The practice of infant baptism shapes much of the church fellowship experienced in traditional mainline churches. We are not taught how to look for and recognize the work of the Holy Spirit within us. We have had the experience but missed its meaning, to quote the poet T. S. Eliot.
Most American Evangelical churches stress being born again at an older age. They teach participants to look for changes within them that lead to trust in the promise of salvation in Christ. They hear born-again stories frequently from other participants. They are much more likely to talk about what God is doing in the personal spiritual lives of fellow participants.
Don’t conclude out of this comparison that infant baptism is wrong or unwise. I fully endorse this traditional practice that emphasizes the initiative of God is coming to us. It is a special time for parents, sponsors and congregation to pledge they will raise the child in the faith into which he or she is baptized.
Do conclude from the comparison that we, who whose home is traditional churches, need to learn better how to describe and share our experiences of the Spirit when they come. Name your encounters and share them. Seek more. Learn from others what to look for.
Because we do not learn spiritual life well from others in our fellowship life, that life tends to be shallow. Our conversations are mostly the kind you find in any social time of small talk. I myself struggle to shift church times of sharing more toward relationships with God.
How do we get from here to there—from fellowship small talk to personal God-talk? This shift need not involve any changes in basic theology. Accepting God’s promises in Christ is basic to any biblical understanding of the plan of salvation. God takes the initiative and out of grace offers the promise of new life. In classical theology, the relevant term is “apprehending” faith. We need to accept that promise and rely on it. “Affection” is the classical Latin term for our response of mind, soul and spirit. Even if we cannot remember the first time we apprehended that faith, we can look for and remember our experiences of affection toward God over and over again.
What traditional mainline churches have is a church culture problem. Any culture consists of the beliefs, values and actions passed on to younger generations. For a variety of historical reasons traditional church culture puts a much higher value on words than on actions. Too often the actions of a congregation are inconsistent with the values they espouse.
I don’t think much will change with traditional congregations until they realize their actions poorly reflect their beliefs and values. The biblical response to this shortfall is repentance. In my Lutheran beliefs, I think repentance is something every believer needs to do daily because sin daily remains in each of us during our life on earth. Even a fellowship of forgiven sinners needs to regularly repent of too much reliance on symbolic words and not enough commitment to action.
When a church culture no longer connects with new generations, those congregations would do well to repent and seek God’s guidance. Many human excuses can be offered, but what actions will change?
The most fundamental and useful change would be for participants to check their spiritual basics. How well do they recognize what the Spirit is doing in their daily lives? When they are truly in the Spirit, repentance will be easier. Name and Share what the Spirit is doing now among participants in this fellowship. Then they will become more truly a spiritual fellowship that is attractive to others.
Pat Black says
I am soon to be 84 years old and have a real concern about my church, Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. We have lost our joy of sharing what God is doing in our lives. To me the power of the Holy Spirit is being quenched and in the place of, a building remodel and emphasis on having the correct Hymnal. Now an Adult Bible Class is beginning on the correct way to administer Holy Communion and replacing the empty cross with a crucifix. Yes, at the same time no young families, just us elderly, no children so no Sunday School for children. I have been in this Synod since my first breath and starving now, even considering leaving. Breaks my heart. A few of us meet once a week in a private home and with the leadership of our retired Pastor, do have good fellowship. We share God’s Presence in our individual lives and the work of the Holy Spirit. My concern is how much our church is missing without the power of God’s Spirit and the emphasis on man’s doing. Thank you for an avenue to express my thoughts. I love the Lord and in times like we are facing today, especially, I believe our hope is to repent and ask God to heal our land and again experience the joy of Him being first in our lives.
David Luecke says
I, too, lament the LCMS. We used to have a good mix of guardians and missionaries. Now they are all guardians trapped in traditionalism.
Rev. Raymond Van Buskirk says
The Spirit works as He will on both young and old through the hearing of the Word and the Sacrament of Baptism. Bill Bright of Campus Chrusade for Christ used to say we have three witnesses: fact, faith and feeling. As a Lutheran, I accept the fact of my baptism, that God has washed His name upon me and claimed/adopted me for His kingdom; I have faith in the power of the blood of Christ to wash me clean of all my sins; and I have the feeling/experience of the Holy Spirit working in my heart comforting me in times of difficulty, confronting me when I sin or am about to sin, and daily conforming me to the very image of Christ. We should share our faith walks with others, but we should not expect spiritual highs all of the time.
David Luecke says
Well said, I like fact faith then feeling.
Rural and small town Luth churches and some inner city churches have a close family culture. It may be healthy, unhealthy or something in between. However, Suburban churches that recruit from multiple sources are like a Walmart or McDonalds of religion with a menu of products and services. You go and get something off of the menu and leave. Location is often more important than denomination. Entertainment is sine qua non. The communion of saints not so much. Often you can walk in and out without one person noticing or greeting you. Some do have greeters but many are untrained and embarrassed volunteers. Unlike the “Cheers” bar, nobody knows your name. (Woody on “Cheers” is LCMS) .Often even the Pastor will walk away after talking to a few chosen supporters. After a poorly prepared, doctrinally starved sermon he’s too embarrassed to stick around ( ie. recent sermon series on serious drinking of alcohol or a series on the death, benefits and cost of cremation, living wills, insurance and how to leave money for the church) If he has a Bible study it’s often watered down and designed to defend his programs and either support or condemn the Synod’s agenda as too liberal or too concservative. And then finally the custodian will shoo you out. But be sure to leave money for various projects but take the guilt trip that was dished out during the service home with you. It’s a business.
David Luecke says
Good description of the modern reality. Sorry your congregation is shallow. A pastor now needs to be skillful to meet all the demands of a suburban congregation. Sadly, many are not. A good personality can fill in some gaps, and many traditional ones are not warm. Generation Spiritual energy is a new challenge that involves waiting on the Spirit. Such skill is almost completely absent in traditional seminary experience.
Ken Kerr says
Infant baptism has filled the church with non-believers hence the entertainment, non-name contact, shallow Biblical content “preaching” that has not only affected the traditional church but is being transitioned into many of the so called evangelical congregations today. It is a sad state of affair at the least and a major destroyer of Christianity shown to us by Christ. As Mr. Black noted, starvation is upon the church and they don’t even know it. I am not main-line church but a church going believer who agrees with your thoughts on the lack of the Spirit in todays so-called worship. Keep sharing the gospel of salvation and encouraging others to live in the Spirit of God. He is returning, soon I believe.
David Luecke says
I agree with most of what you say. But the community churches I have visited were definitely not entertainment-oriented, had often profound biblical content. Those I visited work hard at recognizing individual and promoting relationships.