Mr. Hennig, this is our third and final analysis. We thank you for your interest in our effort to test the word that you preach.
Mr. Hennig, Mount Calvary Lutheran, Untitled Sermon, Mark 7.31-37.
Summary: (He begins by relating the difference between the 20th century generations regarding the technological milieus each has grown up in, his point being that the more recent generations are jaded and desensitized by their immersion from youth into our advanced state of technological use.) We think nothing of sending mail around the world in seconds. We are amazed only when we can’t send an email. Does anything amaze you anymore? Does God amaze you anymore? Are we amazed at what God offers to us eternally? (He summarizes the text.) The crowds who witnessed this miracle Jesus performed were so amazed that they could not stop talking about it, even after being commanded by Jesus himself to keep quiet. Are we amazed like this? We have learned greater things of Jesus than this miracle. But are our tongues not tied up in knots at times? We find it easier to talk about sports or television shows than about the true God. Pay attention to your own conversations. How easy they flow when they’re all about Big Brother or the Eskimos game? We are filled with enthusiasm when these topics come up. But is it that way when the opportunity to talk about Jesus comes about? When it’s about Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, the One who could cure ailments by a mere word, the overcomer of death itself, do we speak with enthusiasm, or even at all? How often do we say, ‘good luck’ when we could confess our faith with a ‘God be with you’? How often do we say ‘don’t worry about it’ instead of ‘I forgive you, for I have been forgiven by Christ’? Has your faith become dull? Does your conscience no longer bother you when you do wrong? Do we justify our thoughts of lust and our gossip about others? Has church attendance and Bible study become a chore? For a cure, there is only one place to go. With just a word, Jesus healed that man. He still heals through his word. This is why you are encouraged to worship in God’s house and to take part in Bible study. Your minds and hearts are opened to him and to his teachings through his powerful word. By the word of his law, Jesus alerts us to our illness. But he does not leave us there. His love is found in a manger, on the cross, and in an empty tomb, and comes to us in baptism, communion, and preaching. With the message of the gospel, he is able to open your hearts. We can be amazed at the world’s offerings, but amazed too at how hurtful the world can be. But on the cross and in his resurrection, Jesus has earned our forgiveness. Jesus has overcome Satan and his ways. There is nothing more amazing than that. And yet the amazing is yet to come. The apostle Paul ascended into heaven and was lost for words to describe it. This heaven is for you. It’s for you because of what your amazing Saviour did.
Remarks: The sermon is Christ-centered and somewhat convicting, with a pastoral touch. The theme that is preached is taken right out of the text. The story used to illustrate the theme is suitable. There is no pulpit horseplay to revolt us. And we can even detect a hint of Spurgeon-like wit in his preaching manner. On the negative side, the pastor seems to give out the same word-for-word benedictions each and every Sunday; for this reason they strike us in a meaningless, tiresome way. And we can testify to this sensation after listening to just three sermons. For certain this is an instance calling for a repetition of the well-known saying, ‘Familiarity breeds contempt.’ That which produces a tendency of contempt for benedictions that approximate Scripture is intolerable. Variety of expression should replace whatever sounds like vain repetition to avoid this upsetting effect. Next, salvation is much declared, but not preached enough, in this sermon. We understand if Mr. Hennig considers himself a pastor addressing a flock full of regenerate persons. But is there no warrant at all for testing the salvation of these church members by warning them of the possibility of their assuming faith without possessing it, or of their relying on church attendance instead of on the merits of Christ, or of their simply believing the pastor’s declaration without any assurance of salvation from God himself? It would not be an easy task to fit such provisos into an address as short as Mr. Hennig is in the habit of delivering. But they are so sorely needed that more space should be allowed the sermon for meting these qualifications out to each kind of listener. With the sermon as it is, a visitor might too easily assume he is safely chosen and sealed for heaven, and a confused soul would be left staring at a pile of doctrines, not knowing what ones, if any, are for him. The only way a sermon like this is safe for all is if all are saved. And such a circumstance has never been presumed by great preachers even at the best of times. Salvation must be more than declared, even when addressing what appears to be a saved crowd. And this declaration must not be focused only on what we are saved to, but also on what we are saved from; this, to the glory of God for the benefit of God’s people when they are made more humble before him by such reminders, but also for the convicting of that soul that we are mistaking for one of our own brood. Because of the importance of that part of the ministry (the pulpit) by which God principally speaks, not just to his people but to those who shall yet enter in, is there no reason to reevaluate the priorities of the church service? Even supposing that each member is truly a kingdom child (a careless and dangerous supposition!), can the members’ wants, concerns, needs, and backslidings be met by a mere sermon introduction? Is there nothing in the service at large that might be shortened in order to give place to a lengthened word from the pulpit? Could not the man the church is named after furnish an example to follow in this matter of pulpit priority? It would surprise us extremely were we to learn that Luther’s preaching took a back seat to anything except prayer. Some of his sermons are indeed brief, which means they are not brief habitually. Is it not possible that Luther’s descendents have passed on to us more ritual than Luther bequeathed to them? We suspect that some little research would prove this to be the case.
Conclusion: We are thankful to know that something more than a pretended sermon containing jokes, worldliness, and heresy exists in our city. But we must not stop at comparing Mount Calvary Lutheran to the circus-churches around it. How would this church compare if it were resituated in another city at some other time? The pastor of this church ought to strive more to fulfill the desires of a people who are hungry for God. And if the people are not hungry yet in this way, or not hungry enough, then what agency other than the pulpit would God use to stimulate the appetite? Besides prayer and the ordinances, much teaching and preaching needs to be done to satisfy hungry souls. God would have a church eating regularly to the full, and then yet hungering after the cup that runneth over. Therefore more preaching is required on Sunday than a fourteen-minute prelude. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the nutritionists tell us. And the great preachers would tell us that the Sunday sermon is the most important meal of the week. Something more than an egg should be served at this meal, then. Granted, the pastor gives an egg, not a scorpion, for the Sunday feast, which is good, tasty, and wholesome. But where are the fish and the bread? So much for quantity. To speak of quality, we might say that there is more milk here than meat. As for strong meat, there is none here at all. This sermon cannot take a new convert much deeper than he has already gone.
Based on the three sermons listened to (we know little about what the rest of the service is like), we could recommend this church to a Christian looking for one. But first we would like to know if Mr. Hennig insists on the necessity of any sacrament for salvation.