Sermon Preached at the Service of Convocation for the 66th Annual Convention
Sixty-sixth Annual Convention
by Pastor David T. Mensing, Conference President
Convention Motto Text: John 17:17
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the only Savior and gracious Head of His Church, “the Author and Finisher of our faith,” dearly beloved delegates and visitors to our Conference Convention —fellow-hearers of His most wonderful Word:
This coming September we mark the sixty-sixth anniversary of our existence as a conference of orthodox Lutheran congregations. Our roots as a church body go back to the founding of the Orthodox Lutheran Conference in Okabena, Minnesota, on September 26, 1951, when a group of pastors and laymen withdrew from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in obedience to the Word of God in Romans 16:17 because of that body’s persistent adherence to error in doctrine and/or practice in clear violation of Holy Writ. It was for this reason that the Orthodox Lutheran Conference chose as its seal and official logo the simple design affixed to our pulpit this morning which states in the simplest of terms the status controversiae or bone of contention that made our continuation as members of the Missouri Synod impossible. Because of their persistent adherence to unscriptural doctrine and practice contrary to the Word of God and their refusal to hear and to heed the correction of God Himself in His Word, the synodical officials demonstrably denied the principle that Holy Scripture is inerrant, that is, without error, and therefore the only source and standard of Christian doctrine and practice.
The seal of the Conference set forth two simple sedes doctrinae or Bible prooftexts which go to the motto of this year’s convention. The first is the “one little word” (Luther) used by our Savior to address and defeat Satan’s temptation in the wilderness (Matthew chapter 4): gevgraptai in the Greek, which simply means, “It is written,” and the words of the Lord Jesus in our text, addressed to His heavenly Father: “Thy Word is truth.” The words, “It is written,” go to the fact that the principle or attribute of inerrancy is not only found IN Scripture but is an attribute OF Scripture itself. And the Savior’s words, “Thy Word is truth,” define what inerrancy IS. God’s Word is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It contains NO ERRORS. And it is this attribute of Holy Scripture that makes it authoritative, infallible, clear, efficacious and all-sufficient for the Christian’s faith and life.
And so we consider on the basis of the text before us this morning, the motto of our convention:
The Inerrancy of Holy Scripture
both (I) in its essence and (II) in its application.
With Pontius Pilate and all religious skeptics, including all so-called “modernists” who deny the inerrancy of Scripture, we hear the oft-repeated challenge: “What is truth?” …as if no one can be sure of anything, and that God Himself is incapable of “the truth” — whatever the truth IS! Satan played that card when he tempted Eve to question God’s Word and to speculate as to whether He really meant what He said. “Yea, hath God said?” Did God really say that in the first place; and did God really threaten Adam and Eve with death for defying His prohibition against eating a piece of fruit?? The devil, Jesus tells us, “abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Eve bought into his blatant lie and, together with Adam, her willing accomplice, brought sin and death into the world, creating the greatest tragedy ever to befall the human race. And religious skeptics, secular humanists, and theological modernists, governed as they are by their perverse sinful flesh which exalts itself above God and above all that is worshiped, perpetuate Satan’s lie and deny “the truth” of God’s Word. Jesus declared in His prayer to the Father: “Thy Word is truth.” “God is not a man that He should lie,” the Bible tells us. “Hath He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19).
In their essence, the Old Testament Scriptures, “Moses and the prophets” (Luke 16:29, 31), are replete with the words: “Thus saith the Lord.” The Lord Himself was doing the talking, whether the Father, the Son (also called “the Angel of the Lord”), or the Holy Spirit, or the entire Trinitarian Godhead …God was speaking. The writer to the Hebrews testifies: “GOD, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). It was GOD’s Word. And it was “the truth.”
God in the Scriptures stated “[His] truth” regarding fallen mankind that “they are all gone aside; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doth good, no, not one!” (Psalm 14:4). God stated “[His] truth” regarding His just punishment for sinful mankind, saying: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die!” Throughout the entire Old Testament, our truthful God was consistent in His judgment and condemnation of sin and of sinners according to His justice; and throughout the entire New Testament, our truthful God was consistent in His judgment and condemnation of sin and sinners according to His justice: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God!” (Romans 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death” (6:23). “[His] Word” — the pronouncement of His Law — “is [the] truth!” And the Lord Jesus, who is true God, “begotten of the Father from eternity,” is likewise truthful and consistent in the proclamation of the Law: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish!” (Luke 13:3). “He that believeth not shall be damned!” (Mark 16:16). God’s Word, Holy Scripture, is the “truth” that inerrantly and consistently condemns sin and the sinner without the slightest equivocation when it sets forth God’s Law and proclaims His justice.
