A little more Gospel
by Mathew Block
If there’s one thing that history makes clear, it’s this: there is no era in which the Church can simply sit back and conclude: yes, that’s it. We’ve expanded all we need to on the Christian faith. Everyone is in agreement. Nothing else need be said or written.
The fact is, the Church is always in the midst of some dispute or argument. It was true in the time of the Apostles, true in the time of the Church Fathers, true at the Reformation, and true today. The Church is forever encountering new concepts and ideas, new errors and heresies; and it’s forever attempting to respond to those issues.
There was a time when such theological concerns were a matter of public dialogue. People spoke about them in the taverns, argued over them in the streets, and—though it might seem strange to us today—served them up at the dinner table. In fact, one of Luther’s works, a book called Table Talk, is actually a record of informal comments he made to visitors in his home. These thoughts are not as polished as some of his written work—table talk seldom is—but they let us see him wrestling personally with the issues of the day.
It’s my hope that this column can function similarly—that it can be a place where we can consider issues at play in our own time, a place to discuss the things that make the Church stop and go “hmmm.” I don’t pretend to have the answers, but perhaps together we can at least figure out some of the right questions. And maybe those questions will find their way into our everyday lives—perhaps making an eventual appearance at our own dinner tables. As we discuss these issues, we do so with the intention of finding God’s perspective on things, not our own. In other words, we allow historic Christian doctrine to guide our thinking.
Doctrine is always relevant because faith is always relevant. If we are going to “believe,” we must believe something. And if we are not clear what that “something” is… if we let people fill the blanks in for themselves, then they will inevitably fill it in with inventions of their own making. As sinful human beings, we naturally seek out teachers to tell us what our “itching ears” want to hear. In the process, we exchange our “theology” (a God-shaped faith) for a “me-ology” (a “me”-shaped faith)—what I think, what I like, what I want to believe. The “god” we claim to worship begins to look suspiciously like ourselves.
Doctrine is always relevant because faith is always relevant.
In order to prevent people from remaking God in their own images, the early Church attempted to codify what genuine Christianity looks like. You’ll be acquainted with some of that work—namely, the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. If you’ve got a good memory, you might even remember the Athanasian Creed. (You know, the really long one that gets read on Trinity Sunday.) The creeds outline core doctrines of our faith, reminding us what is and is not true Christianity. The Lutheran Confessions function similarly: they are guides to keep us on the right path. Together, the creeds and confessions help us to interpret the Scriptures correctly, because they are themselves faithful interpretations of the Scriptures.
Still, creeds and confessions don’t include direct responses to every question the Church encounters. In each age, Christians face new problems about which we must think critically and biblically. This edition of The Canadian Lutheran talks about two such issues prevalent in our own time: abortion and homosexuality. Of course, these are not particularly new issues; they’ve been matters of debate for some time. Many Christians have already formed their responses to these subjects. But what I hope you’ll see in these articles is a call to reflect critically on how we respond.
When it comes to abortion, many Christians simply condemn the practice and anyone associated with it. Now, let’s be clear: abortion is absolutely evil. It’s the murder of innocent, defenseless children, and God’s Law insists that murder is never acceptable. On the subject of sexuality, the Law is equally clear: homosexual unions are not part of God’s plan. In fact, they are expressly forbidden. They are God’s “very good” intention for human love twisted and left broken by creation’s fall—one more way in which humanity’s sinful nature manifests itself in the world.
Many Christians know and accept these things, and so we’ve gotten fairly good at proclaiming God’s Law on these issues to the world around us. But—and this is the great travesty—we have not always been so diligent at proclaiming the Gospel. Abortion is wrong. But the mother who has had an abortion and who later repents of that act, needs to hear grace. The homosexual Christian who—through God-given courage—rejects and resists the sinful desires of his heart, needs to hear of God’s love and forgiveness. These people are broken. They need God’s mercy, not just His judgment.
A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.
And this is the Good News: Christ does show mercy to the broken. We are promised in Scripture that “a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20). The Church, as the body of Christ, needs to do the same. Rather than just beating down the suffering with the Law, we must encourage them with the Gospel. We must care for them in their weaknesses, proclaiming the forgiveness won by Christ at the cross.
The Law is good, but on its own it brings only death. The Gospel is needed to make alive again.
Mathew Block is editor of The Canadian Lutheran and manager of communications for Lutheran Church–Canada.