Archive for the ‘Church History’ Category

FI_LawAndGospel_Monday

At the heart of virtually every problem in the church, at the bottom of every strained relationship, at the center of every reason an inactive member stays home on Sunday or leaves the church* is the issue of the proper distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel. Without this understanding, the Scriptures make no sense, we will have no idea why we go to church (or worse, the wrong idea) and we will have no clue as to why orthodox Lutheranism reflects New Testament Christianity in the best sense.

We may well be a royal pain and terror to those around us. Even worse, without a clear understanding of Law and Gospel, we’ll be of no use to people around us struggling with spiritual and life issues. Worse still, we may even become a millstone round their necks, helping them (and ourselves) on the way to hell!

The Lutheran Reformation began when the Lord God Himself, through the Scriptures, opened Luther’s mind to the scriptural distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law makes demands, which we could not, cannot and never will fulfill. “No one is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). “Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). If St. Paul laments about himself, “The good that I would do I do not do” (Rom. 7:19), where does that leave you? You have not a thought, an action or any of your physical, psychological or spiritual being that is not affected by and tainted by the reality of sin. And sin damns.

The Gospel, however, makes no demands and even gives the faith needed to believe it (Eph. 2:8–9). The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world for you (Matt. 25:34). Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament for you (Isaiah 53). Christ was conceived for you (Luke 1:26). Christ was born for you (Luke 2). Christ was circumcised and fulfilled the Old Testament ceremonial law for you (Luke 2:22). The boy Christ taught in the temple for you! (You get the credit for His diligence in the catechism! See Luke 2:41.) John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—for you. Jesus was baptized for you (Luke 3:21). Jesus was tempted for you (Luke 4). All of Jesus’ miracles, healings, words, promises, His Passion, His trials, His beating, His betrayal, His crucifixion, His ridicule, His words on the cross— “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34); “Today you will be with Me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)—His death, His descent in victory to hell and His glorious resurrection and ascension are all, all of it, for you! And that’s all Gospel!

But there is even better news, and this is the point where the devil bedevils us. What Jesus attained for us some 6,000 miles away and 2,000 years ago is delivered in the word of preaching, in Baptism, in absolution and in the Supper. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Oh, yeah? God says you do. “Do not give up meeting together.” (See all of Hebrews 10.) But better than the Law (which says you should go to church) is the blessed Gospel! We cry like the tax collector at church, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). And the pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of Christ, forgiven!” (see John 20:21–23). He makes the sign of the cross to remind us that we’re baptized, forgiven (Titus 3:5). The Scriptures are read, and they contain both Law (demand, threat) and Gospel (forgiveness, promise). The sermon is preached, and the texts explained. The Law threatens and drives us to Jesus! The Gospel is not merely described or spoken about, it’s delivered! “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), right now, for you!

Most people who stop going to church or get church wrong think it’s about ethics. They think it’s about following the rules (i.e., following the Law). No, it’s finally about sinners receiving forgiveness (Gospel). And blessed by the Benediction (“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you”—Gospel!) and all the forgiveness given, forgiven sinners head back into their vocations in life to be a beautiful leaven. If I know I’m a real “hard-boiled sinner” who’s been forgiven (Luther), I cannot be an unforgiving jackass to those around me. It’s a matter of Law and Gospel. I cannot but speak forgiveness—the Lord’s own forgiveness—to others.

by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison

(Pastor Harrison is the 13th and current President of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.)

*Edited out LCMS replaced with “church” for a general understanding.

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Individual/Personal Confession

Pastor, what is confession and absolution?

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins,and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. It is hard to say,“I was wrong. I am sorry. Forgive me.” God’s Word makes it clear that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In confession and absolution, God’s Word is having its way with us, moving us to confess the truth about ourselves and our need for His forgiveness. Because of Jesus Christ, confession and absolution is a blessed, joyful, happy exchange! “For our sake He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). When Jesus hung on the cross, He became sin—for us. He was the ransom for sin. God poured out His just wrath on Christ. Christ won peace between God and man. In confession, Christ takes the burden of our sin and gives us in exchange His complete forgiveness and love. Absolution is the ongoing work of Holy Baptism, in which our old, sinful nature in Adam is drowned and the new man in
Christ arises.Through Holy Absolution we receive “the gift of God,”which is forgiveness of sins and “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).*

Pastor, don’t we do Confession and Absolution at the start of the Worship Service? Hasn’t individual confession become “unfamiliar” or “infrequently used”?

Yes, we do. But the Confession at the start of the service is not the form or setting of Confession that we just read about in the Small Catechism. What we do at the start of the service is a group or “corporate” form of Confession and Absolution. What we read about in the Catechism and throughout the Lutheran writings is Individual Confession and Absolution, or, for short, individual/personal confession. What we do at the start of the service is a general confession of sins, not specifying any particular sins, and there is a general absolution, directed to the group. What we do in Individual/personal Confession usually involves confessing specific sins, and the pastor directs the absolution to that individual. It is this individual/personal, individual form of confession that the Catechism has in mind when it talks about “Confession.”

Pastor, I thought Lutherans got rid of Individual Confession. Isn’t going to the pastor for Confession just a Roman Catholic thing?

No, it’s not. Individual/personal Confession is a Lutheran thing, too. Luther did not get rid of Individual/personal Confession, he just reformed it, cleaned it up of its abuses. There were three abuses that needed to be corrected. One was that Confession was forced, mandatory, done under coercion and compulsion. The second abuse was the enumeration of sins, that you had to come up with a complete listing of your sins, in detail, or else you could not be sure that you had confessed adequately. The third, and perhaps the worst, abuse was that, instead of putting the emphasis on the absolution, God’s free gift of forgiveness, the priest would give the penitent works of satisfaction to perform, works of penance, to offset his sins. These “three oppressive things,” as Luther called them, had corrupted the practice of Confession, had turned it from a gift into a torture. Therefore, these were the abuses that the Lutherans corrected and reformed.

But Luther never got rid of Individual/personal Confession. Far from it. He strongly encouraged people to go to Confession. He even wrote “A Brief Exhortation to Confession,” in which he says such things as the following: “If you are poor and miserable, then go to Confession and make use of its healing medicine.” Or, “So we teach what a splendid, precious, and comforting thing Confession is.” Or again, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.”

Likewise, our Lutheran Confessions say the same thing. From the Augsburg Confession, Article XI: “Our churches teach that individual/personal Absolution should be retained in the churches.” Or from the Smalcald Articles, Article VIII: “Confession and Absolution should by no means be abolished in the Church.” Again, this is talking about Individual/personal Confession.

But Pastor, do I have to go to Individual/personal Confession to get forgiveness?

No, you don’t. You don’t “have to.” This is a matter of “get to.” You “get to” go to Individual Confession and Absolution. It’s a gift! It’s the Gospel! To be sure, God is rich in his grace, and he gives us his forgiveness in other ways as well. In Holy Baptism, all your sins were washed away, and Baptism is a gift that keeps on giving. Your sins are forgiven also when the pastor preaches the Gospel to you in the sermon, proclaiming the good news that Christ Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, taking them away, and that includes you and your sins. You receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar, when you receive the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

These are all glorious, wonderful means of grace, by which God delivers the forgiveness won by Christ on the cross to us. Holy Baptism, Holy Gospel, Holy Communion–all gifts of God, all means of grace, and each one has its own distinctive value and benefit and place in the life of the Christian. But then so does Holy Absolution. And we don’t want to set one gift of God against another. In other words, just because I get forgiveness in the sermon doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Communion. Just because I get forgiveness in Baptism doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Confession. No, God gives us all these gifts, each one of them, for us to use and benefit from.

What’s so special about Individual/personal Confession, Pastor?

