Five Simple Scriptural Truths that Rebuke and Correct the Church Growth Movement, by Pr. Rossow

December 14th, 2011 Post by

I am convinced that the church growth movement is harmful for the church. Some of you may ask “What is the church growth movement?“ It is a way of “doing” church that arose in the 1970’s and 80’s. By the middle of the 80’s it was being taught at the St. Louis Seminary.

On a benign level it is the application of common sense to the parish in order to make sure that we are doing our best for the Lord’s church and with an eye toward growth. For instance, if people are driving right past your church on a Sunday morning because your parking lot is full, it would be good to rally the parishioners around the goal of raising funds to increase parking.

The church growth movement harms the church when it extends the reach of reason to the point of compromising the Scriptural and Confessional approach to the Lord’s church. This faulty way of applying church growth methods took hold among the LCMS movers and shakers as a natural filling of the void left when the historical-critical method of understanding the Bible (liberalism’s use of reason to question the truth of the Scriptures) was debunked in the synod in the early 1970’s. It is as if a certain element in the church learned from the battle for the Bible that it was wrong to apply reason to critique Scripture but that they did not fully realize nor have the depth of thought to reject the use of the whore reason (one of Luther’s favorite phrases) when it is  applied to church practice. This move was aided by the American’s love for its only indigenous philosophy – Pragmatism, which asserts that whatever works is true. Countless parishes in the LCMS today are organized around this false use of reason and practicality.

Here are five common examples of how this is practiced in the LCMS today and simple Scriptural truths that rebuke and correct such false uses of reason.

  1. The tiresome and unending over-emphasis on personal evangelism. There is not even one single Scripture in the New Testament that mandates or even exhorts one to personal, lay evangelism. (If you can find one, please share it with us in the comment section below.) Another way of saying this is to reject the false assertion that the main thing the church is to do is to grow. No, the main thing the church is to do is to be steadfast and faithful (Colossians 1:23).
  2. We need to love people to Christ (in other words, doctrine and teaching turn people off). The Church is not about loving people to Christ – the Bible says we are to love the brothers and respect the world. It is an error of liberalism to supplant the preaching of the forgiveness of sins with peace and justice for all. Search the Scriptures and you will see that when the Bible speaks of acts of mercy it overwhelmingly is speaking about love for the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. A few years ago I read through the entire Scriptures with an eye toward recording all of the incidents where Christians were exhorted to show mercy and compassion. Clearly over 90% of the passages were about showing mercy to those in the body of Christ. The classic statement of this is in I Peter 2:17 where it says “honor everyone, love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”  Our concern for the world is expressed in honor. Our concern for fellow Christians is expressed in love. This applies to the worn out passage about the priesthood of all believers. It is not so much about personal evangelism as it is about being respectful in the culture. Read I Peter 2 carefully and you will see that we are to be respectful and decent in the world so that the pagans cannot hold our disrespectful behavior against the Gospel that is preached from our pulpits. It is hardly an exhortation to knock on doors for Jesus. (Knocking on doors is not necessarily a bad idea – it is just not emphasized in Scripture like it is by the synodocrats of the last decade.)
  3. The Bible teaches that where two or three are gathered together there is a small group. Actually, where two are three are gathered together, according to Christ’s own word, is not a small group but is an assembly of the congregation with the authority to excommunicate someone. The passage of note is Matthew 18:15-20. Yes, this is the infamous Matthew 18 passage. Verse 20 speaks about two or three being gathered and it is included in the passage on rebuking sin. It is not an exhortation to small group meetings. Allow me to rescue it from infamy and bring it back down to the voters assembly where it belongs. Do the math. When your brother sins against you and will not repent go get one more and give it another try. When he still won’t repent go get one or more in addition and give it one more try. Now we are starting to see how Jesus intends us to understand “where two or three are gathered.” The three or more are the church. In verse seventeen Jesus tells the church that they have the authority to treat someone like a tax collector (excommunicate them) and since that is a scary prospect he encourages them by saying “wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name to do this scary thing, I am there with you.” The misuse of this passage to support “small group ministry” is a classic case of the church growth movement abusing Scripture. I cannot tell you how many times I have had people throw this verse at me in defense of small groups. Church growth advocates don’t like excommunication because it tends to shrink the church. But Christ’s words about two or three gathering together are about exactly that, gathering the church together to make the last attempt to love the brother via excommunication (i.e. to wake them up out of the slumber of their unrepented sin).
  4. Doctrine divides and turns people off. Touching people’s emotions works better than teaching them doctrine. This of course is the principle that is used to support the singing of popular American Evangelical songs in place of the old, boring, stuffy doctrinal hymns out of the hymnal. I encourage you to read the epistles of Paul and do a comparison of the number of times Paul encourages people to learn and grow in knowledge (doctrine) versus the number of times he encourages them to grow in their emotional attachment to Jesus. (Does he ever do that? I can’t think of a single case but I am happy to learn and I am sure you will be happy to teach in the comment section below.)
  5. Everyone is a Minister. The Pastor is a player-coach and his vocation is essentially the same as every other Christ. Pastors are unique. Their work is unique. There is not a single New Testament Scripture about the laity teaching (the proper work of the pastor) but there are dozens of Scriptures about pastors being given the vocation of preacher/teacher (not to mention the first two entries in the Small Catechism’s table of duties). This does not mean that we are not to have an educated laity. To the contrary, the preachers are teaching the laity. The laity are to learn (see #4 above). Learning doctrine is crucial for the church to be faithful. It’s just that everyone is not a teacher in the church.

I did not go searching for these principles. They began to strike me in the last twenty years or so once I took off the synodcrat glasses and started reading the Scriptures for what they say and in the manner that they are read by the Confessors.

BTW, speaking of reading the Scriptures as the Confessors did, here is a sixth bonus debunked principle:

  1. Predestination is a harmful, dangerous topic that ought to be avoided. Do a word search on “predestined,” “election,” and the like in your Bible and you will find that it is a prominent and important topic in the Scriptures. Read Luther’s Bondage of the Will and you will begin to see how false and bankrupt the American Evangelical approach is to Scripture, conversion, growing the church and Christian piety in general. Sadly the American Evangelical approach has overrun the minds of many of our pastors. The Scriptural teaching of eternal election properly highlights the monergism of God and leaves our pragmatic approach to life in the church in the lurch. We are not to “do church” in a practical way. We are to do church in a faithful way. We preach his word to those that like it and those that like it not and God sorts out the rest. This does not entirely rule out practicality or growth, but growth and practicality do not order the way we do things in Christ’s church.





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  1. Joey
    December 14th, 2011 at 20:02 | #1

    >> There is not a single New Testament Scripture about the laity teaching (the proper work of the pastor)

    Emphasis on public teaching? Otherwise, what to do with “when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18)

    (Assuming ‘explain more accurately’ == ‘teach’)

  2. Mark Veenman
    December 14th, 2011 at 21:15 | #2

    Re. point 3: church discipline as it is described in Acts 5 is actually a model for church growth. Amazing.

  3. James Sarver
    December 15th, 2011 at 07:15 | #3

    “Predestination is a harmful, dangerous topic that ought to be avoided.”

    How did this idea get so popular with Lutherans? Election is an important doctrine of comfort for Christians as we struggle against the world/flesh/devil and the appearance that they are prevailing. I am so tired of hearing that Election may only be applied in order to refute double predestination. I believe that position does a serious injustice to how the Confessors viewed that doctrine as they applied it to the controversy of their time.

    The idea that Election is too dangerous because some may use it as an excuse for inaction is akin to saying that cars are too dangerous because some people may drive drunk.

  4. #4 Kitty
    December 15th, 2011 at 07:49 | #4

    Actually, where two are three are gathered together, according to Christ’s own word, is not a small group but is an assembly of the congregation with the authority to excommunicate someone.
    ~Excellent!

  5. Rev. Willis McCall
    December 15th, 2011 at 12:36 | #5

    Thank you for such great points! I have also in the past challenged my congregation to find where the Scripture speaks about a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”. This notion too tears apart “the body of Christ” (which is actually mentioned a lot in Scripture!) and feeds the notion that what really matters is just you and Jesus.

