Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Enough... sufficient... for now

One of the perspectives in the Missouri Synod is that we have sufficient truth, enough unity of doctrine and practice, so that we can shift our focus from pure doctrine and faithful practice on to a larger issue facing the church in this day, namely, that of outreach.  To be sure, none of those who advocate for the missional idea in which the burden is placed on the door of the church to eliminate any needless barriers and impediments to easy and ready acceptance, have ever said pure doctrine is bad.  What has been said is that we have sufficient unity of doctrine and practice so that we can ease our pursuit of the same.  What has been said is that we need to shift the focus from our strength, doctrinal purity and unity, to our weakness, methodology and strategies for church growth.

There is a constant struggle in our church between those who uphold doctrine and those who pursue mission.  It is as if we have come to believe that our church is incapable of more than one focus, cannot balance liturgy and mission, doctrine and outreach.  We have been told this so long that most of us actually believe it.  Those who advocate for doctrine and liturgy speak as if our limited attention span should be solely focused on keeping faith with the tradition instead of missional paradigms of outreach.  Those who advocate for outreach and mission speak as if keeping faith with our Confessions and worshiping as Lutherans are mere distractions from the larger cause of telling people about Jesus.

In fact, that was the tack taken by those sought, unsuccessfully I believe, to frame the election of the Synodical President.  Harrison was seen as the candidate for those who love liturgy and doctrine and Maier the candidate for those who want the church to grow.  It is as if the person who occupies the office of Synod President has the same one track mind as our church body.  So we have lists for other offices in the church that practically say the same thing.  The United List is for those who think the most important thing in the Church is NOT to change and the Missional List is for those who think that the most important thing in the Church is TO change with both insisting that the other side is the kiss of death for Lutheranism.

Hermann Sasse wrote in 1934 that Of those time in which the life of the church was not very much disturbed by concern for pure teaching and by alarm concerning false teaching, it may be said that they do not belong to the great ages of the church.  On the contrary, the church is always in danger of dying when it ceases to wrestle with the truth and to pray that the Lord may guard it against the devil's wiles and false teachings.  (Here We Stand, p. 90)

The great ages of Christianity are not characterized by a choice.  They are marked by a passionate pursuit of truth as well as a passionate desire to share this truth.  It is precisely because we take the truth seriously that we are interested in sharing the truth.  Otherwise, it is merely the pursuit of numbers, of earthly success, of kingdom building, instead of about the Gospel.  There is something inherently wrong when we believe that the church must chose between one or the other pursuits.  A dying church chooses.  A living church embraces the truth with such passion that this church cannot settle for anything less than the full truth, pure doctrine, and faithful worship.  A living church embraces this faithfulness not as an aesthetic but as the practical and working purpose of being the church.  The church is not an idea.  The church is not a goal. She is a living entity whose life is derived from and serves the truth which is Jesus Christ.  I, for one, refuse to use "it" to refer to the church.  The church is a she.  We can afford to be cold and indifferent to doctrine and to mission as long the church is simply an "it."  But we can afford no such thing for the Bride of Christ.  She deserves our full attention to the truth that is her life and she deserves our full attention to the cause for which she exists.  She does not have a one track mind.

My problem is that too often we sell the Church short.  We presume that she is so weak and fragile that at best she can handle only one thing at a time.  We are so sure that it is a matter of which thing is chosen that will determine her fate.  We sell our leaders short as well.  We presume that every choice is a choice between those who know the truth and those who know how to speak it.  As long as we believe this and act this way, no amount of koinonia will unite us and we will die in possession of the Truth that we have shared with no one or we will die because we share everything and anything but the one thing worth nothing less than purity and faithfulness.

Just a few thoughts while waiting to head to St. Louis...


Unknown said...

The problem with Maier is not that he's too focused on mission and outreach (laudable as they are), but that he is borderline heretical. The numerous things I read about this man indicate he's very much an evangelical in thought and practice. To him, liturgy is adiaphora, he opposes clerical attire (which, to me, indicates that he doesn't think much of clergy being distinct from laity and that the laity should execute the office of the priesthood), his understanding of church history and doctrine is almost laughable if he weren't so serious about holding false opinions about the councils, et al. Harrison is the better option.

Carl Vehse said...

"The church cannot afford to waste time on incessant internal purification at the expense of the lost in the world."

"We have not the luxury of time and energy spent on incessant internal purification at the expense of the eternal destiny of the souls of men and women for whom Christ died, but who know not His name and have accepted not His saving grace."

"People, this is NOT a game. Our incessant internal purification at the expense of the eternal destiny of the souls of men and women for whom Christ died must stop!"

Check the meter!

Janis Williams said...

Well, if you wanted comments before going to the conflagration, you'll likely get them with this post.

As a former Evanjellyfish, I've seen and heard all this long before. Being now a Lutheran, it's almost deja vu.

Fr. Peters, I agree. why cannot we have more than a single focus?

Mr. Vehse, no, this is NOT a game. Christ and His Spirit are going to gather His own regardless of our action or inaction. However, if you take a look at the Southern Baptist church (forgetting their heterodoxy) today, you'll see a game in progress.

150 years ago, So. Baptists decided mission was more important than doctrine. After repeatedly shrinking their doctrinal statement from a 100 page book to a 5 page tract, true mission is also gone.

Instead, we have popular pastors like Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Stephen Furtick, Perry Noble, and all the wannabes. These men would all agree (and often quote) this statement: "We are educated way beyond our obedience." NOT. Listen to their sermons and you will hear error and even heresy. They may have graduated Baptist seminary, but Jesus and the Gospel only get the occasional nod. (The Law is preached into the ground.)

The church is now switching "sheep" around like a shell game. It's about following the latest personality in the pulpit. Members change churches like changing clothes. The conversions reported in these churches are generally "rededication's" or people who want life-change, not Christianity.

Fr. Peters has, I believe the correct assessment. We forget we are dying. We believe what we teach and say will live one after us. The Truth of Christ and His Gospel do live. However, if we don't teach each generation the Liturgy and language of the church, they will have nothing to take with them on mission. (The Bible says "Go. Teach and Baptize." It says nothing about the Spirit teaching doctrine after conversion, but St. Paul certainly does) Give people the Bible and it's doctrine, and there will be people taking Christ to the nations.

Anonymous said...

Don't drink the Kook Aid!

Church is NOT to be found in a synod or district cubicle.