Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Easy it is to Forget


I can't believe how quickly I forget.

Yesterday, I rambled on about Christian responsibility in discerning how much is enough and whose job it is to set that boundary.  I rambled on about Bernie Sanders and Glenn Beck.  I talked of how it is important for us as Christians to be good stewards.  I touched on the topic of Christian responsibility in paying taxes, but I felt like I couldn't give a solid answer as to what Congress should or shouldn't do about taxes and paying down the national debt.

I sat down yesterday afternoon and began reading the Augsburg Confession.  This document was written during the Reformation to help articulate the Lutheran belief to the Holy Roman Emperor.  It sets the standard for Lutheran belief and understanding--how the church functions--how it relates to government--the role of clergy and lay folks.  As I read, I came upon these words in Article 28:

Therefore, the two authorities, the spiritual and the temporal, are not to be mingled or confused, for the spiritual power has its commission to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.  Hence it should not invade the function of the other, should not set up and depose kings, should not annul temporal laws or undermine obedience to government, should not make or prescribe to the temporal power laws concerning worldly matters.

Whoa!  That's a load right there. 

It's meaning is stark and clear.  It is not my job to tell the government how to govern.  It is not my job to figure out the tax code and process and advocate it one way or another from the pulpit or from my position as a clergy.  Neither is it the job of the church to do such a thing.  Our job is to preach the Word and administer the sacraments.  Hmmm.

This actually has some pretty startling implications for those of us who are Christian.  For instance, when governments decide it is unconstitutional for them to place a manger scene in the public square, how are we supposed to handle it?  According to the Lutheran confessions: let them take it away.  They cannot remove the manger from our hearts, and we, ourselves can take the Christmas story into the square.  (As we should anyway.)  If the government decides to implement universal health care, well, that's the government's choice.  Individual members of congregations can certainly advocate one way or another; however, the church itself should remain agnostic.  On the other hand, the church should be prepared to help those in need if they fall through the system's cracks.

In a very real way, the Lutheran understanding of the church is to form an alternate reality that functions within the realm of society--a reality that is not governed by politics, but is governed by the Word and the sacraments.  If the government decided to get rid of all social programs designed to help the poor and needy, there should be no worry if the church is functioning as it should.  We already should be taking care of the hungry and thirsty and those in need.   It's not our job to govern society.  It's our job to proclaim the Gospel.

Now, this doesn't mean we are to simply kowtow to everything a government decides to do.  In Article 16, the reformers wrote:

But when commands of the civil authority cannot be obeyed without sin, we must obey God rather than men.

If the temporal government passes a law that is contrary to our calling as Christians and causes us to sin, we must obey God's law and not the government.  God forbid that Jim Crow laws would ever be put in effect again, but if somehow they were, it would be our calling to resist and follow the command to make no distinction between children of God.

What I believe is important here is to discern what is and what is not our responsibility as the Church.  Perhaps if we stuck to such things, many of our pews wouldn't be so empty on Sunday mornings.

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