Mr. Bueckert, we have done a second analysis, this time on your sermon on the great commandment. Once again, by reading our notes, you have access to our discussion of your ministerial efforts. We’re hoping that you are open to having your teaching tested by what the word of God reveals concerning our approach to God’s law.
Mr. Bueckert, Red Deer Bible Baptist, August 2, 2009, Thou Shalt Love the Lord thy God.
Summary: Turn to Mark 12.28-34. There’s more to learn about this topic than what I presently know. Our understanding of this topic is a work in progress. (He reads the passage, then prays.) This man asked a question because he wanted an answer, not because he had an agenda. He asks, ‘Which is the greatest commandment of all?’ We agree with the Lord’s answer. The Lord’s answers are very brief. It should be the same with us. All we can do is give a Bible answer. The Lord gives a Bible answer. (He quotes the text.) This is a commandment. I’m supposed to do that, to ‘love the Lord with all thy heart, all thy soul, all thy mind, all thy strength.’ God does not want to compete for our affection. The relationship we have with the Lord compares nicely to the relationship that we have as husbands and wives. There is no room for anyone else. The thought has never crossed my mind. I love my wife with all my heart. Loving the Lord with all my heart doesn’t stop me from having a healthy marriage. But if it comes time to choose between the Lord and my wife, the Lord wins hands down. If you love someone more than you love the Lord, you won’t love in a healthy way. The heart is where love springs from. It speaks of the deep part of our being. We should not love superficially. And the Bible says, ‘with all thy soul.’ The soul is where life springs from. Loving the Lord with your all leaves room for loving your neighbor. Loving the Lord with all your heart produces love that goes on to do its job in your relationships with people. It enables you to love your neighbor. We can love God and know God just as we do any other personality. And love the Lord with ‘all thy mind.’ So we think on him. If we think upon things that God does not love, that is to have a spiritual affair with the world. And loving the Lord with ‘all thy strength’ involves what we do. God’s love is infinite. Real love reproduces itself. The love of Christ should constrain us. We love him because he first loved us. He does not stop loving us when our love fails. But then he loves us with a grieving heart. If the Israelites were simply to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, this would have taken care of the first four commandments in Exodus 20. The fourth one speaks of the Sabbath. We worship on the first day of the week because it represents the new covenant. We must realize why we do it: the Bible says we must love God. (He goes into a digression about a woman in the church who’s in affliction.) How do we express our love to the Lord? Obey his commandments. ‘Trust and obey; there is no other way.’ How do we express our love? Tell the Lord you love him. Praise him. Worship him. Do your work as unto the Lord. God wants us to work hard. The offerings were for sin; but if we would emphasize loving the Lord with all our heart, the purpose of the burnt offerings wouldn’t be there. This man (in the text) understood. We need to understand. Do we love the Lord with all of our heart? If I keep my priorities right, and love the Lord first, my love for people will be real. “This year the emphasis is on the crucified life.” Some people are humanitarians, but they deny the existence of God. That kind of love will not change anything eternally; in fact, it will destroy the eternity of many people. We need to love the Lord. Do you? Or is your life mostly about yourself? Self-absorption will wear you out. But loving the Lord will empower you. And we need to love our neighbor. Can we do that? Only by his grace—by his Spirit. We just yield ourselves to him. (He finishes with prayer: Only by being a child of God do we have the ability to do it—to love you with all our heart.)
Remarks: Once again, we are tremendously thankful for the absence of entertaining stories and for the effort to transmit a serious message. But try as we might, it is not possible to say anything more than this to the positive about this sermon without being dishonest. It is painstaking, gut-wrenching work to attempt to summarize over fifty-three minutes of broken English, abandoned sentences, unintended heresies, and failed attempts to speak one’s mind. Our answers ought to be short just like our Master’s, says the pastor. But then he takes fifty-four minutes to say nothing, and to say nothing badly. Unless constrained by a sense of duty to finish what we have started and therefore to plow through this messy address in order to discover some hint of what this pastor would communicate if he could, we’d gladly throw in the towel and find something far less vexing to do. Most pastors, even among those who are obviously not called by God to minister, are endowed with some facility for delivering what they preach, be it good or evil. And their message (perhaps containing a comedy of grammatical faux pas if put to paper word for word) is at least pleasant (in a public speaking sense) aurally. This is not the case here. What Mr. Bueckert communicates is as confusing to the ear as it is baffling to the eye, or very nearly so. We regret that this sermon is a travesty in every way: of content, of delivery, and of overall management.
