A Time of Crisis and Opportunity: Be an Apologist, not a Pharisee, by Jon Townsend

(Jon’s posts can be seen on the Regular Columns page under the title “God Desires Mercy, Not Sarcasm…)

A Time of Crisis and Opportunity: Be an Apologist, not a Pharisee

How apropos: The Gospel reading in many of our congregations was the Pharisee and the Tax Collector on Sunday the 23rd of August. Many others have picked up the point that we should exercise caution in the coming days that we do not thank and praise the Lord that we are not like those ELCA folks (Listen to Pr. Weedon’s sermon below), but rather we must approach all of life knowing what our station is: I am a beggar and a sinner. The question it begs however is this: How does a beggar and sinner (and if I am correct in what the original Greek says, the tax collector uses the definite article “the” to describe himself when he calls himself “the sinner”) tell others in a church body gone apostate that they are embracing sins that lead to death without becoming a Pharisee.


1. The Word. 2. Humility. 3. Vocation

The Word
This is the “no brainer” of doing apologetics. In the act of confessing the Truth there is no other place to begin. The bible passages addressing homosexuality and the Real Presence must be spoken – again and again. The Blessed Lord speaks His Word and it does not return void; even if it falls on deaf ears our speaking of His Word is good for us! At the same time, our eyes must be opened. We are dealing with a spirit that has deconstructed the Word of God to an extent that the Words in the text do not have concrete meaning anymore.

Many would say that what we are seeing is the result of a Historical Critical Method of Biblical interpretation. I think we are actually dealing with Deconstruction.

Derrida and Logos
[w]riting thus enlarged and radicalized, no longer issues from a logos. Further, it inaugurates the destruction, not the demolition but the de-sedimentation, the de-construction, of all the significations that have their source in that of the logos. Jacques Derrida

The French Philosopher Jacques Derrida, who coined the term Deconstruction, and wrote and expounded on his philosophical take, is not referring to the Divine Logos (necessarily), but is referring to the voice of the author with the word logos. (Isn’t his choice for philosophical jargon ironic?) Deconstruction when applied to literature takes the stance that the reader cannot know the intent of the author, because the author is using words to signify what his/her intent is and that these same words when translated into another’s mind do not signify exactly the same thing (Zwingli may have been Derrida’s distant cousin in this respect). Therefore the solid rock of authorial intent does not exist, but rather we are left with something that is ultimately thin and malleable, open to the translation of the reader, or open to the attempt of the reader to reduce the text to something irreducibly complex.

Deconstruction is a horrible literary approach. As one who studied literature, I am well acquainted with the method one uses to deconstruct a text. In a normal reading of a text, context helps convey the meaning to the reader outside of the mere dictionary definition of the words. When a text is deconstructed the context becomes the reader him/herself or whatever the reader chooses to project into the text and the meaning becomes personalized. Deconstructing the text can become a near occult approach to finding meaning.

Marxist, Feminist and Postmodernist worldviews do not have a world view that transcends current events and conditions therefore they must deconstruct the text, because they do not trust the author as anything other than a product of his or her environment. In this sense the approach to any type of text is to find the hidden meaning of either class conflict, gender conflict or subjectivity. In a novel, this is not too difficult, as the author most certainly has some intent to entertain the reader – so an author must set the scene, create secondary characters and generally draw pictures with words to interest the reader into reading the work. Because the aforementioned movements do not have a singular transcendent text (outside of materialist manifestos) they look to narratives from society to derive meaning. Art, literature and media become the sacred texts as these movements project their values into the people and social situations described or portrayed in various media. The hidden meaning of the media is then taken back out of the media by what the reader or viewer has already read into it. It is the ultimate form of circular reasoning. The hard work of the author and his/her intent is replaced by the twisting the reader puts onto the work. Meaning is sought in the text, but the reader is truly left empty at the end because all they are left with is their own thoughts and opinions. Although buzzwords such as “open minded” and “inclusive” are thrown around, the reader or viewer is truly only left to the despair of being alone with his/her own view of the world. There is only the appearance of comfort in such an approach in that everyone is in the same boat. There is no forgiveness, just “understanding” – but even this understanding is disjointed and deconstructed.

I believe the best summary of the despair that results from such a world view is contained in the song “Walking in My Shoes” by Depeche Mode:

Morality would frown upon
Decency look down upon
The scapegoat fate’s made of me
But I promise you, my judge and jurors
My intentions couldn’t have been purer
My case is easy to see

I’m not looking for a clearer conscience
Peace of mind after what I’ve been through
And before we talk of any repentance
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments I kept
If you try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

If no text, or words, are completely understandable; if meaning is unknowable – the only way to understand another person who is hurting is to “walk in their shoes”. You can’t ask that person to repent: You don’t understand them! The person whom fate has made a “scapegoat”, who also has deconstructed the world and meaning, has no desire for repentance and the freedom of absolution because they are trapped in their own circular translation of the world and have turned inward. Such a method makes the reader the center and a god. Such gods do not desire an external force to save them. They desire to bring their contemporaries the pain and suffering that such gods receive as their reward: Despair, separation, being known fully as they are known – alone and unloved.

Despite the method that leads to the conclusions reached by the ELCA, the Divine Logos’, authorial intent is crystal clear. He wants to absolve. He spoke that we are to forgive sins. How can sins be forgiven without repentance? The Law clearly says what will happen to those who take part in sins that lead to death and what those sins are.

We must proclaim the truth to those who have deconstructed God’s Word and say – what happens when you turn your back on absolution? All that pain, all that longing – your despair, your agony – has sharing in it with other mortals made the pain any less, or has it just made your conscience dull? How does the post modern burden “of walking in another’s shoes” feel? How does it feel to take on the sin without the forgiveness? How does it feel to crucify Christ anew by denying the fact the He became sin for us?

The need for us to be fate’s scapegoat and to do the atoning work of Christ, by walking in other sinner’s shoes does not exist. Christ’s authorial intent is clear – “behold I make all things new!” “Any sins you remit are remitted!” The deconstruction of the authorial intent of the true and only Logos leads to despair and death.

My uncle is an ELCA pastor. He married my aunt, who came from an LCMS congregation. On more than one occasion, I have heard him recount a story of returning with my aunt to the congregation where she grew up and was confirmed. He was denied access to the Lord’s Table. One recount of the story was angry. One time, he was confused. All the other times, he just sounded hurt. The Law when spoken – and in this case was the message, we aren’t in fellowship, we can’t do this – hurts. It separates, it divides, it questions one’s ideas, doctrines and dogmas. I often wonder how it was explained to him. I often wonder if he was told that the Law was being spoken out of love. Or, perhaps, it may have just been spoken.

In the third part, Vocation, I will discuss culpability, (and as you will see I hold the called and ordained to a higher standard, I believe on Biblical grounds). But let’s assume for a moment that my uncle were a layman. He thought he was Lutheran but was poorly catechized as to the importance of agreement in doctrine, especially the inerrancy of Scripture. It would be wrong to whack him upside the head with the Law. The Law would need to be spoken, but one would need to address him as a novice – as one who was a child. The pastor would need to make a special effort after the Divine Service to explain what divides us and what the Sacrament means.

An approach of humility and love towards those who are poorly catechized or spiritually abused is necessary in the vast majority of cases – I believe especially in the case of the laity of the ELCA. Putting the best construction on their circumstance, one must realize that they have been sorely misled. They were lead to deconstruct Holy Scripture. They were taught that other Lutherans are haughty and uncompassionate.

In humility, we must show mercy to those who have been lead astray. Patiently, we must show them the errors they have been lead into. We must see them as the students, who when confronted with the rhetoric and philosophies of their professors, forgot the simple truths taught them as children by their parents.

Just think – Holy Absolution is being denied to them, because sin is being denied. Christ’s atonement is being held far away from them by philosophy. As Thomas Aquinas sought to reconcile Aristotle with the Catholic faith and the Gospel was withheld from the faithful by the clergy, so Derrida’s philosophy has been used as the lens for reading scripture and again the Gospel has been stolen away, this time by Lutheran Bishops and Pastors.

It is our duty to pick them up again and do the hard work of re-explaining what has been deconstructed with great patience and humility.

As for her Bishops and Pastors, such deference does not apply in my estimation. (Although I believe a bit of chivalry is needed when addressing female clergy. I consider them to be the most spiritually abused in the whole situation.)

They have pushed the laity into a fellowship with the United Methodist Church that deconstructs the Words “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”. Does the Word of Christ deconstructed still give the Sacrament to the congregation?

They have nullified the forgiveness of sins by calling the sins of homosexuality and fornication “not necessarily sinful”. Anarchy rules from the pulpit and altar and there ain’t no crime if there ain’t no law.

Yet Christ speaks of the crime of leading children astray:

Matthew 18:3-6

3And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
4Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
6But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

These words of Christ should scare the living hell out of any pastor, of any denomination, worth his salt. I fear that these words apply also to the presiding Bishop and clergy of the ELCA. They have through their association with those who do not accept the Real Presence withheld the Eucharist from the people. Through their acceptance of homosexuality they have withheld Absolution from those who struggle with same sex attraction. They have certainly offended the little ones of childlike faith whom they are charged with serving.

I think this event may serve as the defining moment for Lutheranism, if Confessional Lutherans of various Synods can speak clearly with one voice to this issue.

How I would love to see a joint statement of the Confessional Lutheran bodies in North America on the issue along with a joint media campaign to help correct the slander which the Bishops and clergy of the ELCA have allowed.

A statement here, a statement there just leaves the media with the false picture that the ELCA is the spokesbody for the Lutheran faith and we are but also rans, each with an ax to grind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.