Monthly Archives: September 2022

Why We Need Moses and the Prophets Today


“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

– Luke 16:31


Yes, again, the Bible talks a lot about money.

And it is not only God, who, speaking through the Apostle Paul, believes that the love of money is the root of all evil (not a root of all kinds of evil, as I think more anemic modern translations put it).

Again, thoughtful persons throughout our history, often thoughtful persons with a lot of money too, have talked about all the problems that money can cause… about the pain and suffering it can bring….

And many see it as driving most everything and creating most every evil. Hence, many incorrectly say that the Bible says that money itself and not the love of it is the root of all evil… 

It in itself is not evil, but money can certainly cause many griefs, exacerbating our issues with foolish and harmful desires. 

Again, even many unbelievers realize – and are right to realize – that the world is indeed “broken”, as they say. With many broken people as well…

This realization mirrors the Bible’s evaluation of the world: The fallen creation groans, groans like a woman in labor, in expectation for its redemption…

Even though, again, there is a wrongness here too regarding the beliefs of many in the world… as many suppress the true nature of the problem — thinking, like the influential 18th c. Frenchman Jean Jacque Rousseau, that man himself is not fallen by nature and that it is only “society” that is bad… causing man’s issues and ultimately being at blame for his problems (instead of man being evil by nature, intrinsically evil, that is, infected by sin…)

So, finding the main problem *outside of themselves* they who are at heart, at bottom, naturally good (they believe), look to inspire others to move ahead with hope… looking for this or that change now! 

Transformation now! 

And a part of this is that many want justice to come…. They want men like the rich and selfish man in Jesus’ parable dealt with, and dealt with swiftly… 


So, they themselves being the change they are looking for, want a Jesus who helps them transform the world, who can level society by cutting many down to size, and even to help them “heal it and make it a better place…” 

…but do they want this last sentence of the parable?

Do they want this last sentence of the parable?


“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

This final statement in the Gospel reading for today exalts the Old Testament of the Bible, which you may have heard, is the best-selling book of all time.

Truly, there was a time in this country when what Jesus says here would have not seemed so jarring, so shocking, so out-of-place on the face of it…

It was not long ago in America that you might be able to find people who were not Christians or who weren’t sure what they believed but at least knew that they were supposed to respect, to have reverence for, the Bible.

For even if it was little read, it was nevertheless widely believed to be the Word of God… if not to at least contain the Word of God…

Those days appear to be behind us now…

Not long ago, I spent the day working with a self-proclaimed “crazy Mexican” who was about my age. We had a good time talking about a number of topics, some religious ones too.

You see, earlier in that day, he had said “thank you, Jesus” in a way that was like a sincere prayer, and I took that as an invitation to inquire further. 

I found out that he did not think that God was a personal Creator distinct from his creation but that He was actually impersonal and that the world itself was God. Jesus was not the Creator who at one point became man but simply a good example for us about how any one of us is God and should act appropriately. And the Bible was not God’s Word but a flawed but otherwise valuable book written by wise human beings. 

I also listened to a podcast this past week with Minnesota Public Radio’s Kerri Miller. It was a replay of a 2019 interview she had with the popular liberal religion scholar Karen Armstrong. 

Armstrong was talking with Miller before an audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul about “The Lost Art of Scripture” and had some ideas that my Mexican colleague would seem likely to embrace. 

Conflating all world religions as being one in the same, she spoke about how God is existence itself, being itself, which, without any further explanation, undoubtedly meant to her audience that God and the creation or cosmos are one in the same…

Muddling everything together, she said that “Scripture wasn’t telling us doctrines that we had to believe” but rather wasn’t coherent and it created a muddle… and that when we speak of the Divine, we simply go beyond what any words or thoughts can do…

Scripture, she also claimed, isn’t something that we should go back to to live from. Rather, it is an “innovative art” that must always move forward…

You can bet that when Ms. Armstrong said that “You must make those texts written centuries ago speak to now…” she was not thinking about how she could help her audience to better understand Luke 16:31, and to realize how important it is to realize how we should submit to the biblical texts, much less Moses and the prophets….

I know this for sure because right after saying “You must make those texts written centuries ago speak to now…” she goes on to say “…and that means change it…”

To my Mexican friend, I had explained that some more liberal Christians explain the Bible in this way. They say that “some Christians put a period where God means to put a comma… God is still speaking…” and he liked the sound of that.


And it seems to me that the recently deceased Barbara Ehrenreich, who as an advocate for the poor wrote the best-selling book Nickel and Dimed about her experiences going undercover as a blue-collar worker, would also like the sound of this.

Queen Elizabeth may have passed away recently, but I heard a number of socialist commentators focus on Ehrenreich this past week, praising her for being Our Queen, the Left’s Queen, the Real Queen….

On another podcast I listened to, a man named Gabriel Winant shared something which he thought summed up Ehrenreich’s thought and philosophy. 

Basically, Ehrenreich felt that if we could fully embrace female sexuality and communism as well, rejoicing in the “softness and the permeability of the world around us”, the barriers that divide men and women, the “high” and the “low”, would “crumble in the face of this new energy” and we could all live in harmony; instead of “holding ourselves back in lonely dread…” we could be revolutionaries in the cause of life” (bold mine) 

Revolutionaries indeed. 

As another commentator speaking of Ehrenreich’s influence put it, “we need to transform the totality of social existence…”


When you are rich, powerful, and successful – when you have most everything your heart wants – you might have a hard time thinking that you need to hear from God, that you need a prophet… In fact, the Bible tells us so.

In like fashion, when you are among the intellectual elites who believe we must  “transform the totality of social existence…” countering the patriarchal and fascist violence that has reigned throughout history, now even “raping the earth” as it seeks Dominion…

…you also might not have much use for a message from some “Father-God” purportedly passed on from one corrupt generation to the next… 

If you’d like to learn more about this kind of viewpoint — and it is good for some of us at least to know our enemies well — I’d recommend reading, for example, Riane Eisler’s book, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future.

The 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx – one of both Ehrenreich’s and Eisler’s inspirations – also did not have much respect for tradition, particularly Christian tradition.

After all, what had the past brought us except endless oppression of the poor, the great masses of mankind, by the rich, the bourgeois? And who since then, many say today, has caused our environmental issues with their desire for riches and rule?

And so Marx said, and many following in his train have said: “Philosophers [or scientists] have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point[, however,] is to change it.” 

The point is to change it…

Of course, you can’t blame everything on Karl Marx. He didn’t come out of nowhere, after all. Many others had been noting problems before him and had a variety of ideas about how to fix things.

And a lot of those ideas about how to fix things, of course, had to do with getting rid of the influence of the Bible.


Nevermind that world history, until re-oriented by Christian conviction, actually revealed a general lack of concern regarding children, women, and the practice of slavery… 

Also, in the Greek and Roman world, work was something that was undignified and that those at the bottom, not the top, did. 

How well are we aware of these facts?

And nevermind that now that for all the progress and hope that many of these revolutionaries claim to see…

…racism as a concept is increasingly used only to discourage, frustrate, and demoralize anyone we feel is to blame for the world’s problems, generally those with insufficient levels of melanin

…and in spite of concerns about changing the climate, changing one’s own biology is somehow just fine…. We can no longer be so limited in our imaginations and so it makes sense for girls to cut off their breasts and maybe even become “pregnant men”, boys to cut off their “toxic” member, etc…

…it is OK for schools to deceive backwards, oppressive, even toxic parents who won’t support the transgender revolution. So the revolutionaries not only hide what’s going on but throw fuel on the fires…

…all now all sexual relationships are to be celebrated simply because “love is love” – if the “hearts fit” the parts, whatever they may be, fit as well.

…not only this, but attractive and intelligent college women, for example, see no shame in starting an “Only Fans” site or getting a “Sugar Daddy” as a side gig not even because they feel they need it, but because they think it’s fun and can make some extra spending money…

…and, of course, we all know that “woman’s health care” means their ability to not only contracept but even kill the precious gifts in their wombs.

…finally, we actually seem to be inviting a time when truth only matters insofar as it helps us in war and is selectively used to damage our enemies…

…and even outright lies can be good if they harm the right people

Do not be afraid of the world and the seeming sophistication you often seem to sense from them… 

At bottom, it is corrupt, shallow, parasitic, and foolish. The only relatively good, true, and beautiful things it manages to know are all the good gifts it receives from God and twists and tweaks to its own liking….


Since the fall, and especially since Cain, the world has always been against God, against Jesus Christ, against those who follow in the train of Abel, Cain’s brother. 

And in an interesting twist, those who reject God most forcibly and explicitly tend to be the powerful who, generally speaking, live lives that seem outwardly respectable to many people… 

So many today, though perhaps somewhat uneasy about some of the things I mention above…

…nevertheless seem eager to push forward, following those elites they think are in the right. 

This was certainly the case with the religious leaders in Jesus’s day. Even as they violently rejected Jesus, these men were the respected pillars of society, the upper and upper middle classes of their people…

And so not too many seemed opposed to killing Jesus when the leaders pushed things this way.

This is true today as well. 

Men and women aspiring to be among the leaders, the cultivated, the sophisticated, the cosmopolitan, see the kind of suffering that Jesus speaks about in in this parable…

… and they do not first see this as an opportunity to examine their own hearts.

… and they do not first see this as an opportunity to examine their own hearts.

Instead, immediately, they either go to or are highly sympathetic to this or that form of thinking that has always been with us but that Marx perfected…

…where all of life is seen through the oppressor-victim lens and even the God of the Bible — particularly as He shows Himself in the Old Testament — is not immune from their condemnation…

So fixing the world that this Oppressor God made, putting it all under their control and slowly and surely repairing it according to what they believe is right — and deftly taking out of the game those raising objections — becomes the overriding obsession…


And then, God’s changing the rules of your game is out of the picture…

Again, Jesus says ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

Elsewhere, in the book of John in chapter 5, he says something that is similar as well:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?… If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” 

Whatever direction the world seeks – whether it seems indifferent to the true God revealed in Jesus Christ, or, in our age, exceptionally hostile to that same Jesus – it will always pursue its own glory, apart from glorifying God. 

The Bible considers the world foolish, and so should we. 

Don’t be so concerned to be “normal”.

The Apostle Paul, after all, speaks of how God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise… Those who are weak and of no account in the world God chooses…

The Christian faith definitely talks about the reality of mystery and seeing through a glass darkly but before that, it is keen to speak the truth and implies the knowability of the truth….

…and even to speak of proof for His work (see Acts 1:3). 

In Acts 17, addressing the truth-seekers or philosophers of the day in the Greek city of Athens, the Apostle Paul was also bold to claim….

“[God] now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

In other words, please don’t whine that you can’t believe in Jesus Christ. 

Please don’t think you can carefully define and delineate what proof is apart from a consultation with the Almighty.

However practical your ideas about what knowledge is may seem… 

However much traction they might actually get in the world… 

God, particularly in His Christ, definitely gets a say….

…to say the very least!

And yet, again, for many, none of this seems to matter… Look at our parable today, where the rich man from hell in effect complains to God about something he should have done but failed to do… 

Everything is God’s fault. 

But it’s not, of course. God’s word might bring truth, conviction of sin, the knowledge that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord… but the Spirit is also quenched by sinful man and God allows this….

God, in love and fulfilling what He said He’d do, performs miracle after miracle in the Old and New Testaments, clearly revealing His Promised Messiah in the latter… and some will still not believe…. 

Empiricism, that is, a philosophical outlook focused on what we can learn from the outward evidences our senses experience, is evidently overrated. 

After all, shortly after Jesus tells this parable, an actual man Lazarus is raised from the dead by Him and this is attested to by no small army of witnesses…

…and the conclusion is that both Jesus and Lazarus — exhibit A testifying to Jesus’ being the Messiah — must be killed…

“Come, let us reason together” the Lord would always say to us…

And man whines “I can’t – you’re too mean!” or shouts “No! I won’t!”


We still need the law and the prophets today because we still need to respect… to defer to… submit to… all of God’s words, understanding and appreciating them rightly in the Light of Jesus Christ…

What helps is hearing the word. 

Hearing the truth, spoken in love, embodied in love. 

In many places, in many ways, from many people…. 

Often. Very often. And then, finding yourself, perhaps to your surprise, increasingly hungering for that word…

Let us hear again, anew, the prophet Isaiah: 

“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

“To the law and to the testimony!


And none of this, by the way, means that we cannot also be encouraged and strengthened when we hear loving, knowledgeable, and wise Christians defending the faith with their own well-formed reasoning… 

As a matter of fact, this kind of thing can ultimately be helpful in renewing our appreciation and hunger for God’s word…

For example, in a couple other podcasts I listened to this week — yes, I have been doing this more lately — I heard some excellent thoughts from a couple pastors dealing with questions and concerns that Christians often have about the book of Genesis, one of the books of the Bible that has faced some of the most withering attacks over the years…

In his great daily Bible Study podcast The Word of the Lord Endures Forever, Pastor Weedon said the following:

We should not bend Genesis to fit with whatever the current assumptions of scientific thought may be. God’s revelation, alternatively, needs to be brought to bear on our human reason. 

He also talked about how Jesus Himself believes that the five books of the law, Genesis – Deuteronomy, were written by Moses, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. The theories of many scholars today who don’t believe this lead to wild speculation.

Also the host of the daily podcast Issues ETC. answered a challenging question about the age of the earth and Genesis.

He pointed out how incomplete so many of the scientific theories are, quite knowledgeably, and how they are laden with improvable and even improbable assumptions. He also essentially spoke about how the only way that we could know what has really happened is to depend on someone who is there, and God is in fact the Eyewitness (with a capital E). 


Ultimately, it is good news that Christ, who is your Creator God, died for your sins and rescues you from death, the wages of your sin. 

It is not cosmic child abuse perpetrated by the evil Father-God. No, the Son was “all in” with the plan.

God’s word is not unreasonable. Even if fallen human reason refuses to give credence to and in fact refuses to understand God’s Word, that does not mean that Christians — who have been commanded to love God with all of their minds and have the mind of Christ — cannot begin to use their Spirit-guided reason to exalt and illuminate the Scriptures, but to also answer objections that the world raises to them… 

Death catches up with us all. This world is not all there is. 

We can and should make a difference to our families, our next-door neighbors, and those God throws in our paths, even every living creature, for we are told He loves His whole creation…

But none will heal the world with their Utopian fever dreams… 

Ultimately, only God offers the help that is good and that will last forever. 

Now, more than ever, the church needs to flee to the headwaters, to the pure fountain that leads to eternal life, to the Word of God…

And to take every thought captive to it.

Have you heard the story of St. Augustine’s conversion? It is told in his book Confessions which you can read in full. The world’s first autobiography by the way….

In his account, we learn that at age 31, at the top of his game, Augustine was a professor of rhetoric in the great court of Milan. He was in a prestigious position but also tortured because his view of the world wasn’t working and also encouraged him to give himself over to behaviors and pleasures that were ruining his life… It was at this time, in a public garden behind his house, where the man who had cried out “Make me chaste God, but not yet” heard a little child’s voice, singing out, “Tolle lege, tolle lege.” Tolle lege is Latin for “Take up and read.”

Augustine took this as God’s voice to him, opened up the Bible, and came across a Bible passage from Romans that seemed just for him: 

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

It was at this moment that Augustine’s life changed.

We might not all have a story like that, but God’s sheep will hear his voice… 

You too, tolle lege… tolle lege… always. 

Because there you will find that Jesus Christ is risen, and, praise the Lord…

…that He is for you and not against you.


With footnotes:

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Posted by on September 25, 2022 in Uncategorized


What’s Wrong with Being Sleek and Strong?

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Sept. 11th, 2022


“…I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy…”

– Ezekiel 34:16b


To be sure, the book of Ezekiel has many interesting parts, but one in particular that catches my attention is the story from chapter 8[:1-18] featuring Ezekiel’s vision of idolatry in the Temple.

In this vision, Ezekiel is taken by God “in the Spirit” to the LORD’s Temple, and, there in Jerusalem, is shown the idolatry that is happening within this most holy place…

In the very inner courtyard of God’s house, by the north gate, is the idol that caused God to be jealous…

Ezekiel is then led to look through a hole in the wall and to make the hole bigger… where he sees the “hateful” and “evil” things that are being done in there. “Go in and see the wicked abominations they are committing here,” the Lord says…

And the prophet witnesses disgusting crawling things, unclean animals, and “all the idols of the people of Israel, carved on the wall all around.” (Ezekiel 8:7-10)

The horror is amplified when we hear:

“[in front of the idols] stood seventy elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising…”

This Jaazaniah, by the way, was likely the head of the seventy elders; he was “at least a person of great note and esteem”….

And, as a relevant aside here, most of you are probably well aware that God severely judged His people in the Old Testament for violating His law by chasing after and worshiping the false gods of their neighbors. One summarizes matters like this: 

“Leviticus and Deuteronomy[, for example,] contain detailed and lurid lists of what [these false gods demanded] including: the worship of demonic idols, taboo sexual acts, and even the sacrifice of children to the Canaanite gods.

God[, for example, had made] it clear to the Israelites that it is ‘not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations…’ (Deuteronomy 9:5).

[God’s people] were not to be influenced by the wicked practices and the cultural systems that fostered and endorsed them[!]”

So, back to the inner courtyard of the Temple… 

Ezekiel is horrified to see twenty-five men, between the porch and altar area – the most sacred part of the court! – who have turned their backs to the Temple of the LORD and are instead facing east, worshiping the rising sun (Ezekiel 8:16). 

These were almost certainly God’s appointed priests…

“I will not look on them with pity, nor will I spare them. Although they shout loudly in My ears, I will not listen to them,” the Lord says to the prophet. 

It seems these twenty-five in the temple had thrown in their lot with the rulers of the world, of whom Psalm 2 says this:

“The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

‘Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.’”

God and His deputies as the Supreme Oppressors. 

Truly, these twenty-five priests in Ezekiel’s vision were wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

False prophets or shepherds…

I think most of us are used to the image of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

If only it were so simple though…


In our Old Testament text for today – as we hear about how God will be sending His Good Shepherd to care for His flock – we learn that He has a problem not only with false shepherds but with those he characterizes as strong, sleek and fat!

Are those who are strong, sleek, and fat some other kind of animal outside His flock? I mean, “Are sheep ever sleek?” we might wonder… 

Are these wolves perhaps?

Actually, no…

God is talking about some of His flock, His sheep, perhaps some of the rams and he-goats… the noble, the wealthy, the leaders.…

They, you see, are causing some problems… 

They use their power primarily to chase their own vanities, to feed their own bellies, to seek their own satisfactions and pleasures… with nary a concern for the rest of the flock…who, it seems, are as consumable resources to them…

These sleek, strong, and fat ones are not prosperous or successful in a sense that pleases the Lord, but their earthly blessings have in fact hardened their hearts and made them forget the LORD… (see Deuteronomy 32:15, Isaiah 10:16-17, Acts 28:27).

And yet, they don’t necessarily think this is the case… 

Suppressing the truth in unrighteousness they believe themselves wise… strong… self-sufficient… attractive… blessed!

Inwardly they are not humble before God… who they believe – for the most part at least – to be absent and disinterested…

And hence, they are unable to see… they do not recognize the ones Ezekiel gives voice to… 

the scattered, 

the lost, 

the strayed, 

the injured, 

the plundered,

the weak, 

the lean… 

the ones that these sleek, strong, and fat ones have taken nary a care for, and steamrolled over… trampling the pastures and muddying the waters so the other sheep suffer.

But, you see, these are the ones that God, the prophet is telling us, in fact prefers… and who He will defend!

These are the ones who His promised Shepherd, His One Shepherd, His Servant David, will not ignore…

Unlike Israel’s faithless shepherds, this Shepherd will govern the flock with justice and equity!


In the Gospels, we know that the self-righteous Pharisees — generally held in high regard by the people and also in fact God’s duly appointed shepherds of those people (see Matt. 23!) — did not truly have the best interests of God’s people in mind…

Not only did they not restrain the sleek, strong, and fat sheep, but they joined their ranks! 

Jesus accused them of greed, for example, on a number of levels, going so far as to say that they devoured the houses of widows…

Again, in our reading from Ezekiel we see that Yahweh, the True God, judges between sheep and sheep as their Shepherd, rejecting the proud and accepting the penitent and broken-hearted….

And this, we are also told in this chapter, is exactly what the Shepherd He is sending, the New King like David, will do… 

And this, of course, is what Jesus does!

Ezekiel foresees the Good Shepherd, the One who seeks and finds the lost sheep… 

This is the one who even “…welcomes sinners and eats with them….”

And this great love of God is what took Him to the cross at Golgotha, where He, as our Scapegoat forced outside the camp (Hebrews 13:13), was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and punished that we might have peace and the healing of all our wounds, self-inflicted and otherwise…

I even detect Ezekiel foreshadows the Good Shepherd of Golgotha when he writes in our reading: 

“I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness…”

For on that dark day in which Jesus was crucified, all abandoned Him and were scattered by His persecutors. But He sought out His disciples again, just as He does each one of us… 

This is our God, the God who loves the scared, stupid, and straying sheep…


And yet, many who hear this good news will continue to reject it… even attempting to do so in spectacular fashion….

One might think it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but in 18th century England, as the Bible’s concerns grew further and further from Europe’s intellectuals and ruling classes, some folks appeared to have taken some real pleasure in aping, or at least “recapitulating”, the story we heard in Ezekiel 8…

The headline from the website, History Hustle, says it all: 

“The Hellfire Club, an 18th-Century Ritual Cult for the Famous and Powerful.”

Philip Wharton was a powerful and wealthy politician who was also the Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England.

He clearly was a respectable figure in public life, but he also, along with many friends, lived a double life as a drunkard, rioter, and infidel. 

He was also a womanizer who wasted his fortune with gambling and acts of debauchery. 

His “Hellfire Club” was, according to another history site, a satirical “gentleman’s club” that went so far as to “ridicule religious beliefs through the act of mock religious ceremonies with the supposed president of the club being the devil”. 

While his club and Parliamentary career ended just three years later in 1721 after his political enemies cracked down on him, the club was revived by another noble, Francis Dashwood.

He gave what was once “The Hellfire Club” a much more respectable – and, yes, mocking – title, The Order of the Knights of St Francis or The Brotherhood of St. Francis

Dashwood actually constructed a series of complex tunnels and chalk and flint caverns for the club’s meetings on his estate in Buckinghamshire, England beneath the Church of St. Lawrence. 

Once again, “[the space] was decorated… with mythological themes, phallic symbols and other items of a sexual nature.”

These are today known as the Hellfire Caves or West Wycombe Caves, and in addition to various halls and chambers they also include a Banqueting Hall, the Triangle, and the Inner Temple, “accessed by crossing a faux river meant to represent the River Styx (a river in Greek mythology that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld)…”

Members of the club included several prominent 18th-century figures. 

The article states: 

“Many rumours of black magic, satanic rituals and orgies were in circulation during the life of the club, with the notable English writer Horace Walpole stating that “practice was rigorously pagan: Bacchus and Venus were the deities to whom they almost publicly sacrificed; and the nymphs and the hogsheads that were laid in against the festivals of this new church, sufficiently informed the neighbourhood of the complexion of those hermits.”

Even though such details about this club are well-known and not disputed, of course there have been others like it as well and rumors of many more among the elites, even today…

All in “good fun”?

Can this kind of thing ever really be like that? 

