Sunday, February 24, 2013

Finding a church home. . .

Martin Luther once said, "Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?"  While some accuse Lutherans of believing in the church only in the abstract, Luther pointed to the marks of the church (the means of grace).  The church is where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments administered -- in truth, purity, and faithfulness.  While it may seem fairly easy then to figure out where that is, some are not so sure.  I speak of the church hoppers and church shoppers who skip from assembly to assembly in search of the "right" place.

In classic form C.S. Lewis wrote how Screwtape coached his young protégé on the art of sabotage in the life of a believer: "If a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that 'suits' him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches."  Pastors of all stripes find these folks the bane of ministry.  How do you care for those always on the move?  Some call them parasites who distract the church from its needful work in the pursuit of a people who will never belong but sap the resources of the church.

I admit not special animus against them but neither am I fond of folks who show up now and then in their search for the perfect church (or, more accurately, a less imperfect one).  That said, the numbers of them seem to be growing as church attendance declines while people seem to affirm about the same level of belief and the same desire to find a good church home as they have expressed before.

Some authors have begun pleading the cause of the church hopper and shopper.  Burned out by former leadership positions, carrying the baggage of church conflict and coldness, and fearful of commitment through years of disappointment, these church hoppers and shoppers deserve credit for showing up instead of simply abandoning the search for a place to belong.  Okay, maybe they are not all the sniveling minions of darkness and doubt.  I will cut them some slack.  Honestly, I will.  But I refuse to give credence to the idea that if you search long and hard enough you will find a good fit (if a perfect one cannot be found).

The church is not the end but herself the means --- the means of the means of grace, so to speak.  We too often get fixed on the earthly element when we ought to be focused on the grace it conveys.  Just as the bread and wine are not for how they taste or look, neither should the earthly characteristics of the church be allowed to dominate.  The church is where the Word is proclaimed in its truth and fullness,the law and Gospel rightly distinguished, AND where the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution.  The people who hear that Word and receive those sacraments, as well as the priest who administers them, will always be sinful and unclean.  Their flaws are neither flaunted nor hidden.  They are there.  Like all of us.  At some point, we must all simply get over it.  The Word and the Sacraments are worth the inconsistencies, flaws, and failings of the people who deliver them to us and who receive them with us.

Yes, I know, there are exceptions.  But rules made out of exceptions are exceptionally flawed rules.  The rule is to go to church.  If there are choices, visit and inquire and choose.  Then attend... regularly and faithfully.  The more you focus upon the means of grace, the less you will notice the unsatisfactory parts of the means of that means, or, the church.


Rich Kauzlarich said...

Pr. Peters: thank you for this wise counsel.

Anonymous said...

Well, as a former ELCA member, I have to say that churches just plain misrepresent themselves. That ELCA church sure did. Now part of that is that even the founding members of that congregation didn't actually know how corrupt it was until that semi merger thing with the Episcopal church about 12 years ago. When they did figure it out, they realized the rug had been pulled out from under them. These are people who had been baptized in the ALC back in the 1920's and they still had enough gumption to leave despite literally hundreds of years of family membership. Sometimes, the church leaves not just you but Christ as well. Parishioners are well advised to stick with Christ and hop along down the road to a real church when you find that yours has flushed its belief.

Janis Williams said...

Sadly, this is epidemic among evanjellycals.

May I speak a word of moderation, though?

Not all folk who go from church to church are church hopping. They are not all searching for something that suits their tastes. Some are truly looking for sound doctrine.

My husband and I spent years (10-15) searching for sound teaching of the Word and good doctrine. You can't know in one Sunday... (Anyone who wants the story can ask us.) It has been painful to be accused on multiple occasions of being church hoppers (we are in the South, you know - where everyone knows everybody's business). We have been Lutheran-LCMS going on five years, now. We are HOME. We will not be moving again because we are satisfied that the Confessions are correct. The time spent like rats in a maze has been rewarded.

Please, church members, be sure you know the reason someone changes churches if/when they come through your door. Don't assume they are shallow seekers of comfort.

Anonymous said...


How would a person church shop in the South? Aren't 95% of all the churches in Dixie a flavor of Baptist and/or non-denominational? I am assuming that there is less variety in the South compared to the rest of the country. Perhaps that is why it took 15 years?

Janis Williams said...


It is not always unwise to take your time.

We have here Church of Christ, Nazarene, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian (PCUSA, PCA, Cumberland Pres.). Episcopal, Anglican, Catholic, lots of non-denom, Assembly of God, COGIC, Charismatic/Pentecostals in abundance, and yes, every flavor of Baptist. This is not a complete list. We even have Reformed Baptist (actually what Baptists were 150 years ago). I think you can find a few differences in doctrine there.

We did not look at doctrinal statements on the Internet to 'shop.' We attended, talked, and listened. Granted there are churches that would only take one Sunday; those we didn't even bother to try. To know whether the Gospel is understood properly isn't always apparent in one sermon/visit.

As I said, we were not shopping; we were looking for Truth taught and held.

I listen to Chris Rosebrough on Fighting For the Faith, and read several blogs that are categorized as 'discernment.' I find that about as many homogenous, non-descript., happy-clappy churches exist in the North as the South.