“Simul Iustus et Peccator.” This Latin phrase, first coined by Martin Luther, refers to the belief that followers of Jesus Christ are both sinners and saints at the same time. R.C. Sproul breaks it down this way: “A Christian is simul (at the same time) iustus (just or righteous) and peccator (a sinner).” The Apostle Paul paints a vivid picture of this struggle in Romans 7, declaring, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (v. 15) In light of this doctrine, a small congregation in the city of Denver gathers under the name of House of All Saints and Sinners. This Lutheran church has been gaining increased attention over the past year, but that has less to do with the makeup of its flock, and more to do with its shepherd.
Muscles, tattoos and Jesus
Nadia Bolz-Weber is the pastor of All Saints and Sinners. Her memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, recently made the New York Times best seller list. As a result, she has been thrust into a spotlight of sorts – gaining hero status among liberal Christians, and becoming a target of criticism by the conservative faithful. While her book provides the reader with insight into who Nadia is as a person, a believer in Christ, and a pastor, the press has tended to focus on externals in what may be an attempt to create shock value. According to a piece in The Washington Post, “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.”
Back to basics
In Pastrix, however, the message that Nadia seeks to convey is not a “new…form of Christianity,” and it has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. On the contrary, she refers to the same good news repeatedly proclaimed by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament – a gospel that is no respecter of persons, of which he proclaims, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13) Nadia rightly refers to this salvation as a necessary and continual process of dying and resurrection. Unfortunately, for some Christians, her anatomy is a problem. And that’s just the beginning.
Besides being female, here is a pastor who also uses profanity, has tattoos, and wears nontraditional clothing. Does this imply rebellion, or is it who she is as a recovering drug and alcohol addict, living among and ministering to those whom she calls “underside dwellers, cynics, alcoholics and queers”? Speaking of which, she warmly welcomes homosexuals into her congregation as if their sin were no different than those also described in Romans 1: “greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip…backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful…disobey their parents…refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.” (v. 29-31) All saints and sinners.
A lousy candidate
Nadia Bolz-Weber should probably be one of the casualties of Christianity. Her personality is such that, like Luther, she is unable to escape the harsh reality of her own sinful heart, having a complete inability to pretend to be something she knows she isn’t – namely, good. These people also have a very strong distaste for those who posture themselves as spiritually superior to others on the sin scale, knowing very well that, apart from Christ, “No one is righteous—not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Nadia did not reject the Christian faith, in spite of her legalistic, fundamentalist upbringing. In fact, she heeded what she believes to be a calling to pastor her fellow underside dwellers, even though she considers herself to be “a lousy candidate.” Perhaps she looks at these cynics, alcoholics and “queers,” and has compassion upon them – like sheep without a shepherd.
Nevertheless, there are certainly those who will view this female, cussing, tatted up, liberal pastor as a heretic. At best, they will believe she has erred in her interpretation of the scriptures. In our search for the truth, keeping in mind that all believers operate in some kind of doctrinal error to one extent or another, who decides which error is worse? And what makes that decision maker qualified to sit in judgment? Augustine said, “There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” Are there sinners who we believe will not, or should not, share the same future with us in heaven? We may be surprised. Simul Iustus et Peccator.
Dawn blogs regularly at dawncoates.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @thedawncoates.