There is much value in the words of those Christians who've preceded us, particularly these days, as those words come down to us from a time when post-Modernism was unknown, from a time when language still carried objective meaning. In such words, we find the full force of objective conviction and confident passion, words that are chosen for their direct and unequivocal clarity – as well they ought to be, given that the receptor of language is the human mind. This is in contrast to words chosen by contemporary Christian writers and speakers, who are apparently under the illusion that words are not received principally by the mind, but by the entire human body. Words, even the words of Scripture, result not principally in thought from which meaning is derived, but primarily in a human experience from which meaning is derived. One prominent contemporary Lutheran has even stated as much, in writing, regarding the public reading of Scripture:
- “We expect that the primary way in which most WELS people experience most of the Bible, most of the time, is by hearing it read in the context of the public worship service.”1
In the words of Christians who've preceded us, we also find the comfort of discovering that they faced the same issues we face today. Christians have always been concerned about the health of the Church, and, certainly, this is not necessarily a bad thing; but in connection with this concern, they have also been known to take great pride in counting their numbers as a show of growth, as a show of power and influence over others, and as a show of what they've accomplished for Christ. Dr. Kretzmann warns against this in specific terms, as he also warns of bewailing the apparent failure of Christianity, of the fall of Christs' Church at the hands of Her enemies, and of zealously urging human effort to “save the Church from certain demise.” Writing in 1956 as a contemporary of Donald McGavran, “the father of the church growth movement” (of whom and about which we wrote in our recent post, The Church Growth Movement: A brief synopsis of its history and influences in American Christianity), it's almost as if Kretzmann were responding to McGavran directly in the following sermon, and prophetically warning the Christian zealots of our own day who, “listening to the seductive voices of men who profess to be leaders to everlasting life,” would “glibly prate of scholarship and of the latest results of science” and “presume to put up their pitiful manmade theories over against the eternal verities of God’s Word.”
Almost. The fact is, the World is one of the three great enemies of the Christian, and it has always waged war against the Church, always pitted man's reason against the Word of God. We see Dr. Kretzmann's sermon applying to us in our day, even though he uses examples from his own day, because the warnings he issues, the Truth he claims, and the remedy he offers have always applied to Christians. ‘Stand ye in the ways... ask for the old paths... walk in the good ways... and ye shall find rest for your souls...’ — this Dr. Kretzmann explains in the following sermon.
Holy Week: A Sermon for Palm Sunday
Stand Ye in the Ways, and Find Rest for Your Souls
by Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann2
(Introit, Ps. 22:19)
- Text: Thus saith the Lord, ‘Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk therein’. (Jeremiah 6:16)
Such a solemn renewal of the vow by which a person declares his allegiance to the Savior is particularly necessary in our day, when so many difficulties have arisen to endanger the simple faith of Christians. It is true that the Christian Church, in its outward appearance, has apparently made much headway in recent years. The number of church members, according to available statistics, has increased by many per cent over the gains recorded a few years ago. Over 60% of the people of America now profess adherence to some church3. It is most unfortunate, however, that in many instances, this outward membership is not the expression of a full and complete adherence to the full truth of the Word of God. There is a good deal of formal Christianity, including a fairly regular attendance at the chief service on Sunday morning, chiefly because this is considered rather fashionable. But when one inquires about the attendance at other church services, at Bible hours, and at meetings in which further progress in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is the goal, there are bound to be great disappointments. And if we should go one step farther and inquire about regular worship in the home, and about daily Bible reading by the individual, the disappointment would be increased in considerable measure. It is truly a sad phenomenon, but one which cannot be denied, that many congregations, especially in the large cities, have, for the majority of the membership, degenerated into social clubs with a religious veneer, and that the call of the Lord: “My son, give me thine heart” (Pr. 23:26), is falling upon deaf ears.
And there is another point which must be added here, namely that of the attitude taken by a great many people who disdain to be reckoned with churchgoers, many of whom even are out-and-out enemies of the Bible and its soul-giving truths. Somehow people have gotten the notion that Christianity, the Christian religion, the Christian faith, are on trial, that the truth of the Bible has been cited before the tribunal of men and has been found wanting.
Is this true? Is the Christian religion failing? Has it been arraigned before the tribunal of men’s justice and found wanting? — Nothing can be farther from the truth. To all who entertain such notions the Bible calls out: “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that thou repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, ‘Why hast thou made me thus?’” (Ro. 9:20). Or: “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Co. 1:18). Hence it is not the truth of God that is standing at the bar of justice, but the foolishness of man. It is the people of this country and of every city in it who are standing at the crossroads; it is they who should be found in great searchings of heart. For those who reject or ignore His Word and who foolishly criticize the eternal verities of Holy Writ the words are written: “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.’ He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure” (Ps. 2:1-5). It is the almighty and all-wise God who calls out to men, in His holy Word: “This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Is. 30:21). It is also He who speaks to us, in the words of our text:
WHERE IS THE GOOD WAY, AND WALK THEREIN,
AND YE SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.”
Let us, under the gracious guidance of the Holy Spirit, meditate on these words for a few minutes.
It is a solemn warning that lies in these words, just as solemn as that which we find in Christ’s own words: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Mt. 7:13). Truly, many are they that go in thereat. Many are they who are listening to the seductive voices of men who profess to be leaders to everlasting life, but whose way leads far from the path of heaven to a dreadful uncertainty which leads to everlasting destruction. Who are they who presume to put up their pitiful manmade theories over against the eternal verities of God’s Word? Ah, they glibly prate of scholarship and of the latest results of science. They presume to pick the Bible to pieces and to substitute for its divine truth the flimsy threads of human arguments. They fill the hearts of our growing boys and girls, of our young men and young women, with doubts concerning the wisdom before which the greatest achievements of man’s mind pale into insignificance. They speak of mistakes in the Bible, though nine out of ten have never even read the Bible. Yea, they lead men and women, or try to lead them, into new and strange paths, into paths where the truth of the creation story is ridiculed, where the inerrancy of the inspired Record is set aside, where the deity of Christ is declared to be non-essential, where nothing is left of the Bible but a shell and a hollow mockery.
But what saith the Lord? Let us repeat the words of Ps. 2:4: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” And the Prophet proclaims: “The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them?” (Je. 8:9). And again we read: “Thus saith the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord’” (Je. 9:23-24).
But there is another matter which ought to concern us most seriously at this time, one which is not connected, except indirectly with the attacks that have recently been launched against the Bible. It is a situation which confronts every one of us in a manner that ought to challenge our attention. It is the universal abandonment to selfishness which characterizes our times, the hectic seeking after the gratification of various appetites, the eagerness for sensual and sensuous delights. It was not in this manner that the kingdom of David and the Church of the Lord was built up through the preaching of the Lord’s prophets. It was not thus that George Washington became the “father of his country”; it was not thus that Abraham Lincoln, under God, was fitted to become its savior. It was not thus that the individual state in our great commonwealth was established, each so remarkable in extent and powerful in riches. And, above all, it is not thus that the Lord would have us live our short span of life, as it is allotted to us in this vale of tears. Shall we spend the money which comes to us as a gift from the hands of a kind Father for the pursuit and gratification of momentary and fleeting delights? Shall we waste our God-given strength in the vain pursuit of pleasures which sap our God-given energy and weaken the stamina of our nation? Shall we prostitute the liberty which is ours as the children of God into a license which endangers our soul’s salvation? — Ah, if there were fewer white lights burning to show the way to questionable and dangerous amusements and more white lights of consecration glowing within the hearts and souls of men in the interest of that which is good and elevating or, as the Apostle puts it, of “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report” (Ph. 4:8); if there were less strength dissipated in yielding to the vices of our day and more strength used in building up the homes and the nation and the churches; if there were less money spent in useless and dangerous luxuries and more for the sound establishment of things which are enduring for the welfare of home and Church: how much more would the pleasure of the Lord rest upon those who call themselves Christians! Does not the Lord say, in the Book of His eternal Truth: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world”? Yea, and He continues: “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 Jn. 2:15-17). And another Apostle writes: “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Ja. 4:4).
Are we then, my friends, following the allurements of the world's wisdom and of the world's temptations? Have we listened to the voice of the tempter and placed our souls in jeopardy? Oh, let us hear the warning cry of our God: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein.” Mark what the Lord says through His inspired Prophet: “Behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, ‘Who seeth us?’ and ‘Who knoweth us?’ Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay” (Is. 29:14-16). The world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.
And this last promise is of such great importance in our present meditation. For we find that, in addition to the warning contained in our text, we have also a most loving appeal, a fatherly call to all men, for while the Lord admonishes us: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein,” He adds the beautiful statement: “And ye shall find rest for your souls.” So we see that even the first part of the sentence contains an implied promise, for it says, in effect: If you will keep on standing in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way. The Lord thereby indicates that He presupposes such conduct on the part of all those who are truly His children. This being the case, we can appreciate the promise all the better: Ye shall find rest for your souls; namely, by following the right way and walking therein.
We know where the true path may be found; we know which is the right way to heaven. The Savior of mankind has said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (Jn. 14:6). Christ is the Way, because He has prepared the way into the presence of our heavenly Father through the blood of His cross. Does the false wisdom of this world throw up its hands in horror over the doctrine of the redemption, an idea which our oversensitive generation can no longer accept? We ignore all objections to the eternal truth, for we know that we have redemption through the blood of the Lamb, the forgiveness of sins.
Let us, therefore, give the closest attention to the words of our text, to the glorious promise included in the words of the Lord: And ye shall find rest unto your souls. The inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews states it as a simple fact: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (He. 4:9). And in the same letter we find the encouraging question: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (He. 9:14). That is the truth of God: The blood of Christ has purged our consciences from dead works to serve the living God, to walk in His ways. How then can any one, knowing Christ and the atonement through His blood as the only way, neglect to keep on seeking the one and only Way to heaven? Now, Jesus is found in the Word of grace, and in the Word alone. It is He who says, in the Book of eternal Truth: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (Jn. 5:39). It is He who inspired His holy writer to call out: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.” And again: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:9,105). And let no one think that these passages refer merely to a sanctified life, for there can be no true sanctification without a knowledge and acceptance of the way of justification based on the redemption wrought by the Savior.
Have we been heeding His call: “...thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (De. 4:29). It is God Himself who draws men to the Savior, namely by creating willing hearts, such as are willing to be led and guided by Him, eager to learn more and more about the way to heaven through the acceptance of His promise: “Ye shall End rest for your souls.”
Have you been searching for Him in His Word? How often have you read the Bible, the Book which has rightly been called “God’s love-letter to all mankind”? There are less than 1200 chapters in the Bible and, by spending fewer than ten minutes a day on the average, or far less than one per cent of your time, you can easily read the Bible through once every year. Have you been observing a family worship hour, in which you and your loved ones spend some time daily with your Redeemer, in order to learn ever more about the way of salvation through Christ and His blood? There are 168 hours in the week: do you suppose that you could spare two of these hours in becoming acquainted with the eternal verities which are essential for your eternal happiness? O friends, as we value the great and the lasting things of this life, as we look forward to the life beyond the grave, as we desire to spend eternity in the company of our one and only Savior, let us heed the call of the Lord in our text: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.”
- Thy grace brought me to faith
In my Redeemer’s blood;
Thy grace was sealed upon my heart
In Baptism’s holy flood.
Thy grace has kept me firm
Against unnumbered foes;
Thy grace sustains my trembling heart
In tribulation's throes.
Thy grace shall be the theme
Of my unending songs,
For my eternal gratitude
To Thee, my Lord, belongs.
Yea, when in heaven’s halls
I stand before Thy throne,
This shall I sing, that I am saved
By grace, and grace alone.
- Kretzmann, P. (1956). Jesus Only: A series of Lenten and post-Easter Sermons. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. pp. 46-54.
For more information about Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, see the Intrepid Lutheran post, Dr. P. E. Kretzmann: Standing on God’s Word when the World opposes us
- Wendland, P. (2011, December). Evaluating Translations. Forward in Christ 98(12). pg. 29
NOTE: President Wendland is here naming and defending criteria for the choice of a new translation for Synod. This particular criterion plainly trumps the claim that Synod's choice of standard translation is only meant to be the translation used by NPH in its publications, that it does not represent the Synod's recommendation or requirement for use in the local congregation. On the contrary, by establishing this as a relevant and primary criterion, President Wendland directly states “it is expected” that Synod's choice of standard translation will also be the standard translation used in every congregation, will be the translation generally read in public during the Divine Service. It is “expected,” and is therefore a primary criterion in the selection of a standard translation.
Some may be tempted to dismiss President Wendland's emphasis of the term “expectation” in connection with the translation used in WELS parishes, yet, even this month, this point was again emphasized Rev. John Braun, who writes:
- “Which Bible should you choose? ...We may prefer to use the translation we have used most often, but which Bible will be the best choice for the next generation? ...My pastor had a good answer to that questions. He suggested that we purchase the Bible our children have used in their instruction classes [presumably, he means 'catechism classes' here, but that is a big word that no one uses anymore -DL]. That makes good sense. Passages that were memorized came from that version. Most of today's confirmands have grown familiar with the NIV 1984 in the same way I became comfortable with the King James Version. God willing, they will continue to read their confirmation Bibles and treasure them for the truths of God's Word.”
Braun, J. (2013, March). Translation 103: Which Bible?. Forward in Christ 100(3). pg. 29.
Hence, it is known, indeed, it is “expected,” that the version of the Bible used in catechism materials and other publications distributed by NPH will be the version from which WELS children, and members of all WELS congregations, will be indoctrinated; it will be the version they memorize, contemplate and repeat to one another for the rest of their lives. If Synod in Convention chooses the NIV 2011 this Summer as the “translation used in WELS publications,” then “IT WILL BE EXPECTED” that (a) an egalitarian version of the Bible, that is (b) rendered at the sixth-grade reading level, will be that which our children will (c) “memorize, contemplate and repeat to one another” for the rest of their lives. For the rest of their lives, they will be “memorizing, contemplating and repeating to one another” a translation of the Bible rendered in terms that are (a) twisted to comply with the cultural standards of militant feminism that has been in a state of open war against the Church and Christian teaching from the start, in (b) terms no more sophisticated than a sixth grader.
This is the form of indoctrination that awaits our children, should the NIV 2011 be chosen this Summer by Synod in Convention, and it will impact them long into adulthood. Their thinking in matters of religion, as they will have been taught from childhood, will not equip them for their lives as adults, it will only equip them with the thinking capacity of twelve-year-old child. At the same time, they will receive instruction in the ideas of the world from their schools, colleges and workplaces, and from the acquaintances and friends they meet through their lives, in terms suitable for adults. Moreover, the word patterns they repeat to one another from childhood will prepare them to receive with gladness the false teaching of the feminists. The juvenile thinking patterns taught them by their NIV Bibles will render them impotent against not only worldliness, but from direct attacks of the World. We see it now, among those adults who've been taught to think about their faith in the simplistic terms of the NIV 1984. Indeed, I am convinced that blame for the appalling state of American Christianity today can be attributed, at least in part, to the popularity of the NIV 1984 over the past generation. It's users are notoriously unprepared for anything but an “experiential” religious life, and decry anything that is not a “positive experience” as false, or of the devil. They are helpless, and mostly worthless as defenders of the Truth. What else is to be expected? Clumsily wielding a dull Sword, they're not dependable partners in battle. I've witnessed the shamefulness of their easily-avoided defeat many times. They look like fools, and make all other Christians look like fools right along with them, for the sole reason that they transparently think and reason like fools, they articulate their thoughts with the shallow predictability of children. To prepare children for adulthood, they must be prepared with thoughts and words that will actually serve them in adulthood, as adults. They must be prepared for adulthood by equipping them with words and thought patterns with respect to their religion that are suitable for adults. This is accomplished by having them “memorize, contemplate and repeat to one another” the Scriptures according to the standards of adult literacy -- adult speech and thought patterns, not those of a sixth grader. The difference between childishness and adulthood that is suggested by St. Paul in this regard is stark:
- When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Cor. 13:11)
Likewise, the Proverbs tell us:
- Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Pr. 22:15)
The Bible says in these verses, and in others, that childish ways and thinking are habits and behaviours which the adult IS EXPECTED to put behind him, not retain throughout his life, and which he must be trained to put behind him from childhood. Training Christians to think and speak like twelve-year-olds for the rest of their lives is no way to prepare them for the rigours of Christian adulthood. The NIV, whether the 1984 or the 2011 edition, DOES NOT ADEQUATELY PREPARE CHILDREN FOR CHRISTIAN ADULTHOOD.