For one thing, it helps us to be honest about ourselves. We readily say we are “poor miserable sinners,” but if we just keep it at that general level, we may try to excuse or rationalize sins we should be repenting of. The truth is, poor miserable sinners do poor miserable sins. And so, examining our lives according to the Ten Commandments and coming to grips with our actual sins helps to keep us honest and accountable and to realize the depths of our sinfulness and our ongoing need for Christ’s forgiveness.

And that leads us to the most important benefit of Confession, and that is, the Absolution, the word of forgiveness. To realize that, yes, God knows my sins, how lousy of a sinner I am, and yet He forgives me–yes, me! I hear the forgiveness spoken into my ears, with my name on it! I feel the pastor’s hands on my head, Christ’s authorized representative releases me from the burden of my sin and my guilt! That is what is so distinctive and refreshing about Individual Confession and Absolution: precisely that it is individual, dealing with my sins and directing God’s cleansing and forgiveness and care to me.

Luther puts it this way in his Brief Exhortation: “So any heart that feels its sinfulness and desires consolation has here a sure refuge when he hears God’s Word and makes the discovery that God through a human being looses and absolves him from his sins.” “[It] is a work that God does when he declares me free of my sin through His Word placed in the mouth of a man. It is this splendid, noble thing that makes Confession so lovely, so comforting.” Yes, the great treasure in Individual/personal Confession is the Absolution, spoken to you.

But Pastor, I’ve never gone to Individual/personal Confession before. I’m scared. What can you say to reassure me?

Let me guess what’s scary or intimidating about it. Maybe you think you must come up with some huge, awful sin–like robbing a bank or murdering someone–in order to go to Individual/personal Confession. No, ordinary, garden-variety sins are welcome any time. Maybe you can think of one or two that weigh on your mind. Lustful thoughts, harsh words, not treating your husband or wife with the love and care you know you should–that sort of thing. But even if you can’t come up with any sins or you’re not quite ready to speak about them, then just make a more general confession and the pastor will still speak God’s word of forgiveness to you.

Pastor, if I told you my sins, my dirty awful sins, wouldn’t you think less of me? Wouldn’t it change our dynamic, our relationship, and you wouldn’t be my friend anymore?

No, I wouldn’t think less of you. If anything, I might be tempted to think more of you, that you took advantage of the opportunity to come to Confession. But then, don’t go and get a big head about it and say, “Hey, look at me! I went to Confession!” That would-be pride, and then you’d have to come back to Confession for that!

No, nothing you say would shock me. I believe what the Bible says about our sinful nature, how the old Adam keeps on having evil desires and thoughts. And hey, your pastor knows what a sinner he is! I won’t be shocked by your sins. In fact, I’m here to give you God’s forgiveness for them.

And what’s more, Individual/personal Confession is just that: Individual and personal. The sins you confess go nowhere else. I am under oath, solemn oath, never to divulge the sins confessed to me. I never have, and I never will. I don’t even divulge them to myself, in a sense. What I mean is, when you confess your sins to me, my ears become a graveyard. The sins die there. I don’t carry them around with me in my head and hold them against you. I can still be your friend. But the more important thing for you is that I be your pastor. God has assigned me here to take care of your soul. And that includes hearing the sins you confess, the sins that trouble your soul, and then forgiving them in the name of Christ.

Pastor, tell me once again: Why should I come to Confession?

For the Gospel. For the forgiveness of your sins. To receive the gift Jesus has for you: Holy Absolution, with your name on it!

 

~ Adapted from an article by Rev. Charles Henrickson

– *Paragraph excerpt from article “What About Confession and Absolution”

by Dr. A. L. Barry, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

 

descent

What are the elements of a Christian worldview?

Christianity teaches a set of beliefs that form the basics of our worldview.

Following is a list of some of the elements that make up the Christian worldview:

An absolute God exists

If an absolute God exists, then it means that God is self-sufficient and lacks nothing. If God is self-sufficient, then he needs no external cause for his existence. This would mean he is eternal. If he is eternal then he does not change.

God created the universe

If God created the universe, then he is all-powerful — since it obviously takes a great deal of power to create the universe. This would also mean that God is separate from creation and not a part of the created order. From the previous point where we see that God is absolute and unchanging, we could see that God’s nature would be reflected in the created order. As a painter leaves a part of himself on the canvas, so God reveals himself in creation. Creation is, therefore, ordered, predictable, and dependable. This would mean that when Christians look into creation, they would expect to find a predictable, regular, and testable world.

God created humanity in His image.

This means that God, who is rational and intelligent, has impressed his image upon the hearts and soul of human beings. Therefore, people can be rational and turn their attention towards the world and since they believe that the universe reflects God’s creative nature, they can have confidence to look into creation and expect order. They can also expect that since they are made in the image of God, they have the ability to unlock the secrets of the universe. In addition, if man is created in God’s image, then all people are worthy of respect and honor. This would also mean that when a new life formed in the womb, it is human from the time of conception. Therefore, abortion would be wrong. Furthermore, if we are created in God’s image, then we did not evolve from lower primates. This would mean that we have purpose and are not merely the result of random development through evolution that is, supposedly, guided by natural selection. Natural selection works on the theory of survival of the fittest and this could have a very harmful effect on society if “survival of the fittest” is transferred into a moral principle. It would justify oppressing the weak and helpless.

God gave man dominion over creation.

This means that all aspects of the created order on earth are to be governed by man according to how God has revealed himself and his will for us in the Bible. Therefore, politics, medicine, art, ecology, society, economics, exploration, philosophy, mathematics, education, etc. all fall under the domain of human responsibility and should be considered realms for man to control — under the wisdom and direction of God’s revelation, the Bible (more on that below).

Humanity is fallen

The Fall of humanity through our ancient father Adam, tells us that at the heart of every one of us is a predisposition toward sin. Sin is rebellion against God and, therefore, it is a rebellion against what is good. Sin has not only affected man’s soul and body, but it has also affected his mind. Therefore, the Christian worldview would say that even man’s best reasoning is touched by sin and cannot be perfect. Furthermore, since man is sinful and his heart’s intentions are predisposed towards wickedness, we conclude that those in power are highly susceptible to corruption. Therefore, governmental systems should be developed with Christian principles in mind to help guard against that. In fact, Christianity influenced the development of the Constitution and American government. Our founding fathers developed the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government that are there to exercise a system of checks and balances over each other. Why? Because of The Fall, man has a tendency to gravitate towards corruption.

Jesus is humanity’s only hope for redemption

Because man is fallen, he is in need of rescue from God’s righteous condemnation — which is eternal damnation. Also, since he is fallen, there is no way he can redeem himself. Therefore, Jesus, who is God in flesh, died for us and rose from the dead. We receive his righteousness and forgiveness by faith. This basic theological truth means that Christians should then preach that good news of redemption in Christ to all the world. Therefore, one of the most basic Christian principles is promoting Jesus as the means by which we are made right with God.

The Holy Scriptures (The Bible) are the Word of God

Of course, I have already mentioned the Bible, but the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God. From the Bible we derive the truths by which we govern our lives. It is from the Bible that we learn about God himself, his created order, the Trinity, redemption, about sin, salvation, hope, and what is morally correct. The Bible reveals the will of God for mankind, for the family, for raising children, for proper behavior in society, etc. It is from the Bible that we can learn the direct will of God.

God Provides for His creation

It is from the Bible that we learn of God’s loving provision for us. We know that God lets the sun and rainfall down upon both the good and the bad. We know that God causes the crops to grow and cattle to multiply. We know that though we live in a fallen world, God has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. Therefore, we can rely on God’s provision for us and should have confidence that he will continue to provide for our needs. Therefore, you can see that there are basic principles that form the Christian worldview. There are more, but the above eight items are representative of Christianity’s perspective and truth and how it influences belief and action.


The Prophet’s Story

The story begins with Adam and Eve, who listened to the voice of the devil instead of God. They disobeyed, and mankind’s perfect relationship with God was broken.

They became the first to experience sin and the death sin causes. They tried to hide themselves with tree leaves to cover their shame, but God was not pleased with these coverings. He covered them instead with animal skin garments. God Himself made the first animal sacrifice to cover their shame.

Adam and Eve had two children: Cain and Abel. Cain made an offering to God from the food he had grown while Abel offered an animal sacrifice—a blood sacrifice.

God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Why? Because sin demands death, separates us from God, and must be paid for . . . with life. In Cain’s jealousy, he killed Abel and led a large portion of humanity down a dark path.

Hundreds of years later, things had gotten so bad that God said there was no one on earth that deserved to live . . . no one except Noah and his family. God called Noah to build a boat—a big one—and in doing so preach this message: Judgment for sin is coming, and there is only one way to escape and receive the mercy of God—the ark.

They laughed and ridiculed Noah until rain came from the sky and the water burst up from the deep while the people were unprepared. The flood killed every person and animal, and the world perished for their sins. Only Noah, his family, and the animals God had brought to the ark were saved.

Then came Abraham, the Father of Faith. God told him to take his son and sacrifice him on a mountain. Abraham was disturbed by this command, but he obeyed God. He proved his faith with action and took his son to Mount Moriah. But just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God stopped him and provided an animal to take his son’s place. The animal redeemed, replaced, bought back his son—blood for blood, life for life.

Four hundred years passed and God sent Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, didn’t like this, so God punished him with ten plagues. For the final plague, God sent an Angel of Death to kill the firstborn son of every household. But there was a way out. The people were commanded to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doorpost of the house. If the Angel of Death saw the blood, he knew the children inside had been redeemed by sacrifice. Whether Jew or Egyptian, slave or freeman, if they obeyed the command of God, their child would be saved. If not . . . their child would not be saved. That night it happened just as Moses prophesied and a great weeping went up all over Egypt in any household that had refused God’s mercy by sacrifice.

Later, Moses gave the people the Torah in which God prescribed a ritual for covering the sins of the people. The offender brought an animal sacrifice to the priest, laid his hands on its head symbolizing the way his own sin and shame was transferred to the animal. Then the animal was sacrificed—its blood spilled out—and the offender’s sin was covered. King David and the prophets followed the Torah given by Moses, but they wondered, “Can the blood of animals really cover the sins of a man, or are they signs and symbols pointing to the future?”

David prophesied a Coming One, a King, a Messiah, a descendant of King David who would rule and reign in power, yet be a humble man with a heart of compassion. This Messiah would be sinless, perfect, blameless, innocent. He would suffer and die and be a worthy sacrifice. He would become “the Great Sacrifice.” Jesus was born in a barn because nobody had room for him. Born of a virgin, born pure. A royal, but poor, descendent of King David. Poor country shepherds and wealthy wise men from the East came to honor the child and testify that He was indeed the Coming One, the Messiah, whom the Scriptures had promised.

Jesus preached love, truth, peace, humility. He was a humble carpenter, but brilliant philosopher. He offended religious hypocrites who cared about rituals more than loving God, but He was loved by the poor, the humble, the repentant, the sinner. He healed the deaf, blind, deformed, and demon possessed. He even raised dead men back to life again. A homeless man, a wandering teacher, a revolutionary calling Lovers of God to live full lives. Jesus even called God His “Father,” and showed mankind that “the All Powerful” loves you like a Daddy.

God wanted to relate to humans as His children, but there was a problem. They were still sinful and God is Holy! Man’s sin, starting with Adam, had separated the people from their God, and the Messiah knew what He had to do to bring them back.

