In short, enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammedanism. Accordingly, we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil. Smalcald Articles, III, VIII, par 9-10.
(This article was originally published on January 28, 2012. It has been updated and cleaned up a bit)
Earlier this week a church planting team from our LCMS District came to our congregation to talk about entering into a partnership with our congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. Situated smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt, home to the Christian music industry, our congregation is centrally located along what many have termed “church row.” We are one of the smaller churches along this stretch of road in Nashville, but we are growing. Nashville and Davidson County boast a population of approximately 620,000 people, 600,000 12 years earlier. In 2000, there were approximately 591 congregations with 297,312 members. When the statistics are adjusted for children, the figure jumps to just over 400,000 (Source: Association of Religious Data Archives). In 2007, the estimated population was 620,000. The number of churches climbed to 853 and church membership saw a slight increase to 304,238 (Source: Social Explorer using ARDA numbers). You can throw a rock and hit a large, mega, or brand new church in Nashville and its surrounding counties. I may be a little color blind when it comes to distinguishing the colors on the demographic map, but the numbers show pretty close to 50% of the adult population claims membership in a church in Davidson County, the geographic home of the Music City, and more than 60% when children are factored into the equation. So why plant churches when 262 new churches yielded only a slight increase in claimed membership over a 7 year period in Nashville? The answer may surprise you. Read the rest of this entry
As a member of a traditional LCMS church — traditional as in having been around for a while and not a new plant — I believe that Christ’s Word is true. Period. When He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes unto the Father unless He comes through me,” He means what He says — He is the way to eternal life, He is the truth of God made flesh for us, and He is eternal life. Apart from Him, we cannot know God or be restored to a right relationship with Him. The implication of Jesus’ statement is that there is no other way by which a man may be saved. If the Son sets you free, you are free. To receive salvation, you must receive Christ Himself. If you abide in my Word you are truly my disciples. Christ’s way is the way of the Cross. You want salvation on your own? Keep all of the commandments. Perfectly. Impossible? Sin gets worse when you try? Then you must die. To sin, self, the world. To be a disciple of Christ, one must deny himself, take up His Cross, and follow Christ. To death. The death of this flesh, the death of this life.
When our Lord interacts with sinners, the unclean, the lame, the mute, the deaf, He deals with the problem of sin, whether directly or indirectly. He never leaves the sinner to wallow in his or her sin. He confronts them. Teaches them about their sin and the One who stands before them with the power to forgive. Christ confronts us with His Cross at the very beginning of our Christian walk. He does not wait to make sure that we feel comfortable, connected, or as if we belong. When the Lion of Judah stands before us, we cannot stand. We are driven to the ground and unable to move until He raises us. Christ is Holy. We are unholy. He is clean. We are unclean. Only when Christ raises us up, when He creates new life in us by His Word, only when He makes us Holy can we stand in His presence. It is true that God loves us no matter who we are and he desires that all should be saved. Indeed Jesus comes only for sinners like you and like me.
In the “new” church of today, the most important thing is to make outsiders feel as if they belong, make them feel welcome, and connected, as if they have a home. Whether they believe, whether they are living a life of sin, they need to know that God loves them as they are and they have a place in our church. All we have is yours. God loves you just as you are. To say that it is more important to feel comfortable or connected to a local congregation, to feel welcome and able to participate fully in the life of the congregation, to say that it does not matter whether one is an unrepentant sinner or not to belong to a local congregation is to deny the atoning, salvific work of Christ on the Cross. It is as if to say that Jesus died for me, I am forgiven, it matters not what I do. Worse yet, an unrepentant sinner or an unbeliever sitting in the way of the saints mocks the atoning work of Christ by participating fully in the life of the church. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that if a Christian has sexual relations with a prostitute the two become one flesh. What was clean is made unclean. Because of the unity of the Body of Christ, this union is made part of that Body. For Christ is one, and we who are many, make up that one body of Christ. It is not as if we can wait around until we are fully comfortable, checking this Christianity thing out to see if we like it, waiting until we are ready to be introduced to Christ. No. He claims us, washes us, and makes us clean. Your sins are forgiven, says He. Go, and sin no more.
Jesus said it. I believe it. Now, go and read it for yourself. If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples.