Tuesday, May 15, 2012
The Mighty Movement of God...
I don't often quote D. Martin Lloyd-Jones. In fact I hardly have read him at all. But I came across this little gem of a quote from another blog. It is a great quote because it speaks an unpopular truth that must be spoken today.
Living in the age of mega churches where everything is a mega event and they are served by mega preachers, we often get the idea that the quantity or size of something is a pretty good indicator of its success. Even though we have few mega churches in the LCMS, we bow to the altar of numbers and statistics all the time. (I just got another notice to send in the data so the District Office for this quarter -- what they do with them, I do not know, but I am assured this is most important to do...)
One of the big attractions of the mission trip is the chance to see God corral up a few hundred or, better, a few thousand to dip into the waters of baptism. We see this so very differently from the one or two occasionally baptized in the ordinary Lutheran congregation. We have become so enamored with size that we shrug our shoulders at the child brought to the waters of baptism by the faithful parents last week and we get all excited about the long line of folks on some tropical shore waiting for their dip into the waters of baptism there.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am neither jealous nor intimidated by the numbers on some of those mission fields. I rejoice at the numbers of those who hear the voice of the Gospel, in whom the Spirit works, and who ask with the Ethiopian eunuch, "What is there to prevent me from being baptized?" It is wonderful that God is working there. But... He is also at work among us. The results tell nothing of God's presence. "Where two or three are gathered, there am I"... says the Lord. "Where two or three thousand are gathered, there am I," says the Lord. Whether it is a mega work according to human standards or the small work of one we see more often, it is the same Lord and the same work. There is not more Spirit in the big result than there is in the small. The Spirit is the Spirit. He is attached to the means of grace. We take the Lord at His Word. Where the Word will be proclaimed and the Sacraments administered, there is the Church. Even better, there is Christ. There is God at work in the Spirit.
Bigness or smallness are human categories of success and failure that do not apply to God. The grace of God is not bigger where the numbers are greater nor is it smaller where the numbers are fewer. But we have embraced the worldly notions of success to such a point that we shrug our shoulders at what happens at St. Ole in the country and we get all excited by the stadium size crowd of a US mega congregation in the US or the crowd on the mission field waiting to be baptized. We dare not disparage either. God is at work, doing the same work, in both -- as long as the Gospel is proclaimed in its truth and purity and the Sacraments administered faithfully according to Christ's institution and command.
The history of Christendom has always been found in big crowds and small groups. The key here is not the people but the God who is present and at work in the Word and Sacraments. My experience is that we tend to be blinded to the greatness of God's work on Sunday morning in our local parish and mesmerized by the seeming greatness of the big crowd somewhere else. It is the same when we glory in the Easter crowd and lament the numbers of the faithful who are there the Sunday after Easter. The problem lies not with God and His working but with us and our perception of those pictures.
Sadly, there are Christians who have no confidence in the means of grace and so they use numbers to bolster their convictions and shore up their fears that God is truly there. Because they deal with a real absence instead of a real presence, they have nothing to point to except statistics. Perhaps we have grown less confident in the means of grace and the promise of God to be there and to do what He has said He will do. Perhaps we are not as convinced of our confession as we driven by our jealousy or envy of those super size churches or super size events. It is time for us to grow up. A childlike fascination with size betrays not our faith but our lack thereof.
Let us rejoice that God is at work -- among the crowd on the mission field just as He is present and working amid the dozens spread out among the pews in a congregation whose "glory days" of big stats have come and gone. It is the same God. It is the same work. Let us not disparage what happens in the big event to make us feel better about our small parish. Neither let us disparage what happens in the small parish because we want it a super size version. No congregation will grow if it disparages the work of God through Word and Sacrament among them. If it is to grow, it will grow not because of a good evangelism committee or outreach strategy but because they are faithful in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments and they are confident in the work of God among them through these means of grace. Period.