The disciples needed an admonition to fear God. We need it too. Yes, I often ask myself: Is there anything our generation needs more urgently than to really fear God? There is fear enough otherwise in our day and age. We fear illness...We fear poverty...We fear people...Yes, there is enough fear. Jesus tells us that this fear which stunts the growth of a person's character and contaminates the soul is all due to the fact that we do not fear the only one whom we should fear, namely, the living God.**If you want an explanation for why so many Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) congregations are failing either to rise up and demand that the denomination reform and repent or, in the knowledge that the deck is heavily stacked against the Word of God in the ELCA, leave it to join other Lutheran bodies, you need look no further than Hallesby's insightful quote.
ELCA Lutherans are failing to speak and act in concert with the will of God because they fear everything more than they fear God.
For many in the ELCA, God is an abstraction, not a real living Being, the Ground of All Being, as Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich put it. For many, the Bible is not the Word of God, the authoritative record of God's self-disclosure, first "in many and various ways," to the people of Israel and ultimately in the Person of the Word made flesh, Jesus.
Bishops stand idly by, failing to exercise their pastoral responsibility to correct, rebuke, and discipline those pastors and theologians who deny Christ's virgin birth (even the ELCA's official web page that our confession of Jesus' virgin birth is not "a gynecological assertion," which no doubt comes as a great surprise to Jesus and would to the Biblical writers and to the early Christians, including Jesus' own family, who spent some energy denying the allegations made by many that Jesus was a "bastard," conceived by the usual means), who deny that Christ was physically resurrected or that Christians who believe in Christ will physically rise with Christ, and who, even on the official pages of the ELCA, uphold the universalistic notion that since Christ died for all, all will be saved, whether repenting or believing in Christ or not. (Although "saved" is a term meaning little in some universalists' hands, if there is also no resurrection.) The Bible, and Jesus Himself, teaches that faith in Jesus is the means by which God's grace is appropriated by believers and that there is no other way to God but through Jesus. (See here, here, and here.) (Also see here and here.)
The ELCA countenances pastors who teach that while there may be a heaven, there is no hell, in direct contradiction of Jesus Himself.
It countenances, in the presence of and with the complicity of participating bishops, the offering of flagrantly un-Christians prayers in "celebratory" rites. (To see a recent "rite" at which three ELCA synodical bishops were present, in which several alternative versions to the Lord's Prayer and in which there is a refusal to acknowledge God's power and might, see here. Warning: It's deeply depressing reading, especially because it so slyly displaces Biblical truth with plausibly phrased heresy and sin.)
The presiding bishop of the ELCA stands idly by at a conference called Sharing the Gospel (a conference supposedly about sharing the good news of Jesus, the one and only Savior and God), while Muslim and Buddhist prayers invoking other deities or "ways," are offered, ostensibly to allow participants to appreciate the beauty of the prayers***
And, of course, consistent with all of these acts of outright rebellion against God and lazy complicity with heresy, the ELCA, last August, officially denied the authority of God to declare what behaviors are acceptable and what are sin, when it granted congregations the right to ordain practicing homosexuals.
All these sins of commission and of omission are perpetrated by a denomination and by complicit congregations who fear the world more than they fear God.
God's will and Word on all the sins and errors enumerated above, which hardly represents an exhaustive bill of particulars, are crystal clear. A reading of the Bible in which we allow it to speak in its clear sense, untouched by rope-a-dope theology will tell us that the ELCA has wandered far from God.
The ELCA and many of its congregations fear the world; fear being on the outs with those to whom we look for what is politically correct; fear appearing "fanatical" if we side with God rather than the arbiters of contemporary mores and attitudes; fear offending people; fear hurting people; fear breaking up somnambulant clubs masquerading as churches, clubs that have forgotten that the Church belongs to Christ, not to church members.
The truth of God's Word always hurts when we let it tell us the truth about our sin and our need of God. But the truth of God--the truth of Jesus Himself--can also set sinners who repent and believe in Christ free from sin, death, and futility for all eternity.
Jesus tells us to fear God alone. Fearing God leads to freedom and life. Fearing anything else leads to slavery and yes, hell.
Are we listening?
*[Jesus said:] "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!" 5
**This is cited in By What Authority: Confronting Churches Who No Longer Believe Their Own Message.
***Obviously, it's a good thing to learn about world religions and to interact with those of other faiths. We Christians want to live in peace with all people AND, by our servant hearts and Christians love, we want to earn a hearing for the good news of Jesus, which can lift people out of darkness into God's marvelous light. But when Christians are gathered to worship God, they should turn their attention to the God we meet in Jesus Christ. Period.