Church Write-Up: Love, Forgiveness, and Growing and Struggling Churches

Time for my Church Write-Up for this week.

A.  The pastor at the Missouri Synod church preached about love.  He introduced his sermon with a personal anecdote.  Back when he graduated from seminary, he thought he would change the world!  But it turns out that one-third of his graduating class are no longer pastors.  This anecdote fit into his larger message in that his point was that love for others, empowered and motivated by Christ, can change the world.

The pastor referred to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exhortation that believers live in such a way that unbelievers see them and doubt their own unbelief.

The pastor said that we are tempted to withhold love from the unlovable, but he asked if we can envision Jesus deciding not to love us on such-and-such a day because we were unlovable at that time.  The expected answer is “no.”

The pastor said that, if our limited love is all we can draw on, then we can only go so far.  That is why we need Christ to help us to love.

B.  The church started a Sunday school class on forgiveness in II Corinthians 1-7.

The teacher offered a number of interpretations of Scriptures.  God affirms in Isaiah 55:8 that God’s thoughts are not your thoughts, and God’s ways are not your ways.  The immediately preceding verse concerns God’s forgiveness.  God’s ways are alien to ours in that God forgives, whereas we are hesitant to do so.

Jacob in Genesis 33:10 states that seeing Esau’s face is like seeing the face of God.  The teacher said that Jacob meant that Esau was like God because Esau had forgiven Jacob; God is forgiving.

Matthew 6:14-15 states that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others.  Not only does this demonstrate that forgiveness is mandatory, but it also highlights that, when we deem others to be unforgivable, we are essentially saying that we ourselves are unforgivable.

Galatians 2:20 talks about Christ being inside of the believer.  The teacher said that it is not a matter of us obeying a rule to forgive all by ourselves, but Christ forgives through us.

The teacher asked us what forgiveness is.  People replied with “putting away bitterness” and “being reconciled with the other person.”  The teacher said those were effects of forgiveness, but he asked what the mechanics of forgiveness are.  He said that forgiveness was a metaphor: in the ancient world, it referred to cancelling debts, and that concept is being applied to what God does, and what we are called to do.  The teacher denied that forgiveness is even forgetting: rather, one can remember the offense and the pain, yet still forgive.  Forgiveness is saying that Christ died for that person’s sin.

This class will be interesting.  I myself have wondered how to define forgiveness.

C.  The teacher showed a picture of a typical Lutheran service, and most of the people in the picture had gray or white hair.  He mentioned a Lutheran church that now only has five people and is about to close.  He wondered how we can attract young people to church.  On a related note, a lady told me that I was welcome at a particular Bible study because the church needs young blood!

I went to the “Word of Faith” church afterwords.  It has elderly people, but it has a lot of young people.  The announcements at the end ordinarily announce birthdays, but the announcer said that he may discontinue that practice because the church is growing and there are too many birthdays to mention.

It makes me wonder: why does one church struggle, while another grows?  Some of the usual answers do not satisfy me.  The Rachel Held Evans-types say the church needs to become more liberal, but liberal mainline churches are declining.  Then conservatives say the evangelical churches are thriving because they are conservative.  But conservative mainline churches, like LCMS, struggle in terms of numbers.

Are evangelical churches hipper?  Well, some of the mainline churches that I have attended either offer a contemporary service, or their only service is a contemporary service.

I’ll leave the comments on in case anyone wants to chime in.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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