Would Luther Pose in a Picture with St. Augustine Like This? (More Emergent Church News with a Texas Youth Gathering Connection) by Pr. Rossow

It is mid November and it is time to turn our attention back to “Glory Bound” the Texas Lutheran Youth Gathering and I have a nice segue from our recent discussions of emergent churches. Two of the speakers for the gathering are pastors from Water’s Edge Lutheran Church in Frisco, Texas. They are the ones posing in the picture  to the right  which prompted my question in the post title above. Their church has several emergent elements to it. We’ll come back to that. (Even though I disagree with the emergent tone of it, their church website is very well presented and very will written. We all would do well to consider the clarity and simplicity of the Frisco website as a model.) First, let’s review our concerns with “Glory Bound.”

Before getting too far into this, I have to take the blame for failing to continue an e-mail exchange with the Texas District President about “Glory Bound.” I appreciate his taking the time to address my concerns earlier this fall but I must admit that I got disillusioned when I noticed on the bottom of the e-mail one of those corporate disclaimers that says that none of the contents of the e-mail can be shared. Would Luther put that on the bottom of his e-mails?  It is so frustrating living in a synod where bishops write e-mails about public, theological issues that come with a lawyered-up disclaimer. I long for the days of courage and transparency when  a guy like Luther would just out with the truth, no matter what the implications.

Back to the concerns. Pastor Wilken opened the bidding with an article about the pentecostal woman pastor that will be leading worship at the gathering.  She was called the  “lead worshipper”  on the website for the gathering. After our complaints the title was changed but what was not changed is the fact that she will be leading the singing for the conference and the conference worship. Of course in the church growth era of worship that means she will be giving little testimonies with each song and worse yet, the young Texas Lutherans will be singing her pentecostal music.

Beyond that we also posted concerns about the overall nature of the speakers. It just does not seem like a Lutheran gathering. It seems more like an emergent church, pentecostal, contemporary worship  gathering. That brings us to the point of the question in the title of this post. “Would Luther pose in a picture with St. Augustine like this?”

Before you critics of this website assert that this is the ranting of a curmudgeonly old man, please read this next part carefully. Yes, I did just turn fifty this month and so have plenty of years behind me to qualify as a curmudgeon but I also have been attending Lutheran youth gatherings since I was 14 years old and until the last few years had missed very few. I actually have a lot of patience for silliness. It’s just that now after all these years I  am  beginning to realize that  it should not be the organizing principle of the church. I was steeped in the silly teen church of the 1970’s and 80’s LCMS. I then observed as it slowly made its way into the mainline part of the LCMS as we teenagers became ordained and commissioned church workers. I thank mentors like the Rev. John Viecker and the entire team at Higher Things for helping me to see that the immature pop culture of America is not the appropriate style for the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. But that is exactly what has taken over the LCMS and is patently clear at an event like “Glory Bound.”

For the last fifteen years or so I have found this series of questions to help me sort out the good and the bad elements of style in the church. “Would Luther do this? Would St. Paul do this? Would St. Augustine do this?” This rhetorical device has been really helpful for me as I consider the appropriateness of things like liturgical dance, prancing around in front of the pulpit while preaching, telling jokes in the sermon, using screens and video in the divine service, etc.

Style is a tricky thing. It is easy to think that we have full license to relax all style because it is not substance.  There is nothing wrong with a couple of pastors clowning around and having some fun as we see in the attached picture. What is wrong is when it becomes the way in which we talk about, promote, and do church and the “what would Luther do…” questions help me to sort it out and make sure that the style I am practicing is consistent with what God has asked me to do as a pastor, i.e. forgive sins, consecrate the elements and bring Christ’s body and blood into the chancel, etc..

The the text that goes along with the picture on the “Glory Bound” website is revealing.

Try to keep up as this dynamic pastoring duo of Water’s Edge Lutheran Church in Frisco, Texas, jumps through scripture with more enthusiasm and energy than anyone you’ve ever seen. Get ready to get smacked in the face with Jesus-centered biblical teaching that just might change your life forever.

Sure, this is an advertisement for speakers at a youth gathering. We need to cut them some slack. But reread the statement again. Would Luther be comfortable with  his teaching style being  called dynamic, enthusiastic, energetic, and face-smacking even if he was going to address the youth of Wittenberg? Would Luther pose for a church promotional photo holding St. Augustine on his head?

Higher Things has it right: “Real worship, real study. real fun.” We need to organize our youth gatherings with worship, teaching and fun that are mostly distinct from each other. Our culture wants them mixed together at church these days with more fun involved than what the old traditional church considered appropriate. Again, this is not about curmudgeonliness. This is about what is the appropriate style for delivering the forgivness of sins.

As November 28-30 approach let’s give this gathering and what it means for the deterioration of the  traditional and doctrinal approach to church some serious thought.

The Rev. Dr. Timothy A. Rossow

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