Shock and Sadness as St. Louis Sem Continues to Promote Pietism’s Chief Tactic – Small Groups Set to Replace Chapel Service Tomorrow, by Pr. Rossow

I continue to be shocked and saddened that the institution that taught me to flee from the tactics and practices of Pietism is now not only promoting it’s chief tool (small groups) but is also spitting in the face of one of orthodoxy’s chief tools by replacing chapel worship with these ecclesiai in ecclessia (churches within the church, i.e. small groups).

Here is the notice that was published in the seminary announcements:

Chapel Small Groups
On Tuesday, October 12, there will be no daily chapel service. Everyone is encouraged to participate in a small group which will use the devotional tool SOAP: Scripture-Observation-Application-Prayer. The intention is to provide opportunity for life together and community formation flowing from a different practice of piety. The Word of God and prayer will serve as the primary avenue for reflection and encouraging one another in Christ. You are encouraged to participate in the group as you are motivated to do so. Students, staff and faculty will have predetermined groups. Lists with your group number, location, and leader will be posted on campus and distributed by e-mail.
Dean Burreson (10/12/2010)

In less than one generation Concordia Seminary – St. Louis has gone from teaching seminarians to flee Pietism to embracing it.

I ask Dean Burreson and the other faculty members to explain what has changed. What was wrong with the position taken by professors Nagel, Feurhan, Kiehl, Hummel, Johnson, Klann, et. al? I also ask why is it that professors Raabe, Bartelt, President Meyer, et. al. who were professors alongside the aforementioned, are now accepting this shift of thought? Were they just holding back their support for pietiesm in those days and now that their aforementioned peers are gone they are free to express it? Have their views changed? If so, they owe it the LCMS to let us know what has changed. This is rather confusing to say the least.

And what of professors Arand, Biermann, Peter, Lessing, Utech, Schumacher, et. al. who studied alongside me and were taught by these same professors of old? Is that teaching passe now? Were we misled by the likes of Nagel, Hummel, etc? Are professors Arand, Biermann, etc. possesing of a higher knowledge that now trumps the teaching of our fathers who rejected Pietism and its harmful practices?

Another question – why is such a major change like this not publicized anywhere? If it were not for the daily announcements and the students’ grapevine, we would not be aware that such a major shift is taking place. Please correct me if I am wrong but I can find no evidence of this on the CSL newsreel on their website. Other than Dean Burrson’s signed announcements I see no evidence of letting the church know that the teaching on small groups from the last generation of faculty has now been rejected.

Hats off to the Jesus First and the PLI gangs, the progressive ecclesia(s) in the LCMS ecclesiai. They lost at the convention but they are winning at the St. Louis seminary. Small groups and contemporary worship at the seminary Walther founded are huge steps forward for their progressive agenda for the LCMS.

It’s usually fun and exciting to go outside the boundaries and experiment. That is most likely part of the mystique of these things for the St. Louis faculty. We humbly but assertively ask them to return to the teaching of their fathers – Nagel, Hummel, Johnson, Klann, et. al.


Comments

Shock and Sadness as St. Louis Sem Continues to Promote Pietism’s Chief Tactic – Small Groups Set to Replace Chapel Service Tomorrow, by Pr. Rossow — 180 Comments

  1. @mbw #123

    mbw,

    Please forgive me for not using your pseudonym. I confess that I did it even though I suspected you didn’t want me to. There is no excuse for that behavior. It was careless, irresponsible, and mean.

  2. Ben Carnahan :
    Please forgive me for my rash statements. They were an emotional reaction and I should have kept my tongue . . . and fingers. I am young and foolish and learning slowly. I am just saddened to see something like this causing so much ruckus. I apologize. God bless you all. I’ll do my best to just keep my peace in the future.

    It isn’t like you’re the first person to react the way you did. Craig Parton’s piece is indeed edgy, and on the surface may appear prejudiced. If you read his “The Defense Never Rests” perhaps you’ll gain an appreciation for his edginess. He is one of the foremost Christian (and Lutheran) apologists in the world today. When one has been beat up by the Law, as he had, the Gospel is unspeakably sweet and powerful. Let me suggest you read “The Defense…” then read “White Wine Pietists” again.

    This discussion is not about politics or politicians as you say. And it’s not petty. Pastor Rossow, Cheryl Magness, and others have seen in CSL’s promotion of “small groups” the “thin edge of a wedge” to quote Harry Blamires (“The Christian Mind”). It begins with just an occasional “once in a while” and becomes the norm. Mrs. Magness has eloquently laid out the inherent dangers of small groups from her own experience. Mine is eerily similar. (Another unhealthy side effect of small groups is their tendency to become somewhat closed and exclusive–it is very difficult for new members to assimilate–they are outsiders from the get-go.)