  6. JB
    December 15th, 2011 at 15:17 | #6

    Perhaps there could be an article/series/paragraph/etc. on the proper doctrine of evangelism (if such a thing exists). Last Sunday, I heard about how we can be like John in “preparing the way for Jesus,” by sharing Him with those around us. The text was John 1:6-8, 19-28. That just seemed kind of fishy.

  7. helen
    December 15th, 2011 at 15:42 | #7

    Church growth advocates don’t like excommunication because it tends to shrink the church.

    That’s odd. They don’t seem to feel at all bad about telling life-long Lutherans to leave if they don’t care for open communion and “Praise me” (thanks, Mary!) services!

    P.S. If you really look at the numbers, “CG” churches shrink in many places. Often the “CG” Pastor jumps to another ‘growing’ neighborhood, just fast enough so that he can say that “his” congregations ‘grow’.

  8. Carl H
    December 15th, 2011 at 17:55 | #8

    “when the Bible speaks of acts of mercy it overwhelmingly is speaking about love for the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.”

    The parable of the Good Samaritan would seem to be a notable exception.

  9. Matthew Mills
    December 15th, 2011 at 18:18 | #9

    @Carl H #8
    The man who fell among robbers was a pagan seeker?

  10. December 15th, 2011 at 18:26 | #10

    Carl,

    It is an interesting point you make but is not the main point of the parable to check the guys self-righteousness (just as Jesus did with the rich young fool) and not so much to tell us to support mercy acts.

    TR

  11. #4 Kitty
    December 15th, 2011 at 18:33 | #11

    @Carl
    If the intent of the parable was to answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” then I think you’d have a point. But come on… Jews and Samaritans were hardly “brothers and sisters”~ think about it.

  12. LB
    December 15th, 2011 at 21:09 | #12

    Genuine question: what’s wrong with small groups? I was a part of one at an LCMS church we attended 15 years ago, and it was a great thing for all of us. Can’t think of anything that would have been ‘wrong’ about it, but maybe I’m missing something…

  13. Concordia Cryptolutheran
    December 16th, 2011 at 02:22 | #13

    It strikes me that many of these things are not bad in and of themselves (e.g. works of mercy are good things until they become the point). The flaw in CG theologically, ironically enough, is that they major in minors. Taking fragments of truth at best, or adiaphora at worst and taking it so far that it becomes unspeakable heresy that ultimately denies Law, Gospel, the Church, and Christ Himself.

    The overwhelming issue seems to be that the church-growthers fear the Gospel, they fear it because it doesn’t tell them what to do. The sinful man is desperate to take Jesus off the cross and earn Justification for himself, and so the Gospel is made into a pyramid scheme.

  14. #4 Kitty
    December 16th, 2011 at 08:14 | #14

    @LB #12

    Greetings LB,

    There are a number of reasons why small groups are undesirable.
    They not only divide the congregation but also, just as importantly, without a Pastor’s immediate supervision, encourage heretical views and eventually lead to false doctrine. Laymen are just not qualified to read scripture and divine it’s meaning without the training and discernment of a Pastor. On the other hand, the Divine Service has “all of God’s plenty”; teaching, preaching, sacraments, confession & absolution, etc,.

  15. Rik
    December 16th, 2011 at 11:28 | #15

    Tim,

    I agree with nearly everything you posted, and thank you for saying it. You have pointed out many of the problems in today’s Lutheran church, that far too few have taken notice of.
    But I wonder if you might have slightly overstated your case in #1. I would also see, and tire of, the over-emphasis on personal evangelism, at the expense of all else, as though we were completely responsible for whether or not another soul is won for the kingdom. But to say that there is not a single Scripture passage that exhorts us to tell others what we have heard and seen seems to me to go a little too far. Just one that comes to the top of my head is Peter: “Always be prepared to give an answer.” Of course, this is not talking about randomly knocking on doors or turning into a street corner preacher, but if we give an answer to someone who asks us about the hope we have, isn’t that personal evangelism? It is certainly faithfulness, and I agree that should be the emphasis; but isn’t it also encouraging personal evangelism by all Christians?

