by Matthew C. Harrison
“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:20–25).
It’s getting more difficult. From where I sit, I see the external challenges put to the LCMS all over the nation and the world. The geopolitical issues raise challenging, even dangerous problems as we work to place missionaries, send our seminary theologians into far-flung areas, work with our global schools, assist our many partner churches and their dozens of seminaries, and so on. Governments dominated by anti-Christian religions or wokeism, communism or socialism of an anti-Christian bent make the work of preaching Christ crucified ever more challenging and complex. Global and instant communication means an offhand online remark by a well-meaning person can have intense and direct consequences for the work of the Gospel half a world away. The fraudulent inquiries and stories we receive by the hundreds and thousands seeking to defraud the LCMS and her congregations come fast and heavy. At the same time, we also receive many genuine inquiries and contacts from people who seek real blessings and to be a blessing to us.
In the years I’ve served, the national debate went from whether or not states would allow same-sex marriage to the imposition of the same by the Supreme Court. Then things turned immediately and forcefully to the transgender issues, prepubescent sex change procedures and all related matters.
We could not have dreamed of a 4,000% increase in the number of young people who identify as transgender. We knew the same-sex marriage issue would quickly move to states regulating or denying traditional, biblical views of sex and marriage. But now, whether the U.S. military, the Department of Education or the EPA, the entire government has put its full force against natural law and the biblical teaching of sex and marriage. That means any place our congregations, schools, universities and agencies interact with the state and federal government, we are scrutinized and even threatened.
I hear from our LCMS folks across the nation. Many walk on eggshells because of their “woke” workplaces. LCMS public school teachers and board members struggle daily. I met one the other day who felt like she was just a finger in the dam holding back a flood of unbiblical nonsense from a school board in a small community. Our precious children and grandchildren are educated in a sea of confusion. And when we proclaim the age-old biblical message for all: “Repent and believe the Gospel!” we are told, “You can’t say that!”
And it’s going to get worse. Jesus said it would prior to His return (Luke 21:28).
This virulent onslaught is not new. Our preaching of Christ crucified has always been “a stumbling block,” “folly,” “foolishness” and “weakness” to the non-Christian world (1 Cor. 1:20–25). So be it.
Right in the middle of the darkness, there beams a bright, unquenchable light. Right in the wreckage of sin, death and devil; right in the heart of the confusion, mental illness, delusion, addiction, depression, suicide; right in the face of all the opposition the world can throw against Christ; right where the world laughs in scorn at a dead God on a cross; right where hopelessness devours the multitudes and atheism dangles its nihilistic charades and shouts, “There’s no God! Your Christ’s a joke!”; right where consciences burdened so deep by lives contrary to the law of God scream the opposite of what they know to be true; right then and there we proclaim: Christ is risen. Alleluia! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
We preach Christ crucified. For you. Are you a sinner? Join us! “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Christ came for sinners. Join us sinners. Want forgiveness? Want peace? Want life? Want a community that loves you? Join us.
I look at all the world’s rage as a wonderful affirmation of the “foolish” Gospel we preach. God in the flesh died in our place. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). All the hassles, all the legal challenges, the threats, that rage against orthodox churches and Christians, all the governments that are intimidated by this “foolishness” are nothing but confirmation of the glorious power of this blessed, simple Gospel of Christ. On a cross “God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).
The darker the world, the brighter the Gospel. The more depressing the sermon of the world is, the more precious becomes the preaching of our beloved pastors. The more public schools are devoid of natural law and God’s Ten Commandments, the more brilliant and brighter is the necessary option of our parochial preschools, grade schools, high schools and universities. The more vacuous the philosophies of the world are, the more magnificent the seminary training of our pastors is. The more the world is beset with unforgiveness, anger and confusion, the more our homes — imperfect though they be — are a blessed haven and influence for Christ for our children and all who come near. The more the world chews up and spits out its own and leaves them bruised and dying, the more our congregations — tiny or huge and all in-between — are places of refuge, places for all people, places for sinners, called to repentance and given Jesus.
Make no mistake, opportunities still abound for the Gospel. If it were not so, Christ would end the world this moment. Half the counties in America have no LCMS congregation. Your congregation is a tiny outpost in a rural or inner-city situation, where you sing “This little light of mine” with gusto. You have a vocation. “Pastor, I’ll invite ’em to church. You give ’em Jesus.” Odds look long? “We preach Christ crucified.” Can’t get much more “foolishness” or “folly” than that. Christ is risen. Alleluia! But He still works through lowly words, water, bread and wine, a humble pastor, a congregation of sinners all, a mom, a dad, a grandparent, a child. You.
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20). The cross is the power and wisdom of God.