by Dr. James I. Lamb
Life issues are spiritual issues. This simple concept forms the foundation for Lutheran churches in dealing with life issues. Yes, they are political, social, and moral, but at their core, they are spiritual.
I admit it. Everything I needed to know I did not learn in kindergarten. But a kindergarten principle still guides me: The importance of simple concepts. “One, two, three,” “A, B, C,” “Red, Yellow, Blue,” “Do, Re, Mi”—such simplicity forms the foundations of math, literature, art, and music.
Life issues are spiritual issues. This simple concept forms the foundation for Lutheran churches in dealing with life issues. Yes, they are political, social,and moral, but at their core, they are spiritual. So let’s examine the “three R’s”that flow from this principle—Responsibility, Relevancy, and Resources. A renewal of these simple basics will enable the church to affect life issues as never before.
The First R: Responsibility
Because life issues are spiritual, the responsibility to address them belongs to the church. They are spiritual because the dark thread that ties them together is death. The world promotes death as a god to turn to for help. Society says the death of the unborn solves a crisis pregnancy. The death of human embryos will supposedly solve the problems of chronic diseases. Society says that death through assisted suicide and euthanasia solves the problem of pain and suffering.
Society points people to a god who is the very antithesis of the God proclaimed in Lutheran pulpits. Every Sunday, Lutherans sit in pews after another week of being nudged toward idolatry. Satan remains faithful to his age-old deceit of turning darkness into light. Through words like choice, right, compassionate, cures, and therapeutic, he makes death look good, friendly, and a source of hope. He subtly influences those in Lutheran pews looking up at Lutheran pulpits.
This does not mean Lutheran congregations will be erecting idols to the god of death anytime soon. Sometimes, however, we bow to a less-obvious idol, “Godbut.” Most of us have professed to believe in Godbut at one time or another. “Well, sure, you know, I believe in God . . .” and the next word out of our mouths? “But”! “I believe in God, but it’s my daughter who is pregnant.” “I believe in God, but my husband has Alzheimer’s.” “I believe in God, but I can’t see any purpose for Grandma lying in the nursing home.”
Christ’s people in Lutheran pews looking up at Lutheran pulpits may not be praising the god of death. “Godbut,” however, gets a little homage. The church has the responsibility to deal with issues of life and death, pain and suffering, killing and harming. Lutherans face them, struggle with them, and seek direction in dealing with them. Society points them to death. What direction do they get from the pulpit?
The Second R: Relevancy
That brings us to our second R—the relevancy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in dealing with life issues. The Gospel is the most powerful and positive pro-life message in the universe, and it is tailor-made for issues of life and death, pain and suffering. The message of a God who suffered hell for a hell-bound humanity, who died for those dead in sin, who rose to justify the unjust, who ascended above all to be Lord of all, who sends His Spirit to create faith in faithless hearts, who works repentance, gives forgiveness, brings new life and the certainty of eternal life—this relevant message speaks powerfully to people dealing with life issues. But do people in the pew hear it spoken to them?
Dr. Oswald Hoffmann received one of the greatest compliments a preacher can receive. After a sermon at a church’s centennial celebration, a member remarked, “Dr. Hoffmann preached the Gospel right into my life.” Preaching involves more than sending forth nice-sounding words. Preaching connects the Gospel to people’s lives. Life issues provide opportunities for this connection.
The Gospel’s call to repentance needs to connect with those who are indifferent to, or in favor of, a “choice” that results in the death of more than 3,000 children each day in our country and permeates society with the idea that killing is caring.
The value the Gospel gives to life from the moment of conception needs to connect with us all again and again. In a society that equates human value with human ability, we need to hear what God does that bestows value. He knits life together in the womb (Ps. 139:13). His love for this life moved Him to suffer and die for the sins of the world (John 3:16). The journey to this redemptive sacrifice began in a womb (Luke 1:31).
The positive motivation the Gospel brings needs to connect with adolescents and all of us facing temptations. New creations in Christ can make good decisions in Christ. When the flesh wins and sin is acknowledged, the Gospel needs to connect to the pregnant teen with a message of forgiveness and with deeds of love and support. Women and men crushed by an abortion decision in their past need the Gospel of hope and healing connected to them. Failure to do so gives offense. Our silence says this sin is too big to be forgiven.
Families dealing with ailing parents, chronic disease, or terminal illness need to hear the Gospel connected to them. The Gospel points them to a God who suffered, a God present in suffering, and a God who works in suffering.
Yes, the Gospel is tailor-made for life issues. It calls to repentance, unites us to Christ, transforms and motivates through love. It brings forgiveness, healing, and hope. It points to a victory over sin and death already won. These do not require some emotional ascendancy to claim. They are objective facts made possible through a crucified and living Savior.
Articulating the Connection
The Gospel is tailor-made for life issues, and Lutheran theology articulates the Gospel so well. Three quick examples: First, our understanding of sin and grace levels the playing field and allows us to address these issues, not by lording it over, but by speaking the truth in love. We offer grace, not something we attain, but something from God in Christ, something in which we live.
Second, the distinction between Law and Gospel allows us to boldly call wrong things wrong based on God’s Word. This is critically important for Christ’s people in a time of relative morality. We boldly call wrong things wrong, not so we can scream and yell, but to lead people to God’s work in Christ in dealing with wrong things.
Third, the theology of the cross enables us to see God “hiding” in the midst of all the suffering and darkness and forsakenness of that Friday we call Good. Through it all, He accomplished His will. The cross becomes the lens through which we view the suffering and darkness and forsakenness in our lives. Through this lens we see God “hiding” in the midst of it all, accomplishing His will for our spiritual good.
People sitting in Lutheran pews looking up at Lutheran pulpits hear a very relevant Gospel that connects to their lives. To fail to connect this relevancy to life issues simply because they are political and controversial produces a silence that loudly proclaims Satan’s favorite line, “Did God really say?” But to connect the Gospel to the lives of people dealing with them provides the only message that can truly make a difference and bring hope and change.
Life issues are spiritual issues and the church has the responsibility to address them. The good news is, well, the Good News! God gives His people the most relevant, positive, and powerful pro-life message in the universe! What an honor and joy to make the connection.
The Third R: Resources
Life issues become more complex every day. Busy pastors cannot keep up. That brings us to our final “R.” Lutherans For Life pledges to renew our efforts to provide resources on a scale and in a manner as never before. We call it Renewal for Life (RFL).
RFL seeks renewal of the “three R’s.” We want to assist congregations to assume their responsibility to deal with life issues by connecting them to the relevancy of the Gospel and providing the resources needed.
RFL will be a top-down approach. We will ask district presidents to encourage circuit counselors to invite LFL to present the details of RFL at a circuit meeting. Pastors will learn that dealing with life issues can be an ongoing part of the ministry of the congregation, easily incorporated into what they are already doing. Rather than something feared, life issues become another opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel.
So stay tuned! Renewal of the “3R’s”—Responsibility, Relevancy, Resources—coming to a circuit near you! But you need not wait for RFL to renew! Check the resources LFL already has at lutheransforlife.org. Start connecting the Gospel to life issues today! Lives will be changed. Lives will be saved.
A Word of Hope
Having an abortion was the greatest tragedy of my life. I lost all self-esteem and self-confidence. I didn’t feel worthy of anyone’s love, and I went through life wishing I were dead. I spoke to Grace, who loved me unconditionally. With her help I accepted the reality of what I had done and began to accept God’s forgiveness for my sin of abortion.
Founded in 1989, Word of Hope is the compassionate arm of Lutherans For Life. Word of Hope reaches out to men and women who have experienced an abortion in their past. Our national director, Grace Kern, speaks with hundreds of individuals every month, offering Christ’s forgiveness in a warm and nonjudgmental atmosphere. If you know of anyone suffering from a past abortion decision, please encourage them to contact Grace at (888) 217-8679 or to visit word-of-hope.org.