  16. Nathan
    December 16th, 2011 at 11:50 | #16

    “1. The tiresome and unending over-emphasis on personal evangelism. There is not even one single Scripture in the New Testament that mandates or even exhorts one to personal, lay evangelism. (If you can find one, please share it with us in the comment section below.) Another way of saying this is to reject the false assertion that the main thing the church is to do is to grow. No, the main thing the church is to do is to be steadfast and faithful (Colossians 1:23).”

    Pastor Rossow,

    What do you think of these passages as regards laypersons as an essential and active part of the Church’s missionary enterprises?:

    John 4:39 and 14:12 ; Philemon 6 ; I Peter 3:15,16 ; Philippians 2:13-16 ; Acts 4:20

    Seems like personal evangelism to me. How are you defining it?

  17. Eric Ramer
    December 16th, 2011 at 14:05 | #17

    @Nathan #16

    I don’t see any admonition in the verses quoted above for laity to ACTIVELY seek out and try to convert the unsaved as part and parcel of their daily christain vocation. Rather, (capital E) Evangeliam is a biblical vocation unto itself that not every chistian is called to. Most of us are simply called to be prepared and passively await the opportunity to share our confession as it suits the Holy spirit to provide it, within the course of our daily vocations and not necessarily to actively seek out the unbelieving with the intent of “saving” them. I think that’s the Point Pastor Rossow is trying to make – Not everyone is called to be a minister or an evangelist or a teacher or a preacher, etc.

    Eric Ramer

  18. Nathan
    December 16th, 2011 at 14:56 | #18

    Eric,

    I think you raise some good points. If that is what Pastor Rossow intended to say, perhaps he could update the post. As the post stands, I think it is very likely to be misunderstood by many persons who might otherwise be sympathetic to his views.

    In general, I agree with what you say about being called to be prepared and “passively await the opportunity”. Of course, as we grow in our faith, those opportunities will seem to come up more often. Also, for those who want to “get more active” (think of the woman in John 4:39), they should *never* be discouraged from doing so (even if they are advised about *how* to do this).

    In short, much exhorting to personal evangelism is poorly done, and focuses far too much on activity/ism. But again, this does not mean that we should not encourage those who get excited about being more active.

    +Nathan

  19. Niemand Wichtig
    December 16th, 2011 at 15:51 | #19

    Principle not principal. Normally, I wouldn’t be particular about a typo, but you made this error twice. Otherwise, I really like your observations. I think a case could be made for “personal evangelism” within one’s vocation.

  20. Joey
    December 16th, 2011 at 20:04 | #20

    #4 Kitty :
    @LB #12
    Greetings LB,
    … Laymen are just not qualified to read scripture and divine its meaning without the training and discernment of a Pastor. …

    Now, I think that’s a bit meowtrageous, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”

  21. sue wilson
    December 17th, 2011 at 15:28 | #21

    @ Carl H
    Don’t let them rebuke you. You are correct. Jesus asked the Jews which was the good neighbor, the passing Jews, or the hated Samaritan? His point being that it was the responsibility of believers to put aside their prejudices and help and care for even those who do not share their doctrine; even those who are hated according to doctrine. The Samaritan had done what God expected, while the believers in God had not.
    Your comment was right on!!!

  22. sue wilson
    December 17th, 2011 at 15:44 | #22

    @ Rev Willis McCall
    Personal relationship with Jesus not valid? If you are thinking that our only relationship originates because of God’s relationship with the church, don’t forget that the church is people, not buildings and organizations and synods.
    Also, if we are not to have a personal relationship with Christ, then why did Christ call his disciples “friends” and “brothers”? Why did He weep over Jerusalem? Why did he tell individuals “follow me”? Why would God let us know that he knew us in the womb; that he cares for the needs of each of us; that the hairs on each of our heads are numbered? Why isn’t the woman wiping Jesus feet in tears reprimanded with “Woman, I’m God–I don’t want a personal friendship with you!” Why does Paul say that the most precious thing in his life is his relationship with Jesus? Jesus speaks of his individual children much more than he does concerning the development of the brick and mortar church and its synods and denominations. Why are we described as “heirs” if we are not God’s adopted sons and daughters who are precious to hm? In the Old Testament, God describes his people as a bride–is there a more personal relationship than that? The concept of corporate relationship rather than personal relationship may be big in the Confessions, but holds few examples in Christ’s teachings and life.

