As the North American church tries to find her bearings amid our postmodern and post-Christian context, many voices have been clamoring for attention. Some of them have helpful things to say and some of them not so much. One continual critique about the church today is that she has lost her sense of purpose and mission. Consequently, there are masses of books and authors, along with pastors and preachers in North America who have sought to help reorient the church to what they say her real purpose and mission is all about.
Rick Warren has much to say about the purpose of the church, as does C. Peter Wagner and Brian McLaren, not to mention Kevin DeYoung, Mark Driscoll, Bill Hybels, and Rob Bell, just to name a few of the more high profile North American voices. However, the interesting thing is that many, including those noted above, are not in full agreement with the various new movements or proposals of what the church is to be, what it is to do, and what it is to look like. From “Church Growth” and “Seeker Sensitive to “postmodern” and “missional minded,” to being “emerging,” “emergent” or “conversant,” to the slogans of the so-called Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) there has resulted a great confusion about the mission and purpose of the church.
That this is also true among (LCMS) Lutheran congregations can be noted in the wide variety of congregations embracing one, all, or none of the above emphases as that which defines their mission and ministry. Curious, is that even in these confusing times, LCMS Lutherans have a historic and unchanging understanding of the mission and purpose of the Holy Christian Church present in her confessional documents, which has at times seemingly been disregarded for one of the trends above: “The church is the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly” (AC VII, Concerning the Church).
This is not to say that what the above authors have to say is all bad and all wrong. Rather, as much as each respective author or pastor might have to say, what must be acknowledged, at least if we are being honest, is that each one of them has a particular theology that drives their understanding about the purpose of the church. Even a disenfranchised Christian who says, “I don’t care about theology or what church you come from. I just want to love people for Jesus,” is still driven by a theology, whether they realize it or not. Consequently, it becomes odd, or at least curious, why it is Lutherans have been sucked into the Great Confusion. What is it about our confession of faith that has caused pastors and parishioners to abandon it?
Perhaps it is the caricature that many in the LCMS have a tendency to love theology more than people. To be sure, this is a fair criticism toward any sinful individual (as we all are) who might lack tact or love for a neighbor, fellow Christian, or unbeliever. However, that in and of itself is not then reason to abandon our theology, for it is not the fault of the theology that someone is rude, unkind, or hurtful. It is the fault of their sinfulness!
The irony is that Lutheran theology is bold to confess this reality, along with its remedy—the unconditional and irreversible love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, given in its oral and sacramental forms. And what is so grand is that Lutheran theology is bold to say, “This is for you, dear sinner.” Thus, it seems to me that Lutheran theology is especially needed and relevant precisely because it is a theology that so passionately loves people!
As this blog aims to foster collegial, honest, and candid dialogue about our Lutheran theology and the mission of the Holy Christian Church in the 21st century, and for those who are willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.