In these trying times many churches have closed their doors weeks ago. They would send out an email or Facebook post saying words of comfort yet their actions say panic. Once fully fed sheep would be left without Holy Absolution, Eucharist, Baptism, and Word. They would have to supplement at home with little help from their pastor.
A Balanced Approach
This has caused fear and panic to set in as the little ones are left with doubt that God is close. They see the world in a fit of anxiety and the one place of comfort has locked them out. The Holy Sacraments are kept from them, the Word is theirs to study at home, and for some unknown about of time, sheep are left wandering without a pastor. I must say this isn’t true for all pastors there are some that haven’t fought over what Commandment comes first but have found a way that honors them all. A way that balances the duty they have to feed their sheep and that of honoring the government, and thinking of the physical needs of others.
As I stated in my last article, there are ways to balance and comfort in this time. Setting up sign ups for families to come in, feed them a brief reading of the Word, have confession and absolution, and the Holy Eucharist. A deep cleaning after each family would help the potential spread of Coronavirus. Thus honoring all the commandments, even in places where you can only travel if it’s “essential”, namely for some jobs, groceries, to care for someone, etc. I for one think that Word and Sacrament qualifies for what is essential. My hat is off for those pastors who are confessing this faith to their flock.
This has brought brought up another question. Is the Word enough in extreme times, and what about those times when even the Word is absent? Care is to be taken on how we answer these questions.
The Means of Grace
The Word is an effective means of grace as we don’t always have the Sacraments available. There are extreme times when a person or persons might have a famine of both Word and Sacrament and in those times it’s always great that we have the Word memorized that we may still ponder, meditate, and remember the Gospel. Yet, for many they do have the Word at home which is great. They can read and study at home and they still have a wonderful means of grace. In tough times this is sufficient. This is obviously the exception and not the norm.
“He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”John 21:17
Yet, some pastors have done more harm than good by not only closing thier doors weeks ago, but offering very little to feed and comfort thier sheep. Instead of faith they are tossed into a world of panic, fear, and doubt. They don’t see God as close right now, but far off, distant, and possibly angry at them. They see this not as a temporary situation, that can lead us all to repentant faith, to cling to our savior’s arms, but one of despair, one of doubt, of fear of wrath and condemnation. When the church has shut them out and the doors are locked behind them, they can see this as heaven shutting them out and locking the doors behind them.
To me, this isn’t an extreme time as if one were deserted on an island, etc. Having no means of grace or limited verses stashed away in their hearts. Christians have the Word at home even though pastors haven’t been doing great at feeding and comforting their sheep with this Word. While the Word is a sufficient means of grace offering everything you need for salvation and daily repentant faith, having only one way to receive from God, at home by yourself, isn’t the way that He intended us to live.
There are and have been perfectly fine ways of balancing this without provoking panic and fear and while the Sacraments are means of grace, the Word is sufficient if need be in extreme cases, yet this isn’t one of those cases. There are faithful pastors that have worked around this while honoring all the commandments, and still feeding their little ones with both Word and Sacrament. Albeit, it takes more time and care to thoroughly clean everything in between visits, organizing for families to come will make for a longer day, and yet this is your duty.
It is much easier to stream one small sermon per week and think that you’re doing your best. Yet the faithful pastor’s offer so much of Christ because an open door is better than a closed one, the gates of heaven are not locked for us, in fact, they are unlocked and open. For more on the means of grace I’ve included a snippet from Mueller’s Dogmatics.
“In order that we may rightly understand the doctrine of the Sacraments, we must bear in mind that all means of grace have the same purpose and effect; that is to say, on the one hand, they offer to men God’s gracious forgiveness of sins (vis collativa); on the other, they engender and strengthen faith (vis effectiva). The divine pardon proclaimed in the Gospel is therefore the same as that offered and conveyed by Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, so that we do not obtain one third of God’s forgiveness through the Gospel, another third through Baptism, and a last third through Holy Communion. Scripture expressly describes the whole forgiveness of sins which God purposes to give to sinners for Christ’s sake as mediated through the Gospel, Rom. 1,16, or through Baptism, Acts 2,38; 22,16, or, again, through the Lord’s Supper, Matt. 26,28.”Mueller’s Dogmatics; Means of Grace
The Gates are Open
Just because the Word is sufficient doesn’t mean that it is the only means of grace. It also doesn’t mean that God wants us to toss the Sacrament aside as if it wasn’t a means of grace. Confession and Absolution is needed now more than ever, the Eucharist is needed now more than ever. We need things that strike the eye and give us something to see to move our hearts. The world is showing us panic, hoarding, fear, worry, and doubt. The world is showing us their sacraments, the shopping, hoarding, stock market, 24 hour news, etc. The church needs to give theirs. In the stead and command of Christ’s your sins are forgiven, Take eat, take drink, etc. The sacraments are the visible word. Your actions are visible words. Locking the doors, shutting the gate, may be the route you took. Keeping them open and giving the grace of God is another route to take, with precautionary measures.
“It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”Matthew 4:4
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”John 6:51
Dear sheep, whatever route you have, please know that God is not far, but near, He is close, He is using this time to draw you closer to Him. He loves you, and cares deeply for you, so much that He suffered for you, took your sins and was your vicarious atonement on the cross. Death cannot hold our God, He rose three days later so that you may know that He is the Son of God. The gates of heaven are open for you. If you are one of those who have suffered the closing of your church, stay in the Word, pray, and know that God is with you in the Word. Pray for your pastors wisdom, courage, and faith. He needs your prayers even if he is one of the faithful. He needs your support, love, and appreciation. This is a tough time for pastors as well. Prayer is a wonderful gift that you can give him. May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, and may the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Spirit be with you. With your sins forgiven, go in peace.