  23. #4 Kitty
    December 17th, 2011 at 17:31 | #23

    @Joey #20
    Nice try Joey but in this verse Jesus is clearly referring only to Pastors.

  24. Matt B
    December 17th, 2011 at 18:29 | #24

    @#4 Kitty #23
    How is it clearly referring only to pastors? If anybody sees it a different way then it’s not really possible to consider it to be “clear” at all.

    Anybody is qualified to read Scripture. Acts 8:26-35 certainly comes to mind. I think you are correct in asserting that the guidance of a pastor is a good thing but it isn’t necessary. Think about it: if a pastor is somebody who was issued and accepted a divine call to a parish then how can we consider seminary professors who are ordained (but do not serve a parish and are thus only reverends) to be acceptable teachers of seminary students who then teach lay people? I have heard terrible things from pastors and wonderful things from laypersons.

  25. helen
    December 17th, 2011 at 22:24 | #25

    @Joey #20
    #4 Kitty :
    @LB #12
    Greetings LB,
    … Laymen are just not qualified to read scripture and divine its meaning without the training and discernment of a Pastor. … Kitty

    Now, I think that’s a bit meowtrageous, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” –Joey, commenting and quoting Christ

    Joey, Kitty is here (and other places) to be “meowtrageous”… even “catty” sometimes.

    Kitty, in that verse, Jesus was referring to Himself. But afterward, He delegated/sent “apostled” a dozen men who had walked with Him (you might say, gone to seminary with Him as teacher) to teach others and to arrange for men to guide congregations which developed as they went. And so today, we are wise if we choose trained and ordained men to lead us in worship and Bible classes.
    [But like the Bereans, we should study Scripture to be sure the preacher is sticking to it himself. We are warned of false teachers all the way back to Jesus' time. It shouldn't surprise us that we have some now!]

    Matt B’s reference is about Phillip who was appointed a Deacon in the apostolic church and some commentators credit those Deacons with being in training for the ministry.
    (If he was told to go teach, he must have been qualified. But note that he was not told to go take over a congregation.)

  26. Rev. Willis McCall
    December 18th, 2011 at 07:52 | #26

    @Sue. Yes, but I would ask what sort of personal relationship are these people talking about in the Bible? I perhaps should have clarified. The biblical relationships you point out are great. But they rightly focus on the person being a poor, miserable, worthless sinner giving thanks for the Savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for them that they might have life. In other words, there is no “personal relationship” outside of Christ coming to you and redeeming you. Those people in Scripture are never encouraged to continue to have a one on one relationship apart from the corporate church. The “personal relationship” emphasis that is so much in CG is more a touchy feely, personal piety, self-interpretation of Scripture thing. It trumps corporate worship, it trumps (often times) correct Scriptural interpretation, doctrine, it trumps what your pastor says, etc. I don’t know how many people have said to me “Oh, I don’t go to church, but I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I pray and read my Bible at home.” That statement is ridiculous. How can you have a personal relationship with God and yet cut yourself off from the body of Christ and His Word and Sacraments? Also, Scripture does not say, “Where one is gathered in my name in great personal piety, there I am also.” Out of this “personal relationship” idea in CG then comes the idea that everyone is a theologian or pastor. Whatever the Bible means to you is all that is important. Whatever you feel or think or come to “know” through your personal relationship with Christ is correct. This is really just post-modernism masquerading as Christianity. So yes, we do have a personal relationship with Christ, but He defines it and it is never something that can be had apart from the corporate body of Christ.

  27. Rev. Willis McCall
    December 18th, 2011 at 08:12 | #27

    Also, I would say we should not confuse Christ caring about us individually as some sort of call to try to find a personal relationship with Him apart from the church. Why are we heirs? Because of Christ and His death and the fact His righteousness was exchange for our sinfulness through the waters of baptism. I never argue that church is a building or synod. The church is where God’s people are gathered and the Word is rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. But church is never defined as one individual and their relationship with Christ. All this personal relationship talk is completely foreign to Scripture. Corporate fellowship not in the Bible? How then is it that Christ continues to come to His people bringing life and forgiveness? Does Christ say, “Continue to seek me through your own personal journey or encounters with me in your life?” No. He established His Church. A rightly called pastor in the stead of Christ administers the sacraments and pronounces forgiveness for God’s people. Why would the Bible continue to advocate the corporate church or establish a pastoral office if all we needed was just a “me and Jesus” personal relationship? Why wouldn’t Paul, in rebuking the Corinthian church, tell them to just go home and celebrate communion individually and focus on their personal relationship with Christ? Because the corporate church is where Christ comes to His people through Word and Sacrament, the church is Christ’s bride, not me. Otherwise, why even have church or pastors or any of it if all I need is a personal relationship with Christ? Church then would just becomes a country club with all sorts of fun activities that keep me entertained and make me feel good about myself. Oh wait, that’s exactly what CG churches do!!

  28. sue wilson
    December 19th, 2011 at 12:13 | #28

    @Rev W M

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I appreciate it.
    I think that Jesus does seek a personal relationship with each of us. Having said that, I do see your point concerning the “lone cowboy” syndrome. All of our personal opinions concerning our faith must be confirmed in Scripture; if they do not conform with God’s Word, then it’s time to back up and reconsider and obey God’s word rather than our feelings.

    Personal relationship and corporate church go together. They don’t cancel one another out. It isn’t anti-church, for instance, to sing hymns or songs that speak of “my” God, or the fact that “I” love and adore my God. The church is made up of individuals who love Christ; individuals who choose to worship Christ together; to learn together; to pray together. That corporate gathering does not negate a personal relationship with Christ.

    I am surprised that you would say that, “All this personal relationship talk is completely foriegn to Scripture.” I cannot read the Gospels without finding Christ’s desire for personal relationships over and over.

    Yes, “the corporate church is where Christ comes to His people through Word and Sacrament…” However, Christ is not locked in the sacristy Monday through Saturday. He is alive, concerned, and speaking with each of our hearts all week.

    I’m sure that you would call my church a “CG church”, however it isn’t anything like you decribe CG churches to be. I hope that you will visit more growing churches in the LCMS and see that Lutheranism does not have to be boxed into a “one size fits all” style of worship in order to be faithful. Again, thanks for your comments and your ear.

  29. Johannes
    December 19th, 2011 at 16:37 | #29

    Concordia Cryptolutheran :
    It strikes me that many of these things are not bad in and of themselves (e.g. works of mercy are good things until they become the point). The flaw in CG theologically, ironically enough, is that they major in minors. Taking fragments of truth at best, or adiaphora at worst and taking it so far that it becomes unspeakable heresy that ultimately denies Law, Gospel, the Church, and Christ Himself.
    The overwhelming issue seems to be that the church-growthers fear the Gospel, they fear it because it doesn’t tell them what to do. The sinful man is desperate to take Jesus off the cross and earn Justification for himself, and so the Gospel is made into a pyramid scheme.

    Wow! You nailed it, in just a couple of short paragraphs. Good job–should be required reading.

    Johannes

  30. Johannes
    December 19th, 2011 at 16:44 | #30

    @sue wilson #21
    “His [Jesus'] point being that it was the responsibility of believers to put aside their prejudices and help and care for even those who do not share their doctrine; even those who are hated according to doctrine.”

    I think you’ve over-complicated the issue. Doctrinal issues are beside the point.

    Jesus’ point was that everyone is our neighbor. Period. The 10 commandments makes that perfectly clear.

    Joe

  31. December 19th, 2011 at 20:25 | #31

    @Johannes #30

    Maybe Jesus was dealing with the error in the question. The question put to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor.” Correct question, “To whom could I be a neighbor.” The first question seeks to limit the scope of the commandments and excuse a lack of loving action. The second does the opposite.

