Thursday, July 30, 2015
Loss of confidence. . .
Overall, church and organized religion is now ranked in fourth place in the Gallup survey — behind the military, small business and the police — while still ahead of the medical system, Congress and the media, among 15 institutions measured. "Almost all organizations are down but the picture for religion is particularly bleak," said Saad. In the mid-'70s, nearly 7 in 10 Americans said they had "a great deal or quite a lot" of confidence in the church or organized religion. That has bobbled downward decade by decade to a new low of just 42%, according to the report. However, the most significant influence on the religion statistic is the high number of Americans disconnected from organized religion and likely to have little or no confidence in it, Saad said.
You can read the whole USA TODAY story here. I suppose I should be upset by this. Try as I might, I just cannot get too excited by such stories. I am not sure that the Church ever really benefited by the culture around us having great confidence in our institutional life. I am even less certain that such confidence in the Church and organized religion has really contributed all that much to real church growth. I am probably wrong in this but I am stubbornly right in asserting that "faith comes by hearing the Word of God" and the only "no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit."
Yes, it is an awful thing that the moral failings of church leaders has so prominently figured in the bad publicity about the Church. Yes, it is an awful thing that most of our members who sit in the pew are not moral role models of righteousness as they should be. Yes, it is an awful thing that the public witness of the Church to the world has been fraught with contentious talk and accusations that shed more heat than light. That said, I fail to see where Jesus commanded righteousness as an evangelism tool to the unchurched or that the folks in the pew were anything but sinners who remain in need of forgiveness or that church leaders shed their sinful humanity upon assuming ecclesiastical office or that the righteousness of the leaders was the key to sacramental efficacy or effective evangelization or that doctrinal ambiguity was a key component to church growth.
If Christians in pulpit and pew speak the Word of the cross, faithfully come to the services of God's house, raise their children in the faith, pray, love their neighbors within the bonds of their human frailty, God has promised to do the rest. The Church is not some school of moral perfection but a hospital for sinners and a school to teach righteousness to the unrighteous. It is not a museum of saintly people but a hospital for the sick with sin who believe Christ forgives them and saves them. It is not a gas station to fill up the empty for the next leg of their journey but the House of God where He reveals Himself in Word and Sacrament and makes Himself accessible to us that we may know Him, receive Him, and live in Him.
No, I remain hard to convince that the Church is really aided in her mission by people having confidence in institutional structures. As far as the complaint against organized religion, I have been a pastor long enough to know that organized religion is not a label authentic to most congregations and nearly all jurisdictions. I feel fairly comfortable in saying that if organized religion is not your thing, Lutherans are the church for you. Now, don't get me wrong, I am NOT saying we should settle for unrighteousness or immorality or anything of the like but neither should we presume that this is why people become Christian or not. It is the work of the Spirit that any and all are saved who will be saved. Period.