Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What you do not see. . .

From Terry Mattingly:

Visitors who enter Southern Baptist churches these days will usually see posters and pamphlets for everything from marriage enrichment retreats to tornado-relief fundraisers, from weight-loss classes to drives to find volunteers for African hospitals.

But one thing is missing in the typical church lobby or fellowship hall, according to the leader of the denomination’s LifeWay Christian Resources branch. It’s rare to see appeals for members to join evangelism programs that strive to win local unbelievers to the Christian faith.

“Why is this? It’s hard to say what happened to our commitment to evangelism. … I’m not hearing any answers to this question that go deeper than anecdotes,” said the Rev. Thom Rainer, who, before reaching what Nashville locals call the “Baptist Vatican,” was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“It’s like our people lost confidence in the old evangelistic programs that our churches had been using for years and years,” said Rainer, reached by telephone this week during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, held this year in Houston. “That’s understandable, but the problem is that they never bought into anything new and moved on.”

What Terry writes of Baptist congregations is also true of others.  We are told all the time that we need to fill the entry areas with our mission statements, our core values descriptions, our facility maps, signs to point out the quickest path to the rest room or nursery, but for Lutherans as well as Baptists our art is increasingly at odds with our historic faith.  Where are the images that point us to baptism, confession, the Eucharist, and the Word?  I know it is true in my own parish.  We have signs for travel groups, recycling opportunities, out to lunch groups, and a ton of other things but... the signs that point us to the six chief parts of Luther's Catechism or the efficacy of the Word or our heritage as Lutherans are mostly missing or hidden.

Much of the literature in our tract racks has to do with needs (Alzheimers, divorce, anger, porn addiction, grief, and a hundred other subjects).  How much of our literature explains what it is that we as Lutheran believe, confess, and teach?

If the Baptists have forgotten evangelism, they are in trouble, as Terry rightly shows.  But he could just as easily point out the lack in our own buildings and this would point to the way these things have subtly but effectively been dropped from our vocabulary, our confessional identity, and our witness.  We seem more impressed with generic happy talk or other things that point to our success as people than to the means of grace.  And it shows.  It shows even in the halls of vaunted Baptist Vatican congregations down the road and Lutheran parishes near and far.  What we no longer talk about, visualize, or think about is but a wisp of a memory away from obliteration.  Catechesis is ongoing and it happens through words, ceremony, and art, in classrooms and worship and narthex.  We have far to go. . .

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