The Withertongue Emails: Part III


My dear Filthpit,

Your most recent reports have caused me great concern. I am beginning to question your abilities because, as you note, your patient has rededicated himself to the preaching task. He even, may Our Father Below forbid it, pours over the Enemy’s words every morning and evening in the hope that he may learn how to distinguish between commands and promises. You will suffer the necessary punishments for your ineptitude. But, knowing you, you wouldn’t want to avoid them. In the meantime, you must make the best of a bad situation. Do not lose hope. I’ve witnessed this before with many pastors. After a brief lapse into fear or guilt or hopelessness, they recover their habits, and continue to work in support of our cause.

One of your greatest allies at the moment is your patient’s congregation. The church itself can assist you. Not the Church spread out over all time and space and rooted in eternity. But the church your patient sees every day. The aged, cold, sham building. When he walks through the building he sees it the same way a grocer looks at his store. He stares at the worn out books in the pews, time-worn, that contain corrupt hymns, mostly bad, with very small print. And on Sunday morning, he looks out upon the people who sit in the pews and what does he see? Does he see the “body of Christ”? No! He sees actual faces in the pews. Not great warriors for the Enemy’s cause. He beholds fools. They mumble the words of the liturgy. They sing out of tune. Their clothes are stained and worn. Their shoes are scuffed, encrusted with mud. They look ridiculous. At the moment, your patient has an idea of what a Christian is, and they’re not him. Never allow your patient to think too long about this. Don’t let him ask what he expected them to look like, these painted saints. Keep him focused on what he can see and hear, keep him in a haze of uncertainty, and you will enjoy an eternity offering him the kind of clarity only Hell can provide.

So long as he believes the church is populated by pretend Christians he will continue to be curved in on himself, keep his own counsel. He will withhold from these undeserving wretches the substance of Christian teaching, and offer them only the barest outlines. Convince him that anything more is beyond them, stuff only pastors and theologians should bother about. Remember what I’ve taught you, Filthpit. As soon as the Enemy reveals the truth to a Christian, he will be overcome by the desire to learn more about Christian teaching, especially as it has to do with the Enemy’s Christ. I have seen even an ignorant pig farmer so stirred up by the Enemy’s promises that he dedicates his every waking moment to considering heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, the Law and the promises. He became a better theologian than his own pastor! 

Work harder then, on his disappointment. Get him to believe every sermon is an anticlimax to his whole week, to his whole pastoral ministry. The Enemy prefers to refine and purify his servants in this way too. To lead the little vermin through trials and afflictions so that he at last emerges as a “preacher of the cross.” This must not happen to your patient, Fitlhpit. Push him to question in his mind, “If I am a faithful servant, if I go about my work faithfully, how can I in good conscience let these people with all their different sins continue in hypocrisy?” Get him to believe they are not really Christians and you will have converted him back to our cause. Then his preaching will reflect, not the Enemy’s words of Law and promise, but his view of himself and the church. Then, when he climbs into his pulpit, he will arrive possessed by the unhealthy attitude you desire. He will ignore the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, command and promise. He will preach the Law as if it promises every kind of reward to those who listen and obey it, and he will preach the Gospel as a promise conditioned by the hearer’s response to the demands of the Law. Push him far enough, Filthpit, and he will even find an excuse to insert more commands after the promise, which as you note is really no promise at all. Get him to end every sermon with, “This you are supposed to do,” or, “You ought to be doing this if,” and you have a real prophet of hell. He will make a great impression on his hearers.

Your proud teacher,

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.
Twitter @DonavonRiley