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Wait and see?

by Jaynan Clark Egland (President, WordAlone Network)

December 17, 2004

’Tis the season of Advent with its many themes—preparation, repentance and watchfulness seem to be in focus for these four weeks. A “wait and see” posture may be liturgically pleasing and seasonal according to our lectionary. It can lead the faithful to deeper reflection and expectation of the second coming of Christ, yet this same attitude—when it defines a local church and its mission and its relationship to churchwide leadership—can be deadly.

Where would the Christian church be if the prophets of old had decided to “wait and see,” if John had looked for another, if Simeon and Anna had decided to “wait and see” who this little child was going to turn out to be rather than to let him lead them? What if the disciples had turned to their plows, buried their dead and waited to see who this Jesus really was? What if the women at the tomb had waited to see how this resurrection stuff was going to work itself out in reality? What if Jesus had decided to wait and see if the church leaders, the Pharisees and scribes, were all going to come to see things his way?

The Bible is not chock-full of “wait and see-ers.”

Story after story shows us how doers of the Word proceed, mistakes and all. Our Reformation history should force the question, “Where would the Christian church be today if Martin Luther had been a ‘waiter’ rather than a doer?” Here we will find much to disagree about among ourselves depending on whether we view the Reformation as the rescue of the church or as a historic tragedy in need of healing. I am personally rejoicing that Martin Luther didn’t see fit to just “wait and see” but rather moved ahead, guided and directed by the Word alone, always aware that his very actions were laced with sin.

Yet, he proceeded boldly.

If your local church is lacking clarity regarding the directions the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America should go with its governance proposals, in its mission and outreach, in its social statements, in its liturgical choices or in its decisions on sexuality, then maybe to “wait and see” fits you.

Yet, wouldn’t a better posture be to open up to and engage in education to gain clarity? Is not it more responsible and faithful to be proactive and seek direction from the Bible and Confessions in making decisions regarding your future direction? Why wait to react to whatever is decided for you by someone else? Both our Christian church history and our specific Lutheran history point to being doers, proactive, to stepping out and even to risking identification as a troublemaker. Those who plow the furrow always are churning up dirt and breaking new ground. Those who engage in reform of the institutionalized church structure are always treated as “outsiders” even as they work from within. Those who follow the Crucified One, and him alone, can never expect much better for themselves. It’s the very nature of our faith.

For the educated, the informed and the faithful doers of the Word, to “wait and see” at this critical time in our church history is, in my belief, deadly. The biblical witness reminds us that to be “wait and seers” could make for an opportune time for evil to enter in.

This is the season of preparation and repentance. We all need to be better prepared to be doers of the Word. We all need to repent of our “wait and see” attitudes that have caused many of the troubles we now have in our wider church and communities. Let our actions and consequential repentance be kin to that of Luther’s as he boldly moved forward as a doer of the Word and then repented of his many sins for doing so.

To err is human to forgive is divine. What are we waiting for?