Saturday, January 10, 2015

Humanizing the church. . .

In an article forwarded to me some wag writing for the Telegraph is waxing poetic on the promise of women bishops actually saving the Church of England (like the female priests did, right?!).  Anyway the whole idea is not new.  Basically it compares men and women in such a way that it disfavors men as uncaring, unwilling to provide basic pastoral care, and the stuff of everyday life.  Women bishops, they say, will reinvigorate pastoral care, humanize the face of the church, and restore the significance of faith in everyday life.  Hmmmmmm

The problem with this is that in some ways we are already too good at pastoral care and terrible at the stuff of doctrine and truth.  I am, of course, speaking of the false kind of pastoral care which simply affirms the feelings people, hears them out, and tries to meet their felt needs.  This is the kind of ridiculous stuff that has dominated pastoral care ideas for decades and it has done much harm to the church and the faithful. 

Our people have to believe that doctrine is far removed from everyday life and is basically irrelevant to that everyday life.  They have come to believe that the church is there to serve them and this service takes the form of hearing them out, assuring them that what they feel is legitimate, and then affirming their needs and changing nearly anything and everything to meet those needs.  In short, we have become imprisoned to this kind of pastoral care and it has left the church an empty shell.

Pastoral care is not about feelings or felt needs but about the Word and Sacraments.  Pastoral care is not about ignoring truth or sin for the sake of affirmation but confronting sin with the unpleasant truth of the law to bring about repentance and speaking the healing balm of the Gospel in the form of absolution.  Pastoral care is about shifting the focus of piety and belief away from the shifting sand of feelings and onto the sure ground of God's unchanging Word and the means of grace that always deliver what they promise (new life in baptism and the food of eternal life in the Eucharist).

The church does not need to be humanized.  Just the opposite.  The church needs to be made Christian again.  That means taking seriously the creeds, paying attention to the catechism, growing a piety that flows out of and back into the Eucharist, and hearing the Word as the living voice of God who acts in His speaking to deliver His promise.  That means the church needs to reflect back less (dare I say none?) of the culture and values and feelings the world glories in and mirror to the world the full counsel of God's Word, with full conviction confess "we believe and teach," and with full attention pray the liturgy that intrudes into our empty and lost world the kingdom of God (in Word and Table).

We have humanized the church too much and where has it left us?  Maybe we ought to try Christizing the church.  What use has anyone of an institution of such weakness that the best it can do is to mimic back to me what I think, feel, value, or say?  Judging from the health of many churches that have endeavored to be a legal partner (marry?) to the culture, not much.  Wake up, C of E!  Wake up all others so tempted!

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