I was looking at the calendar for some idea of what to address this month, when I saw that the historic church year was absent from the calendar. I was looking at the Thrivent desk calendar for pastors, so I switched to the CPH pocket calendar, sent to every pastor in the Synod. The old Church year was gone from there as well. In its place was the more recent three-year lectionary which follows the newer church year with its Sundays after Pentecost, rather than the traditional "Sundays after Trinity". Even the one-year lectionary was significantly revised from the historic lectionary used by Luther and Walther and nearly every Missouri Synod Pastor until about 1980. The hymnal we use was not even referenced in these calendars. Our liturgy, our hymnal, and our church-year is apparently old-fashioned, out of date, and obsolete.
This discovery struck me as a fitting analogy for our faith in the eyes of the world. Those who use the newer lectionaries and hymnal - and even the modern Church-year calendar - do not necessarily view our faith as fit only for a museum, but much of the world around us, even some parts of it that declare themselves to be Christian, do! To much of the world, the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, and the faith which embraces it is old-fashioned, out of date, and obsolete.
After all, we follow a Savior who was born, lived, and put to death over twenty centuries ago. We read Scriptures which were written between two and five millennia ago, depending on which book of the Bible you are reading at the moment. We cling to a hope as old as mankind, and worship a God abandoned by some in the second generation of humans. Talk about old!
Some Christians wax nostalgic about "that old-time religion", but they are not actually thinking about the oldest religion, the one that worships the true God, but the second oldest one, the one started by a serpent in the Garden of Eden. They want a religion whose shape and content is felt, rather than known, and which rests on humanly devised values and truths instead of the Word of God. Back in the days of Adam and Eve, that religion involved eating forbidden fruit. In our days it involves imagining that the law is better than the gospel and nostalgia is better than truth.
The true faith is actually very old. Adam and Eve became the first to be what we now would call "Christians". They didn't have the language, or know the name of Jesus Christ yet, but they hoped in Him and the promises of God just as we must. They were so strong in their expectation of God fulfilling the promise of a Savior that Eve mistakenly identified her first-born as the promised One. His conduct later cleared up that misunderstanding, I am sure, but her initial mis-identification shows us the depth of her confidence in God's promise.
From our place in history, we can see that everything God promised has unfolded, except for the resurrection of all flesh, and the end of the world. From here and now we can see the truth of everything. Everything has been fulfilled just as promised except the very last things. Sadly, that doesn't cause people to believe, or stop the world around us from considering our faith and our values as old-fashioned, out of date, and obsolete.
Our values seem out of date, even obsolete, because the world has been commandeered by an up-dated version of the religion of the Serpent. The mind of western society has stopped asking the question, "Has God really said?", and is muttering hopefully, "You shall not surely die" instead. Our culture is of two minds - fundamentally religious, on the one hand, and positively atheistic on the other. Neither side takes God or His Word seriously. That is why we hear church leaders (so-called) advocating things like abortion and the use of fetal stem cells in research, and giving their blessing to homosexuality and moral relativism of almost every stripe. They are clearly no longer interested in what God has said, and like Eve, who found several reasons to desire and actually eat of the forbidden fruit, they find in their understanding of God and religion several reasons to endorse what He clearly has condemned and to state positively what God has framed in the most negative of judgements.
One of the reasons for those entrusted with leading church bodies doing such things is that many of them have become convinced that God has not actually spoken. They don't accept the Bible as the Word of God. They consider it the culturally conditioned writings of religious men who had their personal experiences with the divine, but nothing of universal validity. In other words, Paul thought what he thought because he was a man raised in his times - and what he believes about God is a reflection of first-century Judaism, not divine truth. So they feel free to think whatever they think, and value whatever they value.
What amazes me is that they continue to hold forth about God and religion when they have declared that the primary source for knowing God or constructing a religion is just another book with no particular truth to it. When such gather to worship, they might as well sing their favorite tune from the radio and say, "I feel good about feeling good, and I like the sense of nostalgia this event brings to me." They clearly do not believe the Bible, or confess the Christian faith.
There are those churches that call the Bible "The Word of God", and profess to believe what it teaches - and yet they, too, often hold to and proclaim values and "truths" contrary to the revealed Word of God. Some of them believe God spoke some of the Bible through the authors of Scripture, and some of it is not-so-much the Word of God. Others believe the Bible is God's Word, they just don't particularly believe it. That is, in fact, the basic Protestant mistake.
Ask most any Protestant about something we confess with which they take issue, and you will see what I mean. When you confess the truth to them, and give them the very Word of God which teaches it, they will be forced by the words in black and white to say that what you believe is what the words say - but they will then tell you that it is not what they believe on the issue. They will often tell you that although that is what the words say, it is not what they mean. The long and short of it is that they don't believe the Bible, they believe themselves. When the Bible agrees with them, they like to wave it around and say, "See? It's what the Bible says!" But when the Bible disagrees very clearly with what they confess, they prefer to cling to their faith over against Scripture rather than humble themselves before the Word of God and accept what it says.
So, even though God condemns homosexuality (for an easy example), they will find other meanings for those words, and talk about hating the sin and loving the sinner (which was never at issue to begin with), and find reason to accept what God calls unacceptable. The other extreme are those whack-o's who take pleasure in the misery and sorrow of others because they delight in what they believe is God's judgement against the corruption of our society. God will surely judge, but the people of God are about rescue and forgiveness and love, not delighting in the troubles of anyone - even those who richly deserve their trouble.
Because, after all, we all richly deserve pain and misery and eternal condemnation. We have all sinned. Our joy and our faith is about God lifting that just condemnation from our shoulders and pouring it out on Jesus instead. Because of His suffering in our place, we are forgiven, and beloved of God. We receive from His hand all that Jesus deserves, rather than what we so richly deserve. So, when we encounter someone receiving the just consequences of their misdeeds, we feel compassion, or should, and we desire to lift their suffering from them and comfort them as we have been comforted. Those misguided people who demonstrate at the funerals of soldiers and celebrate what they think is God's judgment are doing in the name of God what God Himself has chosen in mercy not to do to us! They are behaving in an ungodly fashion and claiming to be doing it in God's name! How twisted. In the eyes of people like that, apparently forgiveness and mercy seem old-fashioned, out of date, and obsolete.
I like our old-fashioned faith. When I read the devotions written by those saints of a century or so ago, they speak comfort and peace. I notice that they tend to hit sin harder, and urge holiness of life more aggressively, but they also remember the sweet comfort of the Gospel. There is a different feeling to them. They are not so eager to appeal to just anyone, but they encourage living the faith, and considering what it means to believe the things we confess.
I've lived through the change over. I remember sermons and lessons that sounded more stern, and yet never forgot the Gospel. Somewhere in the sixties or the seventies, it seems that the old style came to be viewed as less appropriate. The old men were passing away, and the old books slipped out of print, and something newer and "fresher" was set before us. We got new devotions, new liturgies, new hymns, and a new sense of making people comfortable in the church by avoiding and down-playing what had made them uncomfortable at times in the past. Suddenly, I had the "Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, down in my heart" and Jesus was the "Lord of the Dance", and hymns were trimmed to four verses, and sermons grew shorter because the head can only absorb what the other end could endure.
I stopped hearing about my sin so much, but I was always assured that God loved me. The problem was that I was beginning to believe that I was loved because I was so lovable. And Church had to be "enjoyable" in order to be good. I imagine some of that came from the cultural exodus from the church in the sixties and seventies, when many lost faith in the Word of God and sought to stem the tide of those who did not believe leaving the Sunday service by being more appealing and entertaining. It kind of made sense, if you didn't think about it theologically.
Then I became a pastor, committed to delivering at the end of my ministry what I discovered at the beginning of my life as church. I tried to be old-fashioned, and faithful. I have been paying the price and confronting the brunt of dissatisfaction with faithful Lutheranism for most of my time in the ministry. Once people learn that they should be entertained in church, they find simple worship less satisfactory. When they are taught that they should leave church "feeling good", they don't want to hear anything that doesn't build up that feeling. But hearing about sin and guilt and the personal responsibility to live out their confession of faith does not always build one's sense of euphoria. Sometimes forgiveness is just a relief, not a positive thrill and overwhelming sense of joy.
But we are committed to this Lutheran faith, this old-fashioned Lutheran faith - which is to say, the historic Christian faith. By "we", I don't mean just 'me', but 'this congregation'. We are committed to hear the Word of God, and take it for what it says, and believe it is absolute truth. We are bound to the values God tells us are His, and that ought, then, to be ours. We are not perfect either in our understanding, nor in our ability to conform to God's Word, but it is our aim and the work of our lives. We will hear the law, even though it is out of date, because being out of date simply means that our society no longer wants to hear it. But God's law is still true, and still valid, and still has a claim on every man, woman and child - even when they do not acknowledge that claim.
And we are gladly committed to the Gospel. It is our relief from sorrow and guilt and shame, and it is our hope in the face of death's approach. At times the gospel, which our culture calls "obsolete", is a delight to us. At other times, we may not feel anything in particular - but the Gospel is still true, even then, and still good news, and ultimately as relevant to our hopes and dreams, and daily lives as the morning news. More so, in fact. Holiness of life is another goal for us sinners, but we have true holiness as the gift of God in Jesus Christ, so that we can freely pursue the goal of becoming the sort of people God gives us in Jesus Christ to be.
And we will happily hold on to the old words, the old church year, the old hymnals, and the old-fashioned worship we have known for so long. It isn't the only way one can do it, but it is tried and tested, it is faithful, as we are faithful, and it is ours. It is tried and true - kind of like God in that way.
Yours in the Lord,
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