Join the “coast” guard

Join the “coast” guard

Jeffrey L. Samelson

It’s a thrill of childhood: picking up enough speed on your bike, probably going downhill, to be able to quit pedaling and just coast-not just going fast, but temporarily ceding control to the forces of physics. That excitement is what makes roller coasters so much fun-or frightening-for young and old alike.

Yet there are times when coasting is not at all a good idea: when you are unable to see what lies ahead or the road is rough, or when your vehicle is not a 20-pound

bicycle but a 4,000-pound automobile. In those cases, you’ll still get somewhere fast, but the end results may not be good.

Christians and churches coast too, without appreciating the danger they might face ahead. They rely on momentum from the past to move forward or yield spiritual control to uncertain or unfriendly forces. Then, often without even realizing it, just like the driver of a car coasting in neutral down a hill, they end up at the wrong destination or crash and hurt other people or at least lose both power and control when they encounter the rough spots ahead.

Coasting Christians are those who confuse confirmation with graduation. They assume they had everything they needed before they went to high school. Even parents coast when they think that the “spiritual shove” of baptizing their children and a few years of Christian education is the end of their responsibility to their children. It is, tragically, no surprise when such neglect of faith leads to the wreck of faith.

Even pastors are tempted to coast. Sometimes they think, “I learned what I needed in seminary; no need for me to do more study and work through any issues again now!” Their members might also think, “Our pastor was trained in our great seminary and approved by the synod, so why would we ever need to pay attention to and test what he’s actually teaching, practicing, or promoting?” In the same way, we might coast on our synodical identity: “Hey, we WELS Lutherans have the reputation of being the ones who have our doctrine right, so anything we decide to do must also be right.”

What happens when we think, “We worked hard to formulate those doctrinal statements 50 years ago; there’s no need to study those issues ever again or find new ways to explain what the Bible says about them to a new generation or communicate them in a different context”? Perhaps a congregation coasts on the outreach done years ago or the friendliness they once had or the giving and service habits of an aging generation.

It’s no accident that one of the most common ways the Bible speaks of Christian life is with words meaning “walk.” Instead of inertia or undirected activity, we aim for deliberate forward motion. And since it is God through the gospel who provides the power and guidance for everything in the believer’s journey of faith, you want to remember that if you’re coasting, then you’re going downhill and likely have pushed God out of the driver’s seat.

So guard against coasting, which leads to weak faith, sloppy doctrine, moral confusion, poor stewardship, and spiritual immaturity. Consider all the places in Scripture that tell us to “watch out,” “keep on,” “be prepared,” “grow,” “be filled,” and “devote yourselves.” Remember your joyful responsibility to move forward, powered by the gospel in God’s Word and sacraments. That’s where the real thrill is, because the places God wants to take us are better than anything we can imagine.

Go with God.

Contributing editor Jeff Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 102, Number 3
Issue: March 2015

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