December 13, 2012
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36
Tyler Alred was only 17 years old when the Chevy pickup he was driving hit a tree. One of his friends, a passenger in the pickup, was declared dead at the scene of the accident.
Recently, an Oklahoma District Judge, Mike Norman, found Alred guilty of DUI manslaughter.
After the verdict, Judge Norman pronounced the sentence. With the agreement of Alred's parents, the defense attorney, and the prosecutor, he said the young man would have to finish high school, complete welding school, and go to church for the next ten years.
The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, along with a number of other organizations, went ballistic when they heard that third condition of Alred's judgment. They said it was a violation of the Free Establishment Cause of the First Amendment.
And it is.
Now there is no question that regular worship at a church might be of some blessed benefit to Tyler Alred. Still, this part of the sentence has caused me some serious problems.
What kind of problems?
First, I think it is a misunderstanding and misapplication of Law and Gospel. Worship of the Savior is something which voluntarily springs from a heart that has been touched by the salvation and forgiveness which Jesus lived, died and rose to give us. As Jesus said, "we are free indeed." But forcing someone to go to worship takes away his freedom and puts him under the Law.
But I have a second problem: I wonder if it is okay for a judge to sentence a young man to ten years of worship in a Christian Church. Why would it not be acceptable for another judge to sentence another young man to ten years attendance at a local mosque?
All of this means that while I applaud Judge Norman's intentions, I have to disagree with his verdict.
It also means something else; it means we who value worship need to listen to the writer of Hebrews, who said, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another ..." (Hebrews 10:24-25a).
This Advent and Christmastide our churches often have visitors. Let's do our best to make sure the things we do and say clearly point to the joy that comes in having Jesus as Savior. Who knows? In so doing we might head off another Tyler before he wraps his truck around a tree.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, Jesus offered Himself as the Sacrifice which freed sinners from the condemnation of the Law. May we do all we can to share with others the wonderful peace and hope we have received from the work of the risen Redeemer. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries