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

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Would Luther Pose in a Picture with St. Augustine Like This? (More Emergent Church News with a Texas Youth Gathering Connection) by Pr. Rossow — 20 Comments

  1. Hey, Pr. R.
    Go ahead and be a curmudgeon. We need more of ’em. And you’re a youngster!
    I’m 74 and been fighting the various nonsenses on the LCMS for 40 odd years and I figure I’ve EARNED he right to be the crusty old curmudgeon I am.
    So have you.

  2. Ed,

    I guess it takes one to know one 🙂

    BTW – does “iowan” in Califiowan stand for “Iowa” by chance?

    I was born in Ft. Dodge and grew up in Webster City and Algona, Iowa.

    Pastor Rossow

  3. When I first looked at the picture it didn’t even cross my mind that these guys were Lutheran pastors, but then again I’m just a boring old Lutheran who is used to seeing pastors in uniform with both feet on the ground.

    Never having been to a youth gathering, I wish I could go to this one so I could see the most enthusiastic and energetic pastors of my life before they become crusty old Lutherans like you guys. I’ll bet the lead worshiper will be entertaining as well.

  4. Anonymous wrote: “I’ll bet the lead worshiper will be entertaining as well.”

    That is exactly the problem. Concerns over whether or not something will be “entertaining” puts the focus on what the crowd desires, not what it needs: Christ’s forgiveness preached to them.

    I’ll take “crusty old” preachers who are preaching Christ over “entertainment” any day. Bring on the cassock and surplice.

  5. “How about just telling people about Jesus and away with the stupid pastor tricks? -Pastor Todd Wilken

    I agree with Higher Things, especially about the need to keep fun and silliness distinct from worship, preaching, and teaching. But Higher Things in particular and confessional Lutherans in general need to be aware that the temptation to be hip, funny, and dynamic is always standing at the door. We are not immune to it, and youth organizations that are in short supply of wise, biblical party poopers like yourself are in particular danger.

    Pastors who undermine their own ministry of the Word by trying to be funny, interrupting the teaching of the Word by soliciting spontaneous ‘Yee-hahs!’ for Texas, joking about having ADHD during teaching, and pacing around acting goofy and cracking jokes need some serious mentoring or pastoring from ordained curmudgeons like yourself. But such criticism must come from older fellow pastors like yourself. Young pastors need pastoring.

    This summer the youth of our church were distressed by such antics during teaching times within the context of a confessional gathering gathering. Here is a comment from one sixteen-year-old girl: “At other conferences, the speakers might joke a few minutes, but then they would shift to teaching and the teaching was serious. I don’t get why these speakers had to joke and goof around throughout the plenary sessions.”

    There are some youth (and adults) who might like entertainment-driven instruction that undermines the Word, but there also, thankfully, those who do not.

    Rob Olson
    Zion of Marshall, MI

    John Dewey and Confessional Pastors:

  6. The sad thing is, these guys will probably never turn into “old, crusty Lutherans.” It might be a plus if they did. No, they’ll stay hip, cool, & relevant & by doing so show how out of touch, unhip, uncool, & irrelevant they are.

  7. How is it that being “hip, cool & relevant” must be translated into ‘out of touch, unhip, uncool & irrelevant”?

    Why is it so sad to be “hip, cool & relevant”?

    I have seen/met/listened to a number of people in a cassock & surplice who are also “unhip, out of touch, uncool & irrelevant.”

  8. Pr. R. #2
    Yup. Greenfield. About 50 miles west of Des Moines. Most famous, probably, as the setting for the 1968 movie “Cold Turkey” starring Dick Van Dyke as a huckster trying to get people to quit smoking.
    Pure farm boy still. 5 years at University of Nebraska. 6 years flying for the Navy, which eventually put me here in the armpit of the Left Coast (Bay Area) and I’ve been stuck here for 45+ years.

  9. “Would Luther pose in a picture with St. Augustine like this?” Um…maybe not St. Augustine, but I bet Luther would after he’d had a few beers. Assuming that they’re not bench pressing each other during the Divine Service, I really don’t see any problem with a little light-heartedness captured on camera. Some equally goofy pictures have come out of the Higher Things conferences. But, if I misread and that picture does capture what was happening during the Divine Service, then Luther would probably cross himself and make a break for it.

  10. Faux Martin, apparently you don’t understand sarcasm. The truth is these men are already not hip, cool, or relevant. They just like to think they are. But when you chase after every fad that comes down the line, you always end up being behind the curveball.

    They are the churchly equivalent of parents & other adults who think that by trying to talk & act like the kids, they somehow are more in touch. Ever see that happen? It is sad & pathetic.

  11. Bethany,

    As I said in the post, I am fine with pastors having fun. The problem is when the fun becomes the material principle of the faith, along with relevance, practicality, purpose, etc.

    I also see a problem with the way the church is publicized. Again, one cannot pick out a single picture such as this one and make a rule out of it. However, when one sees this sort of stuff over and over again and when it is accompanied with the sort of description of the “style” of teaching that will go on during the sessions, one concludes that the substance of the church is being overcome by an innappropriate style.

    Pastor Rossow

  12. “…jumps through scripture with more enthusiasm and energy than anyone you’ve ever seen.”

    I’m unhip and uncool, been that way since about 13… I have no chance. I’m also rather boring, so at 33 I perhaps no place in Synod today. As poster “Martin Luther” said, “I have seen/met/listened to a number of people in a cassock & surplice who are also “unhip, out of touch, uncool & irrelevant.” That’s me, though I do try to be relevant, but have a difficult time pulling it off.

    Still I feel its not fair to say that those two pastors have more enthusiasm for Scripture and Energy (whatever that means… I just pulled an all nighter lock-in with only one cup of coffee, I got… stamina if not energy). I cannot compare my enthusiasm and energy for Scripture directly to them but I bet I got just as much. Why else would I dedicate my life to putting up with meetings and curmudgeons but that I can proclaim and teach Scripture.

    What that blurb says to me is that your fuddy-duddy Pastor at home is nothing compared to these guys. That’s just not cricket.

    I can cut slack for the rest of the statement. I pray those the parish under my care would get “smacked” with Christ Centered/Cross focused teaching each week that would change their life.

  13. Pastor Rossow,

    Yes, I would have to agree that “fun” ought not to become the material principle of the faith. And I would also have to agree that we ought to always be wary of style over substance. But Mark Schaefer must be pretty buff to be hoisting Patrick Miller like that.
    All the best,

  14. It is the lack of synod/district/circuit oversight that is bothering me. The constant push from the world to turn our attention from Christ, allow women pastors, focus on works not forgiveness is great. This oversight is necessary, and to my understanding it is why the synod is divided into districts. The world is calling, will we invite it in? Or will we bring the light to the world?

  15. If you like their picture, you will really like their sermons. The Wittenberg Trail evaluated their sermons using Pastor Wilken’s sermon diagnostic. Just visit the WT and type “Water’s Edge”.

  16. The problem with hip/cool/ and relevant is that already those are passe words. Hip? Not since the 40’s. Cool? Not since the 50’s. Relevant……….well, that is relevant. Depends on the times and the culture. We certainly wouldn’t want a Christ who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow to be uncool. Can’t imagine the thief on the cross begging forgiveness of a guy who wasn’t relevant or who didn’t look cool. Good thing he saw the real deal and realized Christ would be about the most relevant person he would ever encounter even without a lighted crown of thorns to dazzle the crowd.

  17. I’ll never understand the connection of “hip” & “cool” with relevant? What is more relevant that preaching the true word and faithfully administering the sacraments? I would prefer that my 13 & 16 year old kids learn reverence in worship instead of trailing edge hipness.


    It’s a small world. I have family in Greenfield. Thursday of last week I sat next to a couple of crestonians at Pr. Preus’ presentation at Holy Cross in Kansas City. (Not the most “dynamic pastoring” nor did he “jump through” the material “with more enthusiasm and energy than anyone you’ve ever seen”, but it was very edifying.)

    Eric Ramer

  18. Pr. Rossow,
    We on the left coast have just experienced (unfortunately) what these men from Water’s Edge have to offer by way of preaching as their “Missions Pastor” (Travis Hartjen) led the Pacific Southwest Distric Youth Gathering this past weekend in San Diego. I can say that it doesn’t seem much different than what our friends in Texas are dealing with. Here are a few of my take-aways:

    1. There was a clear and unecessary wedge driven between head knowlege and heart knowlege emphasized in all four sessions with our speaker. Pietism of old is alive and well. I quote, “What the world needs is not more knowledge about God, but to experience God through your deeds.” In other words, forget the creeds kids, worry about feeding the homeless. Should we feed the homeless? Of course. At the expense of preaching the clear message of the gospel? Nope. Why not do both? [This was not said]

    2. The “worship band” hailed from one of our not-so-confessional SoCal churches and played the top 20 CCM Dove award winning hits almost exclusively. Most of these songs emphasized, yep you guessed it: I, you, me, and we giving some lip service to God or Jesus. I have no problem with rock music as I am a musician that plays in a rock band here in San Diego. But I DO NOT play it on Sunday in my church. Everything has its proper place. Looking at the authors of the songs offered at our DYG I found them to be: Anabaptist, Pentecostal, and always Arminian. Thankfully, they did play one hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and I sung it with gusto!

    3. The Sacrament of the Altar given on the last evening was very upsetting. The presiding pastor did his least in jeans high-fiving the speaker and band to at least go through the motions of his office by reciting the words of institution, but the blood (in this case grape juice in little cups) were set on cafeteria trays with the juice spilled everywhere! The elements were handled disrespectfully, in my opinion. Was the table closed? Well…you be the judge. On a projector screen was the following disclaimer, “If you believe in the saving power of Jesus, then you are invited to partake.” This is a youth gathering of over 400 kids. I am an elder at my church. I know all of my kids have been baptized, catechized and confirmed and are regular communicants at my church. But I’ve got to think that many larger youth groups rightfully invited friends from school and elsewhere that have not been baptized and do not rightfully “discern” the body and blood of the sacrament. More could/should have been done to ensure that God was worshipped with reverance and good order.

    Lastly, I will say that I am an adult convert to Lutheranism. I was formerly in pastoral leadership at a church that went the way Emergent. I left that church for the LCMS at great cost to my family’s friendships, finances (I was on staff) and reputation. Why would we hide our Lutheran distinctives from our youth (or anyone else, for that matter)? It is Higher Things for our church youth from now on.

    I know there are a lot of strong churches in Texas, but the kind that produces this sort of event should not be allowed to call itself Lutheran. Oh wait! They don’t. They leave that out of their name altogether as market demographics show that 25-40 year olds prefer the name “Community” or “Edge” or “Epic” or some kind of “wood” in their name.

    Sorry for the long rant, but I can’t expect our district office to listen since they were the one’s to put this thing on.

    “In peace let us pray to the Lord…Lord have mercy.”

    Brian Thomas
    Elder, Grace Lutheran, San Diego, CA

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