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Sunday, November 28, 2010 

The 'Post-Church Age' And Other Fairy Tales...

I sometimes hear, in the various mission meetings I attend, that we are now living in a “Post-Church Age.” This phrase has always bothered me a bit not so much for the somewhat weak logic for arriving at such a conclusion which I don’t think can be supported by the most basic examination of church history but rather what invariably follows; a call to change the methods the church catholic has traditionally used to proclaim the Good News, reach the lost, and perform acts of mercy that should naturally flow from a saving faith in Jesus.

I’ve detailed on more than one occasion instances of folks coming into my own congregation in the name of evangelism and making their case that if we just added a seeker friendly worship where secular music is played so as not to frighten away the unchurched. I’ve reported on a Southeastern district presentation that suggested that we give away jars of cookies or jelly in order to get folks to consider giving us a shot as their new church. Nearly all this goofy methodology is put forward because we are told that the ways of preaching , teaching, and reaching the lost no longer work the way it used to because we are in a different time: a “Post-Church Age.”

That’s rubbish plain and simple, more especially for persons who call themselves confessional Lutherans.

Last month I was more than pleased to see that my pastor wrote his newsletter article on the problems of a so called “Post-Church Age” in a manner that is clearer and more succinct than I could ever hope to pen. Enjoy!


The 'Post-Church Age' and Other Fairy Tales...

The stories that we tell can tell a lot about us. The stories you tell your kids about when you were a kid say a lot about you today. The stories you tell about your day go a long way to making or breaking the day of those you tell your stories to. The stories that we tell about ourselves as a church tell a lot about what sort of a church we are...

Lately there's been a story going around among some of the higher-ups in our church. The story is called "the Post-Church or Post-Christian Age," a scary sort of story that goes some- thing like this: "For centuries and centuries we lived in a Western Culture that embraced Christendom. The Church was popular and well liked by the vast majority of the culture. Even those who didn't go to church a lot generally had a positive view of Christianity. The Church had a fairly easy time attracting people to become members. Today it's all changed! Our culture is becoming increasingly secular or atheist or Islamist or hostile to Christianity. So our churches face a bleak future of declining numbers of members, declining resources, and less respect from the world at large. We need to do something! (But we're not exactly sure what...)”

Maybe you've heard this story, or bits and pieces of it. It's usually the preamble to a pan- icky appeal that we must change our worship, our theology, our outreach, or the sky will fall!

I think the story is nonsense. It's certainly not the story Scripture tells of Christ and His Church and the world around us. It isn't the story the church fathers told. Most of all, it isn't even factually accurate. Harry Stout, religious history Professor at Yale University used to ask his classes which they would guess was the most religious generation in America? First guess was usually Revolutionary War. Wrong! Civil War? More than the founding fathers' generation, but far from the prize. The right answer? Our generation (circa 1985) was the most religious in American history! While the number of people who say they are Christian has dipped slightly in the first decade of the 21st century, it's still above all others except the 1980’s-90’s.

In the 4th century AD, Constantine made Christianity legal, and lots of people flocked to Christian churches. But oddly enough, Augustine didn't think the number of Christians had really changed at all from the previous century. That the culture thought the church more fashionable didn't make for more Christians, as far as he could see. Popularity did bring a sharp increase in the heresies fathers like Augustine had to battle-- Pelagians and Arians and Donatists and all kinds of bad apples--who tended for most of that era to be the majority of Christendom!

Luther read in St. Paul (Romans 9-11) that the number of the elect is a constant. It was determined by God before time began, unveiled by Christ on the cross, and isn't affected at all by anything we do or don't do. Our good efforts can't increase the number of people in heaven by even one. Our failures and faux pas cannot reduce the number by a single soul. In Elijah's day there were (according to God's reckoning) only 7,000 in all Israel (population at least a million and probably closer to two or three million) who hadn't bent the knee to Baal. Nothing in Scrip- ture suggests that percentage changes much from age to age.

So the world has mostly always hated the Gospel of the Crucified One. It's always been an acquired taste of the (s)elect few. When people fawn over us, we don't get puffed up. When they scorn us, we don't fret. This age is no more post, pro, or pomo Christian than any other. the faithful still stand where we've always stood--on Christ and His promises alone. The world's hatred or love cannot make or break us, but our fear of what people think of us should certainly embarrass us! The only thing that matters is what Christ Jesus thinks of us--and He reveals that in His pure Gospel and Sacraments on which we stand unafraid, a beacon in a dark world- -the light of which will always draw exactly the right crowd, with no crowding, no worrying, and no fear, only faith in the One who has everything, absolutely everything, in His nail pierced hands...

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Kudos to your pastor Frank. It's not just his flock that needs to hear that message!

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
  • Confessional Lutheran
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