Though most do not see it, we as believers in the 21st century are in grave danger because pastors and church members fail to hold fast to Christ and His Word. What follows are just a few of the dangers currently threatening churches and believers.
1) Mixed-up priorities — Each and every one of us is a sinner, and we will die in our sins and be condemned to hell if we neglect the salvation God offers and gives through the promises of His Word and Sacraments; and yet we pay little heed. We neglect God’s Word and we fail to partake of His Sacraments.
a) This is evident in that sporting events, shopping centers, entertainment venues, and even doctor’s offices are full but churches in which the truth of God’s Word is proclaimed are empty. This reveals how so many see little need or benefit from the care and nourishment of their souls.
b) Jesus called upon sinners to repent and believe the gospel of forgiveness and life in His name (Mark 1:14-15; 16:15-16). He said in John 8:24: “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins. For unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
2) We take sin lightly — both pastors and church members fail to recognize the dangers of sin. Those calling themselves Christians continue to live in open and willing disobedience to God’s Word, recorded for all to read in the Bible, and pastors say nothing even though the end result is death, spiritual and eternal.
a) The Bible warns in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, and you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus by the Spirit of our God.”
b) Hebrews 10:26-31 says: “For if we willfully continue to sin after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation, which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who despised Moses’ law died without mercy in the presence of two or three witnesses. How much more severe a punishment do you suppose he deserves, who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded the blood of the covenant that sanctified him to be a common thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine,’ says the Lord, ‘I will repay.’ And again He says, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
3) Both pastors and people underestimate the enemy. We are opposed by the devil, the world, and even by our own flesh. Yet, we are willing, even delighted, to dabble in sin — to hear and spread gossip, to view sexually suggestive images in print or on TV or our electronic devices, to entertain evil thoughts and desires, to give in to the weaknesses of our own flesh or the temptations placed before us by the world.
a) Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober and watchful, because your adversary the devil walks around as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Paul warns in Ephesians 6:12: “For our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Cf. Ephesians 6:10-20.
b) Sin easily deceives and entangles us, and it brings about spiritual death and damnation. The writer to the Hebrews says, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). James includes this warning in his epistle, in chapter one, verses 13-15: “Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil; neither does He tempt anyone. But each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. Then, when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin; and when sin is finished, it brings forth death.”
c) Our own flesh is corrupted by sin and deceives us, as Jeremiah writes in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is more deceitful than all things and desperately wicked.” Our flesh desires and longs to indulge in sinful pleasures. Paul describes its corruptness in these words: “Now the works of the flesh are revealed, which are these: adultery, sexual immorality, impurity, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, rage, selfishness, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I previously warned you, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
4) Pastors fail to preach against sin as sin and warn of the consequences of sin, that their hearers might repent and take comfort in the Gospel. Pastors and churches say nothing against (and sometimes even endorse) such things as fornication, adultery, homosexuality, same-sex marriages, transgenderism, drunkenness, drug abuse, gossip, etc., etc., etc.
a) Pastors are to administer the office of the keys, forgiving the sins of penitent sinners and retaining the sins of the impertinent as long as they do not repent. This means that pastors are to rebuke as sin all that the Bible calls sin, and pastors are to proclaim God’s promise of pardon and forgiveness to all who repent and look to God for mercy in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His Son. Jesus said to His apostles in John 20:21-23: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As My Father has sent Me, even so I send you.’ When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of anyone, they are retained.’” Cf. 1 John 1:3ff.
b) Pastors are responsible for warning God’s flock when they fall into sin or error. In the book of Ezekiel, in chapter three, we read these words: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel. Whenever you hear the word from My mouth, then warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you do not warn him, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you warn the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity. But you have delivered your soul” (v. 17-19; read v. 16-27)).
5) Pastors fail to preach the promises of the Gospel to penitent sinners that they might hear and take comfort in the forgiveness, pardon, and life eternal won for them by the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross (cf. 1 John 2:1-2). So often because pastors fail to preach against sin and its consequences, they also fail to preach Christ crucified as the only hope for sinful people. Pastors sometimes prescribe human works and efforts as a solution to sin, leading to utter failure. And, sometimes, pastors, fail to offer any Gospel comfort at all, leaving troubled souls to despair. We have an example of this failure in the words of the chief priests and elders of Israel to Judas after he recognized his sin in betraying Jesus (Matthew 27:3-6): “When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? You must see to that.’ So he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed. And he went and hanged himself.”
6) Both pastors and Christians imagine that they can preserve and maintain their own faith apart from the regular hearing of God’s Word and reception of the Sacraments. Yet, the Bible clearly tells us:
a) “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17); and “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. As it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).
b) St. Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-17: “But continue in the things that you have learned and have been assured of, knowing those from whom you have learned them, and that since childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through the faith that is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Paul commands Timothy as a pastor to: “Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
c) Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us exhort one another, especially as you see the Day approaching.”
7) We neglect to encourage one another with God’s Word and pray for one another. Yet God’s Word urges us:
a) “Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much” (Hebrews 10:25).
b) “Brothers, if a man is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, watching yourselves, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2; cf. Matthew 18:15-18).
c) “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).
In summary, we Christian pastors and church members need to wake up and get serious about God and the teaching of His Word. We need to acknowledge our own sinfulness and weakness and be aware of the constant threats against our souls coming from without through the devil and others around us in the world, as well as from within because of our own sin-corrupted hearts. We need to cling to the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the right administration of the Sacraments that we might continue to repent of our sins and take comfort in the Gospel of forgiveness and life through faith in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for the sins of all upon the cross.
Hold fast to Christ Jesus and to the true teaching of His Word!
Pastor Randy Moll
Good Shepherd Ev. Lutheran Church in Rogers, Ark.
[Scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]