The Ironic Fundamentalist Hypocrisy Problem

I have been following a discussion this week on one of the message boards I frequent with great interest. It started with a member sharing her frustration over a VBS her children attended last week, because they were taught that if they didn’t believe in Jesus, they wouldn’t go to heaven, and then were encouraged to pray the “sinner’s prayer.” Now, as a Lutheran, I don’t subscribe to the whole “sinner’s prayer” theology, but I am confused as to what she expected her children to learn about at VBS, if not the need for a Savior. I was equally flummoxed by how many people agreed with her, and stated that they would be anything from offended to very angry if anyone told their children at VBS that only believers go to heaven (guess they wouldn’t have wanted their children in my VBS class!). This is a great example of why we shouldn’t ship our children out to churches that we are not in agreement with, no matter how fun their programs look, or how much free childcare we can get out of it! But I digress.

Anyway, the conversation took an interesting turn when various members of the message board started debating different points of theology, and why they would or would not send their children to different churches. This particular statement really stood out tome, annoyed me, and got me thinking about hypocrisy in the church:

You asked about Church of Christer’s belief about whether Catholics are Christians. I’ll answer that by explaining our definition of a Christian… In the Bible, we see multiple examples of people becoming Christians, and the common pattern is that they believe, repent of their sins, confess that Jesus is the Son of God, are baptized (fully immersed) for the remission of their sins, and then they live faithfully. I used to be Lutheran, and I had a Lutheran “baptism” as a baby. When I started studying the Bible as an adult, I realized that the “baptism” I had had as a baby was not what was described in the Bible. I had not believed (I was too young!), I was not immersed (as the Greek word means), I was not “buried in Christ”. I had water sprinkled on my head as a baby, and when I was in 5th grade I was “confirmed” (not found in the Bible). So no, I do not believe I was a Christian when I was Lutheran because I had not met the criteria for becoming a Christian (as I read in the Bible examples of how it happened). That’s why I chose to be baptized (fully immersed) about 11.5 years ago, at which point I believe I was “saved”. So yes, I consider myself to have been a Christian for 11.5 years, because I use a different definition than the general public (who usually defines it as someone who believes in Jesus – I have no doubt that Catholics believe in Jesus.)

There are so many things wrong with this quote that I don’t even know where to start.

OK, yes I do. How about the fact that when she talks about her real “conversion” experience, she keeps using the pronoun “I.” This whole conversion experience is all about her, which shouldn’t really surprise me in this self-centered society, but is still contradictory to basic Christian beliefs.

Second, and the true ironic problem with this theology, is the opinion on works. These are the same people who will criticize Catholics for works righteousness, saying that they’re too focused on what they have to do to get into heaven, and saying that while they may believe in Jesus, they’re not really Christians. And yet, these particular fundamentalists don’t seem to realize that they, too, are basing their salvation on works. Look at what she says here…”I realized, I read in the Bible, I chose to be baptized, I was immersed, I was saved…” These are all statements about what the believer has done to secure her salvation–not a single mention of Christ’s saving work in her life!

Now, I realize that part of the issue I take with this mentality is the fact that this particular person used to be Lutheran…and then goes on to explain why Lutherans can’t possibly be Christians, according to her new, “correct” theology (and I will admit that her use of quotes around the word Baptism in regards to her first, Lutheran Baptism really angers me). But I also hate hypocrisy, and it annoys me to no end that Christians who hold these kind of beliefs can’t see how disingenuous they’re being. Sure, Catholics, (and Lutherans, by extension), aren’t “real Christians,” but the reason they’re not is because they haven’t done things the right way. Sounds like works righteousness to me.

I wish fundamental Christians could realize just how much they have in common with Catholics, after all…maybe it would take their self-righteous attitudes about baptism and conversion down a peg.

Where Do Lutherans Fit?

I personally have some pretty strong opinions on the Lutheran church (imagine that!). For example, I believe that the confessional Lutheran church fits in the group of ancient church bodies, along with the Orthodox and Catholic churches. After all, when Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation, he didn’t set out to create a new church; rather he wanted to fix what was broken in the old church. And since we still use his writings as guidelines, and his writings were inspired by an understanding that was getting back to the original church, doesn’t it stand to reason that we are still one of the ancient churches?

It has recently come to my attention, though, that the other ancient church bodies don’t see us that way. It’s not a total surprise to me–I think it’s more their vehemence that has caught me off guard. But I’ve read more and more that suggests that people who belong to the “original” ancient churches view us as interlopers, people who could not possibly understand the history they have. It doesn’t matter that we share their liturgy, their liturgical year, their respect of the early church fathers, and so on. All that matters to them is that some of our key writings come from a man who lived “only” 500 years ago, so what could we possibly know of history?

And then there are other Protestant denominations. They might consider “us” to be one of “them,” but then again, because of our historic liturgy, our adherence to a liturgical year, and our view of the Sacraments, they don’t really “get” us. And frankly, I don’t really get them, either, because they’ve thrown away history in an attempt to *not* be Catholic.

