Church in Mission with others

Church in Mission with others

 Submitted and Written by Rev. Hilmar Lorenz - Gatineau, Quebec   (Editorial for The Eastern Synod Paper)

The Eastern Synod Lutheran is an excellent example for what its church wants to be: in mission for others. Grouped around the “Bishop’s Journal, “ articles are published that report about events in the “congregational life around the synod“ and other activities that show the ELCIC in mission for others.

I wonder, if today, we do not overrate the quotation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this martyr of Nazi-Germany. It had its meaning for the German church of his time that had turned around itself and its traditions for too long around itself, instead of opening up for the fast changing world around it. Hence, spreading the discovery that church is meant to be in mission for others certainly was a step in the right direction. Eighty years later, not only the modern world, but our church as well again have evolved. Even if we wanted it, we would not be any more able just to turn around ourselves. For the  modern media of which, at the age of Bonhoeffer, TV and internet were still unknown to ordinary people have penetrated our daily lives, which, then, was entirely unimaginable for church people. If we want to see this or not, it is through internet that, through ourselves, also our church has become part of the global web that has turned our world into a global village.

This global web of which our church has become a component is a world of interaction in which people do things with one another rather than for one another. This situation of today questions our beloved church traditions much more radical than it was the case in the age of Bonhoeffer. Then, the concern was that church may not preach any more only to itself, but rather may discover a modern world around it which less and less knew about church. And the media of those days that were news papers and radio stations made it possible for church, by its published words and deeds, to send its message out into the world, thereby rediscovering that church always was meant to be in mission for others.

In spite of the great ideas of the Lutheran reformation about the general priesthood of all believers and about our professions being priestly calls by God, we all come from a tradition that had reinforced what we may call a socle hierarchy. We have kept the reformatory tradition that we disagree with the Roman catholic hierarchy having the pope on its top. Nevertheless, also the tradition has remained that matters most for congregational life in churches, namely, that we distinguish between (ordained) pastors and lay people. And, since our pastors are married, we have understood that they are not holy men or women, while, despite its official teaching, the Roma Catholic Church, in fact, suggests to lay people that, because they have renounced a sexual life, their priests are holy men. Instead, our congregations, time and again, are tempted to wish for a holy family living in their pastor’s mansion, which is even more of an utopia than the wish that an unmarried priest be a holy man.

In other words, whatever our official teachings say, we Lutherans, in fact, have kept that socle hierarchy in which the pastors are on top and lay people underneath. And, in fact, we silently justify this in a similar manner the Roman Catholic church justifies its hierarchy publicly, namely, by the biblical scholarship that apparently distinguishes our pastors from lay people.

Now, this socle hierarchy invites us to be church in mission for others. And the media of Bonhoeffer’s age were still suited for this task, as well as the education of the people at school that still was conditioned by the method of frontal lecturing. For decades, now, the dominant teaching method of schools has become the discussion being facilitated by the teachers. Thinking of this makes us conscious of that our socle hierarchy still works to often through frontal teaching. Thus, preaching and the administration of the sacraments has still remained the domain of pastors. And it is thereby that our pastors act in mission for others that, first of all, are the lay people sitting under their pulpits. Nevertheless, we have started to realize that younger generations that have been taught by discussing matters rather than by frontal lecturing are leaving church which inevitably shrinks thereby, rather than that it would grow by its mission. Similarly, the generations that have been educated by the means of internet are less and less able to receive the teachings of church, which older generations have been used to. What, on the contrary, internet offers to them is a permanent discussion of matters that, thereby, they discover together.

I am aware of the fact that there are many younger pastors who, while having understood this, try to make themselves available for young people through entering the medium of discussion rather than of frontal teaching that mediates less and less to modern people. Now, the great problem of these young pastors is how to integrate their work into traditional congregations that are dominated by older people who are still used to frontal lecturing, while feeling unable to become partners for their pastors in discussing matters of faith, rather than only listening to what the pastor has to say about them. The same problem has emerged in families. Traditionally, education was meant to be a service, or even mission, for others, who in families are the children. Today, this style of education has become more and more counterproductive. Children do not accept any more just being told by their parents. Instead they want to discuss every thing with their parents. Unfortunately, many parents are not sufficiently able to discuss with their children, which is a permanent source of tensions between parents and children. And these tensions are mixed with those among the parents themselves. While in former times of paternalism, the husband told his wife what to do, while the wife may have done what she thought was the right thing without discussing this wiht her husband, this does not work any more. This, however, does not mean that the two are able to discuss things with each other, which makes family llife more and more complicated..

Discussion, however, means to be there with others rather than for others. For the others, whether they are lay people in church or family members or else where, less and less accept that things are done for them, but rather together with them. Hence, I do not see any more that church can go on dong its mission for others, but rather has to learn doing it with others. There are more and more groups participating in the pastor’s preparation of the sermon. Nevertheless, it is him or her who, on Sunday, presents the sermon from the pulpit to the people listening to him. And even if there is space for discussions, they do not lead very far, because the lay people are handicapped by their respect of the pastor who, because of this particular respect to the theologian, is still put on the pulpit in a figurative sense.

Consequently, younger people who live in the milieus of internet after having been taught discussing things, leave church, because they do not bear any more with traditional church. In other words, we have to face the fact that the formula “A church in mission for others”  is received by more and more younger people in the sense of  “A church in mission against us, ” because, for them today, being in mission for others has become unimaginable without being carried out together with them.

I am aware that this insight has huge consequences for how we conceive ourselves as church, the discussion of which does not find the necessary space in one article. It, however, connects with the authority to which the Lutheran Confessions of the 16th century have referred, namely, the large consensus of all who have trust in God, rather than only of ordained pastors or the theological committee of our synod. The Augsburg Confession as well as the Formula of Concord that explicitly refer to that consensus are examples for understanding it in a dynamic manner. And this means that, in situations in which this consensus about having trust in God does not exist with people, we cannot judge in advance that they have no trust in God Hence, we should follow those Confesdsions’ example of successfully searching the non-existent consensus, e.g.,about what mission for others means today, namely, to do our mission together with others inside and outside our church. For of whom can we deny in advance that they have any trust in God, before we have discussed with them, what this trust may mean?

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