Sunday, August 23, 2009

Interpreting Calamities

On August 19, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota a tornado made its way through the town and in its wake it broke a small church steeple high upon a Lutheran church. On that day and in that town one denomination that calls itself Lutheran were meeting to decide, among other things, whether or not to allow practicing gay people to become pastors. I would personally say that no openly gay person should have a leadership position in the church. But that is not the issue with which I will be dealing.

A pastor named John Piper, from Minneapolis, announced that the tornado was a divine warning to this Lutheran denomination concerning their discussion of the gay pastor issue. This is, of course, just another instance where preachers ascribe divine intent to any number of meteorological phenomenons, and the gay community seems to be most likely the target of God’s wrath, or at least in the inerrant estimation of many preachers. As if presenting the Person and grace of Jesus Christ is not already most difficult, these types of enunciations undermine our credibility and profoundly misrepresent the gospel of Jesus Christ in these last days.

Where are the tornados for adultery, greed, pride, divorce, and all the rest of the sins that run rampant through the evangelical community? Perhaps God uses different weather conditions to confront different sins. Floods = divorce. Dust storms = greed. Earthquakes = pride.

It is noteworthy that our God doesn’t send caring believers, or healthcare, or humble, pleading Christians to these gay sinners, no, tornados are His messengers to denominations already significantly astray. And are we to assume that if the ELC rejects the ordination of gay clergy it would satisfy God concerning that denomination? No tornados heretofore about some of the other Biblical departures in the ECL, but God is especially irked about the gay issue?

It is arrogant to suggest that anyone can actually know with certainty any divine purpose in tragedy, and it is more arrogant when that purpose is mostly targeted toward those who struggle with a sin you do not. God has in these last days spoken to us through His Son. And what is decidedly outlandish is that Pastor Piper is an outspoken Calvinist, so in his own theological economy, those gay sinners have not repented because God hasn’t granted them such repentance. Against the backdrop of this recent issue, I present some thoughts about the gospel as it applies to gay people.

The gospel. It is literally “good news” in that it offers a complete and free path to eternal life, already trodden by the Son of God, already finished by the Messiah, and already purchased for the redemption of “whosoever will” receive it by faith alone. “By faith alone”, or as the Latin offers it “Sola Fide”. Easy to say, but difficult to actually believe. We as earthly sinners have been taught to achieve, to compete, and to strive for acceptance and praise for our energy and commitment to almost anything. Practice makes perfect we are told, and in sports, and business, and even relationships we are continually exhorted to “work at it” because it is that work which is the essence of success and worth in everything in our lives, and in fact, we have come to believe that our striving and achievements authenticates us as people.

It is against this backdrop that we are challenged to unpack and define the grace of Jesus Christ and dangerously consider that grace in the light of practical application to sinners. That sounds so easy and so doctrinal, but when confronted with some situations and some sinners, a retreat to the safety of the doctrinal library will not suffice; in short, we are confronted with authenticating what we have said we believe. And this is the hypocritical paradox, we are requiring sinners to authenticate their faith by works and yet we refuse to authenticate the doctrinal beliefs we have so proudly espoused concerning grace. Many of us are not willing to even entertain the possibility that a person who has trusted Christ as the only Savior, can be in God’s grace without an approved set of substantiating works. Let us examine that in the light of ourselves and the church as a whole.

Any new born sinner who has embraced Christ can rejoice and identify with the profound change that accompanies this salvation, and every child of God can also testify of the imperfect post-salvation path we all have followed. We have a camaraderie that accepts chronic imperfection among God’s people as it pertains to certain sins, and even grievous sins such as adultery and divorce have a built in plan of redemption and restoration including entire ministries dedicated to minister to these type of saved sinners. Yes, we have catalogued the sins that a saved person can fall into and those that completely cannot be committed by a regenerate person.

Now the church has also suggested that no one can be saved who practices sin, which of course in the truest sense would make everyone unregenerate since we all practice sin. How many Christians regularly drive above the speed limit? How many regularly get angry? How many lust? How many practice unforgiveness? How many gossip? In the defining context of the accepted view of “practicing sin”, we are all guilty. And not only do we practice sin that we know is wrong, we practice sin about which we are deceived and refuse to see its sinfulness including changing sin into God’s will. The health and wealth and prosperity movements have excelled in this doctrinal venture and have turned greed into God’s will. They are deceived about their sin and so they practice it. And most American believers spend money on things unnecessary and save much money to lavish on themselves in later years in direct violation of Christ’s admonition about “laying up treasures for yourselves”. The spiritual gives way to the cultural.

We must never condone sin either in others or in ourselves, however we cannot dilute redemption by culling out and magnifying the sins of others, especially certain categories of sins. The gay community has been bludgeoned enough by those who represent Jesus Christ. The gospel is offered to all sinners without any prerequisites, and we can comfortably allow God to search the heart of others to find redemptive authenticity. Our own hearts provide us with enough spiritual labor.

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