“Me and my salvation”-Christianity

In his latest book, “A Door Set Open,” I’m discovering that Peter Steinke has been reading a lot of N.T. Wright. Steinke’s observations about the church’s mission are not new…and readers of Wright would not be surprised at all by his conclusions. None of what I write next is necessarily new, but it remains relevant and critical now if the Church is going to offer a hopeful mission today.

Because many modern Christians see salvation as purely an individualistic thing (hence “me and my salvation), they are not caring enough to engage the world. Many congregations have disengaged from their communities, seemingly rejoicing more in being part of the club than part of Christ’s mission. Focus on “me and my salvation” leads quickly to a “me and my church”-mindset. But is “me and my church” the same thing as Christ and His Church?

Christ reordered the creation when He rose again. He restored the sort of community that Adam and Eve originally had with God and with one another. We now have a hope and that hope demands expression in the mission of the Church. Hope kept to oneself is not hope at all. Christ hasn’t just called us to be recipients of God’s grace, but agents of hope in this increasingly hopeless world.

The hope we have in Christ should turn hearts and heads all around us. If it isn’t, have we been guilty of keeping all this good stuff to ourselves?

Hide it under a bushel? No or yes?

The Open Door

Open_door_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1290270Rev. 3: “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. “ ‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

I preached last Sunday that Jesus is not a respecter of doors. John’s account of the resurrection has Jesus passing through the once stone-enclosed door of His own tomb and then appearing on the other side of the locked door of the Upper Room to a group of fearful disciples. Doors separate and Jesus rose again because He wants no separation between Him and the world.

Still, fear, sadness, anger, frustration often cause even Jesus’ disciples, His followers, to seek to separate from the world. We often ask ourselves as Christians why and how everything changed. We yearn for the “good old days,” and we think that faithfulness must mean being separate from all the world since it has gone so immoral and free-wheeling.

Truthfully, the world is immoral. It always has been. Actually, the Bible’s term is that the world is sinful. And yet, the Bible does not teach Christians to separate from it. Surely, we don’t want to engage in the same immorality, but we also should not want to disengage from the world just because it is immoral. This would be to deny Christ’s name and not to love the world with the same love Christ has loved it and us. The Old Testament book of Hosea tells the story of a prophet (Hosea) who is ordered by God to take as his wife a prostitute named Gomer. The challenge to Hosea is to love Gomer unconditionally, despite the fact that she fails him so many times. God will not let Hosea get a divorce. He keeps Hosea in the position of faithfully loving his immoral wife as a testament to God’s love for a sinful Israel, and by extension, a sinful world.

800px-Mission's_welcome_signJesus breaks down the doors which separate Him from the world. He also presents His church with an open door, an opportunity, a mission. That mission is to spread the love of Christ by loving the unlovable just as Christ loved us in our sin. Many people today don’t go to church because they view themselves as “too bad to go to Church.” Christians who hide behind the locked doors of separation from the world send the message that this is true. Some are not good enough. Some don’t belong with us. The Risen Christ sees through this, which is why He disrespects doors, especially closed, locked ones.

The church at Philadelphia was tiny and dying. It was struggling mightily against the devilish forces of a fallen world. But it was not locked away behind closed doors. Christ writes tenderly to them in Revelation 3 because they had been faithful. They had kept Jesus’ word. They were down to the last crumbs of bread in the pantry and Jesus praises them for it!

As individual Christians, our daily task is to pass through Christ’s open door and follow Him into the world and love it the same way He does. Our task is for all of our deeds to proclaim Him as Lord and give joy to a world which has chosen its own joylessness. He died for it. He wouldn’t even let a grave separate Himself from it. He died for you and He wants no separation from you. He provides you with an open door called new life. He provides us at St. John’s with an open door called mission and ministry. For Christians and their congregations, Jesus gives life, strength, mission, and ministry.

God bless our efforts not only to nurture one another, but to engage our community and world. He has provided us an open door. The privilege of discipleship is following Him through it.

Rejoicing in Christ’s Easter victory with you,

Pastor T.

“Having a church” And “Being THE Church…”

One of the biggest mistakes congregations make is failing to distinguish these two. They are especially prone to it when things are tough, either financially or otherwise. Maintaining what we have (having a church) becomes more important than doing what Christ has called us to do (being THE Church). When the “bottom line” is flat or underwater, preservationist-mode sets in. The congregation starts saying No to more things and, subsequently, much of its ministry. Language like “We’ve never done it that way before” or “We can’t do that” or “We can’t afford to” becomes the great stifler of ministry.

Remember one thing: The devil loves nothing more than to stop a congregation’s ministry through fear and doubt. He loves it when a church says, “We can’t.” He knows–better than that congregation’s own members–that the church that thinks it can’t is really no Church at all.

What am I saying? When times are tough, you lean into your congregational ministry, not away from it. You take risks and anticipate rewards. You get some creative thinking going and you go for it. This coming Sunday’s Gospel text gives us all the reason in the world. Jesus says in John 12: “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” Christians walk while there is light. As long as death’s darkness is not upon us, we walk in the light of Christ. Forward. Onward. We don’t stop to gawk at the devil’s gaper’s blocks.

Too many churches have let “darkness overtake them.” There is not enough time left between now and Christ’s return for the Church to allow that. There are too many souls to be saved, too many whom the darkness has claimed. If we Christian’s won’t live in the Light, how will they ever know?

So how does a church move from the bad attitude of “having a church” to the more healthy life of “being THE Church?” Jesus gives another pointer on that in the same text from John 12. Just a little earlier, Jesus says: 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

My old seminary buddy, Rev. J. Bart Day, the LC-MS’ Director Of National Mission, talks about congregational revitalization as being part of the same process of dying and rising that is the life of the Christian. Daily we Christians, by virtue of our Baptisms, put to death the sinful nature, the Old Adam. Daily a New Man (Christ) comes forward to live and move and have His being in us.

The same is true for the local congregation, Pastor Day states. The old fears and doubts that hold back the congregation must die like the seed planted in the ground in order for a new congregation, a more healthy congregation, to spring to life. This, he maintains, is congregational revitalization. I wholeheartedly agree.

Now the interesting thing is this: This is how God made all things to work. Out of death comes life. Out of Jesus’ death comes resurrection and a hope that our bodies too will rise again. The local congregation that wants to travel from “having a church” to “being the Church” has to have a few little deaths (No, not certain people :)). It has to have its bad habits, its culture of safe and unprudent stewardship, its fears of seriously engaging its history and its future; it needs all of these put to death.

It needs to quit protecting the virus that kills by cutting it off from the things that cause it spread. Paul wrote in Eph. 5: Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. Did you read that last word? EXPOSE. The virus must be cut off. Denying its existence won’t get the job done. Expose it. Bring it out in the light. God’s Word will put it to death and bring forth new life.

The congregation that keeps on “having a church” will soon no longer have it. It will die a different way, pecked to death by a thousand ducks all saying “we can’t” (which is often a justification for the more accurate “we won’t”). Putting to death the sinful nature, however, means hope and life for the Christian and the congregation. It means renewed vigor and ministry.

After a long, cold, expensive winter which shredded many a northern congregation’s budget, it’s time with the spring coming to realize that we’re not dead yet. There’s time to do the right thing, lean into ministry and put to death the factors that hold us back. Churches that aim to survive probably won’t. It’s our time to shine, to live, to do the works of the light while there is light.