Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Thought For Missions...

I believe it came from Albert Collver's excellent paper "Walther and Missouri's Other Fathers."  It should have been an obvious statement to us Lutherans but it tells us something of the times in which we live when this ordinary wisdom has become a profoundly new thought.

Our Lord is far more concerned about missions than we are and would not have given us doctrine and faithful practice that conflicted with His love for the world, for which He died, or their salvation, which is the fulfillment of His good and gracious will...(not an exact quote but as best as I can recall)

Hmmmm... now there is a novel thought -- our doctrine is not antithetical to nor does it inhibit the work of mission. Now why would this seem like a radical statement to us today? Could it be that we have been told for a generation that mission work must boil things down to bare essentials, that some of the teachings of Scripture to which we have held for millenia, are antagonistic to the modern world view and therefore to the work of mission? Could it be that we have been told for a generation or more that in order to impact the world around around us or the world across the globe, we must ditch the faithful practice of this Word and Sacrament faith and its application in the liturgy, the stewardship of these mysteries, and the great deposit of hymnody and music bequeathed to us by the faithful of those who have gone before? Could it be that we have heard for a generation that confessional doctrine and practice are directly in the way of church renewal and church growth?

Now Albert Collver is a smart guy, well read, and a good guy at that.  But why is it that we have forgotten such a basic fact and have to be reminded of this truth?  Could it be that those we have entrusted leadership in the area of missions, outreach, and evangelism have been well meaning folks but have learned from the wrong people -- people to whom doctrine, churchly and confessional character, and faithful practice are bad words?

I have known and appreciated the good efforts of many who have led our church body in the areas of mission and outreach but I think we have saddled them with an impossible task.  We have abandoned our trust in the means of grace and have left them with an empty shopping cart with which to find a strategy, methodology, and means to grow a church body that lacks basic confidence in the media through which God has promised to work.  Lacking full that confidence and courageous boldness that flow from the efficacious Word, water, and table of the Lord, they have given us their best and we have tried to grow a Lutheran Church without being Lutheran in identity, confession, and practice.  It has not worked. 

For more than 35 years, we have shopped for strategies, terminology, and practices that other churches have used to grow their churches and we are still losing members.  More than that, this infatuation with the latest and greatest fad and trend from the church growth experts has left us confused about who we are and helped to create a muddled identity about what it means to be Lutheran.  So the fruits of our search for something that works has left us without full confidence in the means of grace, with a partial openness to decision style conversion, with an embarrassment or shame about our doctrine, with a fear that if we are honest with folks they will not like us, and with the flawed conclusion that in order to grow we have to abandon that for which our Reformation forbearers fought and become like the non-denominational fellowship down the road.

It is time for us to reclaim our heritage.  This does NOT begin by fighting again the age old battle with those who argue against the truthfulness of Scripture.  Let the fundamentalists fight this battle.  Our battle is with the efficacy of Scripture and the Sacraments.  Does the Word do what it says it does?  Does the water do what it promises?  Does the table deliver on what it claims?  Mission begins with full confidence and a courageous boldness built upon our confidence not in us but in the Lord's Word and Sacraments.  This is what Collver is reminding us about -- the very things that God has given us are the sources of our growth as well as good pastoral care.

While it seems I am rather curmudgeonly about things (you can read they comment from the person who said I could not fly to Fort Wayne because I could not find a plane with two right wings), the truth is I am trying to be more positive about the efficacy of the means of grace than I am negative about the other things.  I know it may not come off that way, but this is what I have to say to those who throw around terms like new paradigms and missional and transforming/renewing congregations -- it starts with our confidence that what God has given to us will do what God says these things will do -- plant, nurture, and grow His Church.


Janis Williams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janis Williams said...

Amen and Amen!

Anonymous said...

The Apostle Paul writes:"I planted
the seed, Apollos watered it, but
God made it grow. So neither he who
plants nor he who waters is anything
but only God who makes things grow."
(1 Cor. 3:6,7) The truth is only
God can make a church grow. Only God
can create faith through Word and
Sacrament which brings people into
the Body of Christ, the Church.

The Christian Church is not about
human leadership and personalities.
Instead it is about divine guidance
which nurtures the church through
the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible reminds us: "No one can
say Jesus is Lord except by the
Holy Spirit."

The Church is God's people who have
faith in Jesus Christ who died on
the cross to forgive their sins.
The Church is precious souls who
have received the free gift of
eternal life from the crucified and
resurrected Christ.

Anonymous said...

The late great Jaroslav Pelikan said
"What the church of Jesus Christ
believes, teaches and confesses on
the basis of the word of God: this
is Christian doctrine. Doctrine is
not the only, not even the primary,
activity of the church. The church
worships God and serves mankind, it
works for the transformation of this
world (missions) and awaits the
consummation of its hope in the next
world." The Christian Tradition
Volume 1, page 1