    There are inherent dangers in blogging as well–one is the lack of accountability to command to love one another. There is also a tendency to disregard the niceties of civil discourse–you’ve seen it here already and joined in the “fun”, as I have–it’s easy to do.

    Hang in there, and please take the warnings here to heart–small groups can be dangerous to your spiritual health. It’s not trivial and it’s not petty. It’s serious stuff.

    Johannes

  3. @Scott Diekmann #139

    @Ben Carnahan #144

    @Ben Carnahan #148

    @Johannes #153

    Ben, I am not young, but I am foolish and learning slowly, so I guess some things don’t change with age! Yes, Craig Parton’s paper was edgy as Johannes describes it, yet there is a lot of truth in it, in spite of the unusual metaphors. I’ve got a copy of The Defense Never Rests sitting on my shelf if you’d like to borrow it. I don’t know what the thought behind CSL’s small groups are in total, and therefore don’t pass judgment on what they’re doing, but I do think that caution is definitely in order.

    There is benefit to these sorts of discussions, though they occasionally lack civility and we may not agree with one another on all points, because they cause one to think. I find I learn a lot in these threads. There’s another discussion on the same topic on facebook that is worth checking into that was started by whom I believe is a fellow seminarian of yours. It has some thoughtful responses as well. Feel free to email me if you’d like to carry the discussion further. Click on my name up above, and then click on the “Email Scott” in the right sidebar.

  4. Matthew Gunia,

    Yah, it is funny how that works—but hey, I am just glad to have your response.

    I guess I just disagree though with your words—although I agree with much of what you say. Yes, there is both formal study of the Bible and informal times.

    But I think that formalized Bible study would indeed be helpful. I think that some slip through the in formalized cracks.

    And as far as that goes, it is only three times a quarter—surely that is reasonable enough for us to give it a shot and see if it helps certain Sem students?

    I say give it a try.

    But I also agree with you about the works of mercy. This would be a wonderful addition.

  5. Cheryl Magness,

    So you say:

    Pastor Louderback, there are a lot of people who do not like Small Groups. I am one. I agree that it is nice to have people you can be yourself with and share struggles and ask for prayers. But that is not Bible study. When I find myself in a Bible study sitution and the talk suddenly turns to life application and “what does this mean to you” and “how can you apply this in your own life” I get extremely uncomfortable. I want to focus on the Bible. I want my pastor to teach me. I think the bringing of my personal sins and struggles into a Bible study group is a confusion of goals. If I want to share my struggles and ask people to pray for me, I turn to my dearest and closest friends. They do often comfort me with words from Scripture. But that is not Bible study.

    =======

    And I understand what you are saying—yes, Bible study is not the same as talking about what is going on in your life.

    But at the same time, Bible study does involve thinking about how the Bible does apply to you personally. How can it not? Don’t the words of Christ carry meaning to us today? They are not just thoughts that the Son of God has—they are indeed things He wants us to do.

    We cannot confuse pietism with piety, but nor can we ignore piety. It is here that we need the Law of God to act upon us and bring to the surface that which we might be ignoring or rationalizing or setting aside. So, I would say that Bible study is indeed intensely personal. It applies to me as an individual. I don’t see how you can keep your sinful self out of it.

    But I understand that just sitting around talking about our feelings is not the same thing as bringing Christ to the person—so obviously it is good to have good leaders trained in teaching and leading a Bible study. I happen to believe that lay people can indeed do this. Yes, a pastor can indeed answer questions that others just don’t have knowledge of—but others are fully capable of leading a group.

    I understand that this sorta thing often does happen informally—but that means that it might not be happening for others. That is why we formalize things, so that everyone can experience this.

    Doesn’t the fact that so many have flocked to small groups indicate that the need is there? That the informal gathering is not entirely working?

    So, when we worship we worship, when we pray we pray, and when we come together as a group to read the word and open up about our lives, let’s come together to read the Word and open up about our lives.

    I’m glad that the Seminary is seeking to model this kind of behavior.

  6. Other discussions on this topic:

    At Gottesdienst Online, Pastor Curtis reports on the questions used in the SOAP format, http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2010/10/gottesdienst-spies-are-everywhere.html:

    S for Scripture

    Read the Lesson. Note, highlight, or underline words or phrases from the text that catch your attention. When you are done, look for a verse or phrase that particularly caught your attention, and write it below:

    O for Observation

    What do you think God is saying in this verse? Paraphrase and write this scripture down in your own words below:

    A for Application

    Personalize what you have read, by asking yourself how it applies to your life right now. Perhaps it is admonition, forgiveness, deliverance, instruction, encouragement, revelation of a new promise, or corrections for a particular area of your life. Write how this scripture can apply to you below:

    P for Prayer

    This can be as simple as asking God to speak this Word to you, interceding for others
    in the basis of this Word, or seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance to live out this Word in
    faith. Prayer is a two way conversation, so both speak to God and listen to God’s voice through His Word! You may write the prayer(s) out here:

    Seminarian Samuel Beltz comments on his blog A Man Leaning on God and His Thoughts About It, http://sgbeltz.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/small-groups-continued/.

  7. I guess I’m just confused as to why it’s such a bad thing for Pastors and soon-to-be Pastors to get together, read the Bible, and pray with each other… Yes, it’s taking the place of Chapel, but it isn’t an every day or even an every week occurrence. It’s happening 3 times a quarter. So, Chapel is in session 94% of the days that classes are in session.

  8. @Mark Louderback #157

    Quoting Pastor Louderback: “But at the same time, Bible study does involve thinking about how the Bible does apply to you personally. How can it not? Don’t the words of Christ carry meaning to us today? They are not just thoughts that the Son of God has—they are indeed things He wants us to do.”

  9. I think it boils down to objectivity vs. subjectivity. “You interpret the Bible your way, and I’ll interpret the Bible my way,” is very un-Lutheran. Very American Evangelical Protestant, yes. Lutheranism in America has struggled with pietism and rationalism from day one. Having grown up Methodist, I guarantee that small groups will become “what you should do/not do” sessions, as were all of my Sunday School classes, void of the Gospel. And to REPLACE chapel, the hard-hitting conviction of the Law and the sweet proclamation of the Gospel, is simply wrong, even if it’s one day per year.

    Let’s look at Matthew 5:29-30 as an example. We’re sitting in a small group and decide that Jesus is telling us that we must do whatever it takes to avoid sin, as the Methobapticostals would likely decide. In a Lutheran way, we should interpret the passage to mean that Jesus, using hyperbole, is telling us that if we are going to obtain righteousness by adherence to the Law, we better be perfect. Although the two interpretations sound similar, the Lutheran interpretation would pick up the discussion by saying that Jesus is telling us, “You CAN’T and WON’T do enough to obtain righteousness by adherence to the Law. You won’t cut off limbs or gouge out eyes. That’s why I am here, to be your righteousness for you.”

    My point is that most people will miss the Gospel here. Am I saying that we are too dumb to read and interpret Scripture? No, but our default religion IS Law, yes, even for seminarians. We need a theologian, who is acting in the stead of the Holy Ghost , to guide us. The above example could differ between “what we should do” vs. “what we can’t do.” The ultimate point of Jesus is that we can’t do what we should do. Should we respond by not sinning, out of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us? Absolutely, but this does no good until we have been convicted by the Law and rescued with the Gospel. Many “from-the-womb” Lutherans take this for granted, but for those of us raised elsewhere and poorly cathecized, this is not a “no-brainer.” And let’s not forget how many seminarians are not “from-the-womb” Lutherans.

  10. Ben from Irvine,

    Please give up your “people are going to hell” argument. The American church has embraced contemporary worship and small groups overall in the last generation and what has happened? The Christian church has shrunk, including the LCMS. According to your logic, we ought to abandon contemporary worship and small groups so that the church will keep from shrinking.

    This is particularly true of the LCMS. We were holding steady back in the 70’s and 80’s but now that a good portion of our churches have adopted small groups and contemporary worship, we too have begun to shrink.

    Like Jesus, I do not judge the effectiveness of the church on its growth, but if one does go there these days, it is a losing cause for small groups and contemporary worship.

    TR

  11. @Pastor Tim Rossow #164

    Really? “Like Jesus?” Playing the Jesus card?

    But come on – isn’t it a tad disingenuous to say that you do not judge the effectiveness of the church on its growth, and yet you are judging the effectiveness (in this case lack of effectiveness) based on church growth (in this case decline)?

