As God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, the Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, former president of the LCMS speaks well when he says, “Our witness to the truth needs to be given to people who know not the truth. For that to happen, we must speak that witness in places where people who need to hear the truth are present. That may very well include other speakers who are present in those places.”
And I completely agree with District President Benkhe’s statement when he says, “I am on the side of giving Christian witness in the public square and not vacating it, . . .If we don’t show up, who can receive our witness?”
These words were given in response to the uproar over an LCMS pastor apologizing for the offence taken at his participation as a “community chaplain” seeking to provide comfort and consolation to a community, a country and a world grieving the loss of life in Newtown Connecticut.
As this pastor indicated in his statement, his decision was his. He must own it. And this post is not an attempt to re-open the discussion of that specific incident.
(NOTE TO READERS: Comments that attempt to reopen the debate of syncretism and the specific events of Newtown will NOT be posted.)
Rather, this post appears some four months after the original events, and two months after the uproar created by his apology, in the hopes that the fury and uproar have subsided and we can discuss the underlying issues in a more objective manner.
Taking as our starting point the desire to give a clear and bold confession of the truth in the public square – and FOR THE SAKE OF DISCUSSION leaving aside the issue of syncretism and instead accepting the label of “community chaplaincy” – what would it look like to give a clear, bold and unambiguous witness in the public square on the stage of a national “prayer vigil” where blasphemers and ministers of Satan are also witnessing?
To put it succinctly, the question before us is, “What would it look like to ‘speak that witness in places where people who need to hear the truth are present.’ and places ‘[t]hat may very well include other speakers who are present in those places.’?”
To answer this question, I propose using one of the scriptural accounts that Rev. Kieschnick commends as supporting the sharing of the stage with those who preach false gods.
1 Kings 18:27-29: And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
If one were to use Elijah as a template, perhaps the following would serve as an appropriate introduction if a faithful preacher of the Gospel stood at the microphone after events such as those at Sandy Hook or Columbine:
“We have heard from the messengers of the many of the ‘gods’ worshipped in our country. But where were these so-called gods when the events that brought us here occurred? What have they done about this situation? Perhaps they went away on a journey or perhaps they were asleep. Maybe they were relieving themselves when this madman walked into the school the other day.
“And where are these gods now? While we grieve and mourn the loss of life, what words do these gods offer to grant us hope and peace in this dark hour? We do not need gods who stand by idly while such things happen, we need a God who acts decisively.”
After such an introduction, the pastor could then continue:
“No changes in our behavior or our nation’s policies will bring the dead back. There is nothing anyone of us can do to turn back the clock or raise our loved ones from the dead. For raising the dead is something only God can do.
“And in the wake of this tragedy, that is the true desire of all of us – to once again see these children. To have their wounds healed and for them to once again live and play. And that is the hope and promise offered by the only true God. The One God who out of His great love sent His own Son to die so that these children and we could be raised from the dead and live and reign with Him to all eternity.
“But this is no mere promise of a hopeful change from the status quo. This is, in fact, an accomplished reality. For the man Jesus was the very Son of God born in human flesh who suffered and died a real human death, and was raised on the third day from the dead. In HIM we have the promise of resurrection to a hopeful future.
“All who die knowing and trusting Him, hearing His voice, trusting in His promise of forgiveness and salvation will not only be raised from the dead, but will inherit everlasting life. The boys and girls who died knowing and trusting in this Jesus -the one who suffered, died, was buried, and rose again will be reunited with those they love who have also died in the faith. In their flesh, they shall see God. They will rise to new life under a new heavens on a new earth that will not have madmen seeking their death and destruction. In that day there will be no need for firearms or weapons, for we will experience the new reality brought about by God.
“Through the death and resurrection of Jesus from Nazareth, God subdued and vanquished all the enemies of mankind. In that day when Christ returns to restore all things, death itself will be swallowed up in victory. The dead will be raised, and all who trust in Christ for forgiveness and salvation shall inherit everlasting life.
“In that day we will finally be able to say, Death where is your victory, Death where is your sting? The sinful acts of this madman betrays the reality of a world gone wrong. We live in a world steeped in sin and misery. We ourselves are steeped in sin and misery in this life. But the God of all creation has not abandoned us. He has not left us to wallow or mourn in this world as if He has forsaken us.
“The journey He took was to descend from His throne of glory to enter our world and provide the ultimate rescue from the chaos and strife we experience. And He accomplished this by becoming one of us. As the man, Jesus, He died at the hands of sinful man to break the chains of death that ensnare all of us. And because this man, Jesus, rose from the dead, we have the assurance that we too shall be raised. Therefore we need not fear death, because death does not have the final word. It is Jesus who will have the final word when He calls us forth from the grave.
“And those who believe in this God will be raised to live and reign with Him for all eternity.
