Monday, June 10, 2013

Wise Words

As I've been reflecting towards the issues that face parishes these word from the Rev. Dr. James Crumley former Presiding Bishop of the LCA have been ruminating in my mind.

"What criteria are used to measure the church's effectiveness?  The criteria that are used may be a clue to the problem.  They may be in terms of institutional or organizational effectiveness, such as loos or increase in membership, financial stability, growth, the solidity of the church's turf in the public sector, the church's influence in political or economic policy, the church's 'image,' authority, and/or whether one can trust the churn as an institution.  The conclusions as to the health of the church are derived from statistical studies and projections, sociological analyses, or management goals, and the ability or inability both to set them realistically and to meet them successfully.  It is possible to gauge the church's performance solely in terms usually applied to organizations or social entities."

"I contend for a different point of view at this fundamental starting place.  The church is a human organization, yes, but at the same time it is divine, a communion of members with God and with one another.  The church possesses the signs by which it is defined, word and sacrament.  For this reason the primary question is not "What works" but "How can the church be faithful?"

"Therefore, we must use a different set of criteria to measure the church's vitality.  The question of self-identity is paramount.  What is the church, and what is it expected to be by the One who gives it?  What does the Lord of the church expect the church to do?  What is its mission?  Such questions are in a different category from the organizational ones that I have mentioned.  While it is true that the church is an organization and needs to be effective as such, its reason for being is in another, higher place.  Whether the church is in trouble or in decline must be determined not primarily in terms of organizational effectiveness but in the church's being true to itself and thus to its Lord.

"The greater problem today is that we are not clear about the church in precisely these dimensions.  We exhibit a loss of nerve by becoming servant to everyone's expectations.  We are tempted to lose the theological and ecclesiological foundations for our existence, our life, our vitality.  Yet these foundations must undergird all that the church does.  Even in matters such as personnel practices and policies, the church ought to act like the church and not ape the corporate model.  Church structures are under both the law and the gospel of God.  In the life that the church lives during the week, it must not deny what is proclaimed from its pulpit and received at its altar on Sunday.  If word and sacrament "constitute" the church, then they are in the very warp and woof of the church's fabric.  Any other approach divides the church into those things spiritual and those material, and that dichotomy does not work theologically for the church any more than it does for the individual person."

Braaten and Jenson, Either/Or: The Gospel or Neopaganism.  Eerdmans Publishing, 1995.  p113-115.

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