Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Half a church is better than . . .

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore made known its plans to close and consolidate parishes from 61 down to 30 worship sites.  As is typical, the plans of such closings are always tagged with a seemingly hopeful, confident, and missional title:  "Seek the City to Come."  Of course, the Bishop admits that such decisions are necessary but will enable the diocese to better serve the people of God.  Of course, they were guided by the Holy Spirit in this and not by statistics or mere numbers.  Of course, the decisions were fair and impartial.  And, of course, they are going to accompany the closings with plans to revitalize the diocese.  Don't forget its Chapter 11 Bankruptcy (which preceded the new last that eliminated the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse claims).  The problems, according to the diocese are low attendance, high maintenance costs and, well, n priests.  Archbishop Lori said. "We will form new communities that are well equipped to carry out the urgent mission before us: announcing the Gospel and helping our neighbors here in the city to encounter the saving love of the Father revealed in Jesus Christ."

Maybe you are excited?  I am not.  Not that some of those church buildings did not need to go but what I lament is that all across orthodox Christianity we seem to believe that downsizing is progress.  Even in Missouri.  There voices within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod who think we should be able to close churches, move resources around, and dump the extra names on the rolls and this will fix what is wrong with us.  Will it?  We have a pretty good track record of closing parish schools and colleges and it has not translated into any revitalization.  We have and continue to invent new programs for revitalization and still the numbers are going in the wrong direction.  We have no shortage of books and talking heads telling what we ought to be doing (of course, I do not mean me, LOL).  Typical, huh!

There is plenty of blame to go around.  Pastors are at fault and must shoulder some of the blame.  People in the pews are at fault and must should some of the blame.  Then we have the world and the devil out there working pretty effectively against us.  So, it is understandable why we are failing, right?  Therein may lie some of the real problem.  We trust anything and everything except God's Word.  We accommodate taste and preference to provide a generic worship experience that will fit everyone's desire.  We adjust the morality to fit the prevailing values and mood of the people and their leaders.  We omit parts of God's Word we find outdated or objectionable.  We focus on today's happiness over holiness or service.  We seldom even mention sin.  We celebrate every sexual desire and affirm every invented gender.  What could possibly go wrong?  Oh, wait, we don't do that officially in the Missouri Synod or in Rome -- or we are not supposed to, right?  But if we are not faithful in the full proclamation of God's Word, we are just as much at fault as those who pick and choose their own gospel for the moment.

I am not saying we need to be naysayers to the world and against the world but we do need to be positive and confident of what we believe for the sake of the world.  We also need to remember that Christians are supposed to be joyful.  If we have lost our joy, how does that impact our witness?  What kind of joy is there in downsizing for Christ?  No, we do not need to be against more things -- just faithful to the God whose Word is our anchor and guide.  Yes, we ought to remember that fruit of the Spirit working in us through the means of grace includes:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  We will not succeed by downsizing either the Gospel or the places where it is proclaimed but what might happen if we actually did show forth in our lives and conduct:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?  We cannot make people believe the Gospel (that is the Spirit's job) but we can certainly give them reasons to not pay attention to it.  It is not the pastor's job or the evangelism committee's job (I wish there were NO more evangelism committees).  It is all our calling to reflect in our life and speech the joy of being the children of God not by works but by grace -- not as an affirmation of our particular predilections but by the rescue of God for a people unworthy of His mercy.

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