Seeing the movie, “Dunkirk,” which is currently playing in theaters nationwide, made me think about and appreciate even more the very excellent article which Steve Shipman wrote for the July 2017 issue of CORE Voice, “Does Faith in Jesus Matter?” In this article Pastor Shipman alerts us to the very disturbing and alarming resolution which was recently passed by the New England Synod assembly, which would seek to amend the phrase “bring all people to faith in Christ” in the ELCA constitution to be more in line with the ELCA’s understanding of Christian witness and the mission and purpose of the church. A link to Pastor Shipman’s article can be found here. A link to the New England Synod’s resolution can be found here.
This movie powerfully portrays the evacuation of several hundred thousand Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, in northern France, between the dates of May 26 and June 4, 1940, a few months after the beginning of World War II. After the invasion of France by Nazi Germany, thousands of British, French, and Belgian troops were cut off and surrounded by the German army. As they retreated to the seaside city of Dunkirk, and as the Allied perimeter continued to shrink, their situation became increasingly hopeless.
The tagline for the movie is, “When 400, 000 men couldn’t get home, home came for them.” What a powerful picture of the human situation and therefore what God did. When sin, death, and the power of the devil had us surrounded and we were helpless to do anything about it, God sent His Son, to die on the cross for our sins and to rise from the dead to defeat Satan and death. As 1 Peter 3: 18 says, “For Christ also suffered for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God.” When we could not get to our heavenly home, Jesus came to and for us.
In the Dunkirk evacuation several hundred thousand soldiers were rescued by a hastily assembled fleet of over eight hundred boats, which included thirty-nine British destroyers and civilian merchant ships, but also a flotilla of hundreds of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, yachts, and lifeboats that were called into service from Britain for the emergency. These other boats came to be known as the little ships of Dunkirk.
There is a scene in the movie where the British Royal Navy is commandeering private boats to participate in the evacuation. A man by the name of Mr. Dawson cooperates without question, but rather than let a navy crew take his boat, he and his son Peter take her out themselves. Mr. Dawson and Peter are outstanding examples of people who are willing to go way beyond inconvenience to put themselves and their property at great danger and risk in order to save and rescue others.
On their way across the English channel they encounter a shell-shocked soldier on the wreck of his ship, the sole survivor of a U-boat attack. They take him aboard. When the rescued soldier discovers that Dawson is sailing for Dunkirk rather than returning to England, he tries to wrest control of the boat. His behavior reminds me of those who say, “As long as my church is here for me, I do not care about anybody else; as long as I am saved, everybody else can go to hell.”
A little bit later they encounter a minesweeper, which is under attack by a German bomber and several other fighter planes. They maneuver to take on troops from the damaged ship, which is spilling oil, narrowly getting clear before the oil is ignited. Dawson and his crew pull as many survivors aboard as can fit. As he welcomes them aboard Dawson says, “There is plenty of room; keep coming.” His words remind me of the parable of Jesus in Luke 14 of the man who gave a great dinner who said to his servants, “Go out into the roads and the lanes and compel people to come, so that my house may be filled.” God wants heaven to be full. Do we want what God wants, and are we acting like we want what God wants?
Another one of the characters in the movie, Farrier, a British Royal Air Force fighter pilot, is making his way across the English channel to provide air support to the troops waiting at Dunkirk. He and the other pilots in his squadron have been instructed on how much fuel they can spend before they need to return. Farrier’s fuel gauge malfunctions, but he continues with his mission. After burning all of his regular fuel in maneuvers along the way and switching to reserve fuel, he finally reaches Dunkirk, where evacuation efforts are being attempted under heavy enemy bombardment. He takes out a bomber, saving ships and troops. As he flies over the beach, Allied soldiers clap and cheer for him. Finally out of fuel, he glides towards a landing on the beach and barely cranks his landing gear down in time. But he lands outside the Allied perimeter, so he sets fire to his plane before he is taken prisoner by the Germans. Here is another person who is an inspiration and a huge source of encouragement to others because of his commitment, dedication, and sacrifice, and willingness to pay the price in order that others might be saved.
I saw that movie and I was saddened even more that there is a movement in the ELCA to eliminate bringing people to faith in Christ as a prime part of the mission of the church, and to do so in the name of cultural sensitivity and interfaith dialogue.
For Dawson, Farrier, and the other characters in the movie, and for all the real-live people who participated in the Dunkirk evacuation, it did matter whether Allied troops were rescued from the Nazi German army. It did matter whether several hundred thousand soldiers were rescued or whether they were slaughtered on the beaches of northern France. But there is a movement within the ELCA – and we assume that it will be a growing movement – of people who say that faith in Jesus does not matter, at least in the way that the Bible says that it matters because “there is salvation in no one else.” (Acts 4: 12) We understand that this resolution passed overwhelmingly, and that there was little or no expressed objection.
That a resolution like that would pass should be a cause for great concern, sorrow, and soul-searching for all Biblically faithful Lutherans of all Lutheran church bodies. The fact that there is a movement within one Lutheran church body that is saying, “Faith in Jesus does not matter,” should lead all of us to ask ourselves, Do I believe that faith in Jesus matters? Do I care whether people know Jesus? And if I say that I do, what am I doing about it?
As I am writing this, I am preparing for the NALC convocation in Nashville August 9-11. By the time you receive this, the convention will have happened. Many thanks to everyone who stopped by the Lutheran CORE table. I am looking forward to telling you about the event in the September 2017 issue of CORE Voice. We of Lutheran CORE value our ministry partnership with the NALC. It is a joy to be so warmly welcomed at the convocation, to reconnect with friends, and to make new friends.
I am also looking forward to attending two events in October – the LCMC gathering October 8-11 in Minneapolis, and the Lutheran CORE-sponsored Latino ministries Ecuentro in Chicago October 17-19. We also highly value our ministry partnership with LCMC, and we count it a great privilege to help sponsor the Hispanic ministries gathering which gives encouragement and resources to those currently involved in Spanish speaking ministries, as well as to those considering transitioning their emphasis or beginning a new, additional emphasis in outreach to Latino people. Many thanks to Keith Forni, ELCA pastor and member of our board, for all his hard work putting together such a great event. For more information about the Encuentro, or to register, contact Pastor Keith at 815-600-3030 or KeithLForni@gmail.com.
Blessings in Christ,
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE