Wednesday, July 6, 2022

What shall we be. . .

There is a great conundrum among Lutherans as they watch churches close, membership declines, and our once vaunted institutions threatened.  What shall we do in response to this?  It seems that on every level of jurisdictions to the congregation and every parish leader we are questioning what once we believed confidently and are confident about things we ought to question.  The responses are so different that it is mind boggling and stifling.  We seem to be paralyzed by it all.

On one hand, we have people who look longingly into the past and who want to be where we were in the 1950s when we were growing, when we had plenty of young men and women who wanted to be church workers, and when we were establishing institutions instead of closing them down.  But there is no past for us to retreat into -- the world has changed as well as each of us have changed.  There is no going back and it will only cause depression and despair to sigh that our glory days have come and gone.

On the other hand, we have people who seem positively giddy over ditching everything from our past -- people who delight in trashing the liturgy, faith, doctrine, creeds, and catechisms of our yesterday.  Some cast them off as chains that constrain us from being new for new times while others throw them away because they have deemed them hopelessly racist, homophobic, prudish, and corrupt.  But the problem is that no church that is a mere echo of the sins du jour has any reason for existing at all.

Don't forget those who figure that it is time to hunker down and minister to those who belong, who feel like us, believe like us, and worship like us -- at least until the last person leaves and turns out the lights.  How is this faithful to the Lord's Word and will that no one be lost, no one be left to Satan's dominion, and no one condemned as outside the blood of Christ?  We cannot lock the doors as a people in hiding around the Word and Table of the Lord and be faithful.

Let us also remember those who think that it is merely a matter of methodology that is our problem.  The message is good, maybe made a bit more practical and relatable to our daily lives, wants, and goals, but good.  It is how we do things that sucks.  We need to turn the Church on end and reinvent ourselves -- keeping the substance but learning a new style that relates to the folks of this day and time.  The problem is that the hippest churches are also dying and it is not so easy to differentiate between message and method.  McLuhan says the medium is the message.

I am of another opinion.  I fear that we will give up on Lutheranism without really being Lutheran.  I fear that we have forgotten the bold and yet thoroughly catholic confession of Augsburg and have decided that Lutheranism is merely our current institutional forms.  I fear that we have traded a snapshot in time for a catholic vision of keeping all that does not contradict the Gospel and living fully rather than minimally together and individually.  I fear that we have made a Lutheranism which appeals to our individual and personal fixation and forgotten what it means to claim to be catholic.  I fear that we have grown so comfortable acting like a sect we have forgotten we are the Church.

I fear that the individualism and personal perspective has so encapsulated Sunday morning that there is no face of Lutheranism anymore.  I fear that congregationalism has both left the weak to die alone and the strong to ignore what it means to be in fellowship, to walk together, and to care for one another.  It is this that we struggle with in our neighborhoods and it is no different in the congregation -- community is the character of our lives in Christ and this also means nationally and internationally.  I fear that we have come to settle for what is easy or does not cost us too much instead of the endless striving for all that is good, right, true, beautiful, godly, and pure.

I fear that we think our salvation lies in programs instead of faith that trusts the Word to do what God sends it forth to do and the Sacraments to deliver what they sign.  I fear that we have lost what it means to be in the presence of the Most High who is also our Savior and Sanctifier in our weekly gathering and so we no longer feel it or know it the rest of the time.  I fear that we do not pray or contemplate the mystery of God's mighty love or confess our sins with the lament of a broken heart.  I fear that we expect so little from God (a better day or life or pleasure or amusement) that we get the little we expect and miss the greatness of all that God gives to us in Christ.

I fear that we have knowledge of God but not so much trust, that we fear God's will more than we trust in that will to be good and gracious and right for us -- whether or not it is what we pray.  I fear that we are so enamored with justification that we never get to the rest of it -- living holy lives, being holy people, standing out and standing forth where God has planted us.  I fear that we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we no longer have room in our hearts for God or for others -- and that we live in a technology that appeals to this selfish and self-centered existence.  I fear we have grown so content with our isolation because it gives us the impression of security that we no longer are willing to risk having compassion for others as God had and has compassion upon us.

No, the Church cannot die.  But synods, districts, congregations, and Christians can die off the vine.  My plea and my pleading is to remain on the vine, to be nurtured in doctrine and truth that bears the fruits of the Spirit in our daily lives.  I know it can work.  It has.  It still is.  It will until God brings it all to an end in His time.  Do you believe this too?

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