Martin Luther, the Gospel, and I

After becoming Lutheran, I easily identified with Martin Luther. As he did, I grew up Roman Catholic. As his life went, I spent my life trying to figure out how to live well enough so as to please God and not be eternally damned to hell. As with him, I was finally set free by learning the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

After nailing to my Facebook wall my theses regarding what it means to be a Christian who is transgender, and experiencing the fallout from that on several Lutheran websites—from fun being made of me (“He’s nothing more than a man in a dress”), to accusations that I wanted to change the church by introducing new ideas (that is, the entire LGBTQ agenda), to being told that I am going to hell—my identifying with Martin Luther increased five hundred fold.

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While pondering Luther has been my regular companion these past three years, I am sharing my thoughts now because this October 31, 2017, is the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s coming out on his Facebook-equivalent wall—the front door of his church—with his arguments against the Church, the ninety-five theses which found him in the spot I would find myself: everything from a joke, to a heretic, to damned.

Martin Luther had many arguments with the Church, with teachings that did not align with Scripture, and with various abuses, notably the selling of indulgences with the promise that these notes moved souls from Purgatory to heaven.

Ultimately, Luther’s fight was for the Gospel, for the purity of the Good News about Jesus Christ. Non-biblical teachings—such as Purgatory, praying to saints, the merits of Mary, making satisfaction for sins—had obscured the finished work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and the granting of eternal life to the believer, and the assurance of salvation because of Christ’s work.

The Church was outraged by Luther. He was viewed as nothing but trouble. Discussion after argument after defending his teachings left Luther with a bounty on his head and excommunicated from the Church.

Luther never wanted to leave the Church. He did not want to start a new one. He loved the Church and, because he loved it, he longed for it to correct its errors. Luther longed to be heard, not to be misunderstood, for his opponents to be able to see and admit to the errors he had rightly recognized. He used Scripture as the basis of his doctrine, and any Church teaching or doctrine which did not align with Scripture was rejected.

The Church, with the pope as head, said that it had authority along with Scripture; when the pope spoke, it was as good as what Paul and Peter had written. Indeed, the pope, they have long taught and still do, sits in Peter’s seat. You don’t tell the pope that he’s wrong.

That’s exactly what Luther did.

A lot.

And he was really good at it.

The pope wanted his head.

Before it got to that point, Luther got to make a defense of his teachings. The image one conjures is of him standing before a council, behind a table, his books stacked high. The council put him on the spot: recant your errors and you can go home and all will be well. Luther finally replied, “I cannot go against Scripture and conscience.”

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His response was perfect. It has been my wisdom ever since I learned it, and especially these past three years.

Luther never wanted to be a trouble maker, and neither did I. I am confident that Luther spent many hours trying to figure out another way than to take his ninety-five arguments and post them for the attention of all and the consternation of many. Surely, Luther had many friends and peers who urged him to back off, to chill out, to come to his senses.

But nothing he argued was against God’s Word, and because he was convinced about the seriousness of these matters he could not go against his conscience. If he had backed down, he would not have been able to live with himself. He would have felt like he was a chicken, nothing more than a punk monk. His conscience would have pricked at him, poked and prodded him. He would have no peace.

As I have more intimately identified with Martin Luther, I have homed in on the purity of the Gospel. I find a correct understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ to be foundational to my fellow Lutherans (and all Christians) in grasping everything I am trying to teach about intersex conditions, gender dysphoria, living as a transgender Christian, and how the Christian Church should treat us.

Sadly, I too often feel as Luther surely did, that many will never hear, that my claims are too outrageous, that people have turf to protect, that fear—especially in the realm of all things sex and gender—easily wins the day for a multitude. As I have continued in God’s Word, constantly applying it to what I have learned about my confounding malady, I have worked to do everything in a God-pleasing manner, with a Christian conscience.

As with Luther, I am convinced by both Scripture and conscience that my cause is right, and that if I did not speak I would not be able to live with myself, that my conscience would only prick and poke and prod me into submission.

I never wanted to be an outrage to my Missouri Synod Lutherans, or to any Christians. I do not enjoy troubling people. It’s no fun being sneered at as a kook, a freak, a terrible sinner.

The Lord Jesus regularly ate with kooks and freaks and terrible sinners. He had compassion upon them. Ultimately, He laid down His life for them. No charge. No questions asked. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Ahhh, there’s that pure Gospel.  Here’s some more:

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:17).”

“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).”

“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).”

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”

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My favorite picture of Christ’s cross, painted by my daughter, Erin.

Am I a sinner? Yes. Do I continue to sin? I sure do. Might I have sinned, and continue to sin, in my transitioning? You betcha.

In the end, what will save me from my impending death? Will it be my personal purity? That I’ve done enough good works to stave off God’s wrath? That I finally get my head screwed on straight and repent that I caved in to my gender dysphoria and transitioned? Nope, nope, and nope.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith (Romans 3:23-25).”

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15).”

I am placing my eternal life on the Lord’s telling me the truth. I am counting on Christ’s proclamation from the cross: “It is finished.” I am trusting in the pure Good News about Jesus Christ.

That’s what Christians do, setting everything else aside and “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

That’s what Martin Luther fought for: Christ alone, given by grace alone, received through faith alone, taken from Scripture alone.

I cannot go against Scripture or my conscience. Every night, after I recite the Apostles’ Creed and Martin Luther’s evening prayer*, I close my eyes with a clear conscience and go to sleep in peace, thankful that Jesus loves us sinners.

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*I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

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Is God punishing LGBTs?

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I began work on this piece on Monday, then let it sit. At that time I had written these two paragraphs:

I am amazed that I have heard no conservative Christian leader declaring that the massacre at Pulse in Orlando was God’s punishment upon LGBT people. Indeed, so expectant was it that I even did an Internet search in a hunt for it.

The reason I expected it is because of the number of times it has happened. The one that always stands out is hurricane Katrina. That it hit New Orleans, some Christian leaders said, was God’s judgment on the city because it had become a den of iniquity.

I stopped there, deciding I did not want to write about something that, hopefully, would be a non-issue. Sadly, it became an issue.

After the magnanimous minister, Mark Wingfield, with his “Seven Things I am Learning about Transgender People” gave a good name to Baptists, a prig of a pastor, Roger Jimenez, has done his best to besmirch the same name. In a sermon, which has now been removed from YouTube because of, well, you’ll see, he said, “Are you sad that fifty pedophiles were killed today? Um, no. I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida, is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is I’m kind of upset he didn’t finish the job, because these people are predators. They are abusers.”

Wow, nice job there, Pastor, of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and perfectly describing the people who were killed.

Um, no. You were a miserably mistaken oh for two, and when we look at your theology you will drop to oh for three.

It will come as no surprise that Jimenez would next say the thing that I had been waiting for some religious bigot to promulgate: “You don’t mourn the death of them. They deserve what they got. You reap what you sow.”

There it is: “They deserve what they got.” It’s another way of saying, “God was punishing them.”

Did these forty-nine people deserve to be gunned down? According to the Word of God, every person who dies “deserves what he gets.”

• “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die (Genesis 2:17).”
• “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).”
• “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”

Were those forty-nine people sinners, whose lives were unjustly taken from them? Yes. They were sinners because they were humans.

Here is correct theology: We all are in the same boat. No one conceived from sperm and egg is able to cast the first stone, because no one is without sin. If God were in the business of punishing sinners, none of us would be here. He would have smite us at the first chance.

The only One who could have cast the first stone, because He was without sin, chose not to throw stones but to freely lay down His life so that we might possess the forgiveness of all of our sins, the gift of eternal life, and salvation from death, devil, and damnation.

How do I know—how can I be bold to insist—that I am positive that God was not punishing those who were killed at Pulse, or those who died in Katrina, or any other situation that might arise? The Bible tells me so. (Emphases are mine.)
• “God was reconciling THE WORLD to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).”
• “[Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of THE WHOLE WORLD (1 John 2:2).”
• “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. ALL we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—EVERY ONE—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us ALL (Isaiah 53:4-6).”

These facts inform me that when God says that He “wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4),” He is telling the truth. The only crazy thing about the Lord is that “He has committed to us His message of reconciliation (the sentence which follows what I previously quoted from 2 Corinthians 5:19).”

None of this conversation is to ignore any behavior which the Lord condemns.  Rather, it is to acknowledge that every one of us has behaviors which the Lord condemns.  ALL humans sin in thought, word, and deed. We all have ways of justifying our behavior, creating a ten commandments which suits us. None of us can deny it.  Thus, if our manner of proclaiming God’s Word is going to be one of condemning sinners, the place to begin is at home.

With the black-and-white-ness of all of this—that all are sinners who deserve God’s wrath, and that Christ took all of God’s wrath on behalf of us sinners—how shall we live?

Instead of using our mouths to condemn, let us employ them to encourage.

Instead of pointing fingers, let us use our hands to embrace our fellow man.

Instead of declaring things that God Himself does not declare, let us proclaim the thing that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself declared: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:16-17).”