What Happens When The Church is Just Super


It is always a short trip for us to make-over Jesus into a toll booth operator. We imagine that the Savior runs salvation in the way of transaction. We throw in some coinage—usually our time, money, and talents—and Jesus opens the way for us to advance ever closer to our destination, which is ultimately whatever we think of as heavenly rewards. This is the ever-present temptation to pretty up the crucified God into a Superman.

What typically happens when we make-over Jesus into "The Man of Steel" can be witnessed in the way the church handles Jesus' institution of the sacrament, which we commonly refer to as "The Lord's Supper." It is the "Lord's" Supper, and not ours, but we cannot help ourselves. We must tinker with what God has put in place for our benefit. Jesus tells His disciples to eat and drink in remembrance of Him. But, the old Adam being who he is, even when he is a disciple of God's Word, hears Jesus' instruction then immediately goes to work prettying up the sacrament. The bread is not special enough. The wine is too sour. It needs to be sweeter, like a desert wine. It is not enough that God Himself gives us His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation. Instead, nothing is too good for our God. Not just any bread will do, it has to be as glorious as Jesus. The wine cannot be plain wine, we must feel Jesus plunge down our throat into our belly. God's own words are not enough for us. They never are enough for us. We have to dress up God's Word in a way that shows everyone that Jesus is truly, gloriously present in the awesome mystery that is His Supper.

That is why the church has to offer Super Bread and Super Wine, so that God can see that we are Super Christians. This is why snow white communion wafers (which are odorless, tasteless, and crumbless with a little cross on each wafer... made by monks who have dedicated their lives to this task) were invented. It is why desert wine is used and put into individual cups, so that everybody who comes to communion knows for certain that he, as an individual Christian, is pleasing to God. He is, in short, no ordinary Christian. He is "super."

Or, look at the ministers of the church, as an example. It is defined by its function. The pastor is the guy who is up in front baptizing sinners, distributing the bread and wine, and delivering the good news of Jesus Christ. And who does Jesus choose to do this? Fishermen, tax collectors, and even a Pharisee. They are called and sent to forgive sin in Jesus' name. Jesus even says, when they do it in His name according to His institution He is really present in the words, water, bread and wine. Whenever they forgive anyone their sins, the sin is no longer recalled by our heavenly Father for Christ's sake. 

But, again, it did not take long before the church decided that is not enough. A minister of Christ Jesus cannot be some plain old person off the street. A minister of God's Word must be a Super Disciple. And then the church went to work ruining what Jesus had put in place for the salvation of all people. Eventually, pastors had to be worthy of the office of the ministry, and the criteria for what makes one worthy was and is a constantly growing list. A pastor must be a Super Pastor if we are to believe he speaks and acts for God on our behalf. He must preach with the voice of Johnny Cash and the words of a poet-prophet. He can be married, but his marriage must be an example of godly piety and devotion. He can be a father, but his children must also be examples of their father's influence, demonstrating through their words and actions, godly piety, devotion, self control, and strong morals. It is also a bonus if the pastor is an example of intelligence, charm, diplomacy, talent, sobriety, compassion, self control, humility, willing to work for next to no money, and the ability to keep out the riff-raff. Otherwise, how are we supposed to judge whether he is worthy to hand out the sacrament to us?

The result of treating Jesus like he is Superman is first—there is no room in the church, in the pulpit or in the pews, for poor, freaky, wracked with fear and insecurity, dead broke sinners. No mischief makers, no crazies, no out of the ordinary kinds of people are welcome because this church is no regular church. It is a Super Church. We are Super Christians. That man up front is our Super Pastor.

As a consequence, this attitude has driven many, many men out of the ministry, and too many hurting sinners, out of the church. They leave because they do not measure up to God's, or the church's, or other Christians’ expectations of them. And those who do manage to figure out how to survive and even thrive as Super Christians become smug and satisfied with themselves. And why not? They are Super Christians, after all. They sit, satisfied with their purified water baptism, the pure white communion wafers, the trays of grape juice-filled shot glasses, and their wonderful pastor. They do not just live up to Jesus' teaching, but they do Him one, or two, or ten times better. They have improved on what He has instituted in every way, making the church clean, sanitary, moral, and glorious. A place befitting a Superman Savior.

In the end though, these churches will be crushed under the weight of their constantly updated lists. The damage caused by Super Christians will empty pews, offering plates, and pulpits. Sinners will stay away because the one thing they hunger and thirst for will be withheld from them. There will be no good news for sinners, no comfort for terrified consciences, no relief from burdens carried. In the end, these clubs for Jesus enthusiasts will work themselves out of the Gospel-proclaiming business altogether because they reject the very Word that came to seek and save lost sheep. Super Churches, Super Pastors, and Super Christians will, in short, exist without the very Savior they claim to serve.

The church and its ministers are built on and sustained by Christ Jesus, and this in the way of the Gospel. Only sinners need apply for the ministry, and for membership, because only those who hunger and thirst for forgiveness, life, and salvation have a seat reserved for them in God's house. Political, social, and institutional loyalty do not factor in either. The church's political processes, the demands of institutional loyalty, and the desire to fashion God's house into a nodding heads club for Jesus enthusiasts cannot sustain or carry the Gospel in the way of Cross and Suffering Servant.

The Church established by Jesus is not defined by goody-goody types, but by mediocrity, ineptitude, and outright sinfulness. And how could it not be, since God chooses sinners to serve at His altar and fills His house with them? Jesus died for the sin of the world. God made Him to be sin for us. Jesus loves sinners, and each one of us may lay claim to this: "I am the chief of all sinners."

All the Church needs to be Church is God's Word. All we need is Jesus Who comes to save the last, the least, the lost, the littlest, and the dead. No Superman who waits for us Christians to do Him one or two or ten better—just Jesus, who was forsaken by His Father for our sake. No perfect peaches in his basket of saved produce, just bruised fruit with a rock-hard pit in the middle of each.

Jesus is not a Superman. He is not a divine toll booth operator. He is the Suffering Servant Who suffered and died for our sin, so that we can all walk in a new life, in freedom and joy at the wonderful good news that all our sin is forgiven, covered by His blood recalled no more to memory by our heavenly Father. The church is not for Super Christians, it is for beggars who come seeking free bread. And there is bread in Christ's church. The bread of life. The kind of bread that, once we eat it, we cannot stop ourselves from telling other beggars, "Come, come quick, there's free bread for you here! Bread that not only fills your belly but bread that satisfies even unto eternal life... and it's all for you, for free. All you have to do is enjoy it!"

That is the mystery of the Word. That is the mystery of the Church. That Jesus comes to seek and save sinners, not just once, but every day, all day, and always, and He chooses to use other sinners and simple earthly words, water, bread and wine as His instruments of salvation. All for us in the way of gift. In the way of cross. In the way of Christ for us.

By focusing intently on what one wants to avoid, we often crash right into the moral hazard we are trying to evade.
— Donavon Riley

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'.



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