For Easter Sunday, I attended the “Word of Faith” church and the Missouri Synod Lutheran church. What I’ll do in this church write-up is to highlight similarities and differences between the sermons, then mention any loose ends that I want to mention.
A. Both sermons said that God can bring new life out of our disappointments and fears—-whether that be loss of a job, loss of a marriage, loss of a loved one, or a fearsome medical diagnosis.
B. Both sermons were critical of naturalistic atheism. The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church stated that, if God and the resurrection do not exist, then there is no ultimate justice: the strong can prey on the weak, without consequence. The pastor at the Missouri Synod church expressed dismay at snarky atheistic memes on Facebook, which highlight that Easter this year is on April Fools’ Day and depict Christians as fools. He stated that, as far as they are concerned, this life is all that there is.
C. The pastor at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, not surprisingly, affirmed the doctrine of penal substitution: that Jesus died in our place, paying the penalty for our sin. He said that this is what Jesus finished on the cross (John 19:30), since without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church, by contrast, seemed to be questioning penal substitution, or at least a caricature of it. He said that many Christians believe that God needed to beat Jesus up to get his anger at us for our sins out of his system. His model of the atonement, however, is that Jesus in himself brings together heaven and earth and absorbed all things, including our sins and death; Jesus then spit death out and defeated it.
D. In this item, I will technically compare the Good Friday service at the Missouri Synod church with the “Word of Faith” sermon. At the Good Friday service, we sang the hymn “What Wondrous Love Is This.” This hymn has a line that says, “When I was sinking down, beneath God’s righteous frown…” The pastor at the “Word of Faith” service said that God is not actually mad at people but loves people: God is upset at how sin is leading to death and exile from God in people’s lives. At the same time, the pastor acknowledged the reality of hell: those who do not want to be healed of their idols and to be in relationship with God will get their wish, namely, eternal separation from God.
E. Both sermons engaged the story in Luke 24 about the two men unwittingly walking with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The Missouri Synod pastor highlighted this as an example of disappointment, as people feel that their hopes have been dashed and something good has come to an end. The “Word of Faith” pastor drew a variety of lessons from this story, as it was his primary text. First, he said that the two men hoped Jesus would deliver Israel from the Romans and set up a political kingdom, whereas Jesus wanted to deliver them from the idols in their heart, which lead to stress and death. Second, the pastor said that the men did not recognize Jesus because Jesus looked so ordinary (whereas the risen Jesus in the non-canonical Gospel of Peter stands taller than the angels), and Jesus works inside of us, dismantling our idols, in ordinary ways. Third, the pastor said that the men recognized Jesus when Jesus blessed the meal because Jesus said “Father,” and no one said “Father” quite like Jesus; Jesus’ ministry was about directing attention to the Father.
F. The pastor at the Missouri Synod church said that Easter is about an ending—-it is finished—-but also a new beginning. The church has been using road signs to illustrate spiritual truths, and one of the road signs it showed today was “Construction ahead.” Similarly, the pastor at the “Word of Faith” church talked about God working on us, and he acknowledged that we are quite a project to work on! (I could identify with that, as I felt especially misanthropic this week.)
Now for some loose ends:
A. The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church seemed to express belief in soul sleep: that dead people are unconscious until the time of their resurrection.
B. The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church defined sin, not so much as breaking rules, but as giving our allegiance (faith) to someone or something other than God; whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). We should focus on the latter, he said, rather than stressing out trying to uproot our sins, since, when we find one sin, we see another.
C. The pastor at the Missouri Synod church said that he likes seeing flowers at funerals, since that reminds him that God is a God of beauty and of life, even when there is death.
I’ll stop here. This is more summary than evaluation or analysis. I’ll leave the comments open in case anyone wants to add anything constructive, or to refine what I said. I’d rather not read comments like “You should stop going to that heretical ‘Word of Faith’ church!” I like going there. Also, I don’t particularly want to get into a debate over what I said in the (B.) of the comparison and contrast section: I acknowledge that atheists can find morality and meaning in life, and also that there are non-Christian conceptions of the afterlife.