In the September 2012 edition of The Lutheran magazine, the featured article included the term legalistic evangelicalism. I’ve never heard this before, but I can actually somewhat agree with its premise. The author was casting aspersions on Christians that use a form of Spiritual abuse when they attempt to uphold the authority of Scripture. You see, many, and you can include me among them, were up in arms about the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly action to de-sin homosexuality and allow practicing homosexuals to preach from ELCA pulpits. Many faithful Christians that view this new doctrine as rebellion against God’s law, but only emphasize the defiance of God’s law and the sin it produces, are truly missing the point. The question is not what we do when we engage in sin, but why we choose to disobey.
Deliberate disobedience of our Lord’s commands is not exclusive to liberal or progressive Christians. We all commit sins against our God daily. We admit that we sin by what we have done and what we have left undone, so we do acknowledge that we sin by commission and omission. Even though believers are no longer subject to punishment for breaking God’s law, we will repent and ask God for forgiveness. So, since it is more than apparent that all of us deliberately engage in sin all too often, why are the actions of the leadership of the ELCA so troubling? Are we falling into the trap of rating our sinful acts on a scale that minimizes one’s particular chosen indulgence?
Progressive “Christians” criticize those that object to their misguided attempt to modernize our faith with their flawed human logic. They wag their fingers at those they view as unenlightened Bible thumpers that are intentionally using their Bibles as war clubs, calling them hateful, homophobic and judgmental. Well, when we call out our brothers and sisters simply on the basis of their disobedience, we indeed become the Pharisee that Jesus called out in Scripture. Fact of the matter is that we are no longer required to obey the law in order to attain righteousness. The Gospel bestows righteousness to those who believe in God's one true Son. We are no longer subject to the punishment our disobedience warrants. When Jesus went to the cross he took all, that’s right all sin, committed yesterday, today and tomorrow. He suffered and died, in our place, willingly accepting the punishment meant for us, so that we could be forgiven by, and reconciled with our Father. When Jesus rose three days later, defeating death, He opened the door for all those who believe, to eternal life with Him in Heaven. Jesus said in 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 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.”
Once we truly believe, we endeavor to please our God by obeying His commands. Is this mandatory? No, even when we try our best to obey, we continue to fall short. Even with our best of intentions, we still choose to deliberately disobey. Does our God love us any less because of our shortcomings? No, His love is unconditional. Faith in the Risen Christ is enough. Good works, obedience, tithing or submitting to any other law does not gain us any special favor with God. So, we must be careful when we call out our brothers and sisters in Christ that decide to invoke their bound conscience and defy our Lord and Savior. Again, it is not what they do, but why they choose disobedience. Bound conscience is simply a tool used by those who do not want to deny their selfish human nature. Bound conscience uses man's imperfect love to overturn the authority of Scripture. Bound conscience creates a god in the image of man, a god that would never restrict man's liberty in any way. The issue is just how do we convince our brothers and sisters in Christ that the ELCA is peddling a false gospel so that they can return to the narrow path?
We must remember to reach out in love to correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction. Far too often we dwell on the breaking of the law, when we should give counsel, explaining where that disobedience will lead. Far too many of our brothers and sisters in Christ that remain in churches steeped in apostasy, truly believe that they are doing God’s will. When we are viewed as angry and judgmental, it becomes easy for those we only want to help return to the Lord, to shut us out and make them even more determined to continue on their path.
Perhaps, we should heed the words of the contemporary Christian group, Casting Crowns from their song, Jesus Friend of Sinners.
Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away. We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing. Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth's become so hard to see. The world is on their way to You, but they're tripping over me. Always looking around but never looking up I'm so double minded, a plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided.
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers. Let our hearts be led by mercy. Help us reach with open hearts and open doors. Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours.
Jesus, friend of sinners, the one who's writing in the sand, who made the righteous turn away and the stones fall from their hands. Help us to remember we are all the least of these. Let the memory of Your mercy bring Your people to their knees. Nobody knows what we're for, only what we're against when we judge the wounded. What if we put down our signs, crossed over the lines, and loved like You did.
You love every lost cause; you reach for the outcast, for the leper and the lame; they're the reason that You came. Lord I was that lost cause and I was the outcast, but you died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet.
We are no longer under the law, but under grace when we have faith in the Risen Christ. When we reach out to help our brothers and sisters lost within the heresies of the ELCA, reach out in true Christian love, praying unceasingly for their hearts and minds to be opened to the Truth..