Culture

Why Not a ‘Foul-Mouthed’ Pastor?

swearing

The closest a Christian comes to hearing the literal voice of God is when their familiarity with scripture evokes verses in answer to life’s queries. For instance, when confronted with the Washington Post’s profile of “tatted up, foul-mouthed” Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber, something like 2 Timothy 4:3-4 comes to mind:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

The Post provides little from Bolz-Weber which passes for theology. Most of her quotes wash past vague and incoherent. The Blaze provides a thumbnail sketch:

While there is a growing group of believers interested in Bolz-Weber’s message, not everyone will be so enamored. For one, her use of what The Washington Post called a “frequently profane dialect” will certainly turn off more traditional church attendees. Still, she’s piquing the interest of others who are more theologically progressive in nature.

From nothing more than this habit, “frequently profane dialect” from the pulpit, we can assume with confidence that Bolz-Weber knows not of whom she speaks.

Why shouldn’t a pastor use foul language? Is criticism of folks like Mark Driscoll, a professing evangelical known as “the cussing pastor,” informed by a kind of Puritan asceticism? Does swearing make a Christian “real” or “relevant”?

Nadia1

“Tatted up, foul-mouthed” Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Before taking a stab at those questions, let’s consider why Bolz-Weber chooses to project a crude worldly image. The Post’s description of her church service provides insight:

In her body and her theology, Bolz-Weber represents a new, muscular form of liberal Christianity, one that merges the passion and life-changing fervor of evangelicalism with the commitment to inclusiveness and social justice of mainline Protestantism. She’s a tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right or too Jesus-y for the left.

“You show us all your dirty laundry! It’s all out there!” the Rev. John Elford of the University United Methodist Church booms, as if he is introducing a rock star, leading the cheering crowd into an impassioned round of hymn-singing.

Bolz-Weber springs onstage to do a reading from her book, but first she addresses the language that’s about to be unleashed on the pulpit: “I don’t think church leaders should pretend to be something they’re not.”

The crowd erupts into applause.

From this we may discern that Bolz-Weber swears from the pulpit to distinguish herself from perceived hypocrites. Clearly, her congregation tracks with that purpose. One of them, “a former evangelical megachurch pastor,” testifies:

For 21 years, I felt I had to keep people in line, and it felt like bondage to me. House has a lot of people burned by religion, and this still holds for me. It’s the only church I can stomach.

Somewhere along the line, Bolz-Weber and her followers came away from traditional Christianity with the impression that pastors concern themselves primarily with behavior. Her answer:

Forget what you’ve been told about the golden rule — God doesn’t love you more if you do good things, or if you believe certain things. God, [Bolz-Weber] argues, offers you grace regardless of who you are or what you do.

As proves typical of false teachers, Bolz-Weber comes very close to expressing the truth, but for a critical error.

ralphie soap

God doesn’t love you more if you do good things. God does offer grace regardless of who you are or what you do. Those statements from Bolz-Weber comport with scripture. Her notion that it does not matter what you believe does not.

The entire book of Galatians, short enough to read in a single sitting, deals with the importance of correct beliefs. It also deals with the issue of hypocrisy raised by Bolz-Weber and her followers.

In Galatia, the church came under the influence of false teachers who claimed that God required Christians to obey certain aspects of the Mosaic Law. Specifically, they preached that salvation required circumcision. The Apostle Paul set them straight in Galatians 2:15-16:

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Swearing has no more bearing on Christian salvation than circumcision does. To the extent some within the pastorate have felt they need “to keep people in line,” they fall victim to “another Gospel” as Paul put it. Behaving a certain way does not justify a sinner.

Clean it up!

Clean it up!

If we left our consideration there, it might seem like an affirmation of Bolz-Weber’s approach. She swears from the pulpit so not to “pretend to be something [she’s] not.” Indeed, not swearing as a means to salvation proves futile. But there’s another reason why Christians should refrain from foul language, especially in reference to the Almighty. And it has to do with the essential Christian doctrine known as the Gospel, a belief which defines Christianity. Paul details it in his letter to the Romans:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

That’s deep theological stuff which might be summarized thus: Salvation through faith in the work of Christ changes your heart. Knowing God leads to contemplating his holiness and seeking to glorify Him by obeying his commandments, not to earn what you have been freely given, but to enjoy the living God.

No one who knows God would want to associate Him with filth. That’s why Christian pastors shouldn’t swear from the pulpit, not to “pretend to be something they’re not,” but to glorify who God is.