The Importance of Sound Theological Training for Continued Orthodoxy in Our Midst
Sermon by Pastor Edward J. Worley
on II Timothy 2:2
preached at the Seminary Graduation Service, June 1, 2014
My dearly belovéd hearers of God’s clear and sure Word, especially our two graduates Daniel and David:
Orthodoxy, correct preaching and practice based on God’s Word alone, was the norm of the New Testament church at the very beginning as the Book of Acts records: “They continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (2:42). But, sad to say, the world, the devil, and the sinful flesh immediately attacked this confessional unity. As the Lord Jesus Himself foretold, false teachers arose to deceive. The solicitude of the Apostle is recorded in Acts 20, together with prophetic warning: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (vv. 28-31). The God-ordained standard of orthodoxy has always been attacked from within and without, but the will of God is clear — Maintain orthodoxy at all costs, by the gracious Spirit of God through His Word: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10).
In our text for this graduation service we shall hear the concrete method God has ordained for that vital end. Consider in your heart and mind: The Importance of Sound Theological Training for Continued Orthodoxy in Our Midst. Our two main points are these: I. Our gracious Lord and Savior commands us to receive His Word as the absolute, settled truth of God and to deposit orthodoxy in teaching and practice to faithful teachers. II. Our gracious Lord and Savior commands these faithful teachers to continue to teach and practice orthodoxy by training more faithful teachers for future generations, thereby acting as God’s instruments who use His Word alone to maintain true orthodoxy in our midst.
Let us pray: Dear Lord and Savior, we thank Thee that Thou hast granted us open ears and receptive hearts to receive Thy Word, not as the word of men but as it is in truth the Word of God, Thy Word, which effectually works also in believers (I Thessalonians 2:13). We also give Thee all praise and credit for Thy gracious blessing upon all those involved in our seminary program, to allow for two new candidates for the pastoral office lest any of our congregations lack a faithful shepherd’s leading, feeding and protecting. We especially commend Daniel and David to Thy care for whatever future work Thou shalt call them. Open our hearts this afternoon once again to receive Thy Truth (for “Thy Word is truth”), as we hear Thy Word proclaimed to us with the Spirit sent from on high and always attendant with Thy Word, to work in and through it to our benefit and Thy glory. In Thy saving Name, blesséd Redeemer, we pray. Amen.
Our text, once again, is II Timothy 2:2: “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle begins: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, which is our hope — unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies which minister questions rather than Godly edifying which is in faith, so do” (1:1-4). Already what the Apostle predicted in Ephesus, as we heard in the sermon introduction, was happening. “Other doctrine” being taught is the very opposite of God’s doctrine. It is, quite literally, “heterodoxy,” false doctrine and practice! Our little Conference began in response to persistent error in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, as our founders followed God’s express word: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18). The history of our Conference from the Orthodox Lutheran Conference through the present Concordia Lutheran Conference is also a history of various attempts from within and without by heterodox teachers to end orthodoxy in our midst.
Orthodoxy is the God-given, God-ordained, God-maintained status of the teaching and preaching, the doctrine and practice, of the Concordia Lutheran Conference. Today most think this is a nonexistent, delusionary position. Even within many so-called Lutheran churches, Pilate’s sarcastic question, “What is truth?” is the motto of those who have long abandoned any true belief that the Bible is the plenary, inerrant and infallible, clear and sufficient, very Word of God, the only source and norm for doctrine and practice. In this very sanctuary, we once had a now-former-brother pastor publicly announce that his doctrine and practice had not one Bible passage to support it, and that he would, on that basis, maintain that we were “heterodox” while admitting that we were not “wrong.” What??!!
When someone challenges our orthodox teaching and practice, we are very happy to show them God’s work in our midst – His clear and irrefutable proof. We invite our own people, yea, demand it of them, as well as of all others, to do exactly what the Bereans did when the Apostle preached and taught in their midst: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Timothy had been given the same standard, the only standard, from a child: “That from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:15-17 ). Timothy was told by the Apostle: “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men” (II Timothy 2:1-2a). Over and over again, Timothy had heard God’s Word from the Apostle. Many witnesses joined the Apostle in reiterating the same. All spoke “as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11). Everything they said was God’s Truth, God’s Word. Earlier the Apostle had said virtually the same thing in these words of exhortation: “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 1:13).
Mark well how these God-given, spiritually healthy and life-giving words are to be held fast: “In faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” God-wrought Christian faith, a faith which works by love to Christ for our full, free salvation in His perfect righteousness imputed to us and His sin-cleansing blood absolving us — this saving faith alone, and the manifestation of it in love because He first loved us, is how we hold fast. Without true faith, orthodoxy cannot be maintained — it is impossible! The two graduates before you this afternoon have, like young Timothy in our text, heard the form of sound words from their birth, having been made wise unto salvation by the washing of water by God’s Word, Holy Baptism. Now after years of training as lay-people they have been given a formal seminary training. They have continually prayed, meditated upon God’s Word, and have been tested in and through God’s Word. They have even been “field tested” in a limited way by practical pastoral work in our congregations. Our Conference, through the efforts of the professors and the members of its Committee on Theological Education, have trained them to be orthodox in teaching and practice, under God’s rich grace and blessing, without whom we can do nothing at all (John 15:5).
We do not certify them as candidates of the reverend ministry for any other reason than this: God has revealed them to be “faithful men.” We have committed the doctrine and practice of orthodoxy to them just as it was committed to us by others. It is a deposit, a treasure, a gift from God for which we must answer, and for which they must answer, as stewards and caretakers. They have been found “faithful” solely by God’s grace in Christ. Both Daniel and David fully confess the truth which all faithful men confess in the words of the Apostle: “Such trust have we through Christ to God-ward, not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God, who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament” (II Corinthians 3:4-6a). Although they are only candidates for the Holy Ministry at this point in time, they are ready, by God’s sufficient grace, to do the work faithfully, supplied with faith and love through the means of grace in Christ Jesus.
Chiefly they will rightly divide the Word of Truth, Law and Gospel. Nothing is more important to the salvation of souls! They will teach and preach the Law, applying it in all its fierceness and bitterness to reveal this fact to every heart: Each of us is a damned sinner, lost and eternally condemned before the Holy Lord God because of our hereditary guilt and depravity and because of our sinful life. They will apply the Law to blast away any spiritual “self-help,” any work-righteousness, any hope in man’s own merit or supposed “goodness.” They will tell to all the truth that devastates: “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one …For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23).
Once this message of death and damnation holds sway, these faithful men will then proclaim the free, full, unconditional Gospel to the salvation of souls! They will declare the work of their Savior, the God-Man, the Christ. They will announce the gracious justification of God’s heart, based on the active and passive work of Jesus in the place of the entire fallen race! They will assure penitent sinners of their gifted status before God in Christ: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). They will preach the Gospel in all its truth and certainty this way: “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell. And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in Heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight” (Colossians 1:19-22).
Faithful men feed, lead and protect those over whom they are given charge by the Holy Ghost through the Divine Call of a Christian congregation by holding fast to the truth, Law and Gospel, and by teaching the whole counsel of God which supports and confirms those two chief doctrines. By God’s grace, in faith and love supplied by the Gospel, Daniel and David will do this – thanks be to God!
They will also be enabled by God to do what Jude speaks of: “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called: Mercy unto you, and peace and love be multiplied. Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 1-4). Who are those enemies? They are those whom the Apostle Paul mentions to Timothy in I Timothy 6: “If any man teach otherwise and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness. From such withdraw thyself” (vv. 3-5). Daniel and David are to fight against such heretics, unmoved by the fear or favor of men. And we need still others to stand with them in this battle! Without the support of our laymen, we fight a losing battle! Without other men willing to join the fight by becoming pastors, we will see our ranks depleted as our old pastors go to be with Christ in death. We need new students now brethren!
We need to do with others in the future what we have done with these two young men in the past: Commit the Word to faithful men “who shall be able to teach others also.” How often in Holy Writ we find that the initial response of those whom God wanted to serve Him as teachers, as witnesses, as testifiers, as leaders, contained excuses which began “I can’t…,” rather than the words of the Apostle Paul, written by inspiration of God, the words which do apply, under God’s grace: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). Are you sitting here saying “I can’t”? When I first was asked as an 8th grade confirmand, to consider the pastoral ministry, I joined, in one mind, the long list of excuse-givers like Moses, Jeremiah, Amos and Peter. But, by the grace of God, as did each of them, and Daniel and David as well, I “got over myself” and was taught of God the proper response, the response of faith: “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). This lesson is to be relearned each and every day!
For continued orthodoxy in our midst, God must raise up more men of God on a continuous basis. We are truly thankful to have these two men now available for the most blesséd work on earth. God has made them qualified and apt to teach. God shall continue, through His Word of grace, to keep them so for the sake of the blood-bought souls whom Jesus will commit to their charge through the Divine Call of His Holy Spirit to the pastorate of a Christian congregation.
Finally, I want all of us to think for a moment about what a wonderful thing God has done for us, as is so evident today. I think back to my last day of college — the day I quit. I had just told my Greek professor goodbye; and he, looking at me with sad eyes, said, “Where will you go? Who will train you? What you are looking for died out in the 17th Century! You were born in the wrong time in history!” My response was simple: “If God wants me to be a pastor, He will provide a way!” Belovéd “Danny” and “Davey,” God provided a way for me; and He has proved Himself faithful to all of us in providing a way for you — this exact way: “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2).
God be praised in Christ Jesus now and ever! “And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). Amen!
Soli Deo Gloria!