Friday, April 19, 2024

Attendance or Adherence?

Reading some of the critics of current political office holders, the current President being one of them, in which the complaint is that going to mass substitutes for believing in the doctrine of Rome.  Indeed, the particular issue was put thusly:  [Roman] Catholicism is treated as an inherited identity, and devotion is measured by attendance, not adherence.  Now there is an oddity.  Usually the complaint is that those who claim to adhere but do not attend are the problems.  Now it is those who attend but who do not adhere.  I am at a loss to know what to say to this.  Jesus gives no cover for either.  I guess I will start with Him.

Jesus takes to task the religious authorities of the day precisely because they separated faith in the heart (shall we call this adherence) from the outward observance (shall we call this attendance).  Whether to the Pharisees (white washed tombs) or the Sermon on the Mount (and its piety for the approval of men), Jesus insists that you do not choose between either adherence or attendance.  It was His custom to attend -- a back handed way of saying it ought to be ours as well.  But that attendance was no mere habit (as good as the good habit of worship attendance is).  It was also adherence and the confession of nothing less than the whole counsel of God's Word (as we used to say).  Jesus is not about to choose between attendance or adherence and He will not let you or me off the hook either.  It is not and never was a choice between going or believing.  It should not be for us, either.

To attend is not some individual activity but expects and gives witness to your support for what is believe, taught, and confessed in that mass (or Divine Service).  It is a modern invention to presume that being there has nothing whatsoever to do with confessing what happens there as your own.  But it works conveniently to undermine the whole idea of close(d) communion and it makes legitimate the idea that you go where you feel at home no matter what that church stands for.  I hear it all the time.  Lutherans who insist that they are attending the Baptist mega church or big box evangelical for the sake of their children, a sports program, or because that is where their friends go -- but, they insist, that does not mean they have abandoned their Lutheran faith.  That usually lasts until it becomes uncomfortable not to be baptized as their church defines it and then that baby is thrown out with the baptismal water.  For whatever reason, they find it easier to hide behind the idea that Christ is somehow present in some sort of way in the Sacrament even in a Baptist or evangelical church.  Where you worship has nothing whatsoever to do with what you believe is a modern invention by those who invented the style vs substance idea.  Of course, it is a lie.  Everyone knows that -- eventually.  Then comes the comfort that at least they are attending.  The Word of God is generally present somewhere in Christian churches and it is not without effect.  We all admit that.  But the Word is often a still small voice in comparison to the shouted refusal to believe, confess, or teach the creedal or confessional faith of their own tradition -- much less the catholic faith of the Scriptures and tradition.  Or perhaps the loudest voice is the voice of self-improvement justified by some little tidbit of Scripture.  Not so much comfort left now, is there.

The point is this.  It matters where you go and it matters that you go.  Go where the Scriptures are preached and where the worship is a clear and honest reflection of that Word of God.  Go where worship is not a man centered work either for us or for God but God's service to us of His Word and Sacraments so that we might respond with praise from our lips, obedience from our hearts, understanding from our minds, and good works of our hands.  Go not as a person looking for a church home that fits you to a tee but go where the Word of God is proclaimed so that it makes you uncomfortable and where the worship is informed by the catholic and apostolic forms in service to that Word.  Go because you believe and because you want faith to grow and your life to grow (in holiness).  But go and pay attention to what happens there.  It seems that this is often lost on us today.  We go when we feel it and we pay little attention to what happens unless it entertains or amuses us.  Perhaps that is the modern problem.  We neither adhere nor attend.

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