Come and see the wonders of God; his acts for humanity are awe-inspiring. Psalm 66:5 (CSBBible)
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:26 (CSBBible)
When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross, when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly; we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
When somebody inquired whether a person [under the papacy] would be saved if he had not embraced this teaching of ours, he [Martin Luther] replied, “I really don’t know. God might have had regard for his baptism. This could do it. Even so, I have seen many [monks] die with a crucifix held before their eyes [as was then customary]. In spite of everything else, the name [of Christ] proved to be effective on their deathbed.”
When Jesus comes to the soul in Holy Communion, he brings to it every grace, and specially the grace of holy perseverance. This is the principal effect of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, to nourish the soul that receives it with this food of life, and to give it great strength to advance unto perfection, and to resist those enemies who desire our death.
Most of my college professors were focused on reading, studying, and preaching the Bible verse by verse. That is called exegetical preaching. Exegesis is the art of drawing the message from the text. All the professors taught this way, except one, my preaching professor. He would criticize me to no end, saying that “unless you preach the gospel, you may have given a good message, but you haven’t preached. And that gospel requires you to bring them to the cross. (Doug Dickey, multiple times in 1984-1986. He wanted you to include God’s grace, God’s love, God’s mercy, and if you didn’t – back to the library you went until you did!
I think that needs to be a rule, not only for preaching but for worship. We need to bring the people of God to the cross – We need to be there as well! Oh, do those who preach and lead worship need to come to the cross! We need to see with the Psalmist – the wonders of God as He acts on our behalf! We need to see Him take on death and destroy it! We need to see Him triumphant over our sin! That is why the Lord’s Supper explains the giving of Christ’s Body and His Blood shed for us! The entire service needs to focus there to journey with the cross throughout the week!
The cross needs to be there; the sermon and the sacrament need to draw us to Jesus! Look at the monks Luther describes, as they die, they just wanted to focus on the crucifix, to be in awe of God’s love for His people.
Can you preach verse by verse and still proclaim the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus? I believe so, but will the cross and the resurrection be your primary focus? The same question may be asked to those who preach topically,
who do a series on marriage or faith. Or those who preach from the pericope, the rotation of verses over 1 or 3 years. You must go to the scriptures, see how they point to Jesus, and work on that passage until you figure out how! The same as the worship service is formed, how does each song, each reading, each prayer draw people into Christ and make them more aware of His love! Of course, the decision on whether to offer commune fits there as well! Where else is the work of God as manifest at that moment, as people commune with the Body and Blood of Christ? (1 Cor. 10:16)
It is not preaching unless Christ crucified is revealed, nor is it worship if we are not brought to that cross in awe and celebrate that death was for us. This is why we gather… this is the refreshment given. It is time to celebrate!
Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 125.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 87–88.
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 224.
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV)
210 At times, seeing those souls asleep, one feels an enormous desire to shout at them, to make them take notice, to wake them up from that terrible torpor they have fallen into. It is so sad to see them walk like a blind man hitting out with his stick, without finding the way! I can well understand how the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem sprang from his perfect charity. (1)
The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear (awe) and so may also pray. (2)
One of the reasons I am a Lutheran pastor, one of the reasons I love our confessions is the same reason I often am found quoting a Catholic priest/saint named Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. ( It is also the reason I am indebted to my non-denom Bible College professors, especially Doug Dickey and Rodney Vliet, and my fellow alum and now professor Chris G.
For all of the above, and some others in life, there is no division between pastoral practice – how we minister and equip others for ministry, and the depth of our theology. It’s not the academics against the pragmatics, the “confessionals” versus the “church growthers”. And while the theology differs a bit at times, there is a…. holistic approach that requires that we realize the harmony between doctrine and practice. The pastor/priest or whatever form of ministry (professor,teacher,deacon, director of ministry) cannot divide his day by saying, from 8-9 I will pray, from 9-11 I will do theology, from 1-5 I will fulfill my pastoral duties and ministry obligations, and from 7-10 I will do church growth. It is one constant movement, one constant life.
Otherwise, I would contend, if you think our lives can be divided like this, you have done none of the above, but have simply whistled into the wind. The Lutheran doctrine of vocation, and Escriva’s teaching on the apostolate doesn’t work this way. For both find their beginning point – and entire existence, in one place.
As this blog is titled – “the heart of theology and the heart of ministry is the Heart of Christ”.
Our theology finds itself created, not in books and seminary or catechetical courses, but in our baptism, at the point where God transforms us, begins to conform our mind to that of Christ. As we are united to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, theology begins, ministry starts. (yes even as a baby is baptized!) For as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, as the word begins to germinate in us, quickening life, we become theologians, we become ministers, servants of the word.
And it is the sacred heart of Christ which replaces our cold, stone hearts (see Ezekiel 36) and we begin to see the world as Christ does. The more we see Christ’s heart and desire to be with us, the more we comprehend the depth of the Father’s love, the more we realize that our masses, our Bible studies, our retreats serve not to just impart doctrine – but to lead us to pray, to lead us to worship, to lead us to interact with God as He shares His glory with us as we dwell in His presence.
Ministry and Theology have to find their essence there, in the heart of God.
Otherwise – you can find blog after blog of theologians claiming programs aren’t based in the faith, and pastors who call their seminary experience their death, and their seminaries nothing more than cemeteries. They both have a point – and the point is the same…..
Without being found and nurtured and developed within the heart of Christ – they aren’t theology and ministry, they are academics and business practices.
But when those very same things are baptised, when they are united with the heart and mind of our benevolent, caring Master Jesus…. when we look at those struggling without Christ as St. Josemaria describes them, as we wolf down theology that shows the glory of God’s work in us, then it is theology, it is ministry, it is one….
for we are one…in Christ.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1086-1089). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 250). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
- Ministry is not a profession… it is the vocation of all…. (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Back to School… Flashcard Knowledge and Faith.. (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Something I’ve Known, But Never Fully Grasped Before… (beautifulthingsfromdust.wordpress.com)
- Some thoughts about why the Church is Here…. (justifiedandsinner.com)
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
1 When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2 For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (TEV)
27 God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28 So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29 To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:27-29 (TEV)
“Homileticians from a wide variety of Christian traditions advocate the preaching of Christ. For example, the Roman Catholic author Domenico Grasso states, “The object and content of preaching is Christ, the Word in which the Father expresses Himself and communicates His will to man.” The Eastern Orthodox Georges Florovsky asserts, “Ministers are commissioned and ordained in the church precisely to preach the Word of God. They are given some fixed terms of reference – namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ – and they are committed to this sole and perennial message.” The Lutheran homiletician M. Reu contends, “It is necessary that the sermon be Christocentric, have no one and nothing else for its centre and content than Christ Jesus.” The Reformed homiletician T. Hoekstra maintains, “In expositing Scripture for the congregation, the preacher … must show that there is a way to the center even from the farthest point on the periphery. For a sermon without Christ is no sermon.” And the Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon says, “Preach Christ, always and everywhere. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme.”5 Authors from a broad spectrum of traditions, therefore, testify to the necessity of preaching Christ.” (1)
Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. (2)
Just shy of 30 years ago, I met a very humble and unique man, my first professor of preaching, Doug Dickey. As I tried to learn to write sermons, Doug instilling in me a mantra, “Dustin, if it’s not about Christ, it’s not a sermon!” I would try to preach about saving the world, about being a better person, about all sort of good things I saw in the text. But Doug kept on coming back to the basic concept – it had to be about Jesus and His work to bring us to the Father. I would love to say I learned quickly from Doug, who also ran the college’s ministry to the huge Cal State across the street, but… well.. I was a typical sophomore… a very wise fool. Two of the passages that convinced me are there above.
Yesterday, in starting my doctoral work, I am well aware of the wise fool in my, and my ability to go off on tangents that are stimulating and enjoyable and lack any mention of God’s desire to save us, or His work in setting us apart for His purposes of fellowship and loving service of those we encounter. It was in my first book to read, that I ran across the quote above, noting that this idea of revealing to people God’s love and His desire for them to share in His glory is not just a Restoration Movement ideal, or that of Luther, but it crosses the lines of the church that divide us. If there is a point where the church can, no must unite, it is here, in Christ to who we are united in both His death and His resurrection. In the end, litle else will matter, and in truth, in this life nothing else matters as much.
We can talk about all the sins of the world (but not our own), we can point to the glorious worship (which ever is our style) we can talk of leadership or marriage, of finding fulfilment, of motivating people to save the world. We can call ourselves missional, or confessional, liberal or conservative, traditional or contemporary. It doesn’t matter.
Unless we reveal the love of God, unless we share His desire to see all brought to repentance/transformation, unless we show how that is what He is doing in us because of the cross….
Our work is in vain…
Thanks Doug – for helping me realize that Jesus Christ is not just the core of our message – He is our message.
(1)Sidney Greidanus. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Kindle Locations 118-126). Kindle Edition.
(2) — Augsberg Confession, Article XXIV, Wordsearch Electronic Edition