Former LC-MS president Gerald Kieschnick recently wrote* again about how unfriendly our churches are to visitors and encouraged, once again, that we make deliberate efforts at being ever more friendly and welcoming. Indeed, he chastised those, including himself, who love to visit with their friends and loved ones at Church instead of doing the hard work of greeting and visiting with strangers. He closed his remarks thus:
“A comfortable, friendly church atmosphere happens when members and regular worshipers in that church go out of their way to extend a warm word of welcome to people they don’t know. The presence of such an atmosphere is one reason people come to church. Its absence is one reason they leave.”
Rev. Kieschnick is not disputing that the reason Christians comes to Church is to hear the Word of God, to confess and be absolved, to pray, and to receive the Holy Supper. When he says “one reason” people come to church is the friendly atmosphere they expect and hope to find there, he means, of course, one reason, indeed, for him the main reason, that non-Christians come to Church is for social interaction.
I suspect that even though he isn’t writing about Christians, he is completely wrong. But his entire movement has been based upon this assumption for so long that I doubt we could convince him otherwise. I think that the visitors who come to Church are usually seeking not human interaction and friendliness but are seeking God. Of course, if they aren’t baptized, believing Christians, they might well be confused about why they are coming. But I still think most of them would say they were coming to encounter God and had the idea that He was present, somehow, in the worship service. In this, it seems, they are more Theologically astute than many of our mission execs and possible than Rev. Kieschnick himself.
But there is another problem with Rev. Kieschnick’s assumptions. He turns worship into a chore and a burden for the “members and regular worshippers.” I am not without sympathy for what he writes. We certainly do what people who visit to recognize the love of God in us. We want them to be welcome. But at the same time, I recognize that the “members and regular worshippers” who attend come to the Service weary and hurting. Nor is everyone capable of comfortably talking to strangers. To force people into this upon threat that if they don’t they will be responsible for some soul’s damnation is not only spiritual abuse but also creates a phoney friendliness like unto used car salesmen that visitors pick up on very quickly. The Service isn’t a place for the members to work but to rest. They, too, like the heathen and apostate that slip in our doors from time to time, aren’t seeking mainly a human interaction, but the forgiveness and grace that God pours out in the Divine Service, yet, unlike the heathen and apostate, they actually know the other people who are there and deeply love them. They enjoy coming to Church because of the interaction. I wouldn’t say it is the reason they keep coming back, but I do think it makes coming back easier and more pleasant. In fact, every week is a little family reunion. I wouldn’t want to beat them up over that or further burden them. I want them to enjoy being here.
Rev. Kieschnick’s theology, initiatives, and desires for the synod, which is mainly that it get bigger somehow, are based upon his theology of worship, even as ours are also. The difficulty for us, of course, is that his theology is so different than ours. Worship, for him, is a place for the faithful to perform the good work of evangelism. That isn’t the only place they are to do that good work, but it is probably the most important place they are to do it. Of course, since it is, for him, the good work that really matters, it is what they are to be constantly doing, without rest, and under serious threat of judgment. For us, however, worship is the place where God serves His people, and God takes care of the elect. No wonder, then, that his presidency was so uncomfortable.
*It seems that Rev. Kieschnick puts little law messages on Facebook every Thursday. I am not “friends” with him on Facebook and so I don’t see them. On occasion, as they are encouraged to do so by Rev. Kieschnick, people forward them to me. This message was dated Thursday, February 2, 2012.