Christianity is Radical... Again
Anyone who has ever read the Gospels recognizes just how radical our Lord Jesus Christ is.
He is radical, both in what He teaches, and in His delivery. Our Lord does not come across as politically-correct in the Gospels - especially in His treatment of the self-righteous and virtue-signaling Pharisees. In fact, our Blessed Lord is downright bombastic in His rhetoric. At times, His language and conduct are shocking. And that is just what He intended. Christianity is not the “Religion of Niceness.”
Lest anyone try to portray our Lord as simply the epitome of the “nice guy,” let’s keep the cross in mind. They don’t sentence a man to death by torture for running a 1st century version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
And likewise, it is impossible to read the Book of Acts without concluding that the Early Church was likewise radical. She was enemy of the state, and enemy of polite society. She was caught in the pincers between the local rule of the Sanhedrin and the Priesthood, and the larger rule of the Senate and Caesar.
St. Stephen did not become the first martyr by telling people to say “please” and “thank you.”
The persecutions of the Church went on to varying degrees throughout the first century, and continued in fits and starts until Constantine’s conversion in the 4th century. Christians were berated as “haters” (Tacitus, Annals 15:44) and “Atheists” (Justin Martyr, Apology 5).
And once again, you don’t get fed to lions and used as bait for gladiatorial games for being inclusive and accepting of everyone. In fact, the exclusive nature of Christianity fueled much of the popular irrational anger and derangement.
The early Christians clearly enraged a lot of people - especially the movers and shakers of government and culture. And in reality, they followed in the train of the Old Testament Church, as faithful prophets and confessors were likewise mocked, marginalized, and murdered throughout the millennia.
Early Christianity was radical and counter-cultural, that is, until the Church won the culture wars, and her confession became normalized in western civilization. When this happened, things that Pagan society had normalized and celebrated with pride, such as abortion, infanticide, homosexuality, pederasty, incest, divorce, blood-sports, pornographic theater, cruelty to slaves, women, and children - as well as religious practices like superstitious ecstasy, auguring, female clergy, the syncretistic worship of many gods and goddesses - all fell by the wayside as the West accepted and embraced Christianity as normative.
And in this sense, “radical” Christianity simply became the way that society and state operated within Christendom for centuries. This is not to say that church, society, and state always lived up to these radical ethical norms. Far from it. For we will continue to struggle against the world, the devil, and our sinful nature until our Lord returns. But the ethical system of Paganism, which treated human beings (especially children, women, and people of the lower classes) like animals, and the hedonistic sexual license that destroyed family life, were considered to be morally wrong. Our culture, laws, and sense of society reflected this “radicalization” of the Christian faith.
But in our day, Christianity is becoming radical again, as the secular world withdraws from Christian ethics in exchange for subjectivism, irrationality, hedonism, and nihilism.
And though we have not changed - and especially we in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod - continuing to believe, teach, and confess the same things that we have since the time of the Apostles and their instruction directly from our Lord and from the Holy Scriptures themselves - we are being radicalized and marginalized by western society.
Many ecclesial bodies that are nominally Christian have abandoned the radical teachings of Christ and Scripture, and have reverted (often under intense social pressure) to Pagan beliefs, such as infanticide, euthanasia, deviant sexual practices, the disavowal of Scripture, syncretism, etc. We in the LCMS are standing with fewer and fewer brethren willing to make the traditional and radical confession. Church body after church body compromises with, and capitulates to, the pressures of the world. The largest “Lutheran” body in America, the ELCA, openly sanctions even goddess worship and priestesses. The Church (sic) of Sweden, which claims to be Lutheran, is unrecognizable as anything resembling Christianity, from homosexual pornography in the ancient Uppsala Cathedral, to the lesbian archbishopess ordering the removal of crosses from their “sanctuaries” lest Muslims be offended. Where the current Pope will take the Roman Catholic Church is anyone’s guess. Even some Baptist church bodies, who stood with us in the 1970s in asserting Biblical inspiration and faith in Scripture’s veracity have gone wobbly on some controversial issues of our day, specifically involving so-called “social justice.” Eastern Orthodoxy’s popular theologian and bishop, Metropolitian Kallistos Ware, favors homosexual “marriage.”
One area where we in the LCMS are vulnerable is our Concordia University System (CUS). Originally designed to prepare men for the ministry, and later to additionally provide schoolteachers, our CUS system has become, in many ways, something else. At Concordia University Portland, the institution boasts of a “Gender and Sexuality Resource Center” that, among other things, promotes LGBTQ History Month: “In October, the GSRC focuses on spending time respecting and sharing stories of and acknowledging the complexity of gay, lesbian, trans, queer, questioning, and ally, etc. identities.” It seems that no other commandment has organizations on campus designed to celebrate their violation other than the sixth. At Concordia University St. Paul, there is a PEACE Club (People Encouraging Acceptance Connection and Equality) that is “dedicated to creating an inclusive place for all students, particularly members of the CSP LGBTQI community.” A few years back, Concordia St. Paul learned the hard way that a Christian school cannot win playing the intersectionality game of racial segregation.
I wonder how many members of LCMS congregations realize that their church body, through Concordia - Chicago, offers a degree in “Women’s and Gender Studies.”
