I heard my denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, described as “The Taliban of American Christianity” the other day. That’s pretty unfair, but I understand it. The problem isn’t LCMS. The problem is six out of the denomination’s 9,000 pastors. Unfortunately, it only takes one.
And LCMS isn’t exactly known for the “pray only with people with the same beliefs as you” philosophy. The smaller Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) is much more notorious for that. Unfortunately, some of that attitude seeped into LCMS, which historically has taken a more liberal reasonable view.

Christian elitism. My good, cool-headed friend Dan Bowman asked me a question yesterday. I didn’t completely understand the context, but he loved my answer–calling part of it “one of the best paragraphs you’ve ever written,” and far be it from me to waste content. So, like a good journalist, I’m gonna find a way to use it again.

Dan asked me if there are spiritual “levels.” Maybe a Level 1 Christian goes to church, and maybe Billy Graham is a Level 51, or something like that. I’ve read speculation about that before, most of it backed by scripture, and yes, there does seem to be such a thing, and maybe it’s even definable. At the very least, there are visible signs of spiritual maturity–things like contentment, humility, charity, lack of fear of death. But quantifying that is like trying to quantify the qualities of a good baseball player. No matter how many statistics you gather, they never tell the whole story.

And that’s part of the problem. But it gets worse. Those visible attributes can be faked, and weaknesses can be hidden. I got caught up in a group that made a really big deal about those attributes, and I was even told by the girl I was dating at the time that she and I weren’t on the same level. (Of course, she was higher up than me. Out of my league, in a way I’d never thought of.) The thing was, I was close to the guys she was comparing me to. We all had weaknesses, and we did a decent job of hiding them from all but the people closest to us. And I caught myself looking around sometimes, wondering who might be faking it.

That’s what happens when compare ourselves to anyone but Christ. And the fact is, Jesus did more good in a typical minute of his life than most of us accomplish in our whole lives.

So what do we do about it? Admit we fall short. Work on it. Talk to God about it. Surround ourselves with people, as best we can, who bring out the best in us, who challenge and support us. What God wants more than anything else is for us to be humble (which means being realistic about where we stand, not having low self-esteem) and teachable. When He’s got that, He can make anything at all out of us.

I know that from experience. I’ve met several people like that over the course of the past 18 months. And even though they’d be the last to tell you, they’re the most remarkable people I’ve ever met.