Friday, January 15, 2010

Bringing Christ to the Nations... Bringing the Nations to the Church

Lutheran Hour Ministries has for many years had the slogan "Bringing Christ to the Nations." Some years ago they added "Bringing the Nations to the Church." It is cliche and all that but it is also true -- two different themes within the same call to witness.

The question before us is where do these things take place? Some maintain that the worship service should be structured to bring Christ to the nations, or at least the masses who do not know Him. They would insist that everything in the worship service be slanted toward the stranger in their midst who does not know Christ and who has not yet heard the Gospel. They would make the worship service user friendly in the sense that anyone off the street could understand and be comfortable with what went on there -- from the words spoken to the music and the music forms used to the kind of sermon and even the style of preaching.

I would maintain that bringing Christ to the nations is not the function of the worship service (I am not saying it could never happen or that it does not happen there but that the purpose or function of the worship service is not evangelism or outreach). First of all, only those who know God in Christ can worship. Those who do not know Christ, who do not believe in Him, cannot worship the Triune God. This is not me speaking but Scripture. That is not to say that the unchurched cannot hear the Gospel's voice speaking through Scripture. receive the Holy Spirit to make that voice intelligible, come to faith, and become a Christian within the context of the worship service -- it can and does happen. The question is whether or not this is why we gather for worship.

Bringing Christ to the nations, I maintain, is what happens when we send the people out the door after the liturgy of God's House is over and the people continue the worship of the Lord by their witness and service at home, at work, at school, in the neighborhood, in the shopping venues, and where they enjoy their leisure. This is not primarily the calling of the Pastor but of the baptized. Where God's people go as they leave the House of the Lord becomes the mission field where they show forth their hope, live out their faith, and act in love and mercy in Christ's name to those around them.

Once Christ has been proclaimed, what do we do with those who have heard the Gospel in word and action? The faithful response to this question is that we bring them to the Church. We do not leave them alone to unpack and deal with the witness once shared. We bring them to the Church where this witness is unfolded, where Scripture is taught, where the baptismal font is located, and where the baptized gather in the Name of the Lord and in His House to eat and drink at His table.

This means first catechesis. Catechesis is both the formal classroom and the informal teaching that flows from the relationships established in the Church. Catechesis is instruction in the formal sense as we teach what it is that we believe and confess. Catechesis also happens within the liturgy for those who have been brought to the faith. This does not mean full participation in all that takes place within God's House but growth in knowledge, understanding and faith by observation and by the formal preaching of the Church. This preaching proceeds out of the liturgy and flows back into the liturgy. When God has awakened faith within the heart of these hearers and the Spirit has enabled them to believe with the heart and confess with the mouth, we invite them to participate in the fullness of the great mystery of the Word made flesh in the Sacrament through which we eat His body and drink His blood.

From catechesis then to participation in the Supper -- this is the direction and the path. At this point, they move from those who are spectators of the divine drama of Word and Supper to participants in that drama, taking on the full measure of their role and place within the assembly we call the Church.

Bringing Christ to the nations happens largely outside of the worship service. Bringing the nations to the Church culiminates in their place within the assembly, within the worship service, as full members of the family of God -- consumating in their place within those who commune at the Lord's Table. When we try to compact these into one action, or when we try to put the second first, we run into danger -- distorting and distracting from what it is that God does among us through the means of grace, within the context of the liturgical assembly.

Willow Creek found that the confusion of these two did NOT result in actual growth of Christians or of the Church/ At least they were honest. They admitted that by structuring the worship service toward those outside the Church and making the worship of the Church outreach oriented, mirroring in a religious context the wants, needs, and desires of the people outside, they ended up with Christians who did not grow, did not seek the deeper, solid food of God's Word, and were content to live their lives as Christians on the fringe of it all.

By all means equip the people to be effective witnesses, telling Christ's story and not their own, well describing to the world Him who is the way, the truth and the life. Let them learn the Word of Christ to speak that Word in the language of everyman, the language of the marketplace, and the contemporary language of the culture. But don't leave them there. Bring these Christians to the Church where they learn the pattern (ordo) of Word and Sacrament, where they learn the vocabularly of Christian worship, faith, and life, and where they continue their instruction by the words that flow from the lectern, pulpit and hymnal. And this will result in people catechized not only to a faith but to a church, not only to a personal relationship with Christ but to a community of faith within the church, not simply to restore their vertical relationship with God in Christ but also their horizontal relationship to those who bear the same name of Christ by baptism and faith and who share the same calling to enter the world with the Word of Christ lived out and spoken forth.

Perhaps this also is an area of tension between those who contend for evangelical catholic faith and practice and those who seem more comfortable in the Evangelical camp of witness, faith, and practice... It is something to think about...

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