Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pukescent Tackiness

Today's message from the lighted sign at the ELCA-Lutheran "Temple of Tackiness" in St. Louis's south city: "STUCK ON HIGHWAY 40? THE ROAD TO GOD IS ALWAYS OPEN!" This is a reference to a construction project on the busiest road in town.

Ugh. This is not only another example of the opportunistic tackiness some churches call "outreach." It is also a disgrace to Lutheran theology. It has more in common with the theology of that horrid Methodist billboard (about "open minds, open hearts, open doors") than with the biblical Lutheran faith. "The road to God is open" suggests (1) that it's up to you to go up that road, and (2) that you are able to choose that road, and travel it, in and of yourself. It's all about you and your choice - what you choose to believe and do.

Jesus teaches otherwise. "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44). "No one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father" (John 6:65). "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (John 15:16). Paul also makes this point, when he scolds the Galatians for letting unfaithful teachers lead them away from God's free gift of the Gospel, back into the religion of rules and works. His words in Galatians 4:3-9 resonate powerfully in the face of what passes for "Christian" and even "Lutheran" teaching these days:

[We] were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?
Notice how Paul actually catches himself using a phrase ("now that you have come to know God") that sounds as if your coming to God is something you accomplished. And then notice how Paul immediately corrects himself: "...or rather to be known by God!" He knows, as John did, that those who believe in Christ "were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). And he is so careful - and rightly warns the Christians in Galatia (and us) to be equally careful - not to stray into a teaching centered on man, trusting in man and the powers in man, which is ultimately worthless! The true message is: God set us free once and for all through the redeeming work of Jesus, His Son. And God sets us free now by sending His Word into our ears, and His Spirit into our hearts.

No comments: