Pastor Messer Writes a Nice Summary of What’s Wrong with Churches Like The Alley

I have been thinking that it would be good to write a summary critique of the problems with the move toward the “unchurch” church in the LCMS and other denominations. I have not had that time but noticed that Pastor Thomas Messer wrote just such a piece in the comment section of one our posts. He was responding to one of the comments by a member from The Alley. I have reprinted the relevant part of that post below and then followed it up with Pastor Messer’s comment.

Before getting to that let me share a few more thoughts. We have had several defenders of this new emergent style of church comment on our site. That is good on many levels. It is good that we can have these discussions. I thank all of you members of The Alley and others for taking the time to discuss these matters. We sharply disagree but I thank you for investing the time and thought to engage. While you are here discussing with the readers of this website we hope you may learn where we are coming from and take some time to read the Lutheran Confessions. We would love to add your church to our list of Confessions reading groups.

So member of The Alley Mark Boatman wrote this:

Much about the Alley that has been shared on this blog is misleading supposition and misinterpretation. How many of you with concerns and criticisms of our church (yes I did call us a church) have actually set foot in the door? Had a discussion with Pastor Ben? Actually talked with someone in leadership? Perhaps before criticizing, you should consider visiting…and even sitting down with us and working through your concerns in a spirit of cooperation and love (you know…like how Jesus might approach it). We’ll not agree on everything…but I think you’ll find we’re not as scary as you seem to think.

In response Pastor Messer said this:

Mark Boatman,

God forbid that I would draw conclusions about the Alley based simply on what someone else said, even if that someone is Rev. Rossow, whom I trust and for whom I have a great deal of respect.

I began looking into the Alley when a story about it appeared in one of our official LCMS publications many moons ago (don’t remember exactly when). I’ve visited the website, read all of the content, looked at the pictures, listened to the audio and watched the video on “the teachings,” and followed the blogs. All of this (the Alley’s public testimony of who they are, what they believe, and how they practice their beliefs) is enough for me to conclude that the Alley wants to be “a Lutheran church for those who don’t like Lutheranism.”

Do I really need to investigate further? Really? Why? Is what happens at the Alley different from what the website says happens? Are the pictures posted there inaccurate? Has the audio and video I’ve heard and seen been tampered with in some way? I suppose it’s possible that everything the Alley says about itself in public is inaccurate and what really happens there is genuinely Lutheran, but I highly doubt it. And, even if that were the case, my criticism about the Alley being dishonest would be just as valid, since it would be presenting itself to be one thing (some unique, independent blending of traditional, contemporary, Americanized Evangelical, and emergent which magically results in the genuine Christianity found in the 1st century), while practicing something completely different (confessional Lutheranism). Of course, we both know that the exact opposite is true. The Alley’s public testimony about itself is accurate, which means that it wants to be considered Lutheran, but has no desire to put confessional Lutheran doctrine into practice.

Besides all this, Mark, I have my own experience upon which to draw. Believe it or not, the Alley is not as unique as you might think. There are plenty of congregations masquerading as Lutheran to be found in our synod. I have witnessed the transformation of three LCMS congregations with my very own eyes. They went from being decidedly Lutheran in doctrine and practice to completely un-Lutheran in doctrine and practice. The only thing “Lutheran” about these congregations which remains is the “Lutheran” one sees on the sign outside.

I was a member of one of these congregations for years. It was a very traditional, liturgical Lutheran congregation. I was baptized and confirmed there. I was taught the Holy Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions there. I was taught to cherish the precious means of grace, the Holy Word and Sacraments, through which our Lord brings us into, and keep us in, the one, true faith.

But, all of that changed in the late 80s/early 90s. My pastor studied at Fuller and received a Master’s degree in “Church Growth.” Suddenly, the vestments disappeared, the hymnals were chucked, the altar gave way to the “praise band,” the sermons were replaced with “motivational messages” (often given in the form of skits and videos), spontaneous “testimonies” became commonplace during “worship,” and so on.

I can’t tell you how many one-on-one conversations I had with my pastor about all this – lots! I was confused. Everything I had learned was being pitched out the window and replaced with all of this “new and improved stuff.” But, I gave it a chance. I had loads of respect for my pastor and I trusted that he was leading us in the direction we should be going. “Thomas, the hymnal doesn’t appeal to the un-churched,” he would say to me whenever I questioned him. And, for a while, I bought into it. I tried to embrace this new version of Christianity, but, alas, it didn’t take. I guess I had been taught too well in my younger years. What I was seeing in my church didn’t feel authentic. It felt fake. It was all about having fun and “getting down with Jesus,” and that’s not why I had always come to church. It didn’t take long for me to see that what was happening in my church didn’t jive with what I learned in Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions. The Holy encounter with our Holy God in which I came on bended knee to confess my sins and plead for mercy, receiving the forgiveness, life, and salvation I desperately need by means of His Holy Word and Sacraments was gone. In its place was an hour of people-pleasing entertainment in which we were taken on an emotional roller-coaster each week, and had me asking myself week in and week out, “Where’s Jesus?”

The thing that hit me hardest about the transformation my congregation made was the lack of care given to our members. The new “philosophy” was that if you’re already “in,” you don’t matter. We the members were told constantly that our church wasn’t about us, but about the lost out there. Our “job” was to go out and bring the lost in. We were all “ministers,” after all, and our ministry was to seek after the lost and get them into our church. Everything – everything – became about that.

I remember a brother standing up during a “Bible Study” where this “philosophy” was being taught once and saying, “Yeah, but, I thought the church existed to feed the sheep.” He was answered, “That’s a secondary function of the church. The primary function is to find the lost and make them sheep. If you want to be fed, get into one of our ‘small groups’ or sign up to serve in one of our ‘ministries.’ That’s how you’ll be fed.”

Droves of people left that congregation. But, it didn’t matter. More people came in to replace them. This happened constantly and the congregation’s “leadership team,” with the pastor as the CEO, never blinked an eye. They were following a “So what, who’s next?” approach. No use crying over lost members; we’ve got souls to save out there!

I could go on and on, but I’ve already written too much. The point I’m making is that I’ve seen firsthand what happens when a Lutheran congregation follows the latest fads, which is exactly what the Alley is doing. I don’t need to come for a visit or sit down and have a heart-to-heart with Pastor Ben. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt (literally!).

So, back to the point I was making in my first post: If congregations like the Alley want to follow the latest fads and do their own thing, fine. Go for it. Have fun. Just stop claiming to be Lutheran at the same time. That’s dishonest. How can anything good come from being dishonest? Why not just embrace who you really are and what you really believe?

The truth is, Mark, I’ve been involved in this battle for years. I’ve read all of the classic “Church Growth” texts and am familiar with the progression of the movement to this day. I know all of the arguments backwards and forwards. I could probably take the pro-Church Growth side in a debate and argue its case better than most who actually embrace it. The problem, of course, is that it’s all bunk and has no Scriptural foundation (and most definitely no foundation whatsoever from our Lutheran Confessions) upon which to stand. So, it is not as though pastors like me have no clue what we’re talking about in this regard. Contrary to popular belief, our heads are not “stuck in the sand.” We don’t live in some fancy “ivory tower,” where we spend every waking moment with our faces firmly implanted in our Bibles and Confessions. We live in the real world, just like you. We’ve investigated these matters thoroughly and our conclusions are not off the cuff.

But, you want specifics. Fine. I’ll ask you the same question I’ve asked countless pastors and laypeople who have embraced the “style of worship” found in places like the Alley: Where in Holy Scripture do you find God’s people engaged in that “style of worship”? Where in our Lutheran Confessions is that “style of worship” condoned? Simple questions, really. Should lead to simple answers.

In Christ,
Pastor Messer

Thank you Pastor Messer for saying it better than I could. (For the entire series of comments click here. Pastor Messer’s comment is #58. Mark Boatman’s comment is #48. He also wrote in a similar fashion in comment #55.)

For a similar approach to  Pastor Messer’s,  you may want to check out the comment string for comments by  Paul in O’Fallon. He too has “visited” The Alley and has some important commentary for us. You can read about his visits here (see comments 10 and 14).

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.


Pastor Messer Writes a Nice Summary of What’s Wrong with Churches Like The Alley — 29 Comments

  1. “by this we know love, because he laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s good and sees his brother in need, and shuts his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.