When Concordia College Alabama (Selma) closed its doors for the last time, only ten of its students were Lutheran, and not even one of them was pursuing a church ministry or career. This is not to say that Concordia - Selma was engaging in the kind of 6th commandment equivocation of its sister colleges (I have no reason to believe they were), but the original purpose of training pastors and church workers has clearly been supplanted over time by some other sense of purpose. Maybe it’s time for some introspection.
It should be noted that to its credit, Concordia University Irvine made the Campus Pride “shame list” for supporting religious liberties in academia. Some of the Concordias are exempt from federal Title IX regulations, and some are not. There is no synod-wide policy regarding Title IX.
The Concordia University System is an Achilles Heel in our confession and our ability to remain faithful for the sake of generations unborn. We had better get control of things now before the cancer metastasizes.
We need to understand that university campuses in the US in general are increasingly hostile to Christianity and traditional Christian ethics. Students and professors are becoming increasingly inimical to our faith and its confession and practice. In some cases, universities are becoming places of violence, intimidation, and doxxing.
Doxxing (also spelled “doxing”) is a technique of intimidation and the quashing of free speech by exposing personal and employment information over social media in an attempt to harass someone who holds unpopular views (such as our public confession that women cannot be ordained, that marriage is only between one man and one woman, that abortion and euthanasia are unethical, that mankind was created by God without evolution from lower life forms, and that the Bible is literally the Word of God). It sometimes results in violence. It is certainly used to to stifle mainstream political beliefs. It often causes people to lose their jobs. Here is an example of protesters telling ICE workers where they live, where they go to church, where their children live, and what pets they have - a day before an ICE facility was shot at. In addition to taking direct aim at conservative politics, doxxing has a chilling effect on people practicing the Christian faith, especially in the now-controversial matters of sex and gender and political correctness in general. As the culture becomes more intolerant, a lot of people could lose their livelihoods if their membership in an LCMS congregation were revealed to their employers. We are moving into dark times, and we had better come to grips with this reality.
Our constant and unchanging confession is today called “hate” and “bigotry” by the mainstream culture.
We have certainly seen the techniques of the attackers of Christianity in going after Christian bakers, florists, photographers, and other artists, not to mention Christian schools, (including Lutheran schools), and judges. I believe we are getting close to the point where our churches will be picketed on Sunday mornings, where we will be filmed going in and out of church, where our services will be disrupted by trespassers and those seeking to intimidate our people from attending church. The extremist rhetoric will only increase, and it is clear that there is a significant element within the court system and legislature that is egging this on.
Why are we under such threat? Because of our “radical” politically-incorrect views on things like abortion and euthanasia, evolution, the Bible, sex and gender, marriage and sexual conduct, ordination practices, and family life.
We are going to be tempted to hide our lamp under a basket, to conceal, instead of confess, our faith. We will be tempted to remain silent when we should speak, to equivocate when we should clarify, and to throw people under the bus for politically-incorrect statements. We should call to mind JFK’s warning that “those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside,” and keep in mind that this is equally true of churches and Christians who seek acceptance from the world and the approval of those who hate us.
One of the delegates at our recent Synod convention in Tampa spoke against the resolution (passed by the assembly) concerning Biblical creation on the basis of his contention that siding with Ken Ham’s Creationism instead of Bill Nye’s Evolutionism would make us look foolish, especially to Millennials. We have to decide whether we intend to remain faithful, or to pursue popularity; will we stand with Christ or with the world.
Yes, we should choose our words carefully, being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” but we must not become mealy-mouthed in the process, seeking to ride the fence and remain popular in the eyes of the world that is clearly arrayed against us. We must hold our synod institutions to the standard set by Scripture - no matter how unpopular or despised. We must not turn the administration of our universities, seminaries, and congregations into a politically-correct witch hunt. We are people of the cross, not the guillotine. We should not yield to cyber-mobs and sacrifice those who have said nothing contrary to Scripture, even if stated indelicately or provocatively. Will we also distance ourselves from our Lord’s bombastic rhetoric? Moreover, what should we oppose: unpopular truths stated clumsily, or popular falsehoods stated eloquently?
We are not popular in the eyes of the world - and God forbid that this should ever be our goal. We are despised - even as was our Lord. You may well draw a large salary and hobnob with well-heeled bureaucrats and denizens of secular academia, but never forget: if you confess Christ, you will be ostracized, mocked, and cast out of the halls of power and of polite society. It doesn’t matter how nice you are, how much you say that you love the sinner and hate the sin, or whom you have your photo taken with. You cannot straddle the fence to maintain your income and respectability. To be a Christian is to bear the cross, more so now than at any time in recent memory. And this is only going to get worse as time passes.
Do we have the stomach to make the good confession?
The time to think on these things is now - not when an incident happens and our campuses and churches are, suddenly and without warning, swarmed by hostile journalists, Antifa activists, protesting students and faculty members, and those seeking to disrupt sanctuary and classroom. We must understand that we cannot appease the tiger by throwing him raw meat. We must recommit ourselves to evaluating everything on the basis of truth, reason, and above all, Holy Scripture. If we are going to continue to run a university system, we must decide on its purpose and level of commitment to the Bible and the Confessions of the Church.
And when the time comes for us to speak, we must “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” making a bold and clear confession, as our Lord teaches us:
“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God…. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 14:8-9, 11-12).