ASK FOR THE ANCIENT PATH
DOES our church need a mission statement? One would think that two millennia would give her ample time to recognize what she was about. It's really very simple. The church is to lay before the world God's plan of salvation, the good news of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus who died and rose again. If the church be true and faithful, that is her mission statement; she needs no other. In order to reinforce her message she takes up the Lord's cross, and thus makes what
St. Paul calls the good confession. Doing so brings her
ridicule, persecution, and tribulation. Those point us and attach us to Christ, but never far away from the true church, aping it and mocking it, stands the
assembly of the apostates, the synagogue of Satan, the deformed copy of the
divine congregation. The false church does not seek the ancient path. It makes
up mission statements that lead to glory and perdition.
Never has the world needed the Gospel more than it does today. By that I mean the whole counsel of God, the Law and the Gospel rightly divided and properly applied. So let us understand what we call "the church." Strictly speaking the church is the assembly of the faithful. More broadly, it includes all who profess the faith, the "visible church." By extension it has come to mean a house of worship, which is not an abuse, because the word "church" comes from the Greek word kyriakon, which means "house of the Lord." In our country today there are more than a quarter million such houses of worship. Most of them, unfortunately, are not the house of the Lord, because the Lord is not the Host within. Upon entering them one hears vain philosophy, senseless modern babbling of those who consider themselves too enlightened to seek the ancient path, or too wrapped up in attracting visitors to be concerned about remembering the Incarnation of the Son of God. There is nothing wrong with wanting people to visit, but to visit for the right reasons. We want everyone to join us in celebrating the Incarnation, in getting their sins forgiven, in growing in holiness, in prayer and praise, and in being encouraged to live according to what they believe. Right reasons for coming do not include being entertained.
So we stand at a crossroads today. The prophet advises us to ask for the ancient path. How can you tell where that is? I can tell you where it is not. It is not in the church that dilutes the law and the Gospel to suit modern sensitivities, that tolerates false teaching and deceptive practice. Neither is it in the church that is constantly involved in money-making enterprises and commercial ventures. Let others run the restaurants, bowling alleys, and bottling companies. Such things are not bad in themselves, but they are not the church's mission. No one needs a fellowship hall that has been turned into a casino, but be careful also how you retreat from such things. God is no more pleased with the church that wants to establish a religious police state. That is a tempting direction, but we must not go there. All around us we see immorality, humanism, ugliness, and lack of respect. It is tempting to seek the security of the Inquisition. Unfortunately that is gun control for the soul. It has the same drawback as public gun control, the same basic irrationality behind it. What I'm trying to say is, thoughts don't damn, people do. Thoughts can be instruments of good or evil. Like all instruments they can be abused, but there is no one under heaven who can be trusted to regulate them. What might be undertaken with the best intentions, within a generation falls into the devil's power. The ancient path is not there.
We can find the ancient path in the Bible. Today's church is powered by the same Spirit as the apostolic church. Her pulpit must be the fountain of life from which Christians come to drink. The Law has to be part of the message, not watered-down. The church must call sin by its real name. Original sin is the disease of all men, and what flows from it includes thoughts, words, attitudes, and deeds. No psychobabble, no education, no self-esteem is going to cure it. The blood of Jesus does. Our sin nailed Him to the cross. His blood washes it away. His victory sets us free from it.
The power of the church is the cross of Jesus. All the acts of the church follow from it. We wash little children in the blood of the Lamb by the Sacrament of Baptism. We lead adults to repentance by the Law, and to faith by the Gospel. We renew and strengthen the sinner-saint by the Body and Blood of Jesus' sacrifice. The true church is a monarchy. The King is the only Leader, the Giver of all good.
Jeremiah promises us that if we find and follow the ancient path we will find rest for our souls. He does not say you find rest because you acknowledge what the ancient path was, or because you approved of it, or because you taught it to your children. It does not say that you will find rest if you would have followed the ancient path if you had ever gotten off the fence. No, the ancient path only takes you anywhere if you follow it. Does your conscience bother you? Is your life filled with pain and sorrow? Do you think of yourself as weak and wimpy? Do you find yourself cold and unsympathetic? There is no solution in the human world. Only Jesus can make you holy. He touches you through His church. By its preaching and teaching, by its hymns, its comfort in times of trouble, its timely literature, the church is your contact with Jesus. Jesus gives rest to your soul. His genuine church stands out because it points you to the ancient path, which probably will not bring you good fortune on earth, but prepares you for the rest that remains for the people of God. Jesus makes you a saint. Being nice is nice, but being holy is far better, and that is whither the ancient path leads. AMEN.
Rev. Lloyd E. Gross