Thursday, August 15, 2013

Treating the Symptom

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!

Deo Vindice!


Joe Krohn said...

Excellent post, Pastor Spencer.

When I was initially involved with the Crosswalk start up in Phoenix, the saying was: "We can't not do nothing". It was perceived that there was this great harvest that needed to be done in south Phoenix to grow the kingdom. But that is the rub. We can't grow the kingdom. The elect is finite in number already and it is only the church's job to call that elect with the Word that God has entrusted it. His sheep know His voice and will follow. What these contempo guys do not realize is that they are playing their way into union with the second beast.

When Sandy Hook went down last year, I happened to listen to Jeff Gunn's sermon that following Sunday. What I heard was 'if we get out in our communities and spread the love of Jesus, maybe we can prevent this from happening in our city". People need to see the danger in this. Our kingdom is not of this world. To think we can make the world a better place; a heaven on earth is anti-christian and flies in the face of everything Jesus taught. It is what brought God's judgment on those who were building the tower of Babel.


Anonymous said...

Amen, Pastor Spencer. Joe hit the point right on the head. We can go about the blessed work of preaching Law and Gospel in the assurance that not one single soul will be missed which the Lord wants to bring into His fold. We need no gimmick or tricks in our presentation. Law and Gospel faithfully preached and watch the Holy Spirit do His work. How can it get more "real and relevant" than that?

Scott E. Jungen

Pastor Spencer said...

Of course, it is true that the Gospel indeed changes lives, motivates good and Godly living, and improves communities and countries. These are salutary effects of faithfully preaching the Word of God and faithfully administering Christ's Sacraments, and also faithfully trusting in the Holy Spirit to do the work Jesus has sent Him to do in this world.

Sometimes it is hard for us to remember that God does not NEED the Wisconsin Synod. He does not NEED the Missouri Synod, or the ELS, or the CLC, or ELDoNA - or Intrepid Lutherans! With God, all things are possible, and He can and will use all kinds of people and groups as tools of the Spirit to fill His kingdom. All we are instructed to do is preach, teach, and administer the Means of Grace to the best of our ability - using all of them; changing none of them, hiding none of them, ignoring none of them.

The question we all need to ask ourselves is: Do we really and truly trust in these Means alone to carry out God's will, or do we believe they need some "help" from us in order to function? And if we believe that they need our help, what other consequences can and will flow from such belief?

Thanks for your comments, Scott and Joe.

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