Instead of focusing on the culture of the world, the Church ought to focus on her own culture. Not to escape the world, but to be who she is in the world. After all, Christians live here on this planet; they live and work in the place where God has put them; they interact with the culture of the world all the time. What they need, therefore, is not an education in the ways of the world, but to be formed and shaped, encouraged and strengthened in the Church's proper and peculiar culture, which does not come naturally but only by the grace of God through His Word and Spirit. They need to be cultivated by the ongoing catechesis of the Church's liturgical life. It is imperative, then, for the Church to be herself. When the focus is shifted to the world's culture, the Church becomes less and less able to engage that culture, because she has less and less of herself with which to engage anything. The more she is making it her aim to accommodate or adopt the culture of the world in which she lives, the more passé and pathetic she becomes.
A particularly tangible example came to the fore in the data that Dr. Rast discussed with us. Along with various indications of cultural changes and demographic shifts throughout the United States, there were the usual statistics of declining church membership and a loss of confessional identity (or "denominational loyalty," as some would say it). The Missouri Synod has followed general trends in this regard. The downard turn in church membership roughly coincides with the introduction of the birth control pill in the 1960s. That was the turning point, and I maintain that the rampant acceptance of birth control among Christians, following societal norms, remains the single most significant factor. If I heard the numbers correctly, there were 250,000 youth in the Missouri Synod at the time of the first "national youth gathering" (in the 1970s?), but only 95,000 youth in the Missouri Synod as of this past year. That goes to show rather dramatically where the heaviest losses have been. It's not surprising, frankly, when the national birthrate is barely at maintenance level; and Christians, by and large, have emulated that trend.
Not every man is given a wife; not every woman is given into marriage; and not every marriage is given the blessing of children. Our Christian confession is not that husbands and wives are obliged to maximize their offspring, but that God is the Author and Giver of life, and that we receive by faith whatever He gives (or withholds) according to His grace. I'm not suggesting or implying any blanket rules that govern everyone in every circumstance. But the deliberate avoidance of children, or the deliberate attempt to limit the number of children, has largely been driven by the cultural values and expectations of the world, in a way that is counterintuitive to the Christian faith. It belongs to a larger complex of developments that have not only reduced the number of children to begin with, but have also reduced the amount of time that parents spend with the children they do have. Marriage is postponed for the sake of career, for the sake of wealth, for the sake of personal comfort and pleasure. Couples go into debt, and moms and dads both work full-time jobs, often for the same reasons. Many children spend their days in public school, where they are indoctrinated with societal agendas, and then go either to a day care for the rest of the afternoon or home to an empty house. Its not only moms who sacrifice time with their children for the sake of their careers; dads, too, are often working long hours every day for the sake of higher income and promotion, in order to support and sustain a lavish lifestyle, excessive in every way except in family time.
Fewer children of Christian parents means fewer new Christians, naturally, but the consequences are exponentially greater than that. Parents who are driven by "the deceitfulness of riches" are not only neglecting their children; they are exemplifying priorities held more dear and precious than the Church and the Christian faith. Their children are being "catechized" in the culture of the world instead of Christ. Too many fathers do not pray with their children even at meals or at bedtime. They do not teach their children the Catechism or basic Bible stories. They do not instill within their families a reverence for the Lord's Day, nor demonstrate by example that the preaching of God's Word is sacred, gladly to be heard and learned. Instead, they give preference to school assignments and activities, extracurricular projects and programs, sports and recreation, arts and entertainment. Indeed, almost anything takes precedence over the Church's life of prayer and devotion.
There's no real mystery as to why we find ourselves diminished in numbers and influence. Too many Christian parents have purposely avoided having "too many" children, and then they have failed to catechize their children in the culture of the Christian faith and life. As a result, there are far fewer young Christians to engage their peers and their culture with the confession of Christ and His Church. Well-catechized children and youth are the most eager and natural cross-cultural evangelists, but there are less and less of them out there. Instead, we've got 40-year olds trying to look 18, and it's all so contrived and artificial that no one is really fooled, and no one is converted.
Christian youth don't have to pretend to be Christians, nor do they have to pretend to share the culture of their peers, because all of this belongs to them (by grace through faith in Christ) in the place where God has put them. They wear the culture of the Church like their baptismal garments, as their Christian heritage, birthright and identity. They wear it well within the world, neither taking it off nor covering it up, because they know by faith how to receive and use their daily bread from their Father's open hand. The walk and work and live and play within the culture of the world, neither afraid of it nor enticed by it, but willing to embrace what is good and right, always ready to contend with what is wicked and perverse. They actually do engage the culture, because they interact with it in faith, meeting it with the Word of God and prayer, by which all things are sanctified, received with thanksgiving, and used to the glory of His Name.
If the Church would engage the culture of the world with Christ, she has only to be faithful to her Lord and to His calling. She would best devote herself to the apostolic doctrine and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and prayer: to the Ministry of the Word and the Liturgy of the Supper. She would catechize her children (young and old) in the words and promises of God, teaching them to be fruitful and multiply, as the Lord gives life and growth, health and strength. She would teach young men and women to value marriage over money, to cherish children over careers, and to love the liturgy more than luxury or leisure. She would catechize, commune, and care for all her members, young and old, male and female, married and single, parents and children, orphaned and widowed, with Christ and His Gospel of forgiveness. He is the One with all authority in heaven and on earth. All things are His, and He is ours, and we shall not perish forever. Statistics rise and fall, and all the data in the world shall pass away, but His Word remains. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come, whose Architect and Builder is God.
Engaging the Culture
Here is a portion of yet another magnificently lucid post by Pr. Rick Stuckwisch, very pertinent to the mission of Lutherans and Procreation. In fact, I don't think anyone has ever articulated the message of this blog as eloquently as these words do. Thanks be to God for such faithful pastors as Rev. Dr. Don R. Stuckwisch!