Thursday, October 2, 2014

What's the point?

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.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your point, Pastor, but i also have some sympathy for your former parishioner. I do go to church (and even read pastor blogs!), but i still want some guidance from my church in thinking through moral questions. We Lutherans rarely get this kind of help from our respected and learned pastors, and so often i fear that my conscience, at least, has been largely formed by the prevailing culture. In the past we may have been able to rely on that formation, since the culture was at least nominally informed by Christian thought, but we don't have that assurance anymore. I understand that my own works do not accomplish my salvation, but that doesn't mean i can't try to figure our how to behave properly so as to best serve my neighbor.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully she will understand what you shared with her. Hopefully she will joins us at Bethany this coming Sunday with angles, archangels and all the company of heaven as we received God's gifts in that place.

Anonymous said...

I hope that you considered that her calling you may have been for reasons other then her ethical delemma. It may have been a way for her to try and reconnect to the church.Hopefully after your conversation she felt invited and welcomed.

Hemmer said...

Great point, Liz. The person who lives in the forgiveness God gives out weekly does want to know how to live in love and service toward his neighbor. Then we can have conversations about ethics and vocation. That person is in a different boat from the one who falls into the trap of thinking the church simply exists to make us moral people.

Anon 2 & 3, I agree. There was a lot more to the conversation than the point I wanted to make from her initial question.

Anonymous said...

If this woman would come back to church so that she could hear God's Word in the readings, listen to the Law and Gospel sermons, and receive the gifts God has for her, then her moral dilemma, whatever it may be, might not seem quite so profound. Somehow receiving the gifts of forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation makes all else pale in comparison.

Gary said...

Paul T. McCain must go:

Gary said...

Fundamentalist Christians, the KKK, and Neo-Nazis

I do not expect to change the mind of even one Christian fundamentalist by my online "war" against gay-hate-speech-promoting Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod official, Paul T. McCain, and Patrick Henry Christian College provost, Gene Veith. I do not expect that any amount of reasoned argument will convince them of their vicious, hateful, "un-Jesus-like" behavior.

My goal is to expose them.

My goal is to have their Churches, Universities, Associations, and Websites added to the list of Hate Groups loathed by the overwhelming majority of the American people; so deeply loathed and reviled that these groups are marginalized to the sidelines of American society, politics, and culture; their opinions and views held in no more regard than that of other sponsors of hate, such as the KKK and Neo-Nazis.

Gary said...

Or do you not know that the unrighteous[b] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[c] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. ---I Corinthians 6:9-10

If you are an LCMS Lutheran, how often have you heard an LCMS pastor's sermon, or read an LCMS pastor's blog article, on the sin of Divorce (divorce other than for infidelity), the sin of Adultery, the sin of Fornication, or the sin of being a Drunkard?
Now compare the number of times that you have heard or read an LCMS pastor preach from his pulpit or from his blog on the damning sins of Divorce, Adultery, Fornication, and Drunkenness with the number of times you have heard the same LCMS pastor preach about the sin of Homosexuality from his pulpit and blog. I will bet that the number of sermons condemning Homosexuality will exceed the total of all the other sins combined.

But, not only is the sin of Homosexuality preached against (attacked) more frequently from the pulpits and blogs of LCMS pastors, but the name calling against the perpetrators of this particular sin far exceeds the name calling against divorcees, adulterers, fornicators, and drunkards. "Sodomites", "Perverts" "Boy Sodomizers", "Degenerates" are perfectly acceptable terms for the perpetrators of the sin of Homosexuality, but the cute, little cashier at the corner market who has shacked-up with her boyfriend for the last two years is not referred to as "that Fornicator", nor is the drunkard standing in front of the LCMS altar, pronouncing the Words of Institution, referred to as a "vile and evil Drunk". No. The good pastors of the LCMS have decided that just one of the sins in the above Bible verse, and the perpetrators of that one sin in the above Bible verse, deserve their greatest attention, condemnation, and vilification.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod...officially...will tell you that LCMS Lutheran Christians hate Homosexuality but love the people "afflicted" by the sin of Homosexuality. In other words, the official position of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is: "Hate the sin, but love the sinner." But the reality is, that a very significant percentage of pastors in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod hate homosexuals. They really, really hate homosexuals! Homosexuals make their skin crawl and their stomachs squeemish. Yes, you read that previous sentence correctly. A significant percentage of LCMS pastors hate gays and lesbians. Don't believe me? Look at the evidence for yourself.

I challenge you to go onto the blogs of some of the most popular LCMS pastors' blogs and do a topic search on "homosexuality". Read the articles, but more importantly, read the comments below the articles. In the comment section, you will find some of the most vile, vicious, anti-gay hate speech, most often written by the pastor's gay-bashing, gay-hating, God-fearing conservative Christian readers---such as the infamous "Carl Vehse", otherwise known (without his white robe and hood) as Richard Strickert of Austin, Texas---all written without any censoring or rebuke from the LCMS pastor/blog owner/moderator...and... sometimes you will even catch one of these Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod "men of God" spewing this vitriolic hate speech himself. Conclusion: A significant percentage of pastors in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are gay-bashing Peddlers of Hate, and for this reason the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod must be placed on the Hate Watch lists of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU, and every other human rights organization in the United States---until the leadership/hierarchy of this Christian denomination finally puts an end to this hateful, un-American, disgraceful behavior.