I had it thrown in my face again the other day. People are going to hell. Congregations are declining. We ought to be doing something about it, even if it means compromising the divine call and the office of the ministry, or whatever else may be necessary. Bottom line: I'm not doing enough. It probably means that I don't care, and that I want the Gospel only for myself.
Okay, I'll be honest, I didn't react or respond very graciously to this. The truth of the matter is that I get impatient and short-tempered, and I am too often cranky and irritable. I'm in one of those funks right now, which makes it all the harder for me to be charitable and easy-going. No, I'm not justifying myself; I'm confessing my sin. Likewise, I know it is true that I am selfish and lazy, and I don't do everything I ought to be doing. There are people who ought to be hearing and receiving the Gospel from me, who don't always. So, I stand convicted by the Law, and my egotistical old Adam coils and rears and prepares to strike back. Thanks be to God the Holy Spirit, that He does not leave me in my sin but brings me to repentance and faith in the free and full forgiveness of Christ Jesus, my Savior. I haven't done enough, I know, but He always does.
Notwithstanding my sin, for which I must daily be called to repentance (there are no excuses), the Gospel is not served by compromise. The Office of the Ministry has been instituted by God, not to get in the way of the Gospel, but for the sake of the Gospel. The Divine Call to that Office is not a matter of legalism, nor of personal prerogative and power, but the authority of Christ to forgive sins, and the way in which He has given that special authority to His Church on earth. The means of grace are not impediments to evangelism, nor simply tokens that we have to "throw in there" in order to maintain our credentials. They are the Word and works of Jesus, whereby He established, builds, sustains and preserves His Church against sin, death, the devil and hell. No amount of creativity and ingenuity on our part will improve upon or supplement these divine ways and means by which Christ Jesus does His thing. Of course, He also bestows First Article gifts of intelligence, knowledge and wisdom, understanding and rhetoric, which all ought to serve and support the preaching and teaching and administration of the Gospel. But let all of these be handmaidens of the Gospel, and not streetcorner sirens seducing the men of God.
People were going to hell in the days of the Prophets and Apostles. Congregations were declining. The Word of God was preached, and as often as not it was rejected, the preacher sometimes stoned to death, sawn asunder, thrown into a pit, or otherwise disposed of. The very Word-made-Flesh was crucified, dead and buried, and those who are called and sent to preach His Word are persecuted for it; they bear in their own bodies and lives the Cross and Passion of the Christ. His power is made perfect in weakness.
I don't want to make excuses for not doing all that I am given to do. I need to be called to repentance, and not simply to feel badly about where I've fallen short, but to do better. No, not "better," but simply to do it. But what I am given to do is laid upon me by the Lord's Call, in my ordination to His Office of the Ministry. It's not something that I pick and choose and decide for myself. I'm called to preach the Law and the Gospel, to teach the Word of God, to catechize and baptize, to hear confessions of sin and to speak the absolution of sin in the name and stead of Christ, and to administer His Body and His Blood for His Christians to eat and to drink. These are the works that I am given to do, within my finite capacities, in all sorts of circumstances, in this place where the Lord has put me, among the people He has entrusted to my care. I know that I will never serve as faithfully and well as I ought to serve. But I trust the Good Shepherd, who loves His sheep, to serve and provide for them with His means of grace, even through me.
I have my own theory as to why the churches have been declining for the past several decades. Well, one of the reasons, anyway, but I believe it is a big one. It's been within the last couple of generations that "birth control" and "family planning" have become commonplace, and not only accepted but expected. Christian husbands and wives are having fewer children by design. This is not rocket science. Some of the earliest sects and heretical groups despised marriage and procreation, and, not surprisingly, those groups tended to die out over time. Go figure.
Of course, the Lord in His wisdom does not call every Christian to the vocation of marriage; nor does He grant children to every Christian marriage. Those disciples of Jesus without spouse or child are less encumbered by the demands of family, and are thus able to serve the Church and the world in other vocations and stations in life. What is more, with or without family, Christians ought to be speaking the Gospel to their friends and neighbors and co-workers, and to anyone else they encounter in the course of their days, whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.
But in the case of Christian spouses, the frontier of the mission field is in the home with their own children. Bringing their children to Holy Baptism, catechizing them in the home, that is to say, by teaching them the Word of God, training them in the Catechism and praying with them, and faithfully taking them to church, parents serve the so-called "Great Commission" far more pointedly and effectively (if one may ever use such a term) than by just about anything else a lay person might do. Not to be crass or irreverent, but maybe Christian husbands and wives should be encouraged to spend less time knocking on doors, and more time behind closed doors. Where the Lord does not bestow the blessing of children, there other opportunities present themselves, as also when the childrearing years have passed. But if Christian couples would typically have four children (on average), and would simply rear them in the Christian faith and life, I suggest that the Church on earth would be growing steadily instead of declining.