Thursday, December 27, 2012

Behind what?

Glancing over some headlines, I saw George Weigel had one that said "Two hundred years behind what?"  I only scanned the content but the question is good enough.  We are always being told that the Church is behind.  We are behind in offerings, behind in attendance, behind in technology, behind the trends in society, behind in adapting to the changing world, etc...  I suppose it is true.  We are behind.  But what are we behind and why does it matter?

If we are behind a culture racing off to erase all distinctions between male and female, lifting the constraints of desire to pursue pleasure without restraint, redefining the social building blocks of our community to accommodate to fit whims... well, what does it matter?  Should we be in the forefront?  Should the Church abandon the trumpet call of Scripture to listen to the background muzak of a culture defined exclusively by self-interest?  What would that look like?  Where would it end?

If we are behind in technology, will that be the end of the Church Jesus established by His own blood?  Perhaps we should have all bought into laser discs and Betamax.  Technology drives culture and desire -- if you don't think so take a gander at the things that sold on Black Friday, that magically appeared under the tree a few weeks later, and opened up to oohs and aahs at Christmas.  Technology can be an aid or a curse but in both cases it is a voracious consumer of cash and a fickle source of return on the bucks spent.

If we are seen as behind the times by those outside the Church, will it make us more relevant to the unbeliever by agreeing with whatever happens to be on the mind of the unchurched at any given moment?  If the Church merely mirrors back what comes from the unregenerate heart, will the Church be embraced and Christ be worshiped more than if she remains faithful to the steadfast Word that endures forever?

If we are judged behind the times by some within the Church, are those the voices of wisdom, faith, and weight that ought to guide us?  Before we decide to listen to our homegrown critics who lament that our worship, our witness, and our works are old-fashioned and outdated, perhaps we ought to first weigh the value of their counsel and the depth of their faith.  Often, no, nearly always, those within the Church who clamor for change are not prophets but the false prophets we are warned about by none other than Jesus. 

It strikes me that Jesus says none of His critics are satisfied.  They complain He is too somber when He speaks of repentance and they complain He is unworthy when He speaks of joy.  The critics are still saying the same things but now about the Church.  I think we spend too much time wringing our hands in worry and anxiety over what others think of us and too little time considering whether we are faithful to the Word of God and the catholic tradition -- in other words, considering what Jesus thinks of us.

Now maybe I am wrong -- I most often am, according to my family and friends -- but it seems to me that we Lutherans are influenced more by these complaints than others.  It could be that my experience from within is limited to Lutheranism and so I do not see that other traditions are vulnerable to the same uncertainty.  In any case, we have spent far too much time wondering what others think and whether or not we are current and far too little time proclaiming the unchanging Word of Christ, doing the work of the Kingdom, and making sure that we are faithful to Christ in both.

I know we are behind the times.  We ought to be.  We are not anchored to public opinion.  We are not dictated to by demographics or polls or changing mores.  We are anchored to the Word that endures forever that speaks the Christ who is Alpha and Omega, first and last, yesterday, today, and forever the same.  We are anchored in the means of grace that offer an exclusive stability to a world captive to and in love with change.  There would be something pretty darn wrong if we woke up one morning and people began to think the Church was current in thinking, accurately reflected the feelings and desires of the people around us, and exploiting adept at incorporating every evolution society and technology.  Such a church is worthless to Christ and no church at all.

There is an incredibly irritating commercial on my satellite radio in which one voice repeats back what the other voices says over and over and over again.  The point is that the mimic is a fool.  It is supposed to get you to purchase some product or another -- I forget which.  That is exactly what happens when the Church catches up so that she can speak back to people what they have first said.  That commercial could not make me purchase any of its products and such a Church could sell nothing to a people desperately in need of redemption and life stronger than death.  

For the right perspective, the words of Nagel in the introduction to the Lutheran Worship hymnal cannot be beat:  “Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise.” “Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his.”

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Other traditions (denominations) are equally guilty, if not more so. History tends to repeat itself in what appears to be a downward spiral. If the 1920s and 30s are any indication, the current push to be "relevant" will end in the slow death of many church bodies.

God grant the stodgy curmudgeons (those who are 200 years behind) who are pastors in the LCMS will stand their ground!