Wednesday, June 22, 2011

President Harrison on Preaching

I was never a big fan of The Lutheran Witness - until recently, that is!  It has had a makeover, both in terms of its appearance and layout and in its theological relevance, rigor, and readability.

I'm impressed!

The current issue not only has a great piece by Rev. Christopher Hall about the Athanasian Creed, there is also the president's column here. The Reverend President Harrison has done the church a great service with this article.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about what preaching is and what preaching isn't. 

Preaching is not the imparting of information (though there is certainly a didactic (teaching) element in preaching).  Preaching is not entertainment (though there is certainly a way of delivering a sermon that is not tedious or trying to the hearer).  Preaching is not there to make you feel good about yourself or improve your self-esteem. Nor is preaching "about the gospel."  Rather, preaching "is" the gospel - as both Dr. Sasse and his pupil President Harrison remind us - not to mention St. Peter whose Acts 3 sermon is highlighted in this article.

One of my classmates - a friend and fellow LCMS pastor from a different district than in which I serve - has gotten a lot of grief from his parishioners because he preaches too much using the word "you."  His hearers do not like it when he tells them "you are sinners" and "you need to repent" (though they do not apparently have a problem when he also tells them "you are forgiven").  They even reported this to the district president who did not defend this pastor, but rather took the other side of this issue.  My friend and colleague, a faithful preacher of Christ and of the gospel of forgiveness, was scolded for doing too much "you" preaching.

Thanks be to God that President Harrison understands and articulates that real Christian preaching is "you" preaching.


Paul said...

The next step is to have a litmus test for DP's beginning with President Harrison's article.

Jim Pierce said...

I think I would get peeved at my pastor if I didn't hear enough "you preaching!" Now that I think about it, I need to hear more about how I am a sinner and hear "Christ given for YOU for the forgiveness of sins." There can be no meaningful "YOU are forgiven" without "YOU are a sinner in need of forgiveness."

Unknown said...

The people, of course, were right, as was the District President. The pastor did not understand the Gospel of the Kingdom, which our Lord proclaimed. He did not understand Repentance. Repentance takes place once! Then you enter the Kingdom of God through Baptism as a forgiven sinner. God continues to forgive your sins daily and richly in this Kingdom, so that you continue, while on this earth, as “justus et peccator.”

The Prodigal Son, in the Parable which I prefer to call “The Parable of the Gracious Father”, did not throw himself at his Father’s feet every morning saying, “Father, I am not worthy ….” as the Pietists would have us do. Would the Father not ask him eventually, “Don’t you believe that I forgave you?”

When I discussed this with a friend, an LCMS pastor, the latter said, “No, it is enough for me what they taught me in the Seminary (St. Louis) that, according to the Smalcald Articles, ‘Repentance continues for the rest of your life.” Well, the problem is that when I looked up the passage, it indeed said that. But when I looked at the German original, it said, The Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article III. Of Repentance. Of the False Repentance of the Papists, “40] Und diese Busse währt bei den Christen bis in den Tod;..“ (This passage is quoted again in The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord II. Free Will, or Human Powers 34])
You see, the German says precisely the opposite - that this Repentance does not continue for the rest of your life, but this one Repentance “stays in effect” for the rest of your life. “Währt” does not mean “continue”.

Let us not continue to torture God’s children by making them wonder whether they are indeed in the Kingdom of God, because their feeling of contrition is not deep enough. The people were also right when they did “not apparently have a problem when he also tells them ‘you are forgiven’". I am sure they longed to hear these words as the assurance of their membership in the Body of Christ. How much “repentance” did our Lord command us to do before we pray, “and forgive us our sins”? He knew that in the Kingdom which “he opened to all believers”, the Holy Spirit would remind His people in whom He dwells of their imperfection and make them contrite for their sins. Pointing the finger and saying, “you must repent” is a contradiction of what the blessed C. F. W. Walther taught when he wrote, “In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins, or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Unknown:

I know this pastor, and he understands the Gospel.

I think your distinction is mere semantics. Whether you want to say that repentance happens once and stays in effect for life, or if you want to say that it continues all your life amounts to the same thing. The Christian life is a life of metanoia.

Works righteousness is no better and no worse than antinomianism. When Jesus says: "Repent" in his first sermon, he is speaking to all of us. Otherwise, we would never need confession and absolution.

The DP and the people were not angry at the pastor for his view of repentance, but rather for his preaching style.

Had he said "We must repent" it would have been OK. The issue was with the pastor claiming to speak with authority to the people in the second person. That was the problem.

The issue was about the office of the ministry. Part of the pastor's job is to call people to repentance. And our Old Adam just doesn't want to hear it.

Unknown said...

Semantics? If you buy a lifetime membership in an organization and the next day your are told that you have to renew it, and the following day again, and you object, what would be your reaction if you were told, “it’s just semantics”?

To say that “the Christian life is a life of “μετάνοια” is true only in the sense of the German word “währt”; that is not that we continue to μετανοέω, but that the one time μετάνοια is good for the rest of our lives. Otherwise, following the words of St. Peter on Pentecost, Acts 2: 38 "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” should we be baptized each time we repent, and will we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit each time we repent?

The New Testament does use this word with a number of different meanings. So even Judas repented, but it was not the “μετάνοια” either our Lord or St. Peter urged. But in most instances it refers to the one time event, when a person indeed “turns around” and begins to live and move in a different direction because of God’s gift.

You write, “When Jesus says: "Repent" in his first sermon, he is speaking to all of us.” To whom was our Lord speaking? To those in the Kingdom of God or to those who were not in it? Clearly to those who were not, because the Kingdom was not yet. Luke 16:16 "The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed,” “Proclaimed” or often He said “it is near”, but it did not begin until after His resurrection. Luke 22: 15 “He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." And Matthew 22: 29 "I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." But we who are in the Kingdom by virtue of having been made new creatures in the waters of Baptism by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit have already repented when we were (Romans 6): 4 … buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Confession and Absolution are indeed good practice which our Lord instituted for the continual well-being of the children of God in His Kingdom. But the Christian who does them does not “convert” each time. And to confuse μετάνοια with the contrition we feel as the children of God is to misunderstand the Gospel – whether you say “you” or “we”.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Father Hollywood said...

Dear George:

First of all, I never said the feeling of contrition is repentance.

Second, if you don't need to repent, good for you. My Old Adam does. I once debated a Methodist who was convinced of his own perfection. I don't mean forensically as "iustus in Christo," but rather he was convinced that he no longer sinned.

Pelagius wrote "posse non peccare." Augustine countered "non posse non peccare." The former is a heresy. The latter is why we have an incarnation and cross. As long as the Old Adam clings to us, we need to repent.

As Dr. Luther teaches us (all of us, not just his immediate audience) in the Small Catechism: "the Old Adam in us should by daily repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires." I'm out of the country and don't have access to my Bekenntisschriften. But I have not heard that this is a bad translation.

If a pastor tells you "George, you are sinning and you need to repent," what would you say? I have heard this response: "I don't have to repent, I'm baptized." This is basically good old Baptist "once saved always saved" dressed up in Lutheran attire.

Pastors have the happy privilege to proclaim the Gospel as well as the grim duty to make use of the law. The law is not only for non-believers, but is for the believer as well. What is the point of proclaiming law in a sermon to baptized believers if not to bring them to repentance? This is why we Lutherans have retained Lent and why we confess our sins. It is because we are baptized that we can "by daily contrition and repentance" have our Old Adam drowned.

Guilt is not always a bad thing. The feeling of guilt is not repentance, but like the pain that causes the hand to withdraw from a hot stove, God uses the pain of guilt to work on us to bring us to repentance - which is a mystery, as it is not something we can do of our own free will. And yet, our free will is very good of distorting the Gospel with such nonsense as: "I don't have to repent. I'm baptized."

Unknown said...

Dear Father Hollywood: thank you for your response. Are you saying that there is no difference between the repentance of an unbeliever when he becomes a child of God through Baptism, and the repentance which each of us, who are already baptized, practice daily or sometime from moment to moment when we become aware of a particular sin? I don’t think you are, because I cannot believe that anyone who has finished a Lutheran seminary could hold such a view. Yet for some reason we are talking by each other.

I do need repentance, and I do confess my sins to God, but this is not the repentance Peter spoke of at Pentecost. Nor is it a factor in my salvation. As Walther wrote, “In the eighth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher represents contrition alongside of faith as a cause of the forgiveness of sin.” But I am not sure that the repenting I do comes from guilt or fear, or that it should. Here is what a well known, highly respected Russian Orthodox priest, Fr. Alexander Schmemann had to say on the subject, “The fear of sin does not prevent one from sinning. Joy in the Lord does. The feelings of guilt and morality do not “free” from the world and its temptations. Joy is the foundation of the freedom in which we are called to stand. Where, how, and when did this essence of Christianity become muddy, or more correctly, where, how, and why have Christians become “deaf” to it? How, when and why, instead of freeing the tortured, did the Church begin to sadistically frighten and to terrorize them?”

But I also want you to know my reaction to Rev. Harrison’s article on preaching. I sent it to the Lutheran Witness, but my guess is that its chances of being published are about as high as those for snow falling in Cancun in July:

This is in response to President Harrison’s article, “Preaching Is All About 'You'

Where did this idea come from that every day the children of God must be terrified with the condemnation of the Law, and then to be consoled by the Gospel? Have we forgotten that (Romans 8: 1) “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”? In our Lutheran Confession the use of the Law among God’s people is covered extensively, as for instance in the section on the Third Use of the SD of the Formula of Concord, “But the meaning of St. Paul is that the Law cannot burden with its curse those who have been reconciled to God through Christ; nor must it vex the regenerate with its coercion, because they have pleasure in God's Law after the inner man.” Now I know that in the same section you find such words as “coercions” and “punishments”, but nowhere, neither in Scripture or in our Confessions does it say that “condemnation” or “all of the force of the damning Law” should be preached to Christians.

President Harrison writes, “The Law is to be preached in its full severity” (Walther). But the rest of Walther’s sentence explains why: “The Law must be preached in all its severity, but the hearers must get this impression: This sermon will help those still secure in their sins towards salvation.” So is every Pastor to assume that nobody in his flock is truly a member of the Kingdom of God, baptized, has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, while God daily and richly forgives their sins? This is simply terribly wrong. It is a sickness in our Church.

Rom. 14: 17 “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Gal. 5: 1 “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Peace and Joy to the people of God!
George A. Marquart

Father Hollywood said...

Dear George:

As long as the Old Adam clings to us, we need the Law. That is why we preach both Law and Gospel - and not merely Gospel. I'm sorry if I'm not articulating this clearly. I do hope LW prints your letter, and I would like to hear Pres. Harrison clarify this for you.

The Law does not save, but always condemns. The Law does not motivate people to ramp up their willpower to be better people. Rather the law takes away our excuses and our delusions and drives us to the cross. When we have become contrite, when we have confessed - then the Law has done its job, and the Gospel takes over.

I think the problem in American Lutheran churches is that we (according to our Old Adam) want to skip Good Friday and jump right to Easter. And yet, "we preach Christ crucified." In our desire to soft-peddle the Law, I fear that we sometimes shift ever so subtly from the Theology of the Cross to the Theology of Glory. In a worst-case scenario, some Lutherans actually view their "Lutheranness" as a sort of works-righteousness.

We must always remember that we are unworthy sinners, like Isaiah on his face before the throne of God (the Law reminds us of this), and yet we are also forgiven saints, made worthy of the Lamb who is worthy to be praised, singing praise to God around His throne with the hosts of heaven in Revelation.

Our righteousness is a "now and not yet" kind of mystery. And in this fallen world, there is still a need for repentance.

I hope that clears up my position.

Unknown said...

You write, “Rather the law takes away our excuses and our delusions and drives us to the cross. When we have become contrite, when we have confessed - then the Law has done its job, and the Gospel takes over.” This is the classic Lutheran formula for making Christians. It refers exclusively to those who are outside of the Kingdom. But my concern is for those who are already at the cross, or in the Kingdome of God, referred to as “the Church” in our Confession.

Luther makes this clear distinction in his Commentary on Galatians, after discussing how the Law affects those who are not yet justified: “But what does the Law accomplish for those who have been justified by Christ? Paul answers this question next. VERSE 25. ‘But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.’ The Apostle declares that we are free from the Law. Christ fulfilled the Law for us. We may live in joy and safety under Christ. The trouble is, our flesh will not let us believe in Christ with all our heart. The fault lies not with Christ, but with us. Sin clings to us as long as we live and spoils our happiness in Christ. Hence, we are only partly free from the Law. "With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." (Romans 7:25.)
As far as the conscience is concerned it may cheerfully ignore the Law. But because sin continues to dwell in the flesh, the Law waits around to molest our conscience. More and more, however, Christ increases our faith and in the measure in which our faith is increased, sin, Law, and flesh subside.”

Unfortunately, neither the Holy Spirit nor the Kingdom of God play as high a role in Luther’s theology as you might think after reading the Explanation to the Third Article of the Creed. But proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom is what our Lord did almost exclusively (Luke4:43), "I must preach the Kingdom of God to other cities also, for therefore am I sent."

About this Kingdom St. Paul writes (Col. 1:11), “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

In this Kingdom there is no place for force, coercion, fear or even guilt, as the Confessions clearly teach: Solid Declaration of the FC, Third Use of the Law:
“17] But when man is born anew by the Spirit of God, and liberated from the Law, that is, freed from this driver, and is led by the Spirit of Christ, he lives according to the immutable will of God comprised in the Law, and so far as he is born anew, does everything from a free, cheerful spirit; and these are called not properly works of the Law, but works and fruits of the Spirit, or as St. Paul names it, the law of the mind and the Law of Christ. For such men are no more under the Law, but under grace, as St. Paul says, Rom. 8:2 [Rom. 7:23; 1 Cor. 9:21 ].
18] But since believers are not completely renewed in this world, but the old Adam clings to them even to the grave, there also remains in them the struggle between the spirit and the flesh. Therefore they delight indeed in God's Law according to the inner man, but the law in their members struggles against the law in their mind; hence they are never without the Law, and nevertheless are not under, but in the Law, and live and walk in the Law of the Lord, and yet do nothing from constraint of the Law.”

I suspect that the Parable of the Unforgiving servant (Mat. 18ff), inasmuch as our Lord tells it about “the Kingdom of Heaven”, also refers to those who make unjustified demands of others, such as we do when we frighten and coerce our fellow sinners using the Law.


Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Father Hollywood said...

Dear George:

A good Christian sermon contains both law and gospel. Contrary to your argument, the law is indeed both for the unbeliever and the believer.

We don't just insert law in our sermons on the odd chance that a Muslim might be visiting our congregation.

Until your Old Adam has been completely extinguished - which will not happen on this side of the grave (unless St. Paul, Luther and Augustine were wrong, and Pelagius was right), you also need to hear the law. And you don't like it. It makes you squirm. And it should.

As Luther wrote: "When you throw a stick into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that got hit."

We all need the law because we are all sinners. We all need the gospel because we are all sinners. Nothing will ruin a congregation faster than a pastor who takes the easy way out and refuses to preach the law. That is the equivalent of a parent who never disciplines his children.

Wandering as I wonder said...

Jim, agree with you completely. To quote Eric and Polly Rapp (

Hey, preacher man, give me the Gospel,
It brings salvation to those who believe!
Hey, preacher man, give me the Gospel,
Tell me I'm a sinner and Christ died for me!

Hey, preacher man, give me the Gospel,
Not human wisdom, just tell it to me straight!
Hey, preach man, give me the Gospel,
Let me know I'm foolish and lead me to the gate!