Monday, July 14, 2014

Finding new ways to be the church. . .

I have gotten plenty of "helpful" emails and seen any number of articles warning of the sea change in the life of the church that has been and continues to challenge us.  No one but a fool would deny that the world is changing and not for the better.  I am really not a nostalgic sort of person and do not long for a snapshot in time to serve as both the model and goal to which life in the church should mirror.  I would not be truthful, however, if I did not admit to longing for a few things from various points in the past -- a simpler and slower pace of life, a time when people's lives really were affected by the rhythm of the church year and by the Divine Service, among other things.  That said, I am also not one who gripped with fear and hysteria over the changes around us and neither am I convinced that we need to jettison everything of our past and remake ourselves for the future.

But that is exactly what I am warned about and what I am told I must do to "survive."  Indeed, I am told by people of all sorts of denominational labels and unofficial as well as official status that the church cannot survive without radical change.  The most recent piece of unsolicited mail put it bluntly.  "We must find new ways to be the church..."  Yep, we cannot depend upon the efficacy of the Word and Sacrament any longer.  We cannot afford to hold on to the doctrines and practices that brought us to this present day because they don't work anymore.  We cannot continue to catechize, witness, worship, and serve -- we must redefine who we are and what we are here to do.  Anything short of this and we will be as extinct as the dinosaurs of old -- and what good would we be to God then!

The only problem is how do you find new ways of being the church without repudiating the old ways or determining God to have told us a fib about what we need to do and be in order for Him to do what he has promised to do?  To find new ways of being church nearly always begins with Sunday morning.  Give it up, they say!  Give up the liturgy, the music of the past, the order passed down from generation to generation, the Word and Sacrament identity, and the preaching of Law and Gospel.  Give it up, they say!  Exchange those tired old vestments for a new uniform that mirrors the casual style of modernity.  Exchange those tired old hymns and, for that matter, the emphasis on singing the faith, and let music entertain us according to our preferred style.  Give it up, they say!  Exchange those old notions of truth that endures for cutting edge truth that is here and gone so quickly you have to stay connected to the social media to find out what works and what doesn't.

Inevitably finding new ways to be church means ditching old doctrines and the old emphasis upon dogma (what we believe, confess, and teach).  Instead let the focus be on us, what we think in the moment, what we feel for now, and what we want to do and be at this particular juncture in time and space.  Creeds and confessions are relics of a bygone era and they won't be coming back.  So find what works for today, what is meaningful for the moment, and accept a truth that has an expiration date on it.  It is simply the way things are.

Jesus does not talk much about paradigms or core values or mission statements or listening to the people.  He is quaintly obsolete in insisting that His church preach the Gospel of the cross.  Jesus refuses to banish sin from our vocabulary or to forget about death for the moment.  No, Jesus gives little inkling of a need to be made over for a new generation nor does He countenance the constant naval gazing that is the common pastime of church growth gurus intent upon justifying their radical ideas and the great disconnect with our past they say has to happen or we will be judged irrelevant.  Jesus is dead set against spending all our time on methodology while sinners stew in their sins and the dying long for hope.  Jesus insists that we need to leave this part of it strictly to Him.  Speak, act, and do what He has called us to -- faithfully -- and He will bring the results He desires (even if they do not turn out to be what we want).  Underneath all the effort to find new ways to be the church is a crisis of confidence in which we no longer believe His Word and promises and we no longer trust Him to bring His chosen fruits from our faithfulness.

You bet we need to pay attention to all the changes in the fabric of our society, culture, and lifestyles.  But what we dare not do is take our cue from them on who we are and what we are to do.  Our Lord has this covered.  To abandon His Word for our own reasoned conclusions only presumes that we do think ourselves smarter, keener, and wiser than Jesus.  Ya, you betcha (as they say in Minnesota).  Ford nearly went broke with the Edsel when it decided it could read the desires of people and tell them what they could not live without.  We have only one certainty and one promise -- the Word of the Lord will not return to Him empty handed but will accomplish His purpose in sending it.  In the world of Scripture, faithfulness IS success.   


Anonymous said...

Spot on Pastor Peters. These "change" agents are selling a false alternative. Stick with preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments.

I've always admired the Orthodox church for their reluctance to change. They don't care what the world says or thinks. They do their liturgy - even though it's often quite long and foreign to western norms. And they follow their eastern church calendar. It's refreshing.


Anonymous said...

This sea of change has already wrecked the LCMS and liturgical chaos abounds on Sunday mornings. The damage has been done. Much of the nonsense has come from church leaders and gurus. No thanks. We should stick with being faithfully Lutherans. Thanks for this post.

Joseph Bragg said...

Have you considered the new bar room churches where people gather to sing hymns and drink beer as their church?

In all seriousness and with all due respect, I fought this battle for years as a LCMS pastor. I finally concluded the Lutheran Church, for all its good historical connections, really left the Ship and started someting new instead of returning to the Church of the Fathers. Once you leave the ship with innovations, the camel's nose is in the tent and there is no stopping it. Pastor, I have peole coming from Clarksville to our Orthodox mission in Smyrna. They once were Lutheran. Maybe it's time for an Orthodox mission in Clarksville? PS You are an excellent writer and I pray my remarks are not offensive.

Carl Vehse said...

Just like Homer's Sirens lured sailors to their death, we now have an Eastern "Siren" trying to lure people into the inviting waters of Eastern immersion, away from the Evangelical Lutheran and the Lutheran Confessions, which were affirmed at confirmation.

Wyldeirisman said...

@Carl: hey, maybe the "contact high" will help to foster a return to what matters pertaining worship practice within the synod. Altar and pulpit? Not so much. :)

James said...

Some go EO; Others join the local non-denominational church.

In a few more years, who will be left?

Carl Vehse said...

In a few more years, who will be left?

And will the LCMS officially post a membership number below 2 million before October 31, 2017? (In 2012 it was 2,196,788, and dropping around 40,000/yr. It'll be close!)

Or will there be a merger with some other Lutheran organization to bring the number up?