Tuesday, May 29, 2007

How Much of the Bible do Lutheran Pastors Preach About?

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Martin Luther's Small Catechism: 1549 edition

Original title of this post: Lutheran Pastors Preach On Only 1% of the Bible??? That's Odd!!!

Josh S. ( [former] LCMS seminarian) noted this in a recent post, The Bible and Lutheranism:
I realized this morning when talking to my mom that I've lost a good bit of familiarity with the Bible since becoming a Lutheran. . . . the past six years of never hearing anything except the Gospels preached from the pulpit or taught in the Sunday School classroom certainly has taken its toll. . . .

A few weeks ago, I went with my Mom to her PCA church, and the sermon was like a breath of fresh air. . . . And seminary sermons? Well, sometimes they're good, but a lot of them are advice on how to be a good pastor, reassurance that God will still be gracious to you despite the fact you'll be a horrible pastor, or yet another sermon going through the Holy Checklist of Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution, showing how the pericope for the day reminds us about those three things. But anyway, this Presbyterian minister preached on Psalm 51. The sermon was laden with Gospel, atonement (he didn't even mention the infamous "L"), and Christ. And in typical Reformed style, he exposited each verse of the text. . . .

I know most Lutheran pastors have a million reasons why 99% of the Bible is not proper sermon material, why hearing more than 1% of the Bible preached is actually detrimental to the laity, or why preaching on the Old Testament on Sunday (i.e. a day for the Lord's Supper) kills souls. . . .

I don't even know why I'm complaining. I have the Small Catechism, and that's all the Bible I'll ever need. . . .
Kudos for the brutal honesty. Catholics, of course (needless to add except for people who don't ever visit Catholic churches), hear far more Bible than this at Mass. "l p cruz" added in comments:
There is truth that Lutherans are low on Bible knowledge. They do not have a good reputation for Bible reading. The only consolation is that they get 3 readings each Sunday printed on the order of service.

A survey in Australia showed Lutherans ranked at rock bottom in Bible reading compared to the average evangelical.

I have met people who can recite verbatim the Small C. But you detect that they still think they are saved by works.

Because some of Josh's commenters disagree with him on this, I chose to modify this post and even change the title. I had thought that Josh was infallible in All Things Lutheran, but since Pastor Paul T. McCain disagrees with him (describing his rhetoric as "typically over-the-top exaggerations"), and he speaks with the utmost authority, I figured extravagant claims from Josh are probably a bit questionable, and to be fair to my Lutheran brothers and sisters, I want to modify my post accordingly. I'm delighted to learn that biblical appreciation in Lutheranism probably isn't as bleak as Josh portrayed.

John H wrote:
Our pastor never feels constrained only to preach the gospel reading.
Pastor William Weedon opines:
For an example of the "pull in" from the reading, check out how Gerhard begins his Pentecost homily:

"In Leviticus 25 we read that God commanded His people, the Israelites, that when they should arrive in the solemnly promised land of Canaan, they would have to sanctify the fiftieth year in the land and call it a year of remittance. Whenever such a jubilee year or remittance year was observed, all debts had to be cancelled..."

Or Pentecost later in the day, his second sermon begins:

In Exodus 30 God the Lord commanded Moses make a holy anointing oil out of the best spices of myrrh, cinnamon, and cassia, along with the best oil from the olive tree. With this mixture, all the tent of the covenant with its accessories, as well as Aaron and all his sons, were to be anointed and dedicated...

Or on Pentecost Monday, his sermon begins:

We read in 1 Kings 19 about the great prophet Elijah that, as he had to fee from the wrath of Jezebel and brought himself to a cave in God's mountain of Horeb...

Or on Pentecost Tuesday, his sermon begins:

When God the Lord promised through the prophet Zechariah, 12:10 that He wanted to pour out the Spirit of grace and prayer over the house of David and the citizens of Jerusalem, this is not to be understood as referring only to the Apostles...

So I think, at least in the way Lutherans historically preached the lectionary, the OT was the "big book of illustrations or types" from which they drew lavishly.
John C. Hudelson added:
I'm happy that my pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church does not fit in the mold of neglecting large parts of the Bible. In fact he does not preach from a prepared manuscript; rather, he reads and explains verse-by-verse.
Let's hope that Josh's experience in LCMS Lutheranism is atypical. The thing I cherish most of all from my evangelical Protestant background is the strong emphasis on Bible study and exegesis. I had assumed that it was the same in Lutheranism. After all, I started my evangelical life out (in 1977) attending a wonderful inner-city ELCA church: going mostly to the mid-week Bible studies. This pastor, the Reverend Dick Bieber, certainly didn't preach only from the Gospels on Sunday. He was great. One can see from the following writing of his, how he emphasizes missions and outreach. This man teaches priesthood of all believers and radical discipleship. He had a profound influence on my own Christian life. I followed such a call myself:

The Volunteer Syndrome and the Call of God by Richard "Dick" Bieber

At the root of our difficulty in "getting the laity involved in ministry" is our tendency to view our congregation as an assembly of volunteers. Volunteers have to be handled with a certain delicacy. They need to be stroked. They must never be offended. If you overwork them, they burn out. "Don't forget, pastor, I'm not getting a salary like you are. I have my job and my family. And I'm entitled to a little recreation. So if I skip the treasurer's report at council this month, don't get bent out of shape."

The successful pastor in this setup is one who knows how to motivate the volunteers and keep them happy. This pastor understands that these dear folks aren't getting paid to come to church or sing in the choir or serve on the evangelism committee. So you reward them for good behaviour. You make it worth their while. Megachurches have been built on this principle. But while numbers and money may flow toward the ministry of the pastor who knows how to organize and stroke the volunteers, the result is a thin caricature of the church which Jesus promised to build, the church which has the power to storm the gates of death.
Membership in the Body of Christ, not only for the pastor but for every believer, begins with the call of God. Surely when the pastor is clear about the call that rests upon his or her life, it becomes obvious that every member of the flock is under the same call to discipleship from the same Lord. Jesus did not call me to be a professional priest, ministering to a flock of volunteers. He called me to follow his example and begin washing the feet of my fellow disciples. He called me to acknowledge before his cross that these men and women he has sent me to serve are as much under the call as I am. I need to see these people as under a call, honour them as "called and ordained ministers of the Church of Christ" who are no less called and ordained than I am. True, they have not been "ordained" by a synod. But they have certainly been ordained by the Lord for ministry in his Body that is no less significant than mine.

"Well, my people sure don't act like called ministers. So how can I regard them as such?" Moses was under a call from the day of his birth. He tried the volunteer method when he killed the Egyptian, when he tried to settle an argument between two Hebrews, and when he rescued his wife-to-be from some rough shepherds. At last, at the age of eighty, Moses was lifted out of himself and set free to be what he was always meant to be -- a deliverer -- as he heard the call, took off his shoes, and answered it.

Our job is to be the burning bush through which our people hear the call which has been haunting them and hunting them through the barren years. They will hear the call of the living Lord through us, when we open our eyes and behold God's claim resting upon them, and, under the power of the cross, beckon them to follow the Master with all of their strength and the best of their resources.

Once they begin to hear that call -- and they will -- they will no longer function as volunteers. They will know that their lives are not their own, they belong to the God who called them. They (and we) will no longer be able to produce something half-baked and whimper, "This is the best I can do. I'm doing all I can, Lord," because the Spirit of excellence, the power to do it right, is in the call.

Every man and woman in our flock who has any faith in Jesus at all is under a call. They are not volunteers; they are called. And one day they are going to answer for that they did with that call. And we are going to answer for whether we allowed ourselves to be the burning bush through which they heard it.

Richard Bieber is an ELCIC pastor living in Nova Scotia.

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