How to Witness to Jesus Christ in the Public Square and Avoid Syncretism
A paper by Rev. Daniel Preus, Fourth Vice-President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
For Christians it goes without saying that we are going to talk about Jesus to those who do not yet know Him, and for that matter, also to those who do. Jesus says that He is the way, the truth and the life and nobody comes to the Father except through Him. (Jn. 14:6) Peter says that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.(Acts 4:12) Again St. Peter says, “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, in meekness and in fear.” (I Peter 3:15) Why? Because the hope that is in us is the only hope for sinful people, the only hope of salvation, the only hope of deliverance from sin, the only hope of everlasting life. There is no question that Christians are to proclaim the Gospel, that they are to announce the good news about forgiveness, salvation and life in the Savior Jesus. And the proclamation of Christians should not be limited to the sanctuary. “Go and make disciples of all people,” Jesus says in Matthew. “Preach the Gospel to every creature,” He says in Mark. Every one of us should be like Andrew who found his brother Peter and brought him to Jesus (John 1). Every one of us should be like Philip who found Nathanael and told him he had found the Messiah and when Nathanael resisted, Philip said, “Come and you will see.” There simply is no question that Christians who are the light of the world, according to Jesus, are to be a light in the world through their actions and their speech.
Does this mean then that Christians have the right and the duty to speak the Word of God and proclaim the Gospel, not only in the church, but also in the public square? Of course! And when these opportunities come our way, we should be grateful and take advantage of them.
At the same time, the Scriptures warn us again and again to avoid certain relationships and activities with false teachers, with unbelievers and especially with the teachers, preachers and prophets of false religions. And so St. Paul says, “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Ro. 1:17-18) So Jesus Himself warns us against false teaching and false prophets and says, “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.” (Mark 13:21-23) And in the book of Revelation Jesus commends the Ephesians for their intolerance over against false teaching. He says, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” (Rev. 2:3) Finally, the entire Old Testament, from which I shall quote extensively in the second part of my presentation, makes it clear that believers, children of God, are absolutely forbidden to worship false gods or to combine their worship in any way with the worship of false gods. In fact, the major sin of the Israelites, condemned over and over again by God’s prophets was that of syncretism according to which they wished both to worship the God of Israel and give honor to the gods of the nations surrounding them.
As Christians, we gladly submit to both these truths: 1. We are to proclaim the Gospel unashamedly to everyone who will listen and 2. We cannot worship together with those whose worship is directed to any god other than the Triune God who alone is Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier and who alone is God in the true sense of the word. There was a day when it was much easier to hold these two truths in the proper balance. To those who know the Scriptures well it should not be difficult today either. But the postmodern world in which we live has severely complicated life for us Christians. The following factors in combination present us with challenges our ancestors did not face, at least not to the extreme we must face them today.
1. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have entered our country embracing religions contrary to Christianity.
2. Hundreds of thousands of Americans from historically Christian families and backgrounds have forsaken Christianity to embrace “New Age” or Eastern religions or cults.
3. Postmodernism’s persistent denial of absolute truth and its persistent insistence on the equal validity of all religious teachings constantly pressures Christians to relinquish their claim that Christianity alone is true, that Christianity alone leads to God, that Christianity alone can save.
4. With increasing frequency Christians are being invited to participate in interfaith prayer services or memorial services or so-called civic events. These services or civic events are true postmodern events, implying by their inclusion of clergy of varying religions that no religion takes precedence over or supersedes another, at least in the eyes of those planning these events.
5. Christians who resist the postmodern claims of equality for all religions will be marginalized, labeled intolerant, unloving, bigoted, insensitive, outdated, primitive and prejudiced. And who wants to be called, intolerant, unloving, bigoted, insensitive, outdated, primitive and prejudiced?
We who are Christians are of course, willing to suffer such abuse for the sake of the Gospel. We will therefore refrain from participating in events in which we have no choice but to compromise the faith. The question before us today, however, seems to be this one: How do we determine whether God permits our participation or not? We need to know the answer. After all it is our fervent desire both to honor our God and keep His First Commandment by avoiding all false worship and proclaim the glory of His name to those who are around us. How do we avoid the one and do the other? This is the question posed by this conference.
It would be nice if the answer were simple, as simple as saying, “Well, if it is a worship service or a religious service, of course we cannot participate. But if it is a civic event, then of course we can.” Unfortunately, such a distinction isn’t particularly helpful, since the one does not necessarily exclude the other. For example, when I perform a wedding, I do so in a church, I wear vestments, I preach, the congregation prays, a soloist sings a Christian hymn or the Lord’s Prayer. All these characteristics mark the event as a religious service. At the same time, however, I perform a service to the state when I unite the man and woman in marriage. In many states a clergyman is not even permitted to marry unless he registers first with the state and is certified by the state to perform marriage ceremonies. When I moved to Minnesota in 1978,1 registered at the courthouse and was then certified to perform marriages on behalf of the state. During my time in Minnesota, I probably married about 50 couples. Every one of those services was a religious ceremony and at the same time a civic event in which I acted on behalf of and by the authority of the state of Minnesota. Thus you have an event that is at one and the same time, religious service and civic event. In Germany this combination of religious service with civic event does not take place in the case of marriages. The state does not recognize as legal the marriage ceremony performed by the pastor. Following the ceremony at church, therefore, the couple must proceed to the courthouse to have their marriage validated by the state. If they do not do so, they will be considered to be living outside of wedlock, their church wedding notwithstanding. Thus the Germans, in this instance, avoid the combining of church functions with those of the state. In America we do not.
Luther provided us with a very helpful distinction between the life and affairs of the church and the life and affairs of the state by referring to the two kingdoms, a distinction that has been used by Lutheran and various other theologians since that time. Luther referred to the church and the kingdom of God as the kingdom of the right and the state or the civil sphere as the kingdom of the left. In me kingdom of the right, God’s kingdom of grace, God’s Word and the Spirit rule; in the kingdom of the left. God’s kingdom of power, kings, governors, presidents rule. In the kingdom of the right the Gospel and the Sacraments comfort and sustain the church; in the kingdom of the left police and firemen protect and defend society. The Christian, of course, lives in both these kingdoms. In fact, he lives and acts in both kingdoms simultaneously and all the time. Nor can he travel back and forth between kingdoms as though they were geographical areas with physical boundaries. When he goes to church and worships, he obviously lives out his life in God’s kingdom, the kingdom of the right. But while he worships, the taxes he pays as a citizen in the kingdom of the left serve to pay the fireman who will put out a fire that happens to start in the kitchen of his church. And so his activity in the kingdom of the right is protected by the kingdom of the left. And when he goes to work at the post office, for example, and carries out his duties there, he does so as a forgiven child of God who for Jesus’ sake is guarded by the holy angels while carrying out his duties. And while he sells stamps, God hears the prayer he prays for protection and answers it. And so his citizenship in the kingdom of the right supports his service in the kingdom of the left.
Thus, although the two kingdoms are quite distinct from each other, totally different in their functions and objectives, they frequently overlap. That which we might call a civic event, therefore, may very well contain religious features and that which we call a religious service may very well contain elements distinctive to the state and its welfare. Consider, for example, the funeral of a Lutheran policeman. The Scripture readings, the sermon, the hymns, the benediction all mark it as a religious service. Yet the cavalcade of officers on motorcycles and in patrol cars, the pallbearers in uniform also mark it clearly as a civic event. In fact, this overlapping of the two kingdoms is not at all infrequent and may happen on a daily basis in the life of a military chaplain.
All this is to say that it is not sufficient to justify someone’s participation in a certain event simply by saying, “Well, it’s a civic event. Therefore, it’s ok to participate.” It’s not that simple. A civic event may be at one and the same time a religious service and vice versa. A recent paper written by Dr. David Adams, a professor at the St. Louis seminary has provided very helpful guidance in this regard. It appeared in the October, 2002 issue of Concordia Journal and I recommend it to everyone who is attempting to work through these issues in a serious and godly way. Adams describes those elements that are characteristic of civic events and those that are characteristic of worship services.
When a specific event incorporates elements of both and cannot, therefore, be described exclusively as one or the other, Adams poses a third category, that of Civil Religious Event. Such an occasion clearly incorporates the interests of both the kingdom of the right and the kingdom of the left into a single event. In such cases, Adams offers the following counsel:
Thesis 7: To the Extent That a Civil Religious Event Is an Event Involving Christians of Different Confessions, Participation in the Event Must Be Governed by the Same Principles That Govern Our Interaction with Other Christian Church Bodies.
In other words, our doctrine on church fellowship needs to be applied. For example, we do not conduct or participate in joint worship together with those who belong to church bodies espousing false doctrine. To do so is to compromise our confession.
Thesis 8: To the Extent That a Civil Religious Event Is an Event Involving Participants from Non-Christian Faith Groups, Participation in the Event Must Be Shaped by the Requirements of the First Commandment.
In other words, the issue before us is not just about our relationship with other Christians or non-Christians and whether we pray or worship with them; our relationship with God is at stake here; the First Commandment is involved; and we are required to act toward God in ways that truly demonstrate that we have heard our Lord Jesus who says to us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29)
The Second Commandment is also involved here. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.” In other words, we are not to use God’s name to deceive people as to what is true and what is not, to mislead people in believing about God and His Word things that are not true. This is the only commandment with a curse attached. We absolutely must not mislead people away from the true God by using His name to support messages or activities that rob Him of His glory by giving the impression that we can come to Him in many ways, that Jesus is not the only way, the only truth, the only life, the only way to the Father. For this reason Martin Luther says in the Large Catechism, “Let us here learn and take heed how much depends on this commandment, and with all diligence guard against and avoid every misuse of the holy name as the greatest sin that can be publicly committed.”
Therefore, when it comes to the public square and the question as to whether or not we may participate, we need to be asking questions other than simply, “Is this a civic event or is this a worship service?” These are certainly valid questions and we need to ask them, too. But we need to be asking other questions as well, very basic questions, such as,
- What is the purpose of this event?
- Who is going to be participating in this event?
- Who is the leader or officiant at this event?
- What are we going to be doing at this event?
- Will I have complete freedom of speech at this event?
- What will happen if I proclaim the truth of God’s Word boldly?
- Why am I, as a pastor or clergyman, being invited to participate in this event?
- What impression will I give simply by participating in this event?
- How will my participation in this event be interpreted by the general public and by the members of my church?
- And finally, and most importantly, is the true and only God, the Triune God, being honored and glorified in this event to the exclusion of all other false gods?
The answers to these questions must inform us as to whether or not our participation will be a proper Christian witness or disobedience against our God. But above all we must be informed by His clear Word as it teaches us regarding our relationship to others and our relationship to Him.
For the second part of my presentation, I would like you to use your imagination with me and consider the ramifications of participating in a hypothetical event that contains both civic and religious features. Let us imagine for a moment that a terrible earthquake takes place along the San Andreas fault in California and that a huge portion of the state actually disappears into the Pacific Ocean. Hundreds of thousands of lives are lost. It is the greatest tragedy that has ever struck our land. And the President of the United States calls for various religious leaders to gather together to pray. The event is advertised as a prayer service because that is what people will be doing there. It is advertised as an interfaith prayer service because many different religions will be represented. As a prayer service, it will begin with an invocation, there will be religious songs, there will be prayers, there will be religious homilies or addresses, there will be a benediction. Clearly it is a prayer service. But it is also a civic event. The President will speak, the Governor of the state of California will speak, the National Guard and the Coast Guard will be represented for their services have been especially critical to deal with this disaster. It will be what David Adams describes as a Civil Religious Event. Leaders of the following religious bodies participate
- Roman Catholic
- You representing the Lutherans
Now let us imagine that the introductory music has ended and various civic formalities have been performed and the prayer service itself begins. The Hindu cleric says the invocation. Tell me, what is the purpose of an invocation? Is it not to say, “To the glory of him whom we now name everything that follows is to be done?” Is it not to dedicate the entire service that follows to him or her who is named in the invocation. The word invocation comes from the Latin “to call on.” In the invocation we call on the name of him whom we worship during the service begun in the invocation. So since the service has begun in the name of Vishnu, this means, does it not, that all that follows shall be to the glory of Vishnu? Can a Christian participate under such circumstances?
