Letter to a Lutheran Pastor


Your last e-mail takes my breath away, breaks my heart, and causes a sense of hopeless to come over my spirit. But the Lord works and provides, so I ask him for patience in explaining to you the serious error of your way. Please do not be offended (not that I really care) because I am not trying to offend you. Please remember that a wise man receives correction and instruction. So far you have proven yourself to be a little wise. I sincerely pray this is a gift from God which will continue to prosper and take root. God gives the speaking tongue and the hearing ear—they are both His gifts.

One the way home from work today I determined to respond to our phone conversation, which I enjoyed very much. When I looked at my mail and saw that and what you had written, it indicated to me that the Lord, in fact, wanted me to respond to you. I am responding to fewer and fewer persons because the ignorance and bitterness is so great. I am praying more for people because I sincerely do not believe they know what they are doing. I pray God will not lay this to their account, but will enlighten them in His time. If I have sinned in what I have been doing, it is in this area of trying to push up God's timetable. I confess this as abject sin and am confident of His forgiveness.

Your letter, just as our phone conversation, minimizes sin. You have fallen right back into the Devil's trap whereby he makes smug Christians. Your questions, though, are honest, so I will honestly answer them. But I must confess, there is so much ignorance and delusion in your letter that I fear you will never be converted. I commend you to God. With Paul, I trust I have not labored in vain with you.

As I see it, the basic question you ask is, "How much does one have to understand his sin in order to be saved?" The answer, I believe, is, "One must be willing and zealous to readily agree with God concerning ANY sin with which God pricks his conscience." We must be very careful not to dispense with the Law, which is a schoolmaster to show us our need for the Savior. Surely we agree that the Law reveals sin and is designed by God to frighten the conscience; and that the more one embraces this fearful conscience (is made to be poor in spirit) the more one appreciates the spiritual journey to Christ and His Work on the cross. I say this is a journey because when we hear the Law of God we run away from God just as Adam did in the garden. This is why Luther could say that one never sins so greatly than when he hears and feels the Law! We believe God is an unreasonable Taskmaster and regularly have to deal with this attitude within ourselves.

What I especially remember about our phone conversation are your comments, "Faith is an easy thing to understand," and "We must not trust our works for our salvation." You came to see that you were a bit off base, but your letter whips you pretty much back to your ignorance. My concern is your use of Luther's experience in trusting in works for his salvation, as if he was unusually perverse. EVERYONE trusts their works to feel good about themselves and to have a good conscience—that is, peace. There are no exceptions. This is our nature to create a confidence and courage toward life because of what we DO. To knock Luther because he may have done this more than many is foolish. God formed Luther. God made sure Luther was the way he was so that God might demonstrate His grace mightily and in a special way in this man. How dare we minimize this man's journey.

But on the other hand, I am not going to condemn a person because their conscience is not so tender as was Luther's. God gives the measure of faith to every person. Paul was the greatest of sinners and cried with greater agony than any, "O wretched man that I am!" Why could he say this in the Spirit? Because he saw greater depths of his sin. Does this make him a better Christian than someone who does not see as deeply? OF COURSE NOT. It only means that God has different instruments in His House. I do not have to compete with Paul or Luther, but I do have to give an account of the grace that has been given to ME, which is equal and then some to the degree that sin plagues my conscience.

Either God is just and we are liars, or not. God condemns all our works which are nothing but sin save for His grace. Our works are always sin, if for no other reason than that we are always prone to trust in, rest in, take refuge in, seek comfort from, feel good about, be emotionally and psychologically fed, and boast of our works. What aspect of our life does salvation not cover? Is our salvation compartmentalized? Is faith just something that is tacked onto who we are? Or, rather, is faith a leaven that leavens the whole lump! By faith we take up our cross. Why? Because God, through the gift of faith, sets about to kill the old man and this process is not complete until we are in the grave. God continually works His mortification within us. How does this not apply to our every waking moment? How can we possibly have the mindset that, well, I am not trusting in my works for my salvation, but then live, conduct business, perform one's calling, as if these were good works wherein we could delight? If this is what we believe then Augustine and Luther both stand in judgment on us. Augustine said, "Even our good works need God's pardoning mercy," and Luther said, "When we look at what we do we have lost the name Christian," and "A true Christian does not notice what he does."

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ONE OF REPENTANCE. From what work do we not need to repent? What work is separated from our salvation? If this salvation is so precious to us, then we should rejoice that we are sinners indeed. This is why Luther could say, "Come rejoice with us, hard-boiled sinners." (paraphrase) Why do we rejoice? Because even though we cry over our sin, our hearts burst within us because of our sinfulness, and our minds and consciences are continually plagued with guilt, we gradually learn to confess with God the truth about our sin and learn that His grace is truly sufficient! FOR THIS WE PRAISE OUR SAVIOR, WHO SAVES US FROM REAL, NOT IMAGINARY SINS.

We used the example of a wife, say a preacher's wife, who should, even in the midst of performing her God-given duty and high calling of being a mother and a wife, be sorry and fearful because of her nature to feel good about her work instead of allowing "this mind of Christ to be in" her—this "mind" which does not mind being emptied of self, self-righteousness, self-deceit, and self-confidence. And we said that such a mother and wife should not use this truth of her replete sinfulness as an excuse to either throw up her hands in hopelessness or resentment, but must look to Christ only for definition. Is this not true esteem for a Christian. Should we not hate ourselves, in a way that honors God's working in us, so that we might win Christ, and Christ alone?

Are we not to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling?" Why? Because we are in this flesh, this bag of worms as Luther called it, and are ALWAYS prone to be carried away from Christ by our works. We must remember that Luther said our five senses are five mighty kingdoms seeking to carry us away from Christ. EVERYTHING we experience not only has the potential to take us away from Christ, but is cause for us to cry out to the Lord, "O wretched man, who will deliver me from this body of sin." But yet, most seem to live as if this body of sin is basically insignificant, impotent, and of little concern because of our faith. It's as if our faith allows us to live just like everyone else: Eat, drink and be merry; go to church in nice clothes and pretty Bibles, and say the word "Faith" several times a day, as if this supernaturally makes us pure, having no need to stand in judgment on ourselves. Here I thought I was honoring the Scriptures which state, "Judgment must begin at the house of God." I suppose the Christian life is much, much easier than I thought. Pity me—that I have not been given a form of godliness only, while denying its real power to deliver from real sin, despair, and hopelessness.

Yes, we generally confess that we are sinners, and even feel bad about a few things. But when someone comes along who wants to challenge our faith, then look out. Suddenly we become the greatest saints who ever lived! Does this not prove we do not really want to be sinners? We will be sinners to the degree we decide we want to be sinners and no more. Is this really being a Christian? Is this really taking refuge in faith? Is this really condemning ourselves so that God might be righteous in His judgement?

You say you don't have money for books. I have made it easy for you by compiling Luther subject by subject and posting it on the web. You could begin there. I do appreciate and am blessed by your humility. I trust you will not be offended by my rebuking tone. This is what God has ordered because if we are not willing to be rebuked, take delight in having our selves crucified, then we really do not know if we are one with Him or not, do we? The religion of everybody is special and personal, yet the religion of "everybody" will not allow itself to be rebuked. Yet the one distinction of the Christian minister is to "reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine, for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but will gather teachers to themselves because of their itching ears."

I still contend that this time has come and is fully here and you have been guilty of a good bit of scratching. The Lord will forgive you and turn this to His glory if you continue to fulfill your calling according to the Scriptures, as most excellently expounded by Luther.

God bless you.