ Jesus (Hebrews 9:1-10:25; Matt. 2:2; Phil. 3:3; Heb. 1:6; 3:1; Rev. 5:1-14; 1 Cor. 1:22-24; 2:2; 2 Cor. 4:5; Ps. 29:2; 95:6; Zech. 14:16, etc.)
The Lord's Supper (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16-21; 11:17-31; Rev. 19:9)
Confession of faith/Creed (Rom. 10:9-10; Phil. 2:10-11; 13:15; 1 Tim. 6:12)
Confession of sins and Forgiveness (1 Kings 8:33-34; Prov. 28:13; Ezra 10:11; Neh. 1:6-7; 9:3; Dan. 9:20; 1 Sam. 7:6; Neh. 9:2; Matt. 3:2, 6; Acts 3:19, 19:18; 1 John 1:8-10; James 5:16, etc.)
Grace and mercy coming from God, followed by our praise and thanksgiving (Ezek. 11:19-20; Ps. 103:11-14; Isa 1:18; Heb. 13:15; Ps. 9:11; 47:6; 147:1; Jer. 31:7; Heb. 2:12; Rev. 5:12; 7:12; 19:5, etc.)
3. That the worship service must be done in decency and in good order (1 Cor. 12-14, esp. 14:26-40)
4. That the worship service be reverent (Lev. 19:30; Joshua 5:14; Ps. 5:7; Heb. 12:28; Eccl. 8:12; Heb. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:17, etc.)
The Lutheran Confessions teach us:
1. The proper, highest worship is to acknowledge one's sins and to seek forgiveness--the ebb and flow of worship: God forgives, we praise Him. (Ap. IV, par. 154; Ap. IV, par. 310; LC 1, par. 16; AC XXI par. 3; Ap XXIV, par. 71f)
2. Christ is the center of worship. (AC XXI par. 3)
3. Outward ceremonies do not make one righteous. (AC XXVII par 40f; Ap XV par. 20-21)
4. Outward ceremonies ("such as the liturgy of the Mass and various Canticles, festivals, and the like") which serve to preserve order in the church may be changed, reduced or increased without sin. (AC XXVII par. 40f, FC X; SD X)
5. "We should not consider as matters of indifference, and we should avoid as forbidden by God, ceremonies which are basically contrary to the Word of God, even though they go under the name and guise of external adiaphora and are given a different color from their true one" (SD X par. 5). (I believe CW falls under this.)
"Neither are useless and foolish spectacles, which serve neither good order, Christian discipline, nor evangelical decorum in the church, true adiaphora or things indifferent" (SD X par. 7). (I believe CW often falls under this as well.)
6. "The real adornment of the churches is godly, practical, and clear teaching, the godly use of the sacraments, ardent prayer, and the like. Candles, golden vessels and ornaments like that are fitting, but they are not the peculiar adornment of the church. If our opponents center their worship in such things rather than in the proclamation of the Gospel, in faith, and in its struggles, they should be classified with those whom Daniel (11:38) describes as worshiping their God with "gold and silver" (Ap. XXIV par. 51).
(These are not attempts at comprehensive lists)
Within these guidelines there are varieties of worship: Matins, Vespers, Compline, The Divine Service (I, II in LW & pg. 15 in TLH), The Service of the Word (a.k.a. the Half-Mass--pg. 5 in TLH), The Deutsche Messe (DS III in LW), Nones, Sext, evening prayer, morning prayer, etc.
Furthermore, there are other worship services which may be created for edifying use in the church--services which must follow the prescribed forms and orders of scripture and the Lutheran confessions.
Now how does Contemporary Worship fit into all of this?
While CW is sometimes very hard to define, over the years I have realized certain commonalities between each service that is called "Contemporary". I have learned these by reading books on the subject, attending conferences, being trained by my vicarage pastors and by trial and error. I have even been told when some of my services were not "contemporary" and why. Through this process of discovery I have learned that the Esse of CW is not Lutheran or Biblical. The Esse is that which is at the core and soul of a thing. It is that which if you took it away, it would cease to be what it was and become something else. In other words, what is it that distinguishes CW and sets it apart from Liturgical worship? And does that distinction make CW unlutheran and unbiblical?
1. CW is distinguished by a focus on emotion--often referred to as "meaningful." CW has accepted the Pentecostal theology of spirituality and has therefore defined deeply-felt emotions as true spirituality. Whether it is more "emotional/meaningful" music, or more emotional/meaningful" sermons, or a more "emotional/meaningful" service, it's still the same focus on the subjective self and emotion. In this line, charismatic preaching is important to CW. Charismatic choirs are important to CW. Enjoyable, charismatic songs are important to CW. It may be possible that the pastor who engages in CW does not have this specific understanding of spirituality; however it is reflected in his actions and in his CW.
The primary goal of CW is to pump you up, to make you feel more emotional and charged about Christ and this becomes "true" spirituality. It's a pep rally of sorts. Even when this "pep rally" mentality is toned down, the goal is still some form of emotional, uplifting experience. From the CW perspective, excitement supposedly shows your commitment to Christ.
This is contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding of the Holy Spirit and true spirituality. True spirituality is not a function of emotion, but rather a function of the Word and Sacraments. True spirituality is not subjective, but objective. True spirituality cannot be found in a song but only in the means of grace.
This is also contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding that the proper, highest worship is to acknowledge one's sins and to seek forgiveness. Which means more than that confession and forgiveness are offered in the service, but rather, that the entire service is one of confession and forgiveness through Word and Sacraments. The Lutheran service is penitential and joyous at the same time.
One might also argue that this is also contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding that the worship service be reverent and done in decency and good order.
2. CW is distinguished by "Self-Help" or "How to" sermons: "How to be a Better Christian," "How to be a Better Husband," "How to be a Christian Leader."
This is contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding of Law and Gospel preaching centered on Christ and Him crucified.
3. CW is distinguished by a lack of reverence--often referred to as less stodgy and "more spiritual" (see emotions above).
This is contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding of reverence in worship.
4. CW is distinguished by Pentecostal and Baptist music. By Pentecostal I mean, the style of music was created/brought in by the Pentecostal church, the majority of authors are Pentecostal or Evangelical and/or the songs reflect Pentecostal and Baptist/Evangelical theology, especially as it relates to "meaningful/spiritual" worship (see emotions above). There's a lot of focus on the individual and what we do for God (usually praising Him) rather than on what Christ does for us. There's a lot of focus on the Holy Spirit (from the heterodoxical Pentecostal theological perspective).
This is contrary to the Biblical and Lutheran understanding of using only doctrinally pure materials.
This is not exhaustive, but sufficient, I think for the current discussion.
One may follow up by asking if it’s possible to avoid some of these dangers and still use CW? In other words, "Is it possible to write a contemporary service using Baptist and Evangelical forms and make it Lutheran?"
After having been told by several "experts" in the field that one's form is predicated by one's theology and that it is therefore impossible to use Baptist/Evangelical worship forms and still be Lutheran (this principal is very old--so old it is known in Latin: "Lex orandi, Lex credendi," meaning: the law of worship is the law of belief or to put it more succinctly: "How you worship is how you believe." Form and substance are intricately united). However, after having been told that it was impossible to use evangelical forms and have Lutheran substance, I tried anyway. I followed Pastor David Luecke's understanding of "Evangelical style and Lutheran substance." I fervently believed that it was possible to blend Evangelical style with Lutheran substance and come up with a solid and unique Lutheran worship style.
This is where I got caught up in trying to write a Lutheran Contemporary Worship Service. I knew that one of the things to be avoided was this Pentecostal concept of Spirituality. It was certainly very difficult to avoid in the songs--almost impossible in fact, as most CW songs are predicated upon this singular concept (spirituality is feelings and feelings are given by the Spirit without means: "Spirit Rain," "Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me," "Blaze Spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire," etc.--which is obviously not the Lutheran understanding of spirituality or the means by which the Spirit comes to us.) Furthermore, as I was attempting to write a Lutheran liturgy which could be defined as contemporary, I quickly realized that one of the definitions of CW is that it had to be less reverent and more "spiritual" or emotional in nature. Note the titles of some of these contemporary services: "Celebration Service," "Spirit Song," etc. These titles reflect an unLutheran, dare I say unChristian emphasis upon feelings as opposed to the gift of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. (While a title such as "Celebration Service" can be defended as the celebration of Easter or Christ, sadly, oftentimes the service and sermon themselves reveal this is not the case. Also it is the juxtaposition between "celebration" and "traditional." If the "celebration" service is a celebration of joy, then what is the "traditional" service? Whether intended or not, titles teach!)
What I found was none of the "forms" for CW (for indeed there are general categories that are the same within CW) reflected a Lutheran view of spirituality and worship. It seems that while Lutherans believed and maintained that the Bible says worship must be reverent and holy, the esse (soul) of CW was less reverent (I believe it's actually irreverent) and more emotionally driven.
Coming to this realization, I tried to make a Lutheran CW which might avoid these pitfalls. Working on the principal that it surely isn't the unLutheran view of spirituality and irreverence which the people were requesting, I sat down to prepare the services. In the early days, I actually tried to write my own liturgies, working from CW sources and preprinted CW services, trying to remain faithful to the hymnal. It didn't take long before I realized: a. how difficult it is to write liturgies as opposed to sermons; b. how easily you can mislead people (heresy) when you thought you were writing something else and c. how quickly the people began to misunderstand worship. For example, when one uses an "Evangelical" or "Pentecostal" term, such as "Praise and Worship," it carries certain meanings, which our people have learned from the Christian radio and popular Christian books, and which do not correspond to a Lutheran understanding of those words. Or when one sings "Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me," it carries an unchristian/Pentecostal message, whether it can be understood correctly or not. The author is not saying, "Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me, through Word and Sacrament. Oh, and by fresh, I do not mean that I have somehow lost the Spirit, since I don't feel Him right now."
Later, I began to use various combinations of already written liturgical forms. For example, I took a Gloria from one Lutheran hymn book and the Kyrie from another, trying to find more emotionally enjoyable settings--if we sang them at all (we often didn't because the more chant like tones were considered "a bland expression of the liturgy" to quote Rev. Dittmer). Also, I changed their names to reflect an easier understanding. I might place a popular hymn for the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy). I printed everything out in the bulletin (a must for CW). In spite of the heretical dangers of most CW songs, we chose only "contemporary" music for the "hymns" and we had the whole band thing. I tried to choose the least objectionable “contemporary” songs and those that could at least be understood correctly. What I discovered is, they still led the people astray.
In spite of this, I was told repeatedly, "This is not contemporary worship!" I was frequently requested to add more feeling to the service (like the last pastor did) and make it more "spiritual." I received complaints like: "The service it too strict" (i.e. reverent). "I don't sense the Holy Spirit anymore." The music director repeatedly implored that the opening hymns were supposed to be "uplifting" so we can "lift the rafters" and the closing hymn had to be similarly "uplifting" lest we leave on a low note. And we had to have several opening hymns in order to achieve the "perfect" worshipful mood.
It is also of the essence of CW that the sermon not be a Law and Gospel Sermon, but rather a sermon about getting through life (as if Law and Gospel did not do this--in fact there might be something to the argument that CW sermons have changed the Lutheran understanding of how one gets through life--not by confession and absolution, but by trying harder). Oftentimes this is defended as preaching the third use of the law--however, Lutherans have always contended whether you have a section of third use or not, the Gospel must predominate. This is certainly not the case in the CW sermons I have heard. I received complaints that my sermons talked about sin. I received complaints that my sermons weren't applicable to daily life. I received complaints that I wasn't preaching 10 steps to greater health or a better marriage or whatever.
It was at this moment that I realized that what the people were requesting was not, in fact, Lutheran worship, but rather a mix of Lutheran and Evangelical/Pentecostal theology in their worship. They wanted Evangelical spirituality and Lutheran communion, two things that are not actually compatible. Eventually, one must replace the other. In fact, Pastor David Luecke has apparently realized the same thing for a few years ago he told a NOW district conference that we need to think of the means of grace as a failed strategy and adopt new forms and substance in order to grow.
What I learned in summary:
1. As a writer of liturgy you lead people astray. Even if you get one week "perfect" that's only 1 out of 52. (See below on writing liturgy.)
2. The CW songs lead people astray.
3. The people who request CW are not requesting Lutheran worship, but a hybrid of Evangelical/Pentecostal worship with a Lutheran understanding of communion added on. (Though this too shall change, I imagine, as the two theologies cannot stand side by side. The one must replace the other.)
It is often falsely believed that if a pastor can write a "good" (often defined as God-pleasing) sermon, then he can write a "good/God-pleasing" worship service. As one who has attempted to write contemporary worship services and as one who has spoken to those who "create" worship services for our hymnals, allow me to say, "This is not true." Besides the significant point that from my experience most of the pastors who go for contemporary worship do not write (or preach, or even seem to understand) "God-pleasing"--Law and Gospel sermons, and therefore do not write God-pleasing--Gottesdienst--besides that! Writing liturgy is a different task than writing a sermon. When you write a sermon, you have an entire 15-20 minutes (average) to get your point across. If you make a mistake, or misspeak, you can correct yourself. When you make a point, you can make it in several different ways, using different examples to make sure you don't miscommunicate. You can still miscommunicate, of course, however, it's less likely than when you write a liturgy. When you write a liturgy, you have one or two sentences to get it right and that without misleading anyone.
Oftentimes, you wind up writing what makes sense to you (the author) but not what makes sense to the people (a situation much easier to deal with in a sermon, where you have more time and more words to explain). This is why it takes liturgies years of writing, discussing and practice before they officially come out. Talk to the people who write liturgies for the hymnals--it takes a group (not 1 pastor) and about 2-3 years to get it right. And remember, for the most part, they're using already tried and trusted wordings! The simple truth of the matter is, pastors are not trained to write liturgies. We have not taken classes to that effect (primarily because no one thought we'd need to have that skill). And those parish pastors that attend conferences on writing worship services, often wind up taking classes from Reformed/Baptist/Pentecostal sources, thus absorbing their theology.
Furthermore, in the desire to make Christian concepts more understandable, CW has a penchant for using metaphors and language that are not scriptural and certainly not Lutheran and often misleads, even if they can be understood correctly. One series of CW services I was using used the example of a summer bus trip for the theme of the summer services. The metaphors used during the confession and absolution alone were down right ridiculous and would be humorous if not actually used in a worship service. In replacing the words of the Bible with the words of human understanding, we are leading our people further and further from the Word--a point which might be highlighted by recent Barna research indicating that Christians are becoming less and less able to understand the Bible. Could it be that we're taking away one of the primary helps to interpretation of the Bible--the Liturgy? Historically, this is how the liturgy has been used--as an interpreter of the Bible. The Liturgy helps us understand the Bible, but not when you change the Biblical metaphors and words to "modern" metaphors and words.
Also, CW likes to use a lot of Bible passages from the O.T. to replace the wording of the liturgy (i.e. the confession and absolution) and while it is certainly laudable to use Bible passages in the liturgy which, of course, Lutherans do in the traditional services, due to the unfortunate and almost total stranglehold that Pentecostals and Evangelicals have on O.T. understanding through the radio, music and popular Christian books, and because CW often only quotes a part of a Psalm or O.T. passage (usually the praise parts--remember it's the emotional build-up that's important), it often misleads our own people into believing Lutherans have the same understanding. The Introits and Psalm readings in Lutheran Worship seem to avoid this by quoting larger sections of the Psalms, if not the whole Psalm. In other words, it's the question of how you quote the O.T. (or Bible for that matter). Are you trying to design an emotional response or center on Christ Jesus?
Very often the end result of Contemporary worship writing is Baptist/Evangelical/Pentecostal theology (form and substance) with the Lord's Supper thrown in. The Confession of sins is still there, however it is very often not a Lutheran understanding of the confession of sins (most I've seen are very weak on sin and either ignore original sin or make sin sound like we're apologizing rather than confessing. The Absolution is often very anemic and often comes off sounding like an "Oh, that's okay" sort of reaction to an apology.)
The Benediction is still there (now called a blessing), but it is not a Lutheran understanding of the Benediction. Benedictions in CW are almost always "encouragements" to go into the world and do better. This is not a Blessing!
The creeds are often vacant and if they are present they are either rewritten or simply torn down and built anew. They certainly do not represent the concept of an ecumenical creed which has been believed and confessed by all Christians for 2,000 years and unites us in that moment of confession with all those who have passed on in the faith.
Communion becomes McCommunion (a speedy version of lines where the pastor might not even commune some people at all! Certainly not Lutheran).
The vast majority of the songs (and yes I've seen a lot of them in my time as contemporary worship writer) are simply heretical. Sometimes they can be understood correctly, but that is no excuse to use songs which in their original understanding are contrary to our understanding of scripture and, without extensive study, lead the people astray. Those that are not heretical are simply not as good and solid theologically as the hymns we already have. Consider St. Paul's example of milk and meat. CW songs are, at their best, milk (or, as I like to use, cotton candy--it tastes sweet to the mouth but dissolves quickly and rots your teeth--not necessary for life and can be harmful) while hymns are meat (good, strong steak--good for you and necessary for life)--not a perfect analogy but useful. And, at worst, CW songs are heretical, leading people astray.
Popular CW songs like, "We exalt Thee" or "Great is the Lord" etc. are vague as to whom we are addressing. They can be sung by Christian, Jew and Muslim alike and are centered upon the Reformed concept of the sovereignty of God, rather than the Lutheran emphasis upon Christ. An occasional song here or there which speaks of the sovereignty of God is indeed good, right and salutary. We have a few hymns along these lines. However, Lutheran hymnody is largely centered on Christ and rightly (ritely) so. Christ-centered hymns are a hallmark of Lutheran worship. Furthermore, it is the belief (theology) of the Pentecostal church that these songs are designed to "put God on His throne." They actually believe that you "must" begin your worship service with such songs, praising God's might and power so that God might see the great faith of the gathered congregation and come to that service with His power and might.
In trying to avoid many of these pitfalls, I found my "contemporary" worship services getting closer and closer to the Divine Service in the hymnal. The more pitfalls I avoided, the closer it got to the Divine Service.
In the final analysis I have found that, whether intended or not, the irreverence and unbiblical spirituality of CW has the ultimate effect of pointing us to our feelings and not to Christ. This makes CW profane, in the truest sense of the word.
"For profanity consists in this: for the sensual gratification or amusement of the moment to give up that which is spiritual and unseen; to be careless of that which is holy, so as to snatch the present enjoyment--in short, practically not to deem anything holy at all, if it stands in the way of present pleasure" (Edersheim, Bible History, Old Testament, p. 112). This was written in the context of Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage but has application to all things profane.
CW trades that which is truly spiritual and unseen for enjoyment (which CW defines as spiritual). Since CW defines deeply felt emotions as true spirituality, it is no surprise then that they trade true worship for felt needs--again, whether intentional or not.
Finally, remember this, CW is not new. Versions of CW have tried to come into the church through various means: Pietism, Pentecostalism, NeoPentecostalism, and now through the CW movement. As Lutherans, we have conscientiously and consistently rejected their attempts to move us away from our Christ-centered worship, until recently.
Pastor Sean Rippy, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a former advocate of Contemporary Worship, discusses the differences between historic and contemporary Christian worship, highlighting where contemporary worship falls short with Pr. Todd Wilken on Issues, Etc. Classics. (mp3, ~25 MB, 53:48, 2003-Oct-23)
Issues, Etc., Classics were broadcast on KFUO-AM in St. Louis, and other stations around the country. Phone number and address mentioned are no longer valid.
Pastor Sean Rippy, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a former advocate of Contemporary Worship, discusses the differences between historic and contemporary Christian worship, highlighting where contemporary worship falls short. (mp3, 53:48, 25 MB, 2003-Oct-23)
Issues, Etc., Classics (before June 30, 2008) originated at KFUO-AM in St. Louis, and were broadcast on other stations around the country. Phone numbers and address mentioned are no longer valid.
See also Pastor Rippy's article "In Defense of Historical Worship - From a Former Advocate of Contemporary Worship"
The Sheep Judge Their Shepherds - Dr. C.F.W. Walther (12 pgs, 198 kb) Booklet (6 pgs, 193 kb) printable
The Judgment of the Sheep Over Their Shepherds
Eighth Sunday after Trinity
C. F. W. Walther
(Translated by Rev. Donald E. Heck)
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus.
God's Church on earth has always been a militant Church. She has always been oppressed and persecuted by the world and its mighty; even within the Church herself men have continually arisen, who have spread false doctrine, obtained a following, and thus harassed the Church, causing division and offense. In the Church of Adam was self-righteous Cain; in the Church of Noah, Ham who despised his father; in the Church of Abraham, the mocker Ishmael; in the Church of the prophets many false prophets who preached and the Lord had not sent them, who falsely comforted the people and misled them into idolatry. Almost everywhere even in the apostolic Church where the Gospel was preached arose heretics who caused splits, yes, often destroyed whole flourishing congregations. St. Paul classes among those especially Alexander the silversmith, Hymenaeus, and Philetus. St. John names the entire sect of the Nicolaitans. Thus it has continued until this very day.
Mrs. Colleen Campbell discusses the sexualization of girls with Pr. Todd Wilken (mp3, 14:29, 5.9 MB, 2009-Aug-27)
Mr. Craig Parton, author of The Defense Never Rests, discusses Evangelical Style and Lutheran Substance with Pr. Todd Wilken (mp3, 25:58, 4.5 MB, 2008-Jul-01)
Pr. Wilken: "Can we talk about evangelical style and Lutheran substance and really make any sense?"
Mr. Parton: "Somebody who says they're going to do Lutheran substance and evangelical style generally means they don't know anything about either subject. So you ask them, 'What is Lutheran substance?' and you get a vacuous stare, a couple of things said, unlikely correct. Then you ask them, 'What's evangelical style?' And they'll inevitably be wrong because if they're Lutherans, they're thirty years behind the times, and their idea of evangelical style is not what's being done out here in California at the leading evangelical centers."
