Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hooking up with Jesus. . .

I have heard a number of folks compare the practice of hooking up with its religious counterpart among those who constantly visit church without becoming either a regular part of the community or "member."  Perhaps this is exactly what is happening.  Hooking up enjoys benefits without commitment or much responsibility.  It is exactly friendship with benefits that so many seek from religious life itself.  We want not a relationship or commitment but a needs based and needs fulfilled occasional connection.

You can argue all your want the error or evil of such a pale imitation of what the word and promise of Christ offer and intend but I think there is something far deeper at work here.  On the one hand, the only benefits desired and the ones defined by the individual.  We seek from the Church and from faith not that which Christ has deigned to give but that which we have identified and which we choose to seek to have fulfilled.  So we want not a Gospel of eternal life but a little good news and a better life today.  We seek not a death of the old life and resurrection to new life but sometime moments of renewal by which we transfuse a bit of eternity into the tired old life of today just to keep it all going.  We are all good to go and have every intention of being committed and faithful over the long term -- at least until the next best thing or a better one comes along.

It reminds me of Augustine's comment that it is far easier to come to Jesus than to continue in Him.  Jesus Himself renders evidence of this when He speaks of the Word as seed scattered and eaten up before growing, growing without roots and withering in the heat of the day, or growing among weeds that steal its life and choke its future.  We do not have a problem coming to Jesus.  We like to do that.  It is continuing in Christ that is the big problem. 

Could we not say that confession and absolution is not the Divinely intended aid to continuing?  Our patient endurance is tested and found wanting over and over again.  We come with the tattered rags of our failures and are met with the open arms of the Waiting Father who forgives, restores, and rejoices over us.  Is not the consistent pattern of the mass one of the chief ways in which the lost find a home to return to?  When the lost and wandering return and find the words and music have changed so that they are now strangers and aliens to the domain into which they were baptized, they have become not the lost returned but the unchurched who find a new church home every time they come home again.

In the debate about missional vs maintenance the problem is always framed as the problem of reaching out to new.  Among the statistics of membership loss for the mainline denominations is the hint of a far deeper and bigger problem -- retaining those who once joyfully confessed with us evangelical and catholic faith.  Keeping is more difficult than attracting new and continuing or enduring in the faith is harder than coming in the first place.

Our hookups with Jesus are symptomatic not of a new problem but of the age old problem Augustine himself identified centuries before -- patient endurance is the more difficult problem in faith.  Fortunately for us, God has already foreseen and prepared for this.  The sacramental grace of absolution in the personal domain where the lost are recovered and the fallen restored.  Its vitality is keep to the keeping of those who have heard the Word of the Lord.  Second, the development of a recognizable form and pattern of words for the Divine Service remains important in restoring the lost.  We do not need to reinvent ourselves but to offer to those who come weekly, monthly, or even annually, a familiar face and form when they come back home again.  A few new things now and again are not so bad but when they return to find the Church has reinvented itself/herself and looks little like it/she was before, they have nothing to return to.

Just a few thoughts today... something pastoral  but definitely random meanderings...

3 comments:

Mr. Mcgranor said...

Traditional non-denominationalism may come by way of a Protestant that is praising at a denomination without joining. Such can be restrictive when asked to comply with particular doctrines that impede a general understanding the surjoiner has and so forth. I have an interest by God for the Mainline; but i will never join any one. Others can be anti-denominational. Like the Emergent who has his own brand. Why others are at a denomination may be due to an appeal or guidance to that denomination. Still one may not join. I am inspired to celebrate an affinity with the Mainline. Of which i have saught the 'conservative' ones. I defy the postmodern transition of the Mainline to oblivion--at least in a Western context--because i am a reactionary. As i see Christ to be as well.. Even W.E.L.S. isn't reactionary enough for me. Although i have no interest in converting to a Lutheran structure at a membership level. Nor does God lead me to losing my independent position as a believer.

infanttheology said...

Connecting Jesus with sexual imagery seems a bit dangerous.

But can we avoid it? We Lutherans especially focus on how God is the agent of conversion. He does not force us to believe in Him and we do not choose to do this. The whole idea of “falling in love” is impossible to avoid. Also, we can think about how God is looking to spread His seed.

Is He perhaps like the Romantic Hero who is not tamed, but rather tames us? Who moves quickly in the relationship (a la the hook-up?), but then has every intention of staying in that relationship.

After all, He desires all persons to be saved. This means that all of us are meant to be married to Him. To be His bride.

And a good husband is not only one who provides and protects, but who becomes one flesh with his wife…

Mr. Mcgranor said...

You say one does not choose and God does not force. A middle road between Calvin and Armenius. That belief claims to uphold God's sovereignty. I know for a fact that God is sovereign--even when we choose him. And i don't buy the belief that man has no position in spiritual matters, because that is obviously not true. Man is a factor; as scripture relays and that when realising we are spirirual -- must choose God; lest we fall to Satan. Then there is the witchcraft of the occult...