Why the LCMS is not Living up to its Potential in Missions, Or Why We Need To, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four part series from Pastor Preus. All of his posts can be found archived in the Brothers’ Cafe.)


It’s been a couple of months since one of the district presidents referred to liturgical pastors as “Museum keepers.” I thank God he is not my district president. I know a pastor in Wisconsin who uses the liturgy and traditional hymns once a year on Reformation Sunday, but he calls it heritage week. I thank God that he is not my pastor. I know a pastor out west who has promised that he will not sing more than one song a week written before 1950. I’m glad that he is not the pastor of my congregation. And I know a mission program which is predicated on the belief that “What has been done in the LC-MS toward the work of evangelizing the world pre-Ablaze has failed.” I’m glad that Ablaze! is not my mission program. Wait a second. I guess it is mine. I am a member of the synod and so is my congregation. This is my program.


And that’s a big reason why we will not live up to our potential. Ever since its inception Ablaze! has implicitly required me to believe that until now we have failed. And I will not believe this because it is untrue, unkind and prideful. You can’t expect a program to enjoy buy-in from those required to support it when it means those very people have to disrespect their fathers and grandfathers. I won’t do it. And apparently lots of other people whose fathers and grandfathers were heroes and saints of yesterday will not do it either.  


But there is one more underlying problem with Ablaze!. And this reason more fundamentally explains why Ablaze! is stalled and the synod is confused about speaking the message of Jesus.


In Ablaze! we have separated doctrine and practice. Sorry to harp on an old theme but that is what we are doing. We have place an “and” between our doctrine and practice and we need to get rid of the “and.” We need to “Ban the And.


Here’s the doctrine: God sent His Son to live and die for the sins of the world and rise again. He makes His gospel – message of Jesus and sacraments of Jesus – powerful to whomever it is applied. He wants all men to be saved by this gospel. He has appointed some to be apostles some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers to do the work of the ministry. He honors all Christians with the charge to confess the faith and tell others what he has done. All confessional Lutherans believe, teach and confess these doctrines.


Here’s the practice: Teach and confess that God sent his Son to live and die for the sins of the world and rise again. Teach and confess that God makes His gospel – word and sacrament – powerful to whomever it is applied. Appoint pastors/teachers to do the work of  the ministry. Honor all Christians with the charge to confess the faith. Teach everyone the catechism so that they will know what to confess and how to tell. All mission-minded Lutherans learn and confess these doctrines.    


Wait! It appears that the doctrine and practice are the same. They are almost indistinguishable. That means that a confessional Lutheran and a mission-minded Lutheran are the same thing.


This is so because you can’t confess the faith to no one. There has to be a listener. And the minute someone listens you have doctrine applied in practice. You can’t have a mission without sending someone who has something to say. And the minute you do you have a practice which applies doctrine. You can’t be mission-minded without being confessional and you can’t be confessional without being mission-minded. There is no such thing as a synod which is “Confessional and mission-minded.” Confessional is mission-minded and mission-minded is confessional.


In the past Lutherans understood this and the word “Confessional” was used to embrace both the doctrinal and practical sides of our identity. If you were “Confessional” of course you wanted everyone to hear and know the confession. And if you were “mission- minded” of course you wanted everyone to hear and know the confession. Everyone in the synod was both because you can’t be one without the other. And everyone was content with the adjective “confessional” to embrace both our doctrine (the content of the faith) and our practice (apply the content to people).


It’s like loving your wife (doctrine) and kissing your wife (practice). If you have the correct marital doctrine you’re going to have the correct marital practice. I don’t think it matters if we refer to “loving husbands” or “kissing husbands.” We simply need to know that there is one kind of husband – a loving, kissing husband.


It’s like being a Cardinal fan. You go to the Cardinal games (doctrine). Fans go to games. You also love to talk about the Cardinals (practice). Fans talk. You can’t separate the two. It’s hard even to distinguish. You yell at the games (practice) while Albert Pujols hits a home run (doctrine) and then you go home and tell your friends (practice) what you saw at the game (doctrine).              


Now someone has added the word “and” between “confessional” and “mission-minded” as if you can be one or the other. And this little word “and” has caused great division in the church. It’s even underlined so that you cannot escape the conclusion that we are divided.


We need a new mantra in our synod if we are to be confessional Lutherans. “Get rid of the ‘and.'” We need a no tolerance mantra. BAN THE “AND.” Once the “and” is gone we can forgive its offensive nature and begin to work together as our fathers and grandfathers did. BAN THE “AND.”



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.


Why the LCMS is not Living up to its Potential in Missions, Or Why We Need To, by Pr. Klemet Preus — 12 Comments

  1. It’s like loving your wife (doctrine) and kissing your wife (practice). If you have the correct marital doctrine you’re going to have the correct marital practice.

    That is a great illustration. I’ll doctrinally practice it on my husband when he comes home from work tonight. 🙂

  2. Or put another way, the proponents of Ablaze! drive a wedge between Jesus’ words, “make disciples of all nations” AND “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” AND “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

    Jesus put no “ands” between “make disciples,” “baptizing,” or “teaching.” So why do the proponents of Ablaze! ?


  3. I’ll buy everything in this article except the Cardinals illustration. It just doesn’t work for this die hard Cubs fan. We need the Cubs to teach us how to properly & patiently wait for the eschaton. 🙂

  4. Good analogy Todd. We make disciples “by means” of baptizing (gen absolute) So we do evangelism “by means” of doing doctrine. Don’t you love it!

  5. This post is most certainly true. Lutheran doctrine is often about banning the “and”. When we say “and” as part of our theology we are simply adding things. Our sinful nature wants to say faith and my works save me or God’s word and my crafty way of presenting it are effective. In the process we usually focus on ourselves and leave Christ out.

    It is enough for us to live in Christ alone. He alone saves us. He alone uses us for the good of our neighbor as He sees fit.

  6. Some insert the conjunction “and” between “mission minded” and “Confessional”, because they can’t get rid of “confessional” unless the two terms are separated out in the minds of Lutherans.

  7. Thanks for saying it so plainly that even this layman can understand! It really isn’t that complicated is it?

  8. You have no idea how bad it is with the LCMS in my neck of the woods. No idea at all. Not a clue.

  9. I think one who would refer to a liturgical pastor as a “museum keeper’ would accuse one such as me, a confessional Lutheran, of “watching the game” and not ever talking about it, thereby asserting that I have doctrine, and not practice. Moreover, it seems impossible (at least to me, a poor miserable regular layperson) to get anywhere in a discussion with such persons. To illustrate my point, here is an example of the “other side”, from a Nov. 2008 blog post by Pr. Tim Kade’s (he of Epic [sigh–have mercy] Church in Michigan):

    When Jesus Christ walked the earth, the people who were most involved in God’s community were the people who were the biggest critics of Christ, His mission and His ministry. It’s crazy. Christ’s critics were in worship every week. They were engaged in the Scriptures. But since Jesus didn’t fit in their box in the way they thought He should do ministry, they missed Him.
    You would think they would see His heart to reach the lost sheep, but they didn’t. You would think they would listen to truth of His words, but they didn’t. You would think they would see what the Holy Spirit was doing in the lives of those who were following Him, but they didn’t. Because they were so hung up on the rites of the Sabbath, they missed that He was The Lord of the Sabbath. Because they couldn’t see the Rock He was building his church on, they decided to throw stones. Because they were threatened by Him, they decided to threaten him.
    Even though His critics probably never received Him, He ultimately went to the cross to pay the penalty for those sins that probably hurt HIm the very most.
    “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew 16:6
    This is what Kade wrote in the comments to the blog post: I’ve just noticed an increased criticism and stone throwing this week by Christ followers. They are angry at Christians who don’t fit in their mold of what it means to follow Christ. It’s sad and it breaks the heart of God.
    In the past I’ve tried to have discussions with them, but it didn’t take me long to realize that most critics don’t want an explanation…they want an argument. They want the chance to shame you, to speak down to you, and to tell you how right THEY ARE! It’s really fruitless and pointless. I am learning to live out of 2 Timothy 2:23 and not have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments.

    I know he is wrong, but I am neither sufficiently erudite nor articulate enough to answer this stuff. Fortunately, I have access to the brilliant, erudite and articulate readers of this website!

  10. Klem,
    Your usual, insightful analysis. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.