Monday, May 12, 2014

If church isn't reminding our flesh that we're sinners or telling the Good News of salvation, what's the point of going?


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For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. 1 Cor. 15:3

If we have any problem in the church today it is that we don’t preach the Gospel.  For fifteen out of sixteen chapters in this letter Paul criticized every aspect of the Corinthian’s faith and life, and could not find a single thing to praise, but he also knew that the law does not make anyone well, so after he had thoroughly diagnosed their disease he did what few churches do anymore: he preached the Gospel to those who already believed it.  He preached it loud, preached it long and preached it as if they had never heard it before.  He told them that Christ died for their sins according to the scriptures, and that His blood cleansed them from every sin. The same Gospel saves us as well, and no matter how many times we hear it we need to hear it again because it is the power of God to save us.  We must not imagine that we are without sin like the Pharisee who came to the temple to brag.  Instead, like the tax collector in the Lord’s parable we must own up to our many violations of the ten commandments, seek God’s mercy, and trust that we are reconciled to Him by Christ who died for our sins according to the scriptures.

All this is contrary to current theological thought.  The church has forgotten that the death of Christ is the most important thing of all.  What is the evidence?  Much to our shame the crucifix that adorned Christian altars for centuries has been replaced by an empty cross, but St. Paul would never have done such a thing.  Thirty years after Jesus had risen from the dead St. Paul preached nothing other than Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2).

Was he denying the resurrection?  Not at all.  If we deny the Lord’s bodily resurrection from the dead then we deny our own.  We are to be most pitied of all men.  Our faith is in vain, we are still in our sins, and we will never see our departed loved ones again, but the truth is that Christ has been raised from the dead and become the first fruits of them that sleep.  He is the first, we are the many to follow.  As in Adam we all die, in Christ we shall all be made alive!  Paul made these things perfectly clear, but he still states that the death of Christ is the most important thing there is.  Why?  Because it graphically illustrates what we deserve for the sins we commit so breezily, and justify so readily; because when we see what Christ suffered for us, then we understand what the love of God is really all about.   Still, few churches preach the cross. T hey talk about good behavior.  They dispense shoulds and oughts.  They embrace social causes that have no correspondence to our holy faith, but they do not condemn sin so they have no reason to preach the Gospel that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.

How did we get to such a state of affairs?  The usual suspects, dear Christians.  The devil does not want us to hear the Gospel as it is proclaimed in Christian sermons, creeds, liturgy and hymns.  He wants us to forget the ongoing blessings that baptism gives.  He wants us to think that absolution is optional, and that the holy sacrament is something that we only need every now and again, but can the food you ate last week sustain you?  Can the bath you took last week cleanse you from this week’s dirt?  The world has other tactics.  It calls our cross-centered worship boring, old-fashioned, not user-friendly and something that we must bravely dispense with if we ever expect to “grow the church.”  That’s the pattern anyway. And don’t forget about sinful nature.  All it ever thinks about is what feels good for the moment.  If it must go to church it wants “cool worship” or it will do nothing but whine.

Next Paul reminds the Corinthians that they received the Gospel, and we would do well to remember the same.  None of us has the spiritual aptitude to discover it on his own, but the church is the repository and the transmitter of it, so anyone who has God as his father also has the church as his mother.  Through her God called, justified and sanctified us.  Through her we believe that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and this message fills us with joy!

Not only do we receive the Gospel we also stand by it. With Christ as our righteousness we can stand unafraid before the accusations of conscience, the criticism of men and the judgment of God. In a slippery world it keeps us on our feet. In a tempting world it gives us the power to resist. And in a hurting world it enables us to endure broken hearts, and it inspires us to watch and pray to God who delivers us from every evil.

We are also saved by the Gospel.  Men are obsessed with saving themselves.  Adam and Eve thought that green could cover their sins.  The ancient Babylonians built a tower to heaven so that if the world ever flooded again they would be saved.  Muslims think that by imposing sharia on the world they can turn earth into heaven.  We are the same.  We build towers of self-righteousness and self-esteem.  We pay our tithes to technology, and our allegiance to the high priests of progress, but none of these offers the forgiveness of sins, righteousness before God, salvation from sin or resurrection from the dead.  Only Christ who died for our sins according to the scriptures gives that.

Lastly Paul tells these early believers to hold to the Gospel, unless they believed in vain.  Is this the weak link?  Does St. Paul build a foundation of salvation by grace alone only to lay the ultimate responsibility on us?  Hardly!  In simple language Paul is telling these people to go to church.  The Christian life is not a mental exercise that each individual Christian carries out in isolation, nor is it possible to have ‘virtual church.’  The gathering of Christians together to hear the preaching and teaching of God’s Word is indispensible.  Remembering our baptism, being absolved by the pastor and receiving the Lord’s body and blood are requisite.  These are God’s ways of administering Christ’s life-giving death to sinners, and there is no other.

How can we ever extol the death of Christ highly enough?  Once again hymnology comes to the rescue.  In our sermon hymn (TLH #151) we sing these words:  Christ the life of all the living, Christ the death of death our foe.  Who Thyself for me once giving, to the darkest depths of woe.  Through Thy sufferings, death and merit I eternal life inherit:  Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, dearest Jesus unto Thee.   

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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