Who do you say that you are? Saints, sinners and the Ascension

I have been reading through Ed Shaw’s thought-provoking book, The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction. Apart from the central subject matter of the book (Christians and same-sex attraction), one particular section stopped me in my tracks:

Sinners or saints?
But where’s the theological misstep that the evangelical church has made here? Have you missed it? Here it is: it’s the danger that some evangelicals often fall into of more generally defining ourselves as sinners rather than saints; as those in constant rebellion against God rather than his permanently adopted children (p. 40).

It stopped me in my tracks because what he writes of (British conservative) evangelicals is undoubtedly true of (at least English-speaking) Lutherans, too. We speak of Christians as “saints and sinners”, simul iustus et peccator, but much of our rhetoric puts the emphasis firmly on the sinner in us. I have a pretty firm hunch that Lutheran preachers and writers are more likely to refer to their congregations or readers as sinners than as saints. I know I have in the past.

But, as Shaw points out, the term “sinner” is applied to a Christian only once in the entire New Testament, in 1 Tim. 1:15. And even there, St. Paul applies it to himself, not to his reader: “sinners … of whom I am the foremost”. Moreover, the context suggests that this is more of reference to Paul’s past as a persecutor than to his present status as a Christian. Continue reading Who do you say that you are? Saints, sinners and the Ascension

Government tyranny and the Christian

Following the recent school massacre in Connecticut, the debate over gun control in the US has raged in all the usual unhelpful places. As expected, the debate is deeply entrenched and often not a debate at all but a loud re-statement of existing views.

As I understand it, one of the chief reasons the constitutional right to bear arms is as a defence against government tyranny. Setting aside the nature of the tyranny of the English monarchy in the third quartile of the 18th century, a question that I want to ask Christian proponents of this particular argument is simply,WWSPW (what would St. Paul write).

In other words, would St. Paul have written Romans 13—including the command to obey the servant of God, and that governing authorities bearing the sword, etc.—if there had been a tyrannical government in place at the time? Say, an emperor such as Nero?

And, if you are Christian teacher, would you be willing to write and preach a Romans 13 to your flock when they were under tyranny?

And if not, why not?


Playing God

Craig VenterThe TV, radio and newspapers in the UK (and no doubt elsewhere) gave a lot of attention to the news from a nondescript little place in Maryland that scientist have “created an artificial life form”. While it appears that this headline is somewhat generous to the actual achievement—though there seems to be no doubt that the creation of a functioning sequence of DNA is a genuinely ground-breaking achievement—I have been more interested in the reactions to the news.

Predictably, the negative reaction was pretty quickly summarised in the accusation that Dr Craig Venter and his team are ‘playing God’. As far as I can tell, that’s supposed to be the indisputable no-no: if you are playing God, you’re being very, very naughty. End of argument/ [Not that different from a Christian being called a bigot: the label is designed to end all argument there and then.]

Now, I don’t tend to have much sympathy for the activities to which this label is normally attached: attempts to create life ex nihilo, or to end life without just cause (such as through euthanasia).

However, I would like to suggest that playing God is not such a bad thing as it’s made out to be.  In fact, all people are called to play God on a daily basis, and Christians in particular. Farmers, butchers, bakers and merchants play God when they give people their daily bread—something we ask our heavenly Father to do. Doctors and nurses play God when they heal people of diseases that would otherwise kill them, and midwives when they assist mothers in giving birth—thus giving people the gift of life. Fathers and mothers certainly play God when they create life. In many countries today, executioners also play God, when they punish the wicked by taking their lives. Not to mention judges and juries in such cases. The list could go on for a long time.

Within the Christian Church, playing God is taken to a higher level still. According to the Small Catechism, the Holy Spirit daily and richly forgives us our sins and the sins of all people. How does He do this? By appointing men to be pastors, to play God in His stead and by His command. All Christians are called to play God as they live as royal priests with one another and in the world, as His hands, feet, mouth and ears in daily service and witness.

If people stopped playing God, society would break down and the Church would dissolve. In other words, life would become hell on earth, followed by an eternity of hell for all. Because God would be absent.

Playing God, then, is not a bad thing. When things go wrong is when people play God in ways that they haven’t been called to. When doctors no longer save lives but take them, when pastors no longer forgive sins but withhold forgiveness. Worse still, when people no longer play God but make themselves God, for example by offering forgiveness by some other means than the one appointed by God, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So go on, play God, cheerfully and diligently. Thank God that others do so too, for the sake of your life and your salvation. Just remember that you are only playing Him, in His stead and by His command, as directed by His word.