Where should the emphasis be placed?

“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” One of Jesus’ disciples complains to Jesus about an outsider who is doing exorcisms in Jesus’ name. Some people get very upset about things being done the wrong way, or they get upset about the wrong people doing things. This happened at a previous church I served. Before I was there, the congregation had been without a pastor, and someone stepped forward to teach confirmation to the youth. Another person in the congregation was offended by this. She thought that this person was out of line, and so she took her aside, and strongly criticized her. This was very much like the disciples who wanted to stop this strange exorcist. The first problem with this was that she needed to take this to the church council, and leave the issue with them. The second problem with this was that since this was at a Lutheran Church, the critic was totally wrong. Luther’s Small Catechism was written to be taught by lay people, not by clergy. The result of this person’s action was that the person who had stepped forward stopped attending church. It is frequently the case that people who stop attending church do so because of abusive people within the church.

Some might come back and say that we need to have order within the Church. This is true. Sometimes, when we do not have proper controls, we end up with Jim Jones, or Jim Baker. Some would use this argument to say that we need a strong organization to prevent such abuse. The problem with such an argument is that we have seen recently, and on a continuing basis, that denominations with an extremely strong organizational structure can still have scandals and abuse, especially by those in power.

What we need to ask is, “Is this behavior pointing to Jesus?” “Is this behavior pointing to the cross?” “Does this person lift up the grace that is given us in the gospel, or does it focus back on the person who is speaking or acting?” If the person who is acting or speaking or acting is lifting himself up, instead of pointing to the cross, then this person is probably leading people astray. This is a measure whether leadership is valid: where is the focus? Where is the emphasis? Is it on Christ, or is it on oneself?

(“From the Pulpit” is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)