“We don’t have to force Jesus on anybody, or convince individuals that their spiritual logic is faulty. Our task is to embody Christian love, not play savior” Peter W. Marty, an ELCA pastor in his column, Leaving Church Behind for the June 2014 “The Lutheran” magazine. Marty is a good soldier for the ELCA. Now fulfilling his oath to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is another matter. As with all good ELCA henchmen, the church and its’ congregational life is the most important aspect of their faith. Inclusivity, tolerance and diversity are what church is all about, isn’t it? After all, how could one properly embody true Christian love without an organization that leads the otherwise faithful. Marty muses about those that have kissed congregational life goodbye or have grown indifferent to faith. Curious the choice to place congregational life before faith is so very typical to this wayward denomination. This essay details several parishioners that fled his congregation. One couple left after reading his essay, Serendipitous, where on a particular Wednesday night, Marty inexplicably stopped at home to find his wife collapsed due to a brain aneurism. Marty’s Wednesday nights are typically filled with church activities and he seldom got home until very late. Not this day though. No credit given to God for directing him home at the precise time to enable him to save his wife’s life, simply an acknowledgement of a convergence of circumstances. Take a look at all some of the comments that accept Marty’s explanation that God is not in charge and that the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with this apparent miracle. It is so sad when a pastor decides that he needs to lead his flock astray in order to declare himself to be the smartest person in the room.
Marty cites another example of a self-absorbed man at whom Marty snarkily comments, “I sometimes wonder if Shawn is addicted to himself. He certainly figures frequently into the center of most conversations.” It appears that pastoral guidance and direction are above his pay grade. Marty then poses the question of what to do with those who were once shaped by Christian community and are a great distance from anything that hints of religious practice within an institution. Concern for their spiritual well-being will have to wait for someone else, perhaps like the ELCA doctrine of “Accompaniment”, since the seeds of faith were planted, his work is done. From there Marty moves into the blame game. Oh, those Christians that have the temerity to believe in the authority of Scripture. Those rotten Bible thumpers are always casting aspersions (and stones) on those lost souls that do not believe as they do. Holding true to the faith, believing that Jesus is the way and the light and the truth, believing that there is no way to the Father but through faith in the living Christ, apparently makes traditional Christians purveyors of exclusivity, building a wall between themselves and humanity. Yes, Marty does not specifically state this in his essay, but the inference is loud and proud. “Presumptuousness over our preferences and tastes is not a virtue.” Marty may liken himself to some of the great theologians that espoused novel and innovative interpretations of Scripture, but he doesn’t get it at all. In other words, his version of an explanation of the path God has set looks like so many lemmings falling off a cliff.
Yes, as followers of Christ, we are to embody Christian love. We are to share the love that He first gave us. We are to share the forgiveness that He gave to those who don’t deserve it. When we allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the love of Christ will flow from our hearts like a river. Everything we are is a gift from God. Pleasing Him is our greatest joy, yet our deepest disappointment as we fail, over and over, to follow our Father’s will. Paul said in Romans 7:14-25, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” Jesus chose Paul to preach His Gospel to the world and even Paul found that his inner sinful nature caused him engage, over and over, in sinful behavior. We are no different. Through faith in the Risen Christ, one is no longer subject to the law, whose penalty is death. But, knowing that obedience to the law is pleasing to God, we can come to better understand the path He has set before us.
Therein lies the dangerousness of the doctrine of bound conscience that affirms sinners and disregards their sin. Without our acknowledgment that we are indeed sinful and cannot free ourselves from the grip of sin without our Lord and Savior, we are destined to fall away from His presence. Jesus Christ was sacrificed for us, a sinful humanity. Faith in the Risen Savior grants everlasting life. Our call is to share the love of Christ in our actions, in our words, and in our lives. It is the Holy Spirit working within us, not us trying to play savior. If someone’s spiritual logic is faulty, it is our responsibility to act to help lead them back to the Truth. 2 Timothy 4:2-4, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Sorry Marty, the theology of the ELCA is drifting much closer to myth as it continues to abandon God’s Truth.
Again, as in most ELCA essays there is the cursory nod to diversity and sensitivity. “We get to think and talk thoughtfully, bringing fresh clarity to our faith convictions while expanding our sensitivity toward what may seem like the odd practices of others.” This is also promoting the idea of universalism that seems to be overtaking the ELCA and the hands off approach to evangelism that abandons their responsibility to reach the lost for Christ. Seems to me that Marty is intent upon challenging Christians to stand down and accept the diversity of other religions, rather than to proclaim the Gospel and reach the lost for Christ. If this distorted version of Christianity continues to be exposed to the world, more and more of God’s children will be lost.