John the Baptist prophesied of Jesus saying, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus was the Messiah, the Chosen One—chosen to become the Great Sacrifice. Having never sinned, He was holy, pure, perfect, and worthy to pay the price for sin. The innocent one in exchange for the guilty. The Holy One in exchange for sinful people. He did this for His Father to pay the price for mankind’s sin, to free them from their slavery to sin, and to restore to them what Adam had lost—a perfect relationship with God. Jesus died on the cross, not because of the Jews, nor the Romans, but by the hand of God, his Father. God sacrificed Jesus to fulfill what was written by the prophets—that He would become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, yours and mine. But He didn’t stop there. Three days later God raised Jesus, the Messiah, from the dead as a promise to those who believe in Him, that they too will rise again to eternal life. After this, Jesus promised his disciples that He would return again, but this time as Judge and King!

The Messiah is God’s gift to mankind so they would not die in their sins and be separated from God. By receiving Jesus’ sacrifice they could be restored back into a perfect relationship with Him. But like any gift, it’s not yours until you take it.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quality of the preaching in the pulpits within the Church currently, and I am growing increasingly concerned about the Church moving further and further away from the unique strengths of Gospel preaching as we have received it from generations previous to ours. I’m going to frame my concerns by referring to temptations preachers face. I’m coming at this, of course, from my perspective and convictions as a Spirit-filled, confessing, orthodox Christian, committed to the Sacred Scriptures, having vowed to preach and teach the Word of God in conformity to the Word of God. This is no mere finger pointing exercise, this is a chance for me to reflect on how these temptations impact me when I preach.

The Therapeutic Temptation
The “Therapeutic Temptation” is one that would have preachers use their sermons to give what amounts to little more than a pep talk, often in the context of cute, touching, emotional or an otherwise manipulative story, either real, or made up. I’m referring to the infamous, “There was once a little boy who…” or the, “There was a man who said/did…” These sermons will be marked by a preaching of Law that is soft and squidgy around the edges, it’s not a preaching of God’s holy, righteous wrath against sin and a warning against it and a rebuking of sin and sinners. It is Law preached in such a way that bad things, bad people or bad situations are lamented in doleful tones. It sounds often like this, “Isn’t it sad when….” or “Have you ever…..” and the tone is one of sounding “oh, so sorry about that” and “shouldn’t we all feel bad” about this problem. Then the sermon goes on to offer encouragement and support for getting out of our bad and negative feelings and circumstances. The Law is soft, the Gospel therefore comes across as antidote to feeling sad and bad. I face this temptation when I preach. I want so much to make people feel better, to feel good, to leave feeling positive. That can get in the way of good Law/Gospel preaching. I would say this is what I’m hearing more and more in pulpits. Law becomes simply lament. Gospel becomes simply encouragement and reassurance.

Let Me Entertain You Temptation
Public speaking, once one becomes fairly good at it, is a place where one’s personal ego can really get in the way of God’s Word. It is so tempting to get wrapped up in the moment and begin to feel a need to amuse, delight and entertain the listeners. Now, granted, the use of the classic art of rhetoric is important, but it is tempting for preachers to work very hard to elicit a laugh, a chuckle, to amuse, to entertain. They mistake audience reaction with effective preaching and they mistake emotionally manipulating the congregation with preaching God’s Word effectively. The problem with the entertainment temptation is that often the effort to entertain and elicit a positive emotional reaction from the congregation causes the preacher to neglect the doctrine in the text he is preaching on, to neglect, frankly, the Scriptures, and to spend an inordinate amount of time developing his story that he just knows will get the kind of response he is looking for. Public speaking is heady stuff. I have been tempted to go for the cheap line, the little quip, the comment I know will get chuckle and spend too much time on that, than on preaching God’s Word. And here again, in this context, Law is neglected, or ignored, because, after all, the Law is not “upbeat” it is not “entertaining.” It will not delight and amuse people to hear that they, by nature, are poor, miserable sinners who have nothing but wicked, evil deeds to offer to the holy and righteous God. And when the Law is neglected, the Gospel then loses the force of its power to convert and regeneration. In such a context, the Gospel is watered down to be part of an entertaining experience for the listeners.

