How “appealing” should the church be?

Good stuff from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (via Conrad Gempf), on the subject of “the future of the church”:

The future of the church does not depend on youth but only on Jesus Christ. The task of young people is not reorganisation of the church but listening to God’s word; the church’s task is not the conquest of young people, but the teaching of the gospel.

A good reminder that the task of the church, and the purpose of mission and evangelism, is not to make the church, or Christianity, “appealing” – but to declare the gospel message of forgiveness, life and salvation in and through Jesus Christ.

It is then the Holy Spirit, not our appealing music, carpeted floors, Powerpoint projectors, spacious car parks and professionally-printed materials, who (in the words of the Augsburg Confession) “effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel”.

That said, it’s possible to go to the other extreme and operate on a false syllogism that says, “We are to be faithful to the gospel rather than attractive to outsiders; we are deeply unattractive to outsiders; therefore we are being faithful to the gospel”.

How do we strike the right balance? 1 Corinthians 14 is an excellent place to start, especially verses 23-25:

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all. After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you.”

In other words, there are things we can in church that we as Christians find very enjoyable, and consider (or rationalise) to be “helpful” to us, but that are obstacles to the clear proclamation of the gospel. For example, in the context of the Corinthian church, the unrestrained use of uninterpreted tongues.

On the other hand, the proclamation of the Word, of law and gospel – which is at the heart of the “prophesying” to which St Paul refers in this passage – while it may also be seen as very “unappealing” or alienating to those outside the church, is the means by which people’s hearts are laid bare and they can be brought to faith in Christ.

The test of any aspect of our worship or church life is this: does it assist the clear proclamation and understanding of God’s Word, or does it get in the way? How we answer that question is a matter for the application of godly wisdom in each case, but it is what makes the difference between true reformation of the church, and the equal and opposite errors of traditionalism for its own sake and chasing after “appealing” novelties.

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