TRUE CHRISTIAN ORTHODOXY
The Key to Church Growth.
In one of his
Lutheran hour sermons, Dr. Walter A. Maier made the following
statement. "When Luther undertook the Reformation of the Church and his
eyes were opened to the fact that in Christ alone, but in Him
completely, every believer has the forgiveness of his sins, it became
his all-consuming object in life to exalt the atoning Savior, to preach
the crucified, sin-destroying Christ, the risen, life-bestowing
Redeemer; and because he humbly dedicated his marvelous mentality and
tireless energies to teach Christ, preach Christ, exalt Christ, write
Christ, sing Christ, love Christ, live Christ, always as God's Son and
the world's Savior, there was not enough power on earth or in hell,
among men and devils, to restrain his work. Nor can the churches today
ever hope to be used of the Spirit in saving men's souls unless they,
too, concentrate their efforts on Jesus." (Walter A. Maier, O GOD
CLEANSE OUR CHURCHES, 1943)
That statement by
Dr. Walter A. Maier gives us a profoundly accurate description of true
Christian orthodoxy. A truly orthodox theologian will devote his
energies to teach Christ, preach Christ, exalt Christ, write Christ,
sing Christ, love Christ, and live Christ, always as God's Son and the
world's Savior. True Christian orthodoxy involves far more than correct
doctrinal formulations. There must also be an orthodoxy of attitude, of
emphasis, of love, of motivation, and of the heart.
Let me make it
clear from the start that I am not talking about some sort of "gospel
reductionism." True orthodoxy will never use Christ as a cloak for
indifference to what the Bible says, nor will it gloss over any
doctrine explicitly stated in God's Word. However, in contrast to false
orthodoxy, true orthodoxy does not attempt to settle every question
left unanswered by God's Word. All attempts to go beyond the Word of
God are a departure from orthodoxy. Am I saying that we cannot take a
stand by pointing out that a proposed answer to a theological question
contradicts what the Bible says? Of course not! True Christian
orthodoxy begins and ends with what the Bible says. However, the
emphasis is on Christ.
orthodoxy is cold and legalistic, true orthodoxy is warm and caring.
While false orthodoxy is weak and defensive, always fearful that
someone might reject one of its precious doctrinal formulations, true
Christian orthodoxy is robust and dynamic, always confident that all
opposition will crumble before the power of the gospel.
Luther has been
accused of keeping too many Catholic customs, however, he did not keep
anything that was contrary to the explicit teaching of God's Word.
Instead he yielded inasmuch as Christian freedom would allow so that
his controversy with Rome might center on the gospel of Jesus Christ. I
give him credit for not allowing himself to be sidetracked. Because
those who opposed him were forced to attack the Gospel rather than side
issues, he had the power of God behind his ministry. Standing firm in
that power, he prevailed where others had not. However, true Christian
orthodoxy is not bound to accept every custom that he accepted, but it
will follow his example of yielding on indifferent matters for the sake
of the Gospel, while being careful not to compromise any of the truths explicitly stated in Scripture.
orthodoxy goes through the motions of preaching, baptizing, confirming,
and communing true Christian orthodoxy earnestly endeavors to see that
every person understands the way of salvation, for such understanding
is vital to the work of the ministry. The very purpose of preaching is
to bring all men to repentance and assurance of God's mercy in Christ,
and Luther had no assurance of salvation until he understood the way of
salvation. Trying to give men assurance of salvation without this
understanding leads them into a false security.
orthodoxy may lead men to conclude that forgiveness is available
through the mere outward performance of a sacramental act, true
Christian orthodoxy makes it clear that "Without faith" the ceremony
"avails nothing" (Martin Luther, L.C.). For even though God uses the
ceremonies of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to give us His promise of
forgiveness in Christ, it is only through "personal faith” in Christ
that we receive what is promised (Walter A. Maier, 1943, Galatians
orthodoxy treats Communism as a political theory and tries to remain
neutral by holding that the Bible does not specify what form the
government should take. True Christian orthodoxy recognizes the fact
that Communism is not a form of government, but a dictatorship
controlled by a secular religion that is hostile to the Gospel.
Therefore, true orthodoxy will condemn and denounce communism as
enthroned blasphemy, as did Dr. Walter A. Maier.
orthodoxy wants to identify with the state; true Christian orthodoxy
forbids the church from entangling itself with the affairs of state
while demanding that the state keep out of the church’s business
(2Corinthians 10:4). The job of the church is to preach the gospel, not
On the other hand,
when false orthodoxy wants the state to be totally secular; true
Christian orthodoxy makes it clear that the Ten Commandments were given
to the state (Moses), not the church (Aaron), and are to be the basis
of political law, not religious law.
orthodoxy sees the legalization of abortion as a moral issue, true
Christian orthodoxy sees it as an attack on the gospel, for those who
promote abortion are denying the infants they kill any chance of ever
hearing the Gospel.
orthodoxy sees the drive to legitimatize homosexuality as a moral
issue, true Christian orthodoxy sees it as an attack on the Gospel, for
those who justify homosexuality harden the hearts of homosexuals, and
so send them to hell.
orthodoxy elevates tradition [i. e. man-made explanations of the Bible,
Mark 7:8-13] to the status of doctrine, demanding that everyone accept
its explanation of the Bible as the correct explanation, true Christian
orthodoxy makes those truths that are explicitly stated in God's Word
the standard of faith, and insists on conformity to that standard
orthodoxy produces outward conformity, true Christian orthodoxy
produces conviction. It produces conviction by zealously proclaiming
the Gospel, by diligently leading people to understand the way of
salvation and look to Christ for mercy, by taking what the Bible says
seriously, and by refusing to look for revelation outside of Scripture
(John 8:31). It was the truth of Scripture that filled Luther's heart
with joy and changed him from a trembling sinner into a confident
orthodoxy may claim to properly distinguish between law and gospel,
true Christian orthodoxy understands that the law is God's Word of
warning to the unrepentant, while the Gospel is His Word of comfort to
all who repent. The law shows us our need of God’s grace, while the
gospel assures us of God’s grace. The law was given to convince the
lost that it is impossible to please God apart from Christ, while the
Gospel was given so that all who acknowledge their sin might be
justified through faith in Him.
orthodoxy sees secular schools and universities as non-religious, true
Christian orthodoxy recognizes them as temples of anti-Christian
humanism, and, in many cases, seminaries of hell. Far from being
neutral, they are usually hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If the Gospel can
be likened to a great net that has the power to bring souls into God's
kingdom, then those who follow false orthodoxy might be likened to the
disciples who labored all night and yet caught nothing (Luke 5:5). They
catch little because they fail to see that opaque theological
terminology and lifeless presentation can hide the Gospel just as
effectively as false doctrine. They catch nothing because they assume
that the Gospel will be just as effective whether they pray for God to
help them reach souls or not. In contrast, those who are truly orthodox
know that prayer is vital to effective soul winning (Psalm 126:6, Luke
10:2). The net that the disciples used always had power to bring in
fish, but it only brought in a great multitude of fish when God worked
with the disciples to make their efforts effective (Luke 5:5-7).
Likewise the Gospel always has power to bring men to salvation, but the
great multitudes of converts come when God is working with men who are
truly orthodox. This was true at Pentecost, it was true at the
Reformation, and it was true with the preaching of Dr. Walter A. Maier.
I was only four
years old when I first heard Dr. Maier preach, but I have never
forgotten how his words gripped my heart and burned themselves into my
soul. That is why I am sickened by the fact that sanctimonious
clergymen would rather ignore him than emulate him, and would rather
find fault with him than admit that he had an orthodoxy they lacked. I
am also sickened by the fact that I see little evidence of true
orthodoxy in the world today. Lacking true orthodoxy, Reformation
churches have become lukewarm and I believe that God is using
liberalism to spew them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16).
I would like to see
every pastor read and study Dr. Walter A. Maier's sermons, learn from
exposure to the true orthodoxy he championed, and strive to emulate his
commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Churches that are committed
to the gospel have no need to hide their colors behind a generic name
in order to get a hearing or gain members, for God will be actively
using them to reach a lost and dying world.
Gary Ray Branscome