  2. And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps his commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

  3. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have enternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

  4. Thanks Pastor Messer,
    I can relate to a lot of what you have written here. Having experienced similar things I sure do appreciate the confessional church I belong to now.

  5. “breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

  6. Would the person who was too ashamed to leave their name on the Bible verse comments please do us the favor of giving their name and also explain your use of the Bible.

    Everyone quotes Bible verses, the Pope, the Baptists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. I think I have an idea of what your saying but I do not want to assume. I would also rather discuss these important matters with someone who is willing to come out of the darkness and post their name.

    Thank you.

    Pastor Rossow

  7. As a former evangelical, I’m with Rev. Messer all the way.

    And as a citizen of the Twin Cities, I’ll be visiting this weekend. I was considering it anyways.

  8. Assuming for a moment that the Bible posts were not actually posted by people whose parents were evil enough to name their children things like 1 John and Book of Acts, (I named my daughter Trinity, and thought that was pretty mean) are the above posts supposed to be the evidence that the good Pastor is looking for?

    If so, I will need some major explanation, because not only are these passages not saying anything in support of Church Growth, but portions are either inconsistent or condemnatory of that movement.

    For instance, in the first post, “And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Could this be suggesting that we are to be “mission minded” to the exclusion of all else, or if not the exclusion, definitely to the subordination of all else? If so, this is exegetically problematic. The brethren are the brothers, or the brotherhood, to the modern parlance, to make a gloss here, and that would suggest that this is framing this Scriptural passage to the people already in the Church, that is, to the brethren, a word that most often refers to the Church and the people within it in the Scripture.

    This passage then goes on to list various dimensions of the service that you are to respond with in the care of “the brethren.” Beautiful passage, what. Definitely no mention of style here.

    The fifth comment, the one posted by Mr. Acts, I think is meant to suggest something about worship style, but runs into similar problems. First of all, it is somewhat disingenuous to cut out the problem portions of this section. It is from the famous description of the Early Church in Acts 2:42-47. What you left out was that they held all things in common, selling all they had, and suggesting that they “were together” so perhaps lived communally in some form or another, though they could just mean were together during the Divine Service. You cut out the first verse, which reads, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

    First, what were they devoting themselves to? Right, the teachings and confessions of faith of the Apostles, and to the fellowship.” Who were the fellowship? The people of the Church. The breaking of bread and the prayers have been suggested as belonging to the description of the worship of the Early Church, i.e., the Sacrament of the Altar and the liturgy, passed to the Early Church from the liturgy of the synagogues and the Temple. Speaking of the temple, you dropped that portion from the beginning of the sentence that you posted.

    You wrote: “breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

    What it actually says is: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved”

    Do you see the difference? Day by day what did they do? Attended the Temple. Participated in the historic liturgy of the Temple. Praised God in a formal and ancient way. Sat in reverent awe as God reached out to them in the words that was passed down to each new generation.

    Further, “breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” Now, I am using the ESV translation here, so there is a minor variation in the translation. I think you are using the NKJV. It is a fairly good translation at this point, and the NKJV has much to commend it. It does go a different way than the KJV, NLT, NASB, NIV, and of course, the ESV. But whatev. The important point here is that they were going from house to house to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, as is evident in these texts and their understanding by the Church Fathers. I have had this translation of this passage thrown at me by some of my friends who have Puritan roots to point out that the liturgy is evil, as in, “See, they worshipped with “simplicity of heart” not with all of the bells and whistles of liturgy!” Well, I think that may be why the other translators went with things like, “glad and generous hearts” when they did this. Because it has been so badly misinterpreted. You see, a congregant may have “simplicity of heart” no matter how he is worshipping, it is an internal reality, not an external one. A better translation of ἀφελότητι would probably be “sincerity” rather than simplicity, but either would work, unfortunately, with simplicity in there, it is fertile ground for this kind of misrepresentation.

    So, there you have it. Bad exegetics strike again. But I think you are sincere in wanting to raise the point that people should be focused on taking the message to the lost, but forgiveness of sins is not limited to those who areb’t n the pews, it is a treasure for all mankind. “All nations” include the people out in the world, but also Grandma M who has sat in that same pew for 65 years.

    Also, sign your name. What are you afraid of?

  9. Quinn and Jonathan – this is great stuff! Jonathan – be sure to give us a report. I am hoepful that just knowing folks like you will be checking it out will raise the level of preaching, but I am an optimist.

    Pastor Rossow

  10. I have a different perspective than Pr Messer. After growing up in a traditional Methodist church I became a charismatic. For about 3-4 years I attended a congregation that had all the “spiritual gifts” and a vibrant worship experience. We had home groups and even held baptisms at water parks. Through my study of history and theology I began to question the theology and practice of this congregation. My study led me to the historic, confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church as it exists in the MO Synod. Frankly, I cannot believe what seems to have followed me into the MO Synod. Ironically, there is little new in these alternative beliefs or practices that have entered our congregations.

  11. The Scripture game is always fun to play, even when out of context. To Luke 23 et. al

    “Open rebuke is better Than love carefully concealed” Proverbs 27:5

  12. Oh, for goodness’ sake. Bible quotes without a signature? I have yet to meet a false prophet who says, “Hey, I’m a false prophet.” False prophets love to quote Scripture too — just turn on the TV and you’ll see ’em almost 24/7. Bible quoter, if you are genuine, then please just be genuine.

  13. Dear “1 John, 1 John 5, Book of Acts, and Luke 23,”

    Are these Scripture passages being put forward as evidence of God’s people engaging in the “style of worship” found in congregations like the Alley? Cause, I gotta tell ya, I’m not seeing it. Maybe if you offered an explanation with them, we could have an intelligent conversation about the validity, or lack thereof, of using these passages in support of your argument. If you’re making an argument, that is. I can’t tell.

    Of course, to be fair, I didn’t ask for an explanation with the Scripture passages, did I? I probably should have. My bad. If you wouldn’t mind, could you please explain how these passages have anything at all to do with the “style of worship” employed in congregations like the Alley?

    Pastor Messer

  14. Pastor Rossow
    1. Quinn and Jonathan – this is great stuff! Jonathan – be sure to give us a report. I am hopeful that just knowing folks like you will be checking it out will raise the level of preaching, but I am an optimist.
    This comment is mocking and is really beneath a minister of the Gospel. I challenge you to look at this issue and any other you choose to comment on in Christian love and balanced by the scriptures. Forms of worship change over time. Unless there is something contrary to scripture we are talking style and culture. If you want to argue that culture should never change our style then why are we not speaking something other than English. Aramic or perhaps German to tie us to the “Founder” of our Lutheranism.

  15. Pastor Messer & Rossow
    First off. I am not the anonymous bible verse poster. I have commented on this board before and always left my name. I would guess, and that is all I can do is guess. That someone might post unidentified because of the harsh criticism that I have seen displayed on this board by anyone who questions even one point that you make. I think the reason for those particular passages being selected could be suggested as follows:
    My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.
    Pretty simple explanation….. love in deed. Sarcasm and such demonstrates no love what so ever.
    And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His son Jesus Christ and love one another.
    Pretty simple…… same explanation
    And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His son.
    This is the message. God gave us eternal life and that life is in His son. If that message is preached at a place then that is what God’s people are to be about. There is nothing wrong with Hymnals, liturgy or any other elements of the service. But that message is the most important. In the many responses I read it seems that is getting lost.

  16. Paul,

    You are only partially right. Worship forms change over time. They change very slowly. For 500 years we have been worhiping prety much the same way Luther did. Yes there are some changes but there have been fewer changes in those 500 years to the basic liturgy of the church than you and others have made in the last 15 years! Why is our generation so arrogant as to think that we are the chosen ones to make wholesale changes?

    When wholesale changes are made doctrine is lost. This is proven by your very own statement of beliefs which demonstrates that you do not hold to the Biblical and confessional character of the church. The Lutheran confessions characterize the church as the place where the Gospel is taught in its purity and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution but your statement of beliefs ignores the sacraments.

    It is beyond belief that a Lutheran church can list its statement of beliefs and leave out the sacraments. But it becomes believable when you realize that this same church has made wholesale changes to the liturgy.

    I am curious Paul, have you ever read the Lutheran Confessions? What do you think of them? Do you think they are a true exposition of the Bible?

    Can you also explain how what I said above is “mocking?” I really do not mean to mock anyone and would be happy to apologize but I honestly do not see it.

    Pastor Rossow

  17. Paul,

    The liturgy is dripping with Christ. The liturgical church’s that I know of are all centered around Christ’s mercy. In my experience it is churches that dump the liturgy that replace Christ crucified with sermons on relationships, Christian parenting, and how to be a good manager of your finances. What makes you think that we are not preaching the love of Christ?

    Pastor Rossow

  18. Your statement is mocking because it is sarcastic. You criticize those you do not agree with , as is your right. However, you do not stop there but make fun of them with sarcasm…”I am an optimist”. That is mocking and as I stated beneath you.
    As to your question: What makes you think that we are not preaching the love of Christ? I have never said that you do not preach the love of Christ. I would not know sir for I have never heard you speak or read a sermon of yours. I would suggest that preaching is not only limited to what you speak when behind a pulpit but also what you write in a forum such as this.

  19. Mr. Thompson,

    Thank you for providing a name rather than just verses.

    The comments and correction by Pastor Rossow and the others on this site that disagree with you certainly hurt. But then any time we are called to explain what we are doing we feel like we are under attack. Something personal like religion make that even more so.

    Permit me to start from your I John post (#20) at the “Statement of Belief at The Alley Church has Some Substance but does not Mention the Sacraments, by Pr. Rossow” thread, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” Here Jesus is the manifestation of God the Father’s love for us – Jesus, the very Word of God of which all Holy Scripture testifies. It is of this Word that Saint Paul speaks to Timothy, 2 Tim 3 “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (ESV) So Holy Scripture in context and interpreting itself is the way we can discuss these issues.

    Pastor Ben does an admirable job presenting Jesus Christ in His life, death, and resurrection for sinners (I have listened to your web-site messages and will continue). He also correctly displays the position we have as sinners before a Holy God. After that the message falls into the “what you must do” category. This focus on the actions of the sinner steals the Gospel that was just given and leaves the hearer with a list of expected actions and God, ultimately, as a ruthless taskmaster saying, “because I sent My Son to die for you, you must …”

    Those commenting here are all sinners which they would certainly admit as do I and the comments made certainly come from both the saint and the sinner side. Abide with us in the Love of Christ. We are concerned about the saved as well as the lost in your midst and desire to love you in the way that points out concerns for discussion and correction – on either side.

    I was wondering if you could explain the “why” of your style of worship (at least the message portion). No altar, no lectern, no pulpit, no vestments, no cross (at least prominently displayed since I didn’t notice one) – for what reason have these been jettisoned? For me the form of worship and its content are married. The reasons for all the “trappings” of traditional worship are because they are as much a sermon as that which is delivered from the pulpit. Are they “necessary” – no, but their removal from The Alley, JHChurch, etc. should have been the result of serious consideration rather than the supposed move to be relevant, non-threatening, or non-offending.

    From the appearance your worship space is identical to those of Willow Creek (Bill Hybels), Joyce Meyer Ministries, Lakewood Church (Joel Osteen), Saddleback Church (Rick Warren), etc. so wouldn’t someone who enters that place expect to experience the same type of service? If so, are you driven to change your message presentation from Christ focused to self-help christianity?

    I’ll end bluntly. I’m not an “optimist” like Pastor Rossow. I’ve had these discussions concerning the Jefferson Hills Church directly with President Kieschnick, President Mirly (Missouri District), and the Lead Pastor at JHChurch, Steve Benke. I’ve been told “we’re handling your issue in a Christ-like manner” and “I understand your concern and sincerity” and “I’ve heard your comments and that all I’m obliged to do.” In the ten months I’ve been closely following the actions, efforts, and preaching of JHChurch (see at nothing has changed – they have only slipped farther from proclaiming Christ crucified and more to proclaiming the work (outreach) of the person in the seat (pew). I’m not expecting you to change (although I pray that you all do). However, there are many others reading this and other sites like it who can have their eyes opened to what is going on in the LCMS. With open eyes to what is going on there may be change in the LCMS through District and Synodical convention votes to return the Synod to the Truth of the Gospel presented in Holy Scripture and rightly presented in the Lutheran Confessions.

    Christ have mercy – Paul in O’Fallon

  20. I do apologize if I came off as mocking anyone. I definitely had a moment of fun at the “names” that the Scriptures were quoted under, I grant that, but to not point out the ridiculous when it is ridiculous is not “more” loving.

