Congregations open and close. Demographics shift. Towns shrink. People move away. Do congregations matter?
God’s Word matters. People matter. It matters that people are taught God’s Word in its truth and purity. It matters that the sacraments are administered according to the institution of Christ. Do congregations matter?
If you start with the premise that congregations are what matter, your main focus and goal is to grow congregations. Whatever it takes. God’s Word takes a back seat. It doesn’t fill the pews like what the itching ears of the world want to hear. The sacraments take a back seat. They’re offensive to the world.
If congregations matter is your starting point and catchphrase, sinners are not called to repentance in case they harden their hearts, refuse to repent and leave the church. If congregations are what matter, the church’s liturgy is cast aside for that which entertains and pulls at sentimental heartstrings. If congregations are what ultimately matter, sound teaching and truth will be replaced by the fads of the day.
It’s not that congregations don’t matter. They most certainly do. Congregations are where the Word of God is taught to His people. It is where God pours out His forgiveness in Baptism and nourishes His children through the most precious body and blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Saviour. It is the place where you can invite your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to come to hear the voice of Jesus.
Congregations matter in so far as they do what God has called them to do. Congregations don’t matter in and of themselves, but they matter because they are where the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies through the Word and sacraments.
Congregations must, therefore, be accountable for what is taught in the pulpits and how the sacraments are administered. If we voluntarily have agreed to be faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions in doctrine and practice, there must also be honesty and recognition when fellowship does not exist and every congregation is doing whatever is right in their own eyes. Ecclesiastical oversight is necessary for a synodical unity in doctrine and concordia in practice.