Vol. VIII — No. 46 November 19, 1967
Acts 16:30b-21; 1 Corinthians 5:6b; 2 Timothy 2:17a
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Acts l6:30b-31.
“Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” I Cor. 5:6b
“Their word will eat as doth a canker (gangrene).” II Tim. 2:l7a
In Christ Jesus, who alone saves and who is therefore the object of all of Satan’s lies, Fellow Redeemed:
This morning I would like to give you the scriptural reason for a certain characteristic of the preaching that you have been hearing the last five months. That characteristic the naming of errors and errorists and the refutation of the same. This is called polemical preaching or literally the waging of war against any and every deviation from the Holy Scriptures.
Now I am sure that many of you have never heard this type of preaching before. Why? Whenever a church or a church body begins to get liberal or enters into the ecumencial spirit of the age, it ceases to expose the errors of others and refute them from the Scripture. Then the policy becomes one of accenting the positive, the things that all have in common, and slighting over the differences, as though they didn’t exist at all or were too insignificant to bother about. Behind this attitude lies the rejection of absolute truth and the belief that no one can deter mine for sure what God wants man to believe and what He wants man not to believed. When the Bible is rejected as the word of God or when the Bible is believed to be so unclear that certainty of faith and knowledge is impossible, then it becomes presumptuous for anyone to say, “This is truth, and this is falsehood.” Most churches are now precisely at that point—that they profess with their lips that they go by the Bible, whereas in fact each one believes just exactly what he wants to and so becomes his own final authority.
In our congregation we profess the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. We believe that God has clearly revealed what we are to believe and what we are to reject. It follows then that the truth of the Word is to be preached and anything that opposes the truth of the Word is to be exposed and refuted as error. But when this is done, hearers sometimes draw wrong conclusions which come to the mind in the form of questions such as these: “Do you, the preacher, think that you are the only one that understands the word of God? Do you think that you and your group are the only ones that are going to heaven, while all those you accuse of error are going to hell?” The first question is an accusation of spiritual pride, which may well reflect the spiritual pride of one who is caught in the web of some error. The second question invites a discussion of what it is that saves and what effect error has upon this saving truth. We have selected three brief Scripture passages that give God’s answer to these matters. We can summarize what these passages teach in this way:
Let us first note and note well this comforting truth that—
The text that illustrates that so clearly is taken from the familiar story of Paul and the jailor at Philippi. Paul and Silas had been most unjustly whipped and then locked in the inner prison of the city jail at Philippi. At midnight they prayed and sang. The Lord responded by sending an earthquake which jarred all the prison doors open and loosed all the bonds of the prisoners. When the jailor awoke, he came to the conclusion that all the prisoners had escaped and his life would be demanded of him by his superiors. He drew his sword and was about to commit suicide. He was kept from doing this by the cry of Paul, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.” Then it was that this jailor fell trembling before Paul and Silas and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Without a moment’s hesitation and in utter simplicity Paul answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” That’s it! That’s all of it! God sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, into this world to work out the salvation of all mankind. He finished that work. He left nothing for us to do. Even the faith that embraces that Good News is worked through that same Gospel. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” is the only correct answer to the question of salvation. So it has always been and so it shall ever remain!
Wherever Jesus Christ is proclaimed as God’s Son sent from heaven to earth to work out man’s salvation, there the Spirit of God is at work—working faith in Jesus Christ, faith which alone saves. There are in the world many, many different Christian denominations. We have all kinds here in our area. But wherever Jesus Christ is proclaimed as the Son of God and Savior, there men, women and children are brought to faith. Whoever dies trusting and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is saved! The Lord will not ask on the last day, “What denomination did you belong to?” No, the test question will be “What is your relation to Jesus Christ?” For “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
This simple truth, that only faith in Christ saves, serves as the only true guide in pastoral work, especially the care of the sick and dying. When I visit people in the hospital, especially those whose end appears to be near, I don’t begin a discussion of the relationship of men to women in the home or in the church. Neither do I begin discussing the practice of close communion over against open communion. Neither do I discuss the doctrine of the angels, or of creation, or of the inspiration of the Bible. All these things are important, but the vital truth for a person facing death is the truth that Jesus Christ is his Savior. We comfort a dying person with the love of God in Christ, with the assurance that his Savior has died to take away all his sins, with the hope that his Savior has gone ahead to prepare a place for him. We comfort, re-assure, strengthen the dying with the certainty of salvation that is in Christ Jesus, for only faith in Christ saves. Nothing else!
