Normally, I would never suggest such a thing. It seems rather presumptuous. But I've been inspired by the new Commission on Worship to think about things differently. Those folks are working up a survey of the top 5 percent of "soul winning" congregations, as I mentioned this past week, in order to determine what those best and most successful congregations must be doing right in their critical "worship" events each Sunday morning. Then, presumably, those of us who are doing it all wrong can be told how to get our act together, so that we too can set the world on fire and win souls for Jesus. Too bad the Lord and His Apostles didn't think of this.
As I have had this in mind over the past several days — while also continuing to spin my wheels with such mundane, non-soul-winning activities as preaching and teaching and catechizing and administering the means of grace (to those poor souls who were already bagged and tagged a long time ago, and so no longer count for anything with the Generation-Next Missouri Synod) — I hit upon a wonderful idea. I would have shared it sooner, but of course I had to spend some time patting myself on the back and congratulating myself first. Now that my right hand has an accurate accounting of what my left hand has been doing, I can pass my brilliance on to others.
Everybody's into family values these days, and parenting how-to books are always in demand. Clearly there's a need for wisdom in these critical areas of life. How are mothers and fathers to parent their children in the best and most successful way? Then it dawned on me: Obviously, the parents who have the most children must be doing something right, and they are evidently doing it more effectively than those parents with fewer children. It's only logical. The numbers, they don't lie. Parents, by definition, are people who have children. Clearly, then, those with more children are better and more successful parents.
So, I propose that a survey be prepared for the top 5 percent of soul bearing marriages, defined as those with the most children (whether by natural delivery, c-section, or adoption). Once we have determined the secrets of their success, we can inform all the other husbands and wives as to what they need to be doing differently in order to become better and more efficient parents.
There's just a couple hitches that I haven't been able to work out, yet. To begin with, in no particular order, there's this whole quality vs. quantity thing. That is to say, so far as I can tell, the skill of good parenting is not directly related or proportional to the number of children a couple has. My wife and I have nine children; we do our best to parent them faithfully, and I suppose it is true that, by trial and error, we've gotten somewhat better at it over time. But the fact is that I know couples with fewer children who are more consistent, more attentive, more patient, and more effective parents than we are. There must be some kind of glitch here.
Even more troubling and difficult is the copyright issue. I've not yet contacted CPH to get the definitive answer, but I'm given to understand that the Holy Triune God retains the rights to procreation as the Author and Giver of life. I was assuming that He'd been forced to give those up, what with a million different forms of birth control, "emergency contraceptive," and abortion on demand. Evidently not. It seems that He is still the one to open and close the womb. This is very frustrating, especially because He appears to be so inconsistent. He keeps opening the wombs of unmarried teenagers, and closing the wombs of faithful loving wives. Oddly enough, the same behavior does not always produce the same results. It is just a statistician's nightmare.
This will sound shocking, I realize, but I'm starting to have my doubts about the whole survey thing, after all. The Commission on Worship probably knows all sorts of things that I don't, but I just can't figure out how to measure the will and workings of God with statistical analyses. Since He is not only the Author and Giver of life, but also the Author and Perfecter of faith, I have to admit that I'm befuddled by the prospect of identifying the top 5 percent of "soul-winning" congregations. And there's still that irksome quality vs. quantity thing. I mean, it really would be so much easier to conclude that having more people indicates a better something-or-other. Yet, it strikes me that smaller congregations are sometimes more faithful (sometimes not), while larger congregations are sometimes more heterodox (and sometimes not). I do assume that faithfulness is still the Church's calling and aim, rather than outward "success." Otherwise, I suppose we ought to all be reading Joel Osteen's books and forget about theology altogether.
The truth of the matter is, in all seriousness, that marriages and congregations alike live under the Cross, and under the providence of God. Faithfulness is by the Word and Spirit of Christ, and by no other ways or means than that. The Church on earth with all of her members, both collectively and individually, lives by faith and not by sight, in the midst of hardship and adversity, as also in prosperity and advantage. Children are a heritage of the Lord, as are new members. We know the ways and means by which the Lord gives life, in either case, but new life comes about according to His good pleasure, not upon demand. Pastors and congregations may labor faithfully for years without seeing any measurable results, just as many husbands and wives who long for children of their own are disappointed. By the same token, careless couples in the back seat of a car may find themselves expecting, and reckless congregations may be attracting large crowds by way of entertainment models that give the people what they want.
Faithfulness will not be so concerned about numbers, but with the Word of the Lord, the Law and the Gospel. Parents, pastors and congregations are called daily to repentance for their past failures — not to despair, but back to the Lord in faith and hope. Whether with few or many children, with few or many members, marriages and congregations serve the souls (and bodies) entrusted to their care by quietly and steadily doing what they are given to do. To that end, they will simply use the ways and means that God the Lord has provided for that purpose. As for the fact that none of us are as faithful as we ought to be, Christ be praised for His grace and mercy and forgiveness; else who could be saved? With man it is impossible, but not with God.
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