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The Fear Of Institutional Death


What do faithful Christians fear more than anything?

The death of the church.

But our Lord says, "Fear not little flock for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." (Luke 12:32) And David says, "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

Try as we might (and the LCMS has tried mightily in the last 50 years) we cannot manufacture church members, or instill the love of worship in anyone - not even most of our own members.

But the LCMS suffers from a seriously wrong understanding of the Great Commission, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. If you forgive anyone's sins they are forgiven, if you retain anyone's sins they are retained." (John 20:21). 

Due to the pietism through which we now filter all our theology, this command has been individualized. Pietism leads us to think of the church as an association of independent contractors, rather than as the One Soma (body) of Christ.

In keeping with this wrong understanding we teach our people that it is the individual responsibility of each member to be a missionary. We lay the future existence of the church squarely on their shoulders, adding false guilt to their ever present anxiety over the church's future.

But the commission is given to the Body, is exercised in the church's sacramental life; and not indiscriminately by people knocking on doors, or gathering youth to play basketball.

Does this preclude formal mission work? No. But you cannot manufacture it. For mission work to occur there must be three elements: opportunity; qualified people; all needed resources. If these do not exist in your parish then support the efforts where they do exist. The larger mission of the church; the Lutheran Heritage Foundation and the like.

What can every church do, however? Even a small and seemingly dying church?

"This do!"

As long as God provides pastor, people and place Christians should gather for worship. This is evangelism (the proclamation of the Gospel) at its finest and in its truest sense. For as often as the baptized assemble in Holy Communion with Christ they are Salt to the Earth, and Light for the World. In Holy Communion with Christ they crush the devil's serpentine head over and over again; and dispel the darkness. They pin down the enemy and hem him in with every word they speak, every prayer they pray, and by the Body they eat and the Blood they drink.

This is our duty as Christians. But to become the Lord's counselors (Romans 11:34) or attempt to bend the will of the Spirit who "breathes wherever he wills," (John 3:8) is inadvisable. But if Peter can be restored, so can we. Only repent, and believe the Gospel. Believe the power and wisdom, and above all the love of God for all men.

What other duty do we have?

Parents present your children for baptism, and train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

And to every Christian, "Let your light so shine before men so that they might see your good work, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16). And again, in the words of St. Peter, "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." (1 Peter 2:12)

Will your parish close, or your church body become extinct? Possibly. But "The Church shall never perish! Her dear Lord, to defend," (TLH #473, 3)

And so Peace, be still! "Jesus shall reign wher'er the sun, doth its successive journeys run." (TLH #511)


I agree with Pastor K that the Church in general has its priorities turned upside down. I see the Church's primary work being three-fold: Proper Worship (St. John 4:24, Psalm 29:2), Discipleship (Hebrews 5:12-14) and Fellowship (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13). When these are strong within a church (local congregation or denomination) then it can focus on Evangelism proper and Missions. Too much of the Church today reverses these.
Sometimes I wonder if we miss evangelism altogether. Is evangelism as simple as listening to a friends problem and then bringing heaven to them through a simple prayer? Just being a conduit for the healing Word of God to bruised and wounded people? Thinking out loud on paper...

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