Sunday, March 15, 2015
Although the description was often seen as a disparaging one, Napoleon claimed that it was not intended to be so, but was merely a statement of the obvious fact that British power, unlike that of its main continental rivals, derived from commerce and not from the extent of its lands nor its population.
What was once true of England, is not much true anymore. For a time America stole the moniker and it was our the single most powerful contribution to history. Now we have traded making things and selling things into a consumer economy in which our shopkeepers are now service providers and ideas have replaced widgits or gadgets.
Except when it comes to religion. . . There we retained our expertise at turning religion into a business, the Gospel into a product, churches into stores, and pastors into shopkeepers. We are still king of this entrepreneurial Christianity.
Entrepreneurial Christianity. . . it is often spoken of as a good thing -- even by some within my own denomination. In reality it means that we have exchanged the goal of faithfulness for success and stolen the responsibility for the Kingdom of God away from God and made it our business - literally. Whether we describe pastors as shopkeepers or sacramental entrepreneurs, the shape of the pastoral ministry has been profoundly impacted. Even among those who hold to orthodox Lutheran theology, it is nearly impossible to divorce this practical reality from the expectation of who the pastor is and what he is charged to do.
We have built huge mall style complexes to service our clientele and our membership (really attendance) has become a revolving door of people coming and going. So enamored with new and different are we that longevity in the pew or pulpit is not viewed without suspicion. We don't want predictable (what we once termed reliable) but we do want the innovative. We are drawn to programs like fish to water because that is something we do and something we can do. It is too much to kask us simply to speak the Gospel and live its light at home, on the job, in our leisure. On Sunday morning we expect more than last week even if it was good and salutary. Like your favorite restaurant that changes the menu and ditches what you loved last week, Sunday morning has become the venue for the creative reinvention of who we are and what feels good. We expect to be surprised by something new and feel we did not get our money's worth if we didn't get it. So we shop for another church like we would new clothes -- all the while knowing that we have no more attachment to the Gospel than we did to yesterday's duds.
What might have been good for England, is no good for Christianity. What once characterized America as a business nation whose business was business, is not healthy for the Church. We need to give up our penchant for entrepreneurship in the realm of Christian faith and life and learn to be content with the means of grace and the Lord who retains ownership of His Church even if He has promised to work through our own voices in witness and our hands in service.
I once read all the mail sent to my church promising rich rewards it we changed this or did that or bought into a new program or spent more time visioning. It was my weakness and vice -- the soft underbelly of every pastor who wants his church to grow and is tired of waiting upon God to grow it through the means of grace. But I am less enamored of these promises than I once was. I hope it is a good thing. If I pass on my congregation to the one who follows me with as little of Larry Peters in it as I am able, I figure that is the best thing. If what endures is the faithful confession and the confessional character of what goes on Sunday mornings, God will do the rest. Really, He will. If I teach people to trust the Word and Spirit of God more than me, I am doing what I have been called to do. Really.
Take the faith seriously. . . Take the church seriously. . . Take the pastoral work seriously. . . Don't take yourself that seriously. You can be replaced. God cannot. Your work is forgettable (happily so) but the Gospel is forever. That is enough. That is what I need to tell myself over and over again. Maybe you do as well. . .