Saturday, July 27, 2013
Making the Church Attractive. . .
“The Holy Father responded: ‘I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path. Because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power,’”
The Pope spoke of the unchanging truth that is the Church's proclamation and the reason for her existence. She is charged with speaking this unchanging truth in season and out of season, when popular and accepted and when unpopular and rejected, when fashionable and when out of fashion. She is judged not by the transient standards of relevance but by unchanging standard of faithfulness.
As a parent I fully understand both the temptation and the answer given by B16. As a parent I want my children to think like I do, to come to the same conclusions I have, to make the same decisions I make. Every parent does. But even more than this, as a parent I want to be loved and liked. The great temptation of the parent is not that you want what is good and best and right for your children (or that you want the good, best, and right to be what you define it). No, the great temptation is to sacrifice what is good, best, and right only to be loved, appreciated, and liked. To put it bluntly, we are tempted not to behave as parents because we want to be our children's friend. We believe that if we just explain ourselves enough, our kids will agree with us, do things our way, and we will not have to be "hard". We forget that our kids resent the explanations about as much as they do our "no" to their "yes."
B16 is suggesting to the Church what every parent knows on some level. It is more important to be the parent than to be friend to your kids. It is more important to be respected by them than to be liked. The Church's great temptation is to want to be liked. We want people outside the Church to find us attractive, fun, and exciting. We want the world around us to think of us as really great, fun loving people. Our Achilles' heel is that desire for people's affection when our purpose, our identity, and our calling is to be faithful. That faithfulness often, more often than we want, requires us to say "no" to the yes of the heart, to speak honestly when people would settle for a pleasant lie, and to address wrong when we all would prefer to live in the fairy world of "you're okay, I'm okay."
Let me say upfront something B16 did not say but could have. There are people in the Church who are permanently discontent, who make everything an argument, and who frown before the world instead of showing the holy joy of our Lord. No one is saying we need to be disagreeable just for the sake of being disagreeable. What B16 and every wise Christian knows is that if given a choice between the unpleansantness of being faithful and rejected or being silent and loved, we must always choose being faithful.
Honestly, there are some in Lutheranism, some very smart people and Pastors, who are disagreeable, hard to get along with, and unrelenting about everything. They make every hill a hill to die on and cannot accept or trust any answer but theirs. Some people think I am like that. Speaking just as honestly, there are Lutherans who treat their faith as a flavor of the day for those who happen to like it. They never die because everything is always negotiable and they never say a discouraging word. Neither of them due justice to the Great Reformers who risked all when being quiet might have been a whole lot easier. Lutheranism is not disagreeable. It is positive and positively joyful. But it is also faithful and chooses faithfulness over silence, truth over lies, every time.
The funny thing is this. If we were more faithful, we might also be more attractive to the world. The world is not attracted by lies, even the ones we like. The world respects conviction and needs (even if it does not always desire) truth. The whole goal of Lutheran confession is to speak the truth in love, not self-righteously but as servants of the Servant Lord. We have had a couple of generations of tilting more to the "I'd rather be liked" end of the spectrum and it has gotten us little. We have bled off ministries and people and done less with less. Maybe B16 is exactly right. Maybe we need to try being faithful.
Behind all the missional, church growth stuff is the conclusion that the world does not like us as we are, does not think we are attractive, and does not find us "fun". Therefore we need to change to be more what the folks outside the Church would class as winsome, attractive, and fun. It is a methodology that proceeds from an inherent insecurity about who we are. It is always doomed to failure. Every success story comes from those who play from their strength. Our strength is the Gospel -- full, true, and undiluted. Maybe we ought to try leading with the full counsel of God's Word -- the sad truth and the joyful truth. They are not two truths but the one saving truth that is Jesus Christ. We get nowhere by skipping the Gospel and speaking the Law and we get nowhere by speaking the Gospel and skipping the Law. The only winning solution for us is to be faithful, joyful but faithful.