"Of particular concern to this committee, however, is that in many of the sermons we reviewed, the message of the Gospel, while present, did not predominate. Many of these sermons were designed to be practical in nature, but the practice (i.e. sanctification) of the believer was not always clearly connected with the motivation (i.e. justification) of the believer. We find this observation to be a serious concern, because if the Gospel does not predominate during the course of the sermon, there are not enough places in the rest of [the] worship format to make up for that deficit. For a congregation that has defined their target group as the unchurched, this concern is also that much more magnified."
It should be noted that this was not a "charge," or "accusation;" not something that was possibly or even probably true, but an actual "finding," that is, a "conclusion;" in other words, an observable and demonstrable fact, found to be true by fellow Pastors, teachers, and laymen.
What was even more fascinating to this observer was that this particular item, out of four areas of concern, generated the least amount of comment from the other Pastors present. Indeed, while I may have missed a comment or two during the discussion, I can't remember a single other Pastor bringing up this issue.
When I "wondered" this to a fellow Pastor, he suggested that the other Pastors didn't want to comment because they perhaps saw themselves and their own sermons in that finding of that committee! Thus, they were loathe to point a finger at a brother Pastor when they themselves perhaps felt a modicum of guilt on the subject.
This led to me back to Father Martin once again, to see what he had to say on the matter. Of course, he had a lot to say. I have chosen just a couple of sections from only one of his writings that speaks about exactly what Lutheran preachers should be preaching. Please, read on.
Of The Office of Preaching
by Martin Luther (1483-1546)
SECTION II. PREACHERS OF THE WORD TO PREACH NOTHING BUT THE WORD.
4. So much for the call into the office. But Christ is not speaking of that here; for something more is required, namely, that no rival or supplementary doctrine be introduced, nor another word be taught than Christ has taught. Christ says in Mt. 23:2-4: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say and do not. Yea, they bind heavy burdens too grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger." Although these of whom Christ here speaks were regularly appointed, yet they were thieves and murderers; for they taught variations from Christ's teaching. Christ reproves them in another place, in Matthew 15:3, where he holds up before them their traditions and tells them how, through their own inventions, they have transgressed the commandments of God, yea, totally abolished them. We have also many prophets who were regularly appointed and still were misled, like Balaam, of whom we read in Num. 22; also Nathan, described in 2 Sam 7:3. Similarly many bishops have erred.
5. Here Christ says: He who would enter by the door must be ready to speak the Word concerning Christ and his word must center in Christ. Let it be called "coming" when one preaches aright; the approaching is spiritual, and through the Word--upon the ears of his hearers, the preacher comes at last into the sheepfold--the heart of believers. Christ says that the shepherd must enter by the door; that is, preach nothing but Christ, for Christ is the door into the sheepfold.
6. But where there are intruders, who make their own door, their own hole to crawl through, their own addition different from that which Christ taught, they are thieves. Of these Paul says to the Romans (16:17-18): "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent." Paul does not speak of opposing or antagonistic doctrines, but of those placed beside the true doctrine; they are additions, making divisions. Paul calls it a rival doctrine, an addition, an occasion of stumbling, an offense and a byway, when one establishes the conscience upon his own goodness or deeds.
7. Now, the Gospel is sensitive, complete and pre-eminent: it must be intolerant of additions and rival teachings. The doctrine of earning entrance into heaven by virtue of fastings, prayers and penance is a branch road, which the Gospel will not tolerate. But our Church authorities endorse these things,hence they are thieves and murderers; for they do violence to our consciences, which is slaying and destroying the sheep. How is this accomplished? If only I am directed into a branch or parallel road, then my soul is turned from God upon that road, where I must perish. Thus this road is the cause of my death. The conscience and heart of man must be founded upon one single Word or they will come to grief. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field" (Is 40:6).
8. The doctrines of men, however admirable, fall to the ground, and with them the conscience that has built upon them. There is no help nor remedy. But the Word of God is eternal and must endure forever; no devil can overthrow it. The foundation is laid upon which the conscience may be established forever. The words of men must perish and everything that cleaves to them. Those who enter not by the door--that is, those who do not speak the true and pure Word of God, without any addition--do not lay the right foundation; they destroy and torture and slaughter the sheep. Therefore, Christ says further in this Gospel: "But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his Voice."
SECTION III. A TRUE PREACHER SHOULD FIRST USE THE LAW ARIGHT AND THEN PREACH THE GOSPEL.
9. The porter here is the preacher who rightly teaches the Law--shows that the Law exists and must reveal to us our helplessness; that the works of the Law do not help us, and yet they are insistent. He then opens to the shepherd, that is, to Christ the Lord, and lets him alone feed the sheep. For the office of the Law is at an end; it has accomplished its mission of revealing to the heart its sins until it is completely humbled. Then Christ comes and makes a lamb out of the sheep--feeds it with his Gospel and directs it how to regain cheer for the heart so hopelessly troubled and crushed by the Law.
10. The lamb then hears Christ's voice and follows it. It has the choicest of pastures, and knows the voice of the shepherd. But the voice of a stranger it never hears and never follows. Just as soon as one preaches to it about works, it is worried and its heart cannot receive the teaching with joy. It knows very well that nothing is accomplished by means of works; for one may do as much as he will, still he carries a heavy spirit and he thinks he has not done enough, nor done rightly. But when the Gospel comes--the voice of the shepherd--it says: God gave to the world his only Son, that all who believe on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Then is the heart happy; it feeds upon these words and finds them good. The lamb has found its satisfying pasture; it wants none other. Yea, when it is given other pasture, it flees from it and will not feed therein. This pasture always attracts the sheep, and the sheep also find it. God says in the prophecy of Isaiah: "So shall my Word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish all in the things whereto, I sent it" (Is 55:11).
So, my friends - how is the preaching at your church; or, brother Pastors - how are your sermons? Do they focus on the Word of Christ, and especially the Gospel? Is the law used properly; that is, to drive people to repentance and to Christ's work and mercy? Is the Gospel there, clearly and predominately, to comfort despairing souls, and lead believers into lives of thanks and praise? Or are they mostly "how to" sermons - how to live a better, easier, more prosperous, more tranquil, more pleasant life? Or do they perhaps focus a great deal on what's wrong with all the "other" churches, including some in our own fellowship; or what's wrong with the world; or how pure, noble, and untainted "we" are, etc....? Indeed, what IS going on out there with preaching these days?
Members - ask yourselves the simple question: Does the Gospel predominate in the sermons I hear? Also, ask your Pastors if they begin their sermon work in the original languages of the Bible, and how much time and effort and planning they put in to their sermons. Pastors - ask yourselves the same questions.
Again, and as always, comments and questions are invited and encouraged.