In times of tragedy it is not uncommon for communities to unite together. The school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut is but one of a number of examples of grief stricken, hurt, persons seeking each other out for comfort in the aftermath of a horrible event.
Even while community members at the epicenter of disaster look to each other for solace at perhaps their greatest time of fear and vulnerability, there remains something constant and that is our universal need to feel like we are in control. Communities want to make sense out of the senseless, and bring comfort to those in pain. Enter the community prayer services designed to show unity in support to the victims and their families.
We witnessed one of these prayer services in the aftermath of the Newton massacre. Indeed, many articles have been written pointing out the syncretism involved at one such prayer service involving an LC-MS pastor and several more articles have been written in response to those who have rightfully called for the public apology of the LC-MS pastor who wrongly participated in the prayer service.
One of the supporters of this pastor’s involvement in the syncretistic and unionistic prayer service, likened his invocation and blessing upon all present at the prayer service—in the name of the Triune God—to that of the Apostle Paul preaching and teaching in synagogues and temples. Is blessing all those present at a prayer service in the name of the Triune God, which included Muslims, Jews, and other non-Christian groups, really the same thing that the Apostle Paul did as he preached the Gospel around the Mediterranean? I think not.
Such a claim is quite similar to the justification for this pastor’s participation that we ought to be all things to all people, just as the Apostle Paul was “all things to all people” as recorded in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23. In this Scripture passage, Paul is writing to the unruly Corinthian congregation in answer to some sort of charge that he and Barnabas don’t have a right to earn a living from preaching the gospel (see verses 6 through 14). Paul responds that he has abrogated his right to earn his living from preaching the Gospel in order to not be a stumbling block to the Corinthians. He goes on further to explain that he must preach the Gospel (paid or not) and in so doing he has made himself a “servant to all” (vs. 19). In short, Paul’s becoming “all things to all people” meant that it is the Gospel which set him free to preach it among Jews and Gentiles alike. Not being under the Law meant he was free to observe Jewish practices, when among the Jews, that did not compromise, or undermine, the truth of the Gospel and likewise he was free by the Gospel to live amongst the Gentiles, but was not free to adopt their pagan practices. Being “all things to all people” does not mean that the boundaries of doctrinal truth should be crossed in a show of community support.
Rather than rushing into participation at public prayer events with pagans, we should stand firm in the faith handed to us by the Apostles and lovingly pronounce the Gospel in its purity to the world around us. After all, the most comforting message a community in distress can hear is the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.