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

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