In any case, given the casual way things like “The Hellfire Club” are discussed by those who look into it, the seriousness Ezekiel clearly felt over similar activities seems very far from us today, even already 250 years ago….


Of course, not all rejection of God is so spectacular… 

The reality is that all of this is much more ordinary and mundane…

Dramatic accounts of uninhibited idolatry and sin-seeking aside, ultimately, those who are strong, sleek and fat – as well as those who are lost, weak, and lean – should be understood to exist in a spiritual sense first and foremost.

The first – our strong, sleek, and fat ones – are those who allow their bellies to rule them, and who, in pride, forget God, even if some do create idols that they call “God” or even “Jesus Christ” (as the Apostle Paul says in II Cor. 11, they have a “different Jesus).

The latter – the lost, weak, and lean – are those whose desperation over their lost condition enables them, by God’s Spirit, to see and embrace God’s forgiveness,  love, and rule. 

Unlike the former, they do not mean to subtly undermine in word or practice the teaching that brings blessing and salvation. 

For they understand at some level that false teaching really does kill people spiritually — and that good teaching gives us the care and food we need…

So this may even involve a confession of doubting God’s words which kill and make alive…. That means to deliver what we truly need in our heart of hearts…

In any case, as you can see, there is a world of difference here between these two kinds of people…

Externally both might, in fact, appear righteous… 

They both might live respectable lives in the light of day. They both might seem to largely conform to the second table of the 10 commandments, they both might even profess the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed in a worship service! 

And in this life, truth be told, we must give some real weight to these external appearances – until the “mask slips” and rebellion becomes obvious we might say… 

We must, for all practical purposes, consider them a part of the church. They are us until they show themselves clearly not to be….

Until things come to a head and repentance is clearly and persistently scorned and ignored…

Until they will not confess what the Spirit confesses in the Word, ignoring the pattern of sound words…

Until they themselves realize that when God says “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…” he definitely means them…

Only God, in His Time of Judgment, will perfectly separate the sheep from the sheep, that is, the goats. 

Until that time, as Jesus taught in another of His parables, the wheat and the tares often must grow together… for the tares cannot be forcibly separated from the wheat without damaging it…. 


But, you see, as dire at this all is, we still want to be among them….

For the pull of the forbidden fruit is strong….

Maybe not overtly, with something intentionally god-mocking and perhaps worse like the Hellfire Club… but more subtly… perhaps in ways not even consciously known to us…

You see, as Christians we so often forget that we serve a humble and simple Savior.

And we serve the God who told Gideon his army was too big and that it had to get smaller and weaker. 

Our God, in this world, finally dwells in weakness with the weak on the cross…

But we, in this same world, place a premium on appearing so confident, being physically attractive, behaving in ways that show we are relevant and cool and “influencers”…

In short, appearing to be culturally powerful and not weak…

We want to be the people or at least follow the people that others are inevitably drawn to, attracted to… 

And the church gets sucked in too. Perhaps we convince ourselves that we are trying to share God’s word in a relevant way when we are…

…really just trying to fit in

…really just trying to remain economically viable within a culture increasingly distant from Christian influence

…really just trying to not have to suffer the cost of the cross….

And we see that the world is scandalized by both God’s law and gospel, so how can all of this be tweaked?!

Well… the world does seem to like the idea of grace, as the tune “Amazing Grace,” which doesn’t mention Jesus, is quite popular with many non-believers. The world loves grace at least when this is turned into the notion of unconditional love where nothing one does ultimately matters… (“unconditional love”, by the way, for me and those I like of course, not necessarily for my enemies…)

Again, even if we convince ourselves that we don’t want to compromise God’s word, we still too easily can become those who those — that is, the world as a whole! — that would abuse the notion of grace… and make grace a license for sin, as the Apostle Peter warned…

The strong, sleek, and fat, will, hating God’s law and gospel, ultimately reject it.

And we, seeking to be acceptable to them at some level, will at the very least attempt to confuse matters, trampling on the pasture of God’s food and muddying the water of his drink….


