Sunday, August 1, 2010

What Does the Church Do?

I can recall the time when I was walking down the Narthex hall on Sunday morning and heard a conversation between a mother and her adult daughter.  The mother and daughter had been raised in a small Baptist congregation and the daughter converted to Lutheranism after she married a Lutheran (a salutary thing to do).  Anyway, the mother was mystified by the prospect of a full-time Pastor.  She asked the daughter whether she was sure I was full-time employed at the Church.  The daughter assured her I was.  "Well, what on earth does he do?" she responded.  "I am not really sure," said the daughter, "but he is very busy."

The very same conversation might be said about the Church.  What does the Church do? (At least, apart from the obvious.)  I wonder if this has not be part of the problem we face with Christianity today.  What the Church does has become muddied both by that which is lacking in society at the moment and the fact that what the Church has done in the past is seen (by some) as irrelevant or out of date for the present moment.  In an effort to be relevant and out of a desire to be seen as necessary, the Church has migrated toward other roles and functions.

Absent the roles and functions that served in the past, the Church has been forced to reinvent herself in our age and in this generation.  The Church has moved from the basic tools of the kingdom in the Word and Sacraments toward a path of discerning the felt needs of people at a particular time and place and then meeting those needs with the resources available to her.  In other words, the world around us has begun to define what we do and because the world defines what we do, it also ends up defining who we are.

In a society in which personal fulfillment is seen as a primary goal, the Church as moved into this area, attempting to provide spiritual and personal fulfillment to the individual, or at least a guide to this.  In a society in which both parents work, the Church has moved into the areas of preschool and daycare.  In a society in which spirituality has become the generic religion of the day, the Church has adopted a variety of techniques and methodologies to help people identify with and walk a spiritual path of life amid our consumer world.  In a society in which ecology and care of the earth has become important, the Church has adopted this cause as the cause of the Gospel for this moment.  In a society in which social networking has become an electronic meeting place, the Church has attempted to use current technology to network with people (even twitter communion?!).  In a society in which knowledge is important, the Church has become another place for knowledge but in doing so has sacrificed her claim to the one and only Truth.  In a society in which self-help is the path of improvement, the Church has become the center of self-help groups (from spirituality to addiction to parenting to retirement planning).

But somehow in all of this, these things have stolen the limelight and become THE Church agenda for the Church in such a way that corporate worship, Bible study, witness, and service have either been co-opted by these or transformed to fit the needs of the moment.  In doing so, the Church has lost more than just a job description but her very character and identity.

We live in a time when faith has few specifics, when faith is distant from and even divorced from community gathered around Word and Sacrament, when spirituality is a substitute for faith, when methodologies foreign to and antithetical to the Church are use for piety, when morality has become the goal instead of life within the kingdom of God, and truth is up to the believer to define.  We live in a time when churches that capitalize upon these trends and changes seem to be growing and appear to be THE way for us to go if we are to grow and be successful.

I forget who said it but it is truer now than ever.  The Church that marries the spirit of this age will be a widow in the next generation.  Truly we see this among the younger Christians who have been raised to know the Church only through the lens of the moment.  What they long for and need most of all have been replaced with a spirituality disconnected from the means of grace, with a worship life that glorifies the moment in tone, music, and message, and with a false expectation that pleasure is the best and highest goal of life.

The Sunday morning assembly gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord, within the framework of the Law and the Gospel spoken and proclaimed, with its foundation upon the sure and certain Word that delivers on its promise, and with a life transformed by this encounter with the Lord of glory hidden in water, word, bread and wine... this is our agenda.  This is what we do.  We do not need to apologize for it or take on other causes or do make work things that fit the fad or need of the moment in order to be relevant.  Where sin and death are, there are the things that will make the Church, her message and her ministry, relevant to every people and every time.


ErnestO said...

Tozer would agree as he has stated:

The business of the Church is God. She is purest when most engaged with God and she is astray just so far as she follows other interests, no matter how RELIGIOUS or humanitarian they may be.

Anonymous said...

Pragmatism is the word that most definetily describes "church" today,or is it "evanjellycal"!

Norman Teigen said...

What you describe is The Fallacy of Activity. If a group of [here insert any activity that you choose] is busy and active then important work must be going on. I am retired and I have seen this fallacy many times over in the business world. Of course it would apply in the church as well.

An important part of the Fallacy of Activity is the public announcement that something important is going on. Those who would question this F of A are publicly regarded as troublesome whether the venue is the church or the office.

Dilbert is the patron saint of people who would expose the F of A.