(The Audience is an LCMS Church Workers conference (Pastors, Director's of Christian Education, Deaconesses, etc.)
Our life on earth is a war. It is a battlefield between God’s angels and Satan’s demons. Of course, in the end God will win. But in the meantime there is a battle. On this earth God and Satan are battling to win people’s hearts, minds, and wills. Either Jesus rules people’s lives or the devil does. There is no middle ground. Many American Christians think they can have a “balance” between God and the world. They do not realize that friendship with the world is hatred towards God. They do not realize that this earth is a battlefield. On this earth, God and Satan use people to have an impact and influence other people. In schools, in friendships, on television, on the radio, in movies, and on the Internet there are people, ideas, and philosophies that are battling to influence people. We are caught up in this war. We are soldiers on the battlefield.
When a child is born into this world, the battle begins to claim the body and soul of that child for heaven or hell. Pastors and leaders of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, we are losing the war when it comes to our young people. Parents are not fulfilling their vocations to raise their children as disciples of Christ. We Pastors baptize many infants and confirm many kids, but then kids fall away from the faith. Families attend our churches for a while, and then they no longer attend. Further, we do not hear that they transferred their membership to another church. In fact, we do not hear from them at all. Others we only see on Christmas and Easter. This is a sad state affairs my brothers and sisters in Christ. We are losing the battle. Where are our swords? Where is our armor? What is the problem?
This is happening because our parents are not raising their kids as Christians. Some do not know how to do this. They remember the way their parents raised them, and plan on doing the same with maybe a few minor changes. Others do not understand why it is important. Still others rely on Sunday school, confirmation, or youth group to take care of Christian education, not realizing what it takes to raise their kids as Christians. Some of the parents are nominal Christians, and others are immature Christians. Overall, our parents are not being equipped for the task of raising their kids as Christians. They are not growing in their knowledge of God or towards faith in Jesus Christ and do not know what it means to be disciples of Christ on this earth.
The Importance of Useful Preaching
The first reason why parents in our churches are not being equipped to disciple their children is because of the lack of instruction and useful teaching in sermons. Now I know some of you here who do not preach from the pulpit are wondering what this part has to do with me. But do not worry. I will address your role in this dilemma soon. As Pastors, we say something at baptisms concerning raising the kids as Christians, but the parents do not hear from us afterwards concerning this task. Why is it that parents do not hear about their vocations after their children’s baptisms? Are we afraid of teaching people how to live from the pulpit? If we do not teach them, then who is going to? We are not being aggressive in this war. We need to be bolder witnesses to gain people for the Lord. In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism it says: “Let all people know that it is their chief duty – at the risk of losing divine grace – first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God…(LC, The Ten Commandments, 174).” Wow. When is the last time you have heard that in a sermon? The great thing about Luther is he didn’t just write the catechism and leave it at that. He knew that the Word of God needed to be heard, read, and meditated upon frequently because there was a war in this world. So he preached on the catechism as well. In his sermon on the 4th commandment he gets straight to the point. He says, “Listen! This commandment is for you. If you are not diligently concerned that your children and servants learn piety, then it serves you right if your children are disobedient…(4th Sermon on the Catechism (1528)).” He then devotes the entire sermon to the parents. It is as if he is having a conversation with them about their roles as parents. In another sermon on the catechism he says, “Every father of a family is a bishop in his house and the wife a bishopess. Therefore remember that you in your homes are to help us carry on the ministry as we do in the church (1st Sermon on the Catechism (1528)).” When was the last time you heard a preacher tell the parents in the crowd that they were bishop and bishopess to their kids? Are we informing them of their roles in this battle? Today in the LCMS, many of our parents think that it is the church’s job to teach their children the faith. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.
If the sermon is not a fountain of life which thirsty people come to drink from, then there will be no growth in people’s lives. If God’s Word is not changing the way people think and the way they approach life, then they will drink from different fountains this world has to offer. They will be influenced by the culture, rather then be influenced by God’s Word. C.F.W. Walther said,
"Among the various functions and official acts of a servant of the church the most important of all, my friends, is preaching. Since there is no substitute for preaching, a minister who accomplishes little or nothing by preaching will accomplish little or nothing by anything else that he may do" (Law and Gospel, 248).
