Sunday, June 20, 2010

Does Doctrine REALLY Matter?

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
June 20, 2010
Luke 8:26-39

What goes through your mind when you hear the word ‘doctrine’? Rigid? Outdated? Not relevant?

We Lutherans are big on doctrine, aren’t we? We will talk with other Christians and they’ll explain to us that we believe what we do because we have our doctrine. They’ll exhort us to be open to the Spirit’s leading. We can’t be bound by certain teachings, God is perfectly capable of working beyond rigid boundaries. There’s much more to the Christian life than doctrine.

When you hear this you may find yourself agreeing. God is powerful. He isn’t bound by doctrine. We shouldn’t impose doctrine on the words of the Bible. Even if they’re our precious Lutheran doctrines.

Isn’t it the Law that binds us and the Gospel that frees us? But we want to be free on our terms. That is what binds us. We cannot break those chains. The man in the Gospel reading was strong enough to break the chains that bound him, but it was an other-worldly strength. It came from demons. We don’t have strength on our own to do this. But the other-worldly strength enabled him by the demons was strength that could break only chains. It could not break down the walls that separated this man from God. Even though he was possessed by demons, in distinction to you and me, he was bound in the same way you and I are in our sin.

The man was bound even as he was able to break the chains that bound him. He was not truly free. He was isolated from the community. He was tormented not only by demons but by a life in which his sin burdened his heart and mind. The man was not in control, the demons had control over him.

What breaks the bonds of his prison is the presence and word of Jesus. What the Bible is teaching us here is that Jesus has power over what controls us. Demons, sin, whatever. The word that Jesus has is the word of authority. Jesus is God and God speaks with authority. It begins and ends with Him. If you break the law and the judge hands down a sentence you may not like it. You may disagree with it. You may think it’s unfair. You may try to think of ways you can get out of the sentence. But you are bound by it. You are under the authority of the word spoken by the judge. He has no more standing under the law than you do, but when he speaks as a judge he speaks with authority that binds you. This is the way it is with God. When He speaks we are bound by what He says. Whether we agree, disagree, like, or dislike.

If you’d just as soon not go according to the word of God as He has set it forth in the Bible, you are still bound by it. But you are also now bound to a different doctrine. It is the doctrine of man. It is the doctrine that wants control.

The account of the man who was demon-possessed in our Gospel reading may seem irrelevant for us in our day. At least in our culture. I haven’t yet run across someone who is demon possessed, at least not that I was aware of. I don’t know if you have, but even if you have, I think we’d all agree here that it’s not a common thing here in the U.S.

What happens in this account is what happens today. What Jesus did then He does today. The names and details may have changed, but what’s going on is what we deal with today. A movie might portray the frightening nature of demon-possession but you still go away from it not getting a full sense of it because you don’t deal with it. You don’t know what it’s like, I don’t know what it’s like. That man did. The people back then did. They lived in a world where it was dangerous. A man could be roaming the streets and there was no telling what he might do. If you tried to prevent him from harming someone or causing havoc by binding him in chains and he snapped them off like toy handcuffs you could only hope and pray he would do as he did and remain outside the city limits, isolated from civilized society.

We wouldn’t want to walk out our front door and wonder if we’ll face a crazed man due to demon possession. But have we lulled ourselves into a false sense of security because we know something like that probably won’t happen? The world we live in may very well be more dangerous than it was back then. But I’m not talking about predators on the loose, which does happen every so often today. I’m talking about what Jesus is combating in today’s Gospel reading. He’s not trying to disarm a crazy man. He’s coming to engage in battle with Satan. A man may break into your house and hold you at gunpoint, but he can’t take your soul. Satan can. Continuing in unrepentant sin can. Fleeing the gifts of Christ can.

We live in a world today where false doctrine is rampant. I know, it sounds silly. But if it sounds scary to live in a world where people who are demon possessed can roam freely through the streets and there’s no telling what they might do, reset your thinking. False doctrine reigning free in the world, having a hold in your life, is the greater terror we face.

There are things you see and things you don’t. What you see tends to seem more relevant than what you don’t. If you see a crazy man on the loose you should be rightfully scared. If you’re not aware that the man is demon possessed you won’t be aware of the true nature of the severity of the situation. What demons can do to a person is much worse than what a person can do to harm you physically. Since you can’t see false doctrine it doesn’t appear all that harmful. But it’s deadly. It destroys the soul.

This doesn’t mean that if you’re talking with someone and they speak something that doesn’t jive with the Bible that they’re going to hell. Believing that itself is false doctrine. But false doctrine is insidious. It takes a hold of you and binds you in spiritual chains.

What do we want? We want a life as a Christian that has immediate results when the going gets tough. We want God’s power to break through in the midst of trial and temptation. We want to see the demons driven away just as they were two thousand years ago—very apparent, very real, very visible. Very relevant.

But it’s not so, is it? We know God does not operate this way today. Talk to the person who drives to the hospital every day to visit his six year old daughter who is struggling mightily against her cancer but whose body will eventually succumb to it. Talk to the man who was active and lived a fulfilled life in which he did so much good to help others but who is now depressed and feeling all alone in this world because he has lost his sight due to a wrong diagnosis. Talk to someone who has just become a Christian and the newfound joy in her life only to find that her husband is now leaving her. Talk to the woman who has been raped and is struggling with a God who tells us He is loving but is having a very hard time reconciling what a man did to her and a God who reveals Himself to us as a ‘He’. Talk to the person who has worked hard his whole life to get where he’s at in his career only to find that he’s now out of a job because the economy can’t sustain his position. Talk to the man who knows God loves him but is battling depression, not because he’s moody but because he’s suffering from a chemical imbalance. Talk to the mother who cannot seem to balance everything going on in her life with all the demands placed upon her, all the frustrations she has to deal with, and a schedule that never seems to let up. Talk to the father who desperately wants to live in a God-pleasing way but encounters every day temptations that seek to pull him away from God and he’s getting weaker and weaker, praying to God for strength that seems to be fading and fading.

Look in the mirror. Face the demons in your own life. What plagues you? How are you bound? When you look at God, who do you see? Do you see a personal God who sweeps into your life just when you need it to deliver you or do you see a divine being who is far off; powerful but irrelevant?

You and I are bound just as that demon-possessed man was. Is what we struggle with really easier than what that man lived with? We are in the world just as he was. This is the domain of Satan. We are living in a dangerous place, where the devil’s main weapon is false doctrine.

The doctrine of the world, of our own hearts, of Satan himself, says that when you have to struggle as all the people I described then you don’t have much of a god. That’s deadly. That will land you in hell without repentance. The doctrine we hold to says that we’re just not trying hard enough, we’re not trusting in God enough, we must do a better job of being faithful to Him, so that we can then be blessed by Him. This doctrine ultimately leaves you in despair. You will truly be on your own, you will have separated yourself from God. False doctrine binds you in your sin and your separation from God as surely as the demons bound that man.

The Bible counters this false doctrin with true doctrine. It tells us exactly what’s what. We are bound. We are unable to free ourselves. From our sin. From our corrupted hearts. From our ineffective efforts to free ourselves from our bondage. From the walls that separate us from God. And true doctrine tells us what’s what with God. He frees us. He drives away the demons that plague us. The demons that continue to say that we can do it on our own. If we just try harder. If we’re just more faithful. If we just trust God more. If only we will do what God wants then we can be freed from our plight.

God in His Word tells us that He alone does that. He alone drives away the demons; He frees us from our bondage. He comes into your life and Baptizes you. Doesn’t sound all that spectacular? Not all that relevant? Just think about this, when Jesus did do a spectacular thing, driving demons out of a man, restoring the man to where he was no longer a plague on society, the people were scared. They wanted Jesus gone.

That’s what true doctrine tells us. When Jesus acts—in the way He does it—people retreat. They want Him to leave because they want things done their way. Baptism? Great, but what does it do for me today when I’m struggling with sin? How does it help me when I’m at odds with my neighbor? The Lord’s Supper? Wonderful, but how does His body and blood give me the help I need when I just got notice that I’m losing my job?

When Jesus walked the earth He gave direct healing to people. He immediately delivered them from demons. He even brought people forth from the grave. He’s not walking around today doing those things as He did back then. Often we pray for healing and our loved ones get worse, sometimes even dying. There are miraculous recoveries from illness at times, but much of the time we don’t have anything like what happened when Jesus was around to physically touch a person, to speak in their hearing and provide immediate relief from whatever ailed the person.

But He does provide. Think about it, Jesus did those miraculous things two thousand years ago, but He didn’t do it for very long. It was actually for only three years, most of the other thirty years of His life spent either going to school or carrying out the trade of carpenter. And not only did He spend only about three years in His ministry in which He accomplished many miraculous healings, but He also spent those three years in a very small area in this great wide world. For all the people He healed, there were thousands, even millions, who received no such deliverance. A lot like today. False doctrine would say, What kind of a god is that? True doctrine says, God doing it this way is the best way. Not for Him, for us.

Doctrine is what you hold to. It is what you believe. You either hold to your own or you let the Bible have its say. You let it determine what is true and what you believe. It brings to the forefront the most miraculous thing of all. The thing that matters most. The one who with a word drove demons from a man is the very one who is Himself the Word made flesh. The one who suffered in intensity beyond what the demon-possessed man could have ever imagined. The one who carried all the demons in your life to His grave. The one who bore all your sins and guilt upon Himself. This is the truth that drives out false doctrine. It matters because false doctrine is our default position and separates us from God. His default position is mercy toward us. True doctrine carries us through when we are at a loss in how we’re going to get through.

You can hold on to the truth that you are Baptized. You are in God’s eternal care because He has said it. He has made it so. He has saved you in Baptism and sustains you in the Holy Supper of our Lord. These are the things that you can count on each day and forever. Amen.


No comments: