Today’s guest blogger is Rev. Jonathan Jenkins. Jon is pastor of the Klingerstown Lutheran Parish in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. He was one of four presenters at a public forum of the Tri-Valley Ministerium on the question, “Can the church survive?” About 100 members of the public participated.
Public Forum: “Will the church survive?” Response #1: “A Famine of the Word of God” October 30, 2016
By Pastor Jonathan Jenkins, Klingerstown Lutheran Parish
On the Lutheran church calendar today is “Reformation Sunday.” 499 years ago, Martin Luther is remembered for nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther called for reformation related to our question today: “Will the church survive?”
Some would praise Luther and some would blame Luther for bringing about division of the holy church. For his part, Luther hated the idea of a church named after him or called “Lutheran.” Praise him or blame him or both, Luther would remind us that the condition of the church was and is determined, ultimately, not by human beings, but by God, through our interaction with God’s Word. “Will the church survive?” is a question that comes from God. For Lutherans, the answer is, “Yes!” It is a matter of the Gospel and faith in Jesus Christ. According to the Lutheran Confessions: “There will be and must continue to be one holy church” forever, “against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.”
That’s the Good News. Now the bad news: there’s no guarantee that the church will continue here, in our place, our home. In our discussions today, I expect us to recognize the superabundance of God’s grace as well as the reality of God’s wrath. The wrath of God is my subject. The righteous anger of God against sin, death, the devil, and the world—and the church, too, to the extent that the church remains “of” the world.
I believe that is what we are experiencing.
God’s wrath as it is described by the prophet Amos (8:11)—
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.”
Because the people have rejected and ignored God’s Word, they will receive their just “desserts”—the LORD will no longer provide “the bread of life,” his life-sustaining Gospel. “They shall run to and fro, to seek the Word of the LORD, but they shall not find it,” because the LORD has sent a famine on the land.
Martin Luther was afraid that a famine of the Word of God would be sent in his time and place—that people would become complacent about God’s grace and lazy know-it-alls, too uninterested to listen to the Bible, let alone thankful and obedient. Luther was afraid that God, despite his patient loving-kindness, would take away his Word where it was not wanted and send a famine.
Allow me to give a current day example from my denomination. Before my denomination voted in favor of marrying and ordaining homosexual persons, the LORD sent a preacher to our church-wide assembly. The preacher was the Roman Catholic archbishop, Gregory Wilton:
“…We Catholics and Lutherans can profess together our faith in the blood of the cross, which is Christ’s work of grace that alone justifies us, even as it equips us and calls us to the good works of justice and love…”
“Our unity in Christ is always a gift before it is our shared task. But this unity is fragile, much like the infant Christ who is cradled in the arms of his holy Mother. This week the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America faces a set of decisions that may have weighty consequences for the unity of your own church and for its relationships with the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies. At stake are the teachings of Scripture and Tradition that safeguard the noble purposes of human sexuality and the fundamental meaning of marriage, which is a reflection of God’s covenant with us in Christ. Our prayer for you, as brothers and sisters who journey with you in hope, is that you remain open to the Holy Spirit who binds our consciences to truth, biblical truth that echoes through the ages… Pope Benedict XVI (has) asserted that without this adherence to Holy Scripture, ‘our communion with the Church in every age is lost—just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel…’ My brothers and sisters, let us profess the biblical truth in love. Why? So that the world might believe.”
So the Catholic archbishop fed us with the Word of God. Martin Luther would have given his eyeteeth to hear Catholic bishops and popes who could speak such words of biblical truth; Luther devoted his life to that cause. But we modern Lutherans, to our great shame, did not listen when our dear God proclaimed his Word to us, and we did not eat this bread of life, and we trampled it underfoot.
Will the church survive? Yes! In this place, our home? May it be so. Let us pray that God, in his wrath, would not send upon our land a famine of the Word of God. To conclude, would you please pray with me using Luther’s words?
“I pray for myself and for the whole world that the gracious Father may preserve us in his holy Word and not withdraw it from us because of our sin, ingratitude, and laziness… May he send faithful and honest laborers into his harvest, that is, devout pastors and preachers. May he grant us grace humbly to hear, accept, and honor their words as his own Words and offer our sincere thanks and praise. In the name… Amen.”
What do you think?