The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued,not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.(ESV)
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Wednesday of Pentecost 19
22 October 2014
In a New York Times op-ed piece "Congregations Gone Wild," G. Jeffrey MacDonald pointed out that people today have not wanted to hear anything uncomfortable preached from the pulpits of the churches. But discomfort is an infinitely refine-able concept. In other words, people tend to ratchet up what is discomforting to them over time. Already a couple of decades ago, American churches began to dispense with the confession of sins and the creeds of the church. The Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed were no longer recited by congregations because they made people uncomfortable. But once these classic statements of the divine truth were outlawed it was not very long until the divine truth itself would also be sanctioned and ruled out of bounds for the Christian worship service; after all the Bible makes people feel uncomfortable.
A couple of weeks ago, I was shocked to hear of a Lutheran parish in which the church elders had forbidden any reading whatever of the Bible in the church's services. Not only were the three traditional lessons not read, but the pastor had to make his sermon about spiritual matters without reference to the Bible's actual text. The Bible also makes people uncomfortable. "No one wants hear readings from these stuffy old books anymore! It turns them off and they won't come back." As I understand it, this is not an isolated case either. This shouldn't surprise us if we have already gotten rid of the creeds that God's Word is the next to go, and with God's Word the incarnate Word, Christ Himself.
It is obvious then, by present standards that the Apostle Paul was barking up the wrong tree by commending to his hearers the Word of God's grace: "Now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).Maybe even Paul would have been deeply frustrated by the entertainment going on in churches today and the out and out rejection of the Bible's gospel message. Pastors today certainly are frustrated and they are burning out in droves. Paul calls us to preach Christ and not moralizing sermons intended to keep from disturbing their hearers, otherwise Christ will be of not advantage to their hearers (Gal 5:2).
When parishioners call on their pastors to minister to them by challenging the cultural status quo, the ministers will feel the joy of their calling and parishioners will be fulfilled by participating in the life-giving truth of the divine Word of God. If Christ is preached; His suffering, His death, and His resurrection, then pastors will be giving to God's people the whole and divine truth, not the syrupy sweet pabulum of entertainment. God's people will live rather than being entertained to death. These purely human traditions have to be done away with in the church, or Christ will be null and void among us.
"Paul is profoundly moved (Gal 5:2), and in great zeal and fervor of the Spirit he speaks sheer thunderbolts against the law and circumcision. In his anger over the great wickedness of it all, the Holy Spirit presses such passionate words out of him, as though he were saying: 'Behold, I, Paul, etc. I, I say, who know that I have the gospel, not from man but through the revelation of Jesus Christ; I, who know for certain that I have a divine commandment and authority to teach and define doctrine, I tell to you a new way of thinking that is sure and true, namely, that "if you receive circumcision, Christ will simply be of no advantage to you."' This is a very harsh way of thinking when Paul says that receiving circumcision is the same as making Christ null and void, not indeed only for Himself but also for the Galatians, who were deceived by the tricks of the false apostles into believing that in addition to faith in Christ circumcision was necessary for believers and without it they could not obtain salvation.
"This teaching is the touchstone by which we can judge most surely and freely about all doctrines, works, forms of worship, and ceremonies of all men. Whoever (whether a papist, a Jew, a Turk, or a heretic, etc.) teaches that anything beyond the gospel of Christ is necessary to attain salvation; whoever institutes any work or form of worship; whoever observes any rule, tradition, or ceremony with the opinion that through them he will obtain the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life, he will hear the judgment of the Holy Spirit pronounced against him here by the apostle: that Christ is of no advantage to him at all. And what is truly remarkable is that since Paul had the courage to pronounce this way of thinking against the law and circumcision, which was handed down by God, what would he not have had the courage to say against the chaff of human traditions?"
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.2
Glory and honor, praise and thanks be to You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for all the mercy and faithfulness You have shown Your people. Your Word has not returned to You void, but You have gathered people who know You and fear Your name. Bless Your Word in times to come that it may preserve the faithful in Your grace, convert those who do not yet belong to You, and bring back the erring and straying. Gather Your people as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and shelter Your congregation with Your love; for You live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For all who mourn, that they would be strengthened with the hope of Christ
For those who proclaim Christ in foreign fields, that they would be blessed in their service to the gospel
For the blessing of good weather, that the fruits of the earth be brought in from the harvest fields and put into barns to feed the world
Art: Crucifixes Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014