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The LC-MS and the Newtown service: make the Gospel, not us poor sinners, the issue

04 Mar

Warning: the following post is long and detailed (i.e. wordy) – so as to prevent potential misunderstandings.  In just a moment, I will be posting a short and simple summary (here it is) which you may want to read first to save your time.  UPDATE: the Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler talked about the controversy I refer to below on his 15 minute news program last week. It is worth listening to (near the end):

First, let me possibly offend some on one “side” in the LC-MS.  I know some are dismissing the above video produced by the group “Brothers of John the Steadfast” as propaganda. With or without the chanting in the background (taken from the actual service), I say that it is a perspective that we desperately need to understand – and even feel some real affinity with…  Taking a step back from the sea of abject horror that was Sandyhook* (and the wave of inexpressible sadness and grief that followed), how can we not clearly see what happened in this “prayer vigil”?  If after watching the video you are still not convinced, ask yourself this: what would have needed to occur in order for this to be a joint worship service? 

Now let me possibly offend some on the other “side” in the LC-MS.

If you are a steadfast and confessional Lutheran, please bear with me on this.  Realize that I think that I have both an extremely realistic side as well as an extremely idealistic one.  If anything, I hope to be “sinning boldly” here.

Here’s my thesis:

Being a unionist or syncretist and participating in a unionistic or syncretist worship service are not necessariy the same thing.*  One is sin where I think the other may not be, depending on what happens at the service.

What do I mean?  First of all, let say that if I were a pastor I do not think that I would ever participate in a service like this (though I think I would talk about the possibility of doing so, as I am now).  After all, we in the LC-MS all try to be “synod” which means “walking together” in a certain way.  This means that in love we choose to limit our Christian freedom for the sake of one another (just like in a marriage one refrains from doing certain activities that may not necessarily be sinful, but do not contribute to the harmony of the marriage – and may even disrupt it! The Christian loves all, but first and foremost in concerned to show love and concern for the whole family of God [Galatians]).  Further, the only way things could change regarding this current understanding about how the Church should act – if it in fact should change – would be for someone to convince others in the body that the current understanding about unionism and syncretism is not necessarily wrong, but is incomplete in that it does not adequately address the issue of the courageous Christian witness that we are free to do in the Gospel.

What exactly do I mean here?  I suggest that it would be good, right and salutary if a Christian pastor, in a time of emergency, when asked to make his services available for such a worship service, would agree to do so – but only by making it clear to the organizers that the message that he would share would be one that would likely offend some persons attending the service (and could get him in a lot of trouble, quite frankly).  If asked for further details, these would be forthcoming:

“I will try to present, as kindly yet forcefully as I can, that this disaster is a result of sin in our world and that the only hope in the face of such evil – in spite of all the other things that have been heard here tonight – is the Lord Jesus Christ, the only true God who overcomes sin, death and the devil.  Any horrible circumstance in our life is ultimately meant to call us to turn from our sin to Jesus Christ (Luke 13:1-5).  He has risen from the dead, carrying hope in His train – and these other “gods” people have invited you to pray to tonight cannot….”

Even if we were only invited to pray at such a service, one might still feel called to go and do something like Jesus did in John 11!: “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

I think this might be what a man like Elijah would do in this New Testament age.  Loving confrontation after the manner of Paul in Athens (Acts 17).  This is the message that a true teacher and preacher of true religion would bring.  This message of eternal life is the only true message of comfort in this life (this is not to say that it is only words that can offer real and true comfort, for Job was comforted by his friends who sat with him in silence – it is simply to say that when words are involved, the content of these words is critical, as Job’s friends found out).  Not that “we unite our sorrowful hearts with you tonight as we cry out to the God/gods we know”, but “listen you created in God’s Image…there is only One Answer to this situation….”

I think this is something we should definitely discuss: why should we not at the very least offer to come and preach this message?  Is that not a very loving thing to do?  (yes I totally understand if you think: “there is no way I would do that well…”).  Yes, there is a snowball’s chance in hell we will be invited, but why not make it absolutely clear to one and all that we are more than eager to come and offer hope to devastated sinners – the only real hope anyone can have?  (and also that we take no pleasure in being confrontational, but will try to do so in a way that cannot possibly be construed as being angry or fanatical).  If we were to come and make good on delivering such a message, at least the Christians present would be both challenged and edified, and perhaps a few non-Christians, seeing their sin of not acknowledging this One True God, might hear and believe.

I think that this is where our discussion needs to go – it seems obvious to me there is clearly something “open” about this question.  So what steps should be taken?

First, it makes a lot of sense to me that I should let Matthew Harrison do his job of continuing to interact with pastors Yeadon and Morris as he deems appropriate and we should not “barge into His office”, as one man put it (to be clear I think that Morris “sinned boldly” here in causing his brothers to stumble, but also sinned for lack of boldness in his actual words at the service).  Second, men like Yeadon and Morris can be met “in the middle”.  Even if I can, for example, agree with Pastor David Benke and former President Kieschnick that in some cases some men may indeed feel called to be at events like this, this would only be acceptable if a) a bold confession is offered (see above) and b) there is also real respect and concern for brothers who disagree (definitely not Pharisees!) who might stumble by their actions (can anyone fail to acknowledge that Todd Wilken was both brilliant and winsome in the way he recently answered a question about unionism on Issues ETC? [from 30:40-39:15]).

If you are not sure what to make of all this, please also take a look at a comment that I left on Gene Veith’s blog, as it fleshes out some more of my “background reasoning”, based on Romans 14, here.

That said, the thing that is in the background the most is the following:

The whole point of framing the message this way would be to put both our focus (I do suspect that it would help many laypersons to better understand what is really at issue here) and the world’s focus not on disagreements by sinful persons in the Synod, but the message we proclaim.  After all, our theology is built around the importance of the ongoing proclamation of this message – for both the unconverted and the converted.  We want that message to be the only possible stumbling block – but even more, we want that to be the only thing that people are thinking and talking about.  The one thing that they can’t get out of their minds.

For He is the Faithful Martyr, not us. 

Please feel free to engage me here, and to make all the concerns that you have made known.  I am indeed open to the possibility that there may indeed be reasons why what I have written here is simply wrong – things I am simply unaware of.  I may very well have not been drunk on the Holy Spirit when I wrote this this past weekend…. though of course I am presently convinced that what I am saying is wise, otherwise I would not be bold to share it.  I plan on listening right now, and only clarifying if people misunderstand me.

+Nathan

* do words from Jeremiah 7, 8 and 16 have anything to teach us here?  It seems to me that in the face of events which are very traumatic and emotional for human beings, God might indeed come off as callous.

** if these terms confuse you, you can check out this video from Pastor Jonathan Fisk of Worldview Everlasting fame:

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2 Comments

Posted by on March 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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2 responses to “The LC-MS and the Newtown service: make the Gospel, not us poor sinners, the issue

  1. infanttheology

    March 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Here is one person who would seem to object to what I said:

    A number of months ago, I was having a theological discussion with my brother-in-law, Steve Briel, as we are wont to do. We were discussing the First Commandment and I said to him, “You know, Steve, when I was a little kid in the ELS, I learned the First Commandment – ‘Thou shalt have no other gods beside me.’ Then Dad took a call to the St. Louis seminary and we were in the Missouri Synod. I had to relearn the First Commandment – ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ What’s the deal here, Steve? This must be the case of a Hebrew preposition that has more than one meaning, right?” Steve said, “I don’t think so, but let’s look it up.” There we saw that what is sometimes translated ‘beside me’ and sometimes translated ‘before me’ is actually the Hebrew phrase al panai which means literally ‘in front of my face.’ A colloquial translation could be ‘in my presence.’ So I said to Steve, who is a Hebrew scholar, “So what does this mean? Is the commandment actually saying that when we come into God’s presence as His children, when we come to Him to offer our petitions and prayers, when we come before him to worship Him, He doesn’t want to see any other gods?” “That’s exactly what it means,” he said. And I have since then had that understanding confirmed by other Hebrew scholars. You see, immediately after giving Moses the First Commandment, God said to him, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God.”
    Now consider once again your participation in the interfaith prayer service with the Muslims, the Hindus, the Canaanites, etc. Here you are coming to the true God in prayer with the hope that He will hear you not just in connection with a single golden calf; no, as you come to him in prayer, you do so with all the other gods of the world in front of His face.
    …..

    Christians have no place participating in prayer services with those who teach contrary to God’s Word, much less with those who worship other gods. To do so is to demonstrate clearly that we have lost our first love and no longer know what it means to be God’s children and Jesus’ disciples.
    But perhaps someone will say, “But I am not there to worship with them, but to proclaim the name of Jesus. Surely God will not criticize; surely God will be pleased since this is my intent.” This kind of rationale needs to be answered, I think, in two ways. First of all, the end does not justify the means. God does not permit us to honor Him by disobeying Him. He does not permit us to carry out the Great Commission by breaking the First Commandment. In I Samuel chapter 13 we are told that Saul disobeyed God by sacrificing when Samuel did not arrive in a timely fashion. Saul was afraid that he would lose the military advantage over the Philistines if he waited any longer, besides which the soldiers were leaving and he needed to keep them together, he thought. So he disobeyed and sacrificed to God. Now a sacrifice to God is normally considered a good thing. But Saul had been forbidden by God to sacrifice. So for doing what he thought was right instead of what God told him to do, Samuel told him that the kingdom would be taken away from him. A few chapters later, Saul had been told to kill all of the Amalekites and to kill all of their animals. Instead Saul spared the king of the Amalekites, Agag, and although his soldiers destroyed most of the animals, at Saul’s instruction, they kept the best of them for the purpose of sacrificing them to the Lord. A noble thought, right? Samuel’s response? Once again Saul had fallen short and demonstrated that he could not remain the Lord’s anointed king. What does Samuel say to him? “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice… Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” To obey is better than to sacrifice. God says in Isaiah 48, “How should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Is. 48:11) To participate in a service in which glory is given to all the other gods simply is not something a Christian can do. I repeat. God does not permit us to carry out the Great Commission by breaking the First Commandment.
    And there is another reason why we cannot participate in syncretistic events even if our motivation is to proclaim Christ. You see, in such events our testimony about Jesus in our deeds will stand in direct contradiction to our testimony about Jesus in our words. For although we may very well glorify Jesus in our speech, our very attendance will be seen by those present as assent on our part to the belief that all gods are really all the same in the end. After all, in a syncretistic prayer service Jesus has simply taken his own turn in the procession of gods that were honored and in the eyes of those who beheld the event has stood no taller than Allah or Vishnu or Baal. Many of the Martyrs died rather than participate in such an event. The fact of the matter is that when Christians participate in events that accord equal honor to all gods represented, those who view such events will come inevitably to the conclusion that all religions arc bearers of truth and that the sincere seeker can find the divine in all of them. Thomas Friedman reflects this commonly held view in an editorial that appeared some time ago in the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Can Islam, Christianity, and Judaism know that God speaks Arabic on Fridays, Hebrew on Saturdays and Latin on Sundays, and that he welcomes different human beings approaching him through their own history, out of their language and cultural heritage?” He goes on to affirm that it is urgent that the different religions “Reinterpret their tradition to embrace modernity and pluralism and to create space for secularism and alternative faiths.”1 The interfaith prayer service provides the perfect liturgical setting for the implementation of Mr. Friedman’s agenda, the same agenda embraced by the ever-growing multitude of those who have been seduced by pluralism’s siren song.
    But if we, as faithful Christians, refuse to participate in such events that afford honor to other gods and other religions, will we not be seen as legalistic, close-minded and intolerant? Yes, probably we will, but this has always been the case when Christ has placed His claim before the world: “Nobody comes to the Father except through me.” The world of unbelievers will always gnash its teeth at such a claim. Yet it remains true that
    Christ alone is our salvation, Christ the Rock on which we stand
    Other than this sure foundation will be found but sinking sand.
    Christ, His cross and resurrection is alone the sinner’s plea;
    At the throne of God’s perfection Nothing else can set him free.
    But at the throne of God’s perfection, this Christ will set the sinner free – any sinner, no matter who he is, no matter what he has done. For this Christ has borne the sin of all the world and carried it away. This Christ has endured the wrath of God in the stead of every sinner, has taken upon Himself the shame and guilt of all the world and died in the place of every human that has ever lived. There is no more inclusive religion in the world than Christianity. In spite of criticisms brought against it that it is exclusive and bigoted, there is no religion in all the world that is less exclusive than Christianity. No one is excluded on the basis of race, age, sex, intellect, physical strength or even behavior, if one is willing to repent of his sin. “Jesus sinners doth receive,” and so all those who see their weaknesses and faults and sins are invited to the mercy and grace God offers to all in Jesus His Son with the promise that “If we confess our sins. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
    This powerful message of grace and salvation through Jesus Christ is the message we need to bring to the public square. This message of a Savior who covers our guilt and frees us from sin and death, not anemic platitudes about a generic god, is what our fallen world still desperately needs to hear. When opportunities come our way to bring this Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to the people of our land, we welcome them and with joy proclaim the glories of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
    1The new multi-faith religion. Gene Edward Veith, World Magazine, Dec. 15, 2001, p.16.
    By Daniel Preus,
    February 17-18, 2003 – Soli Deo Gloria

    found here: http://cyberbrethren.com/2013/02/16/how-to-witness-to-jesus-christ-in-the-public-square-and-avoid-syncretism/

     
    • Nathan

      November 8, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      Here is the comment I left on Gene Veith’s blog:

      Look at it this way. The “Confessionals” feel constrained about participating in events like this with non-Christians – unlike Pastor Rossow some would even have a problem just showing up! They feel limited. Don’t treat them with contempt, but consider them weak – and don’t ever do this kind of thing out in the open in the public eye so as to cause offense. But if you feel that the boundaries should be somewhat broader *within Biblical parameters* (as I do), they must not judge us as not being accepted by God when make these arguments with them with a concern to be faithful (as I have).

      Or maybe we should look at it this way to?: the “missionals” (and others) feel constrained about when we should speak out in public about brothers who we think are in error (not naming names, stuff like that). They feel limited. “Confessionals” should not treat them with contempt but consider them weak – and they can try as hard as possible to not correct public sin publicly for a period of time [since God has forebearance so should we!], and when feel they must do it, they can do it as kindly, compassionately, and sensitively as possible. But if they feel that the boundaries should be somewhat broader for making judgments, they must not judge the missionals as not being accepted by God.

      +Nathan

       

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