The church needs to be the church

This blog is inspired by a presentation of a Princeton professor to a council of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the church that I’m ordained in. Princeton University law professor Dr. Robert P. George noted, “They [churches] are all we’ve got. In the churches, we need to restore the basic idea of marriage.”

Seems to be that’s a rather ironic twist, a lawyer from an Ivy League university in so many words telling the church to be the church. Well you know what? God bless him! I overheard a discussion of employees in a bookstore, which was ironically the opposite advice. The women were talking about a girl who wore a pin about the recent campaign on breast cancer. The young girl was a student in a Roman Catholic school and the badge was something to the effect to “check your boobies”. These women were appalled that the church could be so narrow, how could it be against breast cancer?!

I stayed out of the discussion, it never seemed to occur to them how inappropriate it was for a young child to have something like that to begin with, and in a church school?? I’ve experienced this as a pastor, people who are obviously ignorant of the mission of the church telling me how I could make the church more popular. Uhmmm yea, I’m certainly aware of the possibilities, that’s not what the church is about. The church is about worship. Part of worship is certainly about faithfulness and a biblical worldview. We are called as a church to stand up for issues such as marriage as Professor George charges, as he points out, if the church won’t, what or who is really left in order to maintain a biblical view of marriage. The Bible is clear “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Ge 2:24), Jesus and Paul both quoted this very verse Matt 19:5, Mark 10:7, Ephesians 5:31.

There seems to be this pervasive attitude in the world that everything and everyone needs to be dragged down to the same base level that the world is at. The world is going to be the world, it will be until the final judgment. Having said that, the church needs to strive for the best, the ideal, the holy, not what’s popular, expedient. The church has chosen to try and be popular instead of faithful to it’s Lord, the church is Jesus’, it’s not a popularity contest. In the Old Testament, Israel is constantly flirting with other “gods” and Yahweh continually calls Israel to account for its unfaithfulness. The same could be said now, the church is far more concerned with being popular with the world, then it is in being faithful to its ultimate spouse Jesus. The image I get is a man and woman are married and then later on the man finds that his wife is the life of the party, never missing an opportunity to flirt with every man. The unfaithfulness, which is more like spinelessness, of the church is staggering. The church knows what it’s place is, but it constantly caves to the world and sinks to its level instead of holding the world accountable and pointing it to the ideal. The church has been its own worst enemy and this isn’t a recent development. In the United States the church has continued to degenerate for over 100 years, far more concerned with being the “life of the party” instead of faithful ministers of the Lord. The church has been a sucker for every shot the world has taken at it.

The world tries to convince us of what is “loving”, it’s more like enabling, but it’s so easy for us to all fall for the world’s easy blather instead of taking a stand. It’s really embarrassing, all through history many have stood up to defend the Bible and the church. Even the most socially conservative churches still tend to pull back from the harsh glare of the world’s spotlight and the less principled churches run like a party girl from their true husband to the arms of their “gods” of pleasure, popularity, treasure and friendship with the world. The question needs to be asked, when will the church genuinely be the church of Jesus Christ. Our Lord could have easily extricated Himself from the condemnation of the world, but He came into the world to save us from destruction, He was not going to be diverted, too bad we can’t show the same character and integrity. Believe me I know, it’s not fun to be unpopular, especially when you are timid and weak and maybe even a little too concerned about the pecuniary aspects of life and not so about the greater principles of the church.

Dr Luther talked about the world being composed of two kingdoms, the kingdom of the left, the secular. “The kingdom of the right is the church. Indeed God has established two governments which correspond to and cater for the subjects of the two kingdoms: ‘God has therefore ordained two regiment(s): the spiritual which by the Holy Spirit produces Christians and pious folk under Christ, and the secular which restrains un-Christian and evil folk so that they are obliged to keep outward peace, albeit by no merit of their own.’(WA 11. 251, 15-18.) (The Two Governments and the Two Kingdoms in Luther’s Thought by Dr. John R. Stephenson From the Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 34, 1981 p 2) Obviously they are intended to be separate, they have different functions.

God created this world, and yes I am very well aware that many like to get into the rather disingenuous discussion, “well what god?”, “whose god” etc, etc. This is a way to avoid the discussion. They never deny God, just this squirrel y little discussion, never dealing with the fact that if there is a god, he must intend something with his world. Having said that it is his world. One other qualification here, we are not talking about “kingdoms” in terms of the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of heaven. We would all acknowledge that we are in the world, subject to the order of the world. But we would say that it would be informed by the church. That the world likes to play God, as Mark Twain once said, “God created man in His own image, man has been returning the favor ever since.”The kingdom of heaven is in the future, what Jesus was referring to,

Dr Luther would say that the “kingdom of the left”, government, is a necessary evil. The kingdom of the left is concerned with being right with each other, making sure order is maintained. No special insight or prerogative, just make the world livable according to a set of rules/laws. Not to allow people to equivocate, or to play games, simply maintain order. Government in today’s world can’t even perform the duties that it is supposed to, and yet it presumes to tell the church what the church should believe and how it should conduct its affairs. The Left Hand is the Law serving our neighbor etc. God rules the Left in order to preserve His creation – God is the active agent. When we are in our proper vocation God orders the world to his desire where the left hand kingdom wields the sword, where the rule of the law prevails. The Left is about works, the right is about the reality of righteousness, the right is Coram Deo, that is, it is before God, responsible only to him, not Coram homnibus, not before man.

It is always bizarre to me that someone who has no knowledge of the church, no Christian training whatsoever, yet they have this idea that they’re entitled to criticize the church, ya something like “support the boobies”. Hey by all means we all want to eradicate breast cancer, but according to three women who are not only oblivious to the church’s true mission, but just don’t care, “hey this is what the church should do”. Try to understand the church is not a democracy, the church has one Lord, Christ. He has revealed His will in the Bible, that’s what guides us. As I said, we constantly presume to tell God the way it is and simply refuse to hear anything about what the church is, why the church does what it does, what God’s will for the world is. It’s obvious hypocrisy that man can tell God the way it should be, but won’t make the least bit effort to find out Who He is and what He is about.

The church is about being right with God, presenting the Gospel, pastor’s are called ministers in the sense of countries sending “ministers”, what we would call ambassadors, to represent their countries to each other. As a minister of the Gospel, I am a representative of Christ to the world, it is my responsibility communicate Christ’s will as presented in the Bible to enable those I minister to to grow in their relationship with Jesus. The government cannot do that, it is not equipped to do that. As Lutheran Christians we see Biblical revelation as Law and Gospel. Biblical Law and secular law are analogous. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, be faithful etc. The Gospel is more in terms of being faithful in a relationship, versus laws to follow. To be sure, both are important to God, both are part of His creation. Having said that the left hand kingdom has no business interfering in the right hand kingdom. The Founding Fathers understood this, the First Amendment is about government staying out of religion, prohibiting government from establishing a national church, unlike European countries at the time which had a national church e.g.: The Church of England, Roman Catholic Church in Italy, France, the Lutheran Church in Germany, some of the Scandinavian churches I could go on and on. This has somehow been twisted like this: Because if a church influenced the government, it would make it appear that church is setting policy and therefore because of its influence, would be (not could be) construed as being established as the national church. Needless to say this is as stupid as saying that if the President says, “I heard this great idea from Jim Driskell and I’m going to do it”, so therefore I must have permanent influence on the president and all my ideas would now be implemented. The churches are entitled to a say in government as much as any citizen, corporation, union, party, etc. For millineum, the church had been considered to be the “conscience” of the government, standing against slavery, standing against abortion, standing against easy divorce or any effort to weaken or undermine the family. As Dr George challenged those he was speaking to in regard to the current debate on so-called “homosexual marriage”:

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“Are we willing to say hard things? We have to tell the truth,” George said. “Marriage is the kind of good that can be chosen and meaningfully participated in only by those who have a basic understanding of it, [who understand] the idea that marriage is not just a romantic relationship for as long as it lasts.”

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Despite what liberal churches claim, the Bible is very specific about marriage. As a minister of Christ, it’s not my job to win popularity contests, to be “loved”, it is my responsibility to effectively represent Christ. Sexual mores are always going to be flaunted, in their bedrooms, people are going to do what they want. That certainly doesn’t mean that the church should shut up about it. The church is called to call fornication or sodomy what it is, to point out that it’s sin. But in terms of marriage God ordained marriage, granted it is governed by the left hand kingdom, but God has overseen marriage since the beginning. If I conduct a wedding it is always with the prerequisite that this will be a God-honoring wedding, it is with the recognition that those being married are coming before God for His blessing and are willing to submit to Him in Holy Matrimony. Under the Law we can conceivably isolate ourselves from our neighbor, we are only responsible to maintain order, not to transgress against our neighbor, otherwise we can sit on the couch and watch football as far as the kingdom of the right is concerned. As a minister, an apostle, a disciple of Christ, the Greek word being apostolos, how Paul referred to himself, we are called to bring people into relationship. Relationship with Jesus and as a Christian being a part of the Body of Christ, being in relationship with each other as part of the Body. The church is the visible institution of Jesus, His claims are not just for the church, but through the church to the world. The church is about bearing its testimony to the world, how the world is out of step with what God has ordained as Lord.

One is not more important then the other, both the left hand and the right hand kingdoms are both of God, they are both important to God and to Christians. We live in both realms, and Christians have responsibilities in both kingdoms. I would point out that we are not only called to live in both realms, but when the state tries to undermine and usurp the church it has not been a good result for the state. As evidence the Soviet Union, European communism in general, Nazism/Fascism in German and Italy, France during the “Enlightenment”, in all these cases human life was disposable, God was not supreme, the state was.

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We should be ready to call the world to account in terms of the world trying to dictate the order of creation, we should call sin, sin. The church is charged with upholding the order of creation this is the church being the church. If the church is not faithful to its witness to Jesus, who will be? The church was established by Jesus to be His embassy to the world. The left hand kingdom has its mandate, it establishes order, it doesn’t presume to encroach on the responsibility the church has to its King, we are ministers of the king, we cannot compel, we were never meant to compel, but we are called to raise the standards of the world, to turn it away from the lusts and covetousness of the world and elevate it to the Holy, all-knowing, all-perfect Creator of all things. To be in relationship with Him, and by virtue of that being raised to righteousness and the idealism of living in relationship with our fellow man. Not that it will happen in the world, but in preparation for the resurrection in the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom that Jesus promises us. When the world’s best offer is Lady Gaga, there has to be a holy, righteous, idealistic alternative. The church isn’t really an “alternative”, it is the only option. Despite the delusions of the world, the world will end and all its evil will be destroyed and the righteous kingdom of heaven, the resurrection in Christ will be the only living thing that will remain. As Dr Beverly Yahnke points out: “The people of God have a remarkable opportunity to move beyond silence,” Yahnke explained, “encouraging one another to speak compassionately and honestly about our God’s grace, mercy and love for all of His children.” Government needs to stay within its boundaries, it should continue to progress and serve, but it has a long way to go and truth be told, man in any earthly institution will never reach anything resembling perfection. In the meantime the church needs to be a strong, assertive and faithful witness to Christ, remembering that it is society’s conscience, not to enforce law, but to elevate the discussion and always pointing to relationship in Jesus. The church must be the church because there is no alternative and most importantly there is no hope and promise to eternity in Christ.

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(Notes: The quotes are from:  Princeton University law professor Dr. Robert P. George speaks on “Natural Law, Marriage and the Common Good” to participants of the Aug. 14-15 conference in Mundelein, Ill., on same-sex marriage and attraction sponsored by DOXOLOGY, an LCMS Recognized Service Organization. (LCMS Communications/Adriane Dorr) I am also including notes from my Masters of Divinity classes at Concordia Seminary, St Louis, Mo.)

 

 

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