Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Church, Her Structure, and Her Work have not changed much. . .

While reading through Acts and its description of the early life of the Church (Acts 14:21-27), I was struck by the fact that little seems to have changed.  Oh, sure, we have constitutions and bylaws, job descriptions and rubrics, and a host of other things technological and material that are different, or perhaps refined, but the shape of the Church, the structure of the Church, and the work of the Church remain remarkably consistent.  Acts 14 describes this in the context of four distinct areas.  First is proclamation, second is correction, third is ordaining, and last is holding accountable those whom are set apart for service.

Acts 14:21:  When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples. . .  The Church is a missionary organization.  We are not sent out to fix the world or to be a corrective to culture or to do good in general.  We are sent forth to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  Everyone knows John 3:16, the Gospel in a nutshell as Luther put it.  Yet we have been gravely tempted and distracted by forgetting that the Gospel is not some generic call to love or justice or even mercy but the specific love, justice, and mercy witnessed in the Righteous One who suffered for the guilty, the Lord of Life whose death has purchased life from death, and the Risen One whose life has given the dead eternity.  We announce this Gospel to the world.  We cannot not announce this Gospel to the world.  It is part of our essential purpose.  Sure, not all may respond with faith, not even many, but the elect will hear and believe by the Spirit.

Acts 14:22:  . . .they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.  The disciples must be encouraged and strengthened.  The Gospel cannot simply be proclaimed; the people must be catechized.  They need the encouragement of the Word and the Sacraments to build up their faith.  They need to be warned of false teachers, of persecutions, and of the enemies of their faith who will attempt to prey upon them and steal their faith.  They need to be know that the hardships suffered for the sake of the faith pale in comparison to what God has prepared for us and even they cannot deprive us of our future in Christ.  We live in a world in which Christians no longer speak about sin, no longer talk about the cross, and focus more on the present than the eternal.  The Gospel is not therapeutic to massage our feelings nor is it merely a tool to get what our hearts desire.  The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  The world will reject us and even hate us but the love of Christ is stronger than our enemies and if we endure we will rejoice in eternal life.

Acts 14:23:  And when they had appointed elders [pastors] for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.  We do not simply bring Jesus to people.  We bring people to Jesus, where He is and His grace is accessible through the Word and the Sacraments.  The Church is not some optional choice for those who cannot handle things alone or who enjoy that sort of thing.  We are called, gathered, and enlightened, and conjoined into the Body of Christ, the Church.  The Church is our mother in the faith where we received new birth in Holy Baptism and where we continue to be fed the pure spiritual milk of God's Word.  And where the Church is, there will be ministers who have been set apart by Word and prayer and the laying on of hands to bring this Word and these Sacraments to the people of God.  The office of the holy ministry is not mere function but an office and this office is the means to the means through which the grace of God nourishes, nurtures, sustains, and grows the people of God (through Word and Sacrament).  

Acts 14:24-27:  Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.  The ministers are accountable.  They are not entrepreneurs or long rangers or individuals acting on their own initiative or authority.  The give report and give the whole Church the opportunity to hear, to correct (if needed), and to rejoice over the work that was done.  And the workers deserve the commendation of the Church for the good work that is done even as they need to hear correction and even be called to repentance for failure.  This is not some performance evaluation but a sifting through the work of those charged with specific responsibilities for the sake of truth, catholicity, and faithfulness (not because we are results oriented).  This cannot be satisfied by numbers.  This is the ecclesiastical supervision which every age of Christianity has know -- whether you have bishops or not you have those charged with supervision of doctrine and practice.  This cannot be overlooked or ignored.  Accountability is the hallmark of the true Church and her ministers.

Finally, though not a part of this four fold presentation of the Church's work and structure, the final verse is still instructive.  Acts 14:28:  And they remained no little time with the disciples.  Get that?  No little time.  The work of the Kingdom is not instantaneous.  We do not substitute frenetic activity for the long term investment of time and energy.  To pastors this means stay in a place long enough to really get to know your people (a call does not mean to move and a pastor always on the lookout for a new or better place does more damage than good).  To people in the pew this means learning to know and love your pastor (warts and all) and making it easy for him to stay.  Love the man, love his family, support him financially and encourage him in the work God has given him to do among you.  And to the people in the pew, don't go wandering off to take a gander at the next new thing or church that sets up shop in your town.  Stick it out and remain where the Word of God is proclaimed in all its truth and purity and where the Sacraments of Christ are administered as He instituted them.  Period.

A lot of good stuff in a few seemingly incidental verses

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank You, Pastor.
I am in the process of making application for the Specific Ministry Program in the Mid-South District and your comments help me focus on what the church is really all about.
Two quick Questions
Acts 14:24-27 explanation
1)"They are not "long Rangers" I guess is a typo for "Lone rangers"
2)"They give report and give the whole church the opportunity to hear..." I am unclear of what that means exactly.
Thank You Timothy Carter
Kingsport, TN