By Scott Keith –
I am not a pastor. I also have a hard time staying in one place for a long time. As a result, I have spent the last several years visiting many different churches. The sad reality is that, even in the blessed LCMS, “the goods” are not always handed over on Sunday morning. By “the goods,” I mean to say that in my admittedly limited experience, Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of my sins is infrequently proclaimed to me at church.
Let me explain what I mean. There is a difference between preaching about Christ and preaching Christ. Under the category of preaching about Christ I will hear the history or biography of the life and times of a man named Jesus who roamed around the ancient near east some two thousand years ago, seemingly doing some amazing things. Under the category of preaching about Christ I will be told that this same man serves as a great moral example for me and mine. Under the category of preaching about Christ I will learn that, if I follow His precepts, this person may help me to have a better marriage, a balanced checkbook, and a happier life in general. Under the category of preaching about Christ I may even hear that this person died to take away the sins of the world. This type of preaching is sometimes referred to as second order proclamation or discourse.
Conversely, when Christ is preached, sins are forgiven. My sins are forgiven directly. In turn, this is sometimes referred to as first order proclamation. This occurs when the preacher proclaims Christ not as a paragon of historical virtue but as my Savior because He is God. He is the God that loves and forgives me now, this day, on account of the great mercy that He has shown and is showing me. This Christ, through the mouth of the preacher, reaches His pierced hands out to the congregation and places them on my head proclaiming that my sins are forgiven in Him. This proclamation is personal, and it brings me forgiveness and salvation. It is the Gospel! Not just some good news but the good news that Christ came to save sinners, among whom I am the chief.
My first theological mentor, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, used to love to quote Romans 1:16 in class. That passage reads: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” This Gospel, he used to say, was the “dynamite of salvation” while smacking his hand loudly on the desk, shocking us all as if that dynamite had just exploded in the room. I have come to believe that the Gospel is not only dynamite, but that this dynamite, this power, is Christ Himself.
God delivers salvation to me on the lips of another. When the preacher preaches Christ, an explosion occurs, and that explosion is Christ Himself coming to me in that Gospel and changing the reality of the world, my world. My world is changed because all that is old, dirty, rotten, decaying, and corroded in me is made new when the Lamb of God is brought to me, personally forgiving me through the preaching of the Gospel that is Christ. This is what it means to hand over the goods.
So, to all of you pastors out there, if you are willing to take some preaching advice from a lowly layman who certainly does not fully understand what it means to live in your shoes, please take some of that advice now. Preach Christ, not about Christ. It is the difference between a history lesson which may contain the details of the Gospel message, and handing over the Lamb of God, the Christ, to me. You never know, I may be in one of your pews on Sunday morning, and trust me, I need that forgiveness as often as I can get it.