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.

    While false 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.

     While false 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.

    While false 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 3:22)

    While false 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.

    When false 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 legislate morality.

    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.

    While false 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.

    While false 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.

    While false 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 (Isaiah 8:20).

    While false 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 believer.

    Although false 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.

    While false 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. (Mark 16:20)

    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