For too often many parishes are reduced from being lighthouses to clubhouses; from being thermostats which set the temperature of culture, to thermometers that merely record the temperature; from being places where Christ is central, and it is his wedding, to being places where Christ is merely an invited guest at our wedding feast.
Too often we maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum. We spend all sorts of energy and resources arranging spaghetti dinners and Superbowl fellowships, and too little time feeding our souls and taking heed of the true spiritual contest between life and death.We argue with each other over minutia such as what color to paint the Ladies restroom or who didn’t clean the kitchen, and and have no real answers to the world’s arguments against us. We contend against each other instead of instead of the principalities and powers in the high places.
Well you get the point. So easily we get lost in the weeds. And even as numbers continue to erode in most parishes, we just do “business as usual.” It’s time for some renewal and to act differently. Thus [what we need are] parishes are coming together to begin to pray and reflect on our central mission and how to act both locally and regionally to better live our of our mission and get back more whole-heartedly to the the basics pillars of Church life.
And what is the central mission of the Church? [To preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins by proclaiming the Gospel of the cross. The mission of the Church has everything to do with making Jesus Christ known through the means of grace (Word and Sacraments) and showing forth, within the flawed confines of our fallen humanity, Christ's holiness, righteousness, and love to the world. This is our fundamental task. It is not merely to have meetings in the hall, dinners in the cafeteria, sponsor fundraisers etc. As the Pope recently warned, it is not enough to give turkeys to the poor at Christmas, we have to give Christ to them, and feed the poor not just materially but spiritually.
. . . . and there is more:
These four pillars, a kind of four-point plan, are found in Acts 2. Peter has just preached a sermon where he warns his listeners to repent and believe the Good News. In effect he has led them to encounter Jesus Christ. They, having encountered him in his Word, are now cut tot he quick and ask what they must do to be saved. He said to them: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:40-41).
Now they are baptized and in the Church of the Living of God. And unlike some of our Protestant brethren who hold a kind of “once saved, always saved” mentality, the text does not stop there. These new disciples now have a life to lead that will help them be ready to meet God, that will help them to set their house in order. And so in the very next verse we read:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
So here is our “four-point plan” for setting our house in order once we have come to faith. There are four components listed below, four pillars if you will:
- The Apostles Teaching
- The Breaking of the Bread
My Comments: We work like dogs to come up with renewal programs for declining congregations, stalled parishes, and inwardly focused assemblies. We think that this is rocket science -- the invention of something new because the world is new. The world is not new. There are always new incarnations of the old sins and old problems but it is not a new world and the answers we seek are not born of creative thought. They come from Scripture, from the life of the Church manifest throughout history where reform and renewal have gone out to reclaim the Church to her identity and mission. They are the basics. In my own church body we face congregations weary and tired of programs and worn out and disillusioned by the energies invested and fruits that never came. Before we heap upon them some new paradigm, we need to call them to these basic truths and challenge them by the word and example of Scripture. This is who we are and what we are to do.
My continual commentary on renewal programs and my answer to those who lament the state of things is this: we have lost confidence in the means of grace. We no longer believe that God works through the Word and the Sacraments. Our hearts are no longer born from and nurtured in the Eucharist, the source and summit of our earthly lives toward the heavenly banquet. Until we relearn confidence in the means of grace, we will empty ourselves in details that miss who we are, what our power is, and what our purpose is. For Lutherans, it is not that Lutheranism has been tried and found wanting. It is that it has not been tried. The weak and tepid Lutheranism of church body, synod, district, and parishes today contrasts greatly with the strong, confident, and courageous Lutheranism of our Confessions.
As Lent reminds us, back to basics is a plan. A real plan. Maybe we ought to try it... before we give up on the Church and God.
Our hymns tell us what you are saying so well:
Here, O my Lord, I see You face to face; here would I touch and handle things unseen; here grasp with firmer hand th'eternal grace and all my weariness upon You lean.
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