Sunday, January 10, 2016

Where two or three are gathered. . .

Quoted by Naomichi Masaki, Theodor Kliefoth wrote: It is not that where two or three believers are, there is a congregation [church], but where God works through the means of grace, there are believers and so [there is] a congregation [church].  Faith does not create the congregation nor is faith autonomous.  Faith is the result of God at work doing what He has promised through the means He has chosen.

On the one hand we hear the constant drumbeat of those who complain that congregation [church] has come to mean constitution and bylaws, structure and building, books and page numbers.  Everyone from the missionals to Dale Meyer constantly reminds us that church is church without these things.  Of course it is.  But these things have salutary purpose in the ordering of our right confession and the confession of right worship and the accountability of both. 

On the other hand we find ourselves consumed by constitutions and bylaws, structures and buildings, books and page numbers.  It seems that it is nearly impossible to hold people accountable to the faith we commonly confess without these things and apart from the procedures established to hold us all accountable.  It seems impossible for one generation to commend to another the living legacy of faith without some form of these things.

What we find so easy to forget on all sides is the fact that this is not a formula to achieve our ends or goals but a description of the promise of God and a call to trust the Word of the Lord.  Where God works there is the church -- whether you see it with your eyes or it takes away to unfold before you.  The means of grace is the means God has chosen to use, the instruments through which He delivers what He has done as gifts to a people who neither deserve nor desire them -- unless or until God works by the Spirit to enable them.  Where God works through the means of grace, there are believers.  Is that so difficult for us to believe?

We have surrendered our confidence to programs that we can control to achieve ends that we purpose.  There is no shortage of programs and procedures being offered from all sides to avoid trusting the Lord to work as He has promised through the means of grace He has appointed to do what He has said He will do. 

Where two or three are gathered in My name is a promise.  It is not a set of rules to follow but a promise given by our Lord.  There am I in their midst.  This is not magic or incantation but promise.  This promise does not depend upon our agreement or our appreciation in order to be true.  Where is Christ's name but in His Word and in His Sacraments?  What is He doing in our midst except what He has promised -- through the means He has chosen?

One side complains of pastors who spend too much time in the study or office.  Maybe there are those who hide from their pastoral duties in this way but only a fool would suggest that a pastor should not study and pray and prepare for duties conferred upon him (preaching, teaching, preparing for worship, etc...).  On the other hand there are those who would suggest that pastors do not engage the world with the Gospel -- that is the job of the laity.  Of course it is the job of the laity to engage the world with the Gospel (in witness and in service to neighbor) but a pastor has neighbors, too.  It is simplistic to suggest that the problems we have in our church are caused by or solved simply by getting pastors out of their offices or to suggest that the baptized engage the world apart from the leadership or example of the pastor.  But missing here is the real problem, the elephant in the room.

We have forgotten both the promise and the means through which the promise is kept.  God works through the means of grace to create believers, establish His church, and equip His people for their baptismal vocation in and to the world.  We do not need new programs.  We do not need new insights.  We need confidence that God is working as He promised, through the means He has chosen, to accomplish the purposes He desires.  This is what underlies everything.  It is the obvious so easily forgotten in a sea of plans, programs, ideas, opinions, blame, and hope.  Our confidence lies in the Lord to do what He has said He will do through the means He has chosen to work to accomplish the purposes He desires.  Where this faith is vibrant and robust, the church will be also.

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