Sunday, June 19, 2016

Unhindered. . .

I was reminded recently that the final word in the Greek text of the book of the Acts of the Apostles is (akolytos), an adverb that means unhindered.  The ordinary English text I use also ends Acts with this word, here translated without hindrance.  It serves as the fitting conclusion to Acts -- a book that begins with the unfolding of the promise of the Father and the gift of the Spirit in the name of Jesus.  With tongues as of fire and languages unlearned, the Gospel is first spoken to the world with the Holy Spirit infused in the words and the preaching.  From there we see how, as Franzmann so poignantly put it, the Word of the Lord grows.  It is the history of the unfailing and unstoppable progress of the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen from the place where the events of it happened, Jerusalem, to Rome, the imperial seat of government. It did not stop there.  Look at a map of where we think the apostles might have died and you see evidence of the Lord's fruitful Word.  Of course, this does not mean that the proclamation of the Gospel was easy, that the early Christians faced no opposition, or that its progress did not come at great cost to the witnesses (martyrs).  Yet in spite of opposition and enemies, in the face of persecution and threat, and in a world unfriendly to its cause, the Gospel triumphed in heart and home and within a few generations began to reshape the face of the entire world.

We so easily forget this history and the many roadblocks the Gospel had to traverse.  It is too easy for us to lament the times in which we live, to complain about the difficulty of our task as witnesses, and to write off the world with our righteous judgement.  It is too easy a thing to confuse earthly dominance with the advance of the Kingdom and to live in fear of those who can kill the body but cannot destroy the soul.  It is too easy a thing to run in desperation to the latest, newest, gimmick because we no longer have full confidence in God to do what He has promised.  It is too easy a thing to wrest from Him the control of the Kingdom and to replace the Word and the Spirit with programs and paradigms, efficiency and our own energy.

The disciples were surely disappointed when Jesus did not promise the restoration of Israel and an earthly kingdom of power, might, and glory.  But at some point their downcast hearts grasped hold of the promise and they were able to return to Jerusalem with joy.  That is surely the struggle we face today.  This is the silly season of churchly grandeur meeting in solemn assembly, acting through pious debate, to pass important motions.  I do not mean to mock or make fun of it at all.  It is surely serious business.  But the actions of the LCMS will not ensure the survival of the Gospel or the Church.  These belong to the promise and power of God alone.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is not to hinder them.  We do that by boldly confessing what is unpopular and out of step with the times but faithful and true for all eternity.  We do that by speaking without embarrassment the one and only saving Gospel -- not only to the world but to the baptized in the liturgical assembly around Word and Table.  We do that by striving for unanimity of confession and practice so that we do not present a confused picture to the world around us but a clear and positive portrayal of what it means to be Lutheran.  We do that not by trying to be new and different but consistent and predictable in preaching the Gospel faithfully, administering the Sacraments faithfully, and faithfully praying for and caring for the baptized (as clergy and lay).  We do that by being joyful in our task precisely when it appears that the statistics do not look good for the Lord will bring to fruition what we begin in His name and not the other way around.

The Gospel is unhindered not because we have unlocked the keys to marketing success or because we have mastered the task of making disciples.  No, indeed, the Gospel is unhindered only because it is the Word of the Lord, the domain of the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord is at work where two or three or thousands are gathered and where the Scriptures are proclaimed faithfully.  The Church will endure but the LCMS may not.  And if we do not endure, let it not be because we were distracted by novelty or were disillusioned by the outcome because we presumed that faithfulness would be accompanied by earthly dominance.  Structures will come and go but the Word of the Lord, the Kingdom of God, and those whose names are written in the Book of Life are forever (according to God's design and promise).  If we focus on this Gospel with confidence that the Lord will finish His new creation as He desires, then the end of the LCMS need not be mourned.  If every few years or so we get together to remember this and to commit ourselves anew to faithfulness in witness and in life together, then that is the best thing that can come from our convention.

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

The article was very thought provoking, soberly reminding us that the Gospel is larger than all our other concerns in life, and that we should not become distracted or discouraged. As for the LCMS enduring into the future, I pray it will continue, even if the membership is smaller, the contentions greater, the lack of unity disconcerting. Strife and pride are the characteristics of our human species, and if you peruse the long history of the Church, you will understand how the Christians who came before us also contended with similar issues. Each of us can pray for the LCMS, and reject any false teachers, wolves in sheep's clothing, who enter the flock to divide and scatter the lambs. When those who seek to divide receive resistance from the faithful, they eventually leave. The strength of the LCMS is being tested by new ideas, some good, some destructive, and the synod must fight through the spiritual battles and prevail in God's strength.