Read THIS ARTICLE from the latest edition of THRIVENT MAGAZINE. It’s a nice “human interest” article. Cute, cuddly, warm and fuzzy. And, I commend the members of this congregation for reaching out to give emotional support to those around them who may be going through difficult times.
But there’s something wrong here. Underneath the warm and fuzzy, cute and cuddly, wrapped in the pretty shiny wrapping are some serious distortions and false teachings about the Christian faith.
How we talk about things shapes what others believe. If you read this article as someone who knows nothing at all about Christianity, you will come up with some pretty bizzare ideas about what we believe, teach and confess.
Now, let’s be honest – it is very doubtful that if you pressed those involved in this ministry, any of them would say that there is some mystical power in the bears (at least I hope they wouldn’t). I also very much doubt that the article’s author really believes that these bears are really members of the body of Christ. But I’m not talking about what these people believe. I’m talking about what they teach others to believe about Christianity.
According to Jesus, He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Him (not through a teddy bear, no matter how cute and cuddly!). Yet, the quotations in the article show that, whether they believe this way or not, these Christians are teaching others that these stuffed bears are some sort of connection between the recipient and God. What’s more – the articles author teaches that inanimate objects are part of the Christian congregation when she says, “seated next to a particularly huggable member of the congregation – a teddy bear.”
Now, it is true that, as human beings indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we Christians do bear Christ to others as we bear witness to His forgiveness which He accomplished for us and all people through His life, death and resurrection. More than that, as we live in this world as baptized believers compelled by the love of Christ to reach out and love and care for our neighbors, it is Christ working in the world – as St. Paul said, it is no longer I that lives, but Christ lives in me.
Inanimate playthings, however, cannot and do not connect others to Jesus. They may increase people’s connection to us – and through that connection, we may be able to bear witness to Christ’s saving work. But there’s a lot of steps in between – and the bear is OUR tool used in OUR plan for evangelism. Christ never instituted the ministry of the stuffed animal – and we cannot assert that He effects some sort of connection with the recipient or communicates His love to them through it.
But from the plain words of the tag attached to each bear the recipient is taught that there IS some mystical connection to God effected by the bears. THAT is the problem.
The tag on each bear specifically claims that the bear is “coming to you with . . . the love of God.” But Scripture tells us that God showed His love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God did not show His love by sending a bear, but by sending His Son.
Consider when your life is difficult. What do you need most? That some random and fairly anonymous member of a church loves you – or that almighty God loves and cares for you?
I would submit – when life is difficult – when you’re sick or sad or injured or depressed – what you need most to know is that it is not God’s punishment or His hatred of you that put you in that circumstance. In fact – in spite of your circumstance – God still loves you. He still cares for you. He has forgiven you all your sins and has accomplished everything necessary for your full restoration – He sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem you and restore you to Himself.
The temporary trials and difficulties are a speed-bump on the road to everlasting life. As Christians we live each day with the assurance of our baptismal promise – that we are a beloved child of God – an heir of heaven – and eternally beloved by the Father. This is what gives us the assurance to know that neither life (nor any of it’s troubles or heart ache) nor death (with it’s pain and it’s sting), nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If those involved were simply doing this as a symbolic gesture of their own love and concern without the mystical overtones, there could be no objection. It’s kind of a neat project to emotionally care for people who are having a difficult time – and that emotional support should NOT be downplayed – it’s important! But MORE important still is bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel and there is no indication that a clear Gospel proclamation accompanies the delivery of these bears.
So let the record show that I’m all for cute, cuddly, warm and fuzzy – but the bear does not bear Jesus. The Word and the Sacraments bear Jesus – for you – for the forgiveness of your sins. And that’s a message more comforting and worth more than all the stuffed bears, live kittens, or warm nuzzles from all the K9’s in the world.
Therefore, when you bring the bear to show your own love and concern for your friend or acquaintance bring your pastor along and let him share the love of God in Christ Jesus for that person and assure them of God’s mercy and grace.
UPDATE: 7:50 AM 7/30/2013 – According to the photo that appears with the article, the actual text of the tag attached to each bear reads: “This bear has been among the congregation of Calvary Lutheran Church. It has heard the Word read, prayers prayed, praises sung, and sermons preached. It has been loved by Calvary and soaked in God’s love. Now it comes to you with blessings of worship and love.”