An honest question deserves an honest answer

by John Preus

A question was recently posed on a prominent Twitter account that essentially asked why, if the Sacraments give life, churches who believe in them are dying. 

 It’s true that the Sacraments bring life. They work the forgiveness of sins. Where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. Congregations that publicly confess this and have faithful pastors who preach it should believe this. 

So why are congregations that believe this life-giving confession declining in membership? I ask this question all the time. It afflicts the hearts of Christ’s dear sheep who hear His voice, know His Gospel promise and yet see few results. It is a good question, because it provides the opportunity to teach about God’s promises.

We depend on God’s life-giving Word. Yet, we see death surround us. We see the world’s unbelief remain seemingly impervious to the Gospel we are so eager to share. Doesn’t God promise that the Gospel will be embraced wherever it’s shared? No. He doesn’t. He promises that it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. He promises that the forgiveness you hear and believe is always successful to remove your sin and establish your faith. But He does not promise that the world around us will embrace it. In fact, He assures us that we will be hated for His sake. Thank God for times of tremendous growth. But be not discouraged when hearts are hardened. For the Gospel retains its power, as your own heart bears witness. When the world tramples our pearls as unsure and irrelevant, it is an opportunity for repentance, to reflect on the surety of God’s Word, and to pray.

An honest question deserves an honest answer. Christian sorrow calls for the comfort of the Gospel. But many, instead of confirming the power of God’s Word, try to identify what they believe to be a missing, and necessary, addition to the surety of God’s Word.

But the Church doesn’t need to consult humanity to gain understanding of all its excuses for despising God’s Word. What the Church needs is to understand God’s Word herself.

Here alone is life. In God’s Word, we learn our own sinful objections. God understands better than we do the objections and excuses of every heart. God knows how to break down barriers. He has broken down ours by leading us to repentance. And so, to the Word that brought us to repentances and raised our hearts to Christ – to this Word we commend ourselves, our congregations and the mission of the whole Church.

Are hearts grown cold? Lord, have mercy and revive us! Keep us steadfast in that Word that alone is able to warm our hearts to the world’s need to hear it too! And may we never dare to supplement what the world regards as lacking in God’s Word with the longings and devises of our own sinful hearts. I therefore commend to you the following hymn in Jesus’ name.

The Rev. John Preus is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Clinton, Iowa.

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7 Responses to An honest question deserves an honest answer

  1. Lance Klamer June 29, 2017 at 6:33 pm #

    Thank you for this well-written and timely article, Pastor Preus. Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word!

  2. June 29, 2017 at 10:11 pm #

    Hear, Hear!

  3. Deaconess Norma Polk June 30, 2017 at 9:57 am #

    Wow! This encourages me today.

  4. Gregory C. Rogahn June 30, 2017 at 4:32 pm #

    So why are congregations that believe this life-giving confession declining in membership? One would think that such parishes would draw throngs. During recent worship visits to LCMS congregations, my wife and I find ourselves seated in the front 1/4 of the congregation with a gulf of emptiness between us and the back four pews and the less than 25 parishioners seated in them. I ask, “What is the outreach program of the congregation? What is the impact this congregation has on the community? What kind of discipleship, elder, lay training takes place for additional effective hospital visitations, home visitations, shut–in visitations, inactive member visitations? What is the specific membership conservation here?” Often stone silence or a referral of such questions to the pastor. Faithful proclamation of the Word of God and the Sacraments according to the Gospel….absolutely… but how shall they hear, grow, practice, remain, and invite unless some of the above questions are addressed.

  5. Rev. Robert Catherwood Jr. July 1, 2017 at 7:11 am #

    This is most certainly true. Thank you.

  6. Susan Smith July 19, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

    There could be so much more love expressed to believers and non believers in this article. Writing the following sentence:”But the Church doesn’t need to consult humanity to gain understanding of all it’s excuses for despising God’s Word.”, sounds so antagonistic and “higher than Thou” that I think when people read this statement under the Title and photo of this article on the Home page, they will be turned off! This concerns me greatly. How do we want to portray ourselves as Lutheran Christians to others? Are we not called to love one another? I agree that people need to know and believe God’s saving Word in Christ. However, maybe we as the Church need to listen to what disheartened Christians and non believers are saying. This is where the love comes in. By listening to others,what kind of service or programs can we provide to make others comfortable with those in the Church and our congregations that could cause real, constructive dialog about God’s Word. Action as well as teaching could be very productive and helpful.

  7. Marie July 19, 2017 at 6:13 pm #

    The truth is LOUD and clear. But sadly, few are listening…

    “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters…”
    -‭‭2 Thessalonians‬ ‭2:1‬‬

    Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way…
    -2 Thessalonians 2:3a NIV

    We believe we are justified through baptism of the HOLY SPIRIT, who now lives within us and will NEVER leave us.

    And we enjoy fellowship with Christ’s body/bread and blood/cup in the Lord’s Supper. For the forgiveness of our sins. Proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes.

    The QUESTION IS:
    Are we sharing GOD’S free gift of FAITH ALONE- through GRACE in CHRIST ALONE- with SCRIPTURE ALONE?

    Or are we CLOSING God’s people out in Luther’s (LCMS’S) name?

    “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.””
    -‭‭Acts‬ ‭4:12‬‬ NIV

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