Church Shopping and Hopping

by Rev. Ray Mirly

You have been baptized and catechized in the Christian faith. At your Baptism, the Holy Spirit worked faith in your heart to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. At the time of your confirmation, you acknowledged that God, at your Baptism, gave you faith in Jesus, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. You further confessed your faith in the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You also confessed that “the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you learned to know them from the Small Catechism is faithful and true.” You promised, “By God’s grace, to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully, to live according to God’s word and to remain true to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, even to death” (see Rite of Confirmation, Lutheran Service Book, pp. 272273).

There is a growing phenomenon in the LCMS where confirmands who made these commitments are forgetting, minimizing or ignoring their confirmation vows. It saddens me whenever I hear about someone who was taught the entire teaching of Jesus drawn from the Gospels in the Holy Scriptures leaving his or her LCMS congregation to become part of a congregation that denies the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus in, with and under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

I find it unfathomable that these people learned from the Holy Scriptures that we are sinners from the moment of conception and that babies and young children are in need of the benefits and blessings of Baptism but choose to become part of a congregation that denies infants and children this Sacrament instituted and commanded by Jesus Christ.

There are many rationalizations given by those who leave the LCMS to join congregations that do not teach, peach or practice all that Jesus taught and commanded. They say that the pastor in winsome, the music lively. The people are friendlier! They have a better youth ministry! But these are not the most important reasons why one should join a congregation. Yes, worship should be edifying. Yes, the pastor should have a healthy relationship with his people. Yes, we should be friendly to all people who worship with us. But none of this merits our salvation.

The difficulty today is that there are many pastors who use Jesus’ name liberally in their sermons and teaching. They tell people that Jesus is their Savior. They teach that only true believers in Jesus will go to heaven. This is all music to the ears of a Lutheran Christian. All of this is true! But . . . and isn’t there often a but? But what else do they teach? Do they: (1) Teach Law and Gospel correctly; (2) Administer the Sacrament of Holy Baptism to all people?  Do they teach that when the water is connected to God’s Word that the Old Adam is drowned and dies and one is given a new life in Christ Jesus?

The church shopping and church hopping occurring today is not new. Read carefully Paul’s words to the Galatian church: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:69).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is only one Gospel, one Lord and Savior of us all, one heavenly Father and one Holy Spirit. God has only one plan of salvation, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works” (Eph. 2:8-9). The Bible has only one teaching regarding the Lord’s Supper and Holy Baptism.

Cowboy churches may be folksy, relational and casual. Dr. Seuss liturgies (yes, they really exist) may be the current new idea. Gender-neutral language replacing the original words of the inspired, inerrant and revealed Word of God may be politically correct. But Peter warns, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Luther encourages us to pray “and lead us not into temptation,’ explaining that this prayer is so important for us to pray “so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice” (Explanation to the Sixth Petition, Small Catechism).

If you are tempted for any reason to leave your current LCMS congregation in order to join a different church, it is critical that you first check out the entire teaching and practice of that new church. Using your Small Catechism, compare what they teach and practice with what God’s Word teaches and commands.

Jesus knew the temptations that you and I would experience. Therefore, He prayed to his Father in heaven, “I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:1419). May the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, keep each one of us in the true faith to life everlasting.

About the Author: The Rev. Ray Mirly is president of the LCMS Missouri District.

May 2012

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