When the woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned to death, our Lord was able to dismiss the mob. He told the woman he didn't condemn her and that she was forgiven. Jesus didn't ask her, "When is the last time you took communion?" or "Did you make a contribution of any record?" Nor did he ask, "What church do you belong to?" or "Have you been baptized?" He simply told her to go on her way and sin no more.
When Jesus hung on the cross, he turned to the one next to him and said, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Our Lord didn't ask the man if he repented or what crimes, sins, he had committed. Jesus assured the man: "Today you will be with me in paradise."
In the constitution of Old Zion Lutheran in Philadelphia, the congregation where Henry Muhlenberg served as pastor, you can read: "You are a member in good standing if all you are able to contribute is a glass of water."
When our Lord was being tried in Pontius Pilate's court, Peter lied three times that he didn't know Jesus. And he knew Jesus was listening. And yet Jesus used him later as a prominent apostle.
The father of the prodigal son reinstated him to a full member of the family. He didn't ask, "Well, what did you do with your inheritance?" or "What about all the women you fooled around with?"
But the older brother, the faithful member of the family, refused to offer the forgiveness his father had given. The older brother went by Old Testament laws. He wanted justice. He wanted to make sure he would keep his full share of the inheritance. His younger brother had no right to come home. He was no longer a member of the family. According to some Hebrew traditions he was considered dead and buried. The older brother just would not or could not offer what our Lord offered to all the others mentioned above.
How many of our congregations have broken away and have been established elsewhere because Lutherans weren't able to talk to each other or offer what our Lord gave the woman, the man on the other cross or the prodigal son?
No wonder we are losing members and congregations when we offer only what any other nonprofit religious organization can do even better. If ever there is a time and place for Christ's love to prevail, it is in his church by his followers.
If any member has been offended, whatever the reason, let Christ's love prevail. Sure, take the grievance to the pastor. Sure, take the grievance to the bishop "for the sake of good order." But in every step on the way, let the love of Christ prevail. Let's finally get out of the Old Testament and turn to what our Lord said and did.
I hope and pray I will live long enough to find a church with congregations that will let the love of Christ truly prevail. Let the law of the land take its turn when necessary, but how much more can we resolve within the household of faith when our Lord is our first priority?
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers