Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The drift of sin. . .

Though it certainly does happen, the ship moves off course more by a slow and almost imperceptible drift.  It becomes greater as the time elapses until the drift can no longer be ignored.  It is not a small deviation from the course but a radical departure from the direction intended.  No one in the wheel house has to turn the rudder all that much to end up wandering completely off course.  Drift begins in small twists and turns until it becomes a major problem to correct course and return to your intended path.  The errors in life and in the Church come less from radical departures from the truth as much as they happen through drift and slow turns away from the course.

Sin manifests itself less with sudden and abrupt evils as much as it comes through the common human tendency to wander away or gradually drift off course. It is that way for the life of the Church as a whole and it is that way for those who are members of her.  Who wakes up one morning suddenly rejecting God or what congregation all of a sudden departs from orthodox truth and confession?  Instead, it happens so gradually that no one notices until someone awakens to warn of how far they have drifted.  A person raised in the faith and well catechized does not often decide to reject the faith but they drift away one Sunday, one service, one Bible study, one devotional reading, and one prayer at a time.  The person simply stops paying attention to the services missed until they are no longer missed and absence becomes the norm.  It is true of Bible reading, the fellowship life of the congregation, and prayer.  Sure, when life comes crashing down, they pray and may even show up in worship but it is no longer familiar.  The once familiar has become strange and difficult -- just like when a ship finds it has drifted way off course and now must radically shift its direction to get back.  It is a lot of work and part of the people wonder if the rewards will be worth learning it all over again

I do not recall many who have left the Church in a huff over some great conflict but most folks simply drift away or wander off.  The vast majority of folks cannot point to a particular event when they left the Church or departed the faith.  In fact, most of them would insist that they have not departed the faith.  Most of them could not even identify how long they have been gone because in their minds it does not seem so long ago.  In the same way, we stop practicing the faith and do not notice how long it has been until we have trouble recalling the words to the Our Father or the Creed.  Maybe they moved and never connected to a new congregation or maybe something in their life consumed them long enough until they became a stranger to God's House and His Word.

The thing is that as easy as it is to drift or wander away, to return is harder than you can imagine.  Ask any pastor who has tried to contact and converse with those who were once regulars and have now disappeared from the life of the Church.  It is a monumental task both for the Church and for the people to restore those lost.  It is a long term process with few promises of a happy result.  This is surely what it means for the heart to become hardened and calloused to the things of God.  We do not see or realize the distance growing between us and God and us and His Church but that itself is a hardness that is so difficult to break through.  Finally, we begin to think we never really were on that former path at all -- we second guess our believing and our piety until we justify the course change and call it a course correction.  That is when the hardness is complete.  We did not miss is but when we saw what we had missed we decided it was not worth missing.

This is why it is easier to gain new members than to recover the old ones who have drifted away or wandered far from the way.  If you are a layman reading this, think about this before you jump on the pastor or others for failing to win back those who departed.  If you are a pastor reading this, admit both how hard it is and how long a process to win back those who have left.  For all of us, however, it is a warning that the longer the folks drift, the more likely it will be they will never correct course and return.  This is also true from churches who depart from creed and confession.  The little deviations long ago reap their reward in the radical departures accepted as normal and even right today.  This is also one of the reasons that new denominations are formed instead old ones restored to their orthodox and Christian confession and teaching.  Yet we must all be sad by the fact that all of these work against both the consistency of the Church's faithful confession and the growth in numbers for the Kingdom.  We may not be able to do anything about turning around the dismal statistics common to most Christian churches today but we should at least do this -- make sure that our churches remain true to creed and confession.  The day will come when people will not abide sound teaching but that is never an excuse to give up the sound teaching.  In the same way, for those who do course correct and return, if there is no orthodox confession to return to, what will they have gained?

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