Friday, August 14, 2015
Who do we think we are?
Today we do not always think or speak or act in those terms. We have abandoned the catholic in favor of the local. We have come to believe the romance of a generic church and a generic Christianity in which we are but one of many flavors, one part of a larger whole, and one expression of which there is a variety. We are Western, Lutheran, and Missouri Synod Christians. At some point, we gave into the mythology that it was either prideful or arrogant or even impossible to speak in different terms, of more than our own particular identity or our own group identifiable by local marks more than the catholic marks of the church.
Of even greater concern is the fact that many among us no longer wanted to be nor intended to be the church that is catholic in doctrine and in practice. We became content to be Lutherans of the Missouri variety. We did not presume to speak for more than our little corner of Christendom. We saw everything locally. The history and witness of those who went before us became optional (even our own more particular history since the Reformation). Since we could not conceive of predicting the reality of the church to come, we lived quite comfortably within the moment.
So for mission and worship, for education and service, we have contented ourselves with what works instead of what is eternal, with what appeals to our reason or our feelings instead of what glorifies God, and what seems relevant to the moment instead of what is right for eternity. We do surely honor the past but more in terms of legacy than a voice that impacts on what we think or do today. We listen in theory to yesterday but we do not give much weight to the voices of our fathers in the faith. We aim for the future but we do not commend much to those who are to come except our own experimentation and the call to develop your own paradigms of belief, praise, and service. We talk as much about our fears and anxieties as we do our confidence and we run around rearranging everything for the sake of the newest and latest trend. We treat worship as something which the people worshiping must find useful, meaningful, or helpful but act as if God were indifferent to what we wanted to do on Sunday morning. At some point in time Lutherans stopped thinking of their Confessions and themselves in terms of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. And so we are not.
I am NOT speaking in terms of ours being the only people who are saved. What I am speaking of is the identity, weight, gravitas of church that is the living witness of the past and the down payment of the future, the church not of me but of the apostles and prophets, and the church that dares to act as the church that was and is and is to come.
So we speak of missions in which nearly everything is negotiable for the sake of the almighty statistical growth goals but then are content to fill them with people who are foreigners to the liturgy, strangers to the creeds, aliens to the Confessions, and uncomfortable with ceremony. We bring people to Jesus but fail to bring them to the Word and Sacraments where Christ is accessible to us and through whom we receive Christ and His gifts. We treat worship as if it were a program and that the worship of the Holy Trinity were not a worthy end in and of itself. We search for things we think more noble but they are in reality more trivial than the means of grace. We bring people to Jesus but speak not of how we are to worship Him, encounter Him in the means of grace to which He has attached His promise, and leave them victims of their feelings hot or cold. Such worship is casual and so the faith ends up being casual as well -- the defining character of all we do being not its dogmatic content but our own sincerity.
Do our people expect to encounter the Lord in all His glory on Sunday morning or are they expecting and satisfied with a logical exposition for a sermon and a hymn somewhat familiar to their mind? Do they meet the yesterday, today, and forever Lord in the fullness of His saving presence to us and for us or are they content with a piece of the faith, a smidgeon of the church, and a tidbit of God's divine presence? Do our people listen with the promise of Jesus echoing in their ears ("He who hears you, hears Me") or do they pause from their distracts only when it is funny, entertaining, or works practically to help them get what they want out of life? Do our people see in the Sacrament of the Altar Christ in His flesh as our food and in His blood as our drink or do they content themselves to recall Jesus and leave happy with a memory or a virtual reality in which no real food of heaven is given and no real cup of salvation drunk?
The way our Confessions speak of the Church needs to be heard again -- who we intend to be. I am worried less today about the temptation to presume that the folks around you constitute the fullness of the church and those who are saved than I worry that we neither expect to see or experience anything more than a group extension of our desires. That is now how Lutherans once spoke or acted.