If this is true, and it is, then why not just preach and teach the positive truth that salvation is by faith in Christ Jesus and forget about anything and anyone that contradicts or undermines that truth? Scripture gives us an answer in the form of a rhetorical question that expresses a well-known natural phenomenon, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” This natural phenomenon is true also in the area of the spiritual. We can express it in this way—
Paul used the example of leaven in his first letter to the Corinthians to warn that congregation against the danger of failing to practice discipline in an incest case. He urges them to act, saying, “Don’t you know that if you permit this man to remain in the congregation with his sin unrepented, he will act as a leaven?” We have a similar expression, “One rotten apple spoils the basket.”
Our Lord on one occasion warned His disciples, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” Matt. l6:6. It took awhile for them to understand that He was warning them against the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The truth that Jesus Christ is the Savior is not an isolated truth in Scripture. It is rather the keystone in the arch of divine truth or the hub of the wheel of truth. Every doctrine of the Scripture is related to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. It follows then that any and every error will tend to undermine and, if possible, destroy the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
That is precisely why the Lord warned against the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The Pharisees were great students of the Scriptures. They were the specialists. But their basic idea was salvation by works. That is the dangerous leaven that destroys faith in Christ. It remains so to this day. Whenever and wherever man injects his own thoughts into the question of salvation, he comes up with the same old raven in a new gravy: always salvation by the works of man. That is the dangerous error that is always seeking to destroy salvation by grace.
Jesus warned against the Sadducees. They were the liberals of the day—the eat, drink, and be merry people. For them there was no hereafter, so what need would they have of salvation? Their religion was to make for themselves a heaven on earth. We have the same error today in the social gospel. When churches and churchmen get so involved in civic affairs, seeking to create heaven on earth, the doctrine of salvation by grace in Christ is smothered.
When Paul wrote to Titus, he laid down the qualifications for bishops—teachers in the church. He said that a bishop was to hold “fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” Titus 1:9. Why this exhorting and convincing of the gainsayers? Why not just preach the positive and stop pointing out errors and errorists? Why not stop this acting as though you only know the truth and others don’t? Because Paul knew by the Spirit that any and every error is dangerous. Unless checked, any and every error will tend to undermine and destroy the central truth of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
If that is lost, then salvation is denied people St. Paul wrote to young Timothy of the effects of false doctrine upon people when he wrote, “Their word will eat as doth a canker or gangrene.” This word of the Spirit tells us that—
A doctor will amputate a finger or a toe, a leg or an arm that is gangrenous in order to save the life of his patient. Error is pictured as just such an evil—an evil that seeks to snuff out spiritual life, which is saving faith in Christ.
If a blind person were walking along the sidewalk and were approaching an open manhole or a construction ditch, who wouldn’t yell out to him or grab him to save him from a possible broken leg or possible fatal injury? If someone would just stand there and watch the blind man plunge to injury or his death, he would be guilty of criminal negligence.
Why is it then that so many consider warning against spiritual error most unloving and almost un-Christian? Why is it that well-meaning people will remain silent rather than reprove error and try to convince a friend or relative who believes what is contrary to the Word of God? The reason is that most Christians do not realize how dangerous error is to the soul-life of a child of God.
Our Lord knew the danger of error. That is why He warned against false prophets. That is why He denounced the Pharisees and scribes in such scathing terms. Read Matthew 23. That is why He turned on Peter and called him a “satan.” He didn’t want His friend and disciple Peter, to become a victim of his error. Was our Lord loveless when He exposed errorists and warned against error? Was Paul loveless when he reported to Timothy that Demas had forsaken him because he had fallen in love with this world? By the standards of our ecumenical age, which knows neither truth nor error, our Lord and St. Paul and all Scripture stands condemned. But the so-called “love” and tolerance and broadmindedness of our modern age is really most loveless cruelty, for it refuses to warn the sinner of an error that may destroy his soul᾿s salvation.
Brethren, I plead with you, let no one take error lightly, for any and every error has the potentiality or destroying the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, just as every and any error seeks to snuff out faith in Christ. Let no one underestimate the wiles of the Evil One. May the Lord preserve each one of us in the saving faith. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.