Dear saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have some of these fellow saints in the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ with us. Recent news reports tell us that Pastor Juhanna Pohjola, who was a part of our congregation along with his family while he taught at our seminary and worked on his doctoral dissertation, is under investigation for a hate crime in Finland. As an editor for the Lutheran Foundation in Finland, he publishes pamphlets and maintains the website which includes information about the beliefs of the conservative Lutheran church. One such publicized document is a very comprehensive statement on homosexuality and same sex marriages, written by a member of the church, who is a woman doctor, and also a member of the Parliament in Finland.
The document “Male and Female He Created Them” faithfully lays out not only what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, but also what medical and psychological research has shown, as well as the history of the politicization of the homosexual agenda. There are no threats, no attacks (personal or otherwise), and no expressions of hatred. Yet the accusation of a hate crime has been leveled at the church official who has made the document available to the public. This is just one example of many where the faithful Christian Church is having a great amount of trouble engaging the secular culture on any number of topics. What the Christian Church would like to say out of love and concern for people is preemptively labeled as hate speech and so no dialogue is able to take place.
Admittedly, part of the impasse arises out of corners of the Christian community itself, whose most outspoken advocates tend to use secular strategies in order to try and get their point across. Blunt tweets and terse statements designed to shock and draw attention do little to help create any meaningful dialogue. Rather, they shut down communication, only garnering positive reaction from those who regard people with opposing viewpoints as enemies, and reinforcing the militant type of opposition that results in accusations and threats and charges of hatred.
The apostle Paul had some very deep polarizing issues to deal with as the Christian Church spread throughout Europe, clashing with the Greaco-Roman culture of his day. And it was not just a polarization evident between the Christian Church and the secular culture. There was polarization within the Christian Church itself, because the members of the Christian Church are not isolated from the secular culture, they live in it and it lives in them. Moreover in the Christian Church we do not have to worry only about one group vs. another, but we worry about a polarization within ourselves as individuals. For we struggle with being Christians in the world and not of the world, called to be the salt of the earth, but not wanting to be so salty that we are spit out (Matthew 5:13).
St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth about taking a different tact. “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Now that doesn’t mean that Paul would talk to them only about Jesus’ death on the cross to save sinners, and keep his mouth shut about things like sexuality and gender roles. In the rest of the letter he addresses these very issues, and others.
But he goes on to explain, “And I was with you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith may not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (vv. 3-5). In other words, he did not use forceful speech either in tone or rhetoric, neither scaring them with his boldness nor backing them into a corner through inescapable logical arguments. There is a power to his words, but not a power that originates in any way from his own skill or knowledge or eloquence. It is a power that comes from outside of his own abilities. It is the power of God in His strong Word.
Even earlier in the letter St. Paul defined this power. “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1:18, 22-25). The power to change peoples hearts and beliefs and attitudes is not in lofty speech or worldly wisdom. It is in the powerful Word of God that proclaims His love in Jesus who sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world.
In the hymn of the day (Thy Strong Word. LSB 578) we rehearsed the power of God’s Word evident in the world: Thy strong word created light; Thy strong word brought salvation; Thy strong word bespeaks us righteous. That word proclaims Christ crucified, the power of God and the wisdom of God. “From the cross Thy wisdom shining Breaketh forth in conqu’ring might” (st. 4).
How foolish it seems to have as our source of power, the news that our God died, that the cultural leaders of His day were able to accuse Him and arrest Him and put Him on trial. They were able to get Him condemned and publicly executed in a spectacle that was both suppressive and humiliating. Yet, therein lies the true force of all of our arguments with the culture. It is the conqu’ring might of Christ crucified and it makes no sense to the wisdom of the world.
Apparently it makes little sense to us, caught as Christians in the world. For we often abandon this conqu’ring might of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, in order to take up the weapons of the world—weapons of shock and awe in forceful tweets that try to make others look stupid according to their own logic. Whether they are inconsistent in their argumentation or not, the tactic betrays a lack of confidence in the power of the Gospel. If anything is going to win anyone over to what God has to say on any issue, it is going to be the wondrous realization of His love for all people in sending His Son to redeem them to Himself.
The power of God to change hearts is in His love to save sinners. A love that went so far as to sacrifice what He loved most, His only-begotten Son. The powerful wisdom of God is a mystery that is alien to our worldly ways of thinking. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). This powerful wisdom of divine love is impossible for us to grasp and the world cannot know it. We, as part of the world, cannot know it. It is a wisdom that only the Holy Spirit can know.
No one can know what is in your heart, except your own spirit. We can guess a little by your words and actions, but you might be able to fool us. Only you know for sure what you believe, what you love, what you want to happen. It is the same way with God. Only His Spirit knows what He loves, what His motives are, what He wills. No one can know the mind of God except His own Spirit.
So how amazing it is, then, that He gives us His Holy Spirit so that we might know what is on His mind; what is on His heart; what His will is for you and for others; what are the depths of His love for sinners. God, through His strong Word has given us His Holy Spirit so that we might know His saving love for us and other sinners. He has revealed His love for us. He has shown His hand: why He has rules and commandments; why He sent His Son into the world; why He says, “You shall have no other gods”, “You shall not murder”, “You shall not commit adultery”, “remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” He is not trying to enslave you, but to set you free.
You will never be set free by embracing the chains that bind you. But “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). We are set free from sin, its guilt, its shame, its eternal punishment, not by redefining sin, but by Jesus’ death to save sinners, by God’s love in giving His only-begotten Son, “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This is the mind of Christ. This is the Spirit of God.
“The spiritual person judges all things” not because his own spirit is righteous above the spirit of others, but only because He has been given the Holy Spirit. There is no righteousness or superiority in ourselves. Rather, the Holy Spirit reveals that we are all sinners saved by God’s grace alone. We have no superior wisdom, no loftier speech, no greater rhetoric or words of worldly wisdom. We have the Gospel, the good news that we have been saved by God’s grace, that our sins are forgiven in Christ. “We preach Christ crucified,” for us and for all.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.