Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Are You Being Served?

Being the Anglophile that I am, one of my favorite TV shows is the old BBC series about a fictional department store (Grace's) and the clerks on the men's wear and ladies intimate apparel floor...  It was a hoot, at least from 1972 to about 1985 (and can still be seen in reruns on some stations).  The clerks would approach the prospective customer with the always polite and proper question, "Are you being served?"  If you are too young to have seen it or missed it for another reason, do yourself a favor and check it out on YouTube.  I am giggling just thinking about Mrs. Slocombe and Captain Peacock. Ahhhhh.

Anyway, the long way around to my point is that we often ask the same question of people and their experience with the worship life of their church home.  Are you being served?  Are you being fed?  Are your needs being met?  As in the TV series, we confuse the question of whether we are getting what we want with whether we are being served.  Hardly anyone on that show ever got what they wanted (unless what they wanted was something absolutely crazy).  But regardless of whether or not they got what they desired, they were always being served -- even it it was by a rather kooky and inept staff.

Are you being served?  Interesting question, actually.  Is the Word there?  Is it being read and proclaimed faithfully from Scripture and preached faithfully from the pulpit?  Too often, people say "no" when the answer is really "yes."  We are being served up God's Word but the problem lies in that it is not that Word we are hungry for or desire to hear.  We who possess the itching ears described by St. Paul (For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions) are often getting exactly what God intends but not what we want.

Are you being served?  Are the Sacraments there?  Are they faithfully administered according to Christ's Word and institution and are they offered faithfully in a practice consistent with this intention?  Our people are not so sure -- not because they do not know if the Sacraments are there and are being offered faithfully but simply because we are not content with what God has given to us.  We are always looking for more, for something different, for that which is novel or new, or for that which suits our desire.  So we complain that we are not being served or fed nor are our needs being met when that is not the truth at all.

I, for one, would like to banish all such questions from the vocabulary of those who study or consult with congregations.  Should not the whole issue be framed differently?  Is the Word read and proclaimed faithfully?  Are the Sacraments administered regularly and according to Christ's intention?  If the answer is "yes" to both of these questions, then the problem lies not in what the Church offers but what our hearts desire.

We want things that appeal to us and make us the center of everything.  We want to be given not only choice, but veto power over those choices.  We vote not only with our complaints but with our attendance and with our dollars.  And the truth is we choose witch doctors over solid medicine more often than we care to admit.  We accept what fits our preexisting ideas and reject that which does not -- no matter how true it is and how false what reflects our own thinking and desires.  We cannot trust ourselves.  That is the whole point.  We will always choose chocolate and chips over broccoli and brussel sprouts.  If we could trust ourselves, we would not need the intercession and work of the Spirit to lead us where our hearts do not want to do and to illuminate the darkness our hearts have learned to call light.

Let us all agree -- no matter what our theological perspective -- to judge by another standard that if we feel we are being served, fed, nourished, or needs met.  Let us all agree, that if congregations and the Church as a whole are going to be evaluated, it needs to be on the basis of faithfulness and not whim or fancy.


ErnestO said...

"Let us all agree, that if congregations and the Church as a whole are going to be evaluated, it needs to be on the basis of faithfulness"

If we know the Word, yet do not obey the Word, we are no different from those who do not believe the Word.

Anonymous said...

"Is the Word proclaimed faithfully?"
It is vital to the spiritual health
of a parish that the pastor PREPARE
faithfully before he can proclaim
the Word faithfully. The sermon is
not meant to be delivered with
minimum preparation. The faithful
pastor will spend large portions of
uninterrupted time in grasping the
message of the text in his study of
the Word. Then he needs to write it
out in coherent language of law and
gospel for his hearers. If there
is no meaningful content in a
sermon the parish will starve.

Anonymous said...

"Do your best to present yourself to
God as one approved, a worker who has
no need to be ashamed, rightly
handling the word of truth."
2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

As preachers our real audience is God
Himself. We do not want to bring
shame on ourselves by our inept
handling of His Word.

Anonymous said...

It’s those darn people, isn’t it, always getting things wrong? Nothing that comes in contact with people remains perfect (laypeople, pastors, theologians, doctors of the Church). I could quote at least a dozen passages from Scripture to prove this axiom, but limitations of space prohibit me from doing so. If you don’t agree with it, don’t bother reading any further.

Is there anything seriously wrong in our Church with the proclamation of the Word (the Gospel is the criterion according to our Confessions) and the Sacraments? I believe there is:

1. Our Lord spent about 3 years proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and in Luke 4:43 claimed that He was sent for this purpose. Yet we in the Lutheran Church do not have a Doctrine of the Kingdom. Unfortunately, he whom I respect as the greatest theologian of modern times, Dr. Martin Luther, did not get it quite right in his explanation of the 2nd Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. The Kingdom does not come to us bit by bit; according to Colossians 1: 13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, …” Luther here and elsewhere confused the Kingdom with Sanctification. In the Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII: Of the Church we read, “ 16 …Besides, the Church is the kingdom of Christ, distinguished from the kingdom of the devil.” Our Lord wanted to be sure that after He had accomplished His awesome work on Calvary, His people would have a place apart from the world. In other words, after we become Christians, we spend the rest of our lives and eternity in His Kingdom. Therefore, “He opened the Kingdom to all believers.” Our people know very little about this.

2. The Lutheran Church does not have a Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Sasse wrote it before me). He is the One Who has come to dwell in His people as the “down-payment” or “earnest money” for our redemption. He is God the Holy Spirit. Yet we hear and read from respected Lutheran pastors and scholars that the Holy Spirit “leaks out of us”, that we can receive “refills” of the Holy Spirit, and that He fills us during the Lord’s Supper. But in spite of the fact that there is not a single verse in Scripture that supports these views, nobody is upset.

3. The interpretation of “discerning the body” in 1Cor. 11:29 has denied to many the gift our Lord intended for them. I am a firm believer in the real presence, but this verse has been perverted to hide the worse horror of not respecting God’s people. Our Confessions never use this verse as it is interpreted today. I would really be interested to know who the first person was to do so – it had to be within the last hundred years or so.

Between “quia” confessors and Scriptural inerrancy we have created a climate which discourages us from looking to see whether we have gone wrong anywhere. We should not have “itchy” ears and criticize everything in sight. But we should also not sit back and think nothing could go wrong as long as we believe Scripture is inerrant and we subscribe to the Confessions. We have to examine the substance of things.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart