ELCA Bishop Asks Rebellious Leaders to “Think Evangelically and Act Missionally.” Where have We Heard Those Terms Before? by Pr. Rossow

(We thank BJS reader J. West for pointing  this story out to us.)

The ELCA website has posted a letter from Bishop Mark Hanson written to the church  yesterday in preparation for the opening of the key ELCA dissidents group meeting in Indianapolis today. The CORE group is recommending that ELCA congregations upset at the recent apostate decisions on sexuality withhold their offerings to the ELCA and this makes Bishop Hanson “sad.” His answer is to ask the leaders of CORE and all leaders of the ELCA to “think evangelically and act missionally.”

Where have we heard that sort of language before? This of course is the gobbledy-gook that that the current leadership of the LCMS uses. “Think evangelically” is used by Hanson as a plea to get his members to be open-minded enough to tolerate the unscriptural  decisions his Assembly made. In the LCMS “think evangelically” is used by President Kieschnick to get LCMS members to set aside the traditions of their grandfathers church so that they can become the “Church of What’s Happenin’ Now” like the Alley in Minneapolis and Jefferson Hills in St. Louis. As we have pointed out before, there are eery similarities between the approach of the apostate ELCA leadership and the erring LCMS leadership. The LCMS is on the same compromising trajectory as the ELCA. The LCMS may or may not arrive at the same point of apostasy as the ELCA but that is not the main point here. The main point is that pleas to be “evangelical and missional” are used in both cases to trump Biblical faithfulness.

The term “missional” is particularly troubling. Bob Newton, the District President of the California, Nevada, Hawaii district of the LCMS gave a paper here in the Northern Illinois District a few years ago on this notion of being missional. It was a very confusing paper. It was destined to be confusing because “acting missionally” is a confusion of being. (Pardon a little philosophy and metaphysics here but it is a helpful way  to get at this. If you get confused, don’t worry – in a few paragraphs I will explain it without philosophical confusion.) From the 18th century on, western philosophy began to give up one of its hallmarks, the distinction between subject and object.  Being able to distinguish myself from the things I know is what makes  truth possible. For instance, through my sense perception I note that there is a cup of coffee on the table next to me. If you walk into the room you could notice the same coffee cup. Let’s say I want a sip of my coffee but cannot reach it since having my  computer on my lap  limits my reach. I ask you to hand me my cup of coffee. You oblige. We each have truly perceived and known this cup of coffee and have then used language to assist us in accomplishing this action. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? There are objects outside of us. We can know them. We can use language to truly communicate about them.

This is the basic philosophy that we use  to describe  how it is that we can know nad communicate truth, including the true  statements of Scripture. (This is not to say that one must know philosophy to be a Christian. Scripture with the power of the Holy Spirit is able to create faith whether we know philosophy or not. We are simply describing the philosophical basis for knowing and communicating truth which is a helpful thing to do when Bishops and district presidents start throwing words around like “missional.”) Christ really came into this world and really died and rose again. Over 500 people saw this and the Holy Spirit then used words to communicate these truths. Of course, these words can be denied. That is unbelief. But on the other hand, by the same Holy Spirit  who moved men to write these words, we can also believe these words. That is saving faith. It is good and right to  take  a straight-forward approach to reality and language.

What most straight-forward thinkers  like you and me, who would accept the above description of reality and knowledge fail to realize is that the philosophically elite  do not accept this common sense understanding of reality and knowledge because they have given up on the notion of distinct and knowable objects.  This is what causes them to use silly terms such as “missional” and to reject straight-forward Biblical truth. They believe that reality is a nexus of interrelated things. The cup on the table is not best understood as an object distinct from me. It is a part of me. It’s reality and significance are bound up in my mind. They do not ask “what is the cup?” They ask, and this is the only really meaningful thing in their view of reality, “what does the cup mean to me?” I can only “know” things as they relate to me, as they are caught up in my being/world. This is the subjective turn in thought that has made such screwy terms as “missional” possible.

In our grandfather’s church they talked about  missions as a thing, not as some sort of abstract, noumenal, gobbledy-gook “missional” whatever.  Traditionally we would talk about how many missionaries we have in the field. Now church  leaders in both the ELCA and the LCMS  have turned the discussion of mission work and missionaries  into  the highly subjective and abstract language of “being  missional.” This is a dangerous  collapse of the subject-object distinction. It is a collapse of practice into being, which is the philosophical basis for Marxism. God did not make Adam and Eve as a part of the nexus of creation. He made them distinct beings who were  to rule over and steward the creation. (Notice how the collapse of the subject/object distinction leads to the nonsense we hear these days about the environment such as the notion that we are but one part of the unified organism known as “mother earth.”)

