Monday, January 29, 2018

A Reality Check. . .

There are many who complain about the state of Christianity today.  It is a mess, to be sure.  We are most conscious of those outside the faith pressing against us.  We have people trying to silence the voice of the faithful from the public square.  We have a media intent upon portraying Christians as ignorant, foolish, superstitious, narrow minded, domineering, and judgmental people.  We have judges trying to take away things like clergy housing allowances and legislators rethinking charitable tax contributions and a host of things even more significant.  We have universities who ridicule the faith and people of faith and insist that intellect and religion are mortal enemies.  We have a culture intent upon redefining gender from the body to emotions.  We have a cavalier approach to the sanctity of life which assigns to the living the choice to kill babies in the womb, euthanize elderly in nursing homes, and allow people a painless physician assisted end to life when they deem it not worth living. As great as all of these threats are, I  really don't fear atheism or secularism or elitism or progressivism or any other threat as much as I fear a Christianity which has lost confidence in the Scriptures and lost enthusiasm for living out what we believe, confess, or teach.

If there is anything that will weaken the Church more than the forces outside poised against the faith, it is a casual attitude toward doctrine and a lackadaisical attitude toward life within the Church from those who claim to believe.  Nothing is as powerful against the faith as the lukewarm faith of those who choose reason and science over Scripture and who do not feel the need or the importance of being in the Word and at the Table of the Lord regularly and faithfully.  Lets be honest here.  The real enemies of the faith are those who claim to be friends but who dismiss what is to be believed and who find other causes more compelling that being together around the Word and Table of the Lord on the Lord's Day.

We have had a reality check in the form of a culture which we once thought friendly to the faith but has now proven to be an enemy.  We cannot depend upon those outside the Church to form and nurture morality.  We cannot depend on those outside the faith to defend our right to believe, teach, and confess faithfully what the Scriptures teach and tradition affirms.  We cannot treat catechesis casually nor can we afford to let pass without challenge the casual way so many Christians wear the name of Christ.  We cannot pass off the job of teaching the faith to programs and professionals in the Church for it is precisely this abdication of individual and parental responsibility that has left us vulnerable today.
 
There are those who look at our problems with Pollyanna eyes -- who presume that it is merely a matter of tinkering with worship formats or song choices or preaching more relevant sermons to change the status quo.  Those who believe that a programatic change will solve the problems we face are deceiving themselves.  The problems we face internally and externally call for nothing less than repentance and for a renewal of the faith that puts us regularly and faithfully in the Word at home and at the Church around the pulpit, font, and altar.  In order to identify the false teachers, the people in the pew must be more diligent in knowing the faith and knowing what grounds the faith.  In order to keep the Church faithful, the people in the pew must insist upon doctrinal sermons that really do teach the faith and are faithful to the Scriptures, liturgy which is true to the form and shape which has marked Christian gatherings since the earliest days of the faith, and hymns that speak the Gospel and do not simply give voice to what we want, feel, or think. 

The truth is that the Church has always been smaller than we think.  Like the remnant in Israel who heard and heeded the voice of the prophet and worshiped the Lord in spirit and in truth, Christianity has been marked by the faithful who hear and heed the Word, who faithfully believe and confess the creeds, and who worship the Lord with faith in the means of grace.  The true Church - the one which is faithful to Christ, faithful to His Word, faithful in doctrine, and faithful in practice, is and has always been smaller than our inflated rosters and rolls or the self-identification of people to pollsters.

My point here is not to depress you but to encourage you.  YOU need to be faithful.  You need to be faithful to your baptismal vocation.  You need to be faithful to the Word and to a life of catechesis in that Word.  You need to be faithful in your marriage or singleness, to your family and in your home, and to the places where you work and enjoy your leisure.  Your faithfulness is the life of the Church, established, nourished, and nurtured in Christ our Lord.  Your faithfulness is what will commend the faith to those who come after you and witness to those who do not know Christ now.  You cannot depend upon the structures of the Church or even her "professionals" but the life of the faith and the vitality of the Church rest upon you, the people in the pews.  There is no church which will survive unless the pews are filled with people who know and believe the Word of God and who love and desire the grace bestowed in the sacramental life of the Church and who desire to serve the Lord faithfully right where they are (in home, at work, and in the world).

The doomsday prophets sounding an alarm that the days of the Church are numbered are false prophets.  The Word of the Lord endures forever and God will not allow the gates of hell to overcome the Bride of Christ.  But we cannot live in the false security that our faithfulness does not matter, our witness is not important, and our orthodoxy does not count.  Of course we need faithful pastors and church workers -- that goes without saying.  But if you, the people of God, do not see how important your faith, your piety, your worship life, and your witness is, you are discounting that which God holds high.  Legislative support and political victories and a friendly press and university system would be nice but the real keys lie in faithful people, knowing the faith, living the faith, and being faithful in worship. 

1 comment:

John J. Flanagan said...

The reality check, as I see it, is that most people throughout the history of the world have felt similar to the way the average person does today. We live out each day of our lives, conscious of our own gifts and failings, insecure in many ways, and aware that although we have the power to make wise or bad choices....still many things are outside of our control. Yet, we can still simply look to our faith, and just reflect on the words of consolation and reassurance found in our Bibles: "Be still and know that I am God." Although I often post my imperfect point of view on this site, sometimes I just want a break from weighty debates about religion, politics, and the state of this fallen world. Then I just want to sit in my den and read the psalms, or play a favorite Christian hymn or Gospel song on my guitar. Letting go of the pressure of considering the ups and downs of this world, and the unanswered questions of life....it is easy to just listen to Our Lord and be still.