The Hurry Up Temptation
This is quite an insidious temptation that I think we all have fallen into, nearly totally. For many centuries, and even millennia, in the church’s history, sermons, where they were taken seriously, were thirty, forty or even sixty minutes long. The sermon was the opportunity for the pastor to preach and teach God’s Word carefully and thoroughly, from Sunday to Sunday, but then, sermons that were forty-five minutes long, became only thirty minutes, then they dropped to twenty minutes, and now it is often the case that sermons now are only twelve, or ten or even eight minutes long. Simply put, these are no longer sermons, they have become rather formulaic quick devotional thoughts. There is not enough time carefully to delve into the text, and open it up to hearers. A text become more a pretext for the sharing of what becomes quite repetitive themes: some talk of something bad, some talk of Jesus taking care of it all for us, and then there may be a reference to the Sacraments. Preachers are tempted to do this when they know that there is a full service with Holy Communion. It is tempting to skip lightly over the text and instead use the short time I have to make a couple devotional points and then get on to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I love the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and love that we celebrate it every corporate gathering on Sundays. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper must never become an excuse to make our sermons shorter and less substantial. We are the Church, the Body of Christ, and the fellowship of Word and Sacrament. I think that we are forgetting this.

The Axe to Grind Temptation
This temptation is characterized by a preacher managing to “find” in any Biblical text, a pretext for him to yet, once more, grind his axe on his hobby-horse issue, or subject, or theme, no matter what it might be. The hobby-horse might be quite correct and what the preacher says about it is quite true, but it is a temptation preachers face to turn nearly every sermon they give into an opportunity once more to repeat the same issues, over and over again. Perhaps he will be wanting to talk always about the liturgical practices in the parish, to turn every sermon into a little discourse on some point of church history, or to keep referring to some particular event or trend in society. Every sermon manages to include a reference to the issue that is really “bugging” the preacher and it comes out in his sermon. I am tempted to do this when I find myself wanting to warn people against the “feel good/health and wealth” prosperity preachers. I find that I can easily find myself bashing this error in every sermon. And while I’m perfectly correct in my warning, it is not appropriate for me to hijack every sermon on every Biblical text, to interject my own particular agenda. The Lectionary is a good corrective, and if the preacher resolves actually to preach on the subjects, issues and topics that flow naturally from the Lectionary readings, there is much less of a chance that the preacher will fall victim to the “Axe to Grind” temptation.

How many more temptations could be added to this list?

~ Originally written by Rev. Paul McCain, edited by Rev. Gary DeSha

Nikodemos

THE PASSIONS

A passion is a spiritual disease that dominates the soul. When one repeatedly falls into a certain sin, it becomes second nature – a passion – for him to keep falling into this sin. Thus, one who misuses the God-given powers of the soul of desire and anger, or one who continually succumbs to temptations of lust, hate, malice, or jealousy, or one who succumbs to pride and vainglory, acquires those passions. It is primarily through repentance, faith, obedience to God, submission to His will, and dying daily to self is one healed of the passions.

The passions are:

