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 repentance 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.