My wife works for a company headquartered in England and goes to the UK at least twice a year. She usually stays with her boss and his family. She worked at the plant which is located in rural England, toward Cornwall.
My wife’s boss is not active in Church. His wife and one daughter are interested. The family knows Natalie’s desire to attend Liturgy. A year or so ago, the boss’ wife and one of her daughters decided to go to church and invited my wife. They went to a Church of England congregation that they thought might be “okay”. Natalie informed me via phone of her ‘worship experience’ and could not get into all the gory details at the time. When back she gave me their congregational literature including this:
I asked my wife regarding the “communion book” above, “Oh, this is the children’s service?”
“No”, she said with a wry smile, “The main service.”
The entire worship booklet is done in juvenile font. It is a form of the Divine Liturgy including, “The Bible Lesson” followed by the “Talk”, i.e. Sermon. The service was complete with vestment-less priest, an unidentified preacher (Natalie did not know if he was clergy or lay), raising and swaying of arms, power-point etc. My wife said the sermon was not a proclamation of the Gospel but an interesting educational lesson. Here is what the church building looks like (from the website: it’s not that cold in the UK…yet!):
At least the order of service did not include inclusive language and it is the form of the Divine Service, but on the first page of the booklet, this caught my attention because of the question:
Why do we come together in Church? This is a good question with strong Biblical/Confessional educational answers for our edification as the Church, Christ’s body. The answer, like this congregation’s service booklet,has many important words from Scripture like God, Jesus, forgiven, etc. but their answer is not correct.
First: The stated problem is not understanding each other and caring for each other. This is their diagnosis of the human condition. God becomes “sad” over this but not the “wrath of God” revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1: 2), hiding it, avoiding it, making the truth palpable. They have tried to make truth palpable and thereby make it into less than the truth…a lie.
Second: They then have a “Jesus” that fits their diagnosis: Jesus is our little helper so we can understand “God’s plan”. His is not the Name above all names to Whom every knee shall bow. I think understanding is important but according to this statement, that’s all. Jesus is just to help us understand so we are enabled to understand and care for each other and by doing such works of understanding and caring, I guess we are saved: on our own. Soft-Pelagianism? Quite. This is “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” theology: “It’s beautiful in God’s neighborhood, He is certainly not the power unto salvation for all believe, to joyfully believe, relieved in His grace.
Third, it is mentioned that His dying and rising is so “we might be forgiven”. Note the qualifying “might“. Jesus is not the rock of our salvation. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, upon the Cross He forgave the whole human race so that by the preaching the Word we believe and take hold of His promises for wearied sinners. Objective justification? Hardly. But there are no wearied sinners because the preaching of the Law/Gospel is devolved into an object lesson. ‘Jesus’ is the example/paradigm/model of how we are to live. His dying and rising is really the divine object lesson of understanding and caring but His death and resurrection is not salvation. So there is no Atonement. Atonement is missing in so much of Christian preaching, teaching and Sacraments. So much so, Concordia Seminary’s ’08 Symposia was on the “flights from the atonement”.
Finally, His “bread and wine” invites us. It is not His Body and Blood by which He gives us the fruits of the Atonement, given and shed for you. How does bread and wine invite? They do invite, call nor enlighten by themselves. Only the Lord calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church.
So why do we come to church? We read above: To hear the “big story” but especially and centrally “our story”. This is what the writer wants to put forth as the raison d’etre of coming to Church: to tell our story, our narrative. It is about us, we are at the center. The icon of the Church is certainly not:
But it is certainly this:
The Lord is in the background and our narrative, our story, is central and the preacher only points to them and the result will either be despair or spiritual pride. In such an icon above, if I watched Joel Osteen, I would probably learn much more about Joel Osteen than Jesus Christ.
One time in the UK, Natalie stayed with a consultant who lives in Cambridge and she, with her co-worker, attended a congregation of Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, near her co-worker’s home. It was good. In fact, looking up the ELCE, one of their objectives is, “The encouragement of liturgical conformity” which fits neatly into The Book of Concord. I thank the Lord.
This communion book is indicative of what goes for much Christianity: so squishy and wishy-washy. No Savior need to die and rise for this type of ostensibly Christian religion. It is not about the “Rock of our Salvation”. A recent article reports about the utter decline of the Church of England and that many English youth are becoming Muslims, while Christians play games with youth and adults. There is much to comment in the article as to the reasons given for the surge in English youth turning toward Mecca. One comment grabbed me:
“Islam says NO – this is no and full stop. And people find a sense of direction in it, because their religion of origin has lost that, and not because it never had it in the first instance,” Dr. Sara Silvestri, Senior Lecturer at City University
I say Amen. The Law says No and full stop. The “religion of origin” has lost it. Why? Churches and denominations began to lose it when they jettisoned traditional values as binding and absolute and come up with so-called new values. In the ’60s, it was called the “new morality” which was only the old immorality. C. S. Lewis chronicled this in an excellent essay, “The Poison of Subjectivism”:
This whole attempt to jettison traditional values as something subjective and to substitute a new scheme of values for them is wrong. It is like trying to lift yourself by your own coat collar. Let us get two propositions written into our minds with indelible ink.
(1) The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum.
(2) Every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting some one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it from the rest, and erecting it into an unum necessarium. (endnote 1)
God says No. His wrath is revealed against all ungodliness, not just what my church or political party or club says is wrong according to our value system(s). For instance: in the communion book, note that affirmation becomes central, the unum necessarium. When “affirmation” becomes a virtue then finally wrong will be affirmed and transgression accepted. God is made of stronger stuff, stronger than even our virtuous sinfulness. Only when the Law in all its sternness is preached, then and only then we know the sweetness of His Gospel.
Youth are being pointed in the wrong direction in Islam: man-made legalisms with enough of the Law to confuse. As one bard sang, Like a great unknown, with no direction home, like a rolling stone. Squishy teaching will not point people to the Savior and to our eternal home. Others, of all stripes, will come along and will direct, even dictatorially, to themselves and false religions, theological and political. Mothers and Fathers begin by saying No that the Yes be heard. Pastors and teachers as well. All knowing full well the doctrine of God’s No and God’s Yes, Law and Promise. Kyrie, eleison.
(endnote 1) The second proposition will bear a little illustration. Ordinary morality tells us to honour our parents and cherish our children. By taking the second precept alone you construct a Futurist Ethic in which the claims of ‘posterity’ are the sole criterion. Ordinary morality tells us to keep promises and also to feed the hungry. By taking the second precept alone you get a Communist Ethic in which ‘production’, and distribution of the products to the people, are the sole criteria. Ordinary morality tells us, ceteris paribus, to love our kindred and fellow-citizens more than strangers. By isolating this precept you can get either an Aristocratic Ethic with the claims of our class as sole criterion, or a Racialist Ethic where no claims but those of blood are acknowledged. These monomaniac systems are then used as a ground from which to attack traditional morality; but absurdly, since it is from traditional morality alone that they derive such semblance of validity as they possess.