I know it doesn’t really matter. Who cares how Orthodox, or Catholics, or Baptists, or whoever, view us? But whenever I come across discussions like this, I have the unsettling feeling that I don’t really fit in. I see myself as part of an ancient church body, but there are others who turn up their nose at that, and claim that I can’t possibly be. And then there are others who look at my views on the Lord’s Supper, my love of the liturgy, and think that I’m bordering pretty close to those “unchristian” Catholics. I guess it’s hard for Lutherans to properly fit in with other denominations in these kinds of discussions, because we manage to have the best of both worlds!

Distractions in Church

My recent musings about children in church sparked a lot of discussion. One thing that came up frequently was how much of a distraction children can be to others in worship, even when they’re well-behaved. That got me thinking–at what point do we have to take ownership for the things that we allow ourselves to be distracted by, instead of placing the blame on the person (or thing) that is distracting us?

Everyone has different things that cause their attention to wander, be it in church or somewhere else. For example, unless a total meltdown is in progress, I very rarely notice any child-noise in church, unless the noise is coming from my own children, of whose noises I am hyper-aware. Maybe it’s because I’m a mother, and I just tend to block it out; maybe it’s just not something that tends to cross my radar, I don’t know.

On the other hand, there are things that *do* distract me, to the point that I will suddenly realize I missed a big part of the service because I had been focusing on the distraction. But whose responsibility is that? The person who had been distracting me? Or myself, for allowing my mind to focus on something other than the Word on Sunday morning?

My guess is that the real problem there is me. Again, I’m not talking about something that is almost impossible to ignore, like the complete meltdown of a child, or someone collapsing in the service. I’m talking about rather innocuous things–things that might bother me, that you’d never even notice, or things that make you crazy, while I’m left wondering what the problem is. It’s the minutiae in life that tends to get us, after all.

There are so many things in worship that can distract us if we allow it. The innocent noises that come from babies and toddlers. The way someone is dressed. Adults whispering a few pews away. The scent of perfume or cologne (or even the flowers in church that Sunday). The sound of coughing or sniffling. Even our own thoughts and plans. Any of these little things can encourage us to move our focus from where it should be, to something, anything else. Who among us hasn’t drifted away, only to realize that half of the sermon has gone by, without our hearing a word? And worse yet, *the* Word? I know I have. Mea culpa.

Yes, as fellow members of a congregation, we need to be sympathetic to those things we do in worship that may cause our brothers and sisters to become distracted and take their focus of Christ. I would never suggest that we concern ourselves only with our worship, and what works for us–we should be concerned with the whole body of Christ. But we also need to be responsible for our own minds, and the direction our thoughts take when we allow ourselves to look away from Christ, and focus on anything else when we are in His presence. And in everything, whether as distractor or the distracted, we should all keep in mind the words of Galatians 6:2–“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ.”

A Good Book Ruined

I have been enjoying the Sisters, Ink series of books by Rebeca Seitz.  So far, it’s a series of three books (with a fourth due out in June) about four adopted sisters who solve all of life’s problems while scrapping.  Boyfriends, marriages, babies, step-mothers–they’ve covered it all.  Nice, light-hearted books, written from a Christian perspective (their daddy is a preacher), about women in various stages of life:  married with children; married without, but trying; newly married; engaged; single; career woman; stay-at-home-mom–it’s all there.  And two of my favorite activities are reading and working on scrapbooks, so what’s better than reading about people who like to scrapbook? A match made in heaven, as far as me and books.

But the latest book, Scrapping Plans, left a sour taste in my mouth, and made me wonder about the author, and whether or not she even considered her audience before including a completely unnecessary scene.  It started with a somewhat sarcastic reference to a beautiful old Lutheran church that might not allow the non-Lutheran characters to be married there.   That rankled a bit, because A.) I’m Lutheran, and don’t like sarcasm directed toward my church; and 2.) I don’t think you should you should get married at church because it’s pretty, I think you should get married at *your* church–you don’t just wander around town looking for the prettiest building for your wedding. But, I was willing to let that go.

A few pages later, however, I came upon this:

“Well, evidently the mother church of the denomination in the western hemisphere will allow us into their church since Darin’s family has devoted their lives to Martin Luther.  I don’t get it since Luther himself told those who agreed with him specifically not to form a separate denomination.”

This was beyond unnecessary.  It’s just dripping with sarcasm. I’m assuming either the author or someone she knows had a problem with a Lutheran church and a wedding–perhaps she (or a friend) found a church that was pretty, and wanted to get married in it, but because neither she nor her fiance was Lutheran, had to twist some arms to have the marriage performed there.

I don’t like it when authors take up personal grudges in books for no good reason–this scene, and the other reference added absolutely nothing to the story. Without these references, the story still would have been good, there would still have been problems to solve (because this wasn’t even one of the problems the sisters were attempting to solve while scrapping), nothing would have been missing from the book at all.  It was that gratuitous. There was no reason to put it in the book at all, other than the author was ticked off, and wanted to vent.

But did it occur to her that by including this scene, she may have alienated some of her readers?  Surely it must have occurred to her that she might have some Lutheran readers–I can’t be the only one. And did she really think that comments like that, especially when she has no concept of what Lutheranism really is (I would hardly say that I have devoted my life to Luther, the man), would endear her books to her readers?

I’ll probably buy the last book in the series, because I can’t stand having an unfinished set, but I doubt I’ll be buying anything else written by her.  I don’t care to waste my money on books where the author not only has a personal vendetta, but also mis-represents an entire denomination with her snarkiness!