  12. These are not “Churches within a Church”. There is no Eucharist going on here. The real issue behind the issue in the historic demonization of conventicles is the opposition to private prayer in a time when increasingly the Eucharist was not being celebrated weekly. Thus “Church” is detached from Eucharist; the latter is seen not as the sacrament in which the faithful remember and participate in the death, rest in the tomb and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So such “prayer meetings” are seen as competing with Sunday service. Why? Because they resembled Sunday “Services of the Word”.

    Second, there is a very real issue of “how should Chistians pray outside of the Eucharist?” The real challenge is that Lutheranism shut down its monasteries. They threw the baby out with the bath water. These prayer communities could provide a paradigm for keeping the Daily Offices, remembering the Saints of that day, utilyzing the Lectio Continua; namely living in the rhythm of the Liturgical Calendar. Laypeople (along with Seminarians and Clergy) could could all share in a common Tradition. If this were done, “Conventicles” would melt like wax, or vanish like smoke.

  13. @Pastor Tim Rossow #164

    > Please give up your “people are going to hell” argument. The American church has embraced contemporary worship and small groups overall in the last generation and what has happened? The Christian church has shrunk, including the LCMS. According to your logic, we ought to abandon contemporary worship and small groups so that the church will keep from shrinking.

    Cha-ching!

  14. @boogie #162

    So, do Lutherans forget everything they have been taught the second they step in a small group? With your example from Matthew, are you telling me that a small group would come up with the Methobapticostal interpretation and only a pastor standing in front of a congregation could come up with the Lutheran interpretation? Yes, your Sunday School classes do seem rather un-Lutheran. I think I know why too… You were attending a Methodist church.

    Please try and remember these are Lutheran pastors and Seminarians reading and interpreting the Bible. They didn’t invite Methodist Sunday School teachers in to lead them.

  15. “Please try and remember these are Lutheran pastors and Seminarians reading and interpreting the Bible. They didn’t invite Methodist Sunday School teachers in to lead them.”

    Sorry, I’m having trouble remembering, given the vast repertoire of Wesley and Watts hymns that I have heard in “Lutheran” churches and the “be-a-better-you” sermons I have listened to.

  16. @boogie #170

    And these are churches led by students who have already graduated from one of the Seminaries. I shudder to think about what the churches of the students who are attending these demon led small groups will look like!

  17. Thanks for making my point, Anthony. Since rationalism/pietism has been American Lutheranism’s struggle since day one (and even back in Europe from day one), perhaps we should just get it over with, turn everyone loose, and see if we become more Lutheran. As is often the case today, even more “low-churchers” will aspire to be Methobapticostals; while even more “high-churchers” will become infatuated with Rome/Constantinople/Canterbury.

  18. Doesn’t anyone read THE HAMMER OF GOD anymore? Very helpful in understanding the “small group” issue.

  19. @STEVEN BOBB #173

    Hammer of God was a text book for one of my DCE classes at Concordia, St. Paul. Maybe I should reread that again. Thanks for reminding me I still have that book. 🙂

  20. @boogie #172
    …even more “low-churchers” will aspire to be Methobapticostals; while even more “high-churchers” will become infatuated with Rome/Constantinople/Canterbury.

    the way for the ‘low church’ is easy; they’ve had so much practice!
    by and large,people don’t even notice and they continue as LINO … witness the e__a, in ‘p & a fellowship’ with the whole spectrum [including the Episcopal(Canterbury?)]!
    …and our own ‘entertainment’ churches…

    ‘high church’ [Lutheran liturgical] is not that simple; they would have to give up justification by faith alone which most would be unwilling to do
    we’ve had a few ‘big name’ exceptions which skews perceptions of what is really happening

    Walther worried more about ‘the methodists’; we should, too.

  21. @helen #177
    I agree with you, although I would suggest that nearly all of Evangelical Protestantism is also “faith-plus works,” they just don’t admit to it (or maybe don’t realize it). If we have to “make a decision to accept Jesus,” then we have to do something. The point I was trying to make, although poorly, was that if we are not Lutheran in our education, many more will likely succumb to the temptation to go “somewhere else.” BTW, this is coming from a “high churcher” (who wishes he lived closer to Detroit so he could visit Zion Lutheran more often).

    Thanks, Helen, for the comments. I always enjoy and appreciate your input on BJS.

  22. @boogie #178
    Glad to hear somebody does! 🙂

    I considered adding present day protestants but Walther’s problem was methodists.
    I’ve been told that was because they had German speaking preachers but i’ve never verified that.

    you’re right about education! BOC, serious Bible study with a pastor [or well trained Lutheran layman using Luth. materials, if necessary] is poorly attended many places.
    We must encourage our Pastors to keep at it even with small numbers.

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