“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” “What was wrong with the way we were doing it before?” “I like the old way better.” If you speak German, “Bleiben beim Alt!” You’ve spoken these phrases before. I know you have because I’ve heard them at our Voters Meetings. They’ve come out of my mouth as well. These phrases can be a pain in the rear end if you’re trying to accomplish something good that involves positive change. However, these phrases also are salutary to say when false prophets appear on the scene ready to preach false doctrine and steer you clear from Holy Scripture.
The Christian church has God’s pure Word. The devil can’t stand it. So he ushers in all kinds of false preachers who have new things to say about Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, even about Jesus Himself, in order to confuse you and lead you astray. Wherever false preachers are found, we, as incurable and inquisitive people, have the bad habit, really a plague, that as soon as we hear something new, we fall away from the Word and stare like a deer caught in headlights after these fools who steal in among us. It’s like a bad car accident on the expressway in Chicago. Not only is traffic backed up in one direction, but also the other direction because of “gaper’s block.” Everyone wants a look at what happened.
Everyone wants a look at novel teaching in the church. Don’t believe me? Drive by church buildings where the parking lot is ten times bigger than our church building. This is not to say that God’s Word isn’t present inside that church. But what are they teaching from God’s Word? Do they preach, Baptism now saves you, but withhold baptism from infants and young children because they don’t know any better? Do they teach, This is My Body, this is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, then deny what Jesus says by saying Jesus isn’t truly present in the Lord’s Supper? Do they preach Christ and Him crucified, or is Jesus’ death and resurrection chiefly the power plant that drives an upright, moral life before God and man that is your only hope for salvation?
What’s wrong with taking the Scriptures at face value and teaching what they say? One way to answer this question is saying, “Well, the Bible doesn’t say what I mean.” In other words, the Law of God is good and wise, but only when it condemns everyone else but me. You shall not murder is a good thing when someone else shoots people, but it’s not a good thing when it condemns my tongue when I kill someone with my words and thoughts. The Gospel shows the Father’s grace, but why can’t that grace be limited to those who really mean it? I mean, what about that guy over there who shows up here every week, but I see him around town and, let me tell you, I don’t know how he can sleep at night.
Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are as much for you as they are for pastors. Consider how you easily fall into the trap of twisting Scripture to suit your personal idea of the Christian faith. Consider how you wish pastors would stop preaching Jesus Christ for a few Sundays and start preaching morals, ethics, or current events. Those Bible stories are thousands of years old. I went to Sunday School. I know those now. Same for that Catechism. I went through confirmation instruction. Pastor So-and-So put me through the wringer having to learn all those Bible passages and memorize the Six Chief Parts. That’s over. I know those now. Can’t pastor move on now and get to other topics? Who knows, the pews might start to fill up here if he stops being a Lutheran and starts being a Christian.
Lutherans aren’t merely a school of thought or a particular strain of the Christian church. Lutherans are Christians of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. You could make the argument that Martin Luther broke fellowship with the Pope and brought about a big mess in worldwide Christianity. Good luck with that argument because it doesn’t hold water. Martin Luther was God’s instrument in rediscovering what had been covered under centuries of philosophy and false understanding. What is taught from this pulpit and confessed by this congregation is not novel. We confess what Christians have confessed through the centuries. Nothing devised by man to be reasonable or popular is allowed to be taught in this congregation. Christ’s dear sheep will not be led astray. If, God forbid, they would be led astray, He will find a way to gather His sheep around the pure milk of the Word in spite of a false preacher.
The trouble is whether the sheep will actually be able to spot true or false doctrine from true or false preachers. Jesus gives you the way to do it: You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit…. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
The devil can quote the truth and extol God’s Word just as well as a pious Christian. If you don’t learn this, you will be easily deceived and let astray. If you who allows yourself to be fooled by sheep’s clothing, the wolf will tear you to pieces. That is why you need to say, “I want gladly to hear God’s Word and the truth; but before I rely too much on what I hear, I want to see whether it rhymes with my catechism and the preaching which I have heard up till now.” When you are on your toes and not naively gullible, but search the Word, you are a diligent sheep. But when you are lackadaisical about your catechism and the doctrine you have previously learned, with ears only for every smooth operator, the jig is up. You have fallen for the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The pure milk of the Word proclaims Jesus only. The Word gives you Jesus and all He does for your salvation. There’s no need to make it reasonable or palatable. The Holy Spirit works in the Word when and where He wills. All that is necessary is the breath of preachers to make it plain and simple for the sheep, for how shall they hear [the Word] without a preacher?
The fruits of faithful preachers do not necessarily have to be large church buildings with seven digit budgets and meetings every night of the week. The fruits of faithful preachers are sheep who hear the voice of their Master, rejoice in their baptismal grace of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and live in their God-given callings in life to love and serve their neighbor. Whether there are ten-thousand sheep, or two or three sheep, Jesus is there, giving His gifts, using the hands and mouth of men to proclaim the favorable season of the Lord.
Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.