It’s September 11, and I’m mad.
I’m not mad at the government for not finding Osama Bin Laden. The government sent him running. He’s weaker today than he was a year ago. I can be patient about the day he finally gets sent to the universe’s highest court.
I’m not even certain that I’m mad at Bin Laden. One of my college professors said you can’t get mad at a dog for barking. That’s what dogs do. Can I get mad at a raving lunatic with money and a bunch of guns and no guts for brainwashing some of his henchmen and making them hijack some airplanes on suicide missions? Just as dogs bark, that’s what raving lunatics with money and a bunch of guns and no guts do.
But given the opportunity, I’d still shoot him. Nothing personal. It’s my duty to my country. Raving lunatics with money and a bunch of guns and no guts brainwash henchmen into hijacking planes and slamming them into buildings. Patriotic Americans protect their fellow countrymen against enemies of the state.
No, what I’m mad about is the headline I read this morning that said church activity is back down to its pre-9/11/01 levels.
Osama Bin Laden hit a really easy pop-up to Christianity. And we fumbled it, let it squirt out of our glove. And then we didn’t even bother to run after the ball afterward and catch him off guard.
“This is not what the beautiful religion of Islam is about,” some said after 9/11. Here’s what the beautiful religion of Islam is all about: Do a bunch of deeds. When you die, Allah might let you into heaven. There is no assurrance. No security. You live your life, doing deeds, hoping it’s going to be enough.
Christianity can be summed up in two verses:
God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will never die, but have eternal life. –John 3:16
I write these words to you who have believed in Him so that you may know that you have eternal life. –1 John 5:13
It’s not about deeds because it’s not about you. Believe in Jesus Christ, then let Him work in you. Deeds follow. But the deeds don’t get you into heaven–the deeds are just confirmation that you’re going to heaven. You’re saved before you’ve done your first good deed. Remember the story of the crucifixion? The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom. And Jesus said, “Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.” How many good deeds do you think that thief did between the time he said that and the time he died? He didn’t exactly have the ability, did he?
Christianity offers all the beauty of Islam, and then some.
After Sept. 11, Rudy Giuliani invited speakers from all faiths to attend a community prayer event at Yankee Stadium. A number of Christian speakers showed up. None of them mentioned Jesus. I guess they didn’t want to offend anyone. But without Jesus, Christianity is just another religion. Why would anyone want to have anything to do with it? I wouldn’t.
Well, actually one of the speakers did mention Jesus. His name was Dr. David Benke, a Lutheran pastor from New York City who also serves as president of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Dr. Benke’s reward for doing the right thing–offering comfort and support to the grieving people around him who desperately needed it, and not just offering any comfort and support, but the very best comfort and support this world has ever had to offer in the form of the Gospel of Jesus Christ–was to be brought up on charges of unionism. Unionism is a fancy Christianese word that means watering down Christianity and making all religions look equal.
LCMS has been fighting amongst itself ever since. On one hand, you have evangelical-minded people like Dr. Benke and LCMS president Dr. Jerry Kieschnick who have dedicated their careers and their lives to reaching as many people as possible with the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. On the other hand, you have so-called “Confessional” Lutherans who talk mostly about something called “doctrinal purity.”
“Doctrine” is Christianese that can be roughly translated into “what you believe.” Confessionals like to use a lot of Christianese language. I have no idea why. And to be honest, if I were to take what my evangelical-minded pastor believes, write it down, and put it in a hat along with what Confessionals like LCMS First Vice President Daniel Preus and LCMS Second Vice President Wallace Schultz believe, you and I wouldn’t know the difference.
Now, maybe evangelical-minded Lutherans are more lax about what they require someone to believe. If you’re right about John 3:16 and understand that what Jesus did is the only reason you can go to heaven (and for that matter, the only reason you have any value whatsoever), you’re going to heaven. And an evangelical-minded person is more interested in getting as many people as possible right about that point than about making sure a smaller number of people believe the right thing about everything.
Yes, we have different priorities.
But I don’t think confessional Lutheranism is about doctrinal purity. It’s more about control. These are the hymns you may sing. This is what your church service is going to look like on any given day. These are the topics you are going to preach about each Sunday for the next year.
Unfortunately, you cannot anticipate the needs of the people around you months and years in advance. Different people in different places at different times have different needs.
The greatest treasure of Lutheranism is not that great hymnal we have. You can tell because it doesn’t seem like anyone can agree which of our many hymnals is the great hymnal we have.
The greatest treasure of Lutheranism is the greatest treasure of Christianity: The teaching that God wanted to save you in order to spend eternity with you, so He did anything and everything it would take to make that happen, in the form of sending Jesus Christ to come show us how to live, then die for us and rise again. That resurrection, and the deeds we do once we start to believe in it, are our 100%, iron-clad, unshakable assurrance that we are going to heaven.
In Christianese, that’s salvation and grace.
After Sept. 11, that was the message the confused masses needed to hear. A few churches heard the call and ran with it. Others responded to it the way they respond to everything: With a confusing message only a committed, longtime Christian would understand.
But the committed, longtime Christian was the last person who needed that. Jesus did not come for the healthy.
One man dared to stand up and challenge the convention of being a doctor for the healthy. Dr. David Benke accepted the invitation and preached the gospel to all who would listen at Yankee Stadium. He is now standing trial in his denomination for that dastardly deed. LCMS has now been called the Taliban of American Christendom in the press. Is this what we want to be known for?
Our willingness to compromise the Gospel, our unwillingness to meet the needs of the unchurched, and our eagerness to throw bricks at one another are the reasons why Christianity in this country grew for a short while after Sept. 11, then dropped back to its previous levels. Meanwhile, Islam grew.
A large number of LCMS churches are doing special services today, in rememberance of the events of a year ago. Many of them promise to be beautiful services, with high liturgy and beautiful hymns. I won’t be going.
One LCMS church is hosting an inter-denominational prayer gathering, where large numbers of Christians with gather and, for a day, put their differences aside and pray for this country and for American Christendom.
There might be some non-believers there, wondering about what this Christianity thing is and what it means, and asking some really hard questions. I hope so, at least. I want to talk to them.
That church might be disciplined for allowing such an event to take place on its grounds. I might be disciplined for taking part in it.
If that happens, I’ll take comfort in 1 Peter 4:19, as I hope Dr. Benke and Dr. Kieschnick do:
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.