Confessions and Conversion of a Former Jesus-Firster, by P. Rossow

Over on the “Tale of Two Synods” post from Pastor Daniel Hinton is the following story of how this blog and others have helped someone see the light of the liturgy and other things authentically Lutheran. It is from a gentlemen by the name of Nathan.

Lord have mercy upon me.

I was once a Jesus-Firster, not understanding why those “crazy uber-Lutherans” cared so much about liturgy that we lost members! Being faithful obviously wasn’t enough; we needed dog-and-pony shows! Then I read Art Just’s “Heaven on Earth,” and by God’s grace realized, “Instead of shouting, ‘Jesus First! Liturgy last!’ why not worship in such a way that puts Jesus first a lot better than CoWo does?”

And as I was writing that paragraph, I realized I’m just like the Pharisee: “Lord, I thank You I am not like that Jesus-Firster over there. By Your grace, I’m so much more faithful.” Lord have mercy upon me.

Y’all have been doing yeoman’s work on here even while I was a child being raised in a CoWo LCMS church. I lived through two “transitions” to CoWo (once in Houston, and again when we moved to the Austin area), and I heard and swallowed the CoWo propaganda. I thank God for you and the other theologians (Luther, Walther, the Preuses, Fisk) who have been so good at re-educating me that the growth of the Church is God’s job, not mine, so long as we remain faithful.

So when I read these demands for a “balanced” view and “unloving” closed communion, I see my past self. And then I see pride rising up to tell me how much better I am now. Even if by God’s grace. Lord have mercy upon me.

No doubt we should firmly rebuke false doctrine and teach the truth. Call out the false teachers and make the Church aware they are indeed false. But how do I do this without taking pride in the fact that “I’m so much better now; I understand”? Lord have mercy upon me.

This might be a bit off-topic, but I think it’s at least tangentially related. Y’all have been so good at re-educating me: How do I call out and rebuke false doctrine without taking pride in the fact that I know what true doctrine is? Simply recognizing it’s by God’s grace alone doesn’t seem enough. The Pharisee thanked God, not himself, for being “better” than the tax collector. So how do I do this? How do I keep from reading these awful letters to TLW and not immediately think, “Wow, thank God I’m so much better than these people!” Lord have mercy upon me.

I hope you will add your own responses below. Pastor Drew Newman from the ACELC took the words out of my mouth with this immediate response on the same string.

Your post made my day. There have been so many times when I’ve almost convinced myself that there is no chance to reach anyone in the CW camp. Now I see that it is true that with God nothing shall be impossible.

As for your own confessed self-righteousness, welcome, dear brother to a camp filled with poor, miserable sinners, for the bottom line is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom we are all the greatest!

Keep up the good work everybody. People are reading, listening, thinking and growing. Oh, and thanks Nathan for taking the time to make Drew’s day and the day of many of the few hundered thousand or so who have visited this blog through the years!

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.


Confessions and Conversion of a Former Jesus-Firster, by P. Rossow — 14 Comments

  1. Gah, I’m embarrassed. I have no desire to be anything close to a poster boy or “good example” (although I know that was not your intention, Pastor Rossow; my Old Adam just loves interpreting it as such). But if my story somehow provides encouragement to the contributors here, then by all means, I guess it’s the least I can share in thanks for what y’all have done. The labor of the Spirit, working through you all, indeed bears fruit!

    I’m really commenting because I would like to add for clarity’s sake that I was not officially a member of the Jesus First organization (I was on no member lists), mainly because I was around 13 or 14 years old when I was really into that movement. But I did follow that organization avidly and supported its ideas wholeheartedly, telling my friends how important it was to just “forget the traditionalism and focus on evangelism.” Were I an adult then, I no doubt would’ve been an active member, God forgive me. In fact, I think I urged my father to support the organization in a substantial way somehow, though he, being averse to synodical politics in any form, thankfully did not.

    Also, I’m not the only person with a life story like this. Even just reading the comments that followed mine on “Tale of Two Synods,” one can see there are plenty that have learned from you and other authentic Lutherans like you. So thank you!

  2. Dear Nathan,

    You ask how a conservative-type, confessional Lutheran can avoid the attitude “I am so much better than XYZ.” Here are some basic doctrines that help us from sliding into that trap:

    1) The Lutheran doctrine of sin teaches me that after baptism I am still a poor, miserable sinner–and that’s on a good day! And that makes most thoughts of “I’m better than you” wither away, because the idea of “sinner” means we’re all in the same sinking boat, saved ONLY by Jesus.

    2) The Lutheran doctrine of salvation teaches me that I am only of real value in God’s eyes, because of the merits of Christ the mediator, not because of any talents, works, or virtues I might have in the eyes of the world.

    3) The Lutheran doctrine of vocation teaches me that everyone has different talents, works, and virtues, so there is no comparing one with another. We are all one body in Christ, and each has a role to play in building up that body.

    4) The Lutheran doctrine of revelation teaches me that the doctrine I teach and confess is not my own–it came to the prophets (Sunday’s Gospel “the word of God came to John”) and to the apostles, and faithful teachers have handed it down from generation to generation to me. So the pastor or Bible teacher, if faithful, is just handing out what he has heard from faithful teachers before him. So there is no room for the “religious genius” in our corner of Christendom; Luther just rediscovered what was already there, not something new.

    5) The Lutheran doctrine of worship teaches me that the worship practices I use–the prayers, liturgies, canticles, hymns–are not my own, they have been created by poets and artists before me, and put together by the church (e.g., our synod’s Commission on Worship). So the pastor serving as liturgist, if he is faithful, is just handing on what faithful pastors have handed to him. So there is no room for the “worship genius” in our corner of Christendom; we use what the Christian church has developed and refined over 2000 years. Bach was a genius in his musical settings, but he used texts that were already there and the property of the whole church

    Of course, there are many people who hear these doctrines but do not internalize them as their own. You will find that in any religion or church-body.

    Part of the uniqueness of the Lutheran church, at least in its orthodox years, was that it taught its members to internalize its doctrines. “Doctrine” was not just a proposition about something or a formal “statement of faith”; it also carried with it attitudes toward people and things. This, at least, was Luther’s understanding and which carried through the end of the 17th century. That is what the phrase “we believe, teach, and confess” means.

    Confessional Lutherans in the LCMS, WELS, ELS, and other church-bodies around the world are what is left of that unique understanding of doctrine which was based on Luther’s doctrine of the Word of God.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  3. Truth spoken. Nathan’s story reflects that of a great many of us who are knocking on Wittenburg’s door. Thanks to online broadcasts from those like Rev. Fisk, Jordan Cooper, and Hans Fiene (of Lutheran Satire), Lutheranism has been explained in light of Scripture with crystal clarity, and those of us stuck in Rome, Geneva, or (insert whatever city you would like here for Arminianism/Wesleyanism) have had our eyes opened and are extremely grateful.

  4. The best & brightest of tests is this: if you do this, thru your Office, and one comes to you, your pen or another’s, in private, invoking the Confessional of the Office, with a sin or issue, that would compromise you & an err, not the Office, you….personally….what do or would you do? What do they know teach in the Sem’s to do?!

    Those who are worthy of the Office they hold, to what their Lord, the Holy Spirit, & a Holy/Just 3 O’s Creator demands. Anything less, is you, not the Office you hold. Lives are altered for all time, and sometimes, the physical lives of many can & are.

    That is the lie. If you really believed & trusted what you chose, as mission or witness, you’d look to those, who run to the Office & it’s responsibilities & shepherding. Confessional shepherds do, sheep, lamb per lamb, ewe by ewe, ram by ram. And they act accordingly, not by the latest & elected, but by Christ & what belongs to Him: His Solas & His sheep.

    They seek what is nice, clean, easy, & marketable, the best bits & success stories. For the 1 of them, there are 10 of the other.
    It’s still Advent folks, Come Emmanuel, come quickly! How many in any pew, really know what they pray, in the Lord’s Prayer & how many, who hold or hide behind that Divine Office, & yes, the certainly do, really believe, let alone trust what they preach?!

    The Denom’s & Synod’s, Districts & Circuits’, serve now themselves, not the sheep of any age, they are held to account for, why?!

  5. My brothers, it would honor me if you allow *ME* to share *MY* testimony. (I’m chuckling that I typed that…it’s a joke, my friends!) In all honesty, I was confirmed as an adult and a few years later switched LCMS congregations (from a traditional LCMS church in Seattle) to another traditional LCMS church in Lacey, WA. I was a babe in the woods doctrinally speaking. My new congregation had a fantastic pastor that had some curious practices. I absolutely loved this pastor. However, he did a couple of things that really puzzled me. The first thing was he refused to allow on church property, much less lead a “Bible Study” on Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life”. I asked him about it and he pointed me to our confessions. Rather than to appear ignorant to his response, I shook my head and said I’d do that. I ended up not participating in the “study” as it went to small groups in the homes of the group.

    The second thing he did that really puzzled me is that our constitution had a mandated music and worship committee that was to assist the pastor. We had some really talented people in it, both vocally and musically. They were wanting to have some input on the music used during Divine Worship. We met quarterly and submitted suggestions to the pastor and he said he’d “take it under advisement.” He never allowed any of the Contemporary Praise songs to be used in worship. I found this very odd and personally considered many of the hymns we regularly sang to be dirge-ish. (I had been a confirmed member of the LCMS about 5 years by this time.) This situation went on for a couple of years with me as a member of the committee before we wrote an official letter to the pastor and dissolved the group.

    Fast forward about a year. Our pastor had accepted another call and we had a vacancy pastor. I had been elected to the board of elders and was “on fire” for the Lord and got myself appointed as the elder representative to the newly reformed worship and music committee. We quickly put together some materials recommending we change one of our two worships to CoWo. and took it to the congregation where it was voted in. “Shine Jesus Shine” became the 2nd service mainstay. I was really proud of myself and what I was able to accomplish as an elder. After the vote I even called my brother at the seminary (St. Louis) and did a little bragging on myself. His response was less than enthusiastic. He immediately said “You’re joking, right?” I defended my position by telling him all the research I had done and contacted the two largest LCMS congregations in our state (Washington) and spoke with their pastors and music directors and how it was going to offer something different that would appeal to more people which would increase our numbers and be more relevant. He told me to go back and re-read “On Being a Theologian of the Cross” that he’d given me a couple of years prior.

    We were a week away from our first CoWo service and I was in the sacristy with a former pastor of ours that was going to guest preach that day and I excitedly informed him that we would be adding CoWo the next week. I’ll never forget his response. He looked really sad and said “Oh no…please don’t tell me you’ve become one of those 7-11 churches.” I asked him what he meant by that. “You know–one of those churches that sings the same 7 words 11 times over and calls it a hymn.” I assured him we’d only be using the best praise music available and had direction from the other successful CoWo churches in our district. He shook his head and said “Let’s pray, it’s almost time to start worship.” The funny thing is, I don’t recall him ever preaching there again.

    Fast forward another year. During that time I saw how having the two services served to divide the congregation. For a time, the CoWo service numbers exceeded the traditional. I began taking a bit more seriously my duties as an elder and became more educated in our doctrine and discovered for myself that while CoWo isn’t necessarily at odds with our doctrine, but it didn’t dove-tail into it the way our Divine Worship does. I also discovered a fantastic article “The Liturgy as a Beacon” on the web. I’d been through “On Being a Theologian” a couple more times, had read Law and Gospel and “Spirituality of the Cross” and due to our newly called PLI pastor, turned the corner and understood the mistake I had made. It was a bell I couldn’t un-ring and my church had been taken over by “Missional” ideals, congregational covenants, mission statements and yes–contemporary worship. Whenever there was special music or a combined worship, it was always CoWo. It became the default. Sadly, I had to move on to another church to be fed. I resigned my position as elder and with my new bride and our son, we moved to another traditional congregation. I still have not completely forgiven myself for that major error I made and it still stings when I see in my former church’s news letter that they are currently doing “adventures in advent” instead of advent soup suppers and worship. I just don’t see how making Christmas tree ornaments, cookies and going out into the community caroling instead of worshipping is a good thing. The bottom line is that some CoWo people do catch on and repent. I just wished my buddy, my old head elder, Cody had tased me until I repented when I started pushing CoWo. He ended up following me to the new congregation. Perhaps he’s simply waiting until the time is right to tase me. It wouldn’t shock me–he’s from Texas, after all.

  6. @Robert Hoffman #8
    The Spirit bears fruit! And as another Texan, may I say tasing is not exactly our style (though Cody may be different). We prefer pistol-whipping, if I’m not mistaken.

    Thank the Lord the Spirit brought you to repentance. This sin is covered with Christ’s blood. Pray for the congregation you left. By God’s grace, that bell can indeed be “unrung.”

  7. @Robert Hoffman #8: “Shine Jesus Shine” became the 2nd service mainstay.

    In one Lutheran church service I attended, one of the hymns was “Come, Come Ye Saints” by William Clayton.

  8. @Carl Vehse #10
    As one who has studied Mormonism for five years, and gets p***ed off enough at Mormon hymns that he rewrites them… I really want to send a letter to the bonehead who came up with that one. Pardon my French, but borrowing vague Reformed mysticism is bad enough. Who would be dumb enough to bring in the Tabernacle Choir’s repertoire?

  9. @NathanG92 #9

    My father was born and raised in Vernon, TX, where I also briefly lived. My friend, Cody, has adjusted to the Washington culture and is trying to be more “loving” in his treatment of agitators and heretics. I think Washington has softened him a little. He did recently express some concern, though–he said he was concerned that he was down to 500 rounds of 9mm. I told him he’d have to turn in his official Zombie Hunter license if he didn’t get his count up over 1000 again. I believe he’s now repented and corrected his situation.

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