This is the 1st of 8 sermons on The Eight Essentials of the Moravian Church as described by several general synods held in the 19th century. They are no longer the official doctrine of our church, having been replaced in 1957 with a statement of theology known as “The Ground of the Unity.” The Ground of the Unity can be found on this site on the “Parish Papers” page. Though the Eight Essentials no longer represent the official theology of our church, they are still representative of the “kerygma” or “preaching” of the early Church, notably the list of Eight Essentials closely parallels the preaching of the Apostles in the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles. Once learned these essentials are wonderful “pegs” onto which to hand the various doctrines of the New Testament that make up what the New Testament calls ” the Good News,” “the gospel” or “the gospel of Christ.” This sermon is a DVD sermon. The text of the sermon is pretty much what was said on Sunday. The notes add information. I recommend that one read the sermon first, then read the notes, thus gaining additional insights into the texts.
This morning I take up the first of the Eight Essentials. This first essential has been published in various forms since the General Synod of 1818. It reads:
The doctrine of the universal depravity of humanity; that since the fall, no health remains in humankind, and we are powerless to save ourselves.
The first essential makes three assumptions: 1) All human beings are sinners. 2) Sin exercises great power over us, and we are sick with it, individually and corporately. 3) We are powerless to help, heal or save ourselves. If this first essential were an advertising slogan it would read:
“Humankind has fallen, and we can’t get up.”
That is not bad theology. The first account of man’s fall into sin is found in Genesis 2 and Genesis 3. The word “fall” is not used, but the idea is there. Like the book of Job, the story in Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 deals primarily with the problem of theodicy. It attempts to answer the question, “If God is good why does this life consist of so much toil, pain, suffering and death?” It is in answering this question that the Bible speaks of the origins of sin and death. The blame is shifted from God to humankind. The story told in Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 is not the only answer to the question of theodicy in the Bible, nor is it the best answer, for the best answer is not an intellectual answer, but a redemptive answer. However, it sufficed for many until a better answer was revealed in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.i
The story also introduces “an accessory before the fact.” We will speak more of this accessory before the fact in a latter sermon, but not today. Today I want you to hear the story as it was heard by those who first heard it many long centuries ago. For that reason I will simply refer to the first man and the first woman until they receive their names very near the end of the story. The story begins in Genesis 2:4. It goes like this:
Following the creation of the heaven and earth, before the earth was covered in vegetation,ii God forms man from the dust of the ground, and breathes life into him, and he becomes a “living being.” Then God causes the plants to spring up, and God puts man in a garden to till it. God gives the man the right to eat the fruit of all the trees except one, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God says that on the “day” the man eats of this tree, he will surely die.iii Then God creates the animals and asks man to help him name them. This is the beginning of science, which names and classifies things. More importantly, because no fit helper is found for man, God forms woman out of man, and the woman joins the man in the garden, which supplies their every need. Genesis 3:1 makes the point that the first pair was “naked and not ashamed.” It is at this point that the tempter is introduced.
The tempter is a serpent who is described as “more subtle than any other wild creature that God had made.”iv The serpent is just fishing when he says to the woman, “Did God tell you shall not eat of any tree of the Garden.” The woman answered, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” The serpent then said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The serpent’s lie that God does not have our best interest at heart is the foundation of the first sin, as the lie that God does not have our best interest at heart is the foundation of all sin. The woman cannot see that. She sees that the fruit is desirable for food and for the wisdom it will bring, and she eats it, and then gives some to her husband to eat. The text says that after they had eaten the forbidden fruit, “their eyes were opened,” meaning that their innocence was lost. For the first time they know themselves to be naked. In their shame, they sew aprons for themselves from fig leaves.
Then the crisis comes. They hear God walking in the garden and they hide themselves from the presence of the LORD among the trees of the garden. God calls out, “Where are you?” The man answers, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And God asks, “Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten from the fruit of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man confesses, but in typical fashion of men and husbands in every age, he passes the blame to his wife. He says, “The woman whom you gave to me to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (3:12) Then God confronts the woman, saying, “What is this you have done?” She, too, passes the blame, saying “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.” (3:13) The LORD God does not bother to question the snake. Is this the tacit acknowledgment that God already recognizes the father of lies? God immediately hands down a series of curses. First, God curses the snake, and tells him that he will spend his life crawling on his belly and eating dust. Second, God puts enmity between serpent kind and humankind.v I am naturally afraid of snakes, I assume they are afraid of me. Third, God tells woman that he will multiply her pain in child bearing, but that her desire will still be for her husband, and he will rule over her. Men are generally more fond of this pronouncement than women, but for many women, the fact that they must bear the pain of childbirth is evidence enough that they are the stronger sex. Fourth, God curses the ground tells man that from henceforth he will eat his bread through toil and sweat. God tells man that he was taken from the earth, and to the earth he will return. After pronouncing the curses, God names the man, “Adam”, which is Hebrew for man. The man names his wife, Eve, “because she was the mother of all living.”vi Many people miss the fact that man does not receive his identity from God until after his the fall into sin. God does the first pair a final kindness before sending them out into the hard world. He makes Adam and his wife clothes of skins. The death of the animals who wore those skins, is the first sacrifice of life, and God makes it on our behalf. God does have our best interest at heart, even after our sin. God then sends them out of the garden, and posts a fearsome guard to keep them out. Let me advance a caution here: I have heard countless preachers say that the first pair already possessed “Eternal Life,” and lost it. The text does not say that. Verse 22 says just the opposite. God ejects the man from the garden, “lest he eat from the tree of life and live forever.”vii
The best commentary on this passage is found in Romans 5. Paul writes:
12 —sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned — Romans 5:12
There are two key points to be made from this passage.
First, as a child of his age, Paul takes the Genesis story literally. He says “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin.” When you think about it, there had to be a first man, and for Paul, that first man was Adam. Of course, for Paul, Adam was much more than just the first man, Adam was also the archetypal head of the human race. According to Paul, Adam was not replaced as the archetypal head of the human race until the revelation of Jesus Christ. In Romans 5, Paul contrasts the disobedience of the one man, Adam, with the obedience of the one man, Jesus the Messiah. In verse 18 he sums up his argument saying, “as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” 1st Corinthians 15:22 Paul writes, “As Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” In verse 45 he adds, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam (Jesus Christ) became a life-giving spirit.” According to Paul, we are either “in Adam,” and he is our head, and we are solid in sin and in death and in the fear of death, or we are “in Christ,” and he is our head, and in him we have obedience and life. In Christ we triumph not just over death, but over the fear of death. For Christians death has lost its power and its sting. (1st Corinthians 15:55-56)
Second, unlike many preachers and theologians from the time of Augustine onwardviii , Paul does not say, “death spread to all men just because of Adam’s sin.” Paul admits that Adam’s choice affected us all, but Paul makes it more personal than that. He says, “death spread to all men because all men sinned.” People ask me, “Worth, do you believe in the fall?” I answer, “Not only do I believe in it, I participated in it.” The fall occurs in each of our lives, as for the first time. Our sin is as great as the sin of any who lived before us. Do you remember your first sin? I may not remember my first sin, but there is a sin which I remember as my first. My mother asked me if I had started the fire that she saw me tending in the alley behind my grandmother’s house on Cotton Street. I told her, “No,” and then she saw the matches I had foolishly put into the pocket of my shirt. When I realized what she saw, suddenly, I was naked and ashamed, as I have been many times since.
In Isaiah 43, God speaks through his prophet saying, “Your first father sinned, and all your mediators have transgressed against me.” The first father is most certainly Adam. Isaiah himself was a mediator. He was a priest. Yet, when he saw a vision of the LORD high and lifted up, he cried:
Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the glory of the Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 6:5)
We know now that there is “one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.” (1st Tim. 2:5) Yet God still sends us lesser mediators, apostles, prophets, and pastor-teachers to help us understand things. Reinhold Niebuhrix was a helpful teacher for me. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but he gave me what I believe to be a tremendous insight into sin. Niebuhr pointed out that we human beings have a dual nature. On the one hand God created us like the animals, from the dust of the earth. We are finite beings. We are born. We eat. We sleep. We mate. We die. Our life, like the animals, is a passage from womb to tomb. On the other hand, God created us special. He breathed into humankind “the breath of life.” According to the creation story of Genesis 1, when God created humankind, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
God asks the animals to obey their instincts. They kill and ravage one another, and mate at every opportunity, and they live free of sin and guilt because they live according to their nature. God asks us to transcend our instincts and our passions. God asks us to choose what is right and good, and turn our backs on evil. Of course, God gives us the freedom to obey, and the freedom to disobey.
Niebuhr says that the body God has placed us in is a halfway house that is exactly halfway between the finitude of the animals on the one hand and the absolute freedom of God on the other. We are neither fully finite, nor fully free. He says that we fall into sin precisely because we cannot stand the tension of living in the halfway house, so we try to break out. There are only two ways out.
Niebuhr says some of us try to break out of the halfway house by giving in to our finitude. We follow our animal passions, and deny our God given freedoms. Hugh Heffner and his playboy philosophy is a prime example. Hugh Heffner says that the meaning of life is found in pleasure, especially sexual pleasure. Many agree. I told you before about a conversation I had with a young man who had become a Satanist. I asked him how he could believe in Satan and not believe in God. He said, “I don’t really believe in the devil, but I believe that life should have structure. I am a carnal person, so I worship Satan.” That sounds terrible, horrifying, but there is a still more grievous form of sin.
Niebuhr says that some of us try to break out of the halfway house by seeking to be totally free. We imagine ourselves more important than anyone or anything else. Sometimes we do this by pretending to worship a god that we have created after our own image. At other times, we convince ourselves that there is no God, and that we alone are the captains of our fate and the masters of our universe. This attitude makes us particularly dangerous to others. A good example of this kind of sin is Raskolnikov, the central character in Dostoevsky’s book, Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov believed that his life was of more value than the life of an old pawnbroker, so he killed the pawnbroker and took her gold. All the great villains of history, from Genghis Khan, to Hitler, to Stalin, to Osama Ben Laden, have denied God and God’s law of love by making themselves somehow “more important” than their fellow human beings.
Jesus ranked the gravity of sin in the same way. Jesus exercised great leniency toward those who are guilty of sexual sins and other sins of the animal nature, but he was hard on those sins that deny God. Let me give one example. In Luke 12:32, Jesus said that “every one who speaks a word against the son of Man will be forgiven, but he who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” And what is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? It is nothing less than setting ourselves up in opposition to God, by calling good evil and evil good. In Isaiah 5:20 we read, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” We might add, “Woe to those who deny their own corruption and sin and put themselves in the place of God.” Forgiveness is the most therapeutic idea in the world, but how can we ask God to forgive us, unless we recognize sin as sin and repent of it?
I want to mention another teacher who has helped me to understand the nature of sin, the great psychologist Eric Fromm.x Some people say that psychology does not belong in the pulpit of the church. On man said as much to me. I asked if he had read Oswald Chambers book, My Utmost for His Highest. He said that he had. I suggest he ought also to read a book by Chambers entitled The Biblical Psychology. Some people forget that the Bible says as much about human beings and psychology as it does about God and theology. Anyway, Fromm thinks the story of the fall is one of the most important in the Bible, and greatly helps us to understand our lives. He points out that the fall is not just a fall “downward” into sin and death, but also a fall “upward” from the simple innocence of the animal world, to the complexity of human life. I agree. Immediately we achieve self-awareness, reason and imagination, we fall away from the innocence of the animal world. We know that we are naked. We hide ourselves from God because we are naked and afraid. We realize the depth of separation between our own imperfect lives, and the life of God. We realize the separation between others and ourselves. We realize how little we resemble the person we want to be, the person God wants us to be.
The first father and mother of our race whom the Bible calls Adam and Eve went through the loss of innocence in a time so ancient that we cannot even put a date on it. Each of us must pass through a loss of innocence, too.
Children enjoy many areas of innocence that they must eventually discard. I would mention two.
Children begin life innocent of death. I think it is God’s will that every child begins life by thinking him or herself immortal. The child who does not even think of death is blessed indeed. Yet there comes a time in every child’s life when he or she confronts death. Confucius sees a dead leaf. Another child looses a beloved grandparent, or worse yet, a beloved parent, and they gain a wisdom they wish they did not have. I lost my sense of personal immortality when I was in the 3rd Grade. I went to school one day and the little boy behind me did not show up. He died of a terrible disease called, “Cystic Fibrosis.” Every adolescent must surrender the myth of personal immortality. Teenagers who have not rid themselves with the myth of personal immortality are those who kill themselves with drugs, and alcohol, and fast cars. Sometimes this happens in a big way. A young man in our community recently died a tragic death playing in a football game. His life, a noble life, has become an unfinished symphony. It is a terrible loss. It has caused many people, young and old, to think about the uncertainty of life. The truth is, we are all afraid of death, and only those who hear the word of the Risen Christ overcome it. It is not just the Christ of the gospels, but the Living Lord of Life, who stands forth to us in faith and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
There is one more thing of which we are afraid: choice. When we are young our parents choose for us, and they bear the responsibility for those choices. This goes on for years, and our only choice is to “honor our father and mother.” During these years we often develop a sense of omni-potentiality. Our mother tells us that we can grow up to do anything we want to do. Our father may not be as optimistic, but he does pick us up when we fall down. A good father will teach his children that they fall down so that they can learn to pick themselves up. This is good. Of course, a child sometimes comes to believe that someone will always be there to pick him up when he falls. This is bad. As we grow from childhood to adulthood, we must loose this sense of omni-potentiality, and omni-potency. We must make choices. This terrifies us. What if we choose wrongly? What if our choices hurt us? What if our choices hurt someone we love? Even good people, heroic people are afraid of making choices. Do your remember Lawrence of Arabia, the British Soldier who did so much to save Arabia for the Arabs during the 1st World War? After the war, Lawrence resigned his commission as a Colonel in the British Army, and enlisted in the Air Force under an assumed name as a private. When his ruse was discovered, his superiors asked, “Why would you do this?” He said, “Because I made so many choices during the war, that I hoped never again to have to make a choice.” He wanted people to tell him what to do. According to Fromm, it was because the German people did not want to make choices, that they blindly followed Hitler and allowed him to shape them into the horror that was Nazi Germany. He said that the Germans wanted what we all want, “An Escape from Freedom.” Even good people want to escape from freedom. Ultimately, we cannot escape our freedom. Not to choose is to choose.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl tells the story of his experience in a Nazi prison camp. The way he survives is remarkable. Robert Schuller used to tell Frankl’s personal story. He was in the Nazi camp. His wife had been taken from him, and he believed he would soon be dead. He was standing in front of a Nazi officer, naked except for his wedding band. The office pointed to the ring of gold and a soldier took it off Frankl’s finger. It was in that moment, he said, that Frankl made the discovery that there is one freedom that can never be taken from us, the freedom of choosing how we will respond to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. From first Adam to Last there is nothing so important to us as the choices we make. In choosing what is “essential,” to our faith, Moravians of every generation have chosen to confess that we, with all of humankind, have fallen and we can’t get up. Our first father sinned, and all our mediators have transgressed against God. Yet there is one mediator between God and humankind, the man Jesus Christ. He holds out a hand to us. It is scarred with nails. Yet he is not weak. He can and will pick us up, if only we will choose to let him.
Our final hymn speaks of him. Please pay careful attention to the words as we sing it.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.
i Emil Brunner maintained that the best answer to the question of theodicy was not an intellectual answer, but a redemptive answer.
ii This is different from the Creation story of Genesis 1 where the man is not created until after plants and animals. Why is it different? In the context of the Canon of scripture, Genesis 1 is concerned with creation, and man is created last, as the apex of creation. Genesis 2 is primarily concerned with the question of theodicy, and with the place man occupies in the world. The order of creation is changed to reflect a different emphasis. Man is the apex of creation because he is first, and all else is created for him. People ask me if evolution is compatible with the Bible’s view of the creation of humankind. Yes, provided evolution is the method, not the theory of creation. Evolution as a theory makes no place for God. Evolution as a method depends completely upon God. One more point: Genesis one refers to “God,” and Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 3:24 introduces “the LORD God” and uses the two terms “the LORD God” and “God.”
iii According to Genesis chapter 5 Adam lived 930 years, at least 800 after the birth of his third son, Seth, who is not born until after man is expelled from the garden. Obviously, the timetable of the story is not to be taken too literally. I am reminded that with God, time is indeed “relative.” See also II Peter 3:8.
iv In Revelation 12:9 Satan is again called, “the ancient serpent.” There are other pictures of Satan in the Bible. In 1st Peter 5:8 we are told that the devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. In 2nd Corinthians 11:14, St. Paul describes Satan in truly fearful terms, saying that he disguises himself as “an angel of light.” Taken together, all these passages raise the caution that we should not take any one description of Satan too literally. There are two mistakes we can make about Satan. First, we can make too much of him, and we should not. In Mark 3:24 Jesus says that Satan is bound. His powers are limited. Jesus has already robbed him of his spoils. Of course, Oscar Cullman once noted that if Satan is bound, “he is bound with a long rope.” The second mistake we can make about Satan is that we can make too little of him and we should not. I do not believe in a red devil with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork, but I do believe in the devil. C. S. Lewis wrote , “to believe in the devil is to believe that evil is greater than the sum total of its parts.” Emil Brunner wrote that to believe in the devil is “to believe that the possibilities of evil are not exhausted by human evil alone.” I believe he is the father of lies, the author of confusion, and the dedicated enemy of our race. The devil is not God’s opposite number, but he is the adversary. Every army, even the salvation srmy, needs an enemy, lest the army grows lazy. Ephesians 6 notes that the salvation army of which we are a part does not wage war against flesh and blood, i.e. human beings. How can we, for our commission and goal is to share gospel with all human beings, to rescue them, and to make them our friends. We are not contending against flesh and blood, but the salvation army does make war “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
v God puts enmity between serpent-kind and human-kind. This is an accepted fact. Rightly or wrongly, most human beings hate snakes, and I suppose their opinion of us is pretty low, too. We hate snakes because we believe them to be so subtle and sneaky. The prophet Amos mentions a man who flees a lion, reaches the safety of his house, and then leans against a wall only to be bitten by a serpent. (Amos 5:19) What is sneakier than that?
vi God allows man to name the animals because he is to rule them. In the same way, man names his wife because, according to the Genesis order of creation, he rules over her. See also Genesis 3:16. Is this the final order of creation? That is a harder question. In Mark a Pharisee came up to Jesus and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” This certainly raised the position of women in 1st century Judaism. Paul also considered the question, but what was his conclusion? He seems to uphold the subjugation of women in 1st Corinthians 11:3-16, where in he forbids women to speak in church, hold authority over men, or teach men. Some scholars think this is a late addition, as the text of 1st Corinthians 11 reads better if verse 2 is linked with verse 17. At the very least, verses 3-16 certainly form a hiatus in Paul’s original line of thought. Likewise, they run contrary to the facts we know about the Pauline churches where women like “Prisca” (Romans 16:3) are described as “fellow workers in Christ.” So, too, in Galatians, Paul seems to put men and women on an equal footing before God when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 In Ephesians 5 we read that are all “to be subject to one another.” Only then do we read that wives are to be subject to their husbands as to the LORD. Ephesians lays the greater responsibility upon the husband, for the husband is “to love the wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Moravians have long had women in position of authority. In its early days, the Renewed Moravian Church accepted a woman as Chief Elder. Today we have women teachers, preachers, missionaries, and elders. We will take all we can get.
vii In commenting on this passage, Oswald Chambers, the author of My Utmost for His Highest, notes that the first pair was created “innocent,” not “holy.” He says that their God given task was to transform their “innocence” into “holiness” through a series of moral choices that would have resulted in Eternal Life. They failed the test. Since the New Testament teaches that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50), one might also raise the issue of how the first humans were to reach a higher status. The text says that the tree of life was the key to the transformation. Some have suggested that the real issue here is not death, but the fear of death. Seemingly, this is the approach Jesus takes in John 11:25-26 wherein he seems to pass quite lightly over the physical death of those who believe in him. John 11:25-26 “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
viii Augustine said that original sin consisted in three things: 1) All are sinners, 2) Sin is a power that affects us as individuals and as a whole, i.e. in groups, from families to nations, etc. 3) Sin is biologically passed from generation to generation, through the male. Paul’s statement in Romans 5 seems to refute this argument, for Paul puts the emphasis on each individual. Niebuhr takes a different stance than that of St. Augustine, suggesting that though sin is not passed on biologically, we are born with “an inherited tendency to sin.” At the very least we are born into a world system that is sick and crippled with sin. This seems more in keeping with Paul.
ix Reinhold Niebuhr was perhaps the quintessential American theologian of the twentieth century.
x Some Christians don’t even like to mention psychology and the Bible in the same sentence. That is a unfortunate. The Bible is not only the best theology ever written it is also the best book of psychology ever written. Not surprisingly, many notable psychologists have recognized the value of scripture, and illustrated their teaching from the Bible. Abraham Maslow called our fear of success the “Jonah Complex.” Carl Jung referred to the goal of perfection in each of us as “the Christ image.” B.F. Skinner said that people who try to save their life will loose it, but those who give it away in the service of others will gain it. Jung said that the best way to live is to find the person, thing or idea for which we are willing to die.