Thursday, August 7, 2008

The desire for an impersonal church

Too many people have a desire for an impersonal church. People can want a church that is big, large, and popular, but they don't have to have that messy burden of relationship with the other people, don't have to have that difficult burden of actually showing love to their neighbor.

Look at the approach to Evangelism that seems to be on the rise. Let's find a program, let's get a nice committee, and then people will flock to our church. If we just get the dynamic pastor, a good greeter, an entertaining service, people will flock to us!

Let me ask a question. How did you end up in Church? Most of us end up there because we were brought by our parents, or invited by a friend. I'm sort of an exception. My parents had me baptized but really had stopped going to church - but they sent me to the Lutheran day school. . . and I came home, asked my dad, "How come we don't go to Church like all the other families," and hit him with the biggest guilt trip in the world. Okay, the school sort of helped. . . but my dad already knew better, had already been trained. I was speaking law smacking him upside the head. . . but that's not "growing" - that's picking up a delinquent (even if he was someone else's delinquent technically).

No, we come to church via personal contact. The Holy Spirit uses the Word - but it is the Word (99% of the time) spoken by one person to another. The word of mouth we need isn't, "have you seen that smiling pastor with the perfect hair" but rather, "come, my friend, and hear what Christ has done for you."

But we want an impersonal Church. Father Hollywood has an excellent discussion looking at a "close" communion statement where basically it is a list of things. . . and if you believe it. . . just come on up.

How impersonal is that? A stranger can walk into your church and take communion, join in the most intimiate, personal expression of union amongst the members of not only the Church Universal but also the local congregation. . . without talking to anyone? Now, I could focus on how this is against scripture and how it is completely unloving to let a person potentially eat and drink to his judgment. . . but let's look at this idea.

What does it say about the congregation? What does it say about the pastor? Just come on in, we don't care who you are. . . just that you are here? What are you looking for - another body in a pew, maybe more cash in the plate - or are you seeking to show love to another human being? Do you see how impersonal it is? How it is so anti-relationship?

Or. . . dare I say it. . . what about these massive youth gatherings. Yes, there is something cool about being able to gather huge numbers - but is there time set for personal interaction. That was the thing I liked about Higher Things. . . I got to see other people I know. . . and they actually spent time talking with my kids. There was. . . personal discussion. It wasn't just a big old stranger up on a stage addressing thousands. . . it was. . . people talking, people interacting - people being together, literally together in the Word.

It's amazing what happens when God opens our lips and we declare His praise, speak to one another what He has done. But that implies that we actually have to speak, have to be with other people. The Christian faith isn't impersonal - for even Christ Himself becomes Man, becomes one of us in it. If we try to make it anything else, it ceases to be what it is meant to be.

There can be no such thing as an impersonal Church.


Mike Baker said...

Thank you, Rev Brown.

I used to believe many of these things that you are speaking against. (I had worded them differently so that they sounded like the right way to go, of course.)

...but when I read Scripture - I mean really read Scripture - I had to abandon all of these modern fabrications of what the church is, how she worships, and what she beleives.

When you go beyond the talking points, propoganda, buzz words, and the fifteen or so isolated memory verses, you find God's Word in its proper context. When you stop jumping around from book to book and actaully read what is written on the pages, the Holy Spirit opens your eyes. You see what you have been practicing and what you believed in a totally different light. In the illuminating light of Scripture you almost do not recognize it. It is a farse. It is a cheap copy of real Christianity.

That is when the real truth that you have been seeking for so long fills your heart and your mind. The scales fall off of your eyes and you do more than just faintly hear the voice of Jesus. You see Jesus. God's Word shows you that Christ is in so many places that you never even considered: Baptism, Christ's Holy Supper, Confession and Absolution.

Our God works through means. He guided His people out of Egypt with a physical cloud and fed them with physical manna. God does not change. He delivers us out of Sin with a physical, incarnational Christ who died and rose again to conquer death. He feeds us spiritually through the means of grace.

All of that work in the impersonal church and all of those tearful nights of prayer pleading to an impersonal God was unneccessary. The things that are important to the impersonal church are not important to God. I know this because He says so in His Word.

The things that God takes seriously the impersonal church only casually acknowledges. American Christianity often boasts in three major things:

(1) They are a people of Scripture, but most of those churches do not publically read significant amounts of Scripture to the congregation and they preach topically rather than Biblically.

(2) They want an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus, but they do not recognize Him in those places where He has promised to be: Word and Sacrament.

(3) They claim to serve the community and care for others, but they no longer deliver the saving message of Christ Crucified. They do not preach faith. They preach work, enthusiasum, and holiness. The impersonal church is ethical and pleasing to the eye. It says all the right things. Christ calls them "whitewashed tombs" in Matthew 23.

The church that I grew up thinking was the impersonal, sterile, legalistic church is the personal, living church.

The church that I grew up thinking was the personal, living church is the impersonal, sterile, legalistic church.

Thanks be to God + that I was delivered from my error!

Thursday's Child said...

If I want an impersonal church I can stay home and read sermons online. Can't get more impersonal than that.