Whether you like him or you hate him, Bishop Martino certainly can’t be called a wimp! Here in Scranton he is causing quite the commotion with his many public and forceful stances on important issues from Abortion to the closing of Catholic churches and schools and now, most recently, the occurrence of a gay rights speaker at a local “Catholic” university.
People often ask me “Well, what DO you think about Bishop Martino?”
Well, I certainly don’t know the bishop personally, so I can’t say much about that. I haven’t heard him speak or preach or been able to observe the demeanor of his delivery. In short, though, although I don’t think that the way he is going about his work is perhaps the best way to show and lead people to the Gospel, certainly people shouldn’t be so surprised at what he has to say on the issues per se. What he is saying is nothing new or especially controversial except among people who really haven’t sat down to think through things thoroughly from the viewpoint of scripture and the two millennia of Christian teaching.
The controversy that has erupted within the Roman Catholic membership is especially disheartening. What we are experiencing is the revelation that people really have no idea what the church is, nor who Jesus is, nor anything of what Christianity is. It isn’t that people have actually specifically denied their allegiance to Christ and His church, but the reality is that they have, little by little (without their realizing it), removed themselves from the church and aligned themselves to the teachings of the world. And so that now, all of a sudden when a Bishop is forceful and brash, it becomes clear that they have, in every regard except their paper membership, actually left the church. They have no common thought, no common understanding of the world or salvation.
Of course, the fault cannot be with the people only. Certainly the church has neglected to be clear about its message and strong in its teachings. It has desired to be attractive to the masses and tailored its message to them, watering down anything which might be in the least offensive.
But however tragic the above is, the main problem with the way Bishop Martino presents his teachings is that they do not do enough to point people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. Although the shepherd does have a rod and staff which guides the sheep, the aim is to lead them to green pastures! As far as I can see, there is plenty of rod and staff, but no leading to the salvation of Jesus Christ. I have read a couple of his letters and I don’t have any quibble with what he says, but only with what he DOESN’T say! One of our main problems with the Catholic church is that ultimately much of their rhetoric reduces the Christian faith to moralism and the keeping of the law. Perhaps you will notice that when I preach about what God demands of us (and hopefully any other Lutheran pastor does the same), I preach it so that our failure to achieve this law leads us to the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross. (At least this is my AIM. Whether I achieve this or not, sometimes I am doubtful!)
So, unfortunately in the end, in all the letters of the bishop and the surrounding press coverage, the true Gospel message is completely lost – and the impression that people get is that the only thing that the church is concerned about is morality.
And the true Gospel? No one has yet heard it above the confusion and din of the controversy.
So this is why I am glad to be a Lutheran pastor! The Gospel is the Main Thing! I hope this is why you are glad to be a Lutheran as well!