God in the Scriptures also stated “[His] truth” regarding His mercy toward fallen mankind in Christ, the Redeemer of men, the Propitiation who satisfied His justice in man’s place: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6). God stated “[His] truth” regarding the Redeemer’s vicarious atonement, namely, that “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Throughout the entire Old Testament, our truthful God was consistent in His Gospel pronouncements made possible by the Redeemer: “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine… for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior!” (Isaiah 43:1 and 3). And throughout the entire New Testament, our truthful God was consistent in His Gospel promises, in “the Word of Reconciliation” that He committed to us: “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord!” (Luke 2:10), “…the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “He died for all!” (II Corinthians 5:15). “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (5:19), “for He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (v. 21). “And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world!” (I John 2:2) …“being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). “[His] Word” —the pronouncement of His Gospel — “is [the inerrant] truth!” The essence of the Holy Scriptures is “[His inerrant] Word” of “truth” to which the Lord, our truthful God would have us come, that we might believe and be saved, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). It is the inerrant, immutable, true and living “Word of our God [which] shall stand forever,” (Isaiah 40:8; cf. I Peter 1:25), the Word of His heavenly Father which our Savior Himself validates in our text, the Word which He calls “MY Word” in John 8:31-32, the Word which He was sent to proclaim as our Divine Prophet, as He testified to Pilate, saying: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth MY voice” (John 18:37).
But the inerrancy of Holy Scripture in its essence is not an end unto itself. For the Lord Jesus prays in our text on behalf of His disciples: “Sanctify them through Thy truth.” It is the inerrancy of Holy Scripture in its application through which the Father in Heaven, by the agency of the Holy Ghost, accomplishes that which He pleases by prospering His Word of truth “in the thing whereto [He] sent it” (Isaiah 55:11), namely, for the salvation of mankind.
“Sanctify” means to “make holy,” to set apart as righteous from those who are spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God by nature all those whom “He hath chosen in [Christ] before the foundation of the world that [they] should be holy and without blame before Him in love…” (Ephesians 1:4). The means whereby this transformation, this conversion, is accomplished is God’s Word of Truth… the truth of His Law in all its fierceness which indicts every human being by nature, saying: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God!” (Romans 3:23), the Law which condemns to hell “everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the Law to do them” (Galatians 3:10), the Law that “like a hammer breaketh the rock (of man’s perverse, unbelieving heart) in pieces” (Jeremiah 23:29), that renders it “a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17). For the Apostle Paul confesses: “I had not known sin but by the Law” (Romans 7:7) …O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (v. 24).
And then the Gospel truth, “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), “doth enter in, the sinful soul to quicken,” we sing with the hymnwriter (Speratus, TLH 377,8), as the Holy Ghost, by means of the sweet good news of the Gospel, brings the cringing penitent, the wretched, unworthy, ungodly malefactor by nature, terror-stricken by the Word of God’s wrath — brings him “everlasting consolation and good hope through grace” (II Thessalonians 2:16). “Fear not!” (Luke 2:10). “Be not affrighted!” (Mark 16:6). “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us; for it is written [in the inerrant Word of our God]: ‘Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13). This is the Gospel truth, “to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the Word of Reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:19). Therefore “he that believeth on Him is not condemned” (John 3:18). Thus the Holy Ghost, through the Gospel, brings us to faith in Christ and imparts to us the blessings of redemption: Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation as the gift of God to the undeserving “without (totally apart from) the deeds of the Law” (Romans 3:28). If this were not the truth, we would be of all men most miserable!!
God the Father then, through the agency of the Holy Ghost, again by means of His Truth, renews our hearts, so that, motivated by the Gospel and out of gratitude for His grace, we are enabled to overcome sin and do good works in conformity with God’s Law as the evidence of our faith. Thus, saved by grace alone through faith, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10), not to merit God’s grace but to praise His grace.
And finally, in the application of the inerrant Holy Scriptures, we are preserved in the true faith by His truth as we “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18), as we “hear [His] voice” and “follow [Him]” (John 10:27) “in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). “And no man [no one, not even Satan himself] shall pluck [us] out of His hand” (John 10:28) or “out of [His] Father’s hand” (v. 29), Jesus assures us.
Beloved brethren, think of where we would be spiritually — in darkness and in the shadow of death, of how uncertain we would be — not knowing for sure about our justification by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, and how hopeless of real anticipation of the glory that shall be revealed in us — if it were not for the inerrant truth of Holy Scripture, the Word of God, “which liveth and abideth forever” (I Peter 1:25), the Word through which we have been sanctified as God’s children because of the merit and mediation of Christ Jesus, our dear Savior! We gratefully thank Him, our Divine Priest, for His vicarious sacrifice which paid the penalty of our guilt, for His righteousness in which we are clothed by faith, and for His efficacious prayer on OUR behalf to His heavenly Father: “Sanctify them through Thy truth. Thy Word is truth!” May we all, as those who are thus sanctified, no longer live unto ourselves but unto Him who died for us and rose again to the praise of His grace and in gratitude for His truth! Amen.
Soli Deo gloria!