Reforming The Local Congregation

May 9th, 2013 Post by

1387263_steeple_jpgIt has been said before that the church is in need of a continuous reformation. In other words, this call for reformation is a plea for the church to daily reclaim her fundamental roots. The reason why the church is in need of constant reformation is that we as sinners are prone to wander; we are prone to leave the God that we love.

Due to the tactics of the old Adam, there is a tendency for churches to drift away from a Christ-centered and Christ-crucified Gospel to an ‘ism.’ Generally speaking, the church will drift into one of the following isms and/or categories: mysticism, legalism, licentiousness, pragmatism, rationalism, and prosperity theology. At the center of all of these categories and isms is none other than, self.

Left to ourselves, without the Extra Nos Word, we are like a drug addict looking for his next fix—we will abandon everything rational, true, and meaningful for the fix. Gerhard Forde once said, “As sinners we are like addicts—addicted to ourselves and our own projects. ”[1] This drift away from God’s Word back to ourselves has been consistently repeated over the centuries. Michael Horton says, “In every generation, our natural tendency is to put the focus back on ourselves—our inner life, piety, community and actions… ”[2] Thus,

“Every Dark Age in church history was due to the creeping influence of the human-centered gospel of ‘pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.’ Whenever God is seen as the sole author and finisher of salvation, there is health and vitality. To the degree that human beings are seen as agents of their own salvation, the church loses its power, since the Gospel is ‘the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.’”[3]

Due to the drifting nature of the church, this paper is intended to explore the idea of reforming the local church, bringing her back to her roots of justification by grace through faith. While this paper is written from my Lutheran presuppositions, I will attempt to avoid excessive theological labels so that it can be applicable in a plethora of church contexts.

In part 1, we will be examining the idea of whether or not a church should actually attempt a reform. To reform or not to reform, that is the question of part 1. In part 2, we will be spending some time thinking through what actually is going on behind the scenes when a new/renewed epistemological source is introduced into a church in need of reform. Finally in part 3, we will reflect on parts 1 and 2 from a pastoral perspective. In other words, part 1 examines whether or not it is feasible to attempt a reform in a church, part 2 examines what happens when one reforms a church, and part 3 reflects on how to pastor a church going through reformation.

To read the full paper, CLICK HERE.

—————-
[1] Gerhard Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross (Eerdmans, 1997), 94.

[2] Horton, 122.

[3] Michael Horton, Pelagianism, http://pastormattrichard.webs.com/Pelagianism.pdf (accessed January 28, 2013).






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  1. Carl Vehse
    May 9th, 2013 at 11:10 | #1

    From p. 5: “Is it ethically right to attempt to reform a church to a different confession than the one printed in its public and official statement of faith? It certainly is not. Ken Jones speaking to reformed pastors says,

    “Pastors, know your context. There is a huge difference between reforming an existing church that stands within the Reformed tradition but has drifted from its standards, and bringing Reformational theology into a new context where it has never been intentionally or formally held.”

    First, there are 95 disagreements to this claim in a document nailed to a church door in Wittenberg! Second, the use of “Reformational theology” by Kenneth Jones, a 30-year Baptist minister, is not the Lutheran understanding of Reformation theology. Third, the “ethically right” question is phrased as a question of human relativism, rather than as a question of God-given absolutes. Fourth, it is always ethically right for a Christian, lay or pastor, to work on correcting false teaching within a church (e.g., the writers of the Lutheran Confessions).

    The notion of ethical relativism is brought up again on p. 6:

    “However, when is it right to work towards a reformation in a local church? It is ethically correct and morally just to work for a reformation when a pastor is attempting to return a church back to its statement of faith and back to its historical roots. For example, it is just and right for a Lutheran pastor to attempt to bring about reform in a once confessional Lutheran church that has strayed into prosperity theology.”

    This statement represents an example of confusing the difference between what constitutes the true visible church with a statement of faith or historical roots, and what constitutes any other visible church with a statement of faith or historical roots.

    “The second thing to consider in reformation is who primarily brings about reform in the church? Again, Ken Jones is most helpful on this subject speaking to Reformed Pastors and Elders,”

    “If the pastor and elders are not convinced that Reformational theology is the proper theological framework, not much progress will be made. Any effort on the part of the laity (no matter how noble the intention) to teach contrary to the doctrine of the pastor and elders is disruptive to church order.”

    Baptist minister Ken Jones is not helpful at all! “Elder” in the Baptist church does not mean the same thing as “elder” in the Lutheran church, particularly a Missouri Synod church. Rev. Jones’ theology, terminology, and approach to reforming a local church is not Lutheran, and more specifically, not Lutheran in the Missouri Synod’s confessional understanding of the doctrine of church and ministry, e.g., Kirche und Amt, Thesis X on the Ministry.

    Rev. Richard concludes (p. 27), “the pastor is not to introduce any new knowledge to the congregation, but knowledge that is printed in the Word, historically adopted by the church, and presented in the official statement of faith.”

    The first part of this conclusion (“knowledge that is printed in God’s Word”) is a correct directive for all Christian pastors, the second part (“historically adopted by the church, and presented in the official statement of faith”) can only correctly apply to a Lutheran church.

  2. Robert
    May 9th, 2013 at 12:31 | #2

    Forde, Horton, and Jones. Not the best.

  3. helen
    May 9th, 2013 at 19:49 | #3

    @Robert #2

    If this is what some of you invested $5000 in, I could wish he was going to Fort Wayne this summer. Hope you are not here to join the “transformers”, Rev. Richard!

  4. May 9th, 2013 at 20:27 | #4

    @Carl Vehse #1

    Carl,

    Thank you for your feedback and post my friend. One thing to keep in mind is that due to media venues such as Steadfast Lutherans, as well as other confessional Lutheran podcasts, Confessional Lutheran Youtube Videos, and Confessional Lutheran Internet Radio, the broadcasting of our rich theology has and is penetrating into the spheres of many different denominations/movements. Thus, many individuals are journeying into Lutheran thought while in the midst of churches with opposing confessions to ours. This then brings about a profoundly difficult situation for these individuals; do they leave their church for a Confessional Lutheran Church or do the stay, confess, and hope for reform? Since this is the case, these individuals truly need to ask difficult questions such as: what is the church’s theological heritage, what is the church’s official statement of faith, through whom does reform primarily come about, do they have the calling and means to proclaim these new truths, etc… For example, whether the local church has drifted from its Confessional Lutheran roots or if it never had Confessional Lutheran roots to begin with are very important things to consider and need to be taken account of.

    @helen #3

    Helen,

    I am afraid that I don’t quite understand what you are saying. Could you be so gracious to clarify? Transformers? Transform into what?

    As far as Fort Wayne though? I am very blessed to be able to go to Fort Wayne for a class this July as a part of my schooling. As an outsider coming in, I have been thoroughly blessed by your academic institutions both in St. Louis and Fort Wayne. I have also been extremely grateful and blessed by the overwhelming support that I have received from people who read BJS, people such as yourself.

    Grace and Peace

  5. Brady Finnern
    May 10th, 2013 at 01:50 | #5

    Outstanding article. It is a great reminder and a thorough overview of the struggle of preaching the Scriptures faithfully, while the worldviews of our congregation may differ. On top of it, we as pastors might assume some our traditions are the center of our ministry while they do not point people to the truth of God’s Word. Thanks Pastor and welcome to the LCMS.

  6. May 10th, 2013 at 07:29 | #6

    Unfortunately, I cannot access the entire article as this point in time. But Ken Jones, insofar as that he is concurrent with Biblical Christianity, should be heeded.

  7. Carl Vehse
    May 10th, 2013 at 08:26 | #7

    @J. Dean #6: “But Ken Jones, insofar as that he is concurrent with Biblical Christianity, should be heeded.”

    Thesis IX, on the Ministry (Kirche und Amt): “The office of the ministry is entitled to respect and unconditional obedience when the preacher is proclaiming the Word of God, but he does not possess lordship in the church and therefore has no right to make new laws, arbitrarily to introduce ceremonies and matters of indifference in the church, or impose and carry out excommunication by himself without the previous knowledge of the entire congregation.”

  8. May 10th, 2013 at 10:59 | #8

    Carl Vehse :@J. Dean #6: “But Ken Jones, insofar as that he is concurrent with Biblical Christianity, should be heeded.”
    Thesis IX, on the Ministry (Kirche und Amt): “The office of the ministry is entitled to respect and unconditional obedience when the preacher is proclaiming the Word of God, but he does not possess lordship in the church and therefore has no right to make new laws, arbitrarily to introduce ceremonies and matters of indifference in the church, or impose and carry out excommunication by himself without the previous knowledge of the entire congregation.”

    You make me feel smarter than I actually am, Carl :D And I mean that in a complimentary way.

