Sunday, June 13, 2010

What Is the Work of the Church

After reading another charge that too many Pastors are concerned only with "maintenance" and not with "mission," it occurs to me that there is a radical difference between the perspectives of these two Lutheran Pastors.  One sees worship as a more utilitarian act of the Church, such as those who see food as merely something that must be eaten in order to live.  The only way that these folks can justify the time, money, and energy put into worship is to make worship mission.  Worship is seen as rather selfish time unless it is mission in focus and evangelistic in purpose.  Only then is worship seen as legitimate and the money, time, and energy spent on worship justified.

Now I cannot speak for all those accused of "maintenance" ministry instead of "mission" but for me and many others worship IS the mission of the Church, not a function secondary to outreach or a stepchild to mission but mission itself.  The Lord has established worship by giving to us His Word and Sacrament and made worship the priority of the community of faith that we call the Church.  There is no need to balance or justify what is given to worship with what is given to mission -- worship is the first, the core mission of the Church -- the fount from which flows everything else the Church does.

By investing worship with this high priority and acknowledging its essential purpose, we give to worship the place our Lord has intended in the life of the Church and each Christian individually a member of the Church.  Worship IS our mission.  We do not need to turn worship into an evangelistic activity or make worship "mission" focused.  Worship IS our mission and from this rich life of worship where God's people are called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified flow the work of witness and welcome that extend to others the privilege of worship.

We have somehow adopted the very fundamentalist and evangelical idea that the purpose of the Church is to save others.  Is it only the eternal outcome of their souls that we are to be concerned about?  Or, is not the mission of the Church to engage the world in witness and service precisely so that others may be brought into the community gathered around the Word and Sacraments?  Just as we cannot afford to ignore the physical needs of the sinner in order to address the spiritual needs (or the other way around), neither can we be concerned about saving souls while allowing those very same souls to remain apart from the community where God's Word speaks grace and forgiveness, where His water imparts new life and identity, and where His table feeds and nourishes us for this body and this life and for eternal life.

Good friend Wil Weedon has done a great service by quoting the great Confessional scholar Arthur Carl Piepkorn in this:  We cannot afford to make the mistake that is often made, that of imagining that we can somehow separate the Church at work in the world from the Church at worship about the altar of the Holy Communion.  The whole work of the Church is eucharistic worship as long as Eucharistic worship remains an integral part of the work of the Church.  By the same token the whole life of individual Christians in the world remains a continual eucharistia, or thanksgiving, as long as they have constant recourse, in the company of their fellow-members of the mystical body of their Lord, to His Eucharistic Body and Blood. (-- A. C. Piepkorn, The Church, p. 239)

We fulfill our calling and our work as the Church not by turning worship into a program or means of outreach, witness, or evangelism, but by keeping the Word and Table of the Lord, preserving among us the liturgy and the life nurtured by this liturgy, and by the witness that will enable the Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify others as members with us of the Body of Christ gathered around His Body in the Sacrament.  We do not need to change what is done on Sunday morning to fulfill our calling but to keep it holy and sacred, passing down to others what the Lord has passed down to us as did St. Paul (1 Corinthians 10).  This is not some secondary mission or purpose but our essential purpose and mission from which everything flows... or there is nothing to turn people to once the Spirit has worked through our witness to Jesus Christ.

No comments: