On my visit to the Pacific Northwest the last few days I have found the best and the worst of Lutheranism. Laymen Jim Pierce from Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle is an example of the best and he has an incredible story. I’ll share more on that below. First, let me give some background on the faith in general out here in the West.
Some have argued that we are living in a post Christian era in which culture is no longer rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic. If this is true, the Pacific Northwest is a great example of a pagan approach to life and culture. I have been traveling to the West and Northwest ever since my engagement thirty years ago to a Northwest girl. I also vicared in California which has been known for quite some time to be the “land of the fruits and nuts” among conservatives both within and outside of the church. The Pacific Northwest is not far behind California in the race to paganism. After all, the entire west coast shares the same fault line and subduction zone and the faith seems to have followed that same crack in the earth. (As I am writing this post a story appeared on the local news about the Atheist Society being granted a spot at the Washington state capital Christmas tree display in which they put up a poster stating that there is no God.) In the midst of this burgeoning western paganism a healthy, firm and staunch Christianity has taken root and Jim Pierce is a part of it.
In the Midwest the faith is taken for granted as an integral part of the culture. In the East the faith has embraced the liberalism of the culture. But in the West and the Northwest, where the culture has buried the faith, confessional Christianity is like a beautiful flower clinging to a crack in the rock, battling the landslide as the culture slowly drifts down the slope into the chasm of paganism. Names of the West familiar to confessional Lutherans bear this out: Chris Rosebrough, Pirate Christian Radio, The White Horse Inn, Walter Martin, John Warwick Montgomery, Craig Parton, etc. The paganism of the West has given birth to a hard-core apologetic Christianity. When that hard-core Christianity discovers confessional Lutheranism, it falls in love.
Jim Pierce is an example of this love and of the best of Northwest Lutheranism. He is one of this new breed of Lutherans. I was privileged to enjoy coffee with Jim and fellow Brother of John the Steadfast Scott Diekmann at the world famous Pike Place Market in Seattle yesterday morning.
Jim grew up in a Pentecostal church (second baptism, tongue-speaking, etc.) that taught the Oneness doctrine which rejects the Trinity. He became a Youth Pastor in the church and was then encouraged to lead his own parish. At this point Jim realized that he needed more training in Scripture and so he enrolled in a small Bible college outside of Seattle. By God’s grace he was convinced that the Oneness teaching was wrong and he embraced the Trinity. In the Pentecostal church, and particularly in the Oneness cult, reason and the pursuit of studies is discouraged. Jim’s new found interest in theology “enlivened his brain” as he describes it. With this new found love of knowledge Jim decided to pursue a career in philosophy and enrolled in the University of Washington.
That pursuit of reason led Jim right into the heart of atheism. He became, as he describes it, an “evangelical atheist” spreading the gospel of atheism as far and wide as he could. For nearly twenty years Jim peddled this darkness of Satan’s distortion of human reason. Human reason was not the problem as Jim would later realize. It was a tool that Satan used to lead him away from Christ.
A few years ago, a haunting message from Jim’s past brought the Gospel back into his life. A friend from the Lutheran Brethren Church had told Jim when he first starting falling into atheism, that the guilt of his sins would eventually consume him. That word of law never left Jim’s cranium and heart. It was true. One day Jim realized his errant ways and confessed his rebellion against God and asked forgiveness. Within moments Jim was sensing that his bare bones confession and newly rekindled faith was in need of some meat and so he struggled to recite the Apostle’s Creed, also stuck in the recesses of his mind, and offered that confession up to God as proof that the new faith he was espousing was true and Biblical. (I hope that adds meaning to your recitation of that same creed this coming Sunday.)
Jim called that same friend from the Lutheran Brethren looking for a church and she directed him to Pastor Onken in Marysville, Washington but since that was a bit far for him to drive Pastor Onken suggested Messiah Lutheran in Seattle. After catechesis into Lutheranism, Jim is now using his intellect to explore fully the rich doctrinal heritage of the faith and to defend it against atheists and compromising Lutherans alike.
After hearing Jim’s “testimony” at the coffee shop at the Pike’s Place Market, the three of us spent a couple of hours rejoicing in the goodness of God and the sure confession of the faith. We also did our best to solve the problems of a growingly post-confessional Lutheranism (which is of course not Lutheranism at all) but as most of these little huddles do, ours too ended in frustration that Synod Inc. continues to sink down the slippery slope but we also took hope in the confidence that God’s word remains true despite the efforts of a human institutions to water it down.
There is good and bad in Lutheranism in the great Northwest. Jim represents the good. Later this week/month we will take a look at the bad, including the growth of the emergent church movement with which the Northwest District seems to be smitten and we will take a look at a troubling letter that the bishop of the Northwest district wrote earlier this year that has shown up in some of the comments on this website.
Thanks Jim for your true confession. God bless you and Messiah Lutheran where you are being built up in the faith of the Apostle’s Creed and the Lutheran Confessions.