Friday, February 21, 2014

The Church of the Holy Preferences

....we confess and believe in the “one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Believing in the Church (as the Creed states) means that we are not looking for a Church that fits our own preferences, but rather a Church that teaches us what our preferences should be...

I read this somewhere and wrote it down in my thought book.  Apologies to the author since I failed to jot down the source.  But I love this expression.

When there is nothing to watch on TV, I often find myself watching those house hunters in search of a home to purchase.  What I find so fascinating is how their preferences match up with what is available on the market.  They come with an image of perfection in mind and their frustration is that the dream house is never for sale in the price range, location, or at the time they seek it.  So they trade off some things from their list of wants and must haves.

I fear that we shop for a church in the same way folks typically shop for a house.  We are driven by our preferences.  We have in mind the perfect image of a church and then drive around until we find it.  Of course, we do not it and we end up trading off some of our wants and must haves for what we can find and we settle for something less than our dream.  In the end the nagging doubts about the things we did not get often undermine our happiness with what we have.

Another one of those TV shows asks people to love their home or list it for sale.  A realtor and designer try to refit or sell what was the home of their dreams that it might become again the house they hoped for or they move on to something new.  It is the story of a people who bought that house thinking it was almost perfect but who lived in it long enough to outgrow their love and begin to resent what they did not get in that house.

I wonder if many church folks end up like the folks on this home show.  Something happened and the church they once loved has become the church they have outgrown, one that no longer fits them or where they are at.  So they begin to shop for a church home with a dream in mind only to find few incarnations of their ideal.  Maybe they find one that fits enough of the categories for them to be happy for a while but statistics tell us that too many folks are perennial church shoppers, going from one congregation to another without finding the one that fits just right.

I have not watched that many episodes but it seems the majority of people end up falling in love with their old home again once some things are fixed (strangely, the things the designer fixes are often not the things the folks complained about most of all).  I have actually had some folks come back over the years because they found that the things that caused them to leave were minor in comparison to the things that called them to stay.  It is always happy when this takes place but even when it does I wonder if we are not looking at things backwards.

The Church is both an article of faith (I believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church) and a visible reality (the baptized gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord where the Gospel is preached purely and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution).  Unfortunately we shop for a dream instead of believing the promise.  If the Church is where the baptized people of God are called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by God working through the means of grace, then we need to allow those means of grace (Christ at work by the Spirit) to shape us and our preferences.  The Church does not reflect our preferences but teaches us what to know, believe, desire, and seek.  Where we allow the Church to do just this we will find our life within it much more rewarding and satisfying. 

Those who seek in the Church looking a logically consistent faith, a philosophically sound confession, a sociologically satisfying community, and an ideal assembly of people will end up sorely disappointed and leave rejecting not only the church but the faith.  Those who come to meet Christ where He has promised to  be, in the sacramental mystery of the viva vox Jesu and the visible Word of baptism and the Eucharist will find it hard to be distracted by disappointments either of the leaders or the members. 

"It is not what I was looking for..." said someone who had attended my parish for a while and then left...  No, I suppose it is not...  but then who said what you were looking for was what God created, endowed, and attached His promise to...   Just sayin. . .


Steve Bricker said...

I searched for the opening quote and found it here

Janis Williams said...

Unfortunately, some of us searched for the "right" church (holy, catholic, and apostolic), and had several nightmares before our dreams came true in the form of Lutheranism.

Liz said...

Pastor Peters, I've been thinking about this post over the past few weeks as I settle in with my family to a new city. I'm a lifelong LCMS member, but every time I've moved (I'm only 32, but my husband and I have had to move several times in our 7 years of marriage, though hopefully this is the last new city), I feel that we're starting this horrible process of "church shopping" again. Not to a different denomination or synod, but to a congregation that is properly using the liturgy, singing real Lutheran hymns, offering Communion every week, and avoiding the worst excesses of megachurchism. This has become especially important to me as I've had children, as I want them exposed to the best of Lutheranism. (It would be nice if a church with all of the above had a few young families, too (with even perhaps more than 2 children!), so that we could have a community of those in similar circumstances, but that's probably too much to expect.) My question is, how much of this church-shopping is permissible? We want to find the best, especially in a city with many LCMS congregations, but it feels wrong somehow to visit a number of churches and hold them up to our idea of what they should be. It seems the best thing would be to join the closest church and "work from the inside," supporting the pastor (hopefully the pastor is in on this effort!) in returning the church to proper practice, but we are not charismatic or influential people, so I doubt our ability to do much of anything except show implicit support for the status quo by being present. Is it selfish and terrible to "shop around" for a "good" LCMS church?