August 2019

The Messenger Supplement



Galatians 4 :16


“There is no real joy in this world except that which the Word brings when it is believed.”

[Luther’s Works 4:4]

My seminary classmate and friend, Jon Richard Nelson, underscored this verse for me. It asks the church this damning rhetorical question – “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” It has a faint echo in Colonel Jessup’s famous line in the movie A Few Good Men (1992) – “You can’t handle the truth!” Martin Luther stressed it also in his two commentaries on Galatians – “If I did not love you intensely as my own children,… I would not scold you so severely….

In the world, of course, it is extremely common that the truth arouses hatred and that someone who tells the truth is regarded as an enemy” (Luther’s Works 26:423). Then, he adds, this shouldn’t happen “among Christians.” In his other commentary he notes that Biblical truth is “harsh” (LW 27:305). Nevertheless, he goes on to say that this verse about harsh truth is a “beautiful example of teaching the truth” for it inflicts “the wound in such a way that you also know how to alleviate and heal it…. Thus God, too, puts lightning into the rain and breaks up gloomy clouds and a dark sky into fruitful showers.” Søren Kierkegaard believed this too, writing in his Christian Discourses (1847) – “Use all of the ability granted to you… to win people – but woe to you if you win them in such a way that you leave out the terror” (KW 17:175).

        From this I’ve learned the importance of seeing lightning, or terror, as well as fruitful showers, in every Bible verse I’ve ever taught about or preached on. So if you’ve been upset with me for being that way, blame Saint Paul, Jon Nelson, Luther and Kierkegaard.

        This harsh truth is so difficult because it avoids “paltry things” and instead “jabs the soul” with “hard knots” (LW 23:402, 12:225, 21:62). Like what? Only Jesus saves us from the wrath of God (Acts 4:12, John 14:6, Romans 5:9). The love of money is evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Only the Lord’s Supper grants life (John 6:53). Faith is a fight (1 Timothy 6:12). We should think more highly of others than of ourselves (Philippians 2:3). And hell is horrible and lasts forever and most go there (Matthew 22:14, 25:46). Harsh, indeed!

Pastor Marshall




He and his family were prominent members of the church.  He even helped me move a hundred boxes of books into the parsonage when I first arrived.  And his family welcomed me into their home on many occasions.  Later he was unfortunately involved  in the largest known swindle in our church history – funneling off, with impunity, over fifteen thousand dollars for sinister purposes.

   Quit Publishing Or Your Fired!


     But on that day it was just the two of us – the only time we ever had such a conversation. He wanted to talk about firing me. There were many at the time who wanted to do that – about forty percent of the congregation. He wanted me to know that he was joining them unless I quit publishing the new synodical newsletter, certus sermo (see I asked him if he thought there were false statements in it. He smiled. No, it was instead a matter of it making me so controversial that no other church would ever want me and so our church would be stuck with me forever. I told him I couldn’t quit publishing it as long as I was able to because it was all about Word & Sacrament ministry to which I was bound by my ordination vows to God. Did he want me to jeopardize my soul by breaking my vows? Again he smiled; told me I had been warned; and left. We never talked about any of this again. After the last of five votes to fire me had failed, he left the church.

     From this I learned that Word & Sacrament ministry has been pushed off to the edge of the church. No longer does it determine ministry in Lutheran churches in America – if it ever did. What has replaced it? Probably some form of social engineering – wherein the church changes its environment to get more people in. So easy, entertaining sermons and silly music are thought to bring more people in, and so on. But this is not the Biblical way of offense (Matthew 11:6, John 6:61). May Martin Luther’s words guide us instead: “We do not seek the favor of men by our teaching…. For we teach that all men are wicked; we condemn… whatever is best in the world. In other words, we say that there is nothing in us that can deserve grace and the forgiveness of sins. But we proclaim that we receive this grace solely… by the free mercy of God…. This is not preaching that gains favor from men and from the world…. For if we denounce men and all their efforts, it is inevitable that we quickly encounter bitter hatred [and] condemnation” (LW 26:58).

Pastor Marshall