I visited my mother in Iowa Saturday and yesterday and went to church with her yesterday morning. She is a long-time member of a large Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) congregation. My sister, brother and I were all raised in that church.
Since leaving the Lutheran Church when I was saved years ago, I’ve come to expect much apostasy from it. The Bible has always seemed optional there, in no small part I suspect to their having taken so many positions in opposition to what God teaches and commands in it. But I was surprised with the preaching in the early service yesterday.
The senior pastor, a man I’d guess to be in his mid fifties, preached on transfiguration. The text which was the starting point of his sermon was from Exodus.
Exodus 34:29-35 (KJV)
29: And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.
30: And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.
31: And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them.
32: And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.
33: And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.
34: But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.
35: And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
He used a different translation, but that’s not critical. During the sermon, this pastor talked about how Moses’ face shone after he came down from speaking with God on the mountain and how Moses would go back to talk with God whenever the shine wore off. As if God were some sort of on-demand service for Moses – or maybe that Moses was using God for his own benefit – neither of which are described in the Bible.
Actually, I don’t recall the Bible ever describing Moses as going up on the mountain again to talk with God. Maybe I’m mistaken there, but the people of Israel built the tabernacle right after this event and God spoke to Aaron and Moses from there.
That’s not the odd, sad sinful part of his message, though.
The pastor then compared Moses’ behavior in replenishing the shine on his face with a girl who goes on spring break in Florida taking one last opportunity to work on her suntan on the beach before returning home.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The number of ways this is wrong are many. First, the pastor was prompting those listening to his message to think of a young woman in a bikini bathing suit laying on the beach. He didn’t say bikini, but I rather doubt you sunbathe in any kind of modest swimsuit, if there even is such a thing.
Second, he was prompting those listening to his message to think about spring break and the kinds of activities that frequently go on there.
Third, the pastor was comparing the effects of being in the presence of the purity and holiness of God to being in the presence of sin.
Fourth, he was comparing a vain, selfish act that serves the wants and desires of that person with an act of obedience to God and service to God’s people.
And fifth, in making this comparison in a positive way, he was not only not condemning this type of behavior, he was in effect promoting it. Moses did something that was of God and was good, so, by positive comparison, this other behavior must also be good.
Paul wrote this in Romans 14:13.
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
Jesus himself said this in Matthew 18:6-7.
6: But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
7: Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
As I mentioned, I’ve come to expect apostasy from the Lutheran church. But deliberately putting stumblingblocks in the paths of people to whom you’re responsible seemed new to me. Given many of the positions the ELCA has taken and preached to its members, maybe it shouldn’t have been.
Woe to the man by whom the offence cometh indeed.