    However, I have seen this comment on here before, usually when people comment under a pseudonym, which is your right, but it undercuts your entire argument. I could never say anything of substance without putting my name on here. It would feel as though I had something to hide. I mean, whether I put my name on any board, and I am involved in inter-web conversations on more liberal dominated boards, my comments are going to receive the same treatment, if people disagree with me, they are going to point that out. If I make a mistake in my reasoning or in the above case, hermeneutical exegetics, people are going to point that out as well. And let me be clear; that is a good thing. I want honest reaction, not people hiding their heads in the sand and claiming unity where this is none.

  21. Paul R. Thompson,

    Thanks for offering your guesses as to what the anonymous poster meant by posting those Bible passages. But, just to be clear, I wasn’t asking for an explanation of the passages themselves, but rather how those passages have anything to do with the “style of worship” employed by congregations like the Alley.

    It seems that what you are suggesting as a possible reason for the posting of those Bible passages has to do with the manner in which we debate the issue, rather than with the issue itself. To that point, I have to warn you that I’m not very sympathetic toward those who appear on sites like this, enter the debate, and then cry “foul” when people disagree with them and criticize their views. I just find it hard to believe that such people don’t know that they’re going to be challenged by those on a website whose address is My sympathy dissipates further as I witness steadfast Lutherans honestly trying to engage these people, sincerely desiring to talk about the issues they’ve raised, only to have these people hurl accusations of lovelessness and such at them, all the while claiming to be more loving and faithful Christians. It’s all just rather tiresome and childish, not to mention purposely evasive and dishonest. But, I digress.

    I could not agree with you more that the message of the Gospel is the most important thing. This is exactly what we should be talking about, and this is exactly what we steadfast Lutherans are so eager to defend as vigorously as we can. This is why we get so worked up over congregations like the Alley. I know it seems like we should just mind our own business, but we just can’t. We simply can’t sit idly by on the sidelines and watch as a congregation that claims to be Lutheran replaces the most important thing with other things. It really bothers us to see the Gospel of our Lord being “repackaged” to make it more appealing to the masses; to see His Holy House turned into an arena of entertainment; to see His Holy Word and Sacraments de-emphasized to make room for the constant pandering to “felt needs,” and so on.

    As for your argument that “forms of worship” change over time, you are really missing the point. It’s not about “forms of worship,” but about the theology of worship. No one would possibly argue that there has been one, exact same liturgy followed in Christendom from the first century to today. That would be rather silly. The historic liturgy as we have it today has developed over time. There have been additions and deletions along the way, and there have always been variations practiced within Christendom, and still are right up to the present day.

    But, this debate is not about defending some pristine, never-changing liturgy that fell down from heaven and into the church. It’s about defending the theology of worship taught us in Holy Scripture, handed down to us through the centuries, and confirmed for us in our Lutheran Confessions.

    This theology of worship is one that focuses on what you rightly note is the most important thing, namely the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus takes center stage in this theology of worship, not as an example to emulate or as the leader of a pep rally, but as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is Present in this theology of worship. We are on His turf, in His House, not ours. He is the Host, we are His guests. He bids us come and lay all our burdens on Him, that we might receive His Divine Gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation by means of His Holy Word and Sacraments. This theology of worship demands our respect and utmost reverence. Our Lord is there, not just in our hearts and minds, but physically there in His Word and in His very Body and Blood. It is not a time for informality and flippancy. It is not a time for fun and entertainment. We are in the very Presence of our Lord, there at His invitation to receive what He desires to give, and to return our thanks and praise for what He has given.

    The historic liturgy, even with its variations, adheres to this theology of worship, for it is Christ-centered and Cross-focused through and through (as Pastor Rossow noted, “it is dripping with Christ”). It is a proper and laudable vehicle for emphasizing the most important thing and delivering that most important thing to God’s people. Those who abandon the historic liturgy in the name of “stylistic preference” (congregations like the Alley) are not simply changing the “form” while keeping the theology. No, they are, in fact, abandoning the theology of worship described above and following a completely different theology of worship, one in which Jesus, His cross, and His gifts take a back seat to entertainment, emotion, and informality.

    As I’ve said a couple of times in the threads on the Alley, if they want to follow their own theology of worship (Church, Ministry, etc.), fine. Just be honest about it and quit claiming to be Lutheran, for we Lutherans adhere to the theology of worship (Church, Ministry, etc.) revealed in Holy Scripture and exposited in our Lutheran Confessions. If they continue to claim to be Lutheran, then the onus is on them to show us how what they practice is in line with what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess. A good start would be in answering the questions I proposed earlier, namely where in Holy Scripture do we find God’s people engaged in the “style of worship” employed at congregations like the Alley? And, where in our Lutheran Confessions is that “style of worship” condoned? Simply listing a number of passages from Scripture which have nothing at all to do with answering these questions doesn’t cut it.

    In Christ,
    Pastor Messer

  22. Paul,

    I’m a little confused by one of your posts and was wondering if you would clarify it for me:

    You wrote:

    “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.
    Pretty simple explanation….. love in deed. Sarcasm and such demonstrates no love what so ever.”

    I’m with you so far, although I also find sarcasm appropriate among friends who together enjoy it. But what confuses me was what you wrote next”

    “And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His son Jesus Christ and love one another.
    Pretty simple…… same explanation”

    OK… I’m hoping that it is just an oversight and you are only really focusing on the last three words, but that you really don’t think that the the point of “we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ” is “love in deed.” There are, indeed, many groups who teach this very thing, most prominently the papacy and the Roman church. But I should most ardently counter that he meaning of “we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ,” is “God loves YOU in deed.”

    Shall we then love each other? Of course. Point taken. But that point is only the second point. Put another way, the Law is only the hand-maiden. It is the Gospel – the *promise* which is the Reign of God in our very midst.

    Hopefully, I merely misunderstood your desire to lift up our need for charity, and you do not really believe that salvation is a matter of “faith acting through love.” Please forgive my misunderstanding, and, if you have time, clarify your position on the text from John.

    Thank you.

  23. Paul (#19),

    Thank you for taking the time to explain why you thought I was mocking.

    I would be quick to apologize if I thought I actaully mocked anyone but I have read your explanation and do not think that I have. I could be wrong.

    I would say “I apologize if you were offended by my comment” but I always hate it when I get apologies like that so I am not going to say that.

    Even though I cannot apologize, I have taken your words to heart. They have caused me to consider what I write on the website and for that I thank you.

    Concerning your notion about being loving, please do not forget the basic notion of tough love. Love does not mean that we never confront each other with firm, direct words. This is a man’s group (The Brothers of John the Steadfast) and we are happy to get rough with each other. We believe there needs to be more of this in the church. The church has become feminized and we believe that a place like The Alley is caught up in this feminization of the church by sacrificing historically strong and masculine traits of the church for new and overly sensitive ones. We seek a strong, firm, steadfast faith where men are leaders. This is why I pointed out the good parts of The Alley’s statement of belief – depravity of man, etc. because they are a firm and strong word against culture.

    This desire for a more masculine church is not an excuse to speak the truth without love and I am sure that many people think we are unloving but really we are not.

    Thanks again for reading our website. I look forward to further discussion on this and many other topics as you are moved to participate.

    Pastor Rossow

  24. Dear Gentlemen (and women),

    I have not had the time to read every single comment that has been made regarding the Alley. So much of what I have to say is probably superfluous…but it may be of interest to some.

    You see, unlike Pastor Messer, whose comments have been spot on, I HAVE talked with Pastor Ben personally. In fact, I was a member of Woodbury Lutheran Church (WLC) for 10 years. I was there in my formative years (I’m 26 now), when Pastor Paul Pfotenhauer retired and Pastor Dean Nadasdy replaced him. I was there when Pastor Ben Griffin was called and before the Alley came into existence.

    As long as I can remember, WLC has always been about making you “feel” close to God. Sure, they want you to grow in your faith, just as honestly as any confessional Lutheran church would…but how that happens from a WLC stance is decidedly different than simply being nourished by Word and Sacrament.

    The WLC “worship style” was always one of praise music, where the music director prayed ex corde as he played twinkly music; we were encouraged to lift up our hands to glorify God as we sang these songs; Lenten services always included a “testimony” from a member of the congregation about what God has done in their lives. In 4th grade, I was taught in Sunday School that if I had never asked Jesus into my heart, then I was not saved.

    Each of these points above can be explored in some detail–we don’t need to talk about them here. All this to say, “experience” was the name of the game. I despaired not being able to find a special place in my life where God had turned my life around–that is, I had no testimony. I despaired because I was told I should “feel” a peace at knowing that I had been born again–but I felt no peace. I was grumpy on a Sunday morning and didn’t feel like lifting up my hands in praise–was I not saved?

    Between my junior and senior years of college, I had to choose between several career routes–was I going to the seminary, or was I going to do something else? I talked with Pastor Ben to discuss these options. And although I can’t remember exactly what we had discussed, I remember him being very thoughtful and very encouraging (sad to say, I can’t remember what about, though). Upon leaving his office, I was given a book called “The Emerging Church” by Dan Kimball, which he thought was wonderful.

    I didn’t mean to get personal here about the pastor; I have no intention of impugning his character. But to Mr. Boatman: Yes, I have talked with Pastor Ben. But that’s not the point. What more is there than Christ and Him crucified? I go to church not to get others saved, but to be served by our Lord and Savior Himself. As for saving others, may we boldly confess Christ in our vocations at work, at home, and everywhere else, and then let’s rely on God’s Word to do the work (Isaiah 55 all the way).

    I’m now in a wonderfully confessional church in Cupertino, CA, blessed with pastors who hold steadfastly to the Word and acknowledge our Lutheran Confessions as a true exposition of the Word of God. I’m, of course, still learning what it means to be a Lutheran–but now I don’t “feel” peace, I KNOW peace because I can point to something outside of myself as my salvation.

    My testimony now? Christ died for my sins. That’s all I need.

    I am baptized,

    P.S. I chose particle physics instead of the seminary.

  25. Kyle K.,

    Thanks so much for sharing. You’re experience sheds light on the central aspect in the “worship wars”: Is Christian worship about “experiencing” Jesus (“Come on, can you feel Him? Raise your hands! Sing louder! Pray harder! You can do it!”)? Or, is it about “receiving” Jesus in His external Word and Sacraments? In other words, is it about Jesus IN YOU or about Jesus FOR YOU? Lutherans have always confessed the latter.

    Here’s the other thing that so many often forget to consider in this debate: Why do the methabapticostals, “Evangelicals,” and non-denoms worship the way they do? It’s because they don’t believe Jesus is REALLY there with them. He’s “up there” in heaven and it’s up to them to reach Him with their praise and worship. If the praise and worship is “powerful” enough, then maybe, just maybe they’ll “feel” Jesus in their hearts.

    We Lutherans have a radically different belief. We believe Jesus is REALLY there with us. He’s there in His Holy Word and Sacraments – REALLY THERE. And, since He’s there, it is a Holy place, which demands our awe and reverence. No need to work ourselves into an emotional frenzy in the hope of reaching Jesus. He’s there!

    You can’t “worship” like those who don’t believe Jesus is there and claim to be Lutheran. Doesn’t work. Can’t work. It doesn’t matter if you sprinkle in a few liturgical items. The deed is already done. My pastor of years ago used to tell me, “The liturgy is there. It’s just hidden.” Um, if it’s hidden, it’s not really there. Duh! You can’t replace liturgical elements with “praise stuff,” which confesses something entirely different, and claim that you still have the liturgy. That dog simply won’t hunt.

    Anyway, didn’t mean to carry on. Thanks again for your post. I feel your pain, but am glad to know that you’ve found a confessional Lutheran congregation where the Divine Service takes place.

    In Christ,
    Pastor Messer

  26. Okay, I’ve been reading these posts, and honestly I could read until Christ returns and probably never catch up. So I promise to stay on top of the blogs if someone will bring me up to speed.

    I notice there are a few Pastors and Revs. on blogging here. I’m very grateful for that. That means you have had some formal training and can answer my questions. What in the world are the sacraments of the Lutheran church – I mean the sacraments that Luther put in place? Obviously I did not have the priviledge of being raised in the Lutheran church, so this is all news to me.

    Serving the King

  27. the sacraments of the Lutheran church are Baptism and Holy Communion. Sometimes confession and absolution are included. Along with the preaching of the Word, the Sacraments are means of grace, or the ways Christ instituted to give us the benefits of the forgiveness he earned for us on the cross.

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