(Tim) In his post below, David is right. We shepherds often sin by healing the sin of the souls under our watch-care superficially. We commend the grace of God without condemning sin. We drone on about forgiveness and never mention repentance. Luther saw the same thing among the shepherds of his day:
In regard to doctrine we observe especially this defect that, while some preach about the faith by which we are to be justified, it is still not clearly enough explained how one shall attain to this faith, and almost all omit one aspect of the Christian faith without which no one can understand what faith is or means. For Christ says in the last chapter of Luke 24:47 that we are to preach in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Many now talk only about the forgiveness of sins and say little or nothing about repentance.
There neither is forgiveness of sins without repentance nor can forgiveness of sins be understood without repentance. It follows that if we preach the forgiveness of sins without repentance that the people imagine that they have already obtained the forgiveness of sins, becoming thereby secure and without compunction of conscience. This would be a greater error and sin than all the errors hitherto prevailing. Surely we need to be concerned lest, as Christ says in Matthew 12:45 the last state becomes worse than the first.
Therefore we have instructed and admonished pastors that it is their duty to preach the whole gospel and not one portion without the other. For God says in Deuteronomy 4:2: "You shall not add to the word...nor take from it." There are preachers who now attack the pope because of what he has added to the Scriptures, which unfortunately is all too true. But when these do not preach repentance, they tear out a great part of Scripture.
-Luther's Works; Volume 40; Church and Ministry II; Edited by Conrad Bergendoff; Muhlenberg Press; Philadelphia; 1958; "Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors"; pp. 274, 275.
Luther's warning makes clear the sin my brother David addressed isn't unique to our time, but was prevalent in his own. Did you catch him saying, concerning the ministers of his time, that "almost all omit preach(ing) repentance?"
This has always been shepherds' besetting sin and the reason Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Gregory, Peter Waldo, Luther, Edwards, Wesley, Lloyd-Jones, and Machen were hated. When other shepherds were crying "Grace and peace!", these faithful shepherds were faithful to repeat Jesus' warning: "Unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish."
Knowing our Lord will hold us accountable for the blood of our sheep, what is it that makes us heal them falsely? We've been warned such unfaithlessness will not escape our Master's judgment:
But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand. (Ezekiel 33:6)
Concerning his own flock, the Apostle Paul declared he was innocent of their blood (Acts 20:26). How many of us would make the same claim? I've only heard it once from my contemporaries, and that was recently when I worshipped with a flock on the Sunday morning their pastor of many years was preaching his farewell sermon. He declared, "I can confidently say that every soul who has died during my ministry here at (this church) was prepared to meet His Lord." I was astounded.
For myself, reading the Apostle Paul's declaration leaves me grieved and repenting.
Clearly I have blood on my hands. Looking back over twenty-seven years of ministry, I can think of a number of souls whose wounds I've healed superficially; any number of sermons I've avoided preaching the Law, repentance, the necessity of confessors producing fruit, the sanctification without which no man will see God, the Day of judgment, the eternity of hell torments, the holiness of God; a number of pastoral visits when sin's been confessed and I've given an assurance of pardon without working in the power of the Spirit to pierce to the marrow of the matter, weighing the heart; session meetings when, as moderator, I've allowed us to skip lightly over a sin tearing apart marriages and families within our flock. There have been many times when I should have warned or rebuked fellow shepherds but chose not to because I didn't want to suffer my peers' disapproval.
Speaking honestly, what about you? Can you claim to be innocent of the blood of all men? What about you fathers of sons and daughters? You husbands of wives? Teachers of students? Mothers of Israel--you older women called to teach younger women?
Coaches, judges, senators, Sunday school teachers, deacons, doctors of the body, doctors of the church, job site foremen; every one of us will soon give an account for superficially healing the wounds of our flock, speaking peace, peace where there is no peace; teaching and preaching and counselling grace without law, forgiveness without repentance, Heaven without Hell, God's love and mercy without His holiness, justice, and wrath. And keep in mind our God is a consuming fire.
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Lord Jesus, make us faithful to your example, calling those without compunction of conscience to Your holiness and repentance that, by faith, they may enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Please forgive our timidity and fear of elders and rich men. Forgive our greed that corrupts our work. Make us faithful to repent so zealously, ourselves, that we are eager for each of our sheep to join us in that joy and its good fruit.
Good Shepherd of our souls, teach us the comfort of Your rod and staff that we may have faith to love our sheep through that same discipline that has convinced us of Your Fatherly love for us.