Sunday, December 12, 2010
A Royal Waste of Time
There are simply too many people on all sides of the dogma debates and worship wars who try to make an agenda for the Church. There is simply too much talk out there about the need to be mission focused or purposeful in all the Church is and does. There is simply too much emphasis on goals and outcomes that have stolen the purpose of worship from the Lord and turned it into one of many programs that fall under the umbrella of "Church."
Though not a particular fan of Marva Dawn, she hit upon one great title when she wrote about A Royal "Waste" of Time. There is simply no way to explain or justify or support taking time away from yourself or your family or your work and spend it in worship, prayer, and devotion. It is a worthless activity according to the world and down deep you know there is a part of you that fully agrees with this assessment. Christianity is not a "practical" religion in the sense of helping you achieve your goals. Christianity has been co-opted by those who would make it into a program that has goals, purposes, and a means of evaluation.
Some would make these entirely personal and some would make them more social, but they think the key to growing the Church is convincing people that worship is worthwhile, that prayer is worth the time and effort, and devotion is worth the hard work of making it happen. In order to do this, worship, prayer, and devotion must have tangible results and measurable results. In other words, if we can just prove to folks that you get something tangible and real out of it, something practical and useful, something that will help you get what you want, the Church will grow. If you go to Church you will live longer, be happier, have a better marriage, turn out better kids, get ahead at work, have a better financial status, be free to explore the fullness of your human life, and make a lasting and real difference in this world.
Others would make the Church's purpose and impact mostly social. The world is filled with problems and the Church is filled with answers so if we could just get folks into the Church some of the social problems in our world would go away and the family would be better equipped to contribute to the good of society or the needs of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the different, etc. would be protected, upheld, and supplied.
But I think such promises are false and deceptive. The point of Church is not a better or more happy you or a better or more happy world. The point of the Church is to be the arena in which Christ is source and center, fountain and summit. The whole point of who the Church is and what she does is not me but Jesus Christ. When we turn the Church into another place where you get something you want or need, then we have turned Christ into a commodity and the Gospel into a marketing plan. The Church no longer becomes the Church when this identity takes hold and the programs of the Church -- our programs -- become more important faithfulness to Christ.
I can offer you no barometers to gauge the success of who the Church is or what she does -- other than the Gospel rightly proclaimed and the Sacraments rightly administered. Apart from these, the goals are distinctly man centered. We have no target range for growth, no evaluative machinery, no practical application from Scripture. What we have are the Word and the Sacraments -- the means of grace -- that deliver to us what it is that Christ won for us. Some of His gifts are distinctly impractical -- forgiveness, for example. But they are what He knows we need -- even if we are not so sure for ourselves.
What happens on Sunday morning is not evangelism or education or therapy or motivation... or any other ism or tion. What happens on Sunday morning is that Christ bids us come because He is there. It is implausible to our minds, impractical to our hearts, and incomprehensible to explain to others. It just is. That is why the efficacy of His Word is of far more importance than ending the war because we have won the inerrancy debate. True. Yes. But for what purpose this truth and what is this truth? That God keeps His promise, that His Word accomplishes whereof it speaks, and that Christ is that Word.
The Divine Service is a pointless activity and a royal waste of time -- except that Jesus Christ is there, speaking through His Word, cleansing through His Water, restoring through His absolution, and nourishing through His Table. I am not saying that it is all impractical or other worldly but this is not a commodity to be sold or a program that convinces us because there is something in it for me. This is something radically different and until we begin to realize this, we will be left with marketing plans instead Gospel proclamation, with programs instead of worship, and with incremental human goals instead of the radical power of grace.