Monday, March 15, 2010
An Easy Religion...
We (and I include myself in this) have worked very hard to make it easy to be Christian. I tell the people that God's expectation is every member around the Lord's Table in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day. I say over and over again that Scripture is not to be some dusty encyclopedia but the familiar Word of the Lord and that this happens only when you are in the Word (reading and in Bible study). But if you are not, we do not kick you out. We do just the opposite. We spend countless hours and energy speaking with you, writing to you, and working to draw you back in. If you wanted attention, it seems to me, you would stay away from worship and Bible study because that is how you get attention.
Now I am not saying we should kick people out when they miss nor am I saying that we should use the LAW as a weapon to guilt or shame people back into the Church. What I am lamenting is that we have taught people there are no consequences for missing. What I am lamenting is that we have taught people to believe that Christianity is an easy religion. You do nothing to save yourself -- God does it all. You have to do no good works -- you are saved by grace and not by works. You do not have to avail yourself of confession -- God forgives you as quickly as you sin. You do not have to contribute anything -- God only wants your money if you want to give it. You do not have to do anything -- you can be Christian at home by yourself just as easily as being together in a congregation. As Lutherans we perhaps the logical ones to blame for this epidemic of cheap grace that is no grace at all.
Apparently half of all those who self-identify as Lutherans do not feel that they are missing anything by not being a member of a local congregation. And apparently more than half of those who do become a member do not believe they are missing anything by not worshiping or reading/studying God's Word or by speaking the Gospel to others etc. Who gave them that impression? Did we IN the Church?
I remember somebody suggesting that they should make it harder to get married and easier to get a divorce and then maybe there would be less divorce. I am not so sure that it might not result in less marriages. Period. So I am not suggesting that if we made it harder to become a member, the members would stay active. I think we would just have fewer new members.
What must be done is a sea change of attitude. We cannot allow Christianity to become an easy religion which asks nothing of you, gives you everything, and then allows you to be as distant from the faith as you want to be without losing any of the benefits. We must do this by raising expectations. I am not so sure that Pastors can do this. They can start it and they can support it but they will simply be voices crying in the wind until the cause is raised up by the folks who are in the pews every Sunday.
Christianity is not a low maintenance faith. It is a high maintenance faith. Until this changes we will have low maintenance Christians who grow ever more distant from the Word and Sacraments that impart to them Jesus Christ and the fullness of His gifts and graces.
Yes it is a counter-culture movement but it is an urgent one. We keep packing people in the front doors to Lutheran congregations but we are ignoring the mass exodus leaving by the back door -- in every Lutheran group from the liberal ELCA to the very conservative WELS and in the Missouri in the Middle (maybe that should be the new name of our Synod).
Cheap grace is no grace at all. Until we begin to realize it we can all be Ablaze but all we will do is burn ourselves up and we can Fan into Flame but it will be a destructive fire that offers heat but no light. We need more than chits on the wall to show how we share the Gospel. We need to bring people to God's House, explain to them what is happening in the liturgy, teach them to know Law and Gospel, the theology of the cross and the theology of glory, and the means of grace. Cheap grace has not served us to well over the years. It has turned Christianity into an easy religion that requires nothing, expects nothing, and supplies nothing (over the long haul). We dare not foist this cheap grace upon those who grace our doors for the first time or hear the Gospel from us. They don't need an easy religion. Neither do we...