But let’s imagine for a moment that the Roman Catholic priest says the invocation and that it is done in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Shouldn’t we as Christians then be happy? Doesn’t this mean that the service that follows is to be conducted to the glory of the Triune God, the only true God? If this is so, what are we to make of the prayers to Vishnu and Allah and Baal that follow on the part of the Hindus, the Muslims and the Canaanites? If the service is dedicated to the glory of the Triune God, how is He glorified through the vain and fruitless prayers offered by unbelievers to false gods? After all, this is the God who has said, “I am the Lord, that is my name; and my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to graven images.”
Let me ask you, do you feel confident that the Lord will be pleased with your prayer when it is time for you to give it? He is the one who says, “I the Lord, thy God, am a jealous God.” And as soon as your prayer is over, the Muslim Imam prays to his god, nor is there any indication in the bulletin or in anything anybody says that Allah is different in any way from the Triune God whom you worship. Do you think God will be pleased with this sort of participation? Let me read to you what God says about the worshiping of false gods. He says to His prophet Jeremiah in the 11th chapter of the prophet’s book,
- Then the LORD said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem.
- “They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant I made with their forefathers.”
- Therefore this is what the LORD says: “I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.
- “The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they bum incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes.
- “You have as many gods as you have towns, 0 Judah; and the altars you have set up to bum incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.
- “Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.”
And then God proclaims to them,
- “The LORD Almighty, who planted you, has decreed disaster for you, because the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done evil and provoked me to anger by burning incense to Baal.”
This message is proclaimed all over the Old Testament, the worship of false gods is not only wrong, it makes God angry. This is why the First Commandment is the First Commandment – still today – and the one we must take most seriously.
We live in an antinomistic age, an age in which people no longer believe in laws that bind them. And so almost every sin that God forbids is today justified by those who wish to commit it. Abortion (the killing of innocent babies) is justified – in the name of love. Homosexuality is justified in the name of love. Adultery and fornication are justified in the name of love. Our society has done all that it can do to exorcize God’s anger and do away with it, deny it, ignore it, extinguish it. As Christians, we know that such willful violation and ignoring of God’s law is fatal. Unless repentance takes place, those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God, says St. Paul, And if God is angry at unrepentant infractions against the Second Table of the law which have to do with our relations with people, how much greater is His anger at those who violate the First Table of the law which has to do with our relationship to Him. Thus again, in Jeremiah we hear God saying about the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “The Babylonians who are attacking this city will come in and set it on fire; they will burn it down, along with the houses where the people provoked me to anger by burning incense on the roofs to Baal and by pouring out drink offerings to other gods.” Jer. 32:29 God is angry at those who commit idolatry and the prayers of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews are idolatry. These prayers make Him angry. Do you really wish to participate in a service in which mass idolatry takes place? Do you anticipate that God will honor prayers to him that are offered in the midst of prayers honoring all the false gods of this world, prayers that cause him great anger?
Syncretism is described as “either a conscious combining of two or more religions over a short period of time, or a process of absorption by one religion of elements of another over a long period of time.” Harper’s Bible Dictionary, p. 1008. What God thinks of syncretism can be seen pretty clearly from Exodus 32. You all remember the story. Moses is on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God on stone and the Israelites are down in the camp fashioning a golden calf, which they then worship. Then Aaron declares that the following day will be a feast day to the Lord. In other words, they wished to offer honor to the true God and at the same time sacrifice to the calf. The calf worship was to be syncretized into the worship of the true God. And how does God respond? In anger. Moses comes down, breaks the tablets of the law, a symbolic act demonstrating that at the very time these laws were being given, the Israelites were in the process of breaking the very first one. Then Moses smashes the calf, bums it and pulverizes it, mixes the powder with water and makes the people drink it, as though to say, “So much for your god.” About 3,000 people died that day, the Lord was so angry. This is what God thinks of syncretizing the true worship of Him with that of other gods.
