Thursday, August 15, 2013
Thoughts from Thunder Mountain
["Huachuca" - A Chiricahua Apache word meaning "thunder."]
Treating the Symptom
BJ: "You treated a symptom. The disease goes merrily on." (M*A*S*H, season seven, episode 22, "Preventive medicine")
Of course, in a very real sense, this is the way of the Gospel ministry. Pastors, Elders, Deacons, and Christians in general deal with the symptoms of sin every day; some at times much worse than others. But, try as we might, with ourselves or others, we can't get rid of the disease - sin itself. That won't happen until we die or Jesus returns, whichever comes first.
But this is not just true of the conflict between the New Man, created through faith in Jesus Christ, given by the Means of Grace, and the Old Adam, created at our conception. This is also true of many problems in this all too human institution called the visible church. Look at the issues that IL has been raising the past few years: the spread of contemporary worship, use of Reformed and/or Arminian songs and sermons, denigration of the visible Sacraments, felt-needs approach to outreach, giving in to feminist tendencies in Bible translations so as not to offend certain segments of the population, and so forth. How would we sum up all these items and others like them? What's the common denominator?
In this reporter's opinion, it is - once again - a kind of fear. This time it is fear of growing smaller and smaller; of getting so small as to pass into insignificance; fear of becoming a mere footnote in the history of Lutheranism in America; fear of getting so small that full-time positions in the church body can no longer be funded; fear that schools can't remain open, or even fear that churches will grow so small that many Pastors will end up selling shoes in a department store or driving an ice crème truck in order to put food on their tables. But isn't this shrinkage exactly what Jesus Himself predicted of the Last Times? Did He not wonder out loud that if the Last Day was put off beyond the time set by His Father, would there be any believers left on earth at all? See Luke 18.
So what happens? All too often it seems - and maybe it's only an impression I have - but it seems that Pastors and leaders will grasp at anything to fill the chairs, and worry about whether what they grasp is true orthodox, Biblical, confessional Lutheranism later. Thus, we get five-man-electrical-bands cluttering up the Chancel, churches with no public celebration of the Lord's Supper, "relaxed" worship with very little awe and reverence for a transcendent God. In short, congregations following the latest fad in church work. Very often these tricks pull in lots of people, that's true. But there used to be an old adage my seminary professors taught me, "If you get people for sociological reasons, you will also lose them for sociological reasons!" And so we often see these same "successful" churches with a kind of revolving door, as people come to be entertained for a year or two, if that, then leave out the back door once they've become bored with the "show," and go looking for something more fun and exciting.
Therefore, what is happening is that we end up treating the symptom - trying to make the Gospel "real, relevant, and relational," while the disease; rejection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, goes merrily on. And all the time, God has given us the antidote to this disease; preaching the Law to show people their sin, and preaching the Gospel to show them their Savior; calling people to repentance and faith in God's Son for the forgiveness of their sins and the salvation of the souls; and bolstering this preaching with the tools God has also given, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. True, even this will not stop sin from occurring again and again, but it can and it will keep the disease in check and bring comfort and peace to hurting souls. That is the kind of "operation" that God has given us to do.
As a classmate back in seminary used to say when studying the latest Church Growth gimmicks, "Tricks are for kids!" Let's all get back to the serious business of battling Satan and the disease he brings, using only the best medicine of all, the Word and Sacraments!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License