The Transforming Churches Network: Part 8, Let Reason Be Far Away, by Scott Diekmann

(Scott’s posts are archived on the Regular Columns page under the title “Apologetics: Apply Liberally to Affected Area.” This is the eighth post in a series on the TCN program. It is also posted on his website Stand Firm.)

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) Church Growth Study Committee completed its study, “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission,” in 2001, in response to a request from the 1995 Synodical Convention. They state: “This report is offered to further the cause of Christ-centered church growth and genuine evangelism. The principles it sets forth should serve to sort out helpful strategies from those that, however unintentionally, obscure the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.” This was not an unimportant report done by an unqualified group of doctrinal red necks. Some of the people on the committee whose names you might recognize include Dr. Robert Kuhn, Dr. Kurt Marquart, Dr. Dale Meyer, Dr. Harold Senkbeil, and Dr. Gene Edward Veith.

Their report, which came out long before the Mission Revitalization Process was released for public consumption, indicts just about every aspect of the Transforming Churches Network (TCN) and the Mission Revitalization Process. Here is a brief composite of their findings:

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

  • When absolution and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are minimized in favor of personal religious efforts, relational concerns or church activities.
  • When people-oriented social sciences and methodologies subtly dominate the God-centered Means of Grace.
  • When small-group (meta-church) organization and interaction are considered essential or compete without the public ministry of God’s Word and Sacrament.
  • When every-busy [sic] church activism is substituted for God-pleasing service in daily Christian vocation.
  • When programs of “leadership training” result in (1) substitution of lay leaders for public ministers of the Gospel or (2) inadequate training for the proper theological preparation of preachers.
  • When mission is shaped mainly by its attractiveness and friendliness to unbelievers, thus pandering to the old Adam.
  • When secular culture in one way or another controls the shape of the church’s mission.
  • When the decisive criteria for the church’s mission become techniques of commercial marketing, rhetorical persuasion, statistical success, or external appearances of happiness or harmony.
  • When recently popularized small groups (meta groups) are viewed as foundational in mission.
  • When the modern concept “everyone a minister” is equated with the priesthood of all believers: a) This denies the true priesthood of all believers, which is exercised not only in worship and prayer, but also in daily vocation (i.e., the work of one’s earthly calling, Christian witness in daily life, parental teaching in the home, etc.) (1 Pet. 2:9; Rom. 12:1–2); b) It confuses individual Christian lives with public offices in the church. (Acts 6); c) It can be used to undermine Jesus’ gift of the office of preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments (pastoral office) (Eph. 3:7–10, 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28–29 (AC V, XIV, XXVIII).
  • When congregations or small groups are encouraged to regard fellow lay Christians or church staff personnel as their pastors rather than those men properly trained, qualified, called and ordained to the pastoral office.
  • When the pastor is viewed as a chief executive officer, administrator, or director whose primary purpose is to train laity to do the real pastoral care.
  • When pastors lord it over their flocks, not giving patient attention to careful instruction and faithful service as Christ’s undershepherds to His sheep.
  • When the church’s preaching, teaching, music and worship are changed to be more like the world in order to be accepted by the world.
  • When spiritual life is measured in terms of personal happiness, earthly success and appearance, worldly wisdom and human glory (1 Cor. 1:21–25).
  • When behavioral and social sciences are given a shared authority with the Word of God as a measure of spiritual truth.
  • When it is thought that saving faith can be imparted by human market strategies or that the growth of the Holy Christian Church can be adequately or accurately measured by numbers (Matt. 7:13–14; 16:18; Acts 2:47; Col. 2:19).
  • When a congregation sees itself as necessarily more faithful because it is not growing. Or, conversely, when a congregation views growing numbers and income as an indication that Christ is necessarily building His church. Numbers, large or small, are not a litmus test of the Gospel’s power (Matt. 7:24–27).
  • When anything other than faithfulness by pastor or people to the pure Gospel and Sacraments of Christ is used to measure the “health” of a congregation (1 Cor. 2:2).
  • When Christians believe that only “church work” is a valid way of serving God, so that they neglect their earthly vocations.
  • When the church is operated as a purely secular corporation, with the pastor functioning as the “C.E.O.,” the elders being reduced to a Board of Directors, and the congregation treated as workers, all organized according to a business plan to market a product.
  • When the “Priesthood of All Believers” is taken to mean “every member a minister.” This view denigrates the secular vocations (in implying that everyone ought to be engaged in ministerial functions to serve God, as if their existing callings were not equally spiritual in God’s sight). It also can be used to denigrate the pastoral vocation (in implying that everyone can do what the pastor has personally been called to do).
  • When the “success” of a particular church is assumed to consist in quantifiable results, such as its budget or its number of new members.
  • When pragmatic or utilitarian considerations-however helpful in their sphere assume an authority over that of God’s Word.
  • When it is assumed that the church grows through the application of principles, prescriptions, programs and other human actions, as opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Means of Grace.

The Committee’s report, which is still as valid today as when it was written, since God’s Word hasn’t changed, is not a list of nice-to-know bits of trivia. This is a list of things which are spiritually harmful. Yet every one of the items listed above is practiced to one degree or another by TCN. The proper distinction between Law and Gospel, which Walther called the highest art and the most difficult thing to discern, now seems to be lost in antiquity. There has obviously been a “culture change” in the LCMS. What happened? The genie has been let out of the bottle. Luther explains:

I am saying this in order that we may learn the doctrine of justification with the greatest diligence and distinguish most clearly between the Law and the Gospel. On this issue we must not do anything out of insincerity or yield submission to anyone if we want to keep the truth of the Gospel and the faith sound and inviolate; for, as I have said, these are easily bruised. Here let reason be far away, that enemy of faith, which, in the temptations of sin and death, relies not on the righteousness of faith or Christian righteousness, of which it is completely ignorant, but on its own righteousness or, at most, on the righteousness of the Law. As soon as reason and the Law are joined, faith immediately loses its virginity. For nothing is more hostile to faith than the Law and reason; nor can these two enemies be overcome without great effort and work, and you must overcome them if you are to be saved. (Luther’s Works, vol. 26, Lectures on Galatians. CD-ROM)

How did we get to this point? Most recently, by a lack of catechesis of the laymen and an abandonment of doctrinal integrity in favor of pragmatics by those who espouse TCN and other Church Growth Movement (CGM) programs similar to it. We have become much more interested in waving a flag around and gleefully exclaiming “Look at me!” As catechesis has waned, a theological vacuum has been created, which has been backfilled with our own works. If you were to remove every CGM thread woven into the fabric of the LCMS, by now the king would have no clothes.

Luther points out that the Law and reason cannot be overcome without great effort and work. To expend great effort and work is now what we must do if we are to remain faithful, and avoid being yoked with an ever-burgeoning syllabus of CGM programs and to-do lists in the LCMS.

Tomorrow, closing thoughts on the Mission Revitalization Process. Will we yield?

Photo credit: Reset Reboot

About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.

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