Like many of you reading this post, I have been riding an emotional roller coaster since the tragic shootings in Newtown, CT. Many have worked hard to bring comfort and peace to a horrific situation; sadly, a few have tried to use this as an opportunity to gain political ground. This is as true “inside the Beltway” as it is in the Church. I would like to try to move beyond the emotions, if possible, for a theological look at what I perceive to be the issue at hand that is causing some, if not many, to question the LCMS stance against unionism and syncretism.
Recently, during Sunday morning Bible study, one of my members said she could not believe this was happening all over again and wondered out loud: “Haven’t we learned anything from Yankee Stadium?” Another member, in response said: “I don’t understand what the big deal is, after all, didn’t Jesus eat and drink with tax collectors?” As I have tried to listen to all sides during the last several weeks, it appears that the vast majority have a strong desire to be faithful to the Word of God, and want the life-giving, life-changing Gospel to be proclaimed in the best way possible.
So, what is the best way to do it? That seems to be the question at hand for many among us. Is the best and most faithful way to proclaim Christ and His Word, when a terrible tragedy strikes, to participate in the community service or vigil, or to intentionally stay away? I believe this question is one that would be of benefit for us to wrestle with, under God’s Word.
In preparation for a congregational study on this very topic, I was reminded of an excellent article by the Rev. Daniel Preus, currently serving as the 4th Vice President of the LCMS. He was very close to the situation following Yankee Stadium, serving then as 1st VP, and this essay delivered in 2003 can possibly serve as a starting point for our study. It is available by clicking here. (You might also want to check out the ACELC Errors Document on Unionism and Syncretism)
Here are some excerpts from Pastor Preus’ article to whet your appetite:
For Christians it goes without saying that we are going to talk about Jesus to those who do not yet know Him, and for that matter, also to those who do. Jesus says that He is the way, the truth and the life and that nobody comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). Peter says that there is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Again St. Peter says, “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, in meekness and in fear” (I Peter 3:15). Why? Because the hope that is in us is the only hope for sinful people, the only hope of salvation, the only hope of deliverance from sin, the only hope of everlasting life.
So, there is no question that Christians are to proclaim the Gospel, that they are to announce the Good News about forgiveness, salvation and life in the Savior, Jesus. And the proclamation of Christians should not be limited to the sanctuary. “Go and make disciples of all people,” Jesus says in Matthew. “Preach the Gospel to every creature,” He says in Mark. Every one of us should be like Andrew who found his brother Peter and brought him to Jesus (John 1). Every one of us should be like Philip who found Nathanael and told him he had found the Messiah and when Nathanael resisted, Philip said, “Come and you will see.” There simply is no question that Christians who are the light of the world, according to Jesus, are to be a light in the world through their actions and their speech.
Does this mean then that Christians have the right and the duty to speak the Word of God and proclaim the Gospel, not only in the church, but also in the public square? Of course! And when these opportunities come our way, we should be grateful and take advantage of them.
At the same time, the Scriptures warn us again and again to avoid certain relationships and activities with false teachers, with unbelievers and especially with the teachers, preachers and prophets of false religions. And so St. Paul says, “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Rom. 16:17?18). So Jesus Himself warns us against false teaching and false prophets and says, “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (Mark 13:21?23). And in the book of Revelation Jesus commends the Ephesians for their intolerance over against false teaching. He says, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false” (Revelation 2:3).
Finally, the entire Old Testament, from which I shall quote extensively in the second part of my presentation, makes it clear that believers, children of God, are absolutely forbidden to worship false gods or to combine their worship in any way with the worship of false gods. In fact, the major sin of the Israelites, condemned over and over again by God’s prophets was that of syncretism according to which they wished both to worship the God of Israel and give honor to the gods of the nations surrounding them.
As Christians, we gladly submit to both these truths: 1. We are to proclaim the Gospel unashamedly to everyone who will listen and 2. We cannot worship together with those whose worship is directed to any god other than the Triune God who alone is Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier and who alone is God in the true sense of the word. There was a day when it was much easier to hold these two truths in the proper balance. To those who know the Scriptures well it should not be difficult today either. But the postmodern world in which we live has severely complicated life for us Christians.
Is it possible today to study the paradox that Rev. Preus has clearly outlined, under God’s Word, no matter what side of the issue we are currently on, and let God’s Word have its way with us? To me, that would be true koinonia. That is my prayer.
Rev. Clint K. Poppe