The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church
by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt
Let me illustrate with a couple of particularly embarrassing examples in my own church’s history.
(Believe me, you’ve got some parallels in your church, too – no matter which church you belong to.) Two of the lowest points in Lutheran church history have to do with both the Peasants’ Revolt and with our persecution of the Anabaptists in the 16th century. The Peasants’ Revolt deeply frightened Luther (Luther very much feared anarchy as the worst of possibilities). In a letter to the German princes, Luther ordered them to use the sword and to slash and slay anyone who was out on the streets behaving like a revolutionary. (He quickly wrote a letter that appealed to the princes to ignore his first letter, but it was too late!) The peasants, thinking that Luther was backing them, were astounded when they learned that Luther had ordered the princes to “cut, slash, and kill them.” They felt totally betrayed. A real dark chapter in my church’s history.
In a similar way, to the degree to which Anabaptist Christians represented any sort of “Spirit-given” ecclesiastical anarchy, one that had no place for church order, Luther unleashed on them, too. Lutherans took part in baptizing such people by immersion for about 10 minutes (Reformed and Roman Catholics went along with us in this, but I’m just speaking about my own church here).
Reprehensible? You bet! Do I want to defend such executions to one of those “angry” at the church? Not a chance! Hate it as I might, I need to agree with the person with whom I am speaking. Same with some of the anti-Semitic things Luther himself wrote in his later life.
I said that I recommend that we “cop to” some of the evil things the church has done. We might be tempted to start by trying to balance the charges, viz., mention the wonderful things the church has sometimes done. I recommend against that, too — at least in an evangelistic/apologetic conversation. Later on, we might speak about a book like Al Schmidt’s Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Concordia) that catalogs just how our western world’s every corner was affected to the good by historic Christianity. Not now, however.
But, since hearing Sam Kinison’s brother, I don’t want to leave the matter there. I hope you don’t either. You and I “copping to” the evil done by the church still leaves the “angry one” satisfied, justified in his anti-Christic state, and still miles from the Gospel. If the law has done its work on him, I want next to talk to this guy about the Gospel. I want to talk about Jesus’ claims – and if I can, particularly about Jesus’ claims regarding what He was going to do for sinners (including me and including him!) on the cross.
Now you Lutheran pastors, don’t talk to me at this point about the Scriptural truths he would learn in your Pastor’s Inquirers Class about the sacraments! This kind of a guy isn’t going to come to your Inquirers’ Class to learn about the sacraments – or to learn about anything else! He’s too angry! Same for you Reformed pastors. This is not the time to start talking to this guy about the Scriptural truths he would learn in your Pastors Inquirers’ Class about the finer points of predestination! This kind of a guy isn’t going to come to your Inquirers’ Class to learn about election – or to learn about anything else! He’s too angry.
So what am I going to do?
I’m going to talk about the Gospel as if it can be believed in totally apart from the church! You say to me, “Rosenbladt, that isn’t how Scripture presents the church!” I answer, “I know. But first things first! This guy needs Christ, Christ as priest, Christ as having bled for his sin, Christ as giving eternal life to sinners for free.” And in his mind, the church is what is keeping him or her away from Jesus Christ! If he comes to trust Christ and Christ’s sin-bearing death, the guy might later on deal with passages about “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together . . .” But not now. To this guy, the church and its behavior is the “scandal!” (The real scandalon, according to Paul, is that we are sinners under condemnation, and cannot do anything to make things right with the holy God. The true scandalon is that Someone Else is going to have to satisfy God’s justice for us because we are unable –and unwilling – to do that).
To put it another way, we sinners are in need of a divine Mediator. And without a divine Mediator, we are doomed. Scripture says, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” At the judgment, the law of God will justly declare us condemned. And the Gospel is that God the Son freely agreed to die our death for us, to suffer our deserved condemnation and doom in our place. And He didn’t just agree from eternity to do that. He actually did it. On the cross. For free! And for each one of us. (Rom. 5:8)
If your friend can see for just a moment that the truth of the Gospel does not turn on Christ’s church, but only on Christ’s resurrection from the dead, it might be the first time he has ever thought such a thought. Will he bend the knee to Christ as His Lamb and Substitute? Who knows? But you will have done him or her a great service. Would that all people who are angry agnostics or atheists were clear that their animosity toward the church for giving them nothing but morality as soon as they became Christians is really understandable. That we would have that same reaction. Believe it or not, that’s progress. I’ve sometimes said to people who reject Christ and His death as for their sin, “Well, you are one of the few I’ve met who has really rejected the Christian Gospel for the right reasons. Congratulations for that! But I recommend that you keep thinking about it. And keep asking the question, “Was Jesus really raised from the dead, or was He not?” Because if Jesus Christ was raised the third day, that is the best reason in the world to believe that He can make good on His claim that His death was a death for your and my sin, and that His cross and blood will be enough for anyone who dies still a sinner. Me. You.
Lastly, we might be surprised to find that this guy is a Christian. He’s just vowed never to let a church do to him ever again what was done to him earlier. Do you know a church that won’t? (Don’t answer too quickly. There are not a lot of these – no matter what the “label” on the door.) Most of today’s churches will just re-inflame his anger, giving him “law-Gospel-law.” Find one for him instead that will speak to him of Christ—after he is a believer. If you don’t know one, tell him that. At least it’s honest.
The Home of the Lecture and Permissions Can be Found at 1517 The Legacy Project
Citation link to White Horse Inn, Inc. blog mentioned above where I obtained the transcript and other media for Dr. Rosenbladt’s sermon “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church” – Dad Rod Thursdays – The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church