The Transforming Churches Network: Part 7, Turning the Gospel into Law, 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 seventh post in a series on the TCN program. It is also posted on his website Stand Firm.)

Many of the details of the Mission Revitalization Process are locked behind password protected firewalls, yet there is one way in which the process” is very transparent – the name Transforming Churches Network (TCN). In this case, the word “transforming” is very descriptive, because it really does set out to transform your congregation, and the entire Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS). As a spin-off of Ablaze!, the goal is to transform 2,000 congregations by the year 2017. Yet this is not a Biblical transformation.

As we saw in Part 5, this transformation is one which is caused not by the Holy Spirit, but by the dialectic process, complete with change agents, covenants, coaches, and a business plan. This same transformation process is used by Rick Warren in his Purpose-Driven (read Law-Driven) materials, and in his Global Peace Plan. Their mission is to create a paradigm shift in the Missouri Synod of immense proportions. “The ultimate goal of TCN is to bring about a deep and systemic change in the Missouri Synod, and for us to accomplish that not only do we need to provide training and resources for existing pastors and congregations, but we also want to make a significant impact on the formation of new church leaders at the seminary and university levels” (online reference).

The Lutheran Confessions uphold justification by grace through faith as of paramount importance, but we are slowly drifting away from this, our material principle. As the focus in our Synod shifts more and more away from justification to mission, the bedrock of our theology is crumbling. We have tunnel vision. We are so intent on “mission” that we’ve forgotten what the mission is about – the forgiveness of sins. The marks of the Church are no longer Word and Sacrament, where forgiveness is found, they are now “a minimum of 5% growth in worship attendance each year.” The Church is now “a non-profit organization” that is “in the people development business.” The pastor has become “the chief vision officer,” and the priority of his ministry is to train and equip leaders. A prescription in one church’s Consultation Report went so far as to say “All existing and new ideas, facility plans, programs and ministries must be evaluated in light of this [missional] vision and any that do not enable the congregation to move closer to achieving this vision shall be stopped or not implemented” (online reference).

This missiolatry has been taken to the extreme. Our desire to tell our neighbor about Jesus, which should be a joyous response of thankfulness in Christ, has been turned into a false gospel of works by TCN. They have turned the Gospel into Law by prescribing a list of works that you must do. The pastor encumbered by the TCN millstone must sign a covenant agreeing to attend all monthly Learning Community meetings, participate in an annual District TCN retreat, start a Learning Community, bring church leaders to TCN training events, initiate a “prayer team,” begin the TRIAD strategy, assure that his congregation fulfills all the objectives prescribed in the Consultation in a timely fashion, meet with his Personal Trainer, complete a weekly Time Log, complete a monthly Vital Statistics report form, and fulfill any other directives given by his Personal Trainer. The congregation must initiate a season of repentance, forgiveness and renewal, launch two new interest/affinity groups by the end of the year and seven more soon thereafter, and annually hold at least six off-church campus events which are completely focused on people of the community (numbers vary). Every member must know and be committed to carrying out the vision. (LCMS Districts that participate in the Mission Revitalization Process may implement their own “version” of the TCN model. Not all districts require the pastor to sign a covenant.)

Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession cries out against this “vision”: “Who has given the bishops the right to lay these traditions on the Church, by which they snare consciences (42)? …Ordinances instituted as though they are necessary, or with the view that they merit grace, are contrary to the Gospel (50). …But when they teach or establish anything against the Gospel, then the congregations are forbidden by God’s command to obey them (23).”

We’ve already seen how the TCN ordinances are contrary to the Gospel. They are based on a theology of glory, assuming that only a growing church is a healthy church. They confuse the kingdom of the left and the kingdom of the right and ignore vocation, turning the pastor away from his called duties and assigning them to the congregants, all of which are contrary to the Gospel. They claim the pastor’s “vision” is the work of the Holy Spirit. These TCN failures are all related to a disinterest in doctrinal truth, combined with a willingness to use “whatever works,” including the use of business and non-Lutheran materials that are far from the truth of Scripture. If the Holy Spirit won’t grant us “growth” through the means which Christ ordained, we’ll do it ourselves. Paul speaks of this situation in his letter to the Galatians: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV).

In the TCN Consultation Report there is nearly always some form of statement related to the inward focus of the congregation.

The congregation has fallen into the habit of taking care of themselves, providing for their comfort and personal preferences at the expense of reaching out to the people of this community who are living without faith in Christ and thus destined for an eternity in Hell. Thus they have failed to fulfill their calling to participate with the Lord Jesus in the task of making disciples of all people.

