This week's message on the often-tacky ELCA church sign down the street is:
WELCOME FAITH-IN-ONE CLOWN MINISTRY
Clowns. Ministry. Hmm. I've heard about this kind of thing going on, but I have tried very hard not to believe it. I suppose if Patch Adams was a Christian he might be inclined to define his shtick as "ministry" (on the reasoning that he serves people by cheering them up while they are fighting cancer, etc.). But that would just go with the widespread broadening of the word "ministry" to where it can mean practically any service you provide. The historic, Christian, biblical meaning of "ministry," however, is limited to the work of publicly proclaiming Christ's gospel.
But consider again: "Clown Ministry." Is it possible these clowns are actually permitted to lead a worship service? That would be a very irregular service, to say the least. And why would you want clowns leading the Divine Service? Isn't that a bit silly? If mockery of holy things is now in vogue, some may still remember when it was called "blasphemy." And if we are merely discussing a different way of communicating the gospel, surely there are more effective ways? An intelligent and sensitive person, one would hope, would be considerate of people who find clowns annoying or even frightening before planning or endorsing such a service. Which, I suppose, says something about the board or committee that voted to "welcome the clown ministry."
One last time, consider: Clown ministry! A Divine Service officiated by clowns! To be sure, they are the "Faith-In-One" clowns, so presumably they are Christian. Is that what it takes to get to officiate in worship? If we invite a Christian accountant to address the congregation about Roth IRAs, is that worship? If we invite a Christian nurse to check everyone's blood pressure and give them dietary advice, is that worship? Would a Christian lawyer showing everyone how to write their will be a Divine Service? Suppose one of the chefs on the cooking channel professed to know Jesus: would watching their show be as spiritually edifying as going to the Lord's Supper? Or suppose Click and Clack were born-again Christians: would you bring them to your church and have them disassemble a 1980 Toyota Camry on the altar? Would their patter be the Gospel?
I have previously mentioned the soul-imperiling evil of Gospel Reductionism. But this concept of "Clown Ministry" indicates that something more profound has happened to the gospel: a reduction to the absurd.