Evangelical Catholicism Pt IV: Why have churches shrunk?

Discussion Thought of the Day:

“If a robust Evangelical Catholicism, formed by Word and Sacrament to take the Gospel of truth and love “into the deep” of the modern and postmodern world, is the deeply reformed Church to which the entire trajectory of Catholic development from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI points, and which the Second Vatican Council envisioned, then the great postconciliar failure of Catholicism— the collapse of the Church in Christianity’s historical heartland, Western Europe— comes into sharper focus. Western European Catholicism’s demise was not, it becomes clear, the result of an internal civil war between Catholic progressives and Catholic traditionalists. Nor are the prescriptions of either of these exhausted camps likely to lead to revival and reform in the future. The Church in Europe has been in free fall throughout the postconciliar years because too many of its people ceased to believe that the Gospel is true. The crisis of Catholicism in Europe did not come about because the institutional Church faltered and its people subsequently bailed out. The crisis came because the people of the Church (including the clergy) ceased to believe with passion and conviction, ceased to find joy in the presence of the Lord— and sought their happiness elsewhere. Because of that, the institution (which in some countries, such as Germany and Italy, remains extremely wealthy) faltered— and seems to be collapsing in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. The Catholic future in Europe lies not in managerial reforms (although those are needed), but in a renaissance of faith, which will likely come (as such things often do) from outside the formal structures of Catholic life (i.e., parishes and dioceses) and from within renewal movements and new forms of Catholic community. There, the vision of Evangelical Catholicism is alive. And if that vision attains critical mass, following the authentic promptings of the Holy Spirit, it may eventually reform— and transform— the institutional Church.” (1)

What I read above, though directed at the Roman Catholic Church by one of its own, I believe is equally true for all churches and all denominations and especially my Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

It’s not a matter a matter of who is right in the worship wars, or the supposed division of being faithful versus being missional.  It doesn’t have to do, as much as we think it might – with who is in power, for I think that where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administer – that is where the church is.  The hierarchy exists to serve – to be a blessing to the people, as they serve the sacraments and are nothing but conduits through which God’s love and mercy flows.  And I have seen both churches that are contemporary, and that are high liturgical and that are 1950’s dream churches – that all are growing – and that all are failing to reach their community.  (Recently in Rome, I saw a church filled with people for a high Latin Mass – all of the with great joy as they looked to the sacrament.)  As Wiegel notes – we can reform all our admin, we can put allt he right systems in place and run programs and have staffing, but it will be in vain.  And our churches will continue to fail – and depend on what god has supplemented the God who came to us, and died.

I highlighted part of Wiegel’s words above in red for a reason, this is the only thing I see that makes a difference in a church, no matter the size, no matter the budget, no matter whether it is growing or not. It is, clearly this one principal – do they get that they are in the presence of God, do they celebrate His love and mercy and His presence.  Do we get that the Lord’s Supper, the focus of this day, isn’t about the rote movements – but as one of my oldest favorite songs describes – “God and Man at Table are sat Down”  DO we realize His presence, His love, cleansing not just our feet but our lives, healing us, transforming us, the Holy Spirit residing with us!

Do we get that God has invited us to be not just His servants, but as Jesus says, His friends?  To dwell in HIs glory, to be adopted children of the King?

You want such and such style of worship? Fine. You want such and such programs? They are out there!  You want a cozy intimate church where everyone knows you name?  You want a church that is involved in missional work?  Or in serving the poor?  Or in saving the unborn?  Or in educating everyone?  All good things… BUT

Above all, desire this – to be in a place that understands these words:

The Lord is with you!

And respond back… with fervor, with conviction, and with love…

And Also with you ( or and with your Spirit)

(1)Weigel, George (2013-02-05). Evangelical Catholicism (pp. 51-52). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

About justifiedandsinner

I am a pastor of a Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos, California, where we rejoice in God’s saving us from our sin, and the unrighteousness of the world. It is all about His work, the gift of salvation given to all who trust in Jesus Christ, and what He has done that is revealed in Scripture. God deserves all the glory, honor and praise, for He has rescued and redeemed His people.

Posted on March 28, 2013, in Devotions, Good Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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