GEORGE HENRY GERBERDING
(From The Lutheran Pastor [Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1902].)
The secular press, especially the Sunday paper, the cheap magazine, the popular novel, the ubiquitous lecturer, the atmosphere of many of our public schools, and the would-be smart talker, who has a smattering of general knowledge and of light literature, as well as the socialistic and labor agitator, are everywhere sowing the seeds of doubt, unrest, and lawlessness. The secret society, claiming for itself what God has given to His church alone -- ignoring the Lord Jesus Christ -- comprising Jews and Gentiles, Pagans and Christians, having a religion broad enough for all these, running out into mere humanitarianism as ground enough for salvation, is alienating our youth from Christ and the church, and sowing tares in our churches. All these unholy influences are deadening to that faith and life which should characterize the Lutheran Church. They are a source of great grief and vexation to the faithful pastor.
In addition to these influences from the world, in almost every community there are distractions and vexations from those who claim to have a superior grade of piety. Because of the skepticism that permeates our atmosphere; because faith in Christ, in His Word, His church, and His means of grace, has been so utterly weakened, if not lost; because faith in man, in self, in ones own ability to make himself acceptable to God, has grown to such colossal proportions, therefore extremes meet and fanaticism joins hands with rationalism. Immersionists, revivalists, sanctificationists, Adventists, and healers of every hue, name, and grade, are abroad in the land. They invade the school-house, the barn, and the woods. They spread their tents on the common and on the vacant lot in village, town, and city. Each one offers a new way of salvation. All cry: Lo, here is Christ, or, Lo, there. They all claim that the church which teaches the old doctrines and walks in the old ways is a failure. They unsettle the minds of the uninformed and the unreflecting. They bring heartache and sorrow to the earnest pastor.
All this skepticism, uncertainty, and experimenting has unfortunately unsettled only too many pastors in the churches around us. These pastors themselves have lost faith, more or less, in the divinely ordained means of grace. They are casting about for new means and methods by which to reach and hold men. They are experimenting with all sorts of novelties and attractions. Their churches and services are becoming more and more places of entertainment. They try to outbid and outdo each other in sensations calculated to draw. And so the church, like Samson of old, is shorn of her locks, and is degraded to make sport for the Philistines of the world. No true Lutheran pastor can stoop to such prostitution of his office and of his church. But he suffers from the misdeeds of others. His people are influenced by their surroundings. Some are drawn away from him, others make trouble in his own church. And so he is caused to grieve for the hurt of Joseph, and sighs for the hurt of my people am I hurt (Jer. viii. 21). (pp. 122-24)
In a Lutheran Church all the baptized children are members, and are under the care of the pastor. He is responsible for every such lamb of his flock. ...
But an ideal church is not satisfied with taking care of its own, but realizes its missionary vocation to all the unchurched within its reach. The true pastor is not only a shepherd, caring for his own flock, but also a fisherman, catching men out of the worldly waters around him. Every unshepherded and unchurched family and individual within his reach is legitimate material for his parish. It is not only his right, but his God-given duty to use every endeavor to gather all such into his fold. Let us be forever done with the pernicious heresy that only Lutheran material is to be looked after. What is Lutheran material? What is Lutheranism? Is it not the purest teaching of the Gospel? And is not the Gospel for all? We verily believe that the pastor who neglects and passes by these lost sheep will one day have to render an account for his criminal neglect. Let the pastor then find out where and who these families and individuals are. Let him persistently visit them, gain their confidence, instruct them, and, if possible, win them for his church. They are, as a matter of course, not to be admitted to the churchs communion until their hearts are drawn to Christ, and their minds enlightened as to what is involved in the step. They are also to know, at least, the rudiments of the churchs distinctive doctrines. They cannot all be measured with the same measure. Allowance must be made for antecedents, circumstances, mental culture, and gifts. It stands to reason that not all can commit [to memory] even the necessary parts of the Catechism. Not all can take a full course in catechetical instruction, but they must understand, at least, the most important doctrines. The pastor must often be willing to instruct them privately. They should read for themselves, under his direction, and then talk over with him what they have read.
When such persons are ready to apply for full membership in the congregation the pastor must first make up his own mind as to their ripeness. Then he must lay the application before his church council, which must advise with him as to their admittance. They are then publicly received by adult baptism or by confirmation, as each case may require.
The Lutheran pastor is never to be a proselyter, but to every true Lutheran pastor members of other denominations will come, unasked, and request admission to his church. Let us have only the right kind of preaching, life, and work on the part of our pastors, and multitudes of those who are dissatisfied and hungry, under the ignorant, rationalistic, sensational, or fanatical preaching, and the worldly spirit and methods of other churches, will find that there is one solid, safe, and satisfying church where they can always get real soul-food. They will come more and more. The simplicity, clearness, directness, and earnestness of our Biblical preaching, our churchly worship and life, will attract and hold them. It is our growing conviction that, given the right kind of a ministry, our dear Church will in time win back more than she ever lost to the less evangelical churches. (pp. 255-58)
To the Lutheran the sermon, as the preached Word, is a means of grace. Through it the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth. It is a constant offer of pardon; a giving of life, as well as a nourishing and strengthening of life. In the Reformed churches the sermon is apt to be more hortatory and ethical. It partakes more of the sacrificial than of the sacramental character. The individuality of the preacher, the subjective choice of a text, the using of it merely for a motto, the discussion of secular subjects, the unrestrained platform style, lack of reverence, lack of dignity, and many other faults are common, and are not regarded as unbecoming the messenger of God in His temple. Where there is a properly trained Lutheran consciousness such things repel, shock, and are not tolerated. (pp. 277-78)
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