Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Strength and Weakness of our Church

The strength and weakness of our church (meaning here the Missouri Synod, but perhaps applicable across the spectrum) is the congregation.  When the congregation is strong, imbued with the Confessional identity of her Concordia, organized to maintain and extend this Confession, with a practice that extends from this Confession, and with an unequivocal commitment to Scripture as God's infallible Word that does what it promises, then the church body is strong -- no matter the lacking in her national leaders or the problems identified there.  When the congregation is weak, distant from her Confession, concerned more about self-care than witness, with a practice that is unrelated to her Confessions, and with a viewpoint of Scripture that either undermines its truthfulness or treats it largely as a book of facts, propositions, and truths, then it does not matter how strong the leadership of the church body, the whole thing is weak.

A national leadership cannot save a congregational church body from the weaknesses of her congregations but a national leader who holds up this truth, who speaks it boldly, and who enthusiastically encourages her congregations to a Confessional renewal, can and will make it possible for those congregations to reexamine their life, belief, and practice in the light of those Confessions.

Though sometimes we Pastors are loathe to hear it, whether you are in a church body like the Roman Catholic Church with a highly centralized structure and authority or a very congregational church body like the Missouri Synod, the strength of the Church is always around one altar, one pulpit, one font, one people, and one Pastor. 

So for those who think that a change in national leadership will save a church body, I am sad to tell you, "No, he will not."  For those who believe that we can continue with so many of our congregations doing their own thing, understanding their faith their own way, and Pastors leading them without a connection to the faith confession in the Book of Concord, we cannot continue on this path or it will surely lead us to destruction and the disintegration of the very church body we claim to love and in which we serve.

The goal on the local level is clearly a renewed identity, flowing from our Confessions, shaped by these Confessions in both appearance and practice, led by national leaders whose vision and witness lead us to have confidence in these Confessions and encourage us to live out this identity with boldness in mission and faithfulness as a community.

Every Sunday morning I think about this.  The whole of the Missouri Synod (or any other church body) is only as strong as what will happen here at 8:15 and 10:45 am, when the baptized people of God will gather in His name to hear His Word, receive His gifts, and respond with prayers, praise, service, and sacrifice.  It is my hope and prayer that in every congregation throughout our church body, Pastors are rising today with the same sense of urgency, importance, and calling.  For it is here that the battle for our life and identity as a church body is waged first and foremost and only by extension in the structures of a larger regional or national level.

4 comments:

Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

Thanks for the truth, even when we'd like it to be otherwise. It puts the onus on ourselves (congregants). We all love to place the blame on leadership. Instead, Christ's Church is, as St. Paul says, a building. We are built upon Christ and the apostles, not a president of synod.

Therefore, it is the individual bricks/people which must have integrity. We are to be made of the same material as the Cornerstone. We ARE "little Christs." Our integrity comes from knowing who (and whose) we are and what we believe.

Fanatasyntheology said...

I have a question. Is it possible that the congregational model that LCMS (and LCC, I'm Canadian so I throw that one in there too) utilize, while good in smaller size national church bodies, is doomed to break down in larger church bodies as it becomes harder to do "quality control" for lack of a better term? (A la the Toyota controversy, that as it grew quality control got that much more difficult.)

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