Trinity Eight Sermon 2006
The Sheep Must Judge the Shepherd
August 6, 2006
On July 23 the
chairmen and secretaries of First Evanger Lutheran Church in Fertile,
Grace Lutheran Church in Crookston, and First American Lutheran Church in
Mayville signed, on behalf of their congregations, a call to me to serve
as the pastor of these three congregations that have now formed one
parish. On July 28 I wrote a
letter of acceptance, which is in today’s bulletin. Today I preach my first sermon as pastor of these three
congregations. I usually
preach on the Gospel Lesson for the day.
Today’s Gospel Lesson begins with the familiar warning of our
Lord Jesus, “Beware of false prophets.”
What an appropriate text for this day!
The circumstances of my receiving and accepting this call are rather unusual. Normally, a pastor is formally installed before he begins preaching and assuming the duties of the ministry in a particular place. We hope to be able to have a formal installation in the near future. That’s a good custom. But what makes a man a pastor of a congregation or three congregations, as the case may be, is not that he is formally installed by a representative of a synod. What makes a pastor a pastor is the call from God.
The call from God
comes through Christ’s church. The
public preaching office (what we usually call the office of the holy
ministry or the pastoral office) was instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ
when He sent out the apostles as His first ministers.
He told them to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.
This is how the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and
sanctifies His church. This
office or ministry belongs to the church.
It belongs to First Evanger, to Grace, and to First American
Lutheran churches because these congregations are Christian congregations.
As Christian congregations they possess the keys of the kingdom
that Jesus entrusted to His disciples.
The ministry of the word is Christ’s ministry.
It is His saving service. Since
Christ is the bridegroom who shares all His treasures with His holy bride,
this service or ministry belongs to every Christian congregation in the
world. This is how we can be
confident that the call to me that has come through First Evanger, Grace,
and First American is a call from God Himself.
Jesus Christ binds Himself to you in love.
All that He has, He gives to you.
As His minister, I am your minister.
I am here to serve you as Christ’s servant, and the only thing I
have to give is what Christ gives.
One could make a good
argument for calling pastors with winsome personalities instead of men who
are habitually sour and unpleasant. It
would be nice if the pastor had all sorts of interpersonal,
administrative, musical, and oratorical skills.
But if you were to search through the Scriptures to find what kind
of abilities are required of the minister of the word and sacraments you
will find only one listed. He
must be apt to teach. That
is, he must be able to set before you the teaching of the word of God.
In 1 Timothy 3 St. Paul lists the qualifications required of a
pastor. As far as the
pastor’s aptitude is concerned, there is only this single requirement. He must be able to teach God’s word. He must know it. He
must be faithful to its teaching. He
must pass on to the people under his care the pure teaching of God’s
word so that by means of this divine instruction they will be led on the
path to everlasting life.
Jesus cares about the
pure teaching. His teaching
reveals His grace. His
teaching is centered on Himself. Jesus
is not a new lawgiver like Moses. He’s
not a philosopher like Aristotle. He’s
not a social reformer, a political activist, or a revolutionary.
He’s the Savior of sinners.
His teaching centers on just that.
The pure doctrine of God’s word is not a system of rules or
religious regulations. It is
the voice of the living God. It
is the Holy Spirit pointing us to the wounds of Jesus suffering for
sinners so that they might be set free from their sins and find rest for
their souls. Jesus cares
about pure teaching because He died for us and in so doing won a treasure
more precious that all the money in the world.
This treasure is called the gospel.
The gospel delivers us from every evil of body and soul.
It is always a life-giving word from God that replaces our doubts
with faith by giving us the forgiveness of all our sins.
Jesus cares about the pure teaching of His holy word because He
loves us. He wants to keep us
solidly grounded in the truth so that our faith will rest secure in life
and in death.
This is why Jesus
warns us of false prophets. He
knows what His Christians are prone to forget.
False teaching is poison to the soul.
We tend to view false doctrine as relatively harmless: a different
point of view, another perspective on things.
And it’s against the rules of politeness to criticize false
teachers when their false teaching has received social respectability.
If we were to limit our criticism of false prophets to fanatical
Muslims like Osama bin Laden, we wouldn’t ruffle many feathers.
But Jesus isn’t warning us about such men. He specifically says that the false prophets come in
sheep’s clothing. That’s
hardly a description of fanatics who advocate flying passenger jets into
buildings filled with people. No,
Jesus is warning us about false teachers and preachers who come from
within the Church and He tells us to be on our guard against them.
God calls us to faith
and keeps us in the faith by speaking the truth to us.
False prophets attack our faith by speaking lies.
The truth of God’s word is the source of all spiritual life. False doctrine is the source of spiritual death.
The truth makes you free. Lies
enslave the soul. Our Lord
warns us to be on our guard against false teachers because our faith is at
stake. True faith requires
the truth. Trusting in lies
is false faith. It is not
faith at all. It is delusion.
It is unbelief. It
Jesus teaches us not
to judge. “Judge not, lest you be judged,” He says in words
recorded at the beginning of this chapter of St. Matthew.
Yet here, just a few verses later, He tells us to judge.
“Beware!” He says. We cannot be on our guard except by judging.
So does Jesus contradict Himself?
Of course not! He tells us not to judge men’s hearts, motives, or
sincerity. He tells us not to
attempt to look beneath what we see and hear and play God by judging what
only God can judge. He tells
us to judge, not by appearances, but by the words that we hear.
What has God told us? This
is the standard by which we must judge all preachers and teachers who
claim to speak to us from God.
In the Formula of
Concord we Lutherans confess that the Bible is “the pure and clear
fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm according to which all
teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated.”
My job as your pastor is to preach to you the pure word of God and
faithfully to defend it, apply it, and bring it to you in your spiritual
need. Your job as members of
this parish is to judge my doctrine to make sure that it is God’s.
I have no right to spout off my own opinions and claim God said it
when God never said it.
There is nothing more
that God has to say than what He has already said in the Bible.
The topic of the Bible from cover to cover is Jesus Christ, the
Savior of sinners. The
central teaching of the Holy Scriptures is that God forgives and saves
lost and condemned sinners by His grace alone, for Christ’s sake alone,
and that they receive forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ
alone. False prophets add to
the Scriptures and take away from Christ.
Have you ever heard a preacher talk about what the Lord said to him
but what the Lord said to him is nowhere taught in the Holy Scriptures?
The Bible is the judge. Every
minister of the word must submit his teaching to the clear Scriptures and
he must never under any circumstances submit to any other authority over
his doctrine than the authority of the Holy Scriptures.
But you say you are
no Bible scholar. You
haven’t gone to the seminary. You
have no more theological training beyond what you learned in the
Catechism. How can you
presume to judge the teaching of your pastor? Do you know Luther’s Small Catechism? This is an excellent standard to use when judging the
teaching of your pastor. Since the written Word of God is the only
standard by which we are to judge anyone’s teaching we may also use the
Catechism to judge doctrine because the Catechism is drawn from the clear
Scriptures. It is your duty
to judge the teaching of your pastor according to the biblical standard
you learned in the Catechism. The
beginning of the demise of any church is when the laity stop judging the
doctrine of their preachers. They
lose their church. When they
say that judging doctrine is the task of the pastors alone they consign
themselves and future generations to a danger from which their dear Lord
want to protect them. “Beware!”
Jesus says. To whom does He
give this charge? To the
preachers alone? By no means! He gives this command to every single Christian.
The reason so many mainstream Protestant churches don’t teach
much more than a politically correct social gospel and precious little
about repentance and faith in the blood and righteousness of Jesus is
because the laity thought that the pure teaching was the pastors’
responsibility for the pure teaching of God’s word belongs to the whole
church. It belongs to the
church, not to a bishop or to a synod or to a theological committee of
some kind. The church isn’t
out there or down there or over there.
The church is here where the people gather to receive forgiveness
of sins, life, and salvation from the words God gives His preachers to
You need forgiveness
of your sins because you daily sin much and deserve nothing but God’s
punishment. You need the true
and eternal life that Christ alone can give.
You need the words of Jesus – His heavenly doctrine.
You need this for your own life’s sake.
The words of Jesus invite you to confess your sins to your gracious
Father in heaven, trusting that for the sake of Jesus’ holy obedience
all the way to His death on the cross God forgives you all your sins.
The pure doctrine of God’s word reveals to you the pure love of
your God. It is solid and
unchanging, but it makes everything new.
This is what you need to hear preached and taught.
It’s my job to do that. It’s
your job to see that I do.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus