Friday, March 15, 2013
The Church has a future. . .
In a very instructive essay of 1965, “The Ecumenical Challenge of the Second Vatican Council,” Hermann Sasse wisely observes: “We have been too much influenced by a certain type of sectarian Christianity which for a long time flourished in America. The sect cannot wait; it must have everything at once, for it has no future. The church can wait, for it does have a future. We Lutherans should think of that.”
The sect cannot wait; it must have everything at once, for it has no future. The Church can wait, for it does have a future.
Those are wise and careful words from a wise and careful teacher. Prof. Pless brings to mind this wisdom for one cause but it should be applied liberally to many causes within our church body. We glimpse the life of the Church more as a snapshot than the full image. We look back upon history and see mistakes, errors, faults, and failings most clearly. The triumph of faithfulness is neither glamorous nor does it stand out from the notorious and infamous. But hidden in the past is faithfulness. We are not heirs of the Radical Reformation, so quick to dismiss what has been and to rebuild from start a church (that, sadly, has less continuity with the early Church and Scripture than it has deference to the momentary values of the ones who make such sweeping judgments). The mark of the conservative character of the Lutheran Reformation is our conviction that the evangelical and catholic faith and the Church assembled around the Word and Sacraments has been and continues despite wrongs and failings.
We look today with the impatience of a child. We want what we want and we want it now. For those on the liberal fringe of Lutheranism this has meant a radical social agenda that equates with the Gospel and is willing to break faith with our yesterdays in order to accomplish its social justice goals. Since it cannot await or risk the faith of the people, quotas, institutional jurisdiction, and broken rules become the tools of change. There is no faith in the Word of God, no patience upon the Lord to enact His purpose, and no tolerance for those who disagree.
For those on the other side of Lutheranism, this has meant the quest for purity -- an obsession pursued obsessively that will leave the Church barely one congregation deep and wide. The isolation of this church or micro synod is less a concern than its purity and agreement on all articles of faith and practice. WELS or one of the other small Lutheran bodies is the logical outcome of those who pray only with those who pray exactly as they do or work only with those who agree with everything else before the common labor begins. In such a church, conflict is commonplace and the focus is on error and not on the work of the Kingdom (unless you see purity as the only true work of the Kingdom).
Now, mind you, I am NOT saying that truth does not matter. Neither am I saying that pure doctrine and consistent and faithful practice do not matter. Finally, I am not at all suggesting that everyone should do what seems right in his own eyes. Far from it. I am speaking to the cause of patience and trust in the work of the Lord. If we do believe that God is act work in the means of grace, then we must not only trust the means of grace to do His bidding and return its appointed fruit to Him, we must also be patient with His timetable.
Perhaps the wisest thing ever said to me as I prepared to begin my life as a Pastor came from Pastor Charles Evanson. He encouraged me not to take myself too seriously -- to take the things of God seriously but not myself. It was as if he were speaking as Sasse. The Church was there before I was ordained and it will be there after I am long gone. I may be tempted to believe that everything hinges upon me but I would be wrong. It is the Lord's Church. I am to labor faithfully within the corner of that great Kingdom where He has placed me and do faithfully what He has bidden me to do, but it is His Word, His Spirit, and His work. A healthy sense of patience and trust in the Lord is the key to freedom in ministry. If you read this blog you know that I have opinions and often fall victim to the very foibles I decry here. Yet, truth be told, I know that the Church will live on in spite of me.
The Church has a future. The sect does not. When we demand what we want when we want it, we act like a sect. The Church has a future. Not because we say so or because we believe it. Because the Lord has said that the Church is His and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. God is faithful. God will do it. This has to be in, with, and under who we are as clergy and lay leaders of the Church and we must believe this first and foremost -- even as we labor to speak the Truth in love to the places, people, and perspectives that would shift the work of the Kingdom from the firm foundation of faithful confession, secure in the means of grace, and the faithful practice that flows from such confession.
The Church has a future. It is this that allows me to sleep at night. Apart from this I am allowed no life, no hobbies, no other interests, and no distractions from making sure that needs to be, is. The Church has a future. As long as I keep this in the forefront of my vision, it will be easier for me to remain a part of that noble future, ordained of God, and guaranteed by the Spirit.