Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Only the Cross

I find myself in a bit of a pickle as I think long and hard about my relationship with the larger church (ELCA).  I love my church.  There is no doubt about this.  I want her to grow and thrive.  I want the God-awful state of decline she has been in to reverse itself and for people to fill her pews on a given Sunday morning.  I long for the day when all of our congregation's pews: Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, and the like are filled to overflowing as people come from far and wide to worship.

I do not wish for any church body to decline and die.

And yet, many are.  Some slowly.  Some spiraling out of control.

Now, this is not some sort of "the Church must change or die" sort of post.  God knows, I've heard so many of those lectures and read so many of those blogs that I have started tuning them out.

That goes for those folks who say that we need to become more moralistic.
That goes for those folks who say that we need to focus more on justice.
That goes for those folks who say that we need to change our doctrines.
That goes for those folks who say that we need to stop being so liberal.
That goes for those folks who say that we need to stop being so conservative.
That goes for those folks who say that we need to implement more programs.
That goes for those folks who say that we need to implement less programs.
That goes for those folks who say that we need to have more "contemporary"/modern worship.
That goes for those folks who say that we need to have more "traditional" worship.

In each and every one of these things, we are focusing on ourselves.  We are trying to figure out what the surrounding culture wants and give it to them.  It's as if we believe the Church is here to satisfy the needs and desires of the culture, and if we want our pews to be full, then we need to be giving the culture what it wants.

I can see the early Church trying to take such action. 

"Well, you see those Jews over there.  They expect a Messiah who will come and establish power and peace by military force.  The Messiah will overthrow the Romans and free the nation of Israel.  Let's shun the cross and what Jesus did and talk about such power and might.  Let's give them what they want."

"Well, you see those Gentiles over there.  They want comfort and security.  They want a god who is omniscient and omnipotent who can favor them.  Let's get rid of the cross where God dies and give them a god who allows them joy and pleasure in their lives."

"For the cross is a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles."  --1 Corinthians 1:23.

Indeed, the cross still is foolishness.  It must be.  That's the only reason I can think of that it didn't make an appearance at the Synod Assembly I attended last week.  Can you imagine a Synod Assembly whose focus was intended to be evangelism that didn't mention the cross?  That didn't mention the acts of God on that cross?  Can you imagine a Lutheran Synod Assembly whose focus was supposedly evangelism--whose founder espoused and coined the phrase the theology of the cross--who didn't spend a single minute asking the question, "How do we convey the message of the cross in this day and age?  How do we talk about God's reconciling the world unto Himself in this postmodern age?"

So, what was the Synod Assembly focused on? 

Essentially, it was one giant pep-rally trying to get us to do good things.  Yep, that was it.  Work hard at being especially nice.  Work hard at listening to your neighbors.  Work hard at loving everyone.  That is evangelism.  Your works are evangelism.  What you do is evangelism.

So, you might ask, what is the problem with that?  I'd like you to read the following quote from a young man who served on a panel of young adults at the Synod Assembly.  He leans atheist/agnostic, and he offered this scathing criticism of the church:

But the part of me that lives on the edges has to stop and ask this...why?  Why is the christian church trying to recruit "youths ages 18-35 who make up the blah blah blah???  What does having more people in church do?

The people I asked to help me with this do amazing things, why doesn't the church stop trying to pull them into their crowd and instead go out and be with them? ...The question I want answered is, when will the church stop trying to make itself the center of everyone's world and go out and do something like so many 18-35 year olds are doing, because I have to tell you, we are just waiting for the day the church joins us.

What response can one give to such a scathing criticism IF the church's job is "doing good things?" 

There is no response.  The criticism stands, and the Church is convicted.  (Although to be fair, in the omitted examples this gentleman listed in his screed where he asked "Where is the Church?", in all reality, the Church was already in all of those places.  One can easily ask the question: why can't you see it there?)

In fact, as I was debriefing with one of my members, I was brutally honest.  I said, "I don't want this guy in my church.  He reminds me of myself not too long ago.  Arrogant.  Self-righteous.  He'd be a troublemaker.  But it doesn't matter if I want him in church or not.  There is One who does want Him.  There is One who wants His heart and soul."

Indeed, there is one part of the young man's criticism that is Truth: the Church should never try and make itself the center of everyone's world.  Never.  Ever!  At the center of everyone's world should be a cross with a suffering God who is stretching His arms out to suffer and die to make sure the world is reconciled to their Heavenly Father.  At the center of everyone's world should be Jesus.

