This blog post from the ACELC by Pastor Sawyer was brought to our attention; we post it here for those readers who don’t follow the ACELC blog.
Honestly, I have NO good reason why Boy George and the Culture Club’s song Karma Chameleon should have come to mind when heading this blog entry. I am just WEIRD that way. I admit it. And since I am, we might as well all settle in and make the most of it, ’cause this one’s longer than just a three hour cruise!
There’s been a good bit of discussion regarding the COST of dealing with the aftermath of the tragic foundering of the cruise ship Costa Concordia a month ago. What to do with the capsized hulk? Right it or scrap it? How to make sure a devastating human tragedy doesn’t also become an environmental one? Not to mention, of course, the rescue efforts and legal claims of those who lost loved ones, and the future prosecution of Captain Francesco Schettino, who is held on charges of manslaughter for having made the unauthorized and wreck-causing change in course – to grandstand and impress island residents! – as well as abandoning ship before all passengers had been evacuated.
The wreck of the Costa Concordia cannot help but evoke a certain sad parallel with the foundering concordia of what has been fondly referred to as the good ship Missouri! Of course, the Missouri Synod is not the Ship of Faith called the Church. She is a man-made and arranged collection of pastors and congregations who originally came together because they recognized in one another a common walking together in faith and life, in doctrine and practice, and committed themselves to continuing in and preserving the same for the benefit of future generations. The world needs concordia; not concord in its error and darkness, but concord in the One True Faith which Christ entrusted to His saints, which is revealed in Holy Scripture and confessed by our forefathers in the documents collected in the Book of Concord; even prayed for by Our Lord!
Concordia is an important word for us Lutherans, but it is more than a name; more than something to call our colleges and universtities, despite their often allowing the inroads of feminism, worldly worship forms, alien doctrines, the teaching of women’s ordination, evolution, and open communion. Remember that Concordia – as a name – is still applied to that hunk of metal lying on its side off the coast of Italy, in whose hull those who did not escape still tragically remain, most likely lifeless, unless, by some miracle they have beaten the odds and survived. God grant it, for mercy’s sake! Hope, as one family member put it, is the last thing to die!
So also, hope in the future of the concordia that is called the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is still living. It is living amongst the member pastors and congregations of the ACELC. It is living in those of other confessional groups and efforts in our Synod today. It is living in those who hold office, such as our President Matt Harrison and others of his staff. It is living in many pastors and parishes which have not yet joined the ACELC formally, but pray as we do, that the once good ship may be righted and not scrapped. It is even living in those who are safely on shore and praying from the outside for us who remain.
Can righting our ship still happen? More surely than that the Costa Concordia will sail again! But the cost of getting Missouri to that point will be daunting! It will require what we call in church terms, repentance! That’s the big one, and it is Christ’s alone to give!
Remember in the movie, The Poseidon Adventure, when the two parties met each other, one heading toward the top of the ship and the other heading toward the bottom? Both groups were convinced they were heading the right way. They HOPED they were heading the right way. Only ONE was heading the right way! Presumably, those who were convinced of their wrong direction and remained in it died.
In our Synod today, there are groups convinced of the direction they are taking; a change of course not unlike that tragically and theatrically made by Captain Schettino. They have introduced worship practices borrowed from heterodox traditions, which are designed to attract and impress “island residents” by conforming to worldly patterns, but which are alien and even hostile to the orthodox faith and life we have received from our forefathers. It is a remarkably sharp and dangerous change of course. Just consider what passes as worship in some of our churches! I’ll admit that it can be entertaining! I happen to like rock music myself, and so I watch a video like the below and think . . . Cool band! Cool technology! Poor execution of choreography, but it IS impressive, and anyone in tech and multi-media will tell you that this is more than your grandma sitting with her gal friends to glue some felt banners together for a mission festival! Still, is it worship?
Art can convey meaning, don’t get me wrong! Movies can be art! MTV videos can be art! Plays and many other performances can all be art, and art can be used in the service of God! But that’s true even when it’s a Super Bowl half-time performance by Madonna! It doesn’t HAVE to be ripped out of its proper context as entertainment in order to be in service of and to the glory of God! After all, aren’t the crayon drawings our children make, which we post to our refrigerator door, in service to the glory of God? Unless we’ve forgotten what Luther taught against the rank monasticism of his day, we have GOT to answer: “Of course! Just because it isn’t happening behind monastic walls or being done by clergy or in the Lord’s House doesn’t make it less than holy! After all, if one’s whole life is holy in Christ, then all that we do in Christ is pleasing to God and in His service, even if only entertaining to our neighbor or our parents who happen to be watching us play at the Lego Table. What we do for our neighbor as the Baptized, we do it to Christ.”
That’s what Jesus said. Luther was just repeating!
So, we can let football be to the glory of God on the football field, and entertainment be entertainment in the movie theater, our living rooms, on a bikini laden beach or anywhere else. We don’t have to bring these in and force them into what they aren’t by nature, and they are NOT the Divine Service! But many are setting THAT aside to make ROOM for impressive displays of techno-entertainment, which most properly glorifies God when it is evoking a “WOW!” from us – because that’s what it was meant to do! You know, like the fireworks displays at Disney World and Epcot Center! WOW! COOL! AWESOME! How much money do you think they spent on that!?
Nothing’s wrong with being moved by entertainment – even to shout out a “Praise Jesus” around the lake at Epcot after the laser lights, music and smoke have cleared! But when we set Christ and His Service aside, which historically haven’t gotten quite the applause given to coordinating iPads and music like a Christmas light display choreographed to TSO’s Wizards in Winter, when the historic liturgy is set aside for what most in the world would admit is entertainment, something’s terribly wrong. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes clear that our behavior is criminal, in a spiritual sense.
I realize the other string of passengers on the good ship Missouri don’t agree. They’re heading one way, and it’s not the same way we are! They want to look more and more like the world, and it’s attracting more and more of the world as people look for an exciting, entertaining, moving worship experience. They know people want to see the impressive sight of a huge luxury liner pass perilously close to their island, and they’re willing to give them a show! They’ve got numbers on their side, too! I didn’t count, but maybe those heading in the wrong direction in the Poseidon Adventure also had more in their queue than those heading in the right direction.
Numbers don’t matter in this. Jesus is the one who said that the way leading to hell is wide and easy and there are many on it; while the road to heaven is narrow and hard and there are few upon it. Numbers just don’t make it when the Word of God has spoken clearly. Over and over in Holy Scripture, God speaks an unpopular Word which itching ears don’t want to hear, and hardened hearts don’t want to believe! We are driven, according to our fallen nature, by FEELology rather than THEology; by how we FEEL when something moves us instead of by what God actually says!
I’m still waiting for someone to show me where God says to measure the popular tastes of the world and meet them in order to win the world over. From what I recall, that was always where Israel got things wrong; namely, by wanting to be like everyone else, when God was calling them to be separate and distinct; not what everyone wanted, but what all people need, a Light shining in dark places, even though men prefer the darkness to the Light. Is this really anything new? Or hard to grasp? It’s not rocket science, but it DOES rock the boat! It rocks OUR boat, like Jesus calling Peter out on the waves! I think Jesus knew what He was doing when He did that. Peter needed to go down before being raised up. Peter needed to quit thinking he was a wave-walker like his Lord (though it WAS Cool, Awesome, Impressive – I wonder how he did that?) and start crying out, “Lord, SAVE me!” Peter needed a Savior, and so do we!
We can see throughout the history of the church how the Lord continues to captain His Ship, the Church. He is no Capt. Schettino, either grandstanding or saving himself at others’ expense! Jesus doesn’t go down WITH the Ship, but FOR it! He goes down and comes back up again, and then He entrusts to His Church His Word and Sacraments, sound doctrine, faithfulness and love, firmly instructing AGAINST changing course to put on a show for those who want it!
Nadab and Abihu changed course. Turned out badly for them! Aaron let the voice and wants of the people force him to change course too, and the first ever alternative worship service turned into quite a nasty gulp of water for the people!
When the Lord sends out His Church, He bids us teach the nations to hold to EVERYTHING He has commanded, knowing that many won’t want it. They didn’t want it from Jesus in John 6. They didn’t want it when they persecuted the apostles and martyrs. They didn’t want it from Luther. In none of these instances does Jesus teach us to run after the world and try to become what it requires of us in order for it to stay!
And so, the pastors and people of the ACELC are indeed heading in the opposite direction of many! It may seem like the wrong direction, the way heading to the bottom of a ship seemed counterintuitive for those convinced otherwise. The way heading to a cross seemed counterintuitive to those who wanted Jesus to put on a big show! But it is the direction clearly given us in God’s Word and in our Confessions! It may not make as much business sense as giving people what they want, but that’s not what the Lord has called us to do. He’s called us to remain afloat and on the right course, because the world needs the Church and Faith and the Gospel of Christ as surely as people bobbing in the midst of an angry sea need a sound ship, not a foundering one, to come along and rescue them!
Lest it be forgotten, WE in the ACELC aren’t the ones making unauthorized changes in the course of the ship we call Missouri. Others are doing that. Others have done it already, compromising our worship forms, urging the ordination of women, having laymen serve as pastors before they are called and ordained, practicing open communion, leaving the unrepentant in their sin instead of calling them to change direction and follow the AUTHORIZED course given by the Lord. You see, changes in direction ARE permitted, especially when God is redirecting us from death to life. We call it repentance. That’s the costliest thing about righting the concordia of Missouri, if that’s even still possible. We pray it is. It would be a sad thing to see things scrapped, cut up, sold off. It would be a sad thing if all the living needed to abandon ship, leaving only the dying and dead behind. Could that happen? It’s happened before! If it happens again, the Lord will still be Lord of His Church, wherever that is found in those who are gathered by Him around the Gospel purely preached and the Sacraments rightly administered; where error is contended against and not allowed to gush in as through a hull whose side has been ripped wide open. We pray for the righting of our Synod. We are working for it, and urging others to change course and return to the right path. We know many others are urging the same and watching – and hoping – that concordia may still be saved!