A number of months ago, I was having a theological discussion with my brother-in-law, Steve Briel, as we are wont to do. We were discussing the First Commandment and I said to him, “You know, Steve, when I was a little kid in the ELS, I learned the First Commandment – ‘Thou shalt have no other gods beside me.’ Then Dad took a call to the St. Louis seminary and we were in the Missouri Synod. I had to relearn the First Commandment – ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ What’s the deal here, Steve? This must be the case of a Hebrew preposition that has more than one meaning, right?” Steve said, “I don’t think so, but let’s look it up.” There we saw that what is sometimes translated ‘beside me’ and sometimes translated ‘before me’ is actually the Hebrew phrase al panai which means literally ‘in front of my face.’ A colloquial translation could be ‘in my presence.’ So I said to Steve, who is a Hebrew scholar, “So what does this mean? Is the commandment actually saying that when we come into God’s presence as His children, when we come to Him to offer our petitions and prayers, when we come before him to worship Him, He doesn’t want to see any other gods?” “That’s exactly what it means,” he said. And I have since then had that understanding confirmed by other Hebrew scholars. You see, immediately after giving Moses the First Commandment, God said to him, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God.”
Now consider once again your participation in the interfaith prayer service with the Muslims, the Hindus, the Canaanites, etc. Here you are coming to the true God in prayer with the hope that He will hear you not just in connection with a single golden calf; no, as you come to him in prayer, you do so with all the other gods of the world in front of His face.
St. Paul says, “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” Far from keeping away from them, you are joining with them. St. John says, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.’ (1 John 5:21) St. Paul says, “My friends, flee from idolatry.” (1 Co. 10:14) Far from fleeing idolatry, you are lending credibility to it.
St. Paul warns us in II Corinthians,
- Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
- What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
- What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”“
- “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
- 18 “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
But Paul is even more pointed in I Corinthians. There he says,
- “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.
- You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.
- Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?” 1 Cor. 10:20-22
What is Paul saying? He is saying, “Of course the gods of the pagans don’t exist. There is only one real God, the Triune God. So the prayers and sacrifices that pagans offer to their gods are not offered to any real gods at all. They are offered to demons. And I don’t want you to have anything to do with demons. Those who partake of the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus should not be participating in any way with that which pagans offer to demons.” Would you feel comfortable participating in an event in which pagans are offering prayers to demons?
Imagine that this interfaith prayer service is now coming to an end. The benediction is given by a Muslim. What is the purpose of a benediction? Is it not to say, “With the blessing of him in whose name and to whose glory this service has been conducted I now send you forth into the world?” Surely you, who are a Christian do not wish to be sent out with the blessing of Allah! But perhaps the benediction is given by the Presbyterian minister. Still, does not the benediction place upon you the blessing of him who has been honored and praised in the service now ending? So with whose blessing do you then leave? The blessing of the true God and that of however many demons have been worshiped with Him in this “interfaith” prayer service?
Christians have no place participating in prayer services with those who teach contrary to God’s Word, much less with those who worship other gods. To do so is to demonstrate clearly that we have lost our first love and no longer know what it means to be God’s children and Jesus’ disciples.
But perhaps someone will say, “But I am not there to worship with them, but to proclaim the name of Jesus. Surely God will not criticize; surely God will be pleased since this is my intent.” This kind of rationale needs to be answered, I think, in two ways. First of all, the end does not justify the means. God does not permit us to honor Him by disobeying Him. He does not permit us to carry out the Great Commission by breaking the First Commandment. In I Samuel chapter 13 we are told that Saul disobeyed God by sacrificing when Samuel did not arrive in a timely fashion. Saul was afraid that he would lose the military advantage over the Philistines if he waited any longer, besides which the soldiers were leaving and he needed to keep them together, he thought. So he disobeyed and sacrificed to God. Now a sacrifice to God is normally considered a good thing. But Saul had been forbidden by God to sacrifice. So for doing what he thought was right instead of what God told him to do, Samuel told him that the kingdom would be taken away from him. A few chapters later, Saul had been told to kill all of the Amalekites and to kill all of their animals. Instead Saul spared the king of the Amalekites, Agag, and although his soldiers destroyed most of the animals, at Saul’s instruction, they kept the best of them for the purpose of sacrificing them to the Lord. A noble thought, right? Samuel’s response? Once again Saul had fallen short and demonstrated that he could not remain the Lord’s anointed king. What does Samuel say to him? “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice… Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” To obey is better than to sacrifice. God says in Isaiah 48, “How should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Is. 48:11) To participate in a service in which glory is given to all the other gods simply is not something a Christian can do. I repeat. God does not permit us to carry out the Great Commission by breaking the First Commandment.
