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Gottesblog

A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

A Tale of Two Shops in One City

Jakarta is predominantly Muslim, something like 85% of the population. However, it is a large enough city that even the relatively small percentage of Christians amounts to a substantial number of people, roughly divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants. There are barely any Lutherans to speak of; only a small handful who are really Lutheran in anything more than name. All of the Protestants, including almost all of those churches claiming some affiliation with Lutheranism, belong to a unionistic fellowship with pulpits and altars open amongst them.

Serving the Christians in Jakarta are two shops: one, a Roman Catholic church supply store, the other a Protestant book store. I had the opportunity to visit both shops this afternoon. The contrast between them was striking and significant.

The Roman Catholic church supply store was practically wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling covered in crucifixes of every size and a variety of styles. There was some of the usual kitsch, but not much. A few of the crucifixes seemed a bit on the cheap and cheesy side, but nothing tawdry or distasteful. The vast majority were quite nice, and a number of them were magnificent. Oh, what I wouldn't give to bring a couple of the gianormous ones homes with me, which I could purchase at a fraction of what they would cost in the United States.

The entire store sang with a marvelous confession of the Lord's holy Passion; not only with the wide array of crucifixes, but with chalices, ciboriums, and chasubles for the Holy Communion. Like St. John the Baptist, everything pointed to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The selection of books ran along a similar vein. They dealt primarily with pastoral care and catechesis. Along with that were liturgical and devotional materials, and some simple things for children. I'm sure it wasn't all worthwhile, and I'm not presuming to assess or comment on the theological content of everything (I don't read Indonesian, anyway). However, the focus of the books was churchly and centered in the means of grace, the Ministry of Word & Sacrament. The focus of the entire Roman Catholic church supply store was clearly on the Gospel.

Even the ambience of the Protestant book store was different, from the moment I walked in the door. I was immediately hit by the pop music being piped over the speakers; no doubt the latest in "Contemporary Christian Music," but nondescript and indistinguishable from any slightly-outdated Top 40 station. That's when I realized that, either there had been no music in the background of the Roman Catholic store, or else it had been quieter and more tasteful; if there was any there, it didn't call attention to itself. At the Protestant store, I couldn't escape it.

The Protestant store had very few crosses, and, except for a few small necklaces, all of the crosses on display were barren and plain. No Jesus there. There were some pictures of Jesus, smiling and welcoming, friendly and happy, but not suffering to atone for the sins of the world. If there were any depictions of His Passion, none of them managed to catch my eye. I did spot the small selection of individual-cup communion trays (no chalices), and the supply of "sacramental drink" (not wine) in plastic bottles along a bottom shelf. Really, though, what dominated the entire store were books of the Joel Osteen sort. There weren't books on pastoral care and catechesis, nor on liturgical practice, leastwise not that I could find anywhere. There were some Bibles, so far as I could tell, but not a large selection. No, mostly there were books on how to live a better, more disciplined life, with rules for this and principles for that, cautions against this and warnings against that. Okay, so I'm not saying that all of these things were necessarily bad, though the gist of what I could discern from the English titles was not promising. There certainly is a place for discipline and guidance in the Christian life. But the Law always accuses; and the Law without the Gospel does not bring real life but only death. And yet, the focus of the Protestant book store was not only centered in the Law (or some bastardized version of it), but predominantly consumed by it.

This contrast between the Roman Catholic and Protestant shops probably ought to seem ironic, but somehow it doesn't anymore. It reminded me of the similar contrast I encountered many years ago, when I was making my institutional visits as part of my seminary training. At the nursing home where I made those visitations, there were little old ladies of various Christian confessions. I did my best, as a novice seminarian, to speak the Word of God to them, the Law and the Gospel, but many of them did as much or more of the talking than I did. I tried to listen, and to learn something from them in the process. To this day I vividly remember how surprised I was by some of those conversations. The little old lady Protestants (none of them Lutheran) would, more often than not, tell me about their good works and good intentions; about how hard they had tried and how much they had contributed to their congregations; and about some of the other parishioners who had certainly done far less of the good stuff and far more of the bad stuff. The little old lady Roman Catholics, on the other hand, would tell me about their hope in Christ Jesus, their love for His Cross and His Sacrament, and above all their trust in His mercy.

After what I saw in Jakarta this afternoon, if it is at all typical of the contrast between Roman Catholics and Protestants, I could hardly be surprised anymore by the difference in those little old ladies I visited once upon a time in Fort Wayne.

If the Cross and Passion of our Savior are left in the past, out of sight and out of mind, instead of being preached and distributed in the ongoing Ministry of the Gospel, then the people have to keep themselves busy and preoccupied with something other than His work. But if His Cross and Passion are constantly set before the eyes of His people, preached into their ears and placed upon their tongues in the Holy Sacrament, then their own works and efforts are submerged in His grace, mercy and peace. How much better when the teaching and confession of the faith also coincide with such salutary practice; which is why I am grateful to be an evangelical catholic, otherwise known as "Lutheran."