Ephesians 5:15–20 Consider carefully, then, how you walk, not as unwise people, but as wise people. 16Make the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17For this reason, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk on wine, which causes you to lose control. Instead, be filled with the Spirit 19by speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (singing and making music with your hearts to the Lord), 20by always giving thanks for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The statistics don’t look good. Pastor Jon Hein, who works in our Synod office compiled a comprehensive demographic study of the WELS and other Christian denominations.
The study reveals that if the downward trends continue in the WELS, in the next two decades, we will lose approximately 106,000 members. That’s a 29% decline in membership across the Synod.
The Missouri Synod (LC-MS) loses a higher percentage of its membership annually than the WELS.
This denominational decline is not unique to Lutheranism. The largest Presbyterian church body in America has lost almost half of its members since the 60s. The same is true for the Episcopal Church. The Methodist Church is down 33%. The Reformed Church in America is down over 60%.
The reality is that virtually all Christian groups – Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Catholics – are in statistical slides.
However, the most rapidly rising grouping in America is the “unaffiliated.” The number Americans who identify as atheist has almost doubled in the past decade. The same holds true for agnostics.
Simply put, it would seem America has become a post-Christian society.
We are seeing evidence of the words we sang in our opening hymn: “Even when steeples are falling. Crumbled have spires in every land” (CW: 529).
What we are experiencing in the WELS and across American Christian churches is nothing new. We are becoming a post-Christian society. The apostle Paul ministered to the new church in Ephesus because it was living in a pre-Christian society.
St. Paul warns the Ephesian Christians in his epistle: “The days are evil.” The city of Ephesus was plagued by paganism, sexuality, hedonism, greed, and idolatry. Basically, Ephesus was a microcosm of everything that we experience everyday living in America.
The Christians living in Ephesus were constantly under attack by the devil, who was trying to lead them back to their empty, former lives. All around us, the devil is still attacking. Churches, which were once religious citadels are rotting from the inside out with false doctrine and permissive teachings. Marriages are under assault. Families are being torn apart. Our children are being sexualized and manipulated and brainwashed by music and movies and media.
We are in danger. The danger is that we aren’t going on the offensive. We aren’t taking the fight to the devil. We aren’t even on the defensive. We aren’t warding off the attacks of the world. We haven’t taken St. Paul’s warning to heart. We have allowed ourselves to become indifferent. We are apathetic to the evil that is promoted by Disney, that is proudly displayed on Netflix, that is paraded on our college campuses, that is tolerated by our political parties.
We are callous to sin. We are apathetic about worshiping our Savior. We are indifferent to the sacraments. We are uninterested in the plight of souls around us. We are unmoved by the evil that is all around us.
Our young people have already been infected by their parents’ apathy. Sadly, I hear it all too often, “I don’t have to worship God in church. It isn’t important for me to recite memory work. I don’t have to respect my parents or curb my tongue or sing God’s praises or share the good news about Jesus. Pastor, I don’t have to do any of those things as a Christian.”
Do you want to know my answer to those wayward souls? I tell them, “You’re right. You don’t have to do any of those things. But do you know who else doesn’t do any of those things? Pagans. Unbelievers. Atheists.”
St. Paul is encouraging the Christians in Ephesus to live differently than they did before. They are to respond to God’s grace. But if we consistently refuse to respond to God’s amazing grace, then do we still have saving faith in that amazing grace?!
“Consider carefully, then, how you walk, not as unwise people, but as wise people. Make the most of your time, because the days are evil. For this reason, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, be careful! The days are evil. Only the wise recognize it and know how to triumph over the evil that would drag them down into hell itself. Make the most of your time by staying close to the source of wisdom and to the power contained in God’s Word. Sit down to dine at Wisdom’s Feast (Proverbs 9:1-6). Refresh yourself in the baptismal waters that wash away all that you’ve done wrong that day. Renew your faith as you eat the Bread of Life, as you digest another sermon, and relish another Scripture reading. Strengthen your soul as you partake of the Sacrament of the Altar.
We can look at the lives of the people in our pews and see that evil has infiltrated their homes. We can look at the children at WLS and see the darkness that shadows them from home to school. We can look at the teenagers who are attending Shoreland and see the pain of being raised in broken homes.
You are in the right place. The children are in the right place. Our teenagers are in the right place. Christ is overcoming the evil. Christ is shining His light. Christ is healing their broken lives. When we are in church and our children are in our Lutheran schools, they can hunker down and be protected from much of the evil and darkness and pain that pervades our society.