So let's have no more talk of dismissing the importance of Synod's choice “translation used in WELS publications,” as if it weren't intended to have, indeed, if it weren't “THE EXPECTATION” that it have, wider and deeper impact than merely the “translation used in WELS publications.” It is clearly “expected” to be far more than just this. And it undoubtedly will be.
- This is an interesting statistic cited by Dr. Kretzmann. His sermon was written in 1956, and according to then "available statistics," roughly 60% of America's population "confessed adherence to some church." One may assume that at that time the term "church" was limited to a church of some Christian confession. Of further interest with regard to this statistic is that it had recently "increased by many percent," perhaps giving some reason for Christian boasting. Dr. Kretzmann's further warnings and lamentations in this paragraph, however, make it clear that such increases, in and of themselves, were no cause for confidence as, “in many cases, outward membership [was] not the expression of a full and complete adherence to the full truth of the Word of God.” Moreover, church attendance and membership was generally known to follow from human weakness, as people tended to use church as a way to indulge their need to be “fashionable.”
In contrast, according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian was 76% – a statistic which represented nearly a 15% numeric increase since 1990, but, due to population growth over the same period, also represented almost an 11% decline as a percentage of American adults. Granted, as stated, this is a slightly different statistic than the one cited by Dr. Kretzmann, who cited “confessed adherence to some [Christian] church,” yet, I would presume to say that identifying oneself as “Christian” in 1956 would have been tantamount to confessing “adherence to some church,” whereas today, given the growth of the Emergent Church over the past 15 years and the growing rejection of organized religion, “confessed adherence to some church” can no longer be said to be equivalent to self-identifying as a “Christian.”
If one accepts that these statistics are roughly equivalent in nature, then even with a relatively much higher percentage of professing Christians in America today, and with raw numbers of Christians in America measurably increasing, it is curious to notice that today’s attitude toward Church attendance, even among those professing to be “confessional Lutherans,” has shifted that much further away from that of Dr. Kretzmann, who indicated that such increases were not necessarily cause for rejoicing, given that “full and complete adherence to the full truth of the Word of God” was not the confession of the adherents. Today, among advocates of the ubiquitous Church Growth Movement (CGM), the primary matter of concern is the health of the organization (whether it be the Congregation or the Church Body to which it belongs), where the health of the organization is measured in dollars. Since such organizations are non-profit and rely primarily on donations, this means essentially one thing: “butts in seats.” More numbers means more donations, and more donations mean a healthy church (or “church body” as the case may be), while fewer numbers thus means an unhealthy or “dying” or “ineffective” congregation or church body. Today, more than ever, to get "butts in seats," churches of the Church Growth Movement exploit the same apparently long-known human weaknesses – the human need to pursue what is judged "fashionable" in the eyes of the World – as we observe them having thus “degenerated into social clubs with [little more than] a religious veneer,” as made plainly evident in our recent post, Real? Relational?? Relevant??? O THE HORROR OF IT ALL!!!