(1) As for content, the sermon is empty except for the stated obligation to love God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength. No clue as to how this might be done is given, only that it could have been done (by Israel in the Old Testament), can be done, and is being done. He says that we can do the great commandment by working hard, by being good fathers and husbands, by loving in the right order, etc. But what we would like to know is how sinners are supposed to do this? This positive teaching of his concerning our ability to fulfill the greatest commandment God ever gave demonstrates a failure to understand the text in question and an oversight of the great barrier preventing man from loving God with all his heart. This is quite an oversight, for this barrier of sin that is between man and his Maker is the principal reason God gave to man a written revelation. And not only this, but it is the reason why the Son of God put his glory aside to come to earth to die on a cross, which is the central theme in the whole Bible! Since the fall of man and the subsequent sin nature resulting through man’s disobedience, no one—no one except the Man Christ Jesus has ever loved God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus does not teach, not in Mark 12 nor anywhere else, that sinful man is able to do this, every man from Adam until now being sinful and sinfully disabled. The scribe who states that loving God with the whole heart is greater than sacrifices may be commended by Jesus for answering discreetly. But Jesus does not say there that loving God with all the heart is something that can be done. He just says to the scribe, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” He does not say that the scribe is in the kingdom or that he is able by loving God to get into it. True, it may be possible that the obligation of love to God spoken of by the scribe is taken by Jesus for the intention of love arising from the scribe’s converted heart. In that case, when the scribe is spoken of as being close to the kingdom of God, the meaning is that he is actually in the kingdom. But has this pastor even researched the matter? Or has he not just relied on his own understanding? If this passage teaches that our obligation to the great commandment is here being regarded by the scribe and by Jesus as the intention of obedience arising from a converted heart, then it behooves the pastor to tell us this. The way this pastor presents the commandment, it’s as if we’re just able to fulfill the obligation to do God’s law; though in truth, the law was obeyed by Christ because of our inability. Though this sermon is generally unclear, we can nevertheless perceive that what is being taught is that man has this ability to love God with all the heart. Mr. Bueckert does not take the text as teaching the saint’s love to God on the basis of trust in Jesus Christ who accomplished it first, and perfectly, on the saint’s behalf. He takes it to mean that man has the ability, regardless of whether he is converted or not, to face God’s law and to do it. We know this is how he takes it because one of the inducements used by him to move us to an obedient love to God with all our heart is his statement that Israel could have done it and by that obedience could have taken care of the first four commandments of the Decalogue! If Israel might have been able to do this at any time, why the sacrificial system? Now one of the most basic doctrinal planks to be gleaned in the Bible is that Old Testament Israel, though chosen by God, exhibits an unconverted, gainsaying, stiff-necked people. This is why we read so much about the ‘remnant.’ We’ll grant that Mr. Bueckert knows this. We doubt that he would deny it. To Mr. Bueckert then, this obedience Israel could have done but didn’t was not just a yielding to a principle of love to God arising from a converted state, but an actual fulfillment of God’s command that man should love God with all his heart. And so what does Mr. Bueckert mean by this example? He means that we are able to do what he thinks Israel could have done but didn’t. But did Jesus fulfill the law even though fallen man could have done it but didn’t? Or did he do the law because fallen man would not and could not? If fallen man could have done the law in the time of Moses, then why not us right now? Where in history do we find the man who has done the great commandment? “There is none that seeketh after God,” the Bible says. If no one seeks after God, then how is it that we are able to obey his command to love him? Far from being something sinful man can live up to, “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3.24.) Only Christ can love God with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength. Only Christ can ‘take care’ of the ten commandments. This is why we are brought to him. All our schooling is to this purpose. It is to this purpose because the law, for the sake of our sinful inability, condemns us. Therefore we come by faith to the Master in order to be justified and no longer condemned for our faults. “This year the emphasis is on the crucified life,” says Mr. Bueckert. But the crucified life is not our ‘taking care’ of the great commandment, as Mr. Bueckert teaches, but progress in holiness, virtues, and works through faith in the Son of God who took care of the law in our place. This is where our power to love our neighbor comes from: faith in Jesus. It springs from faith in the mediating Saviour who loved the Father perfectly, not from our empty, corrupt selves, as if we could do it. Even Mr. Bueckert’s mention of the well-known Christian rhyme, which has the word ‘trust’ in it (trust being a synonym for ‘faith’), does not moderate one bit his teaching of the law as something we have the wherewithal to obey. ‘Trust and obey, there is no other way’ is obviously uttered by him in a thoughtless way just to fill the air for lack of knowing what else to say. The ‘trust’ part of the limerick is not even noticed by him. It is lost to him even while he recites the word because of his one-track mind regarding this ability he supposes we have to obey God’s greatest obligation to sinners. At the end of his sermon there appears to be a dawning in his mind concerning our need of God for the obedience required by him, for he speaks then of our need of God’s grace and Spirit for help to obey this great commandment to love. And after this he speaks of an ability to love God with the whole heart as being vouchsafed only to God’s children. This is still an insufficient presentation of the law. In the first place, sinners do not need ability or help to obey; they need the obedience of Jesus. Second, as children of God, there is no perfection in this life approaching to an ability to love God with our whole heart. This ability God does not give. That should be obvious to us as we look around in search of someone loving God perfectly. Children of God have confidence in the obedience that Jesus accomplished for them, and through this reliance their level of sanctification goes on to greater levels of love and obedience, gradually but never completely, until this present life is over. The way Mr. Bueckert talks, it seems that he never has a struggle choosing between God and his wife and he never has an untoward thought about any woman he happens to see! Can we believe this? Does his wife believe it? Would any sinners needing counseling be helped by hearing dishonesty like this? Is this kind of self-confidence and overrated selfish opinion exemplified to us in the life of Paul the apostle? “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7.19.) What Christian could honestly deny that he frequently experiences this inner conflict and failure confessed by the apostle? Incidentally, is it professional to call a man caught in adultery an ‘idiot’? Would it not be better to call him a sinner no more susceptible to falling than we are? Would it not be better to admit that if David could fall in this way, then any of us could? “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10.12.) Mr. Bueckert must feel that he needs to exaggerate his obedience for the sake of his listeners. But he ends up being proud in face of the law. Listen to the wise John Bunyan on this, from Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, page 288, vol.1—: “It may be that thou hast presumed too far and stood much in thine own strength, and therefore is a time of temptation come upon thee. This was also one cause why it came upon Peter—though all men forsake thee, yet will not I. Ah! that is the way to be tempted indeed (John 13.36-38.) It seems that Mr. Bueckert would have us believe that he never gets so much as tempted. But the Lord he professes to believe was tempted “in all points” (yet without sin.) Now there’s a disgraceful discrepancy! Mr. Bueckert is just a little proud, if you will, of his obedience, which is the mark of a man ready to fall. And his presentation of anyone’s approach to the law is flawed throughout this sermon. The main gripe we have is that the thrust of his message is that the commandment to love God perfectly—or the first part of the Decalogue, is something that can actually be achieved by fallen sinners. We know this is his teaching because the Israelites were fallen sinners, and these are they that Bueckert uses for an example to us that the law can be met. The Israelites could have done it. Therefore we can. This is his argument. Nothing about Jesus Christ is brought in at this point to teach anyone listening that Jesus is necessary, both before and after our conversion, as the fulfillment of what God requires of us for our justification and for our admission into heaven. Those very few souls in internet land who might have the patience to listen to this sermon, if they understand anything at all from it, will take away with them the idea that loving God with all the heart is a possibility waiting to emerge from what the Bible calls a ‘heart of stone’! The transmission of this sermon, if listened to, is liable to cast condemned sinners upon themselves instead of on Christ for the salvation they desperately need. Therefore, we cannot be too condemning of a careless, thoughtless, unbiblical sermon such as this one is.
(2) As for his delivery, sections of the sermon are so poorly communicated that they are utterly incomprehensible. When communication is this poor, could anyone be blamed for misinterpreting his meaning? Even so, we know that he teaches a carnal rather than a gracious approach to God’s law; that is, he comes at the law of God through the bald efforts of man, not by faith in the precious merits of Christ. He does this for sure. But let’s dig into his delivery proper. In order to show that we are not picking on him on account of some isolated, indeterminate remark, it will be necessary to supply more than one quote. Let’s take the following statement, then: “You know when you gotta beat around the bush, and you gotta read into Scripture to make your—to bring out a truth that is kinda there but it’s application and interpretation and implication and you know—let’s be sure that really what we’re saying is what the Bible says.” Here is another: “We can know him like we can get to know him like we know any other individual.” It is not sinful of us to insist and demand that a pastor be able to communicate what he would have his listeners believe and do. If he cannot communicate, how might we believe and do what is preached? If he cannot communicate, can it be his business to continue on in this type of employment? In order for a ministry to have any raison d’etre, it has to make sense. Is that which makes no sense the Lord’s doing? Is the man who makes no sense of the Lord’s choosing? Is it any wonder that this church has no growth rate to speak of? And his ineptitude has nothing to do with a beginner’s first steps in the pulpit. He’s been at this for over a dozen years. If a pastor cannot convey the sense he makes of Scripture, then let’s be frank enough and brave enough to question whether God has called him to the task of pulpit work in the first place. We are not for putting anyone down. But let’s not insult God by believing, without doubt, that he chooses for the public preaching of his glorious gospel, men who cannot preach without getting continuously tangled up in the concepts they venture to disclose. This sermon is embarrassing. We’re sorry that it is. But embarrassment is not the only result of incompetent speaking. There is another pitfall—the worst one a minister can fall into: heresy. “You know, we’re talking about loving a person. He’s not—he is human, you know, he’s God: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, so he’s—that aspect of him is there. He became like us.” You could put a comma where we have put a colon, I suppose. It doesn’t matter. The sense remains the same. We have punctuated the statement in conformity to how it is, over the internet, verbally presented. We have been careful to seize the correct emphasis. Taking Mr. Bueckert at his word, we are to believe that this ‘person’—the one who ‘became like us’ is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But this belief is called ‘modalism’—: the heresy that God is revealed as three modes, or manifestations, of just one divine person. We do not believe that Mr. Bueckert intends to teach anything that conflicts with the doctrine of the trinity: the idea of one God revealed in three persons. But because of his blundering speech, he cannot avoid falling into heretical statements like this. By adding up the number of times he falls into heretical sayings in the space of two sermons, we can truly say that he is guilty of heresy habitually. Does God call a man to preach who cannot preach rightly the nature of God? Or does Jesus send to his prospective bride a description of himself through preachers who cannot describe his nature? And what about heresy’s consequences? Would a foreman hire for an electrician a man who can’t get his wires right? Does God hire men who cross his most sacred doctrines? Let’s at least allow God the wisdom we attribute to a carnal contractor. Crossing the doctrines of God is far worse and infinitely more dangerous than crossing a few mortal wires! What if the pastor doesn’t mean to preach heresy? An extremely parched person who mistakes a mixture of vodka and orange juice for Tang will get drunk even if he didn’t intend to. Unintended drunkenness is still drunkenness, and therefore is it hazardous; unintended heresy is still heresy, and it’s among the most hazardous of all sins, for heresy leads men right on passed the gates of hell! That pastor is in a sad state indeed who will not be moved to tears and trembling by such errant speaking as this! To say the least, any lack of emotion and fear at his discovery of himself in this matter is all we need to know about his ‘call’ to the ministry. He who disagrees with this deduction ought to ask himself if he really believes that the outcome of any heresy at all can ever be the punishment of hell. Does the Bible teach this or doesn’t it? If it does, then is heretical preaching good, or is it bad? What kind of pastor is that who would just brush away the show of heresy that he is guilty of and just continue plugging along as before? Does he love the Lord with all his heart?
