Ablaze, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(Editor’s Note: Last week Mollie broke a story on an interesting assessment of Ablaze written by an insider. I followed up with a philosophical critique and now Pr. Preus offers this five part churchly analysis of Ablaze based on this recent insider assessment.)

I can remember sitting in the visitors section of the 2004 convention and watching as the deliberations regarding Ablaze! transpired. It was, to me, ominous.

Resolution 1-01a was presented. It’s first resolved stated our bold affirmation that “we must be confessional and mission minded in a world that continues to change.” I was annoyed that the word “and” was underlined in the resolution. It suggested two things to me; first, that we have not been mission minded in the past and, second, that we needed to stress mission work more than stress our confessionalism. It struck me as a deviation from the balance which president Barry had promoted, “Keep the message straight, get the message out.” No one back then said that we should be “mission-minded and confessional,” as if we needed to reaffirm the confessions more than mission work. Why were we pitting the two against each other now? Further, to me that little three letter underline not only downplayed the confessions it distanced us from our missionary past, it dismissed and even disrespected that noble past. It seemed obvious to me that someone was getting dissed.

Then I thought, “Klemet, you are just being uptight. You are probably reading too much into the resolution. The delegates are simply being mission-minded. They do not mean to suggest that a renewed loyalty to our confessions is unnecessary. They certainly do not mean to imply that we have not been mission-minded in the past. Quit finding the bad. Find the good.” I breathed a sigh of relief when one of the delegates made the motion that the resolution be amended by placing the words “continue to be” in front of the words “confessional and mission-minded.” “That’s better,” I thought. Now we will say that we will continue to be confessional and mission minded. No one will oppose this. We don’t want to disrespect our past and we can still look to the future and work towards the goals of Ablaze!.

You can read the minutes for yourself. The “motion to amend failed.” Ouch. My cynicism justly returned. Our synod was actually saying that our past evangelism efforts have failed.

Now let’s fast forward to the present.

“Of the four tenets of Ablaze! Outlined above, tenet number three may be the one which is the most contestable, as it implies that what has been done in the LC-MS toward the work of evangelizing the world pre-Ablaze has failed.” So says David Vaughn in his “A Policy analysis of the Ablaze! Movement.” [1] The last part of that sentence bears repeating. “What has been done in the LC-MS toward the work of evangelizing the world pre-Ablaze has failed.” What a remarkable statement. It is remarkable for four reasons.

First it is palpably and provably untrue. That analysis will have to wait until my next blog.

Second, it is insulting. Even if true why say it? That analysis will have to wait as well.

Third, such a statement is replete with such hubris as to make me angry. That will wait too.

Fourth, to distance ourselves from the noble past portends failure in the near future.

So, in my next few blogs I will show why the underpinnings of the Ablaze! initiative have undermined the success of the movement itself. It is based upon a tenet which is untrue, insulting, prideful and ripe for failure. I will then offer a better way in the blogs beyond that.

[1] David Vaughn, “A Policy analysis of the Ablaze! Movement,” Missio Apostlica, Vol. xvi, no. 2 (November 2008) 133-134.

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.


Ablaze, by Pr. Klemet Preus — 6 Comments

  1. Klemet,

    Two thoughts:

    You’ve correctly identified the true “spirit” of Ablaze! –hubris. It is typical of the aging Baby Boomer leadership we have today.

    And, consider the import of declaring all pre-Ablaze! evangelism a failure:
    + Decades of the faithful proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments –all failure.
    + Generations of faithful pastors and laypeople giving witness to Christ in their families and vocations –all failure.
    + Missionaries at home and abroad giving testimony to the Savior –all failure.

    Considering Ablaze! in this light, one passage comes to mind:

    Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men… God chose what is low and despised in the world (and apparently in the LCMS too), even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.


  2. I commend you, Pastor Preus, for your attempts to validate Ablaze initially, as well as your honesty to see the writing on the wall. And I have a great respect for you. (It was ‘The Fire and the Staff’ without which I might not have survived my vicarage – I felt so alone.) So please take what I am posting here as an “in addition” to your article, rather than a critique.

    I feel something is lacking from your observations, and, I believe, it is lacking from the consciousness of too many Lutherans, whether “confessional” or “missional”. (That is, it is not something we have defined clearly and reconciled ourselves to.) This which is lacking is our willing acceptance of the tomfoolery of putting the word “and” between confessional and missional *at all.* It is straight from the Department of Redundancy Department. And it amounts to nothing more than a gross statement that we do not believe the Word of God is the power of salvation for all who believe.

    I mean, unless we (synodically speaking) really don’t believe the word “confession” actually means anything anymore, which, contextually, probably is the case. Even still, then we need to recognize what the word has actually become: JARGON. What this jargon stands for, I don’t know. But publicly, jargon is language that no longer means anything. It is an empty balloon into which we each blow so as to feel we are united.

    From where I sit, there are two options for dealing with jargon: stop using the word or REDEEM the word by using it correctly and teaching it’s actual meaning – which anyone with a dictionary outside of our synod could understand.

    But that this word has become jargon reveals the deeper nature of our problem. As a body, officially, we are on record as CONFESSING that “confessing” the actual Word of God before the world is not the mission of the Church – and it seems that we do believe this latter day confession, at least, according to our most propagandized practices.

    What kind of missions are we about then? I couldn’t begin to say. But 2 Corinthians 11:12 notwithstanding, the jeopardy is here!

    There is something deadly wrong about a mission that is not about the confession of the actual, true faith. Just the same as there is something deadly wrong about a confessionalism that is not about the actual, true, regular act of making the confession the faith. That we allow such double-speak to exist, and even use it ourselves, makes us a party to the matter in the worst of ways. What were the Lutheran princes doing before the Emperor at Augsburg, but acting as medieval short-term missionaries?

    It’s this lunacy of abandoning the clear meaning of words that allows for so much damage to be done in the name of a “mission” is not Christ’s, as well as a confessionalism that no longer (it would appear, in some circles) is capable of confessing.

    God bless you in hearing and speaking the confession of Jesus Christ as often as possible! And to heck with the man-made tradition of the devil’s mission to keep the Word of God from being confessed. In vain to we worship such a god!

  3. It is writing and comments like this that caused me to reject Arminianism and revivalism which was part of my theological thinking from the ages of 18 to 40; although that was all I knew of back then. I was slowly introduced to other theological perspectives as I began to discover people like Francis Schaeffer, Michael Horton, R.C. Sproul, Martin Luther and John Calvin. It took me awhile to sort through the differences in approach to the Christian life but I am glad God led me down that path.

    Ablaze, it seems to me, has rejected its rich confessional theological heritage and replaced it with a shallow moralism and glory ridden narcissism which permeates our culture today. Trying to be relevant and hip will be shown to be a losing cause in the days to come. But who knows- I guess that is in God’s control not ours. All I know is that the spirituality is much deeper and satisfying in confessional literature and Church’s and also allows you room to branch out and not be so worried about failure and living up to unrealistic expectations and agenda’s. Burn out is not a problem in confessional theology. In fact, there seems to be more energy and life when confessional theology is properly proclaimed from the pulpits and then the sacraments administered in the way they are supposed to be. I am not even tempted by slick programs and those high activity Church’s anymore. God is much better at accomplishing His purposes than I am. All I have to do is learn how to receive from him properly on Sunday mornings which energizes me to take the Gospel out into the various vocations God has called me to. Then he provides the motivation and energy to perform my duties with the abilities He has given me. This type of Christian life is much less stressful and fulfilling then the Arminian and revivalistic type. We just have to learn how to accept the suffering and rejection which might come our way by the culture in a spirit of joy and not let it bother us or destroy us.

    That scripture at the end of Todd Wilken’s post was spot on. The pressure oozes out of us when we are no longer under the burden to perform but allow God to do His mighty work in and through us. To God be all the glory.

  4. “Our synod was actually saying that our past evangelism efforts have failed. “

    Yes. They couldn’t sell their new measures until they could convince others that “grandfather’s church” was terminal and had to have the “plug pulled”.

  5. I pray that in 50 years, if the Lord tarries, the history of confessional Lutheranism in America will show the Ablaze[!] movement as something from which we’ll fully recover. What a costly ailment to the proclamation of the Gospel!

    I really hope the “grandfather’s church” only has a head cold, not a brain tumor.

  6. Jim,

    That is pretty clever. All the work that the “grandfather church” did for our good we can just throw in the trash. Now, if they were determined to be in error in any way we are free to pull the plug.

    Someone should pull the plug on the Ablaze movement because what they are promoting is an old error that has been around for a long time. If they really understood the Book of Concord and all the great confessional Lutheran theologians of the past they would join the ranks of those who are in disagreement with what they are doing.

    They are not that concerned with actually wrestling with the truth of God’s Word. If they were they would not be trying to shove the Ablaze agenda down the throats of those who do not want to have anything to do with it. I guess it has not gotten to that point yet but from what I gather they are not really privy to sitting down with others and trying to justify it scripturally.

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