Friday, October 2, 2020

Marketing plans according to St. Paul. . .

Our marketing gurus who tell us what we are doing wrong and what we need to do right in order to grow God's Church for Him have listened to business, Madison Avenue, advertising geniuses, and media experts.  But perhaps they have not listened to St. Paul.

We have been told over and over again that the key to people is comfort, not preaching comfort but making them comfortable.  So we have adjusted the Gospel a bit to lessen its emphasis upon sin and death and to increase its focus on love -- especially the love of self.  It seems that we have little voice for speaking against the desires of the mind, the passions of the heart, and the wisdom of the mind.  So the cross is less sacrifice for sin than it is example of how far someone is willing to go to be true to himself.  We must be gentle on people and make for a kinder and gentler church to win them over.  We must be more positive and less accusatory.

The problem is that St. Paul insists that we must preach Christ and Him crucified -- not as example or inspiration or victim but as God who comes in flesh to offer Himself as the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.  The problem is that the cross remains a scandal that cannot be reconciled or made more friendly to the modern mind.  The problem is that we are called not only to stand upon this cross but to suffer for it the persecution, threat, and even death of those whose faith compels such faithfulness.  The problem is that we cannot water down the Law to make the Gospel easier to accept for when we do that we make the Gospel nonsensical.  No, we are to hold to Christ and Him crucified no matter if angels or spirits tell us a different Gospel or a different way.

We have been told that the modern mind cannot abide the myths and legends of creation, miracle, gods and men.  We are scientific folks, educated and informed, masters of our technology.  We must make the faith appealing to the scientific mind looking for the facts that fit their conclusions.  The fantasy is fine as long as we understand that it is not real.  The Jesus of history is more important than the Jesus of Scripture and we expect the Jesus of history to look more like us and less like a God-man.

Christians have seldom been drawn from the elites of the educated class or from the ranks of the rich and powerful.  But for the poor who yearn for hope, the shamed who seek forgiveness, the oppressed who look for redemption, and the dying who know death is near, the Gospel finds a home.  The fools of this world have always been the fruitful place where the seed of the Gospel is planted, where its roots grow deep, and where it bears the flower of God's fruit.  We think that tomorrow depends upon finding a millionaire or someone whose eloquence will draw others but the Gospel brings hope to those who need it and whose lives cry out for rescue. 

We live in an age of apologies and there is much in the Scripture for which we must apologize.  It does not address slavery as we expect, does not endorse feminism as we have come to know it, and does not leave room for us to manufacture marriage to fit our desired parameters or to define gender according to personal whim more than biology.  That flat earth stuff and rejection of evolution have to go and we must apologize for not rejecting it sooner and for not jumping on the bandwagon of evolution earlier.  Religion works best when it rejects the errors of the past but is mute before the errors of the present.

We are not the first to find the Word of Christ hard or to be scandalized by it.  But Jesus does not give us the option of starting out with the little things.  His first word was a call to repentance and it only got worse.  I met a man who knew everything I ever did.  Christ tolerates no secrets from us and countenances nothing to remain hidden.  The light exposes what the darkness hid.  No, Jesus does not need us to apologize for Him or His blunt ways or His exclusive claim to be the Truth, the Way, and the Life.  We defend the truth best by proclaiming it without watering it down or softening its hard edges.  We are not to sit in the seat of scoffers but we will be called to proclaim the faith and defend it against those skeptics and soffers.

Finally, we have to adjust the recipe of doctrine and dogma to make it more reasonable and more generic.  Like the restaurants who tailor their menus to many different tastes, we are told that a future of growth depends upon removing distinctives.  Generic religion, generic worship, and generis dogma are the keys to a broader appeal that might encourage more folks to give faith a whirl.

Making the mystery palatable or reasonable does nothing but kill the mystery.  We cannot adjust the truth to find a common denominator between rejection and acceptance nor dare we adjust the message or the medium to fit the times.  The only relevance worth having is the one that God judges good.  Sin is always there, the devil is always the enemy, and death is always the elephant in the room.  The sooner we learn this, the less time we will waste trying to remove the distinctives that make the Gospel THE Gospel.  While it may not seem to win any converts, a church wedded to nothing but the approval of people will win no converts.  We are, as it has been said before, in danger of entertaining ourselves to death.

The job before us is unpleasant -- not speaking truth to power but speaking truth to the wounded and dying who don't see it and don't get it.  But unless we know we are sinners, Jesus has little to offer us.  So we call those not yet of the Kingdom to join us at the foot of the cross, complete with its scandal and all of its paradoxes, and the Spirit will do the rest.  Good preaching will preach us to this place over and over again and the liturgy will provide its own witness to the truth that sets us free.  In the face of it, we are tempted like Jonah to run and like Jeremiah to complain we are not up to the job and like Moses who knew a better candidate for the calling.  But God has called us, assured us that He will supply all we need, that His Spirit will work in us and through us, and that the fruit of it all is His business.

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