—by Gunnar Anderson
Translated by Bror Erickson
“One gathers an audience instead of a congregation.” This citation from “God’s Word and Promise” in Bo Giertz’s book Christ’s Church recently drew the attention of the undersigned. In this we hear Bishop Bo Giertz give some perspective on an issue that is no less relevant in our day: what is the church’s call in times of decline?
“All the church’s activities rest in the firm faith that the Word works, and that the Word alone can save . . . nothing but the Word can create a Christian, if the Word does not grab hold of a person neither will anything else help either.”
Giertz also warns of the temptation “to splice in human mediums, where God's Word is not able to help, and seven times woe to her if [the church] was in fear of losing also her last audience tries to keep them by human means, but neglects to preach the word of judgment and grace, clean, clear, and heartfelt.”
The consequence of a person diluting God’s Word with something that is attractive to the old Adam is disastrous. “A man gathers together an audience rather than a congregation. He replaces faith with religious interest.” One binds a man to something other than Christ, writes Giertz, who stresses that this is not meant as a judgment against “the many important attempts to reach those who from pure boredom or under the pressure of a secularized society do not come to hear God’s Word.”
“We must wake up and defend ourselves seriously if God’s Word is not to be drowned in a wave of spiritual entertainment. We must take up the work of the Reformation anew. As before in the Reformation the Word must be retrieved from its humiliation, it has to be preached and received as God’s Word so that it may once again work conversion and life.”
Giertz points out how the word “edification” has to a high degree taken on new meaning and all too often indicates that one has been moved and touched. “The fathers had a completely different requirement for an edifying sermon. It should foster repentance, faith, and sanctification.” This should be the result of it. This result depends on two things: first the sermon must be in harmony with God’s Word; it has to be true. Second, those who hear it have to bow in faith and obedience to the Word that God speaks. Then a person has reason to say “this was edifying, regardless of what one felt or didn’t feel in the wake of the sermon’s delivery.”
It is also worthwhile to remind us not to set the Word and sacraments against each other. Both share in the “stream of life from a different world that breaks forth into this fallen creation.” Giertz writes:
“The Church is therefore obliged to cherish the Word the same as the sacraments. God has given us both, so it is that both are needed. If one neglects preaching, it is an unmistakable sign that he inserts something false to the sacraments. If the sacraments are brushed to the side, it is just as unmistakable that the Word is no longer being received in right manner. In the first case one is usually attempting to dodge God’s judgment and demand for repentance by leaning on the sacraments as if they worked *ex opera operato*, that is, merely through the outer mechanical use. In the latter case, when the sacraments are shoved to the side, it is usually a sign that the Word to has lost its sacramental character: it is no longer received as the living Word of God, that judges and converts, but some sort of philosophy of life that engages one’s thoughts and feelings but not the whole of one’s being and daily life.”
The chapter from which the citation above is taken, as with the whole book, can well be given renewed study. We all have reason to learn from fathers who understood the church’s calling and task. This can cast light and cause examination of our own congregations and help us to see that which must be central in the life of our congregations.
Even if the times change, there are basically two quantities that need to be addressed together. Man in and of himself flees from God. He wants to go his own way and is unwilling to hear God’s Word. At the same time God’s Word is powerful. It continues to have the power to destroy opposition, to convert, forgive sins, and to give new life and true joy in and through Jesus Christ.
[The book Christ’s Church by Bo Giertz can be found in translation by Hans Andrae at any fine Lutheran Bookstore, or on Amazon.com]
Gunnar Anderson is a pastor in the Swedish Missions Province since 2005. He has been pastor at Missionsgården Fridhem in Vännäs since 2014.
As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.
This article was originally published in Kyrka och Folk Nr.19 Maj 2015 92 Årg.