Sunday, February 16, 2014
Remembering both sides of the coin. . .
We Lutherans are good at reminding those who appear to have swallowed the Holy Spirit feathers and all that God in His infinite wisdom and mercy has, for our benefit, attached Himself to means (Word and Sacrament). These are the places where God has bound Himself for our benefit that we might approach the Word and Sacraments with confidence.
What we Lutherans are not so good at is remembering that the Spirit is not occasionally attached to means but always works through the Word, the water of Baptism, the Voice of the Absolution, and the bread and wine of the Holy Supper. We have developed a sort of angst about this and borrowed heavily upon the church growth, organization, and evangelism methods of evangelicalism precisely because we have forgotten how the Spirit works. Without confidence in the Word and Sacraments, we are gravely tempted to bolster the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments with something other. Whether decision theology that rests our confidence in our own efforts or gimmicks designed to do what we fear the means of grace may not, we have subtly but noticeably been far too silent about the promise of the Spirit working through those means of grace. This is especially true when we do not see the growth in numbers that we expect.
It is precisely when we do not see the results as we might expect them that we as Lutheran Christians need to rekindle our confidence that God IS at work here, as He pleases, for His goals and purposes. Perhaps in another age and time it was easier to believe that God was at work in the Word and Sacraments -- if only because they were producing observable and measurable results. Now that we find ourselves pressed by the crowded marketplace of non-denominational Christianity, bracketed by the empty shells of the once powerful mainline churches, we have given into our own anxiety and fear. But God is not at work because or where we see Him. God is at work because He has promised to work through the efficacious Word and Sacraments. Whether we see results or can measure them is of little consequence. IF we are being faithful in proclaiming the whole counsel of His Word (Law and Gospel) rightly and purely and administering His Sacraments according to His intention, the purpose of God will be fulfilled and what He has sent forth will not return to Him empty handed.
I lament the fact that we are not as faithful as we ought to be in the common sense issues related to welcoming the stranger into the House of the Lord but I lament even further that we seem to have lost confidence that God is there at all. We have too quickly given up and sought to take over the enterprise of the Spirit, marketing the Gospel as if it were a product and treating the folks in the pews and those not yet there as consumers who must be mollified and cajoled into the Kingdom of God. The pews are not empty because we have too much confidence in the Lord to keep His promises but because we have too little. What compels people to pay attention to the means of grace if we no longer are sure they are enough to do what God has promised?