By Rev. Justin Smoot

For Wausau Pilot & Review

In these days of Coivd-19, there are many Christians who claim the right to gather and practice their religion as a sacred and protected under the law. Constitutionally, I won’t argue, I don’t have the standing, the understanding, or the time.

What I will say is; Christians who claim their legal and constitutional rights are Theologians of Glory who completely disregard everything God has done, is doing, and will do.

What does this mean?

Martin Luther distinguished between Theologians of Glory and Theologians of the Cross as two opposite methods of talking about God and faith.

A Theologian of Glory looks at God as a “fairy godmother,” and will look at the Christian community and see every benefit it should be afforded because God has won the battle over sin and death for them. They look for God to “show up” in powerful positions, and love to tout the connection between the 10 Commandments and the Constitution of the United States, a powerful nation. Ultimately, a Theologian of Glory will follow the banner of, “I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4) until something knocks them down and say it was God’s will.

A Theologian of the Cross, however, understands that Paul wrote that passage from Philippians 4 from a jail cell. The strength he received was not to become some fearless, good looking, best-life-living ultra-Christian, but was the strength to endure a life shaped not by his own desires, but by the cross. For a Theologian of the Cross, their end is not God’s glory and power, but Christ’s cross. With our own sinful, selfish desires and our delusions of grandeur dying on the cross, we come to see God in places as unexpected, powerless, and strange as the cross.

So, what does this mean for Christians today?

The greatest witness to Christ crucified and risen for the life of the world is our decision to lay down our constitutionally given rights to freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. Since Christ died for you, the least you can do is understand how the inconvenience of taking a vow of solitude will help protect the vulnerable among us, until the specter of Covid-19 has passed over us.

The most powerful stories of Christian faith that have come down over the generations are the stories of Christian martyrs who hold to their faith and endured even death because they held to the radical, unexpected love see in the Cross of Christ. One that always comes to mind is Dirk Willems; he was an anabaptist (those who rejected infant baptism) who was imprisoned for his beliefs in the winter of 1569. Dirk managed to escape his prison and flee but was pursued. When his pursuer fell through some ice, Dirk pulled him from the freezing water and was promptly recaptured, and later burned at the stake.

This story has stuck with me from the moment I heard it because the Cross of Christ so shaped Dirk’s life that even those who would do him harm, who hated him, were worth saving, even at the cost of his own life. This is truly what it means to, “do everything through Christ who strengthens me.”

This is not what we want to hear, or expect to hear, from religious leadership. But, then again, no one expected to find God as a baby in a manger or dying on a cross. Powerful proof that God shows up in unexpected places, but places where God’s presence is needed.

Rev. Justin Smoot

Rev. Justin Smoot is one of the pastors at Saint Andrew Lutheran Church in Rib Mountain. He is always on the lookout for how God’s story turns our lives upside down and draws us closer together.

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