Archive for December 11th, 2018

Giving Up church for Advent

I find it astounding that from AD 33, when Our Lord was crucified, buried, rose again, ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, till in or about the year AD 312 when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity a legal religion of the Roman Empire, the Church grew.  The Church grew to such size that she was so recognizable in the Roman Empire that even the Caesar and others began sit up and take notice of the inevitability of the Church in their midst. The Church’s growth is amazing because she was both mildly and severely persecuted for almost two and half centuries, in that first age of the Martyrs.   My amazement grew even more when I realized that there were no official church constitutions, headquarters, staff, hymnals,sanctuaries, even Bibles (printed Bibles would not begin till Guttenberg in the 16th Century), TV, radio, magazines, internet.  How? How did the Church grow? 

Dr. C. F. W. Walther has a Scriptural insight as to the answer:

“Who, then, as the power in the kingdom? It is Jesus Christ alone. He declares this of Himself. He says:”I am a King.” I am the good Shepherd.” “One is your Master, even Christ.” The apostle calls Him “the Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” By which means Christ exercises the power in His church, though He has withdrawn His visible presence from it and sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, is clearly shown by the last declaration, with which He parted from His disciples: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, 10, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Hence His Word, accompanied and sealed by the holy Sacraments, is the means whereby Christ exercises power in His kingdom. This is the “right scepter” with which He rules His people, this is the “rod and staff” with which He feeds His flock.”

As Martin Luther preached about the Reformation: we did nothing, and  we preached and taught the Word and it was the Word that did everything. We will do anything to make the Church grow, like give ten dollars to the first 50 worshipers on a Sunday, come up with jazzier and more peppy tunes, invent new models of Church growth, and the like.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Empire did none of that and it can’t be done in Communist China.  How has the Church grown in the Communist regime of China these past years since the coming of Communism and tyranny and darkness beginning 1 October, 1949? Sounds so simplistic: They listened to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church in, “His Word, accompanied and sealed by the holy Sacraments, is the means whereby Christ exercises power in His kingdom.”  They were forgiven sinners as we, and we know in the New Testament, apostasy happened, but it was not excused or “dialogued with”. As the Lord Himself promised, I will build My Church. Christians in the first centuries, and maybe in China, have had to memorize the Scripture, become living books of the Word.  Like them, we too have the Word but when we begin to trust our own planning, experts, and the like, as the means to “grow the church”, our trust is holy misplaced:  we are becoming idolaters in the Church of Christ. No wonder I was astonished by the first centuries’ growth of the Church as my astonishment shows my idolatry.

The old Roman Catholic critique of Protestants is on target:  Protestants begin a church meeting with prayer and the liturgy with announcements. In a similar vein, Michael A. Lockwood, in his book, The Unholy Trinity: Martin Luther Against the Idol of Me, Myself and I, has this cogent reflection:

In the Gospels, we see our Lord constantly in prayer, particularly when he faced a big decision or crisis. He often stayed up late at night to pray, and he instructed his disciples to be people of prayer. Many of the Biblical saints also set us an example of fasting and prayer in times of need all too often my experience of church life has been more like this: We face a problem, so we call a meeting. We pray for two minutes, and then strategize for two hours. Maybe my experience is atypical—and certainly, I have experienced exceptions—yet my experience of the church is enough that I suspect it is not. If this is our standard way of managing church, then in practical terms we have more faith in our planning and strategizing than in our Lord who answers prayer. The work habits of church leadership could also suggest the same thing, that as a group we place too much confidence in what our strength can achieve.

Michael Lockwood cites many Scripture passages of the Church and her Lord in prayer. Advent, like Lent, is a time of penitence.  Maybe we should be giving up church structures, governing bodies, staff and the like and giving ourselves to the Lord in the Sacraments and the Divine Service, continuing catechesis, prayer, Scripture, Biblical and Confessional retreats praying the Daily Offices, yes, even fasting. 

Not so long ago, high school age sons and daughters would tell Dad or Mom, “Oh, give it a rest”.  Einstein said, Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.  We keep on going down the dead ends of our ‘brilliance’.  Let’s give it a rest and repent.  We are always moving around, roaming and looking for the latest thing and the Lord says, Be still and know that I am God. You can’t fill someone’s glass when he’s always moving about with the glass and the Lord wills to fill us. We must pray as the Church:

Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: