October 2022 Newsletter
This fall I have been leading a class with the young men of our school trying to encourage them to be better leaders and better men, for our society is sorely lacking in both. In one of the books the author used the illustration of a spiritual hitchhiker to describe the plight of the American church and the American Christian, which was too hard to resist sharing partially because of even how he describes hitchhiking in general. The hitchhiker is effectively saying to the person willing to tow them along, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep, buy the gas, and I’ll just come along for the ride.” I had only ever thought of the safety issue hitchhiking involved; never how basely selfish it was. But then he makes his analogy to church membership: “You go to the meetings, you serve on the boards and committees; you deal with the problems and do the work of the church and pay the bills – and I’ll come along for the ride.” Ouch! The comment stings retyping it as much as it did when I was struck first reading it.
And yet he goes further… “If things don’t suit me, I’ll criticize, moan, grumble, bad-mouth the church and probably quit.” Now the author presumes quitting for his audience is sticking out their thumb and seeking membership in a different church, but I would posit that quitting is also just as simple as stopping attending or participating in the regular life of the church. For the author states quite rightly that this attitude is simply one of self-centeredness, which is the heart and center of the idolatry that resides in the First Commandment. And since every commandment hinges upon the first, while it may be easy enough to talk about breaking the Third Commandment by not going to church, the reality is that we’ve also broken the first by making ourselves more important than God by not honoring Him above all things.
It’s a dangerous place we live as Christians in the convenience of modern America, dangerous because of its bounty. We have all that we could possibly want or experience to make up the ideal dream church, or maybe ‘Franken-church’ depending on your perspective. “One church for Bible teaching, another for their awesome music, a third for their exciting programs. The average Christian, according to pollster George Barna, thinks ‘belonging to a church is good for other people, but represents unnecessary baggage for himself.’” Good for thee but not for me, if you will. We are seeing what the author describes as the rise of the churchless Christian. “This should be as odd as a car without wheels, or a pianist without a piano.” Some roam from church to church, others simply remain on the roles of one yet attend almost anywhere but there, while others stay home entirely yet claim to be member of a church they haven’t been to in years. In any case it is and has created a whole group of Christians “without accountability, without discipline, without discipleship, without the regular benefits of hearing God’s Word and sharing in the Lord’s Table.”
Whether it be in the relational world of more and more couples seeing no need to get married, an ever-rising turn-over rate in the job market, down to the nuts and bolts of holding principled opinions until some wind of unpopularity blows over our fainting spirits, commitment is on the decline, and the church is no exception. “The entire Christian life rides on commitment – to Christ – to church – to marriage – to family – to friendship. None of these will flourish apart from commitment.” And lest your retort be something so tired as (and believe me it is a terribly played out boring comment that denies Scripture), “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” No, you don’t, not technically. “You don’t have to go home to be married either. But – if you don’t, it makes for a pretty sorry relationship.” Or as another theologian put it, “Stay away long enough and see how long you actually stay married.”
But like I said more importantly the idea denies Scripture, not least of which is the 3rd Commandment and God’s command to “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” This means church. It means hearing and holding sacred the Word of God AND receiving the life-giving body and blood of our Savior in, with, and under the bread and wine for the literal life of we – His body – the Church. Which leads to St. Paul’s comments about how “the hand cannot say to the foot, nor the eye to the ear I don’t need you.” The body requires its various members to be in accord with one another for the body to function to the best of its ability, so too the church requires its members one and all to be in accord and active for it to function as well. Christ gives us such a simple and great promise that where two or three are gathered in my name there I am with them. Even Christ by implication does not support the idea of ‘lone-ranger Christians.’ He exhorts the branches to remain connected to the vine and being in worship is about as simple and tangible a connection as possible, not to mention visible.
We are not called to be a bunch of broken branches or strewn about self-mutilated body parts. We are called to be the body of Christ and each individually members of it; we are described as the many heads of wheat that make up the one loaf. Hear this as your Hebrews 10:24-25, “(stirring) up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Now I don’t know about you, but the state of things in the world at the moment certainly has one occasionally questioning the nearness of that ‘great and awe-ful Day.’ According to Hebrews we should always see that day drawing near and should be continually fleeing to the house of the Lord for the spiritual health and life which our Lord promises to offer to us there in Word and Sacrament ministry.
We are not called to be couch-potato or side-line Christians. Church is not a spectator sport. The body becomes all but useless with years spent on the couch not being active and the church is no different if its members are not active. Hear the reminiscent words of Hark the voice of Jesus Crying, “Who will go and work today… let none hear you idly saying, there is nothing I can do… you can tell the love of Jesus, you can say He died for all… you can lead the little children to the Savior’s waiting arms… with your prayers and with your bounties you can do what God demands (to which I would add your schedule, your smartphone, your calendar, your time and commitment)… take the task He gives you gladly.” And the tasks Paul speaks to in Romans 8 are just as varied as verses of the hymn, “We have different gifts according to the grace given us. If one’s gift is prophecy, let him use it in proportion to his faith; if it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is giving, let him give generously; if it is leading, let him lead with diligence; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” There is a place for one each of us in the work of God’s kingdom, and necessary work by each to be done.
Now like I said at the outset, this all propagated out of a class at school to encourage young men in our school to live up the calling to grow-up into godly men. As the subtitle of another book I’ve been reading for the class puts it, it means that we “be willing to show up.” Whether showing up means: showing up for church or showing up for a meeting or showing up for a brother or sister in Christ who is in need, it still means we, each one individually must do our part, serve in those various roles Paul laid out earlier. It also requires that we who are old enough to know better model for our children and grandchildren, sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters what it actually looks like to be a Christian. The words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:6 rings heavy in my ears, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Sow of yourself, your time, your effort, your love into those whom God has given to you: your children, grandchildren, spouse, friends. Redouble your efforts towards your own self and your own needs of body and soul, faith and life that are sure to have been brought to light in the words already spoken as we each seek to grow up into the maturity of Christ our Head our Leader, our Lord and Savior. Amen.