The Withertongue Emails: Part VI

BY DONAVON RILEY

My dear Filthpit,

Your most recent report is a disorganized mess. Your exuberance betrays immaturity and inexperience. But you are not special. I have, unfortunately, seen this kind of behavior too many times to count. You are still a young tempter. So take the advice of one who has an old head on his shoulders. Your client has not been able to sleep at night because you have convinced him the Enemy doesn’t respond to his prayers. This is a tiny victory. He is filled with self-pity. Good. He indulges in nostalgia. Good. Now is not the time to celebrate. Be cool-headed. Be steady. Fill his mind with images of the Enemy that are all despair and horror. In fact, to this end, Brimbraw has informed me there is now a power struggle between two groups in your client’s congregation. In your next letter I expect a full report of his reactions to this war the other tempters have stirred up.

Here too is where so many young preachers make their mistake. As the conflict escalates counsel your client about the disadvantages of preaching too clearly about the Enemy’s promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation for troubled sinners. Stir up in him the fear that preaching too much “good news” to such obviously bad people will cause them to fall into further sin. Instruct him that the Enemy’s promises are sweet nothings for those who crave fleshly delights. Tantalize him with the suggestion that too much “gospel preaching” will lead people from death unto death. That this is no fault of his. “Those people,” as he thinks of them, will not accept what has been offered to them. They do not believe the Enemy’s promises, therefore they do not deserve to hear them. The last thing you want to see happen when war breaks out in a church, Filthpit, is a pastor’s renewed belief that, not his preaching, but only the Enemy’s promises can seize and change people’s heart. 

Push him to preach law and then more law: more regulations, more rules, more guidelines, more ways for them to change and improve for the better. Remind him that the law must be discharged and administered before people will hunger and thirst for teaching that leads to eternal life. God justifies those who put forth the proper effort. Encourage your client to preach in such a way that the ultimate reason for the war is their hunger and thirst for a spark of the Enemy’s love. Then, when it seems the cup of the Enemy’s love is within reach, cause him to pull it away and say, “You are the man! You dare come before me the way you are? Get away from me! There is a heavy burden that oppresses you, and look, they’re right over there in the opposite pew. You have to carry most of the weight of keeping this church going because of them.” The primary thing is, he must prevail in teaching them how to become righteous, how they can earn the Enemy’s love. This occurs in one way. As my dear teacher said to me when I was but a young tempter myself, “Withertongue, a wall must be made around Golgotha, but not around Mount Sinai.”

Think on how to use this war to your advantage, Filthpit. At the same time, be in your guard. The Enemy will use this conflict to draw your client’s eyes to Golgotha. The Enemy, true to his underhanded methods, will use the execution of his son to reveal to your young pastor that unconditional acceptance and love is found in the midst of temptation, suffering, and conflict, not apart from it. He will do this first by showing your client that the “good news” is for those exact people who are at each other’s throats. Betrayers, bitter enemies, and stiff-necked old pew-sitters. Second, the Enemy will reveal to your client that his promises are not empty words, but can actually change people’s hearts. And last, that the Enemy can and will deliver them from cruelty, selfishness, and self-indulgence.

To combat this, convince him that his own struggles with faith are their fault. Hide his true condition from him behind accusations of their monstrous un-Christian behavior and he will be unable to see that the only cure for their sin-sickness, and his, is the Enemy’s gospel promises.

Your proud teacher,
Withertongue

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