3.21.2006

Sinsick

"Do you take sin seriously?"

That was one of the questions posed to Karen Ward during her presentation in our synod last month. I loved her answer: The younger adults in the community that she serves experience the world as a profoundly broken place, and most are realistic about the idea that they're "messed up." The alienation and brokenness we associate with sin isn't an abstract idea for them, it's a reality.

I can see where the question comes from. Part of what is driving the church that is emerging is an attempt by Christians to distance themselves from the easy moralism of our civil religion (what Dallas Willard calls "the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees"). The refusal of "emergents" to toe the line on the hot-button sin issues of our day, or even to acknowledge a position, is often seen as being soft on sin. It's not just an emerging thing; people within the ELCA who are open to change in position on homosexuality, for example, are often accused of the same thing.

It's a matter of emphasis, I think. Modern religion, born in Christendom and often envious of the power of the state, has tended to focus more on the sins we commit rather than corporate sin or the reality that "we are in bondage to Sin and cannot free ourselves." Postmoderns, in my experience, are concerned with the failures of systems (economic and political) and institutions as well as those of individuals. While there probably are folks who would live down to the stereotype of ignoring personal sin altogether, I haven't met them. Some argue that the church that is emerging pushes the pendulum too far the other way, but then, after generations of terrorizing people over their transgressions while giving corporations, governments and armies a pass, relatively speaking -- and of being more concerned with leaders' sexual purity than their positions on peace and poverty -- maybe that's not a bad thing.

While previewing some videos from highway video the other night, we watched a pretty blunt documentary on children and the sex-trade that skewered government and the church for not taking harder stands as well as criticizing those who participate in this sordid business. When it was done my wife said, "Anyone who thinks the emerging church doesn't take sin seriously hasn't seen this video."

It's just more complicated to think through the why's and how's of the Sin that fights us and the sins we commit than to come up with rules to follow. It's hard to grapple with what it means to be simul justus et peccator -- Luther's keen insight that we are at once saints and sinners. It's even harder to get our minds around a God who loves sinners who are in bondage to sin, and who doesn't magically free us from those chains. (We're a lot like caged birds who keep circling rather than flying out when the master opens the little door.)

It's hard, but vitally important. Luther knew the importance of preaching the good news of the cross, of offering medicine to treat the sinsickness diagnosed by the law. The church that is emerging seems to be trying to keep this message in front of us. Rick in SF recently posted a poignant reflection on this reality. Here's an excerpt:
It’s not Divine punishment that defeats the toxicity of sin; it’s Divine love that overcomes the damages of sin and brings new life. Huge difference. I think much of the talk in certain church circles about grace stems from a form of religion that has convinced folks that they are bad but God is good. No wonder many people in the church act like abused animals starved for affection—they have been.
How radical is our concept of grace? Do we take sin seriously? Do we take God's intent to heal and restore even more seriously?

Luther said it well: Sin boldly, and believe in Christ more boldly!

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