Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What does the Church have to offer. . .

Of all things I found myself in a doctor's waiting room while the TV blared The View.  It was so loud that I found myself listening in spite of myself.  In one segment about a new pope and what that pope might be and do, the point was made that there is nothing for children in the Mass.  Roman Catholics need to have children's church because there is nothing for kids in the Mass -- what with all the strange words, rituals, and postures.  How can we expect them to get anything out of that?

It is a common question.  I have had people ask me the exact same thing.  What does the Church have to offer children?  Should we not cater to them by including some children's music, a children's sermon, and some simplified liturgy that is understandable to children?  If we don't, wouldn't we better serve children by dismissing them from the "adult" nature of the Divine Service and sending them somewhere for content designed for children in mind?

I have also had people say the same thing about disabled (both physical and mental handicaps).  What does the Church have to offer those who physically cannot participate by speaking or singing or standing or kneeling?  I have heard people say the same thing about the single, the single parent family, gay people, etc...  What does the Church have to offer people who are alone, unmarried, and without a family (implication being that everything in worship is designed for the family)?  What does the Church have to offer those single parents who must wrestle with their children alone and who often miss out on parts of worship because they deal with restless or moody children (implication being that since children don't get anything out of worship, at least the parent could appreciate the service without the constraints of uncooperative children to deal with)?  What does the Church have to offer gay people (implication being that the only thing the Church says to gays is that they are unwelcome, evil, and corrupt)?

All of these questions begin with a false premise.  We could spend a great deal of time dealing with the straw men used to dismiss what the Church has to offer folks who do not fit the prime mold of those who are there on Sunday morning.  But I will not do that.  Instead, I will offer a general response to the same question poised for different people and different circumstances.

What does the Church have to offer?
  1. God's Word...  the simplest answer.  We offer the Word of God, rightly preached, the Law and Gospel properly distinguished, speaking the Word and applying the Word in the sermon, so that God may work as He has willed and promised in the life of the person (no matter the age, the maturity, the ability, or sexual orientation).  The Word of God is a means of grace.  God is present in His Word and works through His Word.  This is not exclusively nor primarily understanding but the communication of the Truth that endures forever, the Truth that is our way, and the Truth that manifests God's presence and His gifts.  Faith is not an "aha" moment in which we finally "get it" but trust in the will and works of God that give us life and salvation.
  2. The Sacraments of Life and Worship... We offer the means of grace, the visible Word, through which God comes to us in the fullness of His divine mercy to impart to us the grace that enables us to stand.  Through baptism we enter into the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, we are forgiven of our sins, we die and rise to new life in Christ, and we exchange the old identity as no people for the new identity as the people of God.  Through the absolution we who continue to sin find the power of grace both to call us to repentance and confess our sin as well as to forgive that sin and restore us to our Lord.  Through the Eucharist we both become aware of our hunger and thirst and our hunger and thirst are satisfied by the bread which is His body and the cup of His blood, the intimate table fellowship that both unites us to the God whose table it is and binds us as a people who confess a common faith and live within its boundaries and discipline.
  3. Catechesis...  We offer not only the directed catechesis of the confirmation program (youth and adult) but the ongoing catechesis of the liturgy and hymns of the Church.  Faith is not something learned and mastered as if one were learning a language but it is also a culture and identity into which we are drawn and which we take on little by little through the liturgy and hymns of the faith (as well as the Word and Sacraments).  Singing the faith is especially helpful for children and those with limited intellectual ability but this is NOT the dumbing down of the faith.  Just the opposite.  It is the life of the faithful in which the faith is passed on by the form and words of the liturgy and the words and music of the hymnody.
  4. Holy Life...  We offer the vision of the holy life of faith.  Here the sanctoral cycle is especially helpful and it is a sad reality that too many of our parishes and people have lost touch with this side of the church's calendar.  We learn from and grow into the holy life of the faithful by knowing the stories of the faithful in whom and through whom God has worked.  They are not so much the objects of our attention as the God who worked in them and through them.  With this is our sense of a chaste and pure life (no matter where we find ourselves -- married, single, youth, aged, etc...).  We do not mirror the values and goals of the world around us but the holy life of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a goal of moral purity to be sure but it is surely more than that.  It is the life of self-denial in which we learn to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us, where we learn to delight in the path of service, and by which we learn what it means to be great in the Kingdom of God.  Holy living (perhaps we could call it sanctification but I am not sure that word says much anymore) is not the domain of those who serve the Church in churchly vocations but the path of life for all the baptized.  
  5. True self-esteem...  We just passed through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday.  Throughout this path walking with Jesus to the cross we were reminded that our value is not something we discern or place upon ourselves but is reflected in the price our Lord was willing to pay for our redemption.  We have value and worth not because of our abilities, gifts, productivity, or success.  No, we have value and worth because we were purchased and redeemed by the holy and precious body and blood of Christ.  Luther reminds us of this in the explanation to the second article of the Creed.  In a world where fake and empty versions of self-esteem leave us high and dry when we depend upon them most, we have the great and blessed reality of the cross from which we draw our value as persons and learn the self-esteem that is true and real.  As we learn to sing it, "God's own child I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ..."
It is both foolish and demeaning to believe that in order for the Church to offer something to people we must dumb down what we say and do, cater to their whims of personal taste, accept and celebrate their sinful desires, and encourage them to use their freedom for self-fulfillment and the pursuit of pleasure and happiness at the expense of others and themselves.  We do not baby sit the people of God (no matter what their ages).  No, we engage them with the Word and Sacraments, we lay before them the ongoing path of catechesis and maturity of faith, we teach them the liturgy and the hymns which are the culture of the faith, we hold before them the vision of a holy, chaste, and good life (of good works), and we honor them with the self-esteem that flows from the value and worth placed upon them by our Lord's sacrificial death.  We have a great deal to offer them in this Gospel and apart from this Gospel nothing much to give them at all.