We ask, how can the ELCA take a clear word of God on sexuality and turn it upside down calling what God calls a sin, not a sin? The ultimate theological answer is because we are rebellious sinners seeking to be our own gods.  The philosophical answer  has to do with the collapse of the subject/object distinction which also leads to goofy talk exemplified by the phrase “being missional.”

If you do not wish to struggle with this from a philosophical angle that is fine. Try this. We do not think evangelically nor act missionally. We think scripturally and act in accordance with the Scriptures. To collapse the truth of scripture into the activity of evangelism and the weird, unknowable, abstract,  invented concept of “missional behavior” is an act against common sense.

Besides, like “leadership,” “missions” is not really a Biblical word. For sure, “missional” is not a Biblical word. It is a made up thing. But not even “missions” is a Biblical word. Do a word search on it in the ESV. (You can do that here on my favorite free Bible-search program.)

The ELCA and the mission-minded leadership of the LCMS, such as President Kieschnick, are on the same trajectory. Beware the call to be “missional.” How ironic that in an era when Bishop Hanson, President Kieschnick and District President Newton beg us to be “missional,” the number of real live, flesh and blood, subject/object distinguishable missionaries in real mission fields has decreased. There is no need to act “missionally” whatever that might be. Let’s just send missionaries into the mission field, wherever that might be, in real, live places with real, live human beings who need to hear the common sense, true Gospel. We here at the Brothers of John the Steadfast encourage you to think, not “missionally,” but  Scripturally and act in accordance with the Scriptures.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


ELCA Bishop Asks Rebellious Leaders to “Think Evangelically and Act Missionally.” Where have We Heard Those Terms Before? by Pr. Rossow — 12 Comments

  1. Good post. I’ve wondered what it means to be “missional” before. Over vicarage we were required to read a Thom Rainer book. He suggested that pastors should spend a few hours a week in “personal evangelism,” which meant going to the gym, coffee house, or local gathering place and having “spiritual” conversations with “unchurched” folks. By the end of the chapter I felt like garbage because I didn’t even come close to spending the recommended 5 hours a week doing that.

    Being “mission minded” is a hard thing to pin down because of what you said, its a not a thing. What does it mean to be mission-minded? 5 hours a week in a coffee house? Having a “heart for the lost” (what that even means I’ll never know, something like having a passion or a saddened feeling for the unchurched). I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. We’ve substituted “missional” thinking for Scriptural thinking, and so everything in scripture (and in us) has to measure up this new benchmark. The point is, nobody can pin down what it means to be missional, so the law does its job: You’re never “missional” enough, so do more, be more, get out there more more more. That’s the most dangerous part of this language shift. The law is replacing the gospel.

  2. What we’re hearing, today from LCMS leaders, and for decades from ELCA leaders, is the replacement of the Formal and Material principles of theology.

    The Formal principle of Christian theology is its source of authority (traditionally Holy Scripture).

    The Material principle of Christian theology is its central and unifying doctrine (traditionally Justification by Grace, through Faith, for Christ’s sake).

    Both ELCA and LCMS leaders have replaced Scripture with the Gospel, or worse yet, “thinking evangelically.” And, they have replaced the doctrine of Justification with the Great Commission, or worse yet, “acting missionally.”

    This means that Scripture is no longer the authority; the Gospel is. In the LCMS, it isn’t considered “evangelical” (read “nice”) to practice close communion, to refuse worship with heterodox christians or other religions, to restrict the pastoral office to men, to exercise doctrinal discipline, or to forbid pietistic and pentecostal worship forms.

    This also means that Justification is no longer the central and unifying doctrine; the Great Commission is. And, it isn’t even the real Great Commission anymore, it’s, “Go, make disciples, doing whatever it takes” rather than, “Go, make disciples by baptizing and teaching.” I have heard lengthy sermons from synodical leaders urging us to share the Gospel, without a single mention of the Cross or the Resurrection.

    Replace the Formal and Material principles of Christian theology, and you no longer have Christian theology.


  3. Great but horrifying post. I’m about to break out in hives after reading Pastor Wilken’s post. Basicly the LCMS is involed in a covert form of theology imployed at the time of seminex. Then at that time, the LCMS passed this bug to the already sick ALC/LCA. I’m going to pray now.


  4. Notice how “evangelical” never seems to mean justification of the sinner by grace through faith for the sake of Christ anymore. What happened to AC IV, der Hauptartikel?

    Pastoral and missional have come to mean without-principle, or gospel reductionism.

  5. What ELCA lets in the front door, the LCMS often lets in the back door.

    When ELCA lets in women pastors, the LCMS ignores the order of creation and gives away male and pastoral duties, and has a leader suggest installing an “office of prophetess” (whatever that is).

