Sunday, July 23, 2017
Consumer oriented religion. . .
A Christian community is not recognized for the way it deliberately and effectively reaches out to all people to reflect their wants, values, preferences, and desires. No, indeed. A Christian community is oriented not to people and their desires or preferences but to Christ and His Word. Perhaps it is true that the Church has shaped itself toward a desired market but that is not something we should be celebrating or lauding. Our goal cannot be to make people feel at home. Our goal must be to address them with the means of grace through which Christ works and through which the Spirit plants faith. Our goal cannot be to satisfy a market niche or even every market. Our goal must be to create a place where the Word of God is preached in all its truth and purity, where people receive the Sacraments through which Christ delivers Himself and all the fruits of His atoning work, and where they are called to the new vocation of life as the baptized children of God.
The Church will not succeed with new programing or different programing or even with any programing (that exists for any goal except knowing Christ and making Him known). We were not established to be an effective community organization or to promote relevant and effective programs or to satisfy the desires or wants or preferences of any and all target groups. Christ has established His Church, His bride, to be faithful to Him. This faithfulness is identified by fealty to the Word. For whatever reason, perhaps most because we simply do not trust Christ to do what He has promised, we in the Church feel compelled to supplement the Word or even displace it with something more welcoming, more relevant, and more akin to the expressed wants and needs of the people we are trying to reach.
Even when trying to be faithful to Christ it is easy to be sucked into the idea that programs are the goal, effective programs and even faithful ones. Even faithful goals and purposes like catechesis can become the kind of programs whose appeal is designed more for the satisfaction of the participant than faithfulness to the Word. Even worship, perhaps especially worship, has become a tool, a program, and means toward another end -- something different from being the arena of the Word and Sacraments through which Christ sends forth His Spirit and calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His Church. Some churches are programing geniuses and the rest of us live in envy and jealousy of the grand and glorious way they appeal to people, answer their wants, make them feel at home, and supply them with whatever it is they think they need at this moment. But under it all their success is the failure of the Church to be the Church. Marketing the Gospel or the congregation is hardly what we need to be about. As if the Lord depended upon our marketing expertise to bring His product to market and make it a sales success! What the Lord asks of us seems to be the thing we find it hardest to give -- trust, faithfulness, and obedience. But if that is what the Church will give Him, He will accomplish what He desires and we will have had a part to play in it all.