See also Dr. Fickenscher's article: "Are Today's Ears Hearing The Timeless Message?: Preaching And Hearing Law And Gospel In Today's Culture"
Mrs. Rebekah Curtis on Issues, Etc. discusses How Girls Dress with Pr. Todd Wilken (mp3, 26:00, 10.5 MB, 2008-Sep-22)
See also Mrs. Curtis' article, "Hey Good Lookin'," in the Summer 2008 issue of Higher Things Magazine:
A girl's wardrobe can explain a lot about her. (I mean, Kathy Luder wears ladybug necklaces. What does that say?) So how should a Christian young lady dress? Can she wear a mini-skirt or does she have to wear a dress the size of a tent? If you're interested in maintaining your modesty, Mrs. Curtis is here to help.
Criteria for Discerning the Usefulness of Praise Songs
Determining the truth of what someone is saying is impossible if the person isn't actually saying anything. This is the great difficulty of assessing praise songs commonly used in the church. The nature of modern praise songs makes them difficult to make them useful judgments regarding their fitness for use in the church's worship. Often the songs are written in sentence fragments, thought and phrases rather than a regular sentence with an subject, verb and object. Simple questions are often unanswerable: “Who is this talking about?” “What does this mean?” “What is the relationship between one phrase and another?”
When I was a child we would play a game on the 4th of July. Some smarty would take a tub of Vaseline and slather up a watermelon and toss it into the swimming pool. Dozens of kids would try to get it out of the water. Any time you thought you had a hold of the melon it would squirt out of your arms. This is something of the difficulty in making a clear judgment about such ambiguous lyrics. (Of course this ambiguity is a big part of the problem.)
What is needed, then, is an objective method of judging the usefulness of a praise song for edifying the Lord's church and bringing the comfort of the forgiveness of sins.
Pr. Wilken: "Is it possible to care more about evangelism than the evangel?"
Pr. Wolfmueller: "I think that distinction, right there, is just precisely outlining the difference between a pastor and a church bureaucrat, or maybe a Christian and a church bureaucrat. For one of the Lord's Christians, the thing, the theological blood that beats through our heart is the evangel, the good news that Jesus lived and died on the cross for our sins, that He rose again for our justification, and that even now He stands before the Father pleading our case, on our behalf, that this good news, that everything that God has done for us, this is what makes a Christian.
"If you start to care more about spreading that news or getting that news out there, and you care about that more than the news itself, then I really think you've finally become a church bureaucrat and what you're interested in is organizing people or aligning people to be busy about the news of telling the Gospel but you never actually get around to telling the Gospel itself, to speaking the forgiveness of sins."
UPDATED! Pastor William Weedon was recently interviewed by Pastor Todd Wilken on the Historic Liturgy (24 Parts):
Part 1: Introduction (mp3, 57:20, 23 MB, 2012-May-10)
Part 2: Confession (mp3, 57:19, 22.9 MB, 2012-May-25)
Part 3: Absolution (mp3, 57:20, 22.9 MB, 2012-May-31)
Part 4: Introit and Gloria Patri (mp3, 57:20, 22.9 MB, 2012-Jul-12)
Part 5: Kyrie (mp3, 57:21, 22.9 MB, 2012-Jul-19)
Part 6: Gloria (mp3, 57:16, 22.9 MB, 2012-Jul-26)
Part 7: Worthy Is Christ (mp3, 57:20, 52.8 MB (128 kbps), 2012-Aug-02)
Part 8: The Salutation and The Collect (mp3, 57:20, 23.4 MB, 2012-Aug-09)
Part 9: The Readings and the Old Testament Reading (mp3, 58:20, 23.4 MB, 2012-Aug-16)
Part 10: The Gradual and the Alleluia (mp3, 58:20, 23.3 MB, 2012-Aug-23)
Part 11: The Epistle and the Gospel (mp3, 58:20, 23.3 MB, 2012-Sep-20)
Part 12: The Creed (mp3, 58:20, 23.3 MB, 2012-Sep-27)
Part 13: The Sermon Hymn and Hymns in the Divine Service (mp3, 58:20, 23.3 MB, 2012-Oct-04)
Part 14: The Sermon (mp3, 58:19, 23.3 MB, 2012-Oct-11)
Part 15: The Intercessions and Prayers (mp3, 57:20, 23.4 MB, 2012-Nov-15)
Part 16: The Offertory and Offering (mp3, 57:20, 23.4 MB, 2012-Nov-23)
Part 17: The Preface and Proper Preface (mp3, 57:20, 23.4 MB, 2012-Nov-29)
Part 18: The Sanctus (mp3, 58:51, 23.5 MB, 2012-Dec-06)
Part 19: The Our Father and the Verba (mp3, 1:11:20, 29 MB, 2012-Dec-13)
Part 20: The Pax Domini and the Agnus Dei (mp3, 57:19, 23.1 MB, 2013-Jan-10)
Part 21: The Distribution and the Distribution Hymns (mp3, 57:19, 23.1 MB, 2013-Jan-31)
Part 22: The Nunc Dimittus and Post Communion Collects (mp3, 57:20, 23.1 MB, 2013-Feb-07)
Part 23: The Benediction (mp3, 57:20, 23.1 MB, 2013-Feb-28)
Part 24: Conclusion (mp3, 57:30, 23.2 MB, 2013-Mar-07)
What is the Historic Liturgy? (mp3, 53:47, 25 MB, 2003-Jun-10)
Preparatory Service: Invocation, Confession and Absolution (mp3, 53:49, 25 MB, 2003-Jun-17)
Word Service: Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Salutation and Collect (mp3, 54:14, 31 MB, 2003-Jul-17)
Word Service: Scripture Readings - Old Testament, Epistle, Holy Gospel (mp3, 53:44, 31 MB, 2003-Jul-22)
Word Service: Creed, Hymn of the Day, Sermon/Homily (mp3, 53:44, 37 MB, 2003-Aug-05)
Word Service: Prayer of the Church, Offertory, Offering (mp3, 53:39, 37 MB, 2003-Aug-19)
Sacrament Service: Preface, Proper Preface, Sanctus (mp3, 53:43, 31 MB, 2003-Aug-26)
Sacrament Service: Lord's Prayer, Verba, Pax (mp3, 53:45, 31 MB, 2003-Sep-02)
Sacrament Service: Agnus Dei, Distribution, Nunc Dimittis (mp3, 53:43, 31 MB, 2003-Sep-09)
Sacrament Service: Thanksgiving, Salutation, Benedicamus, Benediction (mp3, 53:43, 31 MB, 2003-Sep-16)
Issues, Etc., Classics (before June 30, 2008) originated at KFUO-AM in St. Louis, and were broadcast on other stations around the country. Phone number and address mentioned are no longer valid.
Pr. Wilken: "Are you worshiping the true God?
(I)f your preacher doesn't get you to the cross every Sunday,
he hasn't gotten you to the true God.
He's gotten you to a reasonable facsimile,
but not the true God.
If he doesn't get you to the suffering, the bleeding, the dying of Jesus Christ for you at the cross,
(he) may have said many true things about God,
but God has not revealed Himself to you, yet.
This is why whether you are preaching or praying or singing on Sunday morning,
when you go to worship God,
make sure it's the true God
and not just your preacher's reasonable facsimile
or a god of your own invention.
Make sure it is Christ and Him crucified, raised from the dead, for you and for your salvation."
Pastors' Roundtable on The First Article of the Creed - God the Father, with host Pr. Todd Wilken and guests (mp3, 54:30, 22 MB, 2009-Aug-13)
Pr. Timothy Mueller, St. John Lutheran Church, New Minden, Ill. and St. Luke Lutheran Church, Covington, lll,
Pr. Steve Sommerer, Messiah Lutheran Church, Carlyle, Ill., and
Pr. Charles Lehmann, St. John Lutheran Church, Accident, Md.
Excerpt on Theistic Evolution:
Pr. Timothy Mueller: "If evolutionary teaching is true, and theistic evolution that things came into being by this billions of year process directed by God somehow, then God is the author and the source of evil and death. But the Scriptures tell a radically different story that God created everything good, and it is man's sin that plunged the world into such trouble and misery that we have. And Christ is the Redeemer of man and in Him all creation will be redeemed."
Pastors' Roundtable on The Second Article of the Creed - God the Son, with host Pr. Todd Wilken and guests (mp3, 54:30, 22 MB, 2009-Aug-20)
Pastors' Roundtable on The Third Article of the Creed - God the Holy Spirit, with host Pr. Todd Wilken and guests (mp3, 54:30, 22 MB, 2009-Aug-27)
Issues, Etc. Journal, Summer 2017
More than a decade ago I wrote “A Listeners Guide to the Pulpit.” At the time, my goal was simple: I wanted to help the average Christian sitting in the pew to tell the difference between good preaching and bad preaching. I dealt with the most egregious forms of bad preaching I could think of, and I thought I had covered it all. I hadn’t. Since then I have become aware of other kinds of bad preaching, some of which I had engaged in myself. To ﬁll in the gaps and confess to my own bad preaching, I offer this update of the original essay.
Most of the preachers were dynamic, engaging, interesting and even entertaining...
Most of their sermons were terrible.
How hard could it be? You go to church. The preacher preaches. You sit and listen. Easy, right?
But how do you tell the difference between a good sermon and a bad sermon? What makes good preaching good, and bad preaching bad?
For several years Issues, Etc. has been doing on–air sermon reviews. We’ve reviewed the sermons of Joel Osteen, D. James Kennedy, T.D. Jakes, Robert Schuller, Joyce Meyer, and many less well–known preachers. We’ve reviewed the sermons of Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and others. Most of these preachers were speaking to packed auditoriums and to worldwide television audiences. Most of the preachers were dynamic, engaging, interesting, and even entertaining. Most of the preachers are considered the best of the best preachers in the world.
Most of their sermons were terrible.
I don’t make this judgment based on my own subjective tastes or my own personal standard. I make this judgment based on the objective difference between good preaching and bad preaching.
Is there an objective standard for good preaching? Yes. It is a standard every Christian should know and use every time they hear a sermon. Every Christian needs to know the difference between a good sermon and a bad sermon.
God’s Two Teachings
St. Paul writes to the young preacher Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). Paul says that God’s Word of truth must be handled with care. To rightly divide God’s Word is the preacher’s ﬁrst and most important task. Nineteenth–century theologian, C.F.W. Walther describes what Paul means in his famous treatise, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel:
The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other; viz.[namely], the Law and the Gospel … Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all the articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguished from each other the Law and the Gospel. (C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1928, pp. 6 http://www.lutherantheology.com/uploads/works/walther/LG/lecture-01.html, 30 http://www.lutherantheology.com/uploads/works/walther/LG/lecture-04.html.)
Walther was simply following the leader of the sixteenth-century reformer Martin Luther. Luther explained this critical distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel 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. (Martin Luther, “Sermon on the Distinction Between the Law and the Gospel,” Luther’s Works, St. L. Ed. IX, p. 799.)
Through His Law, God shows us His will. Through His Law, God tells us what He requires and what He forbids. Through His Law, God demands perfect obedience in thought, word and deed. Through His Law, God shows us that we have not done what He requires and have done what He forbids. Through His Law, God says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind... You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39). Through His Law, God calls anything short of perfect obedience sin.
Through His Gospel, God tells us what He has done in Jesus Christ to save those who have broken His Law. Through His Gospel, God shows us that Jesus has done everything He required of us by His Law. Through His Gospel, God shows us that Jesus has been punished under the Law in our place. Through His Gospel, God answers the perfect demands of His Law with the perfect, sinless death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel says, “What the Law could not do in that it was weak through the ﬂesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful ﬂesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the ﬂesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulﬁlled in us” (Rom. 8:3–4).Through His Gospel, God answers the requirements of His Law with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for us. Through His Gospel, God makes no demands whatsoever. There is only the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
What does this have to do with difference between a good sermon and a bad sermon? Everything. The essential difference between a good sermon and a bad sermon is whether or not the preacher rightly divides and applies God's Law and God’s Gospel. A good sermon must show sinners their sin and show sinners their Savior. Again Luther writes:
This difference between the Law and the Gospel is the height of knowledge in Christendom. Every person and all persons who assume or glory in the name of Christian should know and be able to state this difference. If this ability is lacking, one cannot tell a Christian from a heathen or a Jew; of such supreme importance is this differentiation. This is why St. Paul so strongly insists on a clean–cut and proper differentiating of these two doctrines. (Martin Luther, Sermon on Galatians, 1532.)
So these two, Law and Gospel, must always go together in every sermon. They must be carefully divided in every sermon. God's Law must show us our sin, and God's Gospel must silence the Law’s accusations against us with the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus for us.
This is not to say that a good sermon will ONLY do this. Good preaching, according to Paul, does many things: It rebukes, reproves, admonishes, corrects, comforts, encourages, trains and teaches (Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 10:11; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:4; 3:16; Titus 1:9). But whatever else good preaching does, it must above all rightly condemn us on account of our sin and declare us innocent on account of Jesus.
That was a Good Sermon?
Some people hear a sermon and say, “That was a good sermon. I agree with everything the preacher said.” A sermon is good when you hear what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Some of the greatest sermons Jesus ever preached fell on deaf ears. Some of the worst sermons today draw the biggest audiences.
Other people hear a sermon and say, “That was a good sermon. Everything the preacher said was true.” That may well be; a preacher might say all sorts of true things. But he may still fail to preach the Truth that sinners need to hear. C.F.W. Walther posed a question to his young seminary students: “Suppose someone could truthfully say, ‘There was no false teaching in my sermon,’ still his entire sermon may have been wrong. Can that be true?” Walther says, "Yes":
Only he is an orthodox teacher who, in addition to other requirements, rightly distinguishes Law and Gospel from each other. That is the final test of a proper sermon. The value of a sermon depends not only on this, that every statement in it be taken from the Word of God and be in agreement with the same, but also on this, whether Law and Gospel have been rightly divided. Of the same building materials furnished two architects one will construct a magnificent building, while the other, using the same materials, makes a botch of it. (C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1928, pp. 31–32.)
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. (John Pless, Handling the Word of Truth: Law and Gospel in the Church Today, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2004, p. 21.)
Many preachers claim to preach Bible–based sermons. But does this mean that they are preaching the Gospel? Ted Haggard, President of the National Association of Evangelicals says:
Sometimes I’ll teach very good sermons, right out of the Scriptures, that are essential to faith. And I think the essentials are the Scriptures themselves — where I might not talk about Jesus in the sermon... But it’s all, maybe, David’s material or Solomon’s material or some of Moses’ material. And I think the standard needs to be more Bible–based rather than exclusively Christ–based. (Ted Haggard, “American Evangelicalism,” Issues, Etc. radio program, Sept. 13, 2005.)
As a wise pastor once said, “Any sermon can claim to be Bible–based. But the Bible wasn’t nailed to the Cross to pay for your sins.” The central message of the Bible is Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners. If a sermon is really Bible–based, it will preach that Gospel. 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” (1 Tim. 1:15). A sermon that lacks this truth can’t be called a good sermon, and it can’t be called a Christian sermon.
