Monday, October 12, 2009

Insights from Our Fathers

A few years back when I was serving in a different district I became acquainted with a congregation that was looking to "revitalize" itself. The senior pastor had cooked up a scheme whereby he would generate new life in his own congregation (a congregation he felt needed to be “revitalized”) through a church planting program. The congregation's method was to plant a new congregation every few years with the intention that this planting process keep them infused with excitement.

I might ask, why is it that when we see the effects of sin drawing away the life of the congregation, our assumption is always that we are the ones who have the where-with-all to do anything about it? (I suppose we might also just as well ask why individual Christians feel the need to "do something" (i.e. go to a conference, recommit myself, etc.) when we personally feel the need to be revitalized?) The aforementioned example proposed an outreach/daughter-church-planting program to build up the congregation. There are plenty of other “revitalization” projects and processes that are currently en vogue in our own Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Most of them share the common theme of "structure and governance". Most of the time a key component in the changes involves bylaws.

Perhaps we should take a step backward as we are considering how to take the next step forward. History has wonderful lessons to teach if we are but willing to listen and learn.

There is a great piece written originally by Friedrich Pfotenhauer for a conference of visitation pastors back in 1936 that speaks to this “contemporary” issue appropriately and beautifully. It has been translated by Matt Harrision and appears in print in At Home in the House of My Fathers. A worthy read. Check it out and read it here.

Pfotenhauer offers to us today the following guidance:

"First, we must guard against trying to elevate this spiritual life with means that cannot accomplish what we seek. An attempt has been made to elevate spiritual life in the home congregation by rousing the Church to missions and directing her sight to the misery of the churchless and especially the poor non-Christians. To be sure, the work of mission is a glorious and invaluable thing. But to speak and act as though it were through participation in the work of mission that the Word of God must be made living and powerful is simply wrong. To forsake at home the confession of the external Word and the heavenly doctrine while rambling afar in the opinion that the Church must be saved and enlivened with mission is Schwarmgeisterei."

He goes on:

"Others would heal Joseph’s wounds with tighter church governance. They say, if our presidents, visitors, and commissions had more authority, if they could prescribe things to congregations and the congregations had to obey, then life would be brought to these dead bones. Without question, if such a yoke were laid upon the necks of the children, many external works would be produced. Indeed, it wouldn’t even be that difficult to get the money to begin flowing. But that would in no way elevate spiritual life. In fact, it would suffer a terrible retrogression. The Gospel tolerates no hierarchy."

Finally he concludes:

"If we desire to elevate spiritual life, then we must be completely confident in the way of salvation. God from eternity has established and laid down clearly and plainly in His Word this order of salvation. If we do not follow this, spiritual life will neither be begotten nor elevated. And since the way of salvation is so very foreign to human nature, unless we constantly take note of the Word, we will go astray in doctrine and practice.

"Spiritual life comes about, and will be maintained, through faith in Jesus Christ, through confidence in the declaration of justification, which God has created through the redemptive work of Christ and proclaimed in the Gospel. And this spiritual life is realized immediately through holiness and piety, and through living in the commandments of God."

There is much more to his address and it is entirely worthy of reading. The basic point it this: if you want to see revitalization both in the church and in yourself, cling to Christ... where He has promised to be... in His Holy Word! In His Sacraments! There you will find Christ. There you will find the Spirit of Christ. Let us not fall prey to these new measures that would wrestle faith away from Christ where He can be found in His Word. Let us not attach faith to what is its only alternative - our own "good" works!

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