Many Pastors in our synod do not believe that teaching or instruction has a place in the sermon. Some are antinomians who think that preaching the law will offend people. For those of you who do not know, antinomian is a word that means anti law. Nomos
is the Greek word for law. Antinomians today are worried that preaching the law will turn people away. Others are working with a law gospel polarity where the law has no positive effect in the Christian life. The antinomian preachers do not want to address people the way Luther did in his sermon. Unfortunately, they do not have an application for the law in the Christian life. Those who are working with a law and gospel polarity see the law as bad and negative, and see the gospel as good and positive. With this polarity the law is reduced to having only a negative use, rather then a positive use that is beneficial to the Christian life. The law shows a person their sins and the gospel their Savior. Some sermons I have heard have been structured this way: first half law, second half gospel. This gives people no instructions on how they are going to live their lives as Christians. This is a denial of the third use, or instructive use of the law.
A better paradigm that was also at the heart of the Lutheran Reformation is called the two kinds of righteousness. In Luther’s theology, the two kinds of righteousness did not mean an abandonment of law and gospel. I do not want you to think that. Rather, the two kinds of righteousness approached things from a different perspective and showed how the law can have a good, positive effect in the Christian life. The first righteousness is the Christian’s passive righteousness before God. This is a justifying righteousness which comes by grace through faith in Christ alone and not by works. This righteousness before God is governed by the gospel. The second righteousness is the Christian’s active righteousness in relationship to people. This righteousness is a sanctifying righteousness that comes by loving people. This righteousness in relationship to people is governed by the law. We joyfully receive the gospel by faith. And we joyfully are obedient to the law because it is God’s will.
The first thing that we have to understand is that the law is good. It is sin that is bad, not the law of God. His will is flawless. Psalm 119 says: “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches….I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (v. 1, 14-16). The Confessions reference this passage of Scripture affirmatively in the Article titled: The Third Use of the Law in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, 2. Then in the third affirmative theses of that same article it says,
"In order that people do not resolve to perform service to God on the basis of their pious imagination in an arbitrary way of their own choosing, it is necessary for the law of God constantly to light their way" (FC, VI, 4).
That is, the law of God gives instruction on living a godly life. It has a positive use because as Paul says, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12).
Some think that you have to end your sermons with gospel or you are being unfaithful. Others think that you should not have instructions on Christian living from the pulpit. But the Apostle Paul thought differently. We know that Paul spoke his letters orally while Tertius (Rom. 16:22) or another brother dictated them (Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17; Philemon 1:19). Therefore, his letters can be viewed as sermons. At the end of his letters he often concludes with exhortations towards godly living (Rom. 12:1-15:13; Gal. 5:1-6:10; Eph. 4:1-6:20; Phil. 4:2-9; Col. 3:1-4:6; 1 Thess. 4:1-5:22). 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians are instructive from beginning to end. So, the thought that you have to end with gospel or you cannot teach people how to live from the pulpit is futile and not apostolic.
Our Reformation heritage also prided itself on how useful and practical their teaching was from the pulpit. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV says:
"And if we must speak of the outward appearance, attendance upon church is better among us than among the adversaries. For the audiences are held by useful and clear sermons…. There is nothing that so attaches people to the church as good preaching."
A brief summary of these practical teachings are found in the Apology, XV, 43. Melanchthon writes:
"On the contrary, in our churches all the sermons are occupied with such topics as these: of repentance
; of the fear of God; of faith in Christ, of the righteousness of faith, of the consolation of consciences by faith, of the exercises of faith; of prayer, what its nature should be, and that we should be fully confident that it is efficacious, that it is heard; of the cross; of the authority of magistrates and all civil ordinances [likewise, how each one in his station should live in a Christian manner, and, out of obedience to the command of the Lord God, should conduct himself in reference to every worldly ordinance and law]; of the distinction between the kingdom of Christ, or the spiritual kingdom, and political affairs; of marriage
; of the education and instruction of children; of chastity; of all the offices of love.
Many of these are sanctification topics or to put it in our new terminology, active righteousness topics. The Reformers were not afraid to give people instruction on how to live their life.
Some of you might say that there is not enough time to give extensive teaching and instruction from the pulpit. But I think this shows the sad state of affairs we are in. The culture is dictating the amount of time we think we should put into something. There is twenty-four hours in a day and seven days in a week and we are moving towards preaching twelve to fifteen minutes in each sermon. How are people’s minds going to be renewed by the Word of God in this short amount of time? How are we going to win the war against the flesh, devil and the world? In the fifth century, John Chrysostom, the golden mouthed preacher, used to preach for two hours. Martin Luther used to preach for around one hour. Now we have moved to twelve to fifteen minutes! Does not our Reformation heritage hold the preaching of the Word of God in higher esteem? The Confessions say:
"For of all acts of worship that is the greatest, most holy, most necessary, and highest, which God has required as the highest in the First and the Second Commandment, namely, to preach the Word of God. For the ministry is the highest office in the Church. Now, if this worship is omitted, how can there be knowledge of God, the doctrine of Christ, or the Gospel? But the chief service of God is to teach the Gospel" (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XV, 42).
The Reformers believed that the main reason for assembling and having a service was to teach people about Jesus Christ (Ap, XXIV, 3). C.F.W. Walther believed that the sermon was central to the divine service (Law and Gospel, 248). Now, I am not suggesting that we move towards two hour sermons like Chrysostom, or even one hour sermons like Luther. But I know we can give people more then twelve to fifteen minutes. If you are worried about your church not growing with long sermons, I refer you to a Reformed church in Seattle called Mars Hill that was planted in 1996, and now has grown to over 5,000 people in church attendance. Their converts are primarily former non-believers from the ages of eighteen to thirty-five years of age. The Pastor, Mark Driscoll, preaches for 60-70 minutes every Sunday. Now he is definitely a gifted preacher, but I would encourage you to preach as long as you can keep people’s attention. In conclusion, our preaching ought to have instruction to the parents concerning new life and godly living in Christ. If the parents are not growing and learning from the sermon, it is likely they will not be inspired to raise their kids as Christians.
Now I am going to switch gears and hit on something a little different then preaching. We preach the word, baptize infants, and think confirmation is going to ensure the baptized remain Christians. But confirmation is not going to take care of the job the way we do it. In many churches, confirmation is celebrated like it is graduation from church. After confirmation, the kids begin to make decisions concerning whether or not they want to attend church with their parents!
Many of us teach kids the Small Catechism when they come in for confirmation. But this shows that parents are not fulfilling their vocations. Why am I teaching other people’s kids the Small Catechism? They should already know the Small Catechism! Luther wrote the catechism in a simple way so that the head of a household could present it to his family. The catechism was supposed to be a devotional and catechetical tool for use in people’s homes. It was not supposed to be a holy book that sat on a shelf only for the Pastor to touch and use. By the time they come to me I should be able to teach them the Large Catechism. We need to partner and equip families to have home devotions. And the small catechism is a great way to set them out on that path.
We rely on confirmation to win the battle. However, parents must be teaching their children the Word of God and not rely on the church to do their job. In order to teach parents how to raise their kids as Christians we must equip them to do so and cannot rely only on confirmation to win this war. One way to equip parents for their vocations is to have parenting classes at church. One objection to this idea at my former congregation when I was an elder was that this would be too “in your face.” But I don’t see it that way. I think parents would rejoice if their churches equipped and partnered with them in such an important task. Further, remember that we are in a war, my friends. If we do not teach them, who is going to? Oprah? Donahue?
There are three aspects of parenting that must be emphasized in these classes. They are: 1) Home devotionals are necessary.
2) The Christian life must be modeled.
3) Bring your children to church
. Concerning home devotionals, parents need to know the basis and importance for this. They need to understand that every person their children encounters, every movie, every song, every teacher, and every television show they encounter could potentially influence them away from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Parents must approach the Christian life with this awareness. If parents do not want to teach their children concerning life, then the world will. Show them these passages of Scripture so they know God’s will for their lives. Deuteronomy 6:7 says: “You shall teach them [the commandments] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Do you see the urgency here? God knows that the world, the flesh, and the devil are on the attack. His Word must be a lamp to His people’s feet or the darkness will overcome them. Psalm 78:5 says: “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children.” The Apostle Paul says to the Christian fathers in Ephesus, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Indeed, God calls us to follow the example of Paul and exhort and teach fathers and mothers to do this. Timothy was acquainted with the Scriptures from childhood because his mother taught him (2 Tim. 3:15). We can give parents materials so that they can teach their children the Word of God. Further, at the time of the Reformation in Germany after Luther’s death, it was expected that the parents would go over the sermon with their children. This can still happen today, if we can get the parents to be hungry for the Word, and see the importance of keeping their children in the faith.
Concerning modeling the Christian life, parents will not be able to do this if they are not Christians themselves. They have to be fed with the word of God from the pulpit every Sunday. They have to be attending Bible studies where they can grow in their knowledge of the Word of God. They need to be taught the importance of modeling the Christian life. Jesus said: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6). Are parents causing their little ones to sin by sinning in front of them? Surely, they are called to model the Christian life in front of them and not lead them astray. We as Pastors and church leaders are only with these kids for a few hours every week. Parents are with them throughout the week. If parents are not in regular prayer with their kids and modeling the Christian life, there is a good chance they will learn about life from the culture and not the Word of God.
Concerning taking children to church, many parents already do this. This is necessary, but what we give them at church and what is expected of them must change. We must give them practical and clear sermons. At times we should have exhortations to the kids themselves concerning drinking, sex outside of marriage, pornography, and teaching concerning the importance of friendships with other Christians for fellowship. Our Sunday school curriculum should show the practical relevance and application of God’s law to the Christian life. The two kinds of righteousness paradigm could be taught in a simple way to them. We do not want the Ten Commandments to be simply a list of “thou shall nots” that are ancient and distant from their lives.
When I was at the seminary, I was a high school leader at a local St. Louis church. When it came time to talk about sexuality, drinking, and salvation in Jesus Christ alone, the teenagers were offended. They had never heard teaching on these things before. Sex before marriage is something accepted in our culture. There are keg parties every weekend. To them, it was narrow minded and irrational to think that all non-Christians are going to hell. These kids were influenced by the culture and not by the Word of God. Although this group of teenagers was very active in the church, they never heard about these things in the sermons. In addition, their parents were not teaching them about new life in Jesus Christ. I was the first to bring up these issues with them. We cannot put the burden on youth leaders my friends. The sermon, classes, and Bible studies must be constantly enforcing the need to grow together as families in Christ. Youth groups should be a place where Christians can relate and identify with other Christians. If not, then they will make friends with non-believers in the culture.
In conclusion, the leadership of the church must see the need to focus on the family. We must see the need for instruction in the Christian faith. I have not discussed Lutheran schools which would be beyond the scope of this presentation. But I hope that I have laid a foundation concerning how to approach this challenging aspect of ministry. If any of you here feel burdened by this because your children have strayed from the Lord, do not think you are not fit to teach others. Simply confess your sins to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness. And go on to share with others the challenges that come with such a difficult task.
During the fall of 1617, the churches in the southern Germany city of Ulm marked the 100th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. At one of the services the pastors questioned boys and girls from the city’s schools on Luther’s Small Catechism in the presence of the entire congregation. They had a catechetical drill and celebrated their children’s knowledge of God’s Word. This is how the early Lutherans celebrated the Reformation. They prided themselves on the instruction of children and parents fulfilling their vocations as Christian parents. My prayer is that we would reclaim that great Reformation legacy for our generation. I pray this in the Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.