Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"The Church's task is the preaching of the word"

After Tuesday’s election, reading the religious section of the Huffington Post, I found plenty of advice for Christians, in particular, for orthodox and evangelical Christians.  Most of the articles could be wrapped up with the expression, “you are bigots.” The article I was drawn to was Emily Timbol’s, “America Has Spoken Christians Need to Listen.” Timbol is a progressive Christian and her main thought seems to be that Christians who want to influence other Americans need to hear what the culture is telling them and move in that direction. Timbol, with the usual tired words of fear and discrimination, writes:

America said, loud and clear, that they support measures that protect equality. They also elected a president who believes the same. This does not mean that America has become a godless, heathen nation. It means that conservative Christians have stopped listening to America. Specifically those Americans on the opposite side of the aisle who worship the same God. By fighting against the growing movement of inclusion into the body of Christ, for all people, conservative Christians are just showing how out of touch they truly are. Does that matter, if Christians should be listening to Christ, and the Bible above all else? Yes. Because God did not say that we should live in a bubble. He commanded us to go out and reach the world.

What became clear last night is the way to reach the world is not through fear, discrimination or a movement farther right. It's through faith, love and equal treatment of all people. If the majority of Christians reject this, and further alienate Americans who disagree with them, they'll be doing a great disservice to the church.

Immediately my mind, and heart, went to some words that Karl Barth wrote in his small booklet, Theological Existence Today. He was questioning some doctrines published by the German Christians of his day. The German Christians were writing that the German people wanted to return to the church and therefore the church needed to “prove herself to be the Church for the German people. …” Barth’s answer was very direct and the church in America needs to hear his answer to this particular doctrine. I will quote it but substitute the title American for his use of German.

1.      "The Church has not “to do everything” so that the American people” may find again the way into the Church,” but so that within the church the people may find the Commandment and promise of the free and pure Word of God.

2.      It is not the Church’s function to help the American people to recognize and fulfil any one “vocation” different from the “calling” from and to Christ. The American people receives its vocation from Christ to Christ through the Word of God to be preached according to the Scriptures. The Church's task is the preaching of the Word."

There were several movements in Germany during the Nazi era; Barth disapproved of most of them including the ‘New Reformation Movement.’ He found they were compromising too much with the German Christians.  During the crisis in Germany, Barth pushed toward a church that emphasized prayer and proclamation of the word. And so must the American church including the mainline denominations.

Later in his writing Barth was to point out that while the church believes the state is to be “guardian and administrator of public law and order,” it nonetheless does not “believe in any state.” Therefore “The Church preaches the Gospel in all the kingdoms of this world.” He enlarges his thought to insist the church does not preach “under or in the spirit of the Third Reich.”

In the same way the American church, be it Catholic, Protestant or any other, may not rightly preach the word under or in the spirit of any government. While praying for the government, obeying, in the Lord, what can be obeyed, she only and always preaches the word of God so that the people who hear may be fed, converted and transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.

And what is said of a government must also be said of a culture. A church might use the goods of a culture, that is its music, art, food and even customs  but the church cannot, must not, preach the culture back to the culture. If we hear Americans saying that killing the unborn is acceptable, that greed is a good, that sex outside of marriage is fine, that same gender sex is a gift, that using drugs is okay, we may tremble but we must keep proclaiming the pure word of God. If we see government beginning to enforce laws that undergird a broken society, providing rights for its dark temptations, thus putting religious freedom in harms way, still the word of God must be proclaimed.

lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) The word of God is not fettered.” (II Tim. 2:9)

The Church’s commission upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and Sacrament.

We reject the false doctrine as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and the work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.” (The Theological Declaration of Barmen 8.25-8-27) 


Anonymous said...

"The Church's task" does not supercede Jesus's commandment which is to love thy neighbor as thyself. Luke 10:27-34.

Conservative Christians might consider the realities of Jesus's actual behaviors instead of their steadfast biblical interpretations (preachings) designed to reinforce perspectives on how to treat "neighbors" who differ from themselves.

Debbie said...

Jesus's actual behaviors included telling people to go and sin no more. And one loves oneself by not indulging one's every desire, but by disciplining oneself. Therefore one loves one's neighbor as oneself in the same way; it is true love to help one's neighbor to be the best possible and to grow closer to God. In addition, one does not reject a person merely by saying that one does not approve of, say, same-gender marriage. Disapproving certain behaviors is not the same as rejecting the person who engages in them. People who insist that the only way to love a person is to accept everything that they do are truly unreasonable. No one actually does that in any other area of life. Consider parents and children, for example.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

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Viola Larson said...

You have been asked to not comment here again.

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Dave Moody said...

Love the Barth stuff! Thank you Vi! We do more than sermon and sacrament- but if that isn't central and primary, the engine to the other things, than we do nothing. Those on the left and right who would seek to chain the Sovereign free Word of God to serve the Caesar of culture are in danger of rendering to Caesar what is God's

Their recourse seems to be only to slander and hurl abuse at those who are in obedient bondage to that Sovereign free Word.

Thanks again,

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Viola Larson said...

Anonymous, I'm not sure if you are the same anonymous above. But you surely read my rule that you must leave your name and city to comment here.

Sassy Granny ... said...

The election results are very telling, aren't they? We are not a country united or better off as once promised. Worse, we have given precious little thought to the fact of 53,000,000 abortions (many of them late term, and/or as a means of birth control) or gluttoness spending (among other things).

I am stymied by how many "Christians" have opted to make their kingdom of this world, and to do so by cozying up to the world's ways.

This I know: God does not bless the unblessable.

Great post!

Viola Larson said...

Debbie, Dave and Sassy Granny,

thank you for faithfulness to our Lord and for your very helpful words.

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Chas Jay said...

Viola, as usual you've written another great article. Thank you.
I read some of the comments and couldn't help but chuckle a little over the one that tells "conservatives" that they are to love. Jesus said that if you love Him you will obey His commandments. The other commandment that's tied to loving neighbor is to love the Lord God with all thy heart, strength and mind. When we love God like that then we naturally love our neighbor as we do ourself.
I'm no longer attending a PCUSA church. What I see from those that fight to take property from the congregations that have voted to leave the denomination is hateful, mean theft that is built upon a lie where the "trust clause" from the Book of Order is being misused. Love does not seek to take from others what they paid for, built and maintained. Love also doesn't call for votes six times to get the change that it so wanted. That's not love at all but selfish hate that has been directed toward the orthodox.