A False Dichotomy:  Going To versus Being Church

June 12th, 2013 Post by

Here’s a graphic that goes around in various versions online that expresses a way of thinking evidently at work among us:

theEmergingChuch

 

Now both terms “consumer” and “missional” are new terms coined for the purposes of expressing an opinion by the proponents of this new ideology for church life and mission.   The classic way of speaking, of course, is that the church is apostolic.   This expresses the oneness in apostolic doctrine while also denoting the “sentness” of the church to confess Christ in the world.    Additionally, being apostolic in the classic dual-sense is undermined by indulging the collective old Adam, especially in our society’s consumerism.  This new way of thinking reflects a theology of glory that must live from seeing the results on our schedule.

This dichotomy represents an incorrect view in regard to many articles of the faith – the means of grace, ecclesiology, the ministry, and vocation, to name a few.   The Church is instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.   The “goods and services” that the Church of our Lord has are the spoken and sacramental gospel, which are the salvation delivering means of grace.   Everything else the Church may do in a particular congregation should flow from or support that central ministry.   The means of grace exist “that we may obtain such saving faith” in Christ, to borrow a phrase from the Augsburg Confession.  Furthermore the Lord puts these means together to be administered by the Office of the Holy Ministry for the benefit of the Church as she is gathered.

To speak of “going to church” is to acknowledge that the Word and Sacraments are what makes us the Church, as they are the marks of the Church.   By these means we “are the church.”   Yet an individual Christian is a member of the Church corporately, whether gathered for the Divine Service or as we are sent out into the world.   We all have different vocations as Christ’s baptized people.  God puts us in these places to serve our neighbor, and there we confess that Christ is our Savior from sin and death.

This paradigm in the diagram above also fails to note that the reason or the gathering on Sunday morning is not a rock concert with a pep talk or just job training.   It is that heaven comes down to earth where the Word is faithfully preached and the holy sacraments are given out according to Lord’s institution and mandate.   There we are seen most clearly as the body of Christ.   It is the gathering of the baptized to be forgiven, nourished in the body and blood of Jesus and His Word.   It is not chiefly about what I am doing for God but rather what He is doing for us in the means He appointed through the office Jesus instituted (see Acts 2:42; Luke 22:27; Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV,78-83, on the term Mass).   Lutherans who follow this paradigm for the activity of church and ministry betray their own stated confession, whether wittingly or unwittingly.

The chief feeding of the flock is on Sunday morning, though, rightly noted; it should not be the only feeding.   But the feeding isn’t really “self-feeding” but it is from Christ Himself, where the Holy Spirit takes the Word of Scripture and calls us to faith, enlightens us with His gifts and keeps us in the true faith, while also incorporating us into the body of Christ, the Church.   Indeed, as the church is apostolic, she is sent into this world.

The proclamation of Christ in this world by the baptized comes as they proclaim the deeds of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. And that goes in various directions as the members of the Church are the collective fishing net of the Church cast into the sea of the world.   The Lord fishes with a net, not a rod and reel and bait.   A net shows no favoritism but is just sent into a place (regardless of demographics).   Rod and reel fishing with bait discriminates.   Fishing with an apostolic net is more clearly catholic.

While I wouldn’t endorse the inadequate terminology of the diagram at the beginning of this article, one must be a “consumer church” in order to be fed and equipped to be sent forth to confess Christ.   No consuming, nothing to confess.   Pour more Jesus in, and then the Church confesses.   The Church does not live from programs or entertainment or pep talks or cheerleading, but from the clear good news of the crucified One, who has purchased us from sin and death to the gift of holiness and immortality through His resurrection.

One cannot recast the Sunday morning nourishment in the Word and Sacraments into an engineered “worship experience” of such fleeting vaporous existence such that the Gospel is not highly obscured altogether lost.   This is the oft-witnessed evangelism at the expense of the evangel.   No, our way must be willing to suffer the scorn of a seeming lack of success, a seeming lack of effective ministry, a lowly back-water drowning of the old self to listen to the kingdom of God being revealed ever-so-stealthily at pulpit and altar, with the promise it will be visible at the last.   For if they will not believe Moses and the prophets then they will not believe no matter how popular the praise band or pertinent the Power Point.

