It seems like everybody and his brother is suddenly writing about “this is not your grandfather’s church,” the notorious quip used over the years by the president of the LCMS. I’ve been working through my thoughts on this for a while (that is to say, I’m sure I thought of blogging about it first), and so I suppose everybody, his brother, and his brother’s dorky friend with the acne has now written about it.
What bothers me most is where the phrase comes from. It’s taken from the Oldsmobile slogan “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Our president speaks of our church as if he were the ad man for an automobile company! The ad is a blatant appeal to the vanity. About the target it says “You’re cosmopolitan. You’re sophisticated. You demand more than getting from point A to point B: You move in style.” About the car it says “Elegant. Sporty. Chick magnet. Better than your neighbor’s car.” The ad man doesn’t know you. But he speaks flattering words in order to manipulate you, and doing so, taking advantage of another’s weakness, is wrong.
And so when our president says “this is not your grandfather’s church,” he’s appealing to the vanity. Considered and deliberate or not, that’s the physics of such a phrase. To the hearer it says “You don’t just need law and the gospel. You deserve more than that. You demand more than that, because you’re intelligent and discerning and stunningly sophisticated. You look 20 years younger than your really are and frankly, you’re worth it.” About of church is says “We’re not fuddy-duddies. We’re hip. We’re on the move. We are ready to Par-tay. We’re cool. (This is a church that grew up in the 60s, you understand, or it would say “WE h1P. we k00L.” We’re up 2 date and ready 2 speak 2 where U R, boi.”)
I’m not kidding. There’s nothing else that such a phrase could mean. As collateral damage, it disparages the work and persons of the church and saints that have gone on before – those who heroically stood for the gospel in the face of liberalism, those who died at the hands of those to whom they were spreading good news, those who lived quiet and fruitful lives of faith, those who suffered in a thousand ways, quietly and all unremembered for the name of Jesus. It says: Old-fashioned, quaint, outmoded, ineffective, unneeded. This is not how Christians speak about the saints and their work. This is how the one who said “You will be like God” speaks.
The triune, holy, eternal God has not changed. The sinful nature of man has not changed. The far-reaching genetics of man have not changed. The inflexible, holy, impossible demands of the law have not changed. The fate of man has not changed. Society, since our grandfathers’ day, has changed but only to weaken the knowledge of sin and to expand the mechanisms of its influence. The sufficient, completed, astonishing work of Christ has not changed. The way of salvation has not changed. The means of grace have not changed. The needs of man have not changed.
I’ll take my grandfather’s church and pass on the tempting words of the snake.