Friday, June 4, 2010

Why I Became a Lutheran

I was introduced to Luther, and by extension Lutheranism, by a professor of mine at an Evangelical seminary I attended. I thought I was a pretty convinced Southern Baptist until I realized that Luther nailed me and my pietism on too many things.

The summer after my first year at seminary I started attending a Lutheran church off and on and discovered the irrelevance of Lutheran worship and Lutheran preaching. Why irrelevant? Not once did I walk out of that church with steps to improve my love life, my bank account balance, my job prospects, or my social skills. In fact I don't think I ever walked out with steps to improve anything, because all I ever heard about was my sin and my Savior.

Two back-to-back Sundays during this summer stick in my mind. The first Sunday I attended my regular Baptist church. I don't remember the sermon title, or much of anything about the sermon as a matter of fact, despite the power point and my careful note-taking. I do recall, however, the pastor suggesting that if we wanted to grow in our Christian lives we should take advantage of all the great resources available to us today. If we had financial problems there were books on that, if we had marital problems there were books on that, if we wanted to improve in just about any area we were just about guaranteed that someone had written the book for that struggle which would detail how to be a good, virtuous Christian. The following Sunday I attended the Lutheran church, and received a very different answer to the exact same question-- Jesus. And not just some abstract Jesus who gives me a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart sometimes, but a Jesus who died for my sins, vividly portrayed by the crucifix in front of the church. The pastor didn't tell what to do, but he told me what had already been done. For me.

In the view of pop-Evangelicalism it doesn't get more irrelvant than vestments, lectionaries, prayer books, hymns, or chanting. It doesn't get more irrelevant than preaching the same gospel to forgiven sinners week after week and month after month. It doesn't get more irrelevant than God's Word combined with water or the very body and blood of Jesus given for the forgiveness of sins. It doesn't get more irrelevant than the Church which desires to know nothing but Christ crucified for sinners.

It doesn't get more irrelevant than the Church being the Church.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I Blame Christian Radio

“It doesn’t really matter what anyone really believes, as long as we all love Jesus. Right?”

“Doctrine is divisive. Jesus prayed that we would all be one, so why can’t we just quit arguing over these secondary issues, and get on doing the work of the Kingdom?”

“I don’t know what justification is, or how I got it, but I know it’s a good thing.”

“I don’t need to go to church; I can pray anywhere, read my Bible anywhere, and I can always listen to a great sermon in my living room.”

While I am quoting comments from some of my friends and acquaintances, I think most of us sense this soft, squishy center at the heart of American Christianity. There’s this basic sentiment that Christianity should be grounded upon a feeling, clothed in mystical cloud, and wrapped in a soft blanket of know-nothingness. From this gooey center flows the firm knowledge that we cannot ever be too certain about doctrine or practice: doctrine shifts, the flowers fade, but one’s feelings last forever. This is what Jesus prayed for in the Garden, right?

The unity in this soft, squishy core of American Christianity is frankly a bizarre pietistic grab at ecumenism. Jesus wanted us to be one, so we’ll ignore our differences and worship together. Or worse, there’s a cultural battle going on, and if we don’t quit arguing over things like the Lord’s Supper, we’ll never win the battle! There’s nothing worse, or nothing as pathetic, as the Church-- the Body of the Risen Lord, who stands victorious over sin, death, and the devil-- allowing the world, which is by nature a slave to sin and satan, to dictate the terms upon which the Church should conduct herself. Suddenly the Church is no longer a body united around a common confession of Christ, but rather a common confession of social issues. In this schema the church is no longer defined by the Gospel she proclaims, but rather the position she takes on abortion, gay marriage, immigration, the war on terror, and the list goes on. I know I am not the first to make this observation, and I am certain that I will not be the last, but the criticism still stands.

The “church” in America has allowed itself to be shaped by cultural trends, both in terms of the message it proclaims and in the way it chooses to worship the Triune God. Quite simply, I think American Christianity is just more comfortable in the left-hand kingdom than in the right-hand kingdom: sin is so much more simple there; Law and Gospel distinctions are unnecessary as the law should win the day. If you speed, you should get a ticket. There’s no measure of grace or mercy, because that’s not the function of the sword. American Christianity seems comfortable declaring that if everyone would just behave we could have our own utopia. The Gospel muddies these waters. What is one to do with a sinner who is condemned by a righteous and holy God, who is addicted to sin, and who, even worse, reminds you that you are in the exact same boat. He is powerless to save himself, powerless to quit sinning, and he, like you, stands before God as nothing but a beggar. One could offer him absolution, but wouldn’t that just encourage him to sin some more? It might. But is the church really about behavior modification? Is that really, ultimately, the point? No, the point is to declare the all sufficient work of the Savior on behalf of sinners. He dies for sinners, He doesn’t die for the righteous. American Christianity seems increasingly more uncomfortable with this message. The left hand kingdom is, indeed, far more comfortable. There are no sinners there, just the moral and the immoral.

The reasons for this trend in the “church” are multitudinous, and many of written much more and with much greater clarity and research on this topic than me. However, I find myself laying the blame more and more firmly upon Christian radio. What? Yes, you read that right, I blame Christian radio. Why? Here’s my most basic reason: Christian radio is the strangest mish-mash of what passes for preaching and theology that I have ever seen. Even if one turns on a Christian television station, there is at least consistency. There are nuns talking about the rosary on the Roman Catholic channel, and there’s Benny Hinn “healing” people and Pat Robertson saying something dumb on TBN. But Christian radio is thoroughly inconsistent.

Our local Christian radio station, which has a fairly broad listenership in this area, claims to espouse basic Evangelical theology. Yet, for example, on Sunday morning one can wake up to “Front Page Jerusalem” then meander into “Turning Point” with David Jeremiah which flows nicely into “Hour of Decision” with Franklin Graham, which buttressed by “The Lutheran Hour.” Weekdays are even better, as one can get a nice ecumenical diet of everyone from RC Sproul to Joyce Meyer, to Chuck Missler, to John MacArthur, to Focus on the Family. What’s wrong with this? It’s clear to me that Christian radio has tried to be all things to all people, and in doing so has failed to call heresy heresy. Yeah, I just dropped the “H” bomb. Joyce Meyer spouts off theology that would make Pelagius blush, but sure, we’ll give her a slot because people like her. Danger! Will Robinson, Danger! Danger! The trouble is that the listeners are formed by this sickening mosaic of false teaching, and are smart enough to figure out that Joyce Meyer and RC Sproul probably disagree on a few things. How do they reconcile these differences? Probably by concluding that they both love Jesus, so it really can’t be a significant difference.

Though false teaching is always dangerous, I see a bigger danger in thinking that there really is no such thing as a false teacher: as long as we’re all pro-life, what’s the difference, right?