  9. David Hartung
    May 11th, 2013 at 10:19 | #9

    Carl Vehse :
    @J. Dean #6: “But Ken Jones, insofar as that he is concurrent with Biblical Christianity, should be heeded.”
    Thesis IX, on the Ministry (Kirche und Amt): “The office of the ministry is entitled to respect and unconditional obedience when the preacher is proclaiming the Word of God, but he does not possess lordship in the church and therefore has no right to make new laws, arbitrarily to introduce ceremonies and matters of indifference in the church, or impose and carry out excommunication by himself without the previous knowledge of the entire congregation.”

    So when a new pastor is called, and he takes positions which are fundamentally different from the previous pastor, who is the congregation supposed to “obey”?

  10. Carl Vehse
    May 11th, 2013 at 14:24 | #10

    @David Hartung #9: So when a new pastor is called, and he takes positions which are fundamentally different from the previous pastor, who is the congregation supposed to “obey”?

    The pastor whose proclamation is in no way fundamentally different from the Word of God.

  11. David Hartung
    May 11th, 2013 at 18:19 | #11

    Carl Vehse :
    @David Hartung #9: So when a new pastor is called, and he takes positions which are fundamentally different from the previous pastor, who is the congregation supposed to “obey”?
    The pastor whose proclamation is in no way fundamentally different from the Word of God.

    I see. In this forum there seem to be differences on what the Word of God says in certain instances. If the pastor is teaching something a member sees as being opposed to God’s word, what should be done?

  12. Carl Vehse
    May 11th, 2013 at 18:51 | #12

    @David Hartung #11: In this forum there seem to be differences on what the Word of God says in certain instances.

    What specific differences? What certain instances?

    If the pastor is teaching something a member sees as being opposed to God’s word, what should be done?

    Find out whether the teaching is actually opposed to God’s word or not.

  13. David Hartung
    May 11th, 2013 at 20:14 | #13

    @Carl Vehse #12

    Not a bad answer.

    Here is the bottom line, and this is a reference to another thread about CRM. One thing I think I see happening is that a young pastor will get to his first call and see a “need” for “reform”. This may be a very real need, or it may just be a difference in perception on how to do things. If the young pastor is not careful, his zeal will cross the line and become uncaring zealotry, and he will destroy whatever relationship he has with his church. Once that relationship is destroyed, the only way to heal the rift may be for the pastor to take a call, or even to step down. One of the failings of the young(and often old geezer like me) is that they often do recognize when such things need to happen. When the pastor doesn’t recognize the problem, the district leadership gets involved, the pastor is “forced” to resign and go on CRM status.

    Everything the man did was with the best of intentions, but he missed some crucial signals. This is how otherwise good men wind up on candidate status. What makes this so ironic is that another man may come in behind him, and be able to enact the reform which was needed.

    I do not know how often such things happen, but based upon observation, I know that it does happen. Congregations can and do get off track, reform is often needed. What is important is that such reform be done lovingly and carefully.

  14. helen
    May 11th, 2013 at 20:55 | #14

    @David Hartung #13

    Did you know that the Fort is so insistent on “moving slowly and patiently” that new grads will live with almost any aberration, rather than attempt to correct it “too soon”, these days?

    Interesting hypothesis. How would you “explain” the forced resignation of a Pastor who had been, as far as he knew, serving in a satisfactory and faithful manner for 5, 10, or 20 years? And yes, all of them happened. All in the same year, oddly (or maybe not so oddly).

  15. helen
    May 11th, 2013 at 20:59 | #15

    @Pastor Matt Richard #4

    Re my comment at #3
    Transforming Lutheran churches in to something not Lutheran,
    usually with a business model involved.
    If you don’t know, all the better for us all, and I withdraw the comment.

  16. May 11th, 2013 at 21:30 | #16

    @helen #15

    Too funny! Let me reassure you Helen that you don’t have to fear me wanting to implement business models in the LCMS. (http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=28300) That should be the least of your concerns with me. Grace and peace to you my friend and have a blessed Sabbath tomorrow.

  17. May 11th, 2013 at 22:08 | #17

    @David Hartung #11
    @Carl Vehse #12

    Just for fun, let me add a couple more realistic dimensions to your original question by presenting several scenarios.

    Scenario #1:
    “If the pastor is teaching something a member sees as being opposed to God’s Word and the church’s statement of faith, what should be done by the member after the member confirms that the pastor is in error, confronts the pastor, and the pastor does not repent?”

    Scenario #2
    Let me add another dimension to this. “If the pastor is teaching something a member sees as being opposed to God’s Word and the church’s statement of faith; and the member confronts the pastor; and the pastor does not repent; and the pastor is supported by the majority of the church and the District/Regional ethos, what should be done by the member?”

