By Jaime Nava –
There was this game I remember playing on the SNES. It’s called “Out of This World.” The art in it was fun to watch, and the story was interesting. You were this guy that ended up on an alien world. Captured by aliens, you try to break free. There is no English spoken, as the game goes on, so the player is as clueless as the character being played. There’s this one scene where you end up in an alien tank. There’re no instructions. There’s no clue as to what you’re supposed to do, so you just try everything. You just mash down on the buttons hoping something will happen. The game expects that kind of reaction, and eventually you create enough havoc to save yourself. It’s cleverly done.
There’re some games where button mashing is all we know how to do. I remember playing that one game where all the Nintendo heroes fight each other in battles of four. The ground is shifting, and everyone’s jumping around. All kinds of crazy things are going on. And here I am, not knowing what in the world I am doing. So what do I do? Hit all the buttons. Mash away! It’s all I can figure to do. Eventually, someone who does know what they’re doing gives me the boot, and I watch my character soar off the screen way into the background with a flash of tiny light where he disappears.
When it comes time for panic mode, there’s a sense of “do anything and everything.” In my own dear denomination, many of pastors and lay people have fallen prey to theological button mashing. Back in 1989, the Synod saw the need for growth in the LCMS. Failings and rumors of failings were all around. Our church body saw a need in congregations for Word and Sacrament ministry. Just six years before then, the Synod opened up the idea of called and commissioned ministers, which I feel created more theological problems than not. The next step was to address the growing need in congregations for members to have Word and Sacrament Ministry. Enter the button mashing. Instead of finding ways to get pastors to do what pastors and only pastors are called to do, they flail around trying to find a way to solve the issue another way. Instead of being “…exceptional circumstances or in emergencies” (Wichita Resolution 3-05B), it has become a hot mess.
Add on the wooing call of the Church Growth movement, which became the Emergent Church, which became the Missional movement, and you see more button mashing. LCMS congregations, trying to make sure they keep the church alive, allow completely non-Lutheran (i.e. Christ-Centered) ideas and books into their local church. Of course, they try to pull out a Lutheran scrubby to make it look and sound Lutheran. The reality is, they were white-washing what was really empty. And the emergency only gets bigger and louder. The snapping of fingers every couple seconds to iterate that someone is going to hell every time you hear a snap (stop snapping your fingers!) combined with statistics and news articles and Left Behind series stir up this sense of emergency and panic. People are panicking. They are leaving the solid doctrine of our confessions and the bold teachings of our Lutheran Church fathers. They are flailing around and button mashing all the things to see if somehow, someway something will work.
What do we do? We practice what we believe. What do we believe? That the body of Christ can never die. We believe that only pastors are called to do Word and Sacrament ministry, and through these things faith is created to believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Our sermons must declare forgiveness to sinners, not finding purpose in just over thirty days. As a Synod, we should be paying for students to go to the seminary and not charge a dime. We should get over the pride of our one location and either merge or share a pastor with another congregation. We should not mash around trying anything and everything. We should not traipse out philosophical ideas that circumvent our core identity in our confessions. Our identity is in the Divine Service and our peculiar yet solid theology all of which lifts up the Gospel in a darkened world.
This is not a game. In some ways, it’s not an emergency either. We’re called to do the same old thing that is tried and true. If we mash the buttons of our culture and surrounding theologies, we’re just going to end up lost in it. No, we use the same old moves on which the church has always relied. Do the liturgy. Teach the entire catechism for as long as it takes. Have communion every week. Preach the text that proclaims Christ. It’s through these things that the Holy Spirit has and will continue to win.