Saturday, May 1, 2010

And, They're Off . . .

No, I'm not talking about the start of the Kentucky Derby, but about the left-wing political action committee known as Jesus First, which is led by a bunch of LCMS pastors whose public testimony leads one to conclude that they are ashamed of being Lutheran and desperately wish they were "Americanized Evangelicals."  Formed in 1998, the purpose of this group is to advocate for, and support, what they deem to be "Gospel-centered, Mission-driven, Future-oriented leadership in the LCMS."  Amazingly, however, the group is repeatedly heard denying the charge that they are a political organization.  Every time I hear them denying this charge, I am reminded of this:

It doesn't get much more political than Jesus First.  They're all about politics.  And, the kind of politics they practice is the same kind of politics we see practiced in the secular realm, full of stump speeches, false promises, and slight-of-hand techniques, all in the attempt to convince voters to trust them without looking any deeper than the false facade they present.  Oh yes, they're all about politics.  And, you have to give them their props - they're very good at politics!  Heck, the fact that they can convince some that they're not political, with the mountain of evidence which most definitely proves otherwise, shows just what savvy politicians they are.  And, just as is the case with most secular politicians these days, the Jesus Firsters are "on the surface" politicians.  What I mean by that is that they're not big on substance.  They go out of their way to avoid having to deal with anything substantive.  That's not their bag.  Hit-n-run is more their speed.  They're great at saying a lot without having really said anything.

But, make no mistake, this group knows exactly what it's doing.  Do not underestimate them.  They've proven that they can get the job done.  They have had much success following their political strategy.  They're banking on the fact that most people don't really care about substance.  Their main ploy is to simply convince people that they are the good guys and that their opponents are the bad guys, and they set out to accomplish that not by hard facts or by appealing to authoritative sources (like Scripture and our Confessions), but by providing out-of-context quotes and superficial soundbites.  Their goal is to convince people that they're loving and kind, while their opponents are unloving, mean, and nasty.  And the way they go about accomplishing their goal is to go out of their way to convince people that it is a massive waste of the church's time to focus on purity of doctrine, and that those who are wont to focus on purity of doctrine obviously must not love the lost or have a heart for mission.  It's a neat game they play, and, sadly, a great many unknowing, unsuspecting Lutherans are check-mated by their strategy.    

The theology which undergirds the Jesus First political machine is less than ankle deep.  These chaps are no theologians, to be sure, which is probably why they so vigorously support leaders who just come out and admit that they're not theologians, like our current synodical president has.  They share a personal kinship with the Rick Warrens and Bill Hybels out there, who believe the church must do whatever it takes to reach the lost, and advocate for innovative, entertaining, seeker-sensitive "worship experiences"; relevant, practical "self-help" messages in place of sermons; small groups, and the "everyone's a minister" model, among other things.  The Jesus Firsters are clearly like fish out of water when in the company of the Lutheran forebears from whom they claim to descend.  They have reduced Lutheran theology to a few quick soundbites uttered by, amazingly, non-Lutherans.  For them, all that is important is that people know that Jesus loves them.  Nothing else matters.  All that theological and doctrinal stuff is just unnecessary.  To worry about that stuff is to fall into the sin of the Pharisees, who worried more about preserving their tradition than accomplishing God's purposes.

I write all of this as one who has followed this political machine for over a decade now.  I have read just about everything the group has published and I am thoroughly convinced that their major problem is that they just don't like Lutheranism.  It would be a mistake to think that their problem is that they don't understand Lutheranism.  They do.  They just don't like it.  For them, Lutheranism has been weighed, measured, and found wanting.  It's not enough.  They don't believe it works.  So, they are determined to change it.  That's their goal.  They want to change Lutheranism and make it something much broader and more inclusive than it is.  They want to eliminate the boundaries put forth in the Lutheran Confessions, in order to make way for the new-age "Lutheranism" they have in mind, where doctrine is unimportant, practice is optional and blessedly diverse, and the only thing that matters is doing whatever it takes to reach the lost and fill the pews. 

And so, they're off and running, promising to send a weekly newsletter to all the delegates who will be making their way to Houston this summer for the LCMS National Convention.  This is all non-political, of course.  They're just going to be sharing their views, that's all.  That Voter's Guide their send, and all the desperate pleas you'll hear from them to elect this leader or to hold that position, it's all just their way of sharing.  Nothing political about it at all.  Yeah, right.  It reminds me of this.    

The first of the ten non-political, "just sharing," special Jesus First Delegate Newsletters can be found here.  The lead article is written by Pr. Jonathan Coyne of Bethany Lutheran Church in Menlo Park, CA.  I thought it would be prudent to visit the website of the congregation he serves and check it out.  While there, I decided to listen to a couple of Pr. Coyne's sermons messages.  They are exactly what I would expect from a Jesus Firster - self-help, motivational messages where Jesus is most definitely NOT first in any way, shape, or form.  Click here and listen for yourself (this is Pr. Coyne's message delivered last week).  Go ahead; I'll wait . . .

What did you hear?  You tell me.  Was it a Lutheran sermon or a pop-psychological, self-help, motivational message?  Thankfully, he did get the Gospel in there around the 14-minute mark, but it was so obscured by the rest of the law-driven, pop advice that dominated the message that you really had to be listening for it to hear it.  This is the typical fare that passes itself off as Lutheran preaching among many Jesus Firsters.  It's what makes the name they've chosen for themselves oxymoronic, for clearly Jesus is not first in their preaching.  And, they won't apologize for that, since they have listened to their "Americanized Evangelical" heroes and have adopted their style of preaching, which focuses not on preaching the Christ, but the Christian.  As Rick Warren has said, "[People] want to hear something on Sunday that they can apply on Monday" (Purpose Driven Church, p. 191).  For Warren and company, including many of the Jesus Firsters, to preach about what Jesus has done and continues to do for us is a waste of time.  People already know all that stuff.  What they need is to be taught how to live their lives.  They need practical, relevant messages.  They need good advice.  And so forth.

In Pr. Coyne's message linked above, much of what he says is, in fact, good advice.  But, is good advice what the Lutheran preacher is sent to proclaim to the people he serves?  Um, not so much.  Lutheran preachers are sent to proclaim Christ and Him Crucified to people.  That's still every bit as relevant and practical today as it ever has been.  That's what people need on Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday . . .).  They need to be convicted of their sins and comforted with the sweet balm of the Gospel.  They need that every time they sit in the pew and listen to their pastor.  They need Jesus.  Today.  Tomorrow.  Every day of their lives.  They need Jesus.  And, they need Him to be their Savior, not their life-coach or a mere example to follow.  Christian living flows forth from the Gospel, not to it.

Anyway, my advice to delegates is not to deposit the Jesus First newsletters in the garbage as soon as they receive them (although, that wouldn't be a bad idea), but to read them closely and critically, for I am convinced that it can be easily seen how shallow and un-Lutheran they are - oh, and pretty dang political, too. Just sayin'.    

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