    Scenario #3
    Let me add one more dimension to this. “If the pastor is teaching something a member sees as being opposed to God’s Word and the church’s statement of faith; and the member confronts the pastor; and the pastor does not repent; and the pastor is supported by the majority of the church and the District/Regional ethos; and their is another faithful Lutheran congregation nearby, what should be done by the member?”

    Scenario #4
    Here is another scenario that is very common, but not necessarily in the LCMS, “If the pastor is teaching something a member sees as being truly opposed to God’s Word, but the pastor is in harmony with the church’s official statement of faith, what should be done by the member?”

    I would love to hear your thoughts!

  18. Abby
    May 12th, 2013 at 05:37 | #18

    #1 “…pastor is teaching” What is the pastor teaching?

    #2 “…sees as being opposed” Is only one member seeing this? The Word is a very large book!

    #3 “…opposed to God’s Word and the church’s statement of faith” Since the Pastor is not repenting, he disagrees that he is in conflict with both of these. And evidently, so does the District and the congregation.

    In these cases the member confronted the Pastor. If the member is right and the Pastor is wrong, the member has done his job — the member should move. Or, if the member is wrong, the member should move.

    Scenario 4: Member should move.

    In all cases, the member has done what his conscience dictated he should do. He acted appropriately by going to the Pastor.

    (Is there any chance it could be proved from God’s Word that the member is wrong that the teaching is in error? Could the Pastor sit down with member and do a study together?)

    I would still like to hear what the “teaching” was.

    —Only my opinion.

  19. May 13th, 2013 at 00:04 | #19

    Thanks for the helpful article. If I were a pastor, I suspect the two most difficult parts of the reform would be epistemological defense and patience. You’ve been in the trenches on both, so keep sharing what you’ve learned by both experience and study.

  20. David Hartung
    May 13th, 2013 at 09:04 | #20

    @helen #14

    Miss Helen, I cannot explain all situations, I merely presented one possibility.

  21. David Hartung
    May 13th, 2013 at 09:28 | #21

    Pastor Matt Richard :
    @David Hartung #11
    @Carl Vehse #12
    Just for fun, let me add a couple more realistic dimensions to your original question by presenting several scenarios.
    Scenario #1:
    “If the pastor is teaching something a member sees as being opposed to God’s Word and the church’s statement of faith, what should be done by the member after the member confirms that the pastor is in error, confronts the pastor, and the pastor does not repent?”

    The next step here would depend on circumstances, but if they have not already been brought into the picture, it seems to me that the Elders should be brought into the picture.

    Scenario #2
    Let me add another dimension to this. “If the pastor is teaching something a member sees as being opposed to God’s Word and the church’s statement of faith; and the member confronts the pastor; and the pastor does not repent; and the pastor is supported by the majority of the church and the District/Regional ethos, what should be done by the member?”

    In all these scenarios, the first step for the member is to go to God’s word, and determine exactly what the biblical position is, and to work with other people in the congregation to resolve the issue. If the member is unable to satisfactorily resolve the difference, the only thing left to do here is for the member to move to another congregation. If the member so desires, he can bring the Synod leadership into the picture, but these days(fr better or worse) it seems that our national leadership is reluctant to take on an entire district.

    Scenario #3
    Let me add one more dimension to this. “If the pastor is teaching something a member sees as being opposed to God’s Word and the church’s statement of faith; and the member confronts the pastor; and the pastor does not repent; and the pastor is supported by the majority of the church and the District/Regional ethos; and their is another faithful Lutheran congregation nearby, what should be done by the member?”

    In this situation, “voting with your feet” seems a viable option.

    Scenario #4
    Here is another scenario that is very common, but not necessarily in the LCMS, “If the pastor is teaching something a member sees as being truly opposed to God’s Word, but the pastor is in harmony with the church’s official statement of faith, what should be done by the member?”

    Here it seems that it is time to get into God’s word, find out which position is the Biblical one, and base further actions on that study.

    I would love to hear your thoughts!

    Thank you for some interesting scenarios.

  22. helen
    May 13th, 2013 at 13:12 | #22

    @David Hartung #20
    Miss Helen, I cannot explain all situations, I merely presented one possibility.

    I am suggesting that it’s not the majority possibility in the last decade of LCMess, although that has been your argument! But men who should really know better have also dismissed a victimized Pastor by saying, “He must have done something wrong.”

    Most of us have “done something wrong” but not “career ending under Lutheran rules” wrong. That’s why the rules were established. Why they are not being followed is the question: clearly others than the dismissed Pastors are “doing something wrong.”

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