Friday, November 3, 2023

A fearless Church. . .

You know how the smart phones and screens work.  You look up something, read something, or even speak something aloud and the devices listening in pick up on it.  I had included a quote from A. W. Tozer and all of a sudden other Tozer quotes began showing up here, there, and everywhere.  Some of them are pretty good.  One of them quoted Tozer saying that a scared world needs a fearless church.  That is really good.

First of all, it admits what the world refuses to admit.  The world is scared.  It is afraid of everything, even its own shadow.  We live in a world of fears in which a stranger on our porch is scary, when an unknown caller on our phone is scary, and when an email from an unknown sender is scary.  We live in a world of fears in which the past is never quite over but spreads its fears upon the present and the future.  We live in a world of fears in which a quiet Fall evening as the sun sets is spoiled by fears of climate change and impending disaster.  We live in a world of fears in which our social circle is digital because we are afraid to leave our homes (not even for work or food or play).  We live in a world of fears in which death is friended under the right circumstances (a long and happy life rich with our desired experiences), chosen under other circumstances (when we believe death is less pain than living), insisted upon in some circumstances (when abortion is normal and childbirth is the exception), covered up (when celebrations of life tell a funny story to hide the pain of death), and hidden (when we refuse to admit that death is evil).  We live in a world of fears in which gender becomes the odyssey of life and sex becomes the mere pursuit of pleasure without cost or responsibility (but those with dysphoria still take their own lives and people are lonely and isolated).  We live in a world of fear about sin (who wants our affections and affectations to be called wrong).  I could go on.  I won't.

Second, it admits that what Scripture repeats and Jesus says over and over again is true.  "Do not be afraid... Have no fear... peace be with you."  We are not a people who have no fears but we are made fearless by the Lord who has all our enemies under His feet.  Fearless people are not those who are never afraid but those who know Him in whom fears are met.  Fearless people are not careless or naturally bold or risk takers.  No, that is a misunderstanding of what our Lord is saying.  He knows and admits our enemies are great.  We know and admit this every time we pray the Our Father.  Lead us not into temptation... deliver us from [the] evil [one].  It is not that our troubles are not real or our trials are not painful or our temptations are imaginary or our enemies.  God never lies to us in this way.  But greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.  If God be for us, who can be against us?  The cross is not some panacea for all that is wrong, it is the power of God for our salvation.  This cross is what we cling to in need and it is this cross we proclaim before a world captive in fear.

Sadly, we have not exactly been fearless.  Covid showed us that fears still control us.  We quickly and almost gladly admitted that being together in person around the Word and Table of the Lord is more of a danger to us than a blessing, certainly not a blessing essential to us and one that could be easily replaced with screens and an imagined presence.  We quickly and almost without a second thought bow before the altar of a fake science which tells us that gender is a social construct and not the identity of our bodies and we either stopped talking about what Scripture said or began mouthing the positions our culture has invented as if this were also Gospel.  We have not been fearless but fearful of what others might think, what the social media players might do, what the government might require, and of trusting anything more than feelings, science, and consensus.  We have turned Christianity into a sect as big and deep as the individual who decides its truth and defines its dogma according to the standard of reason and desire.  And then we wonder why people are departing and few are entering.

We need a fearless Church that believes the Word of the Lord when it conflicts with feelings, reason, and experience.  We need a fearless Church that believes our enemies, great as they might be, are not as great as the power of God for our salvation.  We need a fearless Church which prays not to get results but because of the result of God's mighty act of deliverance on the cross.  We need a fearless Church ready to cast off tax exemptions and deductions for contributions if that is the cost of faithfulness.  We need a fearless Church that depends not upon marketing tools but the Holy Spirit so that the Word will bring forth its appointed fruit.  We need a fearless Church in which parents believe worship and catechesis is more important than traveling sports leagues or a hard conversation with a resistant teenager.  We need a fearless Church in which children are esteemed as the Lord's own, marriage is not an optional estate for those who might want it, sex is not your right but a gift given by God for the context of marriage, and where purity is as important for us and our souls as it is for our drinking water.  You see this fearless Church in surprising places -- in Africa where missions believe the missionaries and insist upon nothing less than faithfulness, in Finland where Christians stand up to the government, and in Siberia where Christians sacrifice for the sake of the faith in order to survive.  Instead, most denominational headquarters are filled with fear, with people who have noble intentions but whose desperation betrays a lack of confidence in the Word of God and whose cliched responses to the challenges laid before us by the world suggest that God is on the run, too. 

Below is an example.  It is not terrible.  Not the worst false doctrine.  But a definite casualness about the presence of the Lord and a very non-threatening demeanor as if the Gospel is soft and easy.  This worship does not calm fears; it is not even strong enough to be the glimpse of the eternal in the present.  The Gospel ends up being mere niceness and intimates that being nice is being faithful to the Gospel.  It is aging.  Plenty of empty seats.  Lots of ancient pop music with a beat but no soul.  Look at this and tell me this is a fearless Church with something to offer to a scared and fearful world.  It is Roman Catholic but it could just as well have been Lutheran.  We need more than nice to calm our fears.  We need a God who can engage sin, release the captive, and end the reign of death.  Services like this, liturgical to a point but not offensive is the reason why the Church is failing every bit as much as those who mirror the evangelical entertainment shows or adopt as Christian the positions of culture on sex, gender, climate, justice, and equity.  You don't have to be terrible to be bad.  Just not faithful.  Certainly not offensive!  In case you have forgotten, the Gospel is always offensive.  It is either a stumbling stone or a cornerstone.  Faith determines which.


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