I had a strange phone call from a former member of Bethany this morning. She wanted to know whether something she was considering doing was against the teachings of our Church.
That's a question for your Baptist preacher or your Roman Catholic priest, not your Lutheran pastor. The Lutheran Church is not principally about ethics, not about doing what's right. The Lutheran Church is about forgiveness.
That's what was most strange about this conversation. This long lost member hadn't been to church here (or anywhere else, presumably) for almost a decade. And yet she was worried about doing something that might be contrary to what Lutherans teach.
What Lutherans teach is Law and Gospel. What Lutherans preach is Christ crucified. We do, of course teach ethics or righteous works done for the good of one's neighbor. But those are not the core of who we are and what we believe. Those are at the periphery. And if you miss the center, it's pointless to dabble in the peripherals.
What's the core? The Divine Service.
On Sunday mornings, when God gathers His people together, He gives the gifts that we cannot live without. He gives sinners forgiveness that transforms them into saints. He gives dead people life. He gives people who cannot do anything good apart from His intervention the full righteousness of Jesus.
This former member is not alone in her thinking. Lots of people think this way. How many times have you thought about someone, “Sure he doesn't go to church, but at least he's not into really bad sins like others are.” “Sure my kids don't go to church, but at least they don't (do drugs/shack up without marriage/hit their wives/get too drunk too often/end up in the police blotter).”
That's not Christianity. That's not Lutheran. That's works righteousness. The point of the Church is not to keep you from sinning. The point of the Church is to deliver forgiveness. If you don't go to church where God gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation, no amount of avoiding “big” sins can help you. It's not sin that damns us. Jesus died for all sins. It's unbelief that damns. And rejecting God's gifts in the Divine Service by skipping church is unbelief. Telling God “no” is unbelief.
At the end of this odd phone conversation, I didn't care what she chose to do with her moral quandary. All I wanted was for her to be receiving the gifts of God again.