Could it be that we are shaped more by our mindset of expected decline than by our confidence in the Word of the Lord? This has become one of my fears for the Church. My fear is that we have more confidence in the dire predictions of our immanent demise than we have faith in God's promises. It may be an irritant for an old curmudgeon like me but it is the kiss of death for pastors just beginning their service or congregations who truly believe that their best years are gone and the best they can hope for now is to survive a little while longer.
The time of youth is youth in part because it is filled with enthusiasm and dreams. What happens when we steal those dreams and dampen that enthusiasm by the constant press to believe that there is no future for the Church? The early years of a congregation are filled with hope because they believe God will bless them. What happens when a congregation believes that blessing has passed and they will soon face the day when the last one out the door will turn off the lights forever?
It is reported that Socrates was worried about the future and had written off the youth in his day. Perhaps that is the curse of age. But we dare not lost sight of the fact that God is not finished with His Church and we do not get to write the last chapter in His work -- He does!
Dr Larry Rast read to our pastor's conference words from a several hundred year old introduction to the Book of Concord translated into English:
. . . we cherish the anticipation of a brighter day in the Lutheran Church. In a land of freedom, of science and art, where the generous spirit of political wisdom encourages the exercise of reason, and guards the decisions of conscience; where industry, energy, and enterprise, though daily attaining fresh prospects of future improvement, are continually unburying the sacred treasures of the past, we believe that the doctrines of our church will ultimately be reclaimed, and that men of our western clime will enter into the investigation of these doctrines with all the avidity natural to a love for the truth. ...Those words should shame us today with their optimism and hope in God's grace and favor that what has been lost will be reclaimed and that the day will come when serious people will reconsider the hope God has given in Christ and will rise up renewed in the doctrine and piety of the Christian faith. We owe it to our children and to those who new to the faith NOT to bequeath to them our cynicism and disappointment. We owe to them all to preserve not only the form of the faith but its beating heart in the efficacious Word of God and the Sacraments that bestow what they sign.
If those facing a Lutheranism threatened by linguistic and ethnic division, by disorganization, by the pressure of Americanization, by the isms of the day (rationalism, pietism, and liberalism), and by the challenge of immigration and an American frontier still awaiting pastors and parishes can find hope, can we dismiss that hope and surrender to despair? We have always faced an uncertain future marked with enemies and challenges far beyond us and yet God has endured with mercy, grace, and hope beyond measure. All of us would rather we were in the same boat as parts of Africa where Christianity and Lutheranism are growing too quickly, but that does not mean that the Gospel is dead here or that God no longer calls people by His Word and equips them with His Spirit to respond with faith. Our future is challenged but God is above all of those challenges. We dare never forget it.