Friday, July 24, 2015
Uncomfortable Scripture. . .
One often hears St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22 used to justify every stupid, foolish, and heretical thing known to churches. After all, we were simply becoming “all things to all people that [we] might by all means save some.” So we have ended up replacing Sacraments that have Christ's institution and promise replaced with gimmicks and with things that pander to people. The end result of Paul's statement (taken out of context to be sure) is a church absent of doctrine and liturgy, except what people currently think and the whim of what they want now. Such a church is inherently deceptive -- we hook them with things they either were not expecting only to reel them in and have them find out that is not who we really are.
I have always felt that Lutheran attempts to mirror the current evangelism strategies of the day (Evangelism Explosion, to name one) was such a deception. We hooked people with lines from an evangelical or fundamentalist script only to reel them into a church catholic in doctrine and practice (unless, of course, we do not intend to be faithful to our Confessions). It is exactly the same when we take our cue from current evangelical strategies (from Willow Creek to Saddleback to Mars Hill to whatever) because we think these things work and the means of grace is not working (or not working fast enough for our taste). We look like any other big box evangelical church on Sunday morning and expect somehow the inherent Lutheran-ness of our preaching to win the day and hope that eventually the people will identify with the Lutheranism we have worked so hard to hide from them. I know of Lutheran Churches that have sponsored everything from mixed marshal arts programs to rock concerts (the list, unfortunately goes on and on, even stranger) thinking that this will appeal to folks that the church does not normally appeal to and win them over for the kingdom. How sad it is that we have exchanged that which has Christ's promise with the expectation of blood and guts!
The other passage which is also misused is “Compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23) Those who appeal to this passage presume that Jesus was giving the church carte blanche to our imaginations. In other words, we are free to come up with whatever is strange, laughable, odd, even morbidly curious, in order to compel the unwilling to take a gander at the Gospel. Jesus, of course, did not countenance this imagination which substitutes truth for a sideshow mentality. Compel means to speak the Word, which is the only compelling thing the church has with which to address an unbelieving world. We speak the Word and we act upon it to give shape to its truth. But Jesus surely did not have in mind turning churches into gymnastics arenas or martial arts exhibition halls or dance studios or even concert halls in place of the Word spoken and the Sacraments administered. Yet when we despair of the means of grace or dispose of them theologically, we are left with only the strange, curious, odd, and often shocking. The sad truth is that some churches have become like venues for the kind of stuff that usually ends up on YouTube channels of things gone terribly wrong.
Gimmicks have no place in the church. We are of all people to be thoroughly transparent before the world. We speak the Word of the Lord, we act out that Word in mercy and service, and we gladly testify to what we are not but Christ is. We refuse to confuse commercial success with faithfulness and are prepared to trust in the Lord when our faithfulness of proclamation and diaconal service fails to produce tangible growth to satisfy our statistical expectations. I am not saying we should not venture outside the context of the faithful with the Gospel or that we should not sponsor good and wholesome events to publicize who we are. These are not gimmicks because we are not substituting these for the Word proclaimed. What I am saying is that these should not and cannot become substitutes for the spoken Word and our confidence in the Spirit to act through it and for our trust in the means of God and our certainty that despite what our eyes may see, God is doing what He has promised. No amount of creative prooftexting can put lipstick on this pig.