Taking Offense
Tuesday of Pentecost 8
17 July 2018
I have lost count of the number of times over the years that I have heard a faithful teacher rebuked for disturbing the church by teaching the scriptural truth. Such faithful teachers are considered to be the very troublers of Israel, just as Elijah was named by Ahab, the wicked king (1Ki 18:17). Yet sometimes the prophets of the Lord did trouble Israel; that was their calling from the Lord most High. Sometimes the divine truth is downright disturbing. I find it disturbing when the divine Word discloses to me my wickedness and abject spiritual poverty. If I were not disturbed or troubled by the divine Word, I would begin to doubt that it was God-given. If I liked every so-called Word of God, I would begin to suspect that it had come from my own fallen heart, from that which belches forth the poisonous fumes of decay and degeneration. I am deeply comforted by the rebellion of my old Adam against the Word of God. If that rebellion were not present, I should strongly suspect that my old Adam was the author of this so-called Word of God. A Word of God that does not disturb our faulty presuppositions is no such thing.

The divine truth is the truth no matter who claims to be offended, disturbed, or grieved by it. The standard of the truth is not the feelings of sinners or their subjective evaluations of what they hear. Otherwise, God's Word could always be held captive to the offense taken by old Adam to the divine truth. The church has a responsibility to the divine truth, but not just for its own sake (although that is enough, if we are going to take the first commandment seriously). The church, and especially her ministers, must take seriously the need of the flock to hear only the divine truth about divine things. To speak untruthfully about who Christ is and what He did for His holy people is to give deep and abiding offense to that flock for whom He poured out His precious blood. To fail to do so is to give offense to the weak consciences of our brothers and sisters who know and trust that Christ. 

Cyril of Alexandria thought that was the first order of business when the teachers of the church taught the church. The teachers owed the church the truth and nothing less. He did not retreat to accusing the flock of ignorance, as is sometimes done today. Of course, if the members of the church are ignorant, who is to blame? The flock? No. The shepherds. If the faithful do not know the faith, those charged with teaching them ought to look into the mirror to see the cause of the ignorance of the sheep. It could also be that the ears of the hearers are more holy than the mouths of the teachers. The hearers then have the authority and capacity to judge the shepherds. The Word of God is theirs too! Teaching the faithful something that does not support orthodox belief is a sin against God's Word and God's people.

There is a cottage industry in offense taking. Everyone is offended about something these days. This offense taking has become a political weapon in the hands of the offended. If I am offended by what you say, what you say becomes powerless; the value of your argument is null. "How dare you!" However, not everything called offensive is. Sometimes it is plain old right. The faithful deserve to hear it for the sake of the truth and for the sake of their soul's salvation.

In the case taken up by Cyril of Alexandria the full humanity and fully divinity united in one indivisible person of Christ was at stake. This is hardly unique to his day, many today are unwilling to confess the orthodox faith in regard to the person of Christ. Even beyond that, I would say that every heresy has a Christological component. What I mean is that every heresy will change how the church confesses Christ; both His person and His work. Some years ago, I was trying to explain the Lutheran doctrine of the bound will to a friend of mine who is a Roman Catholic priest. I struggled in the effort until I offered a Christological argument. I said, "Luther looked at the exceptional effort worked by God to save the world. It took the most precious gift, God's Son to rescue humanity from its fall into sin and death. What does this tell us about the how deeply wounded humanity is, that this is what it should cost God to save us?" Suddenly all was clear for him. He said in reply: "Oh, so you think the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation is too man-centered." Bingo! Who Christ is and how we are saved are inseparably joined together in our faith. It is a great offense to the faithful to teach otherwise.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Cyril of Alexandria
"Some miserable heretics say that the Word who sprang from God the Father is lesser than He who begot Him. Such ones have not shuddered by attributing to Him an alien measure only fitting for slaves. Others who grind their mouths against the Holy Spirit in an unholy and intemperate way, should hear the Prophet say, 'But you, draw near, sons of the sorceress, offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman. Whom are you mocking? Against whom do you open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue? Are you not children of transgression, the offspring of deceit' (Is 57:3-4). They shall walk in their own light and find the flames that the they themselves have kindled (Is 50:11). It is right that we who care about doctrinal orthodoxy should give a wise and accurate account of each of the divine doctrines and reject the charges put forth by their unbridled mouths so that we do not offend and sin against the brothers, because in wounding their weak conscience, we sin against Christ (1Co 8:12).

"Let us listen to Him who said, 'For if an enemy taunted me-then I could bear it; if an adversary dealt insolently with me-then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God's house we walked in the throng' (Ps 55:12-14). But let these things fall on the heads of the enemy, who wars against the glory of our Savior and savors blasphemy against Him as delightful food. For us it is necessary, as we zealously savor those things that please Him, that we not follow any doctrine that is alien from the truth or which diverges in any other direction or tends to degeneration. Rather, we should follow that which is for the good of our flock and is crowned with the testimonies as to its rightness by the Truth Himself."

Cyril of Alexandria, Five Tomes Against Nestorius, 1.1
1 Corinthians

As to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that "an idol has no real existence," and that "there is no God but one." For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth-as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Lord Jesus Christ, You are the truth incarnate. Grant us in our day to confess You fully and faithfully to the world and to our brothers and sisters in the church. Keep us from intemperate and undisciplined language in describing the doctrine which You have delivered to Your blood-bought bride, the holy church. Let our brothers and sisters not be offended by the truth of Your person and work. Keep our enemy from distorting the truth of Your Word to the harm of Your holy people. Send Your Spirit to us that we might be vigilant of the truth unto our good; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

For Carol Steinbronn, who is recovering from back surgery, that she would recover fully

For Bob Schreiner who has cancer, that the Lord would grant him strength and hope in Christ his Lord

For all who travel for rest and relaxation, that they would be kept safe and that they would have their strength renewed
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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