by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison
What is the single most critical issue in the life of the Missouri Synod? Is it evangelism? Church planting? Missions? Seminaries? Church-worker well-being? Theology? Congregational vitality? Finances? Education? Mercy?
I submit to you, dear reader, that the single most vital issue facing this church body today is our great need for individual and collective repentance–thorough-going sorrow over sin, and faith that grabs hold of the Savior of sinners, Jesus. The Missouri Synod needs Advent.
Advent is a matter of repentance. Repentance is a matter of eternal life and death. “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight!” (Matt. 3:3). Advent is about sinners recognizing themselves as sinners in the face of the coming Lord. The eternal Lord of the universe came as a babe at Bethlehem. He comes in His Word and Sacrament. He shall come again in the end. If you meet Him secure in your sins, whether at the Communion rail or on the Last Day, you shall die in your sins, eternally.
Just a month ago we celebrated the Reformation. There was a great deal of huffing and puffing about our heritage. But we miss the whole point of Luther and the Reformation if we fail to recognize that it was all about repentance. In 1817, Klaus Harms famously said about his times: “Before the Reformation, the forgiveness of sins at least cost something. Now its completely free, and everyone freely rewards themselves with it.” That statement perfectly depicts our times, too. But worse, it also sadly depicts our church in large measure. The Missouri Synod needs repentance. The Missouri Synod needs–as a matter of her life and death–the first word out of John the Baptizers mouth: “Repent!” (Matt. 3:2).
So much of our preaching lacks the textual fire and energy of our evangelical birthright! So often our laity have an inclination that preaching could be better but have no idea what Lutheran preaching should be! Pastors and people, repent! And bear the fruit of repentance! Read, mark, and inwardly digest C.F.W. Walthers The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.
Yes, your pastor could be doing a better job of preaching and visiting (he needs to repent, be forgiven and encouraged by grace), but you allow unhealthy and unchristian gossip, and even take part in it yourself! Perhaps you are in a congregation with generations of unhealthy behavior! This is no joke! The Lord does not leave unpunished the despising of His Word. Repent! The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord!
Pastors! You head off half-cocked and do whatever you wish without regard to its effects upon your brother pastors and sister congregations. Some of you elicit little or no concern for the unchurched people who pass by your building daily. You grumble about each other and do everything but sit down and humbly resolve the issues, failing to realize that love not only covers a “multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) but also entails curtailing ones own freedom in order not to offend (Romans 14). Repent! This is the kind of sin of thanklessness that causes the Lord to move His Gospel, like a passing rain shower, away from us to others (Luthers Works, volume 45, page 352; see also At Home in the House of My Fathers, CPH, 2011, pages 776 ff.).
Friends, I may know a couple of your sins, but I know many, many more of my own. Under the Law, I too am nothing but a damned sinner. My prayer life wavers. I’m not what I should be as a father and husband. My love for God’s Word is often grown cold. I worry. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
Grant repentance, O Lord!
Grant faith, O Lord!
Grant forgiveness, O Lord!
Grant us love for each other, O Lord!
Grant us zeal for the Gospel and those who
need it, O Lord!
Renew our preaching and our hearing, O Lord!
O Lord, grant us your Advent!
Come quickly, and save us!
Pastor Matthew Harrison