However, that is not the main reason why we come to church or send our children to a Lutheran school. Christ is in His house of worship. Christ is in our Lutheran elementary school and Lutheran high school. We not only experience Christ here, but we take Him with us so that He can chase away the shadows and scare away the devil and remove the pain.
The days are evil. But Jesus is the One who proclaimed that evil was defeated when He marched down to hell, pounded on hell’s gate, and preached to the demons and hell’s prisoners.
The days are dark. But Jesus is the One who is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. He was born in darkness and died in darkness so that He might be reborn and resurrected to live in the light of the Easter dawn.
The days are painful. But Jesus is the One who removed the pain of the leprous, the lame, the oppressed, and the outcast. He is the One who understands real pain when He endured the cross, its shame, its torture, its hellish payment for sins.
The days are apathetic. But Jesus is the One who forgives your apathy at the cross; your washes away your lethargy with baptismal waters; who covers your indifference with His divinely human blood. He is also the One who moves you to give salvation to your neighbor, to confront your child living in sin, to get involved in the missions and ministry of our church and school.
We are grateful that the Lord of the Church has allowed the willingness of Epiphany, First Evan and WLS, as well as the funds through our WELS Board for Home Missions, to call Mark Blauert to be our School Chaplain. Our School Chaplain, along with our pastors, principal, dean, and teachers, are working to protect our little ones from the evil that lurks daily in their lives. We walk together to bring families into the Christian Church through Word and Sacrament. Together, we will take the fight to the Evil One. It is all about giving them Jesus, Jesus, and then some more Jesus.
Over the years, I have had the privilege to listen to people lambast the Christian Church. There is nothing new in their criticism. They call Christians hypocrites, foolish, prejudiced, backward, judgmental and cruel. They say that the Christian Church cannot be effective because there is still so much sin, evil, and sickness in our world. These people conclude that the best thing to do is to close the doors of the churches and for Christianity to die a quick and painful death in our nation.
I’m sure you’ve heard similar declarations.
Be willing to stand up for your faith and challenge their faulty assertions. Do you close the doctors’ offices because the world still has sickness? Of course, you don’t. To combat sickness is the reason the doctor’s office is open. Do you shut down the fire departments because houses and business catch fire, or do you pull the police off the streets because the bullets are flying and the streets are dangerous? No. These first responders are there to take a stand against worldly evil.
Similarly, you don’t shut down the Church because you still see evidence of sin. The Church is filled with imperfect people. People who don’t worship like they should, give like they could, or evangelize like they would.
Yes, the statistics for Christian churches in America are depressing. Seeing steeples falling and spires crumbling is demoralizing. But, we don’t shrink back because the days are evil. We stand up for Jesus. We fight the good fight of faith. We are comforted knowing that the Lord of the Church is in charge – both in growth and in decline. We belt out the words of our hymn: “Built on the Rock the Church shall stand even when steeples are falling. Crumbled have spires in every land; bells still are chiming and ringing, calling the young and old to rest, but above all the soul distressed, longing for rest everlasting.” These words are such a powerful reminder to me that this hymn is the ringtone on my phone.
Christ is in charge. Evil flees in the presence of Christ. We use the tools Christ has given us: “Be filled with the Spirit by speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (singing and making music with your hearts to the Lord), by always giving thanks for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Sunday School teacher loved teaching her first graders. However, she wasn’t always sure how much of the lessons sank into the hearts of her little students. One day, however, God did give her a glimpse of what the Holy Spirit was doing through her.
Along with the lessons, she also taught them simple songs: songs like “Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world.” And “If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.” She would teach them the words, but the Lord taught those children to sing with enthusiasm. That’s the way it was the day a guest came to her class.
He was a little boy without a right arm. The teacher looked at the children; the children looked at the new boy without an arm. Silently the teacher prayed that nobody would make a big deal of the boy’s difference and cause him embarrassment. Amazingly, nobody said a thing. Not a thing.
At the end of class, it was time to sing. The class worked through their repertoire, and the visitor even knew the words to some of the songs. All went well until the teacher announced, “Let's sing, ‘If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.’”
The words weren’t out of her mouth before she knew she had done the very thing she had prayed her children would avoid. Still, there was no turning back. She took a breath to begin and noticed one of her little girls lean over and say to the boy, “Let’s you and I clap our hands together.” And they did. His left hand and her right.
We may not do everything right. The days can be scary and depressing. They are certainly evil. But, there is never any reason to hang our heads in shame or fear the future of the Church. The bells still are chiming. Christ will grow His Kingdom. We pray that it will be here at Epiphany, and WLS, and Shoreland, and all over Racine. Christ wants you serving in that Kingdom work. He wants you to lend a hand, because the days are evil. Amen.
Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.