Monday, July 28, 2014
A work in progress. . .
Both on the parish level and nationally there are many in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod who lament the slowness of liturgical change. While some of them are those who want to rid the church of the excess baggage of the liturgy, most of the frustration is from those who are weary of the worship wars and wish that we could declare victory by divine fiat and return to the more uniform practices of a bygone era. Now in my 34th year since ordination and my sixth decade of life, I have deliberately tried to quiet my heart against such frustration. Liturgical change has borne many fruits. We have more parishes with more frequent Eucharists than ever before in our Synod. We have more pastors in Eucharistic vestments than ever before. We have a piety more deliberately oriented to the means of grace than in my memory. There are more great books available in this area than ever before (both reprints and new works).
Having grown up in the rather insular 1950s only to see the bloody battles of our church body in the 1970s, I know we are not exactly on the same page throughout our church body BUT we are on track to restore our unity in a more positive sense than at any other time in recent memory. I credit many things. On the one hand I credit the profound influence of Concordia Theological Seminary and its graduates along with some great and blessed teachers from Concordia Seminary (thinking here alone the lines of Hummel, Feuerhahn, Nagel, etc...). I also give credit to the congregations and pastors who elected the Rev. Matthew Harrison and with it ushered in a renewal of our unity of doctrine, practice, mission, and service in our church body. None of these is the result of one person or even a few but a combined effort to speak the unchanging truth anew in our own time. I believe that we have made great strides forward (not far enough for some and perhaps too far for others).
Remembering when missionaries were considered the highest of church callings and when we sent forth full-time missionaries all over the world, I can also recall how this all changed as money and men moved our focus away from full-time service on the mission field. The number of full-time missionaries had dwindled sadly and our mission enterprise seemed to have lost its steam. Perhaps the worst moment being when the name of a personalized mission program became the ungainly acronym PMS. All of that seems to fading into the past as we are sending forth some of our brightest and best to renew the work of the kingdom in places near and far. It is a good thing. We should rightfully rejoice and, it would not hurt, renew our funding of missions and missionaries higher than it is today so that this renewed effort will not also lose its steam.
Our church body as well as our parishes and pastors are works in progress. We must be careful not to let a particular snapshot steal our hope or lead us to unrestrained exuberance. God works incrementally, looking toward the far view more than the glimpse of the moment. Yes, we should rightfully point out those things that must and need be dealt with, improved, and resolved. But we should also rightfully rejoice at the work the Lord is doing right now. It may not seem like much in the moment but it will be enough to accomplish His purpose if we are faithful. God grant us that and He will take care of the rest. So let us encourage one another to faithfulness, stir up one another to stand firm upon the good Word of the Lord and to the good works that glorify Him, and that will be enough. The Church is not ours but is and will always remain His, If He allows, we may glimpse giant strides forward but most of the time our pace will seem painfully slow and it will be hard to see much progress. That is the time most of all to encourage faithfulness and trust the Lord for the rest.
Just a few thoughts from a man on his way to becoming old, DV!