Recently, a WELS pastor used an assault rifle as a sermon prop, specifically an AK-47.
The original Kalashnikov AK-47 was developed by the Russians during the Cold War, and came to be associated with the enemies of America and the West. During the Vietnam War, it was the primary infantry weapon used by the North Vietnamese Army and The Vietcong. (Vietnam War.net). Although often associated with the Cold War, the AK-47 is still in widespread use today. (GunClassics.com). Because it is easy to produce and operate it is a favored weapon of many guerrilla and resistance groups, and is currently in use by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Recently, the U.S. Army fought against an insurgency in Iraq. When a soldier serves in an area of insurgency, he must be on constant guard because he could be shot at anytime, anywhere, by anyone, even people dressed as civilians. Over prolonged periods of time this can be very stressful, and often has a profound negative psychological effect. Even after returning home, when in public, many combat veterans still prefer to keep their backs to a wall as protection.
Therefore, under such circumstances, one can imagine how veterans of a recent insurgency war like Afghanistan or Iraq might feel when they see the preferred weapon of their enemy. I can imagine that they would be made to feel at a minimum profoundly uncomfortable. In fact, a veteran of the Iraq War complained about the sermon prop, and said the AK-47 made him uncomfortable and that it was an improper prop to use in a sermon.
The sermon took place at a WELS congregation that calls itself (among other things) “922 Church.” 922 refers to 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” According to their website
being “all things to all people” means the following:
• offering a variety of worship opportunities each week all grounded on the truth of God’s Word but different in style—some using the traditional Lutheran Liturgy, others being modern traditional, and still others that are non-traditional. We believe this variety is essential so that we can reach more people. Different worship styles “speak” to people differently, so our members and guests are able to pick the form of worship that is most meaningful to them so that they’re motivated to live their lives for the Lord.
• using technology and the visual arts in worship and beyond
What purpose does an AK-47 have in a sermon? An assault rifle does not deliver the forgiveness of sins, nor does it render unto God a sacrifice of praise. After the service, what were people talking about? Jesus? Sin? Forgiveness? Or the fact that the pastor had a gun in church? And not just a gun, but a big gun? And a notorious gun? But that is just the point. From the perspective of the church Growth Movement, getting people excited about “church” is what is important. “Becoming all things to all people” is about giving the customers what they want, and bringing them back for more. And if a big notorious gun will serve to get people excited and talking and coming, then it served its purpose.
However, a gun is not God’s word. God has promised to come to us in word and sacrament. Do we trust God’s promises and means? Or do we trust in the “wisdom” of men?
It is not wrong to use a prop in a sermon. But what is the wisdom supporting the prop? Is it the hidden wisdom of God hidden in word and sacrament? (1 Corinthians 2:7). Or is it the wisdom of men that seeks attention and earthly glory?