The gospel of man is a gospel of our doing in the unholy trinity of “me, myself, and I.”   God’s earthward descent in words, water, bread and wine is replace by man’s vainly ascending ladders of reason, feelings, and man-defined good deeds.   The sheep of the Lord hear His voice and are fed by Him in the green pastures He provided where they may eat and drink.   They are not told to feed themselves.   The feeding in study and devotion during the week supplements Sunday morning Divine Service, not the other way around.   If this is not the case, then the organizing center and gathering energy of the Church is the group of personalities that motivate and entertain, rather than Christ Himself serving with forgiveness, life and salvation through His appointed means.   Those means are the life-source of the Church.

The called to faith are those calling out into the world.  Those who partake of the Lord’s body and blood are those who go forth to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”   Without this, the Church becomes anemic.  That is the royal priesthood of the baptized who are beneficiaries of Christ’s work of redemption.   As we go about our vocations in life we open our mouths to confess Christ and to serve our neighbor in love where God puts us.   Our vocations put us into places that programs cannot always place us.  That’s an inherent wisdom in God’s way of putting His people into all sorts of places and situations.   We “go to Church” to be renewed and strengthened in “being Church.”   We “go to Church” because we are not Church alone but always in fellowship.  Even when we are by ourselves we still pray “our Father who art in heaven.”

As pastors sent forth to serve the Church and preach to all, and as the royal priesthood of the baptized, hearing and receiving the gospel gifts week after week, the entire Church on earth is God’s instrument for bringing glory to Christ and His Word.   Christ is praised as we tell others what He has done for us in mercy.  The Church gathered and fed or scattered and sent is not a dispenser of “religious goods and services” but the divinely instituted treasures that bestow forgiveness, life and salvation.   The baptized are gathered to be forgiven, nourished, sanctified, and instructed, and they are scattered out by vocation to serve, love the neighbor, work, pray, and bear witness.   So in doctrine and mission, being fed and confessing Christ, we dare not deny or separate what the Lord has joined together.  The Bride of Christ is nourished and lives from what she receives by grace alone through faith alone, namely, the spoken and sacramental Gospel.

Some may occasionally confuse our confidence and certainty in the truth as arrogance, but is the joy of knowing all of this saving truth is “most certainly true” and that we can be sure of eternal life through Christ our Mediator.   So as we keep the Gospel clear when we are gathered, we will make a clearer, catechetically-formed confession out wherever God puts us vocationally.  The apostolic Church is gathered to be fed and forgiven, scattered and sent to confess Christ boldly and serve the neighbor in diaconal love.   Finally consider the words of Hebrews 12 (present tense, please note!) to note that the Church is more than what we see with our eyes, and more than our congregation, and more than our generation:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.     Hebrews 12:22-24


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  1. Matthew Mills
    June 12th, 2013 at 12:56 | #1

    Great article Pastor.
    It is a shame that the other side’s terminology seems to be driving the debate, but as “Lutherans” (not a term we coined after all) we should be used to that happening. I like your willingness to say: given these (admittedly flawed) models, we are called to be a “consumer church.”
    I also think you’ve nailed the real dichotomy as between faithfulness and effectiveness. The holy (set apart) catholic (universal as to geography and history) and apostolic Church, speaks and acts as though her primary call and duty is to be “faithful,” while the church indistinct from her current culture, geographically specific, and ahistorical, speaks and acts as though her primary call and duty is to be “effective.” This frenetic focus on “effectiveness” is entirely consistent w/ a 21st Century suburban American culture, but it is the poison that is destroying the doctrine and practice of the Bride of Christ in the 21st Century LC-MS.
    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  2. Carl Vehse
    June 12th, 2013 at 14:32 | #2

    Besides the smell, it’s easy to locate the theological dungheaps, like those from Dan Diverging Church movement Kimball , Rick Purpose-Drivel Life Warren, Joshua Why Fauxchurch Matters Harris, Norton “Explore God” Hebst, and other Schmutzmeisters, by the absence or trivial mention of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in their slickly promoted books or on the websites of their home churches.

  3. June 12th, 2013 at 22:00 | #3

    Language is very important when it comes to this discussion. But I think that we need to be honest with ourselves about what people understand when it comes to words and not just insist that what we hold to is “the meaning.”

    For example, while it is entirely true that:

    The classic way of speaking, of course, is that the church is apostolic. This expresses the oneness in apostolic doctrine while also denoting the “sentness” of the church to confess Christ in the world.

    I just don’t think people today understand the term.

    But I certainly don’t mind your attempting to re-introduce the term. Like anything else, it is handy to have vocabulary to teach what it means to be the Church.

    I just think this is what others are trying to do: use language to teach truths about the church. Language that perhaps is more readily understood (missional) than not (apostolic).

    You say Additionally, being apostolic in the classic dual-sense is undermined by indulging the collective old Adam, especially in our society’s consumerism.

    And

    The gospel of man is a gospel of our doing in the unholy trinity of “me, myself, and I.”

    But then, you also say:

    While I wouldn’t endorse the inadequate terminology of the diagram at the beginning of this article, one must be a “consumer church” in order to be fed and equipped to be sent forth to confess Christ. No consuming, nothing to confess.

    In one case, society’s consumerism is bad — indulging the old Adam — and in the other consumerism is good — as a Church as consume Christ.

    I just think the author is making the initial point that you make: in our consumer society, people see church in much the same way as they see everything else. Something to entertain them, to indulge them, something for their use — and if it does not satisfy their “needs” then they move on to the next best thing that does.

    Isn’t this true? Ought there not be a correction to this attitude?

    Just as you want to use “apostolic” to explain this meaning, he wants to use “consumer” — the point is the same, using language to teach the truth about what the church is. And in this, you are in agreement.

    You say:

    The proclamation of Christ in this world by the baptized comes as they proclaim the deeds of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. And that goes in various directions as the members of the Church are the collective fishing net of the Church cast into the sea of the world. The Lord fishes with a net, not a rod and reel and bait. A net shows no favoritism but is just sent into a place (regardless of demographics). Rod and reel fishing with bait discriminates. Fishing with an apostolic net is more clearly catholic.

    This is, of course, one of the truths about Church Growth theory — real Church Growth theory, not the lazy use of the term that is found in some writings today — that the homogeneous principle is scorned and yet fully illustrated. The LCMS in America is what, 95% white? Can we really in any sense of the term claim to be fishing with a net?

    Perhaps if we were missional — apostolic — that might change.

  4. Diane
    June 13th, 2013 at 08:36 | #4

    @Mark Louderback #3
    Pastor Louderback,

    Hello. You said, “But I certainly don’t mind your attempting to re-introduce the term…” Re-introduce the term? I really don’t understand what you mean. The word apostolic is used in the Nicene creed as in,

    ‘And I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church’

    I say this creed and that word every Sunday in the Divine Service. It certainly isn’t being re-introduced. In a well catechized congregation everyone should be very familiar with the term.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  5. Jason
    June 13th, 2013 at 08:44 | #5

    @Diane #4

    That is because the innovators, typically the contemporary worship people, like to ditch as much as the liturgy as possible. “Deeds, not creeds.” With lazy, sloppy and non-exsistant catechizing by way too many pastors, sadly a chunk of our church just don’t know any history, the faith of our fathers. So ‘apostolic’ needs to be retaught, because some have forgotten their first love, some have never even known it was supposed to be their first love.

  6. June 13th, 2013 at 09:53 | #6

    @Mark Louderback #3
    The reason people might not *in some places* understand the term “apostolic” is because pastors have been unwilling to do thorough catechesis, which ought to in large part include vocabulary – biblical, doctrinal, creedal, liturgical, etc. We need to recover proper vocabulary. “Missional” doesn’t carry the same content as “apostolic.” When we act as if the church is not meant to have any continuity in doctrine, catechesis, vocabulary or liturgical practice we become sectarian and atomized, acting as though faith is produced by us rather than received. “Missional” has become another wedge/weasel word to separate mission and doctrine. “Missional” is not more understandable – it is a made up word. Frankly, a great many Lutherans need to go through some program to detox from getting on every Neo-Evangelical band wagon for outreach that is nothing more than recast Arminianism and indulging the Old Adam individually or corporately. That militates against justification by grace.

    Faith consumes, that is, it eats. Faith is being nothing but given to from the Lord in His spoken and sacramental gospel. Take the biblical standard on these things – faith is a flame that burns the oil of grace; we are the branches, Christ is the Vine. If we are to confess Christ where He has put us we must consumer. “We proclaim the Lord death until He comes,” as we are enlivened and united with Christ in His body and blood.

    Fishing with a net, as opposed to rod and reel and bait, is proclaiming the Word freely, openly, boldly, in season and out of season, and teaching the whole counsel of God without fear. It is setting forth the Word before all, rightly handling the Word of truth, not handling the Gospel as it if it is a sales job. Fishing with a net happens as those who hear that Word are sent forth from the altar into their various vocations where they live, work, play, shop, etc, and they bear witness to Christ in season and out of season, as the royal priesthood of the baptized. The Church is made of those gathered from every, tribe, tongue, people and language. We make no discrimination, though there may be times when we need to tell our own people to repent in areas of ethnicity.

    The Church is her own culture, as she is in the world and not of it. Therefore those who are incorporated into Christ by baptizing and teaching become part of this holy nation, called the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which is in heaven and on earth. The Church is by definition apostolic – in doctrine and in confessing the faith. The Word bears fruit. The Holy Spirit creates faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel.

  7. jim
    June 13th, 2013 at 10:18 | #7

    Language is important and does change: Greek to Latin to German to old English to today’s English. If we wish to communicate and teach visitors and new members, we need to use today’s language to teach. If we wish to teach “our” church language (such as “apostolic” and “catholic”), then do so. But don’t just use the words and leave the new people wondering.

    Fishing: Follow this link to Lutheran Hour Ministries: http://issuu.com/luthhourmin/docs/layman_mayjun2013
    the article starting on page 7 talks about confirmation of adults in the LCMS. This is a good measure of “fishing”, bringing new people to know Jesus as their personal Savior.
    53% had zero adult confirmations; 79% of the 6000 congregations had less than 4 adult confirmations in 2011! 21% (approximately 120 congregations) confirmed four or more adults in the year.
    I do not have enough data to know why that is so, but why are more congregations not fishing?

  8. June 13th, 2013 at 10:42 | #8

    @jim #7
    As I said above, we need to catechize thoroughly (not just 8 weeks or some such thing). Vocabulary needs to be a key part of that. The Divine Service Sunday morning is primarily the assembly of the baptized. Evangelism is in large part teaching “our language.”

    With regard to “fishing” – fishing in the sense of making disciples is not enticement or a sales job. The results are never guaranteed. (Recall the Third Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism). We’re not talking in terms of “decision theology” here. My point is that the fishing net is the body of believers going out week after week as the church “scattered” into the community. We cannot engineer the results. Making disciples is not just a numbers thing. The Gospel, since it is a gift, is rejectable. God suffers it to be rejectable so that it all may be by grace and not of ourselves.

    Pastors need to be active in offering adult catechesis regularly. The membership of the congregation needs to be bold to confess what they believe out in the world and to invite interested people to join adult catechesis.

    Don’t see “fishing” as a program. See it as a present reality that occurs in a Christian’s various daily vocations that they need to be better aware of. Pour more Jesus into them in Word and Sacrament, give them the vocabulary of faith and a clearer understanding of law and gospel and the Lord will bear fruit in His time by His means. One doesn’t keep pulling up a seedling to see if it is growing. Be patient, pray, and keep speaking the Word. God’s Word does and bestows what it says. Does the church wax and wane in particular places? Yes.

    2 Corinthians 4:1-7 – Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,[a] we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice[b] cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

  9. helen
    June 13th, 2013 at 10:58 | #9

    @jim #7
    I do not have enough data to know why that is so, but why are more congregations not fishing?

    You are jumping to a conclusion! At least twice in Scripture, the disciple/fishermen are recorded as saying, “We have toiled all night and caught nothing.”
    Do you think that the same thing can’t happen today?

    Having “zero adult confirmations” may mean that Pastor is “catching” them younger.
    It may mean a settled community where everyone belongs to a church. The majority of LCMS churches are small, though the inordinate attention paid to the big ones, esp. the big and [skirting on the edge of] non-Lutheran ones might confuse you on that point!

    Currently I live in an urban area; the Pastors start one adult class at the end of another and so we see adult baptisms and confirmations. Sometimes that is the result of a child in our school bringing family members into the church. We also have people who said “Enough already!” to the ***A and came to instruction (and now to Bible classes) with us.

    I grew up in a rural congregation which acquired new members by birth or the occasional marriage to a non-Lutheran who was instructed and confirmed. There are still such congregations.

    “As you go, baptize and teach….”
    Feeding the flock you have is also the work of a servant of God.

  10. jim
    June 13th, 2013 at 14:38 | #10

    Ps. Frahm:

    I agree with what you said. I tried to stay away from numbers, and I avoid numbers as a goal unto itself. No pastor should be kicked out for failing to meet a numeric goal; the whole congregation is involved in the effort (see Helen’s comment).

    Helen:
    I do not know what portion of LCMS congregations are in settled communities; certainly, there would be few, if any, adult confirmations in rural areas. I did not expect all congregations to act like the big ones; nor do the big congregations necessarily have the most adult confirmations; see Table 2. I know of some big congregations that are not listed in table 2.
    From what you say, your congregation is doing the right things. Can you teach other congregations what you are doing?

  11. helen
    June 13th, 2013 at 18:58 | #11

    @jim #10

    jim,
    I did not read the article with that table.
    Does it say anything about the amount of time spent in adult confirmation,
    or the subjects covered?

    Because, not to put too fine a point on it, some of those “Top 10″ were on the willowcreek members’ list, last time I looked at it, and whether or not they are showing their colors now, I don’t think they’ve changed their orientation.

  12. Mrs. Hume
    June 13th, 2013 at 20:25 | #12

    This just looks like a case of appropriating all the positive labels etc for one’s own, and labeling the other with all of the less appealing or negative labels and so on. There is no there there. It is not objective. Obviously churches of the past were mighty mighty missional because they spread the Word over the entire globe, such that there are now over 2 billion believers. So, the idea that traditional churches aren’t missional is, well, just about as contrary to fact as can be.

  13. Mrs. Hume
    June 13th, 2013 at 20:35 | #13

    @jim #10

    I tried to stay away from numbers, and I avoid numbers as a goal unto itself. No pastor should be kicked out for failing to meet a numeric goal; the whole congregation is involved in the effort…

    ding ding ding, We have a winner.

    Is there any talk of kicking out members who fail to meet their numeric goals of either bringing in friends or bearing enough children.

    Seriously, you have to laugh at folks who would expect their pastor to bring in more members while they themselves have on average two children. Doesn’t such a group pretty much accede to a no growth policy?

  14. Carl Vehse
    June 13th, 2013 at 21:17 | #14

    The talk of numbers brings back some old Ablaze!-ing memories. ;-)

  15. Rev. Robert Weinkauf
    June 13th, 2013 at 23:20 | #15

    @Mark Louderback #3
    “The LCMS in America is what, 95% white? Can we really in any sense of the term claim to be fishing with a net? Perhaps if we were missional — apostolic — that might change.”

    I am curious, you have been an LCMS pastor for 16 years, I have read your comments over the years, you are well known commentator on other blogs and advocate of the church growth movement, evangelical measures, diversity, missional movement, CoWo, etc. How are things working for you? You’ve been at your church for 3 years and statistically it has not grown any, not even 1 person, in that time according to LCMS inc. How has the diversity thing been working? How have you been fishing, missional, and changed things? Do we just blame the “LCMS” entity for the reality we are in?

    I do not mean to be uncharitable or sacastic unto you dear brother in the ministry. We are in this together. But seriously, by evangelical standards of measure and church growth motifs, wouldn’t you (and me too) be considered a failure? Yes! Look at your church. Be we are not! in the “theology of the cross” which stands opposed to the entire modern evangelical, missional movement. So many think, if we do just the right things, just the right processes and programs and change our way of thinking, WE CAN GROW THE CHURCH. And that’s a lie.

  16. June 14th, 2013 at 05:25 | #16

    Carl Vehse :The talk of numbers brings back some old Ablaze!-ing memories.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just a recurring nightmare here in SED, where they continue “Tending the Flame” (http://www.se.lcms.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=220544).

  17. Carl H
    June 14th, 2013 at 09:46 | #17

    @Pr. John A. Frahm #6

    “Missional” has become another wedge/weasel word to separate mission and doctrine.”

    I see it, rather, as separating complacency from conscientiousness concerning the Great Commission.

    @Rev. Robert Weinkauf #15

    So many think, if we do just the right things, just the right processes and programs and change our way of thinking, WE CAN GROW THE CHURCH. And that’s a lie.

    It is certainly a presumption about how God may bless our efforts. Truth is, some declining congregations have indeed seen a reversal after becoming more deliberate and thoughtful about how they reach and serve the communities around them. God uses people to bring in the harvest, to His glory. But the harvest is not the same everywhere, nor are congregations equally equipped.

  18. Mrs. Hume
    June 15th, 2013 at 08:26 | #18

    Pastor Ted Crandall :

    Carl Vehse :The talk of numbers brings back some old Ablaze!-ing memories.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just a recurring nightmare here in SED, where they continue “Tending the Flame” (http://www.se.lcms.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=220544).

    Pastor Ted Crandall :

    Carl Vehse :The talk of numbers brings back some old Ablaze!-ing memories.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just a recurring nightmare here in SED, where they continue “Tending the Flame” (http://www.se.lcms.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=220544).

    Funny, I was just listening to an old Table Talk radio podcast. Where Wolfmueller recalled that some group in the synod leadership hired consultants to determine whether the synod could raise $100 million. The consultants said they could but they would have to come up with a reason to get people to give, and Ablaze was born.

    http://www.tabletalkradio.org/content/taxonomy/term/108

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