Sunday, October 11, 2009

From Cyberstones: Preaching Law to the Choir

As I am not an ordained minister of the Word, I will be linking to other blogs written by experienced pastors.

Rev. David Peterson is the pastor of Redeemer, Fort Wayne.  His Cyberstones blog post, Preaching Law to the Choir, got my attention simply from the title, of course!  It talks about the appropriate preaching of the law to a congregation.

The law needs to convict the listeners of their sins as opposed to getting them to agree that the behavior is wrong.

Our pride gets in the way as usual.  Rev. Peterson notes that old-time Reformation Services included preaching against the pope.  Since none of the people present were the pope, preaching the law in this manner does not convict the listeners of their own sin.

Peterson writes:
We preach the Law not to condemn the absent, but to condemn sin and sinners, to teach sinners the hard and humility work of examining themselves, of confessing the pitiful lies we've told and our self-absorption, our thousand pretend ways meant to fool ourselves and our neighbors into thinking we are better than we are, to confront what is really in us and who we really are, not as a way of nagging us to better behavior or to make us feel superior to other people, but to show us how great and selfless Christ's rescue is.

How beautiful, that even though our sinful nature tells us we are doing fine, the Law comes around and convicts us that we are not, the the Gospel kicks in and even though we do not deserve it Christ's forgiveness, bought for us on the cross, is offered.

The Law of God is good and wise
And sets His will before our eyes,
Shows us the way of righteousness,
And dooms to death when we transgress.

The Gospel shows the Father's grace,
Who sent His Son to save our race,
Proclaims how Jesus lived and died
That we might thus be justified.

- LSB 579 and 580


  1. Has Rev. Peterson ever read 1 Thessalonians? Nowhere in this epistle's five chapters does Paul "convict the listeners of their own sin." 1 Thess. 2:14b-16 clearly "condemns the absent." This gentleman is in violation of Walther's eight thesis on Law and Gospel, that the Law is to be preached only to secure sinners.

  2. Hey, Anon, please explain further. Differing opinions are always welcome! Please refrain from accusations and keep the discussion academic in nature. This is a place for discussion, not argument or accusation.

    Since I do not know him personally, I am not trying to represent (or misrepresent) Rev. Peterson. Also, I am a layman and not an ordained minister.

    Here is I Thessalonians 2:14b-16 (ESV):

    (14b) For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,

    (15) who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind

    (16) by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God's wrath has come upon them at last!

    Let's take the 1 Thessalonians passage first. Paul is not using the Law against the absent persecutors to stroke the egos of his listeners. He is not using the law to get the congregation to nod their head and say, "AMEN!" regarding God's wrath against the persecutors. His overall theme in verse 13ff offers encouragement to the persecuted church.

    Although in this passage Paul uses the law against non-Christians, there are many passages where he uses the law to convict believers of their sin.

    1 Corinthians 11:21-22:
    (20) When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.

    (21) For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.

    (22) What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

    2 Corinthians 12:11a
    I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you.

    Apart from Paul, there are also the letters to the churches in the Revelation to John.

    To the Church in Ephesus (Rev. 2:4-5):
    But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

    To be continued in the next comment...

  3. The comment box only holds so many characters, and apparently I exceeded them. Here is the rest...

    To the Church in Pergamum (Rev. 2:14-16):
    But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

    So, there is a place to convict the believer, because the believer must understand that he still sins.

    Now for Walther.

    Here is Thesis VIII:

    In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.

    Rev. Peterson's post deals with those who may be secure in their sins. Since all of us are saints and sinners at the same time, we still need to hear the law. It needs to be the kind of law that convicts us of the fact that we still need to confess our sins and receive absolution. It needs to be the kind of law that sends us running to the altar to receive the Lord's body and blood given and shed for the remission of sins.

    As Walther states, when a person is already in terror on account of their sins, that is when the Gospel is needed! Pastor Peterson's article is not only about how the law should be preached, but how the law shows our need for the Gospel! A good sermon will always crush us with the Law and raise us up with the Gospel.

    Implicit in the quote from the article is the followup message that Christ takes our sins and gives us His righteousness. He takes the blackness of our heart and washes it clean with His own blood. He takes our filthy rags and clothes us in His purity.

    Its light of holiness imparts
    The knowledge of our sinful hearts
    That we may see our lost estate
    And turn from sin before too late.

    But those who scornfully disdain
    God's Law shall then in sin remain;
    Its terror in their ear resounds
    And keeps their wickedness in bounds.

    The Law is good, but since the fall
    Its holiness condemns us all;
    It dooms us for our sin to die
    And has no power to justify.

    To Jesus we for refuge flee,
    Who from the curse has set us free,
    And humbly worship at His throne,
    Saved by His grace through faith alone.

    Now THAT deserves an AMEN!


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