by Rev. Matthew Harrison
There is no doubt that we live in a time of unprecedented cultural, religious and technological change. In a number of situations, the state has become antagonistic to the faith of the Bible by advocating and advancing views of society and culture that are inconsistent with natural and revealed law.
Consider Emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity in A.D. 312. Shortly thereafter, the Church began to experience all sorts of privileges with the governmentmoney, property, buildings, power, access and tax breaksmuch of it the very antithesis of what Jesus said about the Church in the New Testament. While Christianity became a powerful force, the Church meddled in government, and the government meddled in the Churchall to the detriment of the Gospel.
Or take the formerly Lutheran state churches in Europe, which are a theological disaster. Only the tiniest fraction of the populace is attending church. State privileges for the Church are withdrawing, and states once heavily influenced by Christianity are becoming antagonistic to the faith. The Constantinian era, during which the Church in the West had become privileged by the state, is now slowing creaking toward an end. But the Church will continue, even thrive. Jesus promises that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). The Church flourished in the earliest centuries under stiff government and cultural opposition, and it still does.
Thats our current context. Must the Missouri Synod decline? No. There are several key factors affecting the stagnancy of the growth of the Missouri Synod.
- Our LCMS birth rate mirrors that of the broader population of the U.S, which is at an all-time low. So, how do we best encourage our young people to treasure marriage and have children? How do we make the point in a freeing and Gospel-oriented way? How do we encourage those capable of having more children to do so? How do we take concrete action in our congregations to care for children and encourage young parents? How do we encourage the adoption option? Be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). It can be a God-pleasing act to have a large, loving, orthodox Lutheran family, and those who are able should not be diverted from this by any self-imposed green limit of 2.1 children per couple.
- The second most significant factor is that, by best estimates, fully half of the children we baptize never make it to con-firmation, and nearly half of those confirmed dont attend church regularly. This is staggering. How do we deal with this? To be sure, this is evidence of the cultural forces at work in our day. But there are answers. This is a matter of family emotional and spiritual health. Its a matter of congregational and pastoral health and good practice, love, care and hard work. Id love to hear from you about good things happening in your congregations in this regard.
- Finally, there is the external mission. Its time to plant. The Lord is bringing the unchurched world to our doorstep, and they are having lots of kids too! The global South is coming to us. They need Christ, and they are far more open to Him, in many cases, than those of European descent. Its time to plant churches. If you have complained about how this has been done, then help us understand how to do it. Its time to plant. Many congregations are on the edge financially. But many are doing well and have the resources to plant and to call additional clergy. Lets do it.
The era of the Church and of Christianity is far from over. It wont be over until the return of Christ. But our privileged position in state and culture is drawing to a close. So be it. The Christian faith flourishes as an opposition movement. And the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
Lets go! Mark 1:38