Anonymous said...

Earlier this year a first grader was ill on Sunday morning and his mother decided to take him home after Sunday school rather than stay for the Divine Service. He was beside himself. He didn't want to go home! Finally his mother asked, "Why do you want to go to church this morning?" He answered, "I want to get Jesus.

Out of the mouths of babes ...

Pastor John Rutz

Elsa Quanbeck said...

It always amazes me that folks want someone else (or the church) to do something for the children. One of the great joys of my life was to take my grand daughter to church when she was very little As I held her in my arms, she would look for the Pastors voice when he was speaking, marvel at the stained glass windows, sing the liturgy with gusto. At three years old she could sing the entire liturgy and follow the movement of the service. I gave her something to write on during the sermon, but would find her stopping from time to time to look up when bits and pieces of the homily would catch her attention. Children are capable of far more than we think. The Word and liturgy impinges on their hearts if we only get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit to work. PLEASE - no children’s sermons to entertain the adults, and demean the wonder God has given us through children. Children learn from the modeled behavior of the adults. As goes the Divine Service, so goes the formation of the children.
E. Quanbeck

Rebecca said...

I offer here two stories to prove your point: When my oldest daughter was two, we brought her to communion with us. Her "job" was to take the individual cups and place them in the basket on the way back to the pew. One Sunday, a drop of wine accidently spilled on her sleeve. She pointed it out to us by saying, "Look, I have the blood of Jesus on me." We hadn't discussed this with her at home. She just understood from listening to the liturgy in church.

The second story I was just told yesterday by my father who is a pastor. He is currently having private confirmation classes with a severely mentally disabled 15 year old boy. My dad simplifies things as best he can. To memorize the simple response to "Christ is Risen" with "He is risen indeed!" is difficult for this boy. The other day they were talking about Easter and the Resurrection. My dad asked if he knew what opposites were. His response was yes. What followed proves that God reaches ALL His people in His Word and it alone is sufficient. This is how the conversation continued. "What is the opposite of up?" "Down." "Hot?" "Cold." "Right?" "Left." "Death?" "JESUS!"

Never underestimate the power of God in His Word and Sacrament to and for ALL people, proclaimed and ministered in Worship.

Janis Williams said...

This problem of "relevance" is true worldliness. Growing up Baptist, worldliness meant a lifestyle associated with "sinners."

Don't drink, dance, smoke, do drugs, or have sex outside of marriage. That was the definition of worldliness. No. Worldliness is when the Church (and individual members thereof) take on the characteristics of the World System. The culture, personal or societal that requires the Gospel be sidelined or silenced for personal/societal preference (itching ears) is worldly.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this post completely.

There is, however, one rather major disconnect in the Church today and that is that we do not actually OFFER these things.

I get so frustrated as I read pastors' blogs where they discuss and argue gay marriage, divorce, singleness etc and never bring it into the context of the full Law/Gospel proclamation of the Bible not apply the sacraments to the issue at hand.

We do not need a unique outreach to each of these groups. In fact, to do so would be counterproductive in many ways.

But we DO need to take what we have and clearly offer it all individuals.

By the way, Pastor Peters, Kudos on your blog over the last few months. It has become an amazing source of both Law AND Gospel. I rarely see a post anymore in which you do not apply both to whatever issue you are discussion. This is exactly what pastors should be doing. THANK YOU THANK YOU.

Steve Finnell said...

Was there ever and office of, The Pastor, approved of or mentioned in New Testament Scripture? No, there was not. There was no single pastor appointed as the authority over any local church congregation.

The word pastor is mention one time. (Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, (NKJV)
Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (ESV)

Pastors were shepherds. Bishops, elders, and overseers are one and the same; and they were the pastors or shepherds.

1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; (NKJV)
1 Timothy 3:2 So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. (New Living Bible)
1 Timothy 3:2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (New International Version)

Titus 1:5-7....appoint elders in every city....7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, (NKJV)
Titus 1:7 Since an overseer manages God's households, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.(NIV)
Titus 1:7 An elder is a manager of God's household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. (NLT)

Acts 20:17,28 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 28 "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you
overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (NKJV)
Acts 20:28 Pay attention to yourselves and to the entire flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishops to be shepherds for God's church which he acquired with his own blood. (God's Word-Translation)

Notice that the apostle Paul called for the elders (plural), he did call for The Pastor (singular).

Acts 14:23 So when they had appointed elders in every church,and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

The apostle Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (plural) in every church congregation. They did not appoint a pastor (singular) in every church congregation.

Elders, bishops, and overseers are the same office and their responsibilities were to pastor or shepherd the individual church congregations.


Men today like to called Reverend Pastor.
Reverend means awesome. So they want you to refer to them as Awesome Pastor.

Psalms 111:9 He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name. (KJV)

The Lord has earned the right to be called reverend (awesome).
Is there any man that has earned the right to be called Reverend (awesome) Pastor?



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