It’s About A Lot More Than Hymnals ““ Comparing The Alley’s Manifesto with Walther’s Six Duties of the Church, by Pr. Rossow

In posts earlier this week Klemet Preus detailed how the confessionals got their lunch handed to them in defeat at the Minnesota South district convention. One of the key issues was a resolution calling for the district to not fund the mission start known as The Alley. One of the significant issues is the fact that The Alley has refused to use the LCMS hymnal. The issue goes far beyond that. We found on-line Pastor Ben Griffin’s manifesto for the congregation and thought it would be revealing to compare it to Walther’s six duties of the church. The differences are striking.

THE ALLEY’S MANIFESTO (for the full text click here)

  1. We are a people, a church, committed to living missional lives that give glory to God.
  2. We will be a church of “people”, not a “place.”
  3. We will disciple in smaller groups
  4. We will live and lead ministry as a team.
  5. We will be an active and contributing member of our community.
  6. Our Primary witness will not be our Worship Service, but the Worship of our Lives
  7. We will define success in terms of the effectiveness of the mission
  8. We will release, equip and encourage people to be missionaries in every area of life


  1. It is the duty of the congregation carefully to see to it that the Word of God may richly dwell and have full and free scope in its midst. Col. 3:16:
  2. It is the duty of the congregation to care for the purity of doctrine and life in its midst and to exercise church discipline in these matters. Matt. 18:15-18: Rom. 16:17: 1 Cor. 5:1-13: 1 Cor.6:1-8; 2 Cor.2:6-11. Gal. 6:1: 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6,14,15. 2 John 10,11:
  3. It is the duty of the congregation to concern itself also with the temporal welfare of all its members that they may not suffer want of the necessaries of life nor be forsaken in any need. Gal.6:10: Deut. 15:4. Rom. 12:13; Gal. 2:9,10; Jas. 1 :27; 1 Thess. 4:11,12.
  4. It is the duty of the congregation to see that in its midst “all things be done decently and in order,” 1 Cor. 14:33, 40, and to “provide for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men,” 2 Cor. 8:21. Col. 2:5.
  5. It is the duty of the congregation to be diligent “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” also with all parts of the orthodox Church, Eph. 4:3; 1 Thess. 4:9,10; Rom. 15:26, 27; 2 Cor. 8:19.
  6. It is also incumbent upon the congregation to do its part in building up and promoting the welfare of the Church at large. Amos 6:6; Acts 11:21-23; 15:18.

This topic is going to need several posts to flesh it out so we will limit ourselves to some general comparisons and then explore some of them in more detail in future posts. Here are some key differences in the two approaches to doing church.

  • Scriptural List of Objective Principles vs. A Postmodern Missional Manifesto – Walther’s six duties are characterized by a simple, objective reading of Scripture that looks for Biblical principles upon which to base the local congregation. The Alley’s Manifesto is characterized by the latest emergent church principles of missional living (not a Biblical term) with an anti-institutional bent (“people not a place”).
  • Doctrine and Practice vs. Practice Alone – Walther’s scriptural duties are based on sound doctrine that leads to good practice. He rightly places dwelling in the word and purity of doctrine at the head of the list. The Alley’s Manifesto does not even mention Scripture or sound doctrine but in typical post-modern, emergent fashion makes man’s action the key
  • Success is Based on Faithfulness to God’s Word vs. Success Gauged by how Closely the Mission is Followed.
  • Comprehensively Biblical vs. Narrowly Focused on a Recent Cultural Move Toward Praxis – Walther touches on many major aspects of the church including scripture, doctrinal purity, care for members, good order, the church at large and expanding the kingdom. The Alley has a less comprehensive focus which is dominated by the missional work of the people.
  • Focus on Temporal Care for Church Members vs. Focus on Temporal Care for the World – In the explanation of Duty 3 Walther follows Scripture by rightly focusing the temporal concern of the church on taking care of church workers and the widows and orphans in the congregation. The Scriptures include care for the world but it is a much less prominent theme there than what we find in the emergent church and the Alley Manifesto.
  • Rejection of Small Groups vs. Congregation Based on Small Groups – When you dig deeper into Walther’s booklet you see that he forbids small groups in the church. The Alley to the contrary, places small groups at the heart and soul of its congregation. (This is recent resurgent phenomenon in the church after it died out in the age of pietism.)

We will unpack these differences in future posts. For now let me say this. In the commentary string on Klemet’s first post this week we are setting new records each hour for the number of comments. It really touched a chord. There have been a few folks defending The Alley against the concern we have raised that it has numerous emergent church traits. This Manifesto is clearly an expression of most of the emergent church themes (missional, practice instead of doctrine, emphasis on community projects, etc.). Once again we find that the LCMS is moving away from our grandfather’s simple, Biblical approach to the church and is embracing unhealthy, trendy and dangerous new foundations for the church. We hold the synodical supervisors of doctrine accountable for rebuking this dangerous new approach to doing church. It’s time for leadership in our circuits, districts and synod that will address these harmful trends.

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.


It’s About A Lot More Than Hymnals ““ Comparing The Alley’s Manifesto with Walther’s Six Duties of the Church, by Pr. Rossow — 39 Comments

  1. I’m interested to learn more about Walther’s forbidding of small groups in churches. I’ve always known the basic arguments against small groups, but it’d be nice to have some solid, scriptural and confessional backings to my opinions. I hope this will be fleshed out in the following posts, but would appreciate a starting point. Thank you! Very informative post, by the way. Thanks!

  2. Huzzah! I read the post to which you refer, and the comments from BOTH sides I found quite alarming! In regards to the support of “groups” like the Alley, it shows the naivety and manipulation of His Word & those who attend, in the posts in dissent, regarding advice to reading Scripture (?), mentioning the Jehovah’s Witnesses errors, as a warning, was one of the most obtuse comments I have heard from a Pastor. Are we not taught to spend time in study in His Word, this does have an aire of what Luther lambasted Rome forbiding? There is a middle ground here, we should, and have always been taught to place the Holy Scriptures first, and all else second, whether of those of ages past or those modern times. All we hear, see, or taught MUST be weighed against Scripture without interpretation FIRST AND FOREMOST. Is this not true? The errors committed by groups like the Alley and those errors placing Walther or Luther as without flaw or fault is just as wrong. I have read both Luther and Walther, in the orignal language as well as the Scriptures in Luther’s orignal German “you cannot speak German with a Greek or Hebrew tongue” (Luther) as well as the orignal languages that apply to those who live in this country. An argument (knowledge of languages) both sides of this issue seem to hang their hat upon. Misdiscerning Scripture is vile, but upholding the writings of men, no matter who that may be, above what is God breathed & God inspired, in my mind, is the same error. Rules of basic grammar apply, (no matter what language you choose to use) and it is not difficult to discern what is meant! Is there any way, to use Sola Scriptura in these debates? We have many, many Lutherans, of varing ages, being caught between a rock and a hard place. I being one of them. I cannot subscribe to the Emergent view, nor can I subscribe to the “Luther doctrine alone” as flawless or faultless, Luther is neither. Neither is any other human being, including those supported by the Emergent movement. Sola Scriptura, it has always been the bedrock of our denomination, it should remain so. Much thanks for this commentary, it was much needed, both by me, and those who attended many of the district conventions. We, have in recent times, have referred to this site for information and opinion. I do pray, that we may remind ourselves, of what we truly rely on, and focus on what is most important in these trying times, HIS WORD, HIS WILL, AND HIS WAYS. Again, I do give the utmost of thanks for this, as do those who read this site and choose not to post.

  3. Dutch,

    (I love that name by the way.) Do you really think that I or any other pastor who has posted here puts Luther or Walther above Scripture? That is just not the case. We accept from Luther, Walther and other theologians whatever is scriptural. We compare everything they say to Scripture.

    Let me try the Jehovah’s Witness point again and see if you can understand what I am trying to say.

    1. Jehovah’s Witnesses and you Dutch both read the Bible.

    2. Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Biblical teaching of the Trinity even though they read the same Bible you do.

    3. The Lutheran Confessions clarify that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity.

    4. I can be a Jehovah’s Witness and say that I believe in the Bible. I cannot be a Jehovah’s Witness and say that I believe the Lutheran Confessions are a true expostition of the Bible.

    5. The Lutheran Confessions take a clear stand on what the Bible says and therefore they help us to sort out those who wrongly claim to believe in the Bible (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and those who rightly claim to believe in the Bible (Lutherans who confess the truths of the Book of Concord).

    6. So the point is, people can read the Bible and be confused and hold unbiblical teachings.

    7. It is not enough to say I read the Bible and that settles it. The Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed and the other Lutheran Confessions clarify for us and the world what the Bible teaches.

    I hope that helps.


  4. “We hold the synodical supervisors of doctrine accountable for rebuking this dangerous new approach to doing church. It’s time for leadership in our circuits, districts and synod that will address these harmful trends.”


  5. I am new to Lutheranism. What I like about Lutheranism, is it’s Lutheranisn!
    If you want to look and act like a Calvary Chapel, then BE ONE!
    If you don’t like the sound of hymns, be free to rearrange, or update the sound of these hymns, but the lyrics are so good!

  6. Rob,

    Very good point. While genuine Lutheranism is attracting people like you out of the emergent and emotional world of modern day evangelicalism, Lutheran churches that ought to know better are seeking to be less Lutheran, i.e. less Biblical. Strange, strange indeed.


  7. Dutch,

    You wrote, “I cannot subscribe to the Emergent view, nor can I subscribe to the “Luther doctrine alone” as flawless or faultless, Luther is neither.”

    This sounds logical, but please point out the flaws you see in Luther’s doctrine so we can test them against Holy Scripture and defend the Church from false doctrine.

  8. “We hold the synodical supervisors of doctrine accountable for rebuking this dangerous new approach to doing church. It’s time for leadership in our circuits, districts and synod that will address these harmful trends.”


    Don’t hold your breath waiting for district or synodical officials to DO anything about non-Lutheran practices. This is the ONLY sort of “mission” being started in Texas district these days.

  9. I think the real issue in the Synod is two differing ideas of what “Sola Scriptura” really means.

    One group in the Synod seems to downplay the Confessions and go right to the Word. The result is what you see in Protestant churches all over the world – division, different interpretations, different worship styles, different practices (i.e. open Communion, lay-led “communion” in small groups, etc.)

    The other group sees the Confessions as the correct interpretation of the Word. The Confessions become the “rule of faith” used to determine what is and what is not correct doctrine.

    The first group is winning and will take over the Synod (and has in many places already).

  10. It may not be fair to judge the “manifesto” apart from the whole of the congregation’s teaching and preaching… but the “manifesto” is certainly all law, please some Gospel – I’m a sinner and I would continually fail to live up to the manifesto even though good intentioned. Let us have some bullet points like “we are community build around the forgivness of sins found in Word and Sacrament”, or my favorite from Luther, roughly – “We are beggars telling other beggars where to find food.”

    At least with Walther’s piece, also all law by the way, I know I will find Gospel when Walther’s 1 and 2 are carried out.

    “7. We will define success in terms of the effectiveness of the mission”

    That is some heavy heavy duty Law.

  11. I second Crysten’s comment. I too would like to learn more about why Walther forbid small groups in churches.

  12. Helen @ 8,

    I think Pr. Rossow’s point is that we need new leadership. I agree with you that the current leadership will doing nothing, and/or will actually promote the programs causing so much harm to the Church today.

  13. I’m confused as to the arguments against using the Book of Concord as a guide to understanding the Scriptures. As far as I can tell, from all the other religions I have studied, Lutheranism is the only Christian denomination that truly tries to avoid putting stumbling blocks in people’s way to salvation. We attempt to add nothing to or take nothing away from Scripture, but interpret it so that it speaks for itself. I believe the Lutheran Confessions are the most correct interpretation of Scripture that is in existence, but I also believe that it is not perfect like Scripture. It is a necessary component of properly understanding Scripture, but not on the same level as the Bible.

  14. Ryan,

    You make a very good point. It may not be apples and apples with Walther and Griffin however, the following is a true assertion:

    Pastor Griffin sat down to compose a series of very important principles on which his new church would be based. Those principles reflect the trendy emergent church approach to organizing congregations. Those principles also said nothing of scripture or doctrine and organize the congregation around practice (praxis) and community involvement.

    So even if there is more to the story (the preaching and teaching you mention) it is still incredibly troublesome that a pastor would write such a description of how to organize a confessional Lutheran church.

    You also wisely point out that both sets of principles are all law. That is what you get when you speak of a left hand kingdom thing like organization. That is why the historic Lutheran theologians said so little about church organization – it is a legalistic trap. Isn’t it interesting that this is all you hear in the church today from our synod and district executives (another law term).

    It is worth some of our attention to speak of how the church is organized (but not too much). I have studied this matter in detail. My dissertation was on this matter. What I have found is that Walther’s take on it is simpler, mostly ideology free and Biblical as opposed to the cultural emergent, postmodern, leadership crap that is so prevalent today.


  15. Thank you Pastor Rossow and Anonymous for your comments as to my post. This medium does have it’s disadvantages does it not? In short, what I am trying to stress here, is that these vitrolic issues being brought in, by Synod, it’s task forces, TCN, Kimball, Sweet, & Bell being engaged to speak at Synod events, and individual congregations, these do not simply violate our doctrines, our Lutheran doctrines, IT VIOLATES SCRIPTURAL DOCTRINES THEMSELVES! Far and above the Book of Concord or our doctrinal foundations! There are spiritual issues in this, that we cannot see. There is a battle both in this realm and in the other over this, not just in the LCMS but most denominations in the Church on earth. This must be taken into account when defending our church. I have seen great & Godly men, confront these in their churches, ON A SCRIPTURAL BASIS ALONE. No defense, not one was given, save Lutheran doctrine or their “understanding or interpretations of it. Those who have brought this among us, threw away our “church doctrines” long ago. So there is of little use debating it as a defense. It has been redefined or thrown away. Unless Scripture alone is used, defended and held above all else, any argument is rather futile. When we use the Scriptures, in our best, albeit, fallen state of understanding, one can cause great question in the minds of those who peddle and believe this heretical new way of “church”. Luther, Walther, etc, can be debated, they are the writings of men, Scripture is written by God Himself, and when fought for & defended, even against the greatest of odds, the Lord causes those who do so, to take the day. Not for ourselves, but for Him and His Kingdom. Mistakes were made in times past, things were allowed, and never brought to books. Now we see the fruit they bear, on a grander scale than any nightmare could have been. It has never been nor will it ever be about BEING right, it is about DOING what is right. We defend and uphold the Word of God first against any and all that would twist, misuse, or defame It. To defend It, we must use IT first, not our denomnination’s doctrines first. In the apostate ideas that are now rampant in our denomination and others, we must defend Sola Scriptura, Sola Gracia, Sola Fide FIRST. My quoting those more schooled than I is a bit rusty, but Ben Franklin (I think) once said, “Gentlemen, we will hang together, or we shall surely hang seperately.” We should be defending Sola Scriptura, Sola Gracia, Sola Fide, FIRST and most ardently, for it is by those we will stand or fall. A house divided cannot stand, and until we, who would see the preservation of our grandfather’s church remain, we must all be like minded in our defense of it. I do pray that I have been well spoken for my thoughts, as they are many on this issue. My entire family came to this country as unbelievers, both were Jews and Gentiles, and it was Lutheran Pastors, who lead them to accept the Gospel and grow in the Christian Faith. I owe a great debt to those men, who WERE my Grandfathers’ church, and it is right to defend it. I pray I have done well in that regard.
    PS- TR, thanks for the compliment. If you have to have a nickname, one better pick a good one!!! LOL

  16. Dutch,

    What a great post @ 16. I agree with the gist of your presentation, but the Emergence church and postmodernists, in general, do not adhere to sola scriptura. Indeed, arguing with them over scripture is futile, since they will simply listen, nod their heads, and thank you for sharing your beliefs and what is true for you. So, yes, uphold scripture above all things, but also constantly bring attention to our Lutheran symbols which fully expound true doctrine and tell us what it means to be Lutheran.

  17. Correction: I meant to write “arguing with them over scripture seems futile”. I firmly believe speaking the Word of God to the postmodernist will bring a return, per God’s promise. My point is, though, that we mustn’t get caught in the trap that just because they reject our Lutheran symbols doesn’t mean we can’t point to the BoC in discussing scriptural truth. They reject sola scriptura, but that too shouldn’t stop us from teaching them God’s word.

  18. Jim, many blessings to you. You have re-stated my point, better than I, thank you! If they have departed from the Word, the main bedrock of our CHRISTIAN Faith, Sola Scriptura, how in any way, can we call them to account for departing from our denominational foundations, bylaws, and basic beliefs, which actually make us all what we are? I am currently without a church (slim LCMS pickings where I live), because I & a few good & Godly men, chose to raise this alarm, on on a congregational level, it fell on deaf and departed ears. In the EXACT MANNER you stated! At this perilous time, in which we have all found ourselves, we may, very soon have to choose which to defend and stand upon. Luther/Walther or Sola Scriptura. To say this, knowing it is the church that brought so many to our Savior’s arms is appallling. But, the times are what they are. When we see Scripture, the most frightening parts, coming to pass, before our eyes, we look to it, for direction as to our action and our defense. If they are so lost and departed, as to think, let alone state, that
    “that is what is true for you” then the course is now set, is it not?. Debating what has been done, is of use for us, who would defend our church, but of no use to those who would see it destroyed or heretically changed. If we defend our bedrock, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gracia, & Sola Fide, first and foremost, it is my most ardent prayer and belief that Luther and Walther will most certainly follow. They have in times past, our Lord always preserves what is His, how wonderful a Master do we serve! This is no base debate, this is nothing less than a spiritual battle for the life of a church, and the millions of lambs within her, and should be treated as nothing short and fought for with every fiber of our being. For HIS sake, for HIS Kingdom’s sake, and for the souls she carries within her doors. To quote a stanza from my dear Dad’s favortie hymn, “goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they have yet nothing won”. We love to sing it, but do we truly believe it enough to engage in that battle placed before us?

  19. º 25. In order that the Word of God may have full scope in a congregation, the congregation should lastly tolerate no divisions by way of conventicles, that is, of meetings for instruction and prayer aside from the divinely ordained public ministry, 1 Cor. 11:18; Jas. 3:1; 1 Cor. 12:29; 14:28; Acts 6:4; Rom. 10:15: “How shall they preach except they be sent?”

    From Walther…The Proper Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Congregation

  20. Steve Bobb (#20):

    Good quote on conventicles. I wonder if Walther’s contemporaries scolded him like this:

    “You are egotistical and judgmental, but even more sickening; you are fearful, petty, spiteful people who put your own wants and values ahead of the Church and the Great Commission. Your closed hearts have left you unable to see how UN-Christian your actions have become.” quote from Mr. Tim Goebel on his opinion of Pr Rossow and “confessionals.”

  21. The Alley Manifesto is a child’s dose compared to the Gospel. Doesn’t the Alley realize we are dead in our sins? What exactly is their good news to the rest of the world? Sola Small Groups? Sola Team Ministry? “Your best life now”? Five steps to a better marriage? Their manifesto reduces the Gospel to a weak strain that inoculates seekers against catching a full-blown case of new life in Christ. I’m a new Lutheran. It took me 59 years of main-stream liberal, church growth, seeker sensitive, how-to Christianity to arrive at Lutheranism and I can’t believe somebody wants to throw the Gospel away for the Alley Manifesto.

  22. Dutch,

    Thanks for clarifying your point. You make a fair argument, but I am not sure I would shy away from using the Lutheran Confessions in the great battle you describe so well. Even if I do not mention the Lutheran Confessions I hope the way I interpret Scripture or share it with someone else greatly reflects my Lutheran background.

    I like your approach of emphasizing the Solas and would add my favorite one which often gets left out – Sola Christus. I suppose this one is implied in the the other three, but it is always a joy to hear the name of Jesus. The Solas are obviously scriptural but are also closely linked with Luther as well, right?

  23. Referring to comments 1 & 11, I too would like to know more about the issue of “small groups”.

    Very good information you have put here.

  24. How can a ‘church’ be anything when it does not rely on the grace of God to accomplish thier goals? Nearly every statement within the Alley’s Manifesto begins with: “We” will [do this and that]. Basic Lutheranism cries out for us to do the will of God as best we can but to NOT rely on our efforts and what we think we can readily do. It is a sorry state of affairs when an LCMS congregation can promote such a practice! I pray for an awakening within their midist.

  25. Walther’s argument against small-groups is not about the groups per se, but rather how they are viewed in the context of the congregation. After all, even confessional churches usually have some form of small-groups, right?

    The problem, dating back to the 17th Century, was that “conventicles” (small-groups) essentially REPLACED the Gottesdienst (Divine Service) as the fundamental organizing/creating/defining gathering of the Christian congregation.

    Here, it is repeated verbatim, “we will disciple in smaller groups.” Aside from the question of what “disciple” means here (as a verb), what is conspicuously absent is any connection of this “discipling” to Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, hearing the public preaching of the Gospel, or anything else that confesses the unique passivity of Christian worship (God works; our primary task is to receive).

    The phrase “worship of our lives” further reinforces their basic teachings: that worship is fundamentally active, not passive; that it is based on man’s works rather than God’s works; that “living missional lives” trumps every other consideration of doctrine and practice; and that the REAL WORK is done OUTSIDE of the Divine Service (which is where the small-groups come in).

    So, again, the problem isn’t that small-groups are formed within the congregation, the problem is when the small-groups supplant the congregation-as-a-whole-at-Divine-Service as the fundamental locus of the Church, particularly when it is done intentionally.

  26. My Dearest Anonymous,
    Please, I do pray you take no disrespect from this, as prayerfully, none is intended. For those of us, who have had to fight this, most personally, not just for our Lutheran doctrines, but for the very Scriptures themselves, the Solas, as you put it, this is no mean thing! To watch as men PLEAD, for Scriptural support of what has been brought into our congregations & Synod, and find or be given NONE, is more sorrowfull than I can explain! If a congregation, not just the Alley, but long standing, LCMS congregations, depart from their own bylaws, which are founded on Luther & Walther, and depart from GOD’S WORD AS WELL, is an awe striking and frightening thing! When those who have written articles, for so long, here, and the reason this site exists, are boiled down, to the most basic premise, we find one prevailing sentence. That, we can follow right back to Genesis Chapter 3:1, Did God REALLY say…? When you do that, you find this is the SAME serpent, just new skin. Snakes shed their skin from time to time, but does this change it? No, it is the same snake! And THIS, is what we now fight, yet again. Luther, Walther, Spurgeon (Baptist UK) Macher (Presbyterian) fought this long before we, here, now, ever drew breath. We are engaged in a fight for the LCMS, against the serpent of old! If that does not give us cause, to shake with fear at the thought, nothing will. I pray our Lord preserves my church, because when I witness, when I minister, when I go out into His mission field, when I am asked to given account to where my hope comes from, it is not my Lutheranism that I pray shines through the darkness of this world, I pray it is My Lord, my Master and Savior that does! Luther & Walther would accept nothing less! Luther, Walther, hymnals, etc, are temporal, vital, but temporal issues, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gracia, Sola Fide, and Sola Christus are ETERNAL. And that, is what is truely at stake here. I look forward to more of Pastor Preus and Pastor Rossow’s posts on this. I reminds me, I am not alone in my concern & prayers, and tears for my church.

  27. Scott,

    It is true that “conventicle” needs careful definition and Walther obliges. Steven Bobb gives us the exact quote in #20 above.

    Walther defines it as a meeting for instruction and prayer outside of the office of the ministry and then goes on to quote scripture about how God sent pastors to administer the word.

    So, a meeting of the quilting society is not a small group/conventicle by Walther’s definition nor the card club, exercise group, etc. However, the “traditional” small group program in the church has people sitting around teaching each other the word and praying, exactly what Walther describes.

    We developed a principle at our church that all Bible studies must be tethered to a pastor, not just “connected” in some loose fashion but tethered, tied to the pastor. The loosest way we practice this with the Lifelight (CPH) program that we have actually adapted to have people meet in their homes even without a pastor. However, they meet one week in a home to study the answers they have given to their Lifelight homework and then meet the next week at church with the pastor for the teaching on that lesson and for a discussion of any questions they might have had. We have two of these groups going right now. They are told up front and once a year at least, as a reminder, that they meet with the pastor every other week so that no one outside of the office can dominate the dicsussion or try to manipulate the group with false teaching.

    This approach is as far as I care to go, letting the folks out of my God-given supervisory sight and it seems to work well. (We have been doing this for six or seven years.)


  28. I was active in small group Bible studies without pastoral supervision for many years. These groups often used materials from popular Evangelical and Baptist writers. Other times it was directly reading the Bible as a group and basically discussing ‘what does this mean to me.’ At the time I thought these small group studies were more important than the Divine Service itself as they were more personal and hence more ‘meaningful.’ I also was ‘evangelical’ in trying to get more members of the congregation involved in these Bible studies, thinking this was the way to make us better Christians and a way to bring more people into the church – those two points seeming to be the main reasons to belong to a church (not to receive the Sacraments) – so if small groups without a pastor were more ‘effective’ than the Divine Service with a pastor, then clearly that was the wave of the future for the LCMS. I’ve since learned that this idea was not a ‘wave of the future’ but a ‘blast from the past’ – as it says in Ecclesiates, ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’

    The turning point for me was when I did sit down to talk with my pastor privately about something I’d been thinking about from one of these ‘what does this mean to me’ Bible studies. I don’t remember about what exactly, more than a decade later (I was probably arrogant enough to think I was going to teach him something he didn’t know). What I do remember is his response after hearing me out (gently but firmly and directly), basically: “Well, that is in interesting way to think about it. But you’re wrong, and here’s why.” It was the first time I can recall seeing a Book of Concord opened. And he proceeded to show me the explanation of that point of doctrine along with the verses that supported it. Basically, my error was not understanding the context of the chapter I had read, nor how it fit with the rest of Scripture. In short, I misunderstood what I read in the Bible because I didn’t understand the context or how it was to be interpreted in light of the rest of the Bible. In other words, I didn’t understand Lutheran doctrine on that point: doctrine being the interpretation of Scripture made upon viewing Scripture as a whole, and not as a collection of verses or chapters viewed in isolation from the Bible in its entirety. My pastor proceeded to direct me to a number of orthodox Lutheran books and periodicals (previous pastors had as well, but for whatever reason I hadn’t taken them up on it). Over time upon reading such things, I found out that the novel insights I thought I had about God and the Bible, including how the Divine Service should be structured, were either not novel (i.e. I was correct, but I had forgotten or just not realized that I’d been taught that already from the pulpit) or else I was wrong. Since then, my attitude has become more like that of the eunuch asking Phillip to explain to me the meaning of what I’ve read in the Bible.

    Purging the Evangelical heterodoxy I’d picked up from ‘conservative’ Christian friends, books and media from my college days (including attending ‘contemporary’ Lutheran worship services with soft rock bands and innovations like ‘clown ministries’) has been a process that has occurred gradually over a couple decades. For orthodox Lutheran pastors, I know your challenge is how do you convert your heterodox (who don’t realize this) LCMS members into orthodox Lutherans, especially when it appears that Synodical leadership does not seem to think it is important to try.

    The final point I’d like to add is a reason from a lay perspective why establishing fellowship in doctrine is important. I’ve moved enough that I’ve been a member of a number of LCMS parishes and I’ve had perhaps a dozen pastors. The pastor I referred to above I had for less than a year. But despite my personal heterodoxy, I heard consistent theology preached over the years. Each pastor was moving me in the same direction. And that’s why, when the pastor pulled out the Book of Concord to show me my error, that I did not just leave his office thinking ‘well, that’s just your opinion.’ What he was telling me was consistent with what I’d heard before from pastors, and I’d been catechized properly in the Office of the Keys to take my pastor’s comments to heart. Now if I had come into his office having previously been taught by LCMS pastors who delegated their pastoral authority to laypeople or who had encouraged ‘innovations’ like small group studies and or made use of non-Lutheran materials (though I had this experience, it was apart from my pastors’ direct involvement), I don’t know that I would have listened to him with an open mind and heart. After all, I thought I WAS a faithful LCMS Lutheran and did not realize I was heterodox, so if I could have pointed to other LCMS pastors who allowed such things (even if they did so reluctantly) I would have thought my pastor was the one being difficult and who needed to change, not me.

    Why I think it matters that I’m now a Lutheran in an LCMS church instead of an Evangelical in an LCMS church is for another time. But basically, God in the Sacraments is always there, regardless of what is happening in my life at that time, regardless of how I close I feel to God or what I think I am accomplishing for God. Why the Holy Spirit has directed me in this path I don’t know, but I am eternally grateful that He has.

  29. Concerning the use of documents other than Scripture, I often find it helpful to refer to the Book of Concord as well as writings by Chemnitz, Gerhard, Walther, Pieper and others to aid in understanding points of doctrine and where in Scripture I can find relevant passages much as I might ask someone here. Any books I might reference do not take any precedence over Scripture just as any answers I may receive here or in conversations with other people do not take any precedence over Scripture.

    An advantage to books is that I can reference them anytime and receive polished answers by very well educated theologians. Answers on a board such as this do not have the advantage of being refined and checked before publication or of being as readily available. An advantage to a forum though is that any answers can be personalized and when looking in a book I may be asking the wrong question but not have anyone to explain it to me. Talking in person with a pastor is even better than a forum but not always as available. Answers from a book are always available if you have it but not very personalized, answers from a web forum are less readily available but more personalized, answers from a pastor may be even less available than a website but even more personalized.

    If one wants to learn about Baptism you can try to remember where you might look or even use a concordance and think of relevant terms like baptism, water, born again, etc to look up. If researching the Trinity you could look for the words Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Works like the Book of Concord and and many others can help direct you to relevant passages that speak to a topic but may not be found with the above methods and give thoughtful answers just as one might receive from a pastor. In trying to better learn and understand Scripture; books outside of scripture, discussions with a pastor and even online forums can all complement each other but none ever have the authority of Scripture.

  30. From my studies of the European emerging church movement, I find it helpful to compare emerging church manifestos to the six principles found in Philipp Jakob Spener’s “Pia Desideria” from 1675. Pietism was mentioned in the article above and I believe that many of the small group movements of the past fifty years as well as many of the current emerging church efforts reflect Spener’s desires. I pasted a summary of the six principles below for your comparison. I find it interesting how some private and small group devotional practices are promoted among confessionally focused Lutherans, such as The Daily Treasury, For All the Saints, and Lutheran Confessions reading groups, but others are not. Is it a matter of forbidding small groups or promoting orthodox Lutheran teaching within them? In the end, one would expect Walther’s stance toward pietistic conventicles since he apparently experienced them firsthand as a participant during his university years. This is an interesting topic. I hope that it, like all controversial topics, can be pursued both confessionally and brotherly.

    Spener’s six proposals:

    1. the earnest and thorough study of the Bible in private meetings, ecclesiolae in ecclesia

    2. the Christian priesthood being universal, the laity should share in the spiritual government of the Church

    3. a knowledge of Christianity must be attended by the practice of it as its indispensable sign and supplement

    4. instead of merely didactic, and often bitter, attacks on the heterodox and unbelievers, a sympathetic and kindly treatment of them

    5. a reorganization of the theological training of the universities, giving more prominence to the devotional life

    6. a different style of preaching, namely, in the place of pleasing rhetoric, the implanting of Christianity in the inner or new man, the soul of which is faith, and its effects the fruits of life.

  31. Hi Rev. Cook,

    I think one of the issues with “small groups”, or “cell groups”, as they were known in the 70s and early 80s, is that the group leader acts as a pastor over those within the group. The leaders in some of these groups can preach and teach the word, and offer the sacraments (in particular the Lord’s Supper). These practices are justified by those offering “small groups” for many reasons, but here are some I am familiar with: 1) it makes Christians who would not set foot in an “organized” church more comfortable; 2) a home environment is more welcoming to “seekers” and the small group is sort of a jumping board from which they can come to faith in God; 3) it removes the “burden” of discipleship off of the shoulders of one man (the pastor) and distributes it to “small group” leaders who are responsible for bonding with those described in 1 and 2 above, but who will also bring spiritual leadership to confirmed church members under their care.

    So, I don’t think it is a matter of forbidding small groups, but is a matter of not practicing the “small group” model for church growth that I briefly touch upon with my description above and for obvious reasons, but the objection that stands out the most in my mind is confusing the role of a “small group” leader with that of the called and ordained pastor of the congregation. This, then, is a whole different matter from simply leading a bible study during the week in a classroom at the church.

  32. Rev. Cook,

    You said
    “I find it interesting how some private and small group devotional practices are promoted among confessionally focused Lutherans, such as The Daily Treasury, For All the Saints, and Lutheran Confessions reading groups, but others are not. Is it a matter of forbidding small groups or promoting orthodox Lutheran teaching within them?”

    I do not believe there is an issue with private devotionals since there is not someone else giving instruction in lieu of a pastor. In regards to the Confessions reading group there may be helpful information on the How to start a Confessions Reading Group page. The first sentence says “A Confessions reading group is a set time of the week where members join with their pastor and read the Book of Concord and discuss it.” I believe a key point is that it is with a pastor who can supervise and rein in false doctrine. Pr Rossow has a post with more details as well as a link to a paper he wrote regarding small groups. The main issue is promoting small groups without pastoral supervision.

  33. Jim,

    Thanks for your thoughts. What I have found in many emerging groups is that no one person is seen as the pastor, but that leadership is shared among the group members. This means that it isn’t about an individual being confused with a called and ordained pastor, but that the actual differences between the pastoral office and the laity are intentionally diminished. The result is that either no one is seen as the pastor or everyone is … The liturgy is literally seen as the people’s work and the shared aspect of the liturgy is often seen as an expression of the community’s unity. With that said, most of the emerging church leaders that I know are ordained seminary graduates, so go figure. I suppose the larger question that is raised in the groups I study is not who can fill the office, but is there still a need for a distinct pastoral office. This is definitely a challenge for those of us who hold to AC XIV and is in many ways more problematic than the traditional small group issues that we have faced in the past.

  34. Alex,

    Thanks for your clarification. I wasn’t aware of Pr. Rossow’s work in the area of small groups. I will take a look. Regarding private devotions, it occurs to me that the someone else giving instruction in lieu of a pastor is the author. I recently spoke to a man who was using a devotional by R.C. Sproul. While his devotions were private, he was certainty receiving instruction. All joking aside, your point about the need for pastoral supervision in a crucial one. Thanks for the links and your reply.

  35. Jim Pierce @ 32-

    Yes, that basically describes the experiences and motivations behind the small group activities I referred to in my post @30 except that Sacraments were never offered, as a Lutheran (if a doctrinally confused one) I did always recognize them as the things for which a pastor was needed – but preaching and teaching, not so much.

    The basic problems were that pastors were not involved and that we believed the small group study was more important than the Divine Service as the Sacraments were seen as less significant than personal fellowship and piety of the group. I am still active in small group study, especially at home now as a parent, but the difference is that we use orthodox materials and go to our pastors with questions and and that we view group and personal Bible study as supplementary to the Divine Service instead of supplanting it, with a view of receipt of the Sacraments as the peak spiritual event of the week.

    Rev. Cook: the groups I mentioned had more or less re-invented Spener’s proposals (especially 1 – 3); in fact, this is what I referred to in my post #30 as my ‘blast from the past’. We thought we were the first Christians to ever come up with such ideas. Of course, we were not so organized and systematic as Spener, but were headed in the same direction. I remember writing up a proposal for my church to organize such cell groups systematically; I might have to look for it sometime.

  36. In light of all the recent discussion around TheAlley, the MNS convention and orthodox confessionalism, the following hymn, our hymn of the day during this morning’s Divine Worship, struck a resounding chord:

    O Lord, look down from Heaven, behold
    And let Thy pity waken:
    How few are we within Thy fold,
    Thy saints by men forsaken!
    True faith seems quenched on every hand,
    Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
    Dark times have us o’ertaken.

    With fraud which they themselves invent
    Thy truth they have confounded;
    Their hearts are not with one consent
    On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
    While they parade with outward show,
    They lead the people to and fro,
    In error’s maze astounded.

    May God root out all heresy
    And of false teachers rid us
    Who proudly say: “Now, where is he
    That shall our speech forbid us?
    By right or might we shall prevail;
    What we determine cannot fail;
    We own no lord and master.”

    Therefore saith God, “I must arise,
    The poor My help are needing;
    To Me ascend My people’s cries,
    And I have heard their pleading.
    For them My saving Word shall fight
    And fearlessly and sharply smite,
    The poor with might defending.”

    As silver tried by fire is pure
    From all adulteration,
    So through God’s Word shall men endure
    Each trial and temptation.
    Its light beams brighter through the cross,
    And, purified from human dross,
    It shines through every nation.

    Thy truth defend, O God, and stay
    This evil generation;
    And from the error of their way
    Keep Thine own congregation.
    The wicked everywhere abound
    And would Thy little flock confound;
    But Thou art our Salvation.

    Words: Mar­tin Lu­ther, 1524 (Ach Gott von Him­mel, sieh da­rein); com­po­site trans­la­tion.

    Music: Ach Gott von Him­mel, En­chi­rid­ion (Er­furt, Ger­ma­ny: 1524)

  37. Rev. Cook,

    I’m not sure I’m comfortable viewing the author as taking the role of a pastor but I see your point and would have to think about it more. One concern I have with such an interpretation is that then any book with instruction outside of scripture, even those with good teaching, may be viewed as infringing on pastoral authority and require his permission. I think of books that are even used at the seminaries for instruction. If a pastor is subjected with requests to approve all religious reading material then I imagine a list would be made and updated as needed. Having a list of approved and disapproved books for reading could seem to legalistic. My concern may be without merit and the role of the father as house pastor, it was mentioned in Pr Rossow’s writing on the subject of small groups, may come into play in such scenarios. I think I still have to digest it more. What do you think of my concerns?

    I think it can be troubling when people use material that may have questionable content for daily devotions. If it becomes a problem that needs such attention I think a good approach is what Pr Rossow used in his paper regarding people who have small group Bible studies without supervision despite his concerns. He acknowledges that he can’t stop people but hope they will heed the teaching of the pastors and elders on the subject. To adapt it to this situation I imagine a few different devotional books or series could be reviewed and recommended and hope people listen and understand the concerns. Guidelines such as CPH materials or those written by LCMS pastors could be helpful for people to decide and find materials for themselves. If there is a problem with many people wanting to use a particular book that is not good, the pastor could have a class or series of classes that go over how the instruction in that book is not compatible with Lutheran teaching. I have heard of some churches that respond to the latest fad book with classes reviewing it so members who are confronted by it outside church can have a good defense.

    I am thankful for such resources as the Treasury of Daily Prayer. Besides having the information on the church year, Psalms, various orders of Daily Prayer and the Small Catechism, each day has a reading from the Psalms, Old and New Testament readings, a selected writing from a church father, a verse from a hymn in the LSB, a prayer and suggested readings in the Book of Concord. If it is a feast or festival then there is usually a short paragraph with background information. It was all compiled by LCMS pastors, most of whose names I recognize and trust. Most of the content is directly from the Bible, Book of Concord and LSB so I imagine there would be little for someone in the LCMS to object to.

    If you have not had time to review Pr Rossow’s writings on this yet you will find that Walther’s stance on conventicles is prominent just as you expected.

  38. Dutch,

    I agree with what I think is your warning that we must not add or subtract anything from the Word of God or question His Word. I do not believe the Lutheran Confessions or Creeds do that.

    You wrote, “When those who have written articles, for so long, here, and the reason this site exists, are boiled down, to the most basic premise, we find one prevailing sentence. That, we can follow right back to Genesis Chapter 3:1, Did God REALLY say…?”

    I don’t see this site or its author’s asking this tempting question. I rather see them pointing out and defending the Church from lies the evil foe spreads among us. We are all of course poor miserable sinners so none of us are above reproach and so when we depart from Christ it is good that our brothers call us to repent. We all need to take repentance very seriously. Christ has smashed the foe’s head once and for all on the cross so we may return to Him who gave His Body and Blood for us that we may have eternal life.

    Thank you for your brotherly concern.

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