More on the Call for Intercessors for the LCMS – Prayer as a Means of Grace at Pastor Bira’s Church, by Pr. Rossow

One of our readers took the time to do what  I did not do this morning when I posted the story on the Ablaze intercessory prayer event sponsored by the LCMS. She went to Pastor Bira’s church’s website  and found that they are promoters of something called Theophostic Prayer.

Rev. Cliff Bira is one of the LCMS pastors who the synod has called on to  organize the intercessory prayer event  to support President Kieschnick’s Ablaze program. Read this quote from the Theophostic Prayer website and see if you notice any concerns.

TPM is Christ Centered Prayer

The TPM Basic Training Seminar Manual defines TPM as, “Intentional and focused prayer with the desired outcome of an authentic encounter with the presence of Christ, resulting in mind renewal and subsequent transformed life.”

Theo (God) Phostic (light) is a ministry of prayer that is Christ centered and God reliant for its direction and outcome. Simply stated, it is encouraging a person to discover and expose what he believes that is a falsehood; and then encouraging him to have an encounter with Jesus Christ through prayer,  thus allowing the Lord to reveal His truth to the wounded person’s heart and mind. It is not about advice giving, diagnosing problems, or sharing opinions or insight. It is about allowing a person to have a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus in the midst of the person’s emotional pain.

I  (Ed  Smith)  understand that it is the Holy Spirit that lead us into all truth and that it is He that intercedes for us in prayer to the Father.   However,  I also believe that we can have a personal relationship with the person of Jesus.   The Apostle desired to “know Him” (Phil. 3:10) and experience  Him; “Him”  being  the  person  of  Jesus.  Some might suggest that we can only have a relationship with God by way of the Bible through growing in deeper knowledge.   I believe that knowledge is very important and Bible study a necessity but knowledge alone “puffeth up” (1 Cor. 14:1).   Theophostic Prayer seeks to know Christ experientially and relationally.   At the same time it does not seek to replace any of the Christian disciplines such as prayer,  fasting  or  personal  Bible study.

I do not believe that people who report seeing visuals of Christ are seeing Him literally as in a visitation.   I believe this picture is the Holy Spirit communicating personalized truth in a visual manner.   However, I believe that people can come to know Christ intimately in a ministry session.   I also believe that this same relational experience can  occur in a sundry of different venues such as personal worship, meditation on Scripture and just experiencing life walking with God.  



So Theophostic prayer is a means of experiencing Jesus apart from word and sacrament. That makes it a means of grace. There is much more to be alarmed with here but I will let you commenters flesh that out below. I will say this one more thing.

I am all about prayer. The Divine Service that we do each week is pure prayer. What I am opposed to is the fact that in the Ablaze/Kieschnick era of  LCMS history there is little or no supervision going on by the Synodial President, District Bishops and Circuit Visitors. How can it be that we have a pastor who promotes this heterodox prayer program doing so publicly on his congregation’s website? Even worse, how can it be that a pastor with this little Lutheran discernment is picked to head up a synod wide prayer event?

I have only scratched the surface of the Theophostic Prayer website. I need to get back to making the preparations for the Divine Service of prayer this coming weekend in our congregation so I leave it to our readers to peruse the rest of the Theophostic Prayer website and share whatever positive things there may be there and alert us to the other hazards of this new heterodox prayer movement with which the  LCMS is now in bed.

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.


More on the Call for Intercessors for the LCMS – Prayer as a Means of Grace at Pastor Bira’s Church, by Pr. Rossow — 29 Comments

  1. …is a ministry of prayer that is Christ centered and God reliant for its direction and outcome…

    Curious then, that the results of such exercises are one hundred percent subjective and ‘me’ centered i.e. “personal worship” and “subjective experiences.” That makes them explicitly not God or Christ reliant or centered, but rather individual reliant and centered, and there is certainly nothing pro-that in the Confession, much less in Scripture.

    What then do we have?
    Take, eat, this is My Body, given for you.
    Take and drink, this is My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
    I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

    These are the true (and objective) encounters with God, not this touchy-feely, heretical rubbish.

  2. This is standard Renewal in Missouri stuff. As I said in my last posting on your previous post re: Ablaze Intercessory prayer, these folks believe God (which person is not always clearly defined) speaks back to them when they engage in this kind of prayer (also Bible study). They also have a “prayer language”, which is some kind of tongue-speaking, but it’s private, and most of them don’t know what they’re saying. One of the common displays of chutzpah is when they proclaim that God “has told me” this or that. For example, “God told me that we should start contemporary worship in Arabic,” or some such nonsense. This is what this whole “personal relationship with Jesus” comes down to, in its more extreme forms.