“Now, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. AMEN.”
To be sure, the proposed message would not be welcomed. This message would no doubt denounced and derided as unloving and uncaring even though it is exactly the opposite. The truth of God that is the only thing that can bring true, eternal, godly comfort and peace.
Yes, it will be painful for those in attendance who did not love their children enough to have them baptized and didn’t care about them enough to teach them about Jesus and the forgiveness, life and salvation He came to bring. But perhaps those parents will hear and know of the forgiveness they, themselves, have in Christ so they will not suffer damnation for their sin and negligence. And, perhaps they and all who hear the truth of the Gospel will begin not only to hug their children a little tighter, but to teach them the saving truth of the Gospel.
But, in at least two high-profile cases, we will never know. The opportunity to clearly and unambiguously preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been squandered and we can never go back and redeem those lost opportunities. People who heard were permitted to continue to walk the wide road that leads to destruction as they were allowed to continue in their false beliefs and false ideas about God. And it was Lutheran Pastors who stepped up to the microphone and gave a witness that was “undoubtedly, not nearly … as clear” as it should have been because they were human and they feared man and the persecution that would have resulted from doing their job.
President Kieschnick says, “If a Lutheran pastor is invited to pray in a public gathering and declines that invitation, he yields the platform, the microphone and the message to those whose witness to Christ and his redeeming love may, in some cases very possibly and in other cases undoubtedly, not be nearly as clear as our pastor’s would have been.”
In response, I would say, “AMEN!” But we must make certain that our witness to Christ and His redeeming love is clear and unambiguous. Those who stand up must be prepared to suffer the consequences and not shirk our responsibility to boldly proclaim the truth. We must “count the cost” (Luke 14:25-35), and unless you can carry out the task, it may be better to yield the platform, the microphone, and the message so that our own witness to the truth is not discredited by a poor showing.
For numerous reasons, I pray I never have the opportunity to speak at one of these “once in a lifetime” events. The desire to forsake my God given responsibility to clearly speak the word of God in order to provide worldly comfort for those who are hurting would be enormous. Just as I have many times before, I, too, would likely give-in to the temptation to “hide Jesus” and preach in a manner that effectively denies the unique claims He made as the Son of God Who is THE Way, THE truth, and THE life. By my actions I fear that I, too, would disown Jesus before men (Matthew 10:32ff) just as the many who, boldly proclaiming they would rather suffer death than disown Him have done (Matthew 26:69ff).
My prayer for myself and others is that if they are ever put in that situation, they are able to have the fortitude to avoid giving into the temptation to hide Jesus and Him Crucified and risen for the salvation of the world. Because warm fuzzy feelings and false comfort that speaks a blessing over blasphemy do not save.
The only thing that saves is a clear proclamation of Jesus — not just speaking His Name and attaching it to the vague concept of grace offered on account of a loving God who desires to bring us into communion with Himself. Rather the clear and unadulterated preaching of repentance and forgiveness on account of the unmerited favor of God bestowed upon unworthy, sinful human beings on account of Jesus and His Work which was the means by which God loves us and brings us into communion with Himself.
Elijah didn’t shirk his responsibility. Paul didn’t shirk his. But look at the lives they led in the aftermath. Jezebel for years sought after Elijah – he had to go into exile in a foreign land and be fed by a widow. Yet, God preserved him. Paul was bound in chains, beaten, shipwrecked, nearly killed by mobs of angry people. That’s what awaits those who clearly, boldly, and unambiguously proclaim the Gospel. And all our pastors who have read and know the scriptures know this. This is, in fact, why it is a great temptation for us to “not be nearly as clear” as we ought in these and many other circumstances.
And maybe that’s what the fury and uproar were really about – perhaps all the fuming and smoke were an attempt to get the mote out of the eye of of a brother before we had removed the log from our own eye, After all, who among us is not guilty of “not be[ing] nearly as clear as we ought?”
The fact is, everyone who participated in the uproar that followed these events are just as guilty as the participants themselves. We are guilty because even in the midst of the uproar that followed and the focused media attention, we talked about all manner of history, bylaws, constitutions, brotherly commitments and covenants of love, apologies, and offence given and taken, but we perpetuated the failure of not actually proclaiming what needed to be said from those stages.
Through it all, whether we advocated participation or decried it, whether we were defending honor or lusting for blood, we continued to allow Jesus to be hidden from view. And that doesn’t even begin to deal with the many times in our own lives and ministries that we, by our own fear of man and the persecution that would result, have kept people away from Him by not clearly preaching the damning law and life giving Gospel of God.
My perspective is that all these instances bring to light that there is much opportunity for all of us to repent for our failures to clearly preach repentance and forgiveness of sins for the sake of the atoning work of Jesus.