Often, the difference between good preaching and bad preaching is not in what is said, but what is left unsaid. More often, what is left unsaid is the Gospel itself. Most often, this happens when Law and Gospel are confused. Luther paraphrases Paul in Galatians 1:7,
These false apostles do not merely trouble you, they abolish Christ’s Gospel. They act as if they were the only true Gospel preachers. For all that they muddle Law and Gospel. As a result they pervert the Gospel. Either Christ must live and the Law perish, or the Law remains and Christ must perish; Christ and the Law cannot dwell side by side in the conscience. It is either grace or law. To muddle the two is to eliminate the Gospel of Christ entirely. It seems a small matter to mingle the Law and Gospel, faith and works, but it creates more mischief than man‘s brain can conceive. To mix Law and Gospel not only clouds the knowledge of grace, it cuts out Christ altogether. (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians.)
Some people hear a sermon and say, “That was a good sermon. Even if he didn’t really preach the Gospel, I know what he meant to say.” It’s the preacher’s job to preach the Gospel. So, don’t do the preacher’s job for him. If he doesn’t preach the Gospel, it’s not your job to fill in what he left out.
Sad to say, some preachers don’t preach the Gospel on purpose. They think they have something better to say.
Wiser than God
The Apostle Paul took the task of preaching very seriously. He had been appointed to preach the Gospel by Jesus Himself. He was well aware that his many sufferings and imprisonments were the direct result of preaching that Gospel. Nonetheless, for Paul, the preaching of Christ crucified for sinners was the indispensable essence of his ministry.
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:1–2. See also Acts 9:15; 20:24; 22:14–15; 26:16–18. See also Rom. 1:1; 2:16; 16:25; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2:4; 9:18; 15:14; 2 Cor. 1:1, 18; 4:3; Gal. 1:1; 2:6–7; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 4:3; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1; 1:8–11; 2:5–8; 4:15; Titus 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:14.).
For Paul and the other Apostles, there was no preaching apart from Gospel preaching:
I am obligated both to Greeks and non–Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Rom. 1:15–17).
Paul was also aware that the Gospel message he preached was considered foolish and weak. Today, some would (and many do) use the term “irrelevant.”
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well–pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:21–25).
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.”
Many preachers today seem determined to know anything and everything except Christ crucified. Let’s look at what passes for preaching today, from bad preaching to worse preaching to preaching that isn’t Christian preaching at all. Perhaps some of it will sound familiar.
1) Bad Preaching:
Contrary to popular opinion, bad preaching isn’t when the preacher reads his sermon, mumbles or bores his audience. That is merely bad delivery. No, bad preaching is preaching that does not rightly proclaim God’s Word of Law and God’s Word of Gospel to sinners. Here are some all–too–familiar examples.
The Law-Assumed Sermon. This is the minimalist approach to preaching the Law. It is especially popular among my fellow Lutherans. It begins with assumptions on the part of the preacher. The preacher assumes that his hearers have already heard enough of God’s Law: “My people are beaten down by the Law Monday through Saturday living in a fallen world.” “Many of my people are former evangelicals who heard nothing but the Law from their former preachers.” “My people already have the Law written on their hearts.”
In the preacher’s mind, everyone is like the despairing Martin Luther prior to his “tower experience” of the Gospel. They are already so worn down by the Law that hearing any more would only drive them deeper into despair. So, the preacher simply abdicates his responsibility to preach the Law or preaches the Law in only the more superﬁcial and perfunctory way.
You might ask, “Isn’t a Gospel-only sermon better than other kinds of bad preaching? Isn’t it better to err on the side of the Gospel?” Yes and no. Yes, a Gospel-only sermon is probably better than other bad sermons. But is it still bad preaching.
And no, erring on the side of the Gospel is no substitute for the faithful preaching of God’s Law and Gospel. “Erring on the side of the Gospel” often has little to do with the Gospel. To declare forgiveness where the Law of God hasn’t worked repentance isn't the Gospel. To declare forgiveness where there is no repentance is to think you know how to do the Holy Spirit's job better than he does.The Universalist sincerely believes that he is erring on the side of the Gospel when he is merely erring. This kind of preaching is often the result of the preacher considering himself more merciful than God. In the end it substitutes the preacher’s mercy for God’s.
The Gospel–Afterthought Sermon. This is the minimalist approach to preaching the Gospel. The sermon itself can be about anything. But whatever the sermon is really about, the message of Christ crucified gets tacked on at the end, with no connection to anything else that has been said. The Gospel gets the final word, but only barely. Just don’t blink; you might miss it.
The Gospel–Law Sermon. This sermon has both Law and Gospel, but confuses the two by confusing the order. The Gospel is preached first, then the Law. This is like putting the answer before the question. Without the preaching of the Law to prepare the hearts of sinners, the preaching of the Gospel becomes “casting your pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6). The audience then has no reason to hear the Law that follows. This kind of preaching either turns the Gospel into a license to sin, or portrays the salvation as dependent on obedience to the law.
The Rest Is Up to You Sermon. This kind of preaching was popularized by the revivalist preachers of the nineteenth century and is best known today in the preaching of the Billy Graham and other “evangelistic” preachers. These preachers present clear Law and clear Gospel. And if they stopped there, all would be well. But at the end of each sermon, they add one, ﬁnal demand of the Law: “Decide.” “Make your decision for Christ!” They say in effect, “Jesus has done everything He can do; now the rest is up to you.” Walther diagnoses the problem with this kind of preaching:
Modern theologians assert that in the salvation of man two kinds of activity must be noted: in the first place, there is something that God must do. His part is the most difficult, for He must accomplish the task of redeeming men. But in the second place something is required that man must do. For it will not do to admit persons to heaven, after they have been redeemed, without further parley (talk). Man must do something really great—he has to believe. This teaching overthrows the Gospel completely.
The Law and Sacraments Sermon. You will often hear this kind of preaching among my fellow Lutherans. The pastor clearly preaches the Law, but where you would expect to hear the Gospel, he preaches about the Sacraments instead. Instead of hearing the clear message of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners, you hear “But you are baptized!” or “Jesus has forgiven all your sins” or “Jesus feeds you with His body and blood.” Now, all these things are true, and all these thing are good news, but they are not THE Good News.
In this kind of preaching the pastor often thinks he has preached the Gospel when he hasn’t. The people often think that they have heard the Gospel when they haven’t. This is why I said that it’s the preacher’s job to preach the Gospel. So, don’t do the preacher’s job for him. If he doesn’t preach the Gospel, it’s not your job to ﬁll in what he left out.
Will the preaching of the clear Gospel include the Sacraments? Absolutely! But the Sacraments cannot substitute for the clear preaching of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners. Can the preaching of the Sacraments include this clear message? Yes, and it should, but often it doesn’t.
2) Worse Preaching:
Many of today’s preachers are finding new ways NOT to preach the Gospel. There are some sermons that are worse than bad. While even a bad sermon contains the bare elements of the Gospel, these sermons have no Gospel at all. The listeners are left with nothing but Law, sometimes not even that.
The Golawspel Sermon. ( I borrow this term from Dr. Mike Horton.) This is a classic example of confusing Law and Gospel, so that neither is clearly preached. In a Golawspel sermon, the demands of the Law are softened, and made more manageable. The Law is presented as a Law that sinners can keep. In a Golawspel sermon, the Gospel is presented as something you must do. Rather than the free grace of God for Jesus’ sake, the Gospel is preached with all sorts of terms and conditions. The message of this kind of sermon is neither Law nor Gospel; but a useless mixture of the two. Golawspel preaching neither wounds nor heals, neither kills nor makes alive, neither accuses nor absolves.
The Hey, Nobody’s Perfect Sermon. This kind of preaching is a half-hearted attempt to preach the Law and a failure to preach the Gospel. Facile, vague statements like, “We are all sinners,” “Nobody’s perfect” and “Who are we to judge?” punctuate this kind of preaching. The preaching of the Law is kept as nonspeciﬁc as possible. The emphasis shifts from particular sins to the abstraction of sinfulness. These sermons replace the Biblical description of sin as a violation of God’s Law with the vague idea of “brokenness.” The preacher may even depict himself and his hearers as victims of sin, rather than perpetrators of sin. As a result, our sinful condition is portrayed as little more than an opportunity to commiserate together as sinners. The sermon functions as a verbal version of a sympathetic hug. The closest this kind of preaching gets to the Gospel is some variation on, “We’re all sinners, but don’t worry; you can’t out-sin Jesus.”
The Gospel–Assumption Sermon. In this kind of sermon, the preacher almost preaches the Gospel. He might refer to Jesus as Savior; he might talk about God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy. During this kind of a sermon, Lutheran preachers might talk at length about the means of grace: Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. But in the end, the preacher assumes that his audience already knows that Jesus lived, suffered, died, and rose again for them, and so, he leaves the Gospel itself unspoken. Sadly, the Gospel–Assumption sermon often leaves listeners with the impression that they heard the Gospel, when they haven’t. They have filled in the gaps in the preacher’s sermon themselves. The sainted Dr. Robert Preus rightly said, “the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied.”
The God–Loves–You–Anyway Sermon. Pioneered by Robert Schuller and perfected by Joel Osteen, this kind of sermon presents what I have called “a gospel without sin.” In this kind of sermon, your problem is not sin, it is failing to reach your potential. But don’t worry, be happy, and keep trying; God loves you anyway. The preacher replaces the message of John 3:16, “God loved the world in this way: He gave His only Son” with “God loves you anyway.” He turns 1 John 4:10, “He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” into simply “He loved us.” The preacher proclaims God’s love without the cross. He presents “a God of second chances”—a big, loving, pushover. But “God loves you anyway” isn’t the Gospel. Sinners don’t need a second chance; sinners need a Savior.
Another form of “God loves you anyway” preaching can be found in the sermons of “radical grace” preachers. In this kind of preaching, the Law is often clear enough, but the Gospel—Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners—is replaced with talk about unconditional grace.
Now, I think when preachers talk about “unconditional grace,” they really mean “undeserved grace.” Here's why: God's grace isn't unconditional. God's grace comes under the greatest conditions possible: perfect obedience to God's Law and full punishment for disobedience to that Law. But both of these conditions have been met completely by Jesus, for you, in your place. Such grace is conditional (on Jesus alone) but entirely undeserved (by you). If you stop and think about it, grace without conditions is grace without Jesus, and grace without Jesus isn’t the Gospel.
The Little–Engine–That–Could Sermon. This is a kissing cousin of the God–Loves–You–Anyway sermon. In this kind of sermon the preacher talks a lot about how hard your life is. Stress, not sin, is your problem. Jesus is a cheerleader rooting for you, He is a coach urging you to keep going; He is a piano teacher reminding you that practice makes perfect. Instead of Jesus on the cross to save you, the preacher proclaims Jesus in your heart to empower and encourage you to keep trying. The most common Bible passage quoted in a Little–Engine–That–Could sermon is 1 John 4:4, “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” When all is said and done, a sinner can count on Jesus to help, but not to save.
The Sinners–Someplace–Else Sermon. This kind of sermon is most popular among politically active evangelicals. The preacher proclaims the Law, but not to his audience. He preaches against the sins of sinners someplace else: politicians, homosexuals, abortionists, secular humanists, Hollywood, and all the other sinners “out there.” The audience nods and applauds and says “amen,” never hearing the Law applied to them or their sin. And since all the real sinners are “out there” and not “in here,” no one who hears the sermon feels the slightest need for forgiveness. Which is just as well, since the preacher never gets around to the cross. Everyone goes home secure, thanking God they aren’t like other men—but not justified (Luke 18:9–14).
The “Life–Application” Sermon. This is the classic example of preaching the Christian instead of the Christ. Promoted by Rick Warren and others, these sermons are by far the most common kind of worse preaching. In this case, the preacher is convinced that the ultimate goal of preaching is to teach people how to LIVE. The Bible is presented as the owners manual for life, the ultimate how–to book or honey–do list. The Bible is mined for examples, principles, and paradigms relevant to our everyday lives. Jesus’ words, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” are amended to read, “These are the Scriptures that testify about you.”
Sometimes, a “Life–Application” sermon does talk about Jesus. But since the goal of this kind of sermon is to teach people how to live, Jesus is presented as your teacher, your example, and your helper. The death and resurrection of Jesus might also be mentioned—as an example for you to follow of selfless love and self–sacrifice. Dr. David Wells says, “The Cross becomes exactly what it was in liberalism, that Jesus is reduced simply to a good example and we try to follow in His footsteps in the sense that we try to look out on life the way that He did” (David Wells, “Christianity in a Postmodern Culture,” Issues, Etc. radio program, Dec.12, 2005.) In the “Life–Application” sermon, Jesus becomes just another paradigm for you to live by.
The House–Rules Sermon. Also known as the If–You–Were–Really–a–Christian Sermon and closely related to the Sinners–Someplace–Else Sermon. The difference between this and the “Life–Application” sermon is that the House–Rules sermon is not seeker–friendly. In fact, its goal is to describe the life of the Christian in contrast to the vices, temptations, and amusements of society. The sermon focuses on what Christians should and shouldn’t wear, drink, eat, smoke, and what cultural activities (TV, movies, music, dances, etc.) Christians should and shouldn’t participate in. It presents the Christian faith as a matter of simply keeping the rules. This kind of preaching has given us both prohibition and blue laws, but not the Gospel.
3) Not Christian Preaching at All:
There are sermons being preached from Christian pulpits that cannot be called Christian in any sense of the word; they can hardly he called sermons. They have neither Law nor Gospel, neither sin nor grace. They fall into the category of what the Bible calls “smooth talk and flattery,” “empty words,” “godless chatter” and “hollow philosophy.” (See Rom. 16:18; Eph. 5:6; Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:16.) Here are some brief examples.
Three Stories and a Moral. This kind of preaching usually happens when the preacher decides to “wing it.” He consults no biblical text. Perhaps he talks about a story in the news, recalls an incident from his childhood, and uses a time–tested sermon illustration. He wraps it all up by saying, “I think there’s something we can all learn from this.” No Law, no Gospel. In fact, not much of anything.
Things That Make You Go, Hmmm... The preacher’s goal here is “to make people think.” He has forgotten that the goal of Christian preaching is to call sinners to repent and to believe in Jesus. The sermon is designed to make the audience feel as though the preacher has said something profound. People leave deep in thought, and still deep in their sin.
A variation on this kind of preaching is currently popular among my fellow Lutherans. It is sometimes called “narrative preaching.” It is basically story-telling. The story may be the personal testimony of the preacher, a ﬁctional account or modern-day parable. These are often well-intentioned attempts at Law and Gospel but often fall short for several reasons: First, the preacher quickly departs from any connection to a biblical text (if one existed to begin with). Second, the preacher is often more concerned with crafting a compelling narrative than with the message. And third, the preacher is unable to shoe horn the clear Gospel into his story or unwilling to interrupt his yarn to do so.
Informed and Uninformed Opinions. You can always count on D. James Kennedy for one of these around the Fourth of July. The preacher decides to preach a “topical” sermon. He chooses his topic: history, politics, social policy, the war, or any other subject. It doesn’t matter. He might know what he’s talking about; he might not. It doesn’t matter. He might have a Bible passage as his jumping off point; he might not. It doesn’t matter. He might claim that God agrees with his opinion; he might not. It doesn’t matter. The preacher has something on his mind and you are going to hear it. The audience leaves knowing exactly what the preacher thinks, nothing more.
Random Thoughts. Also known as Points without a Point or simply Vamping. Here the preacher has nothing on his mind. He has 20 minutes to fill on Sunday morning. As the mind of the preacher wanders, so does his sermon. The listener checks his watch until it is over, then goes home to watch football. The whole incident is quickly forgotten.
A Sermon Diagnostic: Listening for the Gospel
For our radio sermon reviews, we listen to the sermon and ask three simple questions:
1) How often is Jesus mentioned?
2) If Jesus is mentioned, is He the subject of the verbs?
3) What are those verbs?
Before looking at these questions, a word of caution. This diagnostic is intended to answer one, and only one question: Did the preacher preach the Gospel? This simple test doesn’t answer every question about good or bad preaching. As we have seen, some bad sermons are bad not because they don’t preach the Gospel but because they fail to proclaim the Law, some are bad because they mix Law and Gospel, some are bad because they give the Gospel a minor or inappropriate role in the sermon. This diagnostic can only tell you whether or not the Gospel was preached, nothing else.
How often is Jesus mentioned? Listen to the sermon and keep a running tally. The preacher might mention God in a generic way; that doesn’t count. He might talk about the Almighty, the heavenly Father, or the Big Guy upstairs. Those don’t count either. You’re listening for Jesus. Obviously, Jesus has many titles, Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Redeemer, Savior, etc. Those all count. Remember, don’t do the preacher’s job for him. A surprising number of sermons beat around the bush, come close, and almost mention Jesus. The preacher shouldn’t make his audience fill in the blanks, so don’t. Sad but true, many sermons we review on the air fail the diagnostic already at this point. That’s right; these sermons don’t mention Jesus at all. Many don’t even mention God. Here’s the point of the first question: A sermon that doesn’t mention Jesus isn’t about Jesus. Since you can’t preach the Gospel without mentioning Jesus, a Jesus–less sermon is a Gospel–less sermon.
Now, if Jesus’ name is mentioned, does that mean that the Gospel has been preached? No. Many sermons mention Jesus but never preach the Gospel. This brings us to part two of the sermon diagnostic.
If Jesus is mentioned, is He the subject of the verbs? This is simple grammar. Every sentence has a subject and a verb. So, listen to the sermon and do the grammar. Dr. Norman Nagel is famous for asking, “Who is driving the verbs?” Is Jesus active or passive? Is Jesus doing the action or is He being acted upon? There is a difference between a sermon that says “I love Jesus,” and a sermon that says “Jesus loves me.” One is talking about you, the other is talking about Jesus. There is a difference between, “Give your life to Jesus,” and “Jesus gave His life for you.”
The point of the second question? A sermon that mentions Jesus but still has you driving the verbs is still about you, not Jesus. The Gospel is all about what Jesus does for you. A sermon about what you do for Jesus isn’t the Gospel. For the Gospel to be preached, Jesus must be the subject of the verbs.
But even if Jesus is the subject of the verbs, does that mean the Gospel has been preached? Not necessarily. There is one more important part of the sermon diagnostic.
If Jesus is mentioned, and He is the subject of the verbs, what are those verbs? Listen to the sermon and ask yourself, “What are the verbs? What is the preacher telling me Jesus has done, is doing or will do for me?” Is this the Jesus who demonstrates, provides an example or shows me how? Is this the Jesus who educates, teaches, enlightens or explains? Is this the Jesus who enables, inspires, motivates or empowers? Now, to be sure, Jesus does all these things! None of these verbs are wrong, but none of them are the Gospel either. Luther writes:
It is not sufficient, nor a Christian course, to preach the works, life, and words of Christ in a historic manner; as facts which it suffices to know as an example how to frame our life, as do those who are now held the best preachers... Now preaching ought to have the object of promoting faith in Him, so that He may not only be Christ, but a Christ for you and for me, and that what is said of Him, and what He is called, may work in us. And this faith is produced and is maintained by preaching why Christ came, what He has brought us and given to us, and to what profit and advantage He is to be received. (Martin Luther, “Concerning Christian Liberty,” R. S. Grignon, trans., The Five-Foot Shelf of Books, The Harvard Classics, vol. 36, New York: P. F. Collier & Son: 1910, http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/ wittenberg/luther/web/cclib-2.html)
The Gospel isn’t Jesus as your example, teacher or guide—although Jesus most certainly is all these things. The Gospel is Jesus, your crucified and risen Savior from sin and death. So, listen for the Scriptural verbs of salvation: The Jesus Who lived for you, suffered for you, was crucified for you, died for you, and rose again for you is the Jesus Who forgives you, redeems you, reconciles you and has mercy on you.
How often is Jesus mentioned? Is He the subject of the verbs? What are those verbs? Again, this simple test doesn’t answer every question about good preaching, but it does answer the most important question: Is this a Christ–centered, cross–focused sermon? Is this sermon about what Jesus has done to save me, a sinner? Did this sermon proclaim the Gospel?
Is it too much to ask that preachers preach the Gospel? Many would say so. Some say that the Church of the 21st century needs to broaden its focus. They might say that today’s audiences want something more than Law and Gospel, sin and grace. Some say that it is unreasonable to expect a preacher to mention Jesus and make Him the subject of verbs that say that He lived for sinners, suffered for sinners, died for sinners, and rose again for sinners. Some say that we need to tailor our preaching to the refugees of moralistic evangelicalism and preach only the Gospel. They are wrong. Some say that we ought to preach the Gospel—to unbelievers, at evangelistic crusades. But Christians need something more “relevant” to their everyday lives. They are wrong.
Some might say, “Jesus’ own preaching wouldn’t pass your test.” I disagree. The Gospels record saying after saying, teaching after teaching, parable after parable, where Jesus preaches His own death and resurrection for sinners. And Jesus did what He preached. He lived a life of perfect obedience for us. He went to the cross bearing the sin of the world. He suffered what we by our sins deserve. He gave His life as our ransom. He died in our place. He rose again to show that our salvation had been completely accomplished.
Finally, Jesus said, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47).
This is precisely what the first preachers, the apostles, did. They preached repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of the crucified and risen Jesus. They preached it boldly, happily, and at every opportunity. They preached it to Jews and Gentiles, to unbelievers and believers, to kings and to the crowds. They preached it from house to house, town to town, from exile and from prison. They preached it at the cost of their own lives. They called it “the Good News” because they knew that they had nothing—nothing—better to preach.
No, it isn’t too much to ask preachers to do the same today.
"Translations, and I don't downgrade them, translations are, at best, the first-ranked commentaries. An English translation, Spanish, Japanese, German, or whatever, whoever made the translation, it tells us what he thinks the original Hebrew and Greek say. Well, as Luther said, 'That's not good enough for a pastor to work from a commentary, a translation. He must work from the original Hebrew and Greek.' And, Luther said this also, now take this with the love, 'If you don't preach from the Hebrew or Greek in the pulpit but from a translation, your people should not let you get into the pulpit to preach.'"
-- Dr. Louis Brighton, Concordia Seminary, Revelation (video mp4, 44 MB, 22m59s)
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