The text is Saint Paulís letter to the Galatians, chapter one, mainly verses one through ten.
Paul warns us against anyone who preaches a gospel contrary to the pure gospel.
Now, how do we know when it is a false gospel? Sometimes, it is terribly obvious. Someone who outright denies that Jesus died for the sins of the world is clearly teaching against the true gospel. Someone who blatantly teaches that good works earn you salvation leaves no doubt that they are going against grace and faith.
But often it is not so obvious. A person may be mistaken on what seems a minor point. Does that mean that they are teaching a gospel which is no gospel at all?
A passage that helps us understand is found in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. There Philip Melanchthon writes, ďPaul warns that bishops who teach and defend false doctrine and impious forms of worship are to be considered accursed.Ē [K-W, 341] Here we see that it is not merely the gospel in the narrow sense that must be preserved, or a watered-down kernel of the gospel. No, anyone who teaches and defends false doctrine in general is to be considered accursed. Anyone who teaches and defends irreverent forms of worship falls under the same condemnation.
This would not address casual mistakes. A person who simply made an error and then repents when shown that error should not be considered under this curse. Someone may even hold to a more deliberate error from childhood, yet when shown the truth turn away from the error. We should always allow that a person may be persuaded by the Word and find forgiveness, or else we would have to condemn Paul as eternally lost, even though the Lord Jesus accepted and forgave him.
But when a person becomes entrenched in their error and defends it against any criticism, then we must consider them to be placing themselves under Paulís warning and curse. For they are most stubbornly opposing the purity of the gospel, in which alone we are to find salvation, and leading sheep astray to their eternal peril.
But why should worship forms fall under this curse? Because worship is all about the gospel. True worship in the divine service delivers Christís gifts to penitent sinners. But when we mess with the divine service, we risk obscuring Christís gifts or removing them entirely. We force poor sinners to place their focus and hope upon something besides the Cross. This is to teach a gospel which is no gospel.
Any false doctrine can also destroy souls. Only a little leaven is needed to leaven the whole lump. In other words, it does not take much error to unravel the entire gospel. For instance, if we teach that disobedience to a commandment is okay, then we lead sheep into unrepentant sin. This is disaster. This is what Christ meant when He said, ďWhoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.Ē
So it is not only the gospel in its narrow sense, meaning the teaching of the forgiveness of sins. We must also be concerned about the gospel in the broad sense, which is all the doctrine of the Scripture. Whoever deceives regarding the Bibleís teaching falls under Paulís curse.
We might be inclined to think that we should not be too nit-picky. Not everything in Scripture is absolutely necessary for salvation.
That is true, to some extent. Yet which of Godís teachings in His Word would you feel confident rejecting? What authority is greater than His? What excuse would you give if He asks you why you refused to believe His Word?
Besides this, many teachings have to do with forgiveness and salvation. I have mentioned how commandments should not be rejected. Other teachings more directly have to do with the gospel. Baptism is all about eternal life given to sinners. To reject the Biblical teaching on Baptism is most dangerous. As the Large Catechism say, ďWhoever rejects baptism rejects Godís Word, faith, and Christ, who directs and binds us to baptism.Ē
We may repeat that it is not casual error or mistakes that may be repented of that place a person under Paulís curse. Yet this should cause us to be doubly cautious. Why allow any rejection of Godís truth, even if perhaps we could possibly survive a little error? Why play Russian roulette with our souls? Why allow a person to pour even a little of their false teaching into our ears, when it is a heinous poison that can destroy souls?
Especially we should be motivated by the desire to remain with the pure gospel, because it is the sweet and blessed message of our dear Lord Jesus. He gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. Because of Christ, grace and peace are ours.
What would entice us to dilute or distort this pure gospel? No distortion makes the gospel better. Far easier to improve the Mona Lisa by making additions to the canvas with crayon. Yet people find enticement to do just that in their desire to please people. May we never do so.
Instead, let us cling faithfully to the gospel which we have received. Here is pure grace, a free gift that requires nothing in advance and asks for nothing in return. Here is peace with God so that we need never fear His wrath, nor the pit of hell, nor the devilís hatred.
In Christ, we were snatched out of this evil age. That is, we have been severed from the company of sinful mankind and given entry into Godís holy Church. We have received the promise of a new age of eternal blessedness where death has no place. In the Cross, we have seen our own forgiveness, and in the empty tomb is our immortality.
In this gospel, no glory goes to us, since God gets all credit for our salvation. That is good, because in this way we receive all the blessing that Christ has earned. Heaven is open and death is powerless, because of Christ. We should not go seeking after some glory for ourselves, because that would pollute the true teaching, steal Godís honor, and endanger our salvation.
May we be content in this pure gospel, and never heed or follow anything else, by the Holy Spiritís grace.
In the Name of this blessed and wonderful Savior, and our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.
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