If anyone in the Christian Church disputes this, then I simply think you cannot call yourself a Christian.  (Read my extended quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer from a few days ago.)  If at the center of your world is anything less than Jesus, then you are committing idolatry.  You have a false god.

And so, the answer to the young man's question is Jesus.  The Church doesn't want you, sir.  Jesus does.  The Church will go on without you too, but there is One who doesn't want to go on without you.  There is one who was willing to die for you.  I know you probably don't see that or get that.  You are completely and totally focused on your actions and the actions of the world and the Church.  You want to make a difference.  I understand that.  I really do.  I wanted to change the world myself.

But I found out something.  It was a hard lesson.  A very hard one.  I couldn't make that difference.  I couldn't change people.  I couldn't change the world.  I might be able to feed a person for a day.  I might be able to lobby government officials.  I might even be able to lead a movement to change laws, but I can never, ever change someone's heart.  I can't make people love each other.  I can't make people get along and see each other a fully human.  I can't convince people to stop looking out for their own interests and look out for the interests of another. 

I know you are a studious sort of person.  It came across very strongly in your presentation.  Read Nietzsche?  You understand, don't you, that if there is no transcendence, no God, then everything we do are simply power plays, right?  You do understand that essentially we are all working out our own wills to power even if we say we are looking out for another?  You could argue that you aren't looking out for yourself, but Nietzsche would scoff at you and say, "Yeah right.  The only reason you are trying to help others is because you get some benefit.

You see, there is One who indeed came and lived for no benefit to Himself.  Jesus didn't need anything from us.  He was totally satisfied, loved, and glorified in His relationship with His Father and the Spirit.  He needed and needs nothing from us.  Yet, He came to us for a reason--to change our hearts that we might experience the same kind of love He knows living with the Father and the Spirit.  He came that we might be able to love one another without any sort of contempt or anger towards those who are different than we are.  And He showed that not with power and might but with a cross.

It's all about Jesus and the cross.  If you can't get someone to the foot of the cross, then...well, you might be doing some good things, but you are not doing evangelism.  And if the Church exists solely for doing good things, then we have no need of worship.  We have no need for buildings and Bible Study.  All we essentially need is to have someone urge us, remind us, sometimes whip us into submission to "Love our neighbors as we love ourselves."

But Christianity isn't about that.  Evangelism isn't about that.  It's all about Jesus.  It's focal point is the cross. 

Somehow, this has been pushed to the periphery.  No longer is it at the center.  

To our detriment.

What will it take to reclaim our cross-centeredness? 

I frankly don't know, but I know what I will do from henceforth:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  -- 1 Corinthians 2:1-2.

If that message changed hearts then, it will still change hearts now.  Here I stand...


Unknown said...

Oh NO! Oh NO!
The Sky is falling The sky is falling, NO, For Real this time.

____Chicken Little

Kevin Haug said...

Anyone who claims to be Christian and does not grieve decline in membership, attendance, and discipleship--particularly when the proclamation of Christ crucified is missing--has a shallow faith indeed.

Unknown said...

I am not as concerned with membership in any particular denomination or fallible Human institutions, as I am with those who seek after Truth. Strangely, my sense is that the Eternal Truth will prevail, the exact form that THE ETERNAL TRUTH takes or what The "church" looks like is of lesser concern to those of us who are not professional paid Christians.

BTW, this week I learned that the Vatican was the intended target of a terror Plot in 2010. OK So here is my question What do you think will or would happen to the The Church Universal, if the Vatican, (God Forbid) were to be destroyed by Religious Zealots?
(You know, sort a smack down of The gods?) Whose God Would win? What if all of the Holy relics were destroyed, How would that affect your faith and relationship with Jesus? Would the generations still unborn be likely or able to experience the good news of Christ's Gospel? If there were no statues shrouds or Holy sites? Nothing to kinesthetically connect you to
the church you read about in a Banned book? (the BIBLE?)

BTW I am not generally into apocalyptic theory, but the question crossed my mind this week. Just food for thought.
Will this be a seed thought for a future sermon?


Kevin Haug said...

^^Did it take the rest of you as long as it did to figure "Unknownn" out? Denigrate clergy for stance. Ask leading questions of clergy to elicit response. Denigrate clergy for response.

"It is time for the pastor to stop taking him seriously..." --Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Unknown said...

Dear Dietrich,
Sorry, Clergy ARE Professional Paid Christians. Or do you have a tentmakers ministry?

The "form" of the Church, is less important than the TRUTH of the Gospel of JESUS coming out.
When did Jesus promise you a living?

The FACT IS that a terror plot against the VATICAN, was disclosed on Friday. Did it not make FOX News in Tejas?

Quite honestly I am concerned by potential attacks on the Orthodox church... and wonder what a "Hit" on Orthodox Christendom and the destruction or obliteration of relics/sites so significant to the Church I will monitor your sermons to learn your response.

L'chaim. and AMEN!


Kevin Haug said...

It is quite amazing to me how there are some who neither understand the Gospel, nor know their Scriptures, nor grasp the purpose of preaching try to enlighten the faithful on what it means to do such matters.

"13Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is sacrificed on the altar? 14In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." --1 Corinthians 9:13-14


"THE PASTOR SHOULD GIVE UP ARGUING WITH HIM, AND STOP TAKING HIS DIFFICULTIES SERIOUSLY. That will really be in the man's own interest, for he is only trying to hide himself behind them." --Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Unknown said...

With all Due Respect Pastor... What were Moses' credentials? Should God have found a different leader who could have led the people MORE DIRECTLY to Palestine? Maybe using a GARMIN?

Did the Children of Israel get a grant from Global Missions to support their Leaders on their journey through the Dessert? How about Moses' medical benefits? Did he receive a Housing allowance?

Was Moses only selected to lead the people out of Egypt after a thorough review from the
Bishops office?

I have no problem with the faith community sponsoring or supporting those who preach the Gospel, or provide the other services necessary for the maintenance of the church.

My point is that God is NOT constrained to only work within the "ORTHODOX" church.

FURTHER I am Certain that The Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the Universe will provide for HIS CHURCH and HIS faithful, even in a "Post Christian Era!"

good luck!


Kathy Suarez said...

Hey Carl and Pastor Kevin, can I play? This looks like so much fun! Seriously, Pastor Kevin, I have a blog and I would have shut this down by now. You are very tolerant and liberal.

Carl, you are the son of a Lutheran minister? Is that correct? You have a lot of interesting ideas. I am the grand-daughter of a Lutheran minister -- like you, I also asked a lot of questions, and now I am a very happy Catholic....

Here's the deal: If you believe Jesus is who he says he is, then just use simple logic and the rest is easy. Martin Luther had an ax to grind and got an idea into his head about "freedom" and really messed up the Church. Luther himself did everything he preached against.

Primary example: Luther said "Sola Scriptura" -- just read the plain meaning of Scripture. Matthew 16:18 -- Jesus founds the Church with Peter as the head and promises that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Luther lost his faith in this truth and in the Church Jesus founded and twisted this Scripture to suit himself.

If you believe Jesus and the Bible, the rest is simple. The Church Jesus founded will endure until he returns. The Shroud is helpful because it is evidence of the Resurrection. But the Church endures because of Jesus' promise to not leave it.


Unknown said...

Well Kathy, sure you Can play. Though Pastor Kevin might NOT appreciate that "L" word you used to describe him....
Firstly let me THANK YOU for addressing the underlying question. I too believe that the Truth of Jesus and His Church will abide. I wonder, in part what form THE CHURCH will take with all of the Current assaults against it. Though I trust that the core Truths like a Mighty Fortress :-) will Stand. My concern is for those who might fall away, who for reasons unknown have put their faith in power systems, schemes and structures which are Not of GOD but of mammon.


Kathy Suarez said...

Carl --

The "L" word? Lutheran or liberal? Lutheran is not a bad thing -- the Lutheran Church has given many good things to the universal church. The question before us is, as you rightly said: "what form THE CHURCH will take."

One important issue is: Who is the head of the Church? Bishop Eaton is head of the ELCA. Pope Francis is head of the Catholic Church. Pastor Kevin would say: "Christ is Head of the Church!" Of course, Christ is head of the Church, but where is his office, his phone? Christ is in Heaven, and, yes, of course he is the Head, but the spiritual Head. The Church exists on Earth, run by human beings, until the Second Coming.

So what form does that Church take? That was really settled during the time of the Creeds and the Early Church. One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Apostolic. The Church is run by the successors of the apostles and head of the apostles, the successors of Peter and the apostles: the Pope and the Bishops.

You say this is "mammon"? Well, what the Catholic Church has is the system Christ set up, and it was approved by the Early Church. Do you know of a better one? One that works better? Look at the Lutheran Church today, for example. Clint Schnekloth's church just split. Now instead on one medium size parish, there are 2 small churches. And so on. The Lutheran way: It just doesn't work. Maybe in 16th-century Germany, where everyone was German, but not in the modern world.

The system of the Catholic Church allows for diversity and development of doctrine, without splitting the Church. The Holy Spirit preserves the Church. History has proven this.

Unknown said...

Ok Kathy, good points, but I really wonder of God is looking at these divisions within the church as mini chasms or big ones like the Grand Canyon. Well, remember "Evel" Knievel, that man jumped the Snake River Canyon, using a rocket propelled motorcycle as I recall but the point is he did it!

Well I just wonder if even the chasms so prolific in Lutheranism, might not be all healed up and filled in "COME THE JUDGMENT DAY"
Not sure Kathy, I am sort of thinking out loud here.

And by mammon I was referencing the non essential items, trinkets, icons and Statues(like ones of Jesus and the BVM... Not sure, but I think I would call the Worship of such things, and the "SECURUTY" people seek through them Mammon.

I don't know Kathy, I was just wondering what if terrorists were ABLE to destroy The Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, and all the Holy RELICS of Christendom.... Would that cause some Believers to lose their faith? I am Not talking about devout believers like you. You of course, I know through your own testimony, will persevere, as I suspect will Pastor Kevin, his congregation and maybe even I will..

It's just that World events these days are kinda causing me to look at things a bit differently than I did, even 2 weeks ago.

Thanks for playing!


Kathy Suarez said...

Carl --

I appreciate your thoughts and I am grateful to Pastor Kevin for giving me a chance to respond. (Other Lutheran websites have blocked me.)

First, let me say that Catholics DO NOT WORSHIP statues, relics, the BVM, etc. I can tell you that I have been a Catholic for over 40 years, have lived in Chicago, Boston, Seattle and Miami, and I have NEVER met one Catholic who worshiped something or someone other than God. This is a terrible lie that goes back to the days of Martin Luther calling the Pope the Anti-Christ. It is time to move on.

I was at the Vatican a few years ago, and I hate to say it, but it is very fragile.... Have you ever read Graham Greene's story "The Last Pope"? It goes that the Church and all the relics are destroyed by some political power. All the Christians are killed -- except for the Pope. Finally, he is brought before a firing squad and shot dead. As he is being shot, one drop of his blood lands on one of the on-lookers and the person thinks: "Could what this man believed possible be true?" And the Church goes on....

Kathy Suarez said...

I meant to write --
"Could what this man believed possibly be true?"

Unknown said...

Thanks Kathy!


Dennis Bender said...

The one thing that we agree on, Kathy, is that if you believe Jesus and the Bible, the rest is simple. Matthew 16:18 is not about Peter the man but about Christ the Lord and Saviour. It is not about a papal system of the church but it is about Christ working through the servants of the Church, the Church that the Lord Jesus Christ established and powered by His Holy Spirit. The Church is "His" ("my church, vs.18) and it is not the church of men but men (and women) serve Him in His church. The "rock" of the church is not a man but the statement of faith, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." See John 20:21-23, 30-31*. Luther had it right. Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia. By Faith Alone, By the Word of God Alone, By Grace Alone.

Even though all earthly things are destroyed yet the Church will stand because the Church is not of earth or man but of Christ Jesus whose Kingdom reigns forever.

The Costly Price paid on the Cross paid for the sins of all men and all women for we all sin and come short of the glory of God. That includes bishops or however we label the offices of the church. All will kneel before Him and call Him Lord. BTW, One of the greatest testimonies of faith that I ever heard was from a nun that I worked with in establishing a half way house outside of Chicago. She would have made an outstanding Lutheran. She certainly was an exceptional Christian and I look forward to celebrating the joy of heaven with her.

Kathy Suarez said...

Simply the interpretation of one man: Martin Luther.

Dennis Bender said...

That one man always considered himself a true Roman Catholic and a servant of Christ. He did not coin the term Lutheran nor did he encourage it. He only wanted the Roman church of that day to return to a Bible-centered theology and view.

Kathy Suarez said...

Hi Dennis -- First, thanks to Pastor Kevin for allowing this discussion. One thought on your last comment: "The Costly Price paid on the Cross paid for the sins of all men and all women for we all sin and come short of the glory of God. That includes bishops or however we label the offices of the church. All will kneel before Him...." I hope you don't think Catholics think bishops are better than ordinary Christians! -- this goes back to more of the old 16th-century baloney.

The Roman Church never left the "Bible-centered theology and view." There were certain abuses in the 16th century. Luther reacted against abuses. Nationalism entered....

What about the ELCA's abuses of "Bible-centered theology"? In my humble opinion, that is much worse than anything from the 16th century. Compare gay marriage with the sale of indulgences........