Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Church's Call: Welcome All People, Tell the Truth About Sin and the Son, Jesus

Over on Facebook, Holly Robinson, who, like me, is part of the crew that produces the blog The Moderate Voice, wrote to say that a friend of hers is leaving an ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] congregation because the ELCA is not "gay-friendly enough."

I'm a pastor of the ELCA and, as many readers of this blog will know, I remain opposed to recent policy changes in the denomination allowing gays and lesbians in monogamous relationships to be ordained as pastors in the church. (By the way, current policy states that heterosexuals living in monogamous relationships without the benefit of marriage may not be ordained, unlike their gay and lesbian counterparts. Figure that one out, if you can.) My opposition to this policy change is based on the clear teaching of Scripture that the genders were created to express sexual intimacy in covenants of marriage involving one man and one woman (see: Genesis 2:18, 20-25; Exodus 20:14) and the overt Biblical condemnation of sexual expressions outside of lifetime heterosexual marriage (Leviticus 18:22*; numerous Biblical condemnations of fornication, which is sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage; Romans 1:26-27, where homosexual activity is seen as a consequence of humanity's utter disregard for God's will).

None of this discussion, so far as I'm concerned, has anything to do with the debate over gay marriage as legitimized by state governments, by the way. The state's interest in domestic relationships is entirely different from that of God and the Church.

Here, slightly revised for clarity, is how I responded to Holly's comment:
The question before the ELCA is not about friendliness or hospitality.

The Church should welcome all people and should stand for civil rights for all people.

The question before the ELCA rather, is whether we will stand under the authority of God's Word or will stand over it as its judge. "Unsinning" that which God calls sin is not an option.

  Another question is whether we will uphold the Scripture's teachings on such issues as Jesus as "the way, and the truth, and the life." (See here, here, here, and here.) (There are no other pathways to God but through Jesus.)

Another is whether we will uphold the Scriptures' teachings on the physical resurrection of Jesus. (See here.)

Yet another question is if we will uphold the Scriptures' teaching that there will be a physical resurrection of the dead who trust in Christ as God and Savior. (See here.)

Yet all of the alternative views roused by these questions have been legitimized by the ordination of and the failure to discipline those pastors who adhere to them by the ELCA. For many of us, including myself, the actions of the ELCA last August are the official, public confirmations of the denomination's slide away from Christ, the Scriptures, and the Lutheran Confessions which has been ongoing for twenty-one years.

In the name of being friendly or nice, we as a denomination have often forgotten the Gospel and our call to share it with the world. (See here.) That, in fact, is the core purpose of the Church and everything we do should revolve around this Great Commission given to us by Christ Himself.

The consequences of our ELCA's spiritual amnesia can be tragic for all whose lives we touch! To consider this point, imagine a little scenario for a second. If you see a pedestrian floating unknowingly into heavy traffic, what is the most loving thing to do: allow them to do it unchallenged in the view that such floating expresses their natural inborn impulse, or warn them with all the compassion and passion at your disposal that her or his life is endangered by this behavior? The Church is called to proclaim God's Law and God's Gospel, because until we recognize that our eternal lives are endangered by heedlessness of God's Law, we won't understand what the Gospel--the good news--of Jesus' death and resurrection, involves. Until we who are blind are helped to see, we won't understand that Jesus has come to give those who dare to turn from sin and trust in Him, new, everlasting lives.
There is no love in a "Gospel" that fails to explain that our sins put the sinless Jesus on the cross and that apart from repentance for those sins and faith in Jesus, our deaths will result in eternal separation from the God Who wants nothing so much as to forgive us and live with us for all eternity!

The ELCA has chosen to float along with the prevailing winds of the intellectual currents in this post-modern world. We've bought into what C.S. Lewis once described as God as grandfather, a jolly old soul who doesn't mind what we do so long as a good time is had by all. God is turned into an irrelevant caricature with no sense of right and wrong and with no need to send the Messiah to save us from sin and death.

I believe that the Church is called to cling to the God revealed in Jesus and to His cross, no matter what.

So, whether the congregation I am privileged to serve votes to stay or leave the ELCA, I will continue to proclaim the Bible as it stands and pray for the moment when the ELCA or what's left of the ELCA turns back to God and proclaims the Word in its truth and purity.

I am a sinner, an imperfect person saved only by God's grace. I welcome others to worship and study and repent with me because God welcomes me, imperfections and all.

I have learned though, that while God loves me just as I am, God loves me too much to leave me that way. I, like all who repent and believe in Jesus, are, in Martin Luther's phrase, "the Holy Spirit's workshop," submissive to the often painful and jarring, but always rewarding and joyful process of being made over in the image of my Savior. That painful, jarring, rewarding, joyful process will continue for the rest of my days on earth so long as I keep submitting to Jesus. I love Paul's words in Philippians 3:8-16:
I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Being a Christian is about submission to God and to God's will, even when we don't like it. Absent such submission or the daily desire for submission to God, there is no reason to speak of God as God. Without submission to the God we know in Jesus Christ and to the revealed will of God, the one true God of the universe becomes just another entree in a spiritual buffet, a choice among many, rather than the one God Who will reign over us without rivals or will not reign over us or have anything to do with us at all. I honestly struggle with submission to God each day and this is why confession of sin is a daily part of my life. This is also why I refer to the Church as a fellowship of recovering sinners who have hope not because of their rectitude or their virtues, but solely because the God revealed in Jesus has covered our sins and sent the Holy Spirit to help us make the painful midcourse corrections we all need to undergo each day in order to keep walking with Christ.

When we--members of the ELCA or human beings, in general--reserve the right to call our own shots irrespective of God's revealed will in Scripture, we become our own gods and that is a violation of the first and most basic commandment, the one that inheres in each of the other nine: "You shall have no other gods before Me."

God wants to welcome all the prodigals home. But God can't welcome prodigals who want, simultaneously, to come home and do their own things. It is impossible to follow two gods and that, sadly, seems to be what the ELCA is currently intent on doing: the God of Israel and Jesus, on the one hand, AND the God of post-modern me-worship, on the other. In Exodus 20:5, we're told that God is a jealous God, meaning God will not accept our spiritual waffling. God will either reign over us and our churches or God will be absent from our lives and from our churches; there is no other course. ELCA members who, in the name of not hurting people or of being nice, want to waffle, are flat-out refusing to unambiguously adhere to the basic Lutheran understanding of "grace alone, faith alone, word alone."
At our congregation, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church, I believe, the welcome mat is always out for all people. But all who come should consider these Biblically-rooted lines from an old Randy Stonehill song:

"You'll be tempted, tried and tested
There'll be wars the devil wins
But God's love is not a license to lie
there in your sins
He understands the human heart
His mercy is complete
But His grace was not intended
As a place to wipe your feet"
('Angry Young Men' Randy Stonehill, 1984)

God bless you, Holly!

*Not all of Leviticus should be read in the same way all through. But the section from which this verse comes is one in which the Ten Commandments, the Mosaic Law, valid for all peoples everywhere, are explicated. In Leviticus and other places in the Old Testament, there are three different kinds of laws. I talk about this issue here.


Phyllis said...

Amen Mark!!
I am not opposed to other people's lifestyle, but I do believe that if a person is to preach from the Bible to congregations, (gay or heteros..straight), they need to have a respectable lifestyle. Practice what you preach. I surround myself with "sinners" and "unbelievers" but I pray that they will like what I have and go to any length to get it. Jesus surrounded himself with sinners. We are here to be Disciples!!

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you so much for your kind words, Phyllis. God bless you!

Mark Daniels said...

Your words are inspiring ones too. Thanks for sharing them here!