Believers stand before God and literally bask in the grace that flows from heaven above. As believers we lift up our arms and open our hearts to let the Spirit fill our souls, falling upon us like a gentle, warm rain. Yet, there are still so many that do not have faith. There are those who simply do not understand the gift offered by God or have never heard the Good News. There are those who know about God, but open their umbrellas to deflect the grace that rains down, refusing to listen. There are those who choose to accept alternate paths that lead them away from Him. And then there are those who teach that everyone will be granted salvation, regardless of faith. John 3:16-18, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Our God so loves His children that He wants all to be saved. His grace falls indiscriminately upon this world. It is there for all. We have the choice to accept His grace by simply believing in the Risen Christ.
But, there are scholars within the ELCA that promote a very different understanding of salvation. Though not taught as official doctrine of this wayward Lutheran denomination, the concept of universalism is gaining steam and is being taught in ELCA churches and seminaries. From the June 21, 2011 Living Lutheran, an article penned by Paul Lutter, a visiting instructor at Gustavus Adophus College, working towards his PHD at Luther Seminary. “Fully, Luther came to understand, God forgives, loves and saves us completely apart from anything we do or do not do. When this came to light, it was for Luther as if “the gates of heaven were opened to me.” Such news clangs in our ears, however. “I have to do something,” we retort. “God isn’t going to do God’s thing with or for us without our first believing, right?” When faith — or anything else God gives — is turned from a gift God gives to something we need to do first to earn God’s favor, we reveal something rather telling about ourselves. We do not trust that God gives as God promises. We do not trust God. God comes down the staircase, gifts in hand, ready to dole them out to us who are caught empty-handed. When God reaches us, God hands them out, as the one who sews seeds. God throws caution to the wind and hands out God’s gifts with wild abandon. Foolishly. Freely. For us. When we speak of grace alone, we mean to say something unconditional about the way God gives to us who are not ready and yet waiting for God’s presence and work among us. God gives. We receive. Fully and completely.” Like most ELCA teachings, some of Mr. Lutter’s analogy is correct, God’s grace is given freely to those who believe. Faith is the missing link in this essay. It is apparent that the instruction given to seminarians by this man is tainted with his interpretation of grace without the condition of faith. This is not what our Savior taught us and certainly not what Martin Luther preached.
From the March, 3, 2011 Huffington Post, an article by David Lose, Director of the Center for Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, commenting about Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”, “But I think the importance we attach to hell today has more to do with the allure of certainty than fear of punishment. A clear sense of the rewards and punishments for having or lacking faith in Christ offers a compelling logic regarding our eternal destiny that reduces ambiguity from the life of faith. After all, and as many Evangelical Christians have argued, if you can go to heaven without believing in Christ, what's the point of faith in the first place? This certainty, in turn, lends believers a sense of authority, even power, as they have a clear standard by which to judge "who's in" and "who's out." Talk about seductive!” Again, we find a professor at an ELCA seminary who looks upon those who have faith in the Risen Christ as self righteous and judgmental. Are believers somehow more special than others? No, God loves all of His children unconditionally. This is why Jesus charged His Disciples, and also all believers, to make disciples of all nations, so that everyone would find eternal life with the Father.
The initial printing of the ELCA Study Bible, included this footnote, written by Wartburg Seminary professor, Duane Priebe regarding Matthew 28:16-20: “...In contrast to 10:5-6, 23, Jesus now sends the disciples to make disciples of all nations. That does not mean make everyone disciples. Most people who are helped by Jesus and believe in him never become disciples. Jesus includes in salvation people who do not believe in him or even know about him.” Our Lord and Savior does not agree. Jesus said in John 6:40, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Why do these enlightened scholars of the ELCA continue to teach that faith is somehow optional? Our God does not force us to believe. We have the free will to choose to believe. Ephesians 2:8-10, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Share the gift that God has given you. Proclaim His word to those who have not heard and especially to those who are acceptant of false gospels. God wants all of His children to come to Him. We are His disciples on earth and we are charged to share the Good News and make disciples of all nations, so that all will be saved.