And there is another reason why we cannot participate in syncretistic events even if our motivation is to proclaim Christ. You see, in such events our testimony about Jesus in our deeds will stand in direct contradiction to our testimony about Jesus in our words. For although we may very well glorify Jesus in our speech, our very attendance will be seen by those present as assent on our part to the belief that all gods are really all the same in the end. After all, in a syncretistic prayer service Jesus has simply taken his own turn in the procession of gods that were honored and in the eyes of those who beheld the event has stood no taller than Allah or Vishnu or Baal. Many of the Martyrs died rather than participate in such an event. The fact of the matter is that when Christians participate in events that accord equal honor to all gods represented, those who view such events will come inevitably to the conclusion that all religions arc bearers of truth and that the sincere seeker can find the divine in all of them. Thomas Friedman reflects this commonly held view in an editorial that appeared some time ago in the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Can Islam, Christianity, and Judaism know that God speaks Arabic on Fridays, Hebrew on Saturdays and Latin on Sundays, and that he welcomes different human beings approaching him through their own history, out of their language and cultural heritage?” He goes on to affirm that it is urgent that the different religions “Reinterpret their tradition to embrace modernity and pluralism and to create space for secularism and alternative faiths.”1 The interfaith prayer service provides the perfect liturgical setting for the implementation of Mr. Friedman’s agenda, the same agenda embraced by the ever-growing multitude of those who have been seduced by pluralism’s siren song.
But if we, as faithful Christians, refuse to participate in such events that afford honor to other gods and other religions, will we not be seen as legalistic, close-minded and intolerant? Yes, probably we will, but this has always been the case when Christ has placed His claim before the world: “Nobody comes to the Father except through me.” The world of unbelievers will always gnash its teeth at such a claim. Yet it remains true that
Christ alone is our salvation, Christ the Rock on which we stand
Other than this sure foundation will be found but sinking sand.
Christ, His cross and resurrection is alone the sinner’s plea;
At the throne of God’s perfection Nothing else can set him free.
But at the throne of God’s perfection, this Christ will set the sinner free – any sinner, no matter who he is, no matter what he has done. For this Christ has borne the sin of all the world and carried it away. This Christ has endured the wrath of God in the stead of every sinner, has taken upon Himself the shame and guilt of all the world and died in the place of every human that has ever lived. There is no more inclusive religion in the world than Christianity. In spite of criticisms brought against it that it is exclusive and bigoted, there is no religion in all the world that is less exclusive than Christianity. No one is excluded on the basis of race, age, sex, intellect, physical strength or even behavior, if one is willing to repent of his sin. “Jesus sinners doth receive,” and so all those who see their weaknesses and faults and sins are invited to the mercy and grace God offers to all in Jesus His Son with the promise that “If we confess our sins. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
This powerful message of grace and salvation through Jesus Christ is the message we need to bring to the public square. This message of a Savior who covers our guilt and frees us from sin and death, not anemic platitudes about a generic god, is what our fallen world still desperately needs to hear. When opportunities come our way to bring this Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to the people of our land, we welcome them and with joy proclaim the glories of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
1The new multi-faith religion. Gene Edward Veith, World Magazine, Dec. 15, 2001, p.16.
By Daniel Preus,
February 17-18, 2003 – Soli Deo Gloria
How Can We Give a Witness for Jesus Christ in the Public Square
While Avoiding the Errors of Unionism and Syncretism?
Delivered February 17-18 2003 at a Joint Theological Conference of the North Dakota and North MN Districts of The LCMS