    When ELCA jumps into ecumencial agreements with non-Lutherans, the LCMS declares fellowship with Lutherans that are in LWF and turns the other when when open communion is practiced.

    When ELCA declares fellowship with the Reformed, the LCMS imports Reformed/Arminian/Pentecostal worship forms.

    When ELCA declares fellowship with the Episcopal Church, the LCMS adopts 2004 res. 8-01a and proposes radical restructuring.

  6. 1. O Lord, look down from heaven, behold
    And let Thy pity waken:
    How few are we within Thy Fold,
    Thy saints by men forsaken!
    True faith seems quenched on every hand,
    Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
    Dark times have us o’ertaken.

    2. With fraud which they themselves invent
    Thy truth they have confounded;
    Their hearts are not with one consent
    On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
    While they parade with outward show,
    They lead the people to and fro,
    In error’s maze astounded.

    3. May God root out all heresy
    And of false teachers rid us
    Who proudly say: “Now, where is he
    That shall our speech forbid us?
    By right or might we shall prevail;
    What we determine cannot fail;
    We own no lord and master.”

    4. Therefore saith God, “I must arise,
    The poor My help are needing;
    To Me ascend My people’s cries,
    And I have heard their pleading.
    For them My saving Word shall fight
    And fearlessly and sharply smite,
    The poor with might defending.”

    5. As silver tried by fire is pure
    From all adulteration,
    So through God’s Word shall men endure
    Each trial and temptation.
    Its light beams brighter through the cross,
    And, purified from human dross,
    It shines through every nation.

    6. Thy truth defend, O God, and stay
    This evil generation;
    And from the error of their way
    Keep Thine own congregation.
    The wicked everywhere abound
    And would Thy little flock confound;
    But Thou art our Salvation.

    TLH 260

  7. One wise pastor, in a recent conversation, wondered allowed why all of this “missional” material lacks anything that is actually at the end of Matthew. He meant that being “missional” is to teach the whole council of God with the aim and goal of baptism. If the real goal would be to baptize and teach (EVERYTHING Jesus commanded), then where is the intense catechetical teaching? Why is not the baptistry one of the most important elements of our “church plants”? These are thoughts worth pondering.

  8. Pr. Rossow,

    A most excellent post, my friend. Being a philosophy geek, I especially enjoyed the way you made your point.

    “Let’s just send missionaries . . .” – what a concept! What are you, a Lutheran? 🙂

    Pr. Frahm (#5),

    Exactly! It might shock people to learn this, but the truth is that we’re ALREADY doing many things the ELCA has been, and continues, to do. The ELCA is just more open and honest than we are.

  9. “Then at that time, the LCMS passed this bug to the already sick ALC/LCA. I’m going to pray now.” –MM

    Actually, I think there was quite a bit of exchanging wrong ideas there. The antecedents of the elca already had the “seminex” [dis]beliefs and behaviors. Our people went to their seminaries and were reinforced in their non Lutheran, non Christian thinking. Then they went outside Lutheran seminaries….

    Then half the seminex trained never left, and we let the other half back in without retraining. So, as they vowed to do, they are now running synod. Somebody was sleeping on watch to let that happen! But an inbred clergy, where everyone has multiple cousins helping them along, leads to this.

  10. Dear Readers,

    Those who claim to be missional, have not a clue what that is and do not actually do any mission work. They rely on techniques, media and the fact that they are innovative to do the trick. Hence, the Alley. The Alley is about ten or so miles from my church. It is plain disgusting. I have spoken with college students from Concordia St. Paul who can not believe what they observed there.

    Also, I picked up a wonderful new book from CPH this week, Mission from the Cross. Please consider ordering it. Dr. Detlev Schulz has written a fine book about mission work that goes far beyond the surface.

  11. Helen,

    Your right, I was just speaking from shock. Everytime I think I’ve seen it all, WAM! It never fails.


  12. Oh my…the beat goes on. One of the primary prescriptions of “Transforming Churches” is this: “Pastor ______ will preach a sermon series on the missional outward nature of God’s church.” Scott Diekmann has written a brilliant analysis of Transformng Churches that is available through this site.
    In my paper “Can TC be Fixed?” I make this statement:
    “Transforming Churches has been shown to be a spiritually dangerous program for several reasons:
    1. It “transforms” the Gospel into Law—Justification by grace through faith is replaced with the Great Commission as the central article of faith; faithful people are clubbed with a truncated version of the Great Commission (“Make new disciples, [only])”, as the sweetness of the Gospel is replaced by the terror of the Law…”

    This is the whole thrust of TC, and it’s equally troubling counterpart, “Natural Church Development.” It’s been the hallmark of CG for forty years.
    We should not be surprised. Michael Mapus and the rest of us are appropriately alarmed. We all should be

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.