Word from the Center: Friday, December 21, 2018

Welcome to “Word from The Center” FRIDAY, a Two-Kingdom, practical reflection on the issues of the day from the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s topic/issue….

Church and State…Money and Faith, the Issues Today Are still the Same!

In the week that builds up towards Christmas day, holiday preparations are drawing to a close. These next two weeks are also a time of reflection in America. First, our culture focuses on the Christmas holidays (Well, maybe not focuses, but it at least entertains the notion!). Second, we, as a culture, prepare for the New Year’s celebration, a time when people look back and look forward, praying that what comes next is the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams. That’s why it is sobering to read the results of this latest PEW research study. It seems that more and more Americans are listing things other than faith as keys to happiness and fulfillment in life. (See http://www.pewforum.org/2018/11/20/where-americans-find-meaning-in-life/ for the study.)

Now, there are variety of reasons that these things might be occurring. Of course, for those of us who are Christian, the data is disturbing indeed, no matter what! PEW reports that for the first time in our cultural history, money and wealth surpass faith as a key to one’s happiness. Now, it’s not that religion and faith have somehow been eclipsed. It’s merely that Americans have fallen prey to the same temptations as others at various points of history. Pride, greed, and a desire for “stuff” as the keys to life eventually give way, one way or the other. (See Bob Buford’s book, HalfTime, for more on this as well.) As Jesus himself reminds us in Matthew 6, O “You cannot serve God and money” (6:24). “Is not your life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (6:25).

But, this isn’t a devotion. It’s a Friday reflection piece reminding us that as Christians in this culture, we are to engage the issues of the day in God’s two ways. First, , we engage with the reality of His preserving, ordering work, reminding all people that the moral structure of the world, as well as moral nature of our relationships,  are things created by God AND fundamental to what it means to be human, civil, humane, and just. The other way we are to engage is to share God’s ultimate message of forgiveness and mercy offered as a gift in Jesus Christ alone. Such “good news” is not religion, not politics, not philosophy, and not about anything we do, It’s about what God himself has done for all.

So, have you heard about these two ways? Probably not. In regard to the second, we now live in a culture that rarely references the unique significance or distinctiveness of the good news about Jesus, even during the Christmas or Easter holidays. Today, the fact that many people actually go to a Christian church on these holidays is rarely noted. If you were to watch our movies, read our newspapers, or attend our plays and concerts during these times, you are likely to leave such activities without knowing anything about the real message of these holidays and why they have been so impactful in this culture down through the years.

Now that reality is bad enough, but there is also an increasing tendency to prevent Christians from sharing the true meaning of Christmas or Easter publicly as well. The lawsuits of the past year, be they “Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer,” or “Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission” et. al, demonstrate an increasing hostility in the American culture to the message of the Christian church, especially if it publicly practiced. And even during the holy days of the year, with a virtual “message blackout” at best in our media and education, or a caricature of the message at worst, one rarely gets to understand the message of the Bible and its fundamental relationship to our notions of liberties, both temporal and eternal. When the distinctiveness of this good news is lost and even Christmas becomes just another thing we do, it stands to reason that many would begin to look for other keys to happiness in life.  

This Christmas, the LCRL commits itself anew to protecting the Christian church’s constitutional right to proclaim its message publicly. We are also committed to helping the church take up its charge to be engaged in the issues of the day for the sake of the culture and for its ultimate purpose of proclaiming the Gospel. For, if the tensions between “Church and State” or the underlying tensions between “money or faith” as keys to life are suddenly gone— becoming merely “State and money” as the research suggests— then the freedoms and opportunities that undergird so much of the goodness of this life won’t be far behind. During this Christmas week, we are reminded that the message about Jesus that we so cherish, the one that gives such meaning to life, is becoming lost in the noise of modern life. While protecting our public voice is essential, speaking and living that good news for others is finally what life is all about (PEW research or not). A blessed Christmas week to you all!