This is nothing more than a naked preaching of the Law. The congregation is required to:

…initiate a season of repentance, forgiveness and renewal for the congregation, …leading up to a Congregational day of repentance and renewal. The purpose for the Day of Prayer and Repentance is to offer prayers of confession for:

  • Idolatry connected to an inward focus on members’ comfort,
  • Apathy and or disregard toward those people that God misses most in this community,
  • Rededication to God’s mission of making disciples in this community.

The leaders and congregational members are encouraged to offer silent and public prayers asking God to forgive them personally and collectively for failing to participate in making new disciples of Jesus Christ on a regular and consistent basis. (online reference)

This kind of talk sounds awfully similar to identification repentance. Aside from that, C.F.W. Walther, the first President of the LCMS, warned against this type of wrong motivation, which confuses Law and Gospel:

In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided… when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.

The attempt to make men godly by means of the Law and to induce even those who are already believers in Christ to do good by holding up the Law and issuing commands to them, is a very gross confounding of Law and Gospel. This is altogether contrary to the purpose which the Law is to serve after the Fall…. (The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, p. 381)

One TCN congregations’ “Day of Prayer and Repentanc” bulletin contained the following:

Jesus not only had concerns about the churches in Revelation but he has similar concerns for Our Shepherd. If Jesus had the opportunity to say some things to us face to face, what do suppose He would say to us? Prayerfully ask the Lord to speak to as you ponder that answer and use the following questions to aid you in reflecting.

What would Jesus say about our love for Him?

What would Jesus say about our love for one another?

What would Jesus say about our desire to serve others?

What would Jesus say about our compassion for those that need Him?

What would Jesus say about our commitment to impact our community with the Gospel?

What would Jesus say about our desire to be comfortable?

So what would Jesus say? Would he beat you over the head with the Law, as these questions do? No. He wouldn’t have anything to do with this set of Law-driven questions. We already know what He would say, because He’s already said it in His Word. He would say the words which repentant sinners long to hear – blessed words of absolution:

“Peace be with you.”
“Take, eat. Take, drink.”

TCN, in its attempts to spread the Gospel, preaches Law. It preaches a Law-driven motivation to its unsuspecting congregants, and a Law-driven message to the “seekers,” as they make a “commitment” to Christ and learn life application lessons, as we saw in Part 2. A Law-driven message cannot save; instead, it creates guilt-ridden followers or self-righteous Pharisees.

Next time we’ll consider the spiritually harmful effects of the Mission Revitalization Process and the Transforming Churches Network.

Photo credit: gotplaid

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.

Comments

The Transforming Churches Network: Part 7, Turning the Gospel into Law, by Scott Diekmann — 7 Comments

  1. This is frightening as we are just now coming into the LCMS FLEEING from this gospelLESS crap from the SB religion and reformed ranks.

    This mindset is particularly pregnant in SBism, we know, we’ve been there STEEPED in it. At length you will entirely loose the Gospel, and not just with the clowns pretending to be ministers but the BEST theologians and pastors will fall for it. Slowly in our former SB religion the evangel is ENTIRELY lost and increasingly “evangelism” takes its place. As the message of “evangelism” (not really evangelism though) and the evangel will be so lost it won’t be known that it is lost.

    Oh one will be busy, one will “grow” the church in numbers, the discentors will be thrown out as “not loving the lost”, the worship liturgy WILL change, the sermons WILL increasingly be law, law and law (not even the Law really) – and one’s soul will dry up slowly withering away. And if this succeeds in the LCMS, where else will the people go? The baptist? They know NOTHING of the Gospel in the sacraments and very very very little of it in the Word (the rare Spurgeon pastor out there). The Reformed and enter the terro4r of “am I elect”? Rome, they deny the Gospel explicitly?

    L

  2. Do a search on “missional” and now the new word, “transformissional” and you will discover the roots of TCN. It is indeed primarily Southern Baptists who promote this stuff. (*Scott, I know you’ve probably pointed this out.)

    We will discover (are discovering) that very soon a congregation or Synod cannot have “Baptist style” with Lutheran substance.

  3. You said:
    “This is nothing more than a naked preaching of the Law. The congregation is required to:
    …initiate a season of repentance, forgiveness and renewal for the congregation, …leading up to a Congregational day of repentance and renewal. The purpose for the Day of Prayer and Repentance is to offer prayers of confession for:”

    So I guess an Overture that reads as follows is right in line with that thinking.

    “Therefore, be it resolved that the congregations of the Eastern District LCMS in convention assembled recognizes as unacceptable our corporate and individual response to Jesus’ invitation to join Him in His mission to reach those lost and dying in unbelief and commit ourselves to a District-wide day of fasting, prayer, confession and repentance on Reformation Day, October 31 2009 seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit to become a District Ablaze! With genuine personal zeal for the lost.”

    It’s going to be a fun convention for sure!!

  4. Pastor Kusko misses the point. The program mentality of TC is hardly “Preaching repentance and forgiveness…” No place in the TC prescriptions is forgivenss mentioned–the remedy for the failure to be concerned for the lost is repentance and SATISFACTIONS. The satisfaction(s) is doing all the things that the TC prescriptions call for–even then, forgivenss is never mentioned. There is no forgiveness–only works righteousness. The end justifies the means. Didn’t the Reformers have an issue with this kind of stuff? AC XII 10:

    “Also rejected are those who do not teach that a person obtains forgiveness of sin through faith but through our own satisfactions.”
    Kolb, R. 2000. The Book of Concord : The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Fortress Press: Minneapolis

  5. Talk for just a few seconds with a devout Mormon and you’ll hear him describe “the Gospel” as “how we are to live our lives.”

    TC sounds as if it’s heading its followers towards Mormonism.

    Or something like it.

  6. Pastor Kusko misses the point. The program mentality of TC is hardly “Preaching repentance and forgiveness…” No place in the TC prescriptions is forgivenss mentioned–the remedy for the failure to be concerned for the lost is repentance and SATISFACTIONS. The satisfaction(s) is doing all the things that the TC prescriptions call for–even then, forgivenss is never mentioned. There is no forgiveness–only works righteousness. The end justifies the means. Didn’t the Reformers have an issue with this kind of stuff? AC XII 10:

    TC sure sounds “romanist” to me! Hey, Jack Cascione! Why aren’t you railing about the real problems in lutheranism?

  7. Scott, you are doing a service to the church and your denomination by bringing to light how the vision-casting/implementation model has its foundation in the works of man. I have been confronting this model for over three years in the RCA and it has a particularly strong hold in the church in which I am an elder.

    Note that the vision-casting model is more an attack on the doctrine of sanctification than it is on justification. In response to the objection that they are seeking a righteousness based on works, the vision-casters will respond that “while we are not saved ‘by’ good works, we are saved ‘for’ good works” and reference Ephesians 2:10. Of course, the reason unbelievers are not saved by good works is that they cannot do good works in the sight of God (and if they could, then Christ died in vain (Gal. 2:21)). The question then is how do regenerate believers go about doing good works? To the vision-casters it is simply a matter of proper motivation through a compelling vision of a “preferred future” combined with what is essentially peer-pressure, although they will never acknowledge it as such. The Bible, however, teaches that good works are the fruit of a life transformed into the image of Jesus Christ by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Biblical transformation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and the word of Christ. For the vision casters, behavior modification is effected through the implementation of their visions. It is the difference between a life of faith and a life lived according to the flesh.

    While giving at least lip-service to salvation by faith alone, the vision casters would then have Christians live by the works of the Law. They are the Galatianizers of our day. Sadly, one of the reasons they are making such inroads is that the Protestant and Evangelical churches have long taught their congregations that the normal Christian life consists of doing your best to live according to the commandments of the Law. How many sermons have taught that the “greatest thing” is to love God with all your heart mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself? You never hear in these sermons that these are in fact the greatest commandments of the Law, and that the Law came in that transgressions might increase (Rom. 5:20), and the power of sin is the Law (1 Cor. 15:16), and that the Law brings about wrath (Rom. 4:15), and that as many as are of the works of Law are under a curse (Gal. 3:10) whereas Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13) and we were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ (Rom. 7:4) having been released from the Law, and having died to that by which we were bound, we now serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Rom. 7:6). The preaching of the Law as the duty and obligation of every Christian has unfortunately paved the way for the vision-casters and their message of transforming the church and the world through good works.

    The anecdote to the vision-casting/implementation model of behavior modification is sound Biblical teaching on how to live by faith and walk by the Spirit, and to embrace the new covenant promise that “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Ezek 36:27.) For the one living by faith and by the Spirit, it is God who is at work within them both to will and to work for His good pleasure. They who seek the glory of the Lord Jesus are transformed into to the same image (2 Cor. 3:18). But the vision-caster pastors would rather they be shaped into an image of the pastor’s own making.
    Dan

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