Tuesday, December 13, 2016
To inform or to address. . .
The Protestant side of Christendom has historically seen the function of worship and our association with the Word of God in terms of information. We have come to believe that knowing as much as possible about everything is great piety even when that means we know very little about them. We tend to treat the task of the preacher as one of information. Inform the people what they are to believe and do and they will do it. Faith easily equates to obedience in this scenario, or at least assent to the information.
After the Reformation, the Scriptures were emphasized in a new manner. They because primarily sources of information and the task of the preacher because the call to inform or convince the people using the information gleaned from the Scriptures. It was the job of the pastor to instruct the believer, to teach them of right and wrong and the consequences of the choices faced and the need to choose wisely. For too many people, Christianity became the arena of the mind, faith the subset of doctrinal truth propositions, and intended outcome increasingly moralistic and behavioral in focus. This has gone on so long and is so common in the domain of Protestant America that most of us presume it has always been this way. Before the Reformation the typical piety of the Christian was mystical - focusing upon the communion with God in the Holy Communion. After the Reformation that piety was increasingly individual and moralistic; it was all about information to change behavior.
It is a struggle not to think of ourselves as an audience, not to see the Scriptures primarily as information, not to think of faith as the assent of the mind, and not to judge worship on the basis of its intellectual or emotional appeal. Let us come into His presence and kneel before the Lord, our Maker and Redeemer. That is the perspective of the means of grace. God has not come to reason us into His kingdom or even to argue us into faith. He confronts us with what He has done, with His eternal and incarnate Son who has accomplish salvation, and bestows upon us the Spirit who brings us into this mystery through faith. If politics has become a reality show, worship has no less taken on this characteristic. But this is unfaithful to God's purpose and plan and to His self-revelation.
Lutherans may be severely tempted to look and act and sound like Protestants but we are not. We have not forgotten the mystery in favor of a reasoned conclusion. Luther was a man of the Word, to be sure, but He was also a man of the visible Word in sacraments that are what they sign and that bestow what they symbolize. Sometimes we need to remember this. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this. God does not inform us but addresses us. His voice is a call not to know but to believe. This is not a tame religion with a meek God but a wild faith with a God whose power certain only in His Son and for the mercy His Son came to fulfill for us and the whole world. The instruction of God makes us wise unto salvation -- a wisdom surely underappreciated in this world if not out right offensive.
We may seek the argument to seal the deal, so to speak, or the perfect image to view but instead we are brought into the presence of the living God who is present in His power through the means of grace and who brings us into community with Him and with one another through an act that can only be apprehended by faith and is nonsense apart from the Spirit who teaches us to believe. Preaching is not debating. The sermon is not the arena of the mind. God has come to us, the Mighty One, and He wears the flesh we recognize as our own to accomplish what none of us can on our own. It is the great and solemn mystery of salvation and we apprehend this not with minds that understand or works that merit but only hearts that believe.