Friday, August 28, 2009

Cutting Edge Missions

The mission of the Church necessarily runs together with the pastoral office (Rom. 10:14-15, John 20:21-23, Matt. 28:18-20). Where that office is vacant, there is something fundamental lacking which needs to be filled up (Acts 1:15-22, Titus 1:5).

The mission of the Church runs together with the Office of the Holy Ministry (AC V, VII-VIII) in the administration of Holy Baptism and the ongoing catechesis of the Word of Christ (Matt. 28:19-20), and in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4, Luke 24:46-47, Acts 2:38-39). This pastoral ministry calls sinners to repentance, that is, away from sin and death to faith and life in Christ Jesus, to the ongoing faithful reception of His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion (Matt. 9:10-11, Luke 15:1-2, Matt. 26:26-29, 1 Cor. 11:23-26).

These good works of the Holy Ministry are the liturgical foundation of the Church, apart from which the mission of the Church has no point or purpose; apart from which there really is no mission of the Church. The pastoral ministry of preaching, catechizing, baptizing, absolving and communing is not some "phase two" of the Church's mission, nor some final goal at the end of the rainbow. It is the Church's mission, as it is the Church's lungs and heart, by which the Holy Spirit and the Blood of Christ give life to His Body.

There is a right and wrong way to go about all of this. Something either is in harmony with the real mission of the Church, or it is not. I assume that everyone would agree with that much in principle. For "how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10; Matthew 28; AC XIV). There is no Holy Baptism without water and the Word of Christ. There is no Lord's Supper without the Lord's Words (Verba Domini). And there is no proper preaching of the Holy Scriptures without the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel (FC V).

Therefore, certain rites and ceremonies are necessary to the mission of the Church, namely, those that have been instituted by Christ Himself. Other rites and ceremonies are forbidden, because they are contrary to the Word of God. In between those parameters, among those rites and ceremonies which are relatively free because they are neither commanded nor forbidden by God, there are some that are more helpful and edifying than others (1 Cor. 10:23), because they serve and support the clarity of our catechesis and confession of the Word of God, and because they are conducive to the practice of faith and love in reverence and courtesy (1 Cor. 10:24, 31-33). We are well served in identifying such appropriate and helpful practices by considering the traditions of the Church catholic (1 Cor. 11:1-2, 16).

Those considerations ought to be actively engaged at the cutting edge of the Church's mission. The most helpful and appropriate practices, those most in harmony with the catechesis and confession of the Gospel, and those most conducive to reverence and courtesy among the people of God, ought to be established from the ground up, wherever on earth the Church may proceed.

Several months ago, Pastor Petersen offered some practical advice for new pastors, on how they might go about introducing certain ceremonies in their congregations. It was a vigorous discussion and debate that ensued upon that post. The chief concerns and criticisms were that a pastor must move very slowly and teach very carefully before introducing anything new, and that nothing should be changed too quickly (if at all), lest the people be scandalized. I maintain now, as I did in that discussion, that blanket rules are not particularly helpful, and that practical advice, such as Pastor Petersen provided, is instructive and therefore useful. However, it is true (as Pastor Petersen also indicated) that pastoral care must be exercised in such cases, and that careful discernment and conscientious discretion are by all means necessary.

The case of missions on the cutting edge presents a different scenario altogether. Where the Church is being established in a new location, there is the opportunity to do all things well, for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of faith and love. In such a case and such a place, there is no need for scruples regarding the historic practices of the Church catholic, but a good foundation can be laid from the very outset. A liturgical life can readily be arranged and fostered, that is, a congregational piety and practice that comprises evangelical preaching, ongoing catechesis, a steady emphasis on Holy Baptism, a lively practice of Holy Absolution, and a central celebration of the Holy Communion. And all of this may likewise be adorned with the beauty, decorum and reverence of churchly rites, traditional ceremonies, appropriate vestments and elegant images.

That is how it should be. Morning and evening prayer every day. The Lord's Supper every Lord's Day, and as often as there are disciples of His to receive it. Faithful observance of Sundays and seasons, of festivals and commemorations throughout the year. Regular opportunities for Individual Confession and Absolution. Preaching and catechesis, pastoral care, prayer and visitation as the pastor's primary occupations. The Church's orders and forms of the Liturgy, and genuine hymnody that honors God by confessing His Word and catechizing His people in it. Vestments that cover the man while adorning the office. Ceremonies that confess with the body what the heart believes and the lips profess.

Genuflecting, because we bend the knee at the Name of Jesus, and we worship Him who is both God and man, who comes to serve us with His very body and blood. Elevation of the Holy Sacrament, because the disciples of Christ Jesus are thus invited and encouraged to receive His gifts in peace, in the confidence of faith in His forgiveness of all their sins. Chanting, because the Word of Christ is extraordinary, full of His Spirit, divine and life-giving. Chasubles, because the celebration of the Holy Communion with praise and thanksgiving is truly meet, right and salutary.

That is how it should be. Where that sort of piety and practice were put into place and fostered from the beginning, from the foundation and formation of the Church in each new place, there would be no scandalizing of the faithful. Rather, such a liturgical life in the Ministry of the Gospel would catechize the people well and strengthen their faith in the righteousness of Christ. Surely, that is the mission of the Church.


  1. Rick,

    Having been to Ghana twice now I have realized how our Mission "stategy" seemed to be "grow, grow, grow" without any serious teaching of the faith, incorporation of any liturgical practice, or any framework for Christian life and worship. Even the basic administration of th eSacrament was neglected in teh name of needing to "do missions." There were men who seem to have been the exception top this, but they were few and far between. Fifty years into the life of the Lutheran church in Ghana, they are trying to undo what the LCMS did. I am teaching them about a liturgy some of these pastors have never seen and emphasizing the need for Sacrament to men who have sometimes seen congregations go over a year without the Sacrament. Men are exposed to the reality of preaching and teaching the Catechism who are very unfamiliar with it at times.

    I am pleased that my congregation is no longer involved in the bureaucratic mess called mission. We are now seeing mission happen as we prepare men with tools for the pastoral office by sending me as a pastor who lives, teaches, and practices a Confessional faith in Word and Sacrament. It is not that they do not want such things. In fact, they are hungry to talk about how these can be part of their life. We deal with issues regarding music, lack of hymns, illiteracy, and how the liturgy and catechesis are even more important in those settings. They wonder why they were not taught these things from the beginning.

  2. Exactly, Karl.

    Thank you for doing faithfully what should have been done to begin with. Not only in Ghana, but in your own parish all the time.

  3. Pr. Weedon had a nice post along these lines a few months back that is a complimentary read to this post.

  4. Fr. Weedon's post was good - the nuts and bolts to Fr. Stuckwisch's poetry here. But the name should have been, Our Lady of the Reformation.


  5. Oh, I like that name!

    And what a great idea, to name a congregation after Katharina von Bora ;-) (Just kidding, although I do love my own little Katya.)

    Thanks for the tip to check out Father Weedon's post, which I had previously missed. Good stuff there, as always.


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