Where the Church is Needed

The following was written by Larry Peters, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Clarksville TN. He makes some excellent points and I do hope you read the Noonan post as well:

Peggy Noonan, always a great read, had a touching and well written tribute to Joan Rivers. You should read it. It does not matter what you thought of Joan Rivers, Noonan’s comments will surprise you and give you a typically different picture of the woman, her success, and her legacy.

What struck me most was this paragraph about how Las Vegas had been cleaned up and was no longer the Godfather picture of sin city: Twenty years ago, when everyone was talking about how wonderful it was that Vegas had been cleaned up and the mob had been thrown out, Joan said no, no, no, they are ruining the mystique. First of all, she said, those mobsters knew how to care for a lady, those guys with bent noses were respectful and gentlemen, except when they were killing you. Second, she said, organized crime is better than disorganized crime, which will replace it. Third, the mobsters had a patina of class, they dressed well and saw that everyone else did, so Vegas wasn’t a slobocracy, which is what it is becoming with men in shorts playing the slots in the lobby of the hotel. The old Vegas had dignity. She hated the bluenoses who’d clean up what wasn’t mean to be clean. No one wanted Sin City cleaned up, she said, they wanted to go there and visit sin and then go home.

Wow. Cleaning up what was not meant to be clean. Now there is a line of prose pregnant with meaning. Boy did Noonan hit the nail on the head. That is exactly what we do. We clean up what was not meant to be clean. Vegas with a family appeal, state lotteries that dress up gambling, vulgarity that parades as comedy, etc… we do this in an effort to take away the stink and ugliness of evil but it does no such thing. Cohabitation may be rampant but it is not right. Promiscuity may be routine but it is not righteous. Lies may be pleasant but they are not good. Pornography is benign and victimless but it screws up our sense of love, intimacy, and sex. Cheating may be expected but it is not moral. Killing may be normal but it is not holy. Gay may be politically correct but it is not morally correct. You finish the sentence. Every time we clean up sin we end up only making evil respectable and multiplying its stain over us all.

We have had a history of trying to clean up things with terrible results. From the temperance movement to the diversity and political correctness movement, we have painted a new face on old wrongs but what we hoped for was not the result. Legislating morality for whatever purpose hardly ever makes things better. Taking the dirty edge off of sin does not make it noble, virtuous, or good. It is no wonder our children are confused. We have made right and wrong look alike so that no one knows the difference (except by ignoring the thin veneer of respectability we have applied over the images of sin).

Joan and Peggy hit on something profound here. Cleaning up what was not meant to be clean is doing no favor to anyone and harming both our sense of right and wrong and our ability to discern between the two. We have far too many “victimless crimes” in which the wrong is either not so wrong or the right not so right. We have too many things that we justify by the hopes of good (like state lottery profits going to education). We have too many people who say that people are going to do it anyway why not have them do it cleanly and openly. Worse, we have believed our own lies so much so that Christian no longer look much different from the non-Christians around them.

That is where the Church comes in. We have to unclean what society has rendered clean — sort of the reverse of what Peter found out about a ham sandwich and Gentiles. Except this time the impediments are not distinctions imposed but distinctions removed to render evil and good dull, bland, and vanilla. This is preaching the Law to expose and lay bare the painful truth without which the Gospel means nothing at all.

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