Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Pesky emails. . .

Okay.  I am addicted.  I cannot but open those emails that I probably should delete without reading.  It is in some ways the same fascination we have with things that we find distasteful but cannot stop ourselves from looking.  Sort of like when somebody hands you something and says, "smell that" and we know it is going to be bad but we do.  We smell it. 

Now before some think I am just being hypercritical, let me say that I am sure that the writers of such things are sincere and earnest.  I just think they are wrongheaded.  They are separating things which belong together and focusing on one thing without focusing on the other.  The complaint in the email was on pastors and parishes intent upon making attenders but not disciples, pastors who had been taught to preach, teach, administer sacraments, conduct meetings, administer programs, visit the sick…but had no modeled how to disciple people, statistics that focused on attendance instead of disciples...  You get the picture.

What is so strange is that attendance is contrasted with discipleship.  Does that mean that disciples do not attend?  Are disciples somehow less in need of or constrained by the need to gather weekly around the Lord's Word and Table?  I do not know how to take a statement like that.  Disciples are those who attend, who attend regularly, who attend faithfully, even weekly, at least in my book.  Disciples understand that there is no higher priority to their time than the weekly gathering of the baptized to hear the voice of their Good Shepherd and to be fed by Him upon His own flesh and blood.  Or do disciples have something more important to do that this?  Is not this Divine Service the fount and source of our baptismal life and vocation and that to which we return?

Second is the idea that disciples are made with means other than the means of grace the Lord has provided.  Can we accept such a premise?  Does the Lord work either primarily or secondarily through means other than His Word in aural or visible form?  What is discipleship if it does not lead people to that place where the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered?  Can you lead a person to Christ and leave that person without a church to hear the Word, to be taught the faith, to be called to repentance, to be absolved of his sins, to be baptized into Christ, and to live by the food of His Table?  Again, I don't know how to take such talk. 

To be sure, it sounds good.  The organized church is a pain and a mess at that.  Wouldn't it be better and easier if we could be Christians without the Church or lead people to Christ without having the mess that is the Church get in the way?  Everyone feels that way at one point or another.  But the Church is not optional.  The invisible nature of that communion does not trump or replace the need to see the Church where the marks are and to be joined into that visible gathering of the people of God around the means of grace.  Christ nowhere suggests to us that the Church is in our imagination or His but always speaks of it in concrete terms.  St. Paul can exhort the Church in error and commend the Church in faithfulness but nowhere does he suggest that the Church is optional or does not matter.  Hebrews insists that we are not to neglect the gathering of the people of God in the assembly that is the Church around the Lord's Word and Sacraments.  So when those in the pews on Sunday morning are characterized as pew potatoes contrasted with daring disciples, we have a problem.

We may not like the Church, we may be frustrated by the fact that her people and leaders are sinners, and we may find it too often preoccupied with institutional goals rather than the Lord's calling, but we do not have a choice.  To be Christian, to be a disciple, is to belong to a community of believers with faithful confession, true Gospel, the Word in all its fullness, the ministry, and the Sacraments according to Christ's institution.  So I find it unhelpful to the end goal to denigrate attenders as if they are less than members of the Church, Christ's body, and entirely distracting to suggest that making disciples is not connected to bringing people into the Church.


Janis Williams said...

May I offer a thought? Part of the penchant for disciples-not-attenders is related to the push for diversity in today’s society. If Christians would get off their derrieres and be disciples, the church would grow, and be attractional. However, diversity ends up meaning someone’s small group (homogenous faith community) is accepting of others. The group makes a point of being diverse, but if we take several steps back, everyone begins to look alike.

Not so the Church. We are not a small group. We are not homogenous. We truly are diverse. Real diversity requires tolerance, not tolerationism. The Church militant (those alive today) must live together as a culture. We are a VERY large family. that means we sometimes fight. We can be insulting, and downright mean to one another. We remain a family even if we don’t speak to one another, and Jesus forgives our sins..

This desire for disciples instead of attendees is a mere subterfuge to collect a community of kindred spirits focused on accomplishing the same goals (not usually the ones we are commissioned in the Gospel...) rather than reaching people from every kindred, tribe, and nation.

Truly, the Church can look boring from the outside, and BE boring from the inside. But is it because we aren’t following the correct agenda, or because we aren’t following our Lord’s mandate?

Anonymous said...

Here’s a typical Lutheran description of why we need church from 1550.

“Pastors preach the Gospel, they proclaim the absolution of sins through Christ, and that God has so loved the world, that he incarnated His only begotten Son and gave Him over to the most disgraceful death, so that all who repent and call upon the Lord in faith, would be saved. They say that He is the only Lamb who takes away sins, and that there is truly no other name under the heavens through which people can be saved, and furthermore, that He is the only way, truth, and life; the only bread who has come down from heaven; that all sinners who are hungry for God’s righteousness should come to Him, the shepherd and giver of life; that all who are tired and burdened should come to Him, as well as those who are thirsty, but have no money, for He will let them drink; that He is, following the suffering and resurrection, the only intercessor between God and man; that He is the only one speaking for miserable sinners, and mediator, and that only through Him we can and must, in our misery, confidently come before the throne of divine Majesty. And whatever we ask in His name in faith, we will surely attain it. Furthermore, Christ is the only head of the Church, who rules it and defends it from the Devil and the World, and that He will ultimately lead it into eternal bliss.”

Anonymous said...

And the same Lutheran describes what church is not.

“On the contrary, the ministers of the Antichrist teach that Christ has justified us once and for all through baptism, and that we have been clothed in the white robes of innocence. And if we have committed a sin after that time, they say we have lost these white robes: that we have, indeed, broken and forfeit the ship, i.e. the power and the benevolence of baptism and of Christ. Therefore, if we wish to be rescued from the wreckage, we have to grab hold of the board of penance, (and so they return us from the Gospel back under the Law), ie., that we need to be contrite enough due to the massiveness of our sin, which is impossible, that we need to have sufficient confession of all sin and circumstances - which is also impossible - and sufficient compensation, and then that Christ makes up for the sins before baptism, while we need to provide compensation ourselves for the sins committed after the baptism, which is also impossible to do through obedience to the Decalogue; instead, we owe God a different kind of obedience. Therefore, that we should be obligated to do deeds which God has not commanded...in short they are moving the Church of Christ from the Gospel and the Law to ordinances of men, such as celibacy, voluntary poverty, pilgrimages, endless repetition of prayers, whipping, fasting, and all other voluntary or willingly suffered torments and punishments of the body.

“According to Christ’s teaching, the Devil should be fought with the sword of the Spirit, i.e. the Word of God, and the shield of faith, and according to the Antichrist’s teaching, we should fight with the sign of the Cross and blessed water.”

Valentino thomas said...
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