  32. Johannes
    December 19th, 2011 at 21:27 | #32

    @T. R. Halvorson #31

    Yes, that one should “be” a neighbor is often the interpretation of this parable–a case might be made for that. But like Sue above, that complicated things. The neighbor relationship is not changed–everyone is my neighbor. The error was not in the wording of the question, but that it was asked at all. It should not have been uttered. That Jesus chose to answer at all is a demonstration of his graciousness.

    Johannes

  33. sue wilson
    December 20th, 2011 at 10:37 | #33

    @johannes.
    I think that the Scripture involved here indicates that I’m not overcomplicating the issue. The man questioning Jesus summarized his view of the Law as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied that he was correct. When the man asked “And who is my neighbor?”, Jesus replied with the story of the good Samaritan. After the story of great caring for the man robbed and left for dead, Jesus said, “Which of these three do you think was a neightbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robber?” The correct reply from the questioner was “The one who had mercy on him.”

    I think that it is not an extrapolation of the incident to say that Jesus wants us to care for all people.

    You are correct in pointing out that doctrine should not enter the issue, and the difference in doctrine was used by Jesus to emphasize His point to a Jew. There are times today, though, that His emphasis is still needed.

  34. Rev. Willis McCall
    December 20th, 2011 at 10:46 | #34

    @Sue. I would simply challenge you to point out where Scripture stresses or mentions the concept of a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying corporate church cancels anything out. In the creeds we confess, “I believe”. I agree that the relationship is personal (we have to be careful how we define that though) but, as I think you are also saying, not to the exclusion of the corporate body of Christ. This is where I think CG strays. The hyper stress among CG to develop a personal relationship with Christ (whatever that means) becomes more important than the body of Christ or even correct Scriptural teaching. It also tends to read into things where it shouldn’t. For instance the woman weeping over Jesus feet that you mention, no where does Jesus tell her to go/stay/remain and find a personal relationship with me. Paul does not tell people to go and find a personal relationship with Jesus. He stresses finding that relationship and its meaning in the church, where, through Word and Sacrament Christ IS to be found. You are a part of something. It’s not just “you and Jesus”. Yet this is often the excuse I hear from CG folks. If we are talking about something in Scripture that we may disagree on they’ll say something to the effect of “Oh well that’s just where I’m at in my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” or “Yeah but that belief helps me in my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” That “personal relationship” trumps, as I’ve said, doctrine, Scripture, the pastor, other church members, you name it. There is no Scripture that talks about seeking a personal relationship with Christ apart from the sinner/Savior one. The CG idea that somehow Jesus wants to be your friend and/or have a relationship with just you apart from the body of Christ is not Scriptural. So as long as this “personal relationship is a saint/savior one and that it does not trump the body of Christ, or Scripture, or the creeds, then fine. That’s not what CG folks mean when they say “personal relationship” though.

    “I cannot read the Gospels without finding Christ’s desire for personal relationships over and over.”

    I’m not sure what that statement means? Is Jesus searching for friends? Is he searching for brothers? No. Christ is searching for sinners so that he might have mercy on them. That’s the relationship. Not an “I am a friend of God” type thing.

    “However, Christ is not locked in the sacristy Monday through Saturday. He is alive, concerned, and speaking with each of our hearts all week.”

    I would be cautious about making this statement. It sounds very much like the Reformed idea of the Holy Spirit operating apart from the means of grace. How exactly is Christ speaking with our hearts? Christ has bound us to the means of grace, where he says He will be. That’s Word and Sacrament. So yes, we can read God’s Word at home and we should. Then we come together as the body of Christ, led by Christ’s servant (a pastor), to hear and receive and make sure what we came up with on our own is actually correct. And we are confident that what we hear and receive is because Christ has established the pastoral office just for that reason. “Feeling” Jesus, seeking answers to prayer in “signs”, discerning God’s will in our lives apart from what is revealed in Scripture, etc. are all non-Scriptural concepts and not where Scripture points us to at all.
    I have been to many LCMS churches. It was required of us at Seminary. I would just say that worship shapes theology and theology shapes worship. So can you worship in a style that stresses emotions and feeling Christ’s presence and still be Lutheran? I would say that’s pretty difficult being as how those two concepts are theologically incompatible. Read “The Fire and the Staff” by Klemet Preus if you would like some good insight into that. God’s Blessings.

  35. Johannes
    December 20th, 2011 at 15:07 | #35

    @sue wilson #33

    Hi Sue–

    I did not mean to sound critical–my apologies. Thanks for your reply.

    The man wished to test Jesus, and so, the question. Did he sincerely want to know the answer? We’ll never know this side of heaven. However, even a cursory reading of the OT makes God’s (ergo, Jesus’) desires clear–that everyone is our neighbor and we are to regard and treat them as such. If we grant that the man’s question was sincere (even tho he was at the same time testing Jesus), then Jesus could well have answered as Abraham did to the rich man: “You have Moses and the Prophets–you’ll find the answer there.” However, patiently and graciously, Jesus answered the question in His usual way–with a question (preceded in this case by a parable): “Which of these men do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?”
    Caring for all people is integral to our Christian vocation. And, as you correctly point out, we, too, want to ask the question–”who is my neighbor?” We don’t really have to ask, though, do we? But we do ask, and Jesus, Moses, and the prophets answer us: “Everyone.”

    Johannes

  36. A Beggar
    December 23rd, 2011 at 19:32 | #36

    @Johannes #30
    Isn’t the “Good Samaritan” Jesus? – Jesus caring for the dying man (“me”). I live because of His intervention – not because of anyone happening to be going by – be he/she “friend” or “enemy”. I do not (cannot) seek a neighborly “personal relationship” with God. HE seeks and makes one with/for me – just as HE works faith in all.

  37. Connie Larson
    December 26th, 2011 at 19:48 | #37

    Our pastor reminds us that the important thing
    is this: Is A Church Healthy? Do the members
    gather faithfully around Word and Sacrament
    to strengthen their faith in Christ? Do the
    members have a strong devotional life on a
    daily basis in the Word and in Prayer? Do
    they share their time and resources to show
    love for Christ, His church, and their fellow-
    man? If a majority of parish members are
    doing these things then that church is
    healthy.

  38. December 26th, 2011 at 21:25 | #38

    Connie,

    Stick with that pastor. You gotta good one!

    TR

  39. Rev. Michael Trask
    December 29th, 2011 at 12:44 | #39

    Love all your points Pastor Rossow

    To me, point 4 is THE Issue of our age and the reason for so much decay. It’s all about feelings

    We don’t know how to love because we think love is a FEELING. We don’t know how to elect a president because we are more interested in how each candidate makes us FEEL. And we are quickly losing the ability to believe because we think that faith is a FEELING.

    CoWo is a creature of this feelings is everything understanding of life. Of course they don’t want doctrine! Doctrine engages not the feelings but cognition. Cognition is seen to disturb the euphoric/ ecstatic feeling which is supposedly faith.

    But true faith is meant to engage the entire person….. not just the emotional aspects of said person, but mind, body, spirit, and yes emotions too. I’m thinking that’s why CoWo eventually wears thin….they don’t give folks the doctrine that is needed to cope with life when they encounter less than euphoric events.

  40. December 29th, 2011 at 14:18 | #40

    Pastor Trask, how does all this make you feel?

  41. Rev. Michael Trask
    December 30th, 2011 at 11:54 | #41
  42. Charles
    October 8th, 2012 at 12:16 | #42

    @Eric Ramer #17
    I am a disciple of Jesus. What my Master does, I want to do. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. So that is what I am going to do. Think about it. If Matthew 28:18-20 was and is practiced faithfully, then the making of disciples will be everyone’s duty. Jesus doesn’t just say go make disciples to His Twelve, but then tells them to teach those new disciples to obey everything He had taught them, the Twelve. This would include how to make disciples and how to teach them to teach others to do the same. Jesus started a never ending cycle if we practice it faithfully, and this destroys the idea of clergy and laity. All Christians are ministers of the gospel of reconciliation.

  43. Mark
    January 20th, 2014 at 21:06 | #43

    “Church growth advocates don’t like excommunication because it tends to shrink the church.” Aha. But in Acts 5 it led to church growth!

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