    As Pr. Rossow so correctly and insightfully observes above, this effectively makes prayer a means of grace. Wow! Now doesn’t that give you something to think about? Throw our Confessions out–we have first-hand stuff here. Who can argue with “God told me”? In other words, “My experience trumps your doctrine!” This is serious, dangerous, and potentially faith-destroying heresy. There’s no other name for it. It’s not your grandfather’s church, and it’s not funny. We would do well to be frightened.

    The sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is desperately needed. Wield it!!

  3. From the above mentioned website:

    “When I have a negative emotional response in the present, it can almost always be traced back to a belief harbored in an earlier event. In this earlier event a belief was established that is generating a negative emotion in the present. My present feelings are generally indicative of what I have believed.”

    This is just one example, but there seems to be a recurring theme of driving everything back to “my feelings”. My overall impression is of a weird blend of Scientology, Eckankar, and existentialism.

    The 14 “basic principles” are fraught with error, just as one example I refer to principle 7: ” Sinful Behavior Is Often a Vain Attempt to Manage Our Emotional Pain — When our lie-based thinking is triggered, our present situation is flooded with emotions from the past. When our false thinking is divinely replaced with experiential truth, our painful emotions transform into perfect peace, and therefore the temptation to sin becomes much less powerful. When we have negative feelings, we can still try to act appropriately. ”

    I’m sorry, but the words “experiential truth” are flooding me with negative emotions from my past in the ELCA and United Methodists. Maybe if I worked harder and followed the 14 principles my negative emotions would transform into perfect peace and and I could merit . . . BAH!

    I’m ranting, sorry. This nonsense is all too familiar, even though I had never heard of “Theophositc prayer” before today.

  4. With a new age price tag too!!! Or you could attend classes at Pastor Bira’s church.

  5. Ugh… According to this, you just have to keep praying and God will reveal himself to you. They even quote Luther! Its about halfway down this page. Look for his picture.

    I guess the scriptural approach of reading the Word, hearing Christ the Word proclaimed and receiving Him in the Sacrament was wrong all along.

    The church’s website also says some alarming things:

    *They are “Loved. To Grow and Go.” Complete with video presentaion.

    *They are a “close” community, but not a “closed” community because “Jesus constantly welcomed guests to fellowship with Him in His earthly ministry.”

    *To become a member you go through a “spiritual formation class”

    To their credit, they include a tab about Lutheranism and the LCMS. I will leave it to others posting here to discern that particular declaration. Click to the site, then click on “Holy Cross,” then click on “Walking Together.”

    It would seem on the outset, though, that even their affiliation is clouded by buzzwords.

  6. Interesting stuff. When you read on the website of the founder of the Theophostic Prayer Ministry, Dr. Ed Smith (a Southern Baptist), you read this:

    “Dr. Smith holds a traditional conservative protestant theology. He adheres to the Baptist Faith and message and attends a Southern Baptist Church. However, the principles of TPM are not dependent upon all of Ed Smith’s personal theology in all areas of biblical thought but on a common theology that is embraced cross denominationally around the world by thousands of other ministry faciltators.”

    It seems, that this is what new-Missouri is looking for, here and elsewhere: “a common theology that is embraced cross denominationally.” Like Dr. Smith, we can then additionally still have a “personal theology” and adhere to the Lutheran Confessions (or, in his case, the Baptist Faith and Message) which may or may not agree with what’s held cross denominationally — so long as we don’t make those personal, denominational specialties binding on others, we’re good.

    It’s clear that this approach is shaped by democratic principles of (changing) “majority rule” and has really little to do with the “great consensus” that opens the Augsburg Confession which is that unchanging consensus of the biblical church of the prophets and apostles which we today simply join — with our personal theology and with our denominational / confessional theology. What’s not part of this consensus has no place in the church in any normative sense.

    It is not so with Dr. Smith: On the page stating his (personal) beliefs, the reader is time and again reminded: you don’t have to agree with any (or at least: much of this) and still can do TPM. That’s also to the liking of those in the LCMS who like to see greener grass on the other side of the fence: we’re still Lutherans to the core, we just want to add this ministry to the toolkit of our congregation to help suffering people better. The Willow Creek Association has a similarly broad-minded approach; just ask the LCMS congregations on their mailing list.

    And really: shouldn’t the LCMS itself also have such an approach to doctrinal unity and conformity? Shouldn’t the districts, e.g., instead of chiefly providing theological oversight, be more like parachurch-like idea-centers that generate visions and tools that individual congregations may or may not choose to adopt and adapt as they see fit and as it best helps their ministry? So long as the membership dues are paid up, no one should have a problem with this? You decide.

    Another thing that’s interesting: even though TPM is supposed to offer “personal encounters” with Jesus, it’s of course not Jesus that you meet there, even according to Ed Smith:

    “It is believed that the Holy Spirit is the One who reveals truth to the person during a Theophostic Prayer Ministry session. The Holy Spirit has come into the world to reveal and glorify Christ and to apply the saving work of Christ to men. He convicts and draws sinners to Christ, imparts new life to them, continually indwells them from the moment of spiritual birth, and seals them until the day of redemption. His fullness, power, and control are made available in the believer’s life by faith.”

    So, you don’t “really” meet Jesus; you meet the Holy Spirit. Now, that’s not a bad thing, either, I’d say. But, of course, here Ed Smith reveals himself as the Reformed theologian he is: Jesus trapped in heaven; he can’t come to you “really,” let alone “personally.” We’re just talking here about Christ’s benefits. Not bad, as I said, but it falls short of God’s Word that not only speaks of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but also of the indwelling of Christ, true God AND true man. The Lord’s Supper mightily assures us of this comforting fact that we not only have God with us (much too much for sinners like us) but also our brother Jesus, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, who died for our sins and now intercedes for us at God’s right hand, almightily governing all things on heaven and earth for the eternal benefit of his little brothers and sisters on earth. So, maybe THEO-phostic, instead of Christophostic, prayer might not be a misnomer for this type of ministry, despite its claims to be Christ-centered.

    So, while your faith (in the sense of doctrine) doesn’t really matter, strictly adhering to the “guidelines” of Theophostic prayer does. Here’s another thing the new LCMSer might like about this: God’s word can be negotiated away, but human rules and regulations must stand for something to be the real deal.

    Since TPM claims to be a non-directive ministry, it seems like a thinly Christianized version of those kinds of psychotherapy where the patient is doing most of the work and the therapist is just there, listening and reflecting back to you what you just said (I think C. Rogers is here the man that’s famous for this approach). Sure, in Rogers, you got the self-healing powers in yourself (that’s humanism) while in Smith, it all seems to come from God — what could be more different? However, since there are, as has been observed by other posters, few if any objective criteria for discerning what’s from God and what’s from yourself (and your self-deceptive sinful nature), it might as well be the same after all: God = self.

  7. Kari,

    I am not sure that Luther used this term but it is an appropriate use. It comes form the Greek “en” which means “in” and “theos” (i.e. theology) which means “god” and so the term was applied to those who thought they had God in them or talking to them.


  8. “It seems, that this is what new-Missouri is looking for, here and elsewhere: “a common theology that is embraced cross denominationally.”

    If that is what they want they need look no farther than the Creeds. But then that would be too much like Grandfather, wouldn’t it.

    “it seems like a thinly Christianized version of those kinds of psychotherapy where the patient is doing most of the work and the therapist is just there, listening and reflecting back to you what you just said”

    And how does that make you feel? 🙂

  9. Kari,

    Yes, the term “enthusiasts” can be found being used hundreds of times in the American Edition of Luther’s Works.

    And, in the Smalcald Articles: III, art. viii, par. 2, Luther wrote:

    “In these matters, which concern the spoken, external Word, it must be firmly maintained that God gives no one his Spirit or grace apart from the external Word which goes before. We say this to protect ourselves from the enthusiasts,144 that is, the “spirits,” who boast that they have the Spirit apart from and before contact with the Word.”

    Footnote 144 in Kolb/Wengert states: As was his custom, Luther uses the German form of a technical Greek and Latin term for a person in whom the god dwells (en-theou), that is, a “spiritist” or spiritualist. It also became a general epithet for a heretic. In other writings he uses the German word Schwärmer, that is, a fanatic, one who raves (cf. the English cognate, “swarm”).

  10. This plainly demonstrates a lack of faith

    • In God’s Word
    • In the Gospel
    • In the sacraments
    • In God’s promises.

    As I heard one of these folks say, “I’m looking for something more.” or “You can have something more…”

    When an LCMS pastor tells you he went into a trance and awoke with a whole new understanding of how to study the Bible, and now you can “learn” (yes, learn) to speak in tongues, and that God will speak to you in your prayers and Bible Study, then beware.

    It’s awful in the congregation–its’ an absolute disaster at the synodical level. There ought to be a collective scream that can be heard coast to coast–“STOP! YOU’RE DESTROYING OUR PEOPLE’S FAITH!”