Yes, even the weak and doubting but nevertheless true sheep can be tempted to please the sleek, fat and strong… 

And so, shockingly, some among us “traditional” Lutherans might have the absolute temerity to suggest:

  • That sin is not to be understood as anything said, done, or thought against the law of God.
  • That the Holy Spirit is the opposite of the law and the law is only present where Christ is absent.
  • That any attempt to find a positive role for the law in the lives of Christians inevitably leads to self-justification.
  • That “nothing [is] more damnable than someone choosing to act how they think a Christian should behave…”
  • That God does not finally mean for Christians to walk in His eternal law and hence fulfill it.
  • That with God’s eternal law behind us, because of the Gospel which frees us… it would be impossible for us to sin, no matter how hard we tried.
  • That the law “does not give,” but actually “removes faith in God’s word.” 
  • That God did not punish His Son on the cross for our sins.
  • And, perhaps worst of all, that Jesus Christ commuted His own personal sin….

“Relevant” and culturally compatible indeed!

People who say such things will also be eager to say that they are free from the law, and you absolutely will not, like the legalistic Galatians, put them back under it! 

Well, it is indeed true that Christians are free from the law in a sense: from the condemnation of the law! 

What this means though is that we now live in the truth and in the “perfect law that gives liberty,” as the book of James says.

Freedom ultimately means being at peace with God and living in God’s law, fulfilled in love, because of the Gospel, that is, because of God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation for us in Jesus Christ.  

The law is not “for good order” only — as if it could order society well but not but not rightly instruct and lead every single heart! — but rather imperfectly (i.e. without really addressing matters of context) shows us what it really and truly means to be good

And Jesus, ultimately, fulfills God’s law, the 10 commandments, embodying for us what things unmistakably look like in real time. 

And so what the Apostle Paul calls “the law of Christ” externally looks the same as the fulfillment of the 10 commandments because it is the same. 


If you say the law is not objectively the eternal will of God, for example, you are going to find that you are not really that concerned to follow it…. 

Or, for that matter, be convicted by it – or, at least not all of it. 

In other words, if you don’t think God’s eternal will involves walking in the law you have, in truth, kneecapped the law’s accusation that is continually necessary for us (particularly to prepare us for the Gospel which alone truly frees us from the law’s accusation before God!)

When the Apostle Paul writes that “[some] want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” he might have had others and other things in mind, but still, if the shoe fits…

May this not be the case with us!

And, we pray, not so for those who say such horrible things!

Perhaps when the tender, gentle, merciful, and longsuffering heart of Jesus overwhelms us we will cry out that God would not treat those who propagate these abominations as false teachers— whose judgment will be more strict— but only as false sheep, God willing, false sheep who might still be granted repentance and to regain their status as those who are truly the baptized…

Again, unlike the spiritually strong, sleek, and fat, some clearly know themselves to be sinners who realize that their desires are twisted and destructive and they need a Savior to save them from themselves before they subject all of their relationships to disorder or even destruction…

And please note, in case this is not obvious, that even if someone is physically sleek and strong they can still identify spiritually as weak, lost, and poor…

They realize that God’s words – the “pattern of sound words” delivered to them in the New Testament – are their only hope!

And I also believe strongly that those who in fact subtly persecute the humble who tremble before God’s law and remove none of its sting and accusation can indeed be helped!

For what is truly wonderful is to know that even the worst persecutors of the faithful can be saved… 

Let’s end with the Apostle Paul’s resounding words for those who know themselves not to be strong and sleek, but poor, weak, and lost…: 

“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Upon reflection, the Apostle Paul called himself the “chief of sinners” precisely so we could know that, even now, even for us, even for each and every one of us, God forgives us, through the blood of His Son, all our sins.

In the Name of Jesus,


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Posted by on September 11, 2022 in Uncategorized


Recent Sermons on YouTube

Sermon preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Waseca, Minnesota, 9/4/2022, Build the Tower. Fight the War.

Sermon preached at Ascension Lutheran Church in Waterloo, Iowa, 4/3/2022, Vineyards Gonna Vineyard?

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Posted by on September 5, 2022 in Uncategorized