harshness, trickery, malice, perversity, mindlessness, licentiousness, enticement, dullness, lack of understanding, idleness, sluggishness, stupidity, flattery, silliness, idiocy, madness, derangement, coarseness, rashness, cowardice, lethargy, dearth of good actions, moral errors, greed, over-frugality, ignorance, folly, spurious knowledge, forgetfulness, lack of discrimination, obduracy, injustice, evil intention, a conscienceless soul, slothfulness, idle chatter, breaking of faith, wrongdoing, sinfulness, lawlessness, criminality, passion, seduction, assent to evil, mindless coupling, demonic provocation, dallying, bodily comfort beyond what is required, vice, stumbling, sickness of soul, enervation, weakness of intellect, negligence, laziness, a reprehensible despondency, disdain of God, aberration, transgression, unbelief, lack of faith, wrong belief, poverty of faith, heresy, fellowship in heresy, polytheism, idolatry, ignorance of God, impiety, magic, astrology, divination, sorcery, denial of God, the love of idols, dissipation, profligacy, loquacity, indolence, self-love, inattentiveness, lack of progress, deceit, delusion, audacity, witchcraft, defilement, the eating of unclean food, soft living, dissoluteness, voracity, un-chastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem, pride, presumption, self-elation, boastfulness, infatuation, foulness, satiety, doltishness, torpor, sensuality, over-eating, gluttony, insatiability, secret eating, hoggishness, solitary eating, indifference, fickleness, self-will, thoughtlessness, self-satisfaction, love of popularity, ignorance of beauty, un-couthness, gaucherie, light-mindedness, boorishness, rudeness, contentiousness, quarrelsomeness, abusiveness, shouting, brawling, fighting, rage, mindless desire, gall, exasperation, giving offence, enmity, meddlesomeness, chicanery, asperity, slander, censure, calumny, condemnation, accusation, hatred, railing, insolence, dishonor, ferocity, frenzy, severity, aggressiveness, forswearing oneself, oath taking, lack of compassion, hatred of one’s brothers, partiality, patricide, matricide, breaking fasts, laxity, acceptance of bribes, theft, rapine, jealousy, strife, envy, indecency, jesting, vilification, mockery, derision, exploitation, oppression, disdain of one’s neighbor, flogging, making sport of others, hanging, throttling, heartlessness, implacability, covenant-breaking, bewitchment, harshness, shamelessness, impudence, obfuscation of thoughts, obtuseness, mental blindness, attraction to what is fleeting, impassionedness, frivolity, disobedience, dull-wittedness, drowsiness of soul, excessive sleep, fantasy, heavy drinking, drunkenness, uselessness, slackness, mindless enjoyment, self-indulgence, venery, using foul language, effeminacy, unbridled desire, burning lust, masturbation, pimping, adultery, sodomy, bestiality, defilement, wantonness, a stained soul, incest, uncleanliness, pollution, sordidness, feigned affection, laughter, jokes, immodest dancing, clapping, improper songs, revelry, constant passion, license of tongue, excessive love of order, insubordination, disorderliness, reprehensible collusion, conspiracy, warfare, killing, brigandry, sacrilege, illicit gains, usury, wiliness, grave-robbing, hardness of heart, obloquy, complaining, blasphemy, fault-finding, ingratitude, malevolence, contemptuousness, pettiness, confusion, lying, verbosity, empty words, mindless joy, daydreaming, mindless friendship, bad habits, non-sensicality, silly talk, garrulity, niggardliness, depravity, intolerance, irritability, affluence, rancour, misuse, ill-temper, clinging to life, ostentation, affectation, pusillanimity, satanic love, curiosity, contumely, lack of the fear of God, unteachability, senselessness, haughtiness, self-vaunting, self-inflation, scorn for one’s neighbor, mercilessness, insensitivity, hopelessness, spiritual paralysis, hatred of God, despair, suicide, a falling away from God in all things, utter destruction –

Altogether 298 passions……….

These, then, are the passions which have been found named in the Holy Scriptures. St. John Climakos states: “If you seek understanding in wicked men, you will not find it.” For all that the demons produce is disorderly.

In common with the godless and the unjust, the demons have but one purpose: to destroy the souls of those who accept their evil counsel.

Yet sometimes they actually help men to attain holiness. In such instances they are conquered by the patience and faith of those who put their trust in the Lord, and who through their good actions and resistance to evil thoughts counteract the demons and bring down curses upon them.

From A LIST OF THE PASSIONS, Saint Peter of Damaskos The Philokalia; The Complete Text compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth. Volume Three, translated from the Greek and edited by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherard, Kallistos Ware, Faber and Faber, 1984

obedience

The short message was recorded with my new GoPro Hero3 camera!