Conclusion: We have been forward and candid to the extent that it might seem we’ve been too hard on Mr. Bueckert. Anyone who thinks we’ve been sinfully stern is either not used to such frankness, or is unaware of how serious a matter it is to falsify, by evil intention or by ‘honest mistake,’ the revelation of God to sinful, condemned man. And inadvertent heresy may not even be the principal issue to take up with this man! It is difficult to come up with a more ripe and necessary time to preach man’s inability to do what Jesus did for man than when the greatest commandment ever given by God is being addressed. But Mr. Bueckert, for all his emphasis on being evangelical and gospel-centered, misses the gospel right when it is needed most! This preacher (and can it be harsh to say that we apply this word loosely here?) does not seem to realize that the command to love God is the greatest part of the very law Jesus fulfilled and that sinners stand condemned for breaking. We get no sense at all that he has any teaching of Scripture in mind that might help him interpret his text, nor that he has any text in mind other than the one he’s on that might aid him to properly present the moral law. There seems to be no structure of doctrine in his mind. It seems that he’s not thinking outside his text, and that he gets the impression that because Jesus commends the scribe for giving a discreet answer, that therefore the law is something that can be done by the scribe, and so also by us. He doesn’t realize that ‘loving God with all the heart’ is part of the moral law Jesus fulfilled and that we need forgiveness for breaking. This tunnel vision that sees the law as a rule we can obey and even fully obey, is not what God has revealed for us to see. Such a belief in man’s ability to obey what Christ came to earth to fulfill plainly undermines the doctrine of salvation. It nullifies it. If we can love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, just as Israel is reputed by Mr. Bueckert to have been capable of, then there is no need for Jesus Christ, no need for his Obedience, no need for his Sacrifice, no need for a Bible, and no need, most certainly, for preachers. Besides the non-doctrinal, unbiblical approach to God’s law here exemplified, this sermon contains, not just a jumble of errors, but an almost continuous flow of tortured language. This kind of sermon is why Christianity ends up getting ridiculed. You just take what is said, even without twisting it, and you get a caricature of the truth instead of the truth of God. It is difficult to understand why this sermon is made available over the internet. When one hears the recorded version of one’s voice, one usually recoils. This reaction seems to be universal. This sense of shame should be enough by itself to make us hesitate before broadcasting our voice, potentially, all over the world. But what if, in addition to the uncouth sound of our voice, we are confronted by our inability to speak without often uttering insensible sentences? And what if, in addition to this, we are then confronted by our inability to communicate what we would? And then after this, what if we are confronted with the fact that the knowledge we are so utterly failing to transmit and do justice to is the everlasting gospel of God? We hope that Mr. Bueckert will listen to himself and be confronted—for his own good as well as for the seeking listeners out there. Is preaching really his business? Is public speaking of any kind? More harm is being done here than good. No one can like to be told upsetting news like this. But sometimes we have to be the bearer of bad news in order to be honest. We believe Mr. Bueckert to be a moral, likeable man; nevertheless, are we not allowed to wonder, based on this shockingly wretched sermon, if he’s really qualified to handle the word of God in an official sense? And we must go into this ‘calling’ of his just a bit more in order to try and reason with the gainsayers who are put off by this notion of calling someone’s calling into question. If one cannot call a pastor’s calling into question when he is guilty of putting forth heresy, then when can one? We have both the privilege and the duty to do so when fundamental doctrines that salvation hinges on are falsely apprehended and taught by any speaker. This is implied in that a bishop ‘must’ be apt to teach (1 Timothy 3.2.) Aptitude for teaching is what Mr. Bueckert does not have. Is he adapted for this work, then? Based on this word ‘must’ in that verse, has he been called? If a bishop must have this aptitude for teaching, but Mr. Buckert does not have it, has he been called by God to be a bishop? He is not ‘instructive’—which is what the word ‘apt’ means. Maybe Mr. Bueckert does not appreciate being measured by such a Scriptural credential. But any man in any pulpit who gets uptight about having his calling questioned on the basis of his missing the orthodoxy he aims at needs to examine his humility before God and his respect for the word that he is guilty of misrepresenting. In fact, would a called man not fall upon his knees in earnest prayer about his ministry the minute heresy of any sort has been discovered to him in it? A called man would do that instinctively, no matter how abrasive the messenger of the gloomy news. In light of the reaction to news this disturbing, does the man care for his own reputation, or for the glory that is due God? This is a decent question. Understand that such incompetence as this obliges us to wonder about the man’s calling. It cannot be wrong to question it on the basis of such blundering work. The Bible would have us do as much, and probably more. We are saying that it is not wrong to raise the question when we base it upon what has just been examined here. It is a fair question, and very necessarily included in this analysis; and that, more than once.
Mr. Bueckert, you address Christians in this sermon with the words, “Somehow the light is turned on.” If sinners are able to love God with all their heart, then what need is there for getting our lights turned on? Are we not supposed to regard our own obedience as a work of darkness and the obedience of Jesus Christ as the obedience we really need and that we can lay claim to by faith? Are you not supposed to know and teach these things instead of the notion that we can just love God with all our heart? Do you think we can do the great commandment just because we should?—just because we are commanded to? If this is true, why do we need Jesus? Why did Jesus fulfill the law, if it wasn’t for us? If we can obey the law, why did Jesus die on a cross? Did he not die to pay the penalty of a broken law?