Saturday, December 7, 2019

Parts is parts. . . or not

While visiting an aged homebound parishioner, I was treated to his homespun wisdom regarding his situation.  His parts were getting old and while some had been replaced, new parts sometimes make the old parts work less well.  Joint replacements with complications and arthritic troubles had left him with limited mobility.  He had parts that were dying, he said, and parts that were living.  The living part of him was his mind, ever sharp with a biting sense of humor.  It was not easy for him to read but read he did and he found what he read stimulated his thoughts.  Parts were definitely not working but parts were working very well.

It occurred to me that the Church is in a similar situation.  Parts of it are living and parts of it are dying.  The parts that are living are still reading and hearing the Word of God and trusting in its promises.  The parts that are dying have given up confidence in the Word except as overall principle and then bent that principle to justify whatever they happen to be thinking or feeling in the moment.  The parts that are living still live in the wonder of water that churns with Christ's life and delivers every one placed down into it new.  The parts that are dying have gone beyond baptism and any notion that anything really happened in the water and the ceremony of that sacrament.  The parts that are living still meet with awe before the grand mystery of Christ present in bread and wine for us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins.  The parts that are dying go through the motions of eating and drinking but find their food somewhere other than the meal Christ established in the Upper Room and still hosts as its priest and victim.  The parts that are living are convicted by the Law and seek the consolation of absolution and a clear conscience.  The parts that are dying are not so sure that they have anything much to confess and are pretty sure that they are relatively comfortable in their sins.

Our bodies are constantly sloughing off dead cells -- both internally and externally.  It is something that has to happen for the body to be health.  The Church, under God's direction, is provided moments of test and opportunity in which we must cast off the dead ends in order to stay in Christ the Way and be a healthy body.  Perhaps this is one of those times.  Like the Reformation of old, the dying parts are exposed and challenged with the magnifying glass of God's Word and the faithful witness of the past.  Sometimes the very institutions that were charged with aiding the health of the body (the clergy for Lutherans or the papacy for Rome) become agents of death and they too must be convicted and cast away for the good of the whole.  Could it be that this is the time the Lord has set for the Church, particularly in the West, to be placed under scrutiny to see what lives by His grace and what is dying because it no longer is connected to that grace?  I wish I knew.  But on the whole, it cannot be a bad thing to acknowledge that parts of the Church are living and parts of it are dying.  In fact, it is unhealthy to presume that things are the same, that all is equally good or that all is equally bad.  There will be constant challenges and threats to the body.  Some of them are old and recycled from the past and very few of them are really new but every age must address these with the force of the Word that endures forever and with the orthodox doctrine that does not change. 

Parts of the Church are living and flourishing.  Parts are dying and withering.  The threats may be different but the Church's common life flows not out of material successes or statistics good or bad but from the living voice of the Word, the living water of baptism, the living grace of absolution, and the living food of the Eucharist.  It may be the Lord's will that some parts will continue to die until they are fully dead, if only to prove to us that programs will not save us nor can we save ourselves.  It may be that the Church will grow smaller in our eyes while she grows stronger in the Lord.  But the hope of the faithful remains living captive to the Word, trusting in Christ alone, and refusing to waver in confession of this unchanging truth before the world and the skeptics within.  And this Church, whether its buildings be full or it be left to a remnant, will be welcomed into the joy of the Master when Christ comes again in His glory.  Which, by the way, is the same hope that sustains my old friend whose pithy wisdom began this blog post.


Janis Williams said...

Another way of looking at it is the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13. The tares are very much alive and look just like the wheat. They have no fruit (as good as dead), and tearing them out damages the fruit bearing, living wheat. The master tells the servants to leave them alone. We don’t know which parts of the body (cells) are near death; we just have to wait till they do die and slough off when we bathe. We are not given to know which parts of the body (Church) are dying.

Unfortunately, in the Church those dead parts often cling to Her. There are some obviously full of gangrene who can be removed. Others look very much alive but are dying or dead. Pastors are the healers who through Word and Sacrament bring medicine that saves. If only those who are the dying parts will receive their healing.

In this season of Advent, I pray that we, who are born dead and made alive will be kept by the One born alive to die for us.

Carl Vehse said...

"The Church, under God's direction, is provided moments of test and opportunity in which we must cast off the dead ends in order to stay in Christ the Way and be a healthy body."

Following the heresy at Yankee Stadium or the heresy at Newtown, CT, how did that effort to "cast off the dead ends" work out for the Missouri Synod?1?