Pas­tors need to be talk­ing about sin

The Weekly Vista - - Opinion - ROBERT A. BOX

A long time ago, I was sit­ting in a sem­i­nary’s Ethics class lis­ten­ing to a guest lec­turer and one of the smartest pro­fes­sors in the school es­pous­ing the view that “you can­not leg­is­late moral­ity.” To make mat­ters worse, ap­par­ently all of the other stu­dents in the class agreed with them — all, that is, ex­cept me.

I took is­sue with their con­clu­sion and voiced my concern, but at that time I did not have enough data to back up my con­vic­tions. I was con­vinced that not only could you leg­is­late moral­ity, but al­most ev­ery law leg­is­lated moral­ity.

Con­sider, for ex­am­ple, laws gov­ern­ing traf­fic safety, in­come tax, im­mi­gra­tion con­trol, health is­sues, and civil rights. Do these laws not tell us what is right or wrong? And, isn’t that moral­ity? In­stead, I was told that these is­sues only dealt with what a per­son may or may not do, that moral­ity only dealt with sin­ful things. Oh, and just what is sin?

Al­though a bit late, I just fin­ished read­ing Karl Men­ninger’s book “What­ever Be­came of Sin?” In it, Dr. Men­ninger spends per­haps 80 per­cent of his book de­scrib­ing and defin­ing the way sin has been trans­lated into other cat­e­gories such as crime and il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties, and how no one wants to rec­og­nize that most of these things are re­ally sins. Now, I have to con­fess: This Dr. Men­ninger is one smart per­son. Not only does he have an amaz­ing vo­cab­u­lary, he also has re­searched just about ev­ery sin­ful ac­tiv­ity known to mankind, and care­fully doc­u­ments his ob­ser­va­tions. Frankly, I was be­com­ing both a bit bored and a bit hu­mil­i­ated by all of his re­search, and won­dered if he had any ideas about how to solve the prob­lem of sin.

Af­ter all, as a law en­force­ment chap­lain, it still seemed log­i­cal to me that you catch the bad guys and lock them up; but Dr. Men­ninger sug­gested that there were other ways to han­dle them. He then men­tioned the fact that the law en­force­ment of­fi­cer had taken the place of the priest (pas­tors) in the church, and that caught my at­ten­tion.

The con­clu­sion chap­ter of the book is fas­ci­nat­ing. He says, “Imag­ine lead­ers striv­ing — not to heal the sick, not to com­fort the an­guished, not to feed the starv­ing, not to ter­mi­nate the waste and pol­lu­tion of our re­sources — but to close the moral­ity gap! To es­tab­lish more firmly in na­tional, in­ter­na­tional, and per­sonal af­fairs the supreme im­por­tance of dis­tin­guish­ing right from wrong. To end the con­ceal­ment of sin un­der var­i­ous eu­phemistic dis­guises, but to con­fess it and atone for it and de­sist from it. If the word ‘sin’ is un­ac­cept­able to you, I chal­lenge you to sug­gest a bet­ter one.”

Dr. Men­ninger then chal­lenges lead­ers to openly con­front sin, and he be­gins with the role of clergy. Ouch! But he is cor­rect. Dur­ing the past sev­eral decades, clergy have preached about the ex­is­tence of God, His mer­ci­ful­ness, His grace, His good­ness, His ex­pec­ta­tions for mankind to learn how to for­give and to love, about God’s faith­ful­ness in for­giv­ing sin, and the as­sur­ance of ev­er­last­ing life. But what about sin? Do mod­ern ser­mons ad­dress sin? Clergy have a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress sin, but do they? Where are the Jonathan Ed­wards of our time (for in­stance, his ser­mon “Sin­ners in the Hands of an An­gry God”)? Where are the prophetic voices of the 8th cen­tury bib­li­cal prophets declar­ing “Thus, saith the Lord?” Yes, we need to be lead­ing the fight for right and wrong in our churches.

But Dr. Men­ninger goes fur­ther by as­sert­ing that po­lice of­fi­cers, teach­ers, the me­dia, doc­tors, and politi­cians also are moral lead­ers. He says that it is wrong to re­strict them from teach­ing right and wrong (sin) along with their ex­per­tise fo­cus.

I guess I should have read Dr. Men­ninger’s book years ago, for I find my­self agree­ing with a lot that he

says. Yes, I do think that his ap­proach is a lit­tle sim­plis­tic and prob­a­bly not pos­si­ble; but I also think that we in Amer­ica need to get back to dis­cov­er­ing what sin is and how to deal with it ad­e­quately. Not to do so takes God out of our schools, the mar­ket­place, our gov­ern­ment, and our per­sonal lives.

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