  11. Why do “Lutheran” pastors believe they can pray like a Baptist or worship like a Baptist and not become a Baptist.

  12. And another thing: At the risk of sounding mean-spirited (small “s”), curmudgeonly, and generally contrary, you can thank JF for much of this flight from our doctrine. As an amalgam of all this patently un-Lutheran theology and purveyor of such practices, JF, now in positions of power and influence in the synod, is scratching a lot of itching ears.

    I expect that soon we’ll see CPH selling prayer shawls and prayer wheels! Why not?

  13. These verses (and the whole of Scripture) speak directly against the dangerous “enthusiasm” being promoted by “Theophostics” —

    Ezekiel 13:7

    “Have you not seen a futile vision, and have you not spoken false divination? You say, ‘The LORD says,’ but I have not spoken.”

    Colossians 2:18

    “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind…”

    However, enthusiasm is only the tip of the iceberg here. Reading this critical commentary explaining Ed Smith’s “Theophostics”, one can see that the dangers of what is being promoted by this man go much deeper than enthusiasm.

    Smith’s overarching premise is that “first memories” and their interpretation are the present cause of emotional pain, and need to be purged from our mind. This psychobabble is an adaptation of Jung’s and Freud’s “abreaction therapy” and Korzybski’s “General Semantics”. The first thing that came to my mind is that this man is promoting nothing less than a version of L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, masquerading as Christianity. Scary stuff!!!

  14. Is this a neopagan experience vehicle masquerading as another divisive church fad?
    Let’s go all out Sola Scriptura here: Jude 1: 3
    ” Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you.”
    Prophetic and still timely, isn’t it?
    Just my .02

  15. I went out to the LCMS website and pulled up their statistics for the last ten years. Either they are not doing a very good job of praying or they are praying for a decline in membership and church attendance. Why is it that so many of these so called “church growth” congregation show declines? And we are supposed to follow their example? I did find one possible explanation why they had declines, they still have one traditonal service. Now if they would just do away with that service I am sure they would be a 2,000 memeber ccngregation with an average Sunday attendance of 1,900+.

  16. Greetings from Winnipeg MB: Theosphy – any of a various philosophies professing to achieve a knowledge of God by spiritual ecstacy direct intuition especially a modern movement following Hindu & Buddhist teachings and seeking universal brotherhood. Scary stuff. It’s definitely time.
    This may be in the LCMS now but these kind of beliefs tend to spread to Canada as well. Waiting patiently for the LCMS to change leadership back to the historical liturgical church of Grandfather.

  17. Gnosticism by any other name is still Gnosticism, and still smells like sulphur. Let’s call it what it is.

    Elaine, I’m afraid it may be a long wait.

  18. From the Theophostic Prayer site:
    “When we find freedom from the lie-based thinking held in our memories, we will no longer be stirred-up by it and can walk in peace.” and “The goal of the [Theophostic Prayer] ministry is that you have a genuine encounter with the Spirit of Christ.”

    From Eckhart Tolle (one of Oprah’s many spiritual “guides”):
    “When you are present in this moment, you break the continuity of your story, of past and future. Then true intelligence arises, and also love. The only way love can come into your life is not through form, but through that inner spaciousness that is Presence.”

    For both of these approaches to “spirituality” everything rests on personal experience — encountering Christ within one’s self (TPM) or encountering the present self (Tolle).

  19. Carol–It’s as I said, “My experience trumps your doctrine.” It happens every time. It’s the counterfeit old time religion, gnosticism.


  20. Gnostic, new age, pick an adjective, is still a lead balloon. I have to pay the LCMS for the privilige Christ won for free, FOR ME?! Profit, gain, fame, fortune, power, place, prestige. Corrupt and bankrupt, $$$$, morally, doctinally, and SCRIPTURALLY. Jumping ship, thanks much.

  21. Excommunicate? hahahahaha. Nobody does that anymore. We have “Open Communication”–(Not “close communication”), so there’s no “ex-communication.” Everyone is welcome–y’all just come on and teach your own truth, your own doctrine–after all, there’s many paths to ultimate reality. Big tent sprituality–that’s us!!

    My apologies, Joe–I didn’t mean to be offensive–that was just a bit of sarcasm or satire. I hope you didn’t find it in too awful bad taste.

  22. On the registration form fill in this section

    “What training , books, or other resources have impacted your prayer effectiveness?” Fill in so we may share with others.

    They are kidding right? These are Lutherans?

    How can you tell prayer effectiveness? If you don’t get what you asked for were you not good enough? You didn’t have the gift?
    Once again what can “I” do to get Gods attention? Special phrases? How about Mary? Its all back on “me” again.
    NO thanks!
    We always have Gods ear no matter what, no matter who. No special meetings needed.

    Someone please pull the flush handle