Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fear and Guilt as Motivation in the Church

Every parent knows that the threat of punishment and the fear of getting caught is one of the fences that keep our children on the straight and narrow.  It is the helpful and protective function of the Law at work through our conscience.  Every parents has substituted guilt for this fear of punishment at one time or another.  Sometimes a parent can shame a child into doing the right thing.  Again, this is the powerful force of the Law at work.

I am not justifying this nor am I suggesting that this kind of discipline is the best or even good parenting.  But there is not a parent alive who has not resorted to it at one time or another.  Why?  Because the Law works.  Fear works.  Shame works.  Guilt works.  It works quickly.  It may not be able to change the desire of the heart, but it can sure shape up errant behavior in the snap of a finger (or a belt or the stripping away of privileges or some other punishment feared or guilt exploited).

The sad truth is that too often we use the same motivators in the Church.  Now I am not suggesting that we should not have boundaries.  I am not saying that at all.  What I am suggesting is that the motivation of fear, the fear of getting caught, the threat of punishment, the shame of exposure, and the guilt of failure are not the motivation and means for outreach, mission, or maintaining the fellowship.  Oh, to be sure, we have often used these for such purposes but when we do so we taint our godly purpose and we also taint the result so that it is neither godly nor god pleasing.

Many years ago I recall listening to a passionate speak on behalf of the cause of missions in the Missouri Synod.  He began with a question.  Why has it taken so long for Jesus to return in His glory?  What could be keeping Him?  The answer was ME.  Jesus said He would return when the Gospel had been proclaimed to all people.  Since I have not done enough in mission, since I have not shared Jesus enough, since I have not given enough money to missions, since I have not welcomed the stranger to my own congregation, since I did not speak to my neighbor as I might, since I did not correct the false information that my co-worker had about who Jesus is... well, I am the primary reason it is taking so long for Jesus to come... I have not done my part to achieve the larger goal of proclaiming the Gospel to all the ends of the earth.

It was a powerful address, well prepared and well delivered.  He was passionate and articulate.  I was uncomfortable and guilty.  He had nailed me.  I was standing in Jesus' way and needed to get with the program....  BUT... it was the wrong message and the wrong motivation for mission.  The speaker was passionate and articulate and he was wrong.  We do not share the Gospel out of fear, guilt, or threat.  We share the Gospel because of the positive nature of what Jesus had done for us and our desire for all people to be so blessed with His gift of grace and the faith born of the Holy Spirit to rejoice in that gift.

The Church is being told by many voices from many quarters that we cannot be your grandfather's church in this modern era, that we cannot simply do what we have always done, that we must embrace change in order to remain relevant and able to accomplish our mission, and that we must be ready to sacrifice anything and everything that stands in the way of this mission.  We need to stop spending money on pipe organs and church buildings, stop using hymns and hymnals that do not speak in the modern idiom, stop being so concerned for pure doctrine, stop learning about Jesus and start following Jesus... BECAUSE every day thousands die without Jesus.... when we could have done something to prevent them going to hell...

Bishop BoGiertz of Sweden once took on the subject of Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening.  You can read it HERE.  He disarms the myth that liturgy and awakening (revival) are enemies or compete with each other.  He reminds us that awakening exists to lead people into the liturgy and that liturgy is where the people of God are equipped for His service, witness, and proclamation.

What moves us to mission, what motivates our support for missions, what calls us to pray for missions, and what equips us to be missionaries is not the power of fear or guilt but the grace of God pure and simple.  We are saved by grace through faith and it is our great delight to bring the means of grace (through which God works) to those around us.  This is not a burdensome duty but the privilege and delight of grace, grace, and only grace. 

I do not come to worship because it is the obligation of the commandment but because it is the delight of grace to meet the Savior where He has promised to be (Word and Sacrament) and receive His gifts (forgiveness, life, and salvation) by faith.  We cannot scare people into worship or shame them.  What we can do is proclaim the Word of God through which the Spirit works to create faith and empower repentance.  The Word we proclaim is the Gospel word -- the Word of the Cross and Empty Tomb.  We speak this Word in confidence that God will accomplish His purpose through the Word proclaimed.  We honor the Lord when faith results because conversion is His power and not ours.  We do not judge the effectiveness of His Word by results seen with our eyes or counted on our fingers but by His own trustworthiness and faithfulness (remembering that some plant, some tend, and others see the harvest).  We are not discouraged in this because things do not go as we want but we do work to make sure as little of us stands in the way of the Gospel as can be so that the focus and the proclamation is on Christ only.

We give to missions because of the great comfort we have received through the Gospel of our own sins forgiven, lives reborn in baptism, and faith nurtured and fed at the Table of our Lord and we want, by the grace and wisdom of God, that all would know with us such joy and blessed grace.  We welcome the stranger because we were once that stranger until God called, gathered, sanctified, and enlightened us and we were made members of His Church, the Body of Christ.  We give to missions because we understand the resources that God has made available to us in this life are still His and that their greatest glory is in the work of His kingdom (within the home and family. within the Church and congregation, and within the scope of the entire world).

So I appeal to us as Lutherans to get off the guilt wagon or the fear train and to return to being the people of the Good News we are in our Confessions.  It is not for us to know the mystery of God's working in order that we might manage it better or manipulate it for our ends but to faithfully do what we can do with the confidence that God will supply the fruit in its own good season.  It is not for us to count success but to be successful by being faithful, knowing that God's will is good and gracious (nothing to fear).

Just this morning I was shown a link to a well written paper that approaches this same idea from a different perspective and it is worthy of your consideration.  Listen to some of the wisdom of good Pastor Heath Curtis HERE to be edified and encouraged in your faith and good works as a Christian.  It is not guilt or fear that should be moving us... not the threat of being a hindrance to Jesus' early return glory... but the free gift of grace in Christ... it is this that turns the duty into delight, the burden into freedom, and the obligation into joy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Isn't it odd that the move ahead, relevant, new idea, new style, etc. people use the same OLD guilt tactics to get people motivated to their agenda? (sarcasm intended)