Sentinel: Christianity Prepares Us for Death.
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This column appeared in the Fairmont Sentinel Religion page on October 14, 2016.
The primary purpose of the Christian church is to prepare people for death. Have you ever considered that thought?
While a congregation or church body may add value to a community, or accomplish many laudable acts in this world…the primary purpose of God’s church has always been to prepare people for death. Every page of Scripture asserts this fact – from the fall into sin of Genesis 3, where Adam & Eve brought death upon all people; to Paul’s statement that death is the righteous judgement of God upon a sinful, unholy life – every page of Scripture seeks first to lift our eyes beyond the politics & problems of this world to see the problem inherent to the person in the mirror.
Sin means death, and every death (whether young or old, accident or disease, expected or surprise) thunders with the terrifying thump of God’s judgment upon sin. Proper food or exercise cannot prevent it; leading an outwardly-moral life does not avert it; ignoring our mortality through drug or alcohol abuse will not stave off the final enemy called ‘death.’ Even repackaging death as “natural” and “beneficial” (as Darwinism does) cannot erase the pain of death; re-defining sin to fit our own sensibilities will never change God’s decree against sin.
Indeed. The pay check for sin always and ever will be death. And the primary purpose of the Christian church is to prepare people for death.
This preparation is not fatalistic musing, as though we were hopeless, helpless victims of an inevitable end. Nor is this the preparation of a delusional Epicurian, lifting a drunkard toast in the hollow confidence that “He did it his way!”
Quite to the contrary. The Christian church prepares people for death by pointing them to Jesus Christ – their substitute. The eternal Son of God who unbelievably chose to share our humanity . . . and die! The Perfect One who took our sins upon himself, so that he would be judged guilty of them all.
Every person in the world can say “Jesus took my sin and died for me.” And every person in the world can say “God has declared me innocent in his sight” – not because of a decision, feeling, or lifestyle change; simply because Jesus has done everything necessary to give you life in place of death, holiness in place of sinfulness, “beloved” in place of “condemned.”
And the primary purpose of the Christian church is to prepare people for death – by proclaiming this truth. This truth must be the centrepiece of our work & worship, because this truth alone will make an eternal difference in anyone’s life.
But this truth, properly taught, is never alone. Our new status in God’s eyes is “not guilty” in Christ. And this status (proclaimed as a sure, certain fact) provides every reason to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, speak up for the helpless, the forgotten, and defenseless. In short, our rock-solid standing with God provides every reason to serve God and neighbor with acts of love – not done out of compulsion, or guilt, or a sense of measuring up – but simply out of thanks to the God who has given us everything. The certainty of life, proclaimed & sealed in Word and Sacrament, provides every motivation to serve one another with joy.
In a way, this service to one another will entail some death; namely, the death of my own preferences, convenience, or desires in service to the needs of another. The preferences of a parent to lounge at the lake or supervise soccer may collide with the true “quality time” of worship together. The care for a person with mental illness, a parent with dementia diagnosis, or loved one with terminal illness will always entail a death. (And certainly not the death of euthanasia, the so-called ‘death with dignity’ which this world clamors for! That is the wrong person dying the wrong type of death.)
Quite to the contrary. Death is God’s judgment upon sin, and will always be the enemy. Pithy emotionalism can never counteract its power; a set of principles will never stave off its advance. But when the church proclaims the death of Christ, Christians are prepared for their final death; and the cross of Christ will lead to the daily, tiny deaths which characterize a life following Christ. But what a blessed life: Our Savior leads us through these deaths, in the joy of the life which is truly worth living!