Pastors and congregations who refuse to take a stand against sin, must necessarily deny Christ in the process—eventually. It seems harsh and mean—at face value—to not accept people living a sinful lifestyle, but when by their lives they show that the Spirit of Christ does not rule them, accepting sin means minimizing Christ’s sacrifice for all sins and denying that a Christian is any different than a pagan.
Sins that are completely socially acceptable, like living together, divorcing without biblical cause, or practicing homosexuality are frequently winked at in supposedly Christian congregations (even LCMS ones). But God is not mocked. The congregation is made of saints gathered around the Gospel of Christ which creates faith. When there is no distinction or demarcation between the believer who has the Spirit, and the unbeliever who can only live by the flesh, and is therefore a slave to his lusts, Christ’s forgiveness is trampled.
It should mean something to be called a Christian, righteous, and a holy child of God. The Christian does not willingly and freely sin—struggle, yes, but the Spirit does not let sin rule him which displeases Jesus, the Lord. That is obedience to Satan, not Christ. The very power of the Gospel is being denied in our midst—its power to make the dead new and living before God.
What is obviously and intentionally not good, holy, and of God marks one as living contrary to Christ, despite all human connections, personality traits, or nice-looking deeds. Faith, which comes from the Spirit, makes one a Christian, not doing lots of church activities or even attending a public service regularly. But the Spirit does not move one to serve the flesh in evil works, but He works His fruit in all stations of life.
God says that obvious works of the flesh must be condemned, and to call such a one Christian continuing to engage in such behavior is blessing sin and pushing towards eternal damnation. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5). These obvious things are not of God. And to accept them without any change of behavior or real repentance to blatantly accept sin—denying the sacrifice of Christ for all sins.
This is not an issue of just being Lutheran or confessional, but the very essence of Christianity is at stake. Where true repentance is optional, the power of the new life in Christ is also optional. It gets down to the very definition of faith. Is our hope trusting that God receives us for the sake of Christ’s merits—or just saying sin is ok and doesn’t really matter, so just keep on sinning?
This is not a complex theological point. Those who say all sin is the same or we all sin anyway, so any particular sin is no big deal, do not love Christ as they should. They are excusing sin away, not forgiving it. Christ did not die upon the cross to say sin is no biggie, rather God’s wrath burns against all sin. No sin is small, since it required our Lord’s blood. “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 Jn. 3). Loving sin is not following Christ—it is that simple. Sinners want to make complex God’s truth, so they don’t have to ever deal directly with sin. But where it is not exposed and brought under God’s wrath, it is not forgiven and no fellowship with God is created by the Gospel. Our Lord gave us the keys to heaven—authority to deal with sin directly and with God’s own power. We need not be afraid of it, no matter how sinners respond to the divine Word.
Those who love earthly peace, human relationships, and maintaining the outward structure of the congregation, have a vested interest in not excluding openly unrepentant sinners. In other words, to not use the keys of Christ, but embrace pure worldly acceptance: to bless sin, rather than condemn it by the law and forgive the sinner by the all-powerful name of Jesus. This fear and weakness is all too prevalent. Excitement in outward things, activities, or getting one’s liturgical undies twisted are not real replacements for speaking the truth of God boldly to sinners.
The bottom line of congregational survival, offering dollars, and not offending people we want to please, slowly become gods and masters, making repentance and its truthful proclamation seem impractical, if not offensive. But all the outward trappings of a church or congregation are useless where Christ’s Word is not used to kill sinners and make them alive by the resurrection of the living Christ. What appears to be weakness hardens to unbelief and rejection of the very Word of God by which we live.
Congregations who treat pastors and the Word shamefully despise Christ. They will cease to be Christian if they think that a new pastor will fix their congregation apart from the Word they ignore and don’t want to hear. District leaders have long fostered the playbook of pushing pastors out the door to keep congregations satisfied and undivided. But we need division, because we are not united on the power and teaching of God’s Word. Those afraid to deal with sin and call it shameful should be separated from those who cling to Christ for righteousness, rather than mere earthly acceptance.
Pastors also too frequently go along with congregations—giving them what they want—and go away too quietly, not warning the sheep loudly in a bold, unmistakable warning. But earthly peace is not the goal of a pastor of Christ, nor is it faithful and loving to give sinners what they want. Every pastor is to answer to Christ, and is said to have a divine call, not a man-made call. He is to serve Christ, by proclaiming the Word, not be an ever-positive people-pleaser and impotent glad-hander who never says no—even to the person bound in sin and hurling towards hell. That would be to lead people even faster to hell. It is hard to speak the truth. It will be rejected by some, since not all will be saved, but no one should be called “pastor” if they are not willing to suffer for leading God’s flock. God’s people need the truth, not more useless stories and undeserved atta-boys.
When the person publicly sinning is called to repentance, this is out of concern for his salvation. It is more loving than preserving friendships or keeping every member. It is more important to follow Christ, than keep congregational numbers up by watering down the Word of God in practice. Without Christ and keeping His Word, there is no point to the outward form of the congregation—it serves no essential purpose—and offers nothing of eternal significance. It then becomes a dying good old boys club of sinners, rather than God’s family of saints who are inheriting eternal life.
The fight we engage in is not for this year’s budget or seeing more bottoms in the pew. It is a fight for the very truth of Christ—and only He is to be followed, no matter how heavy the cross we must carry. Life and glory is our beacon and reward, as we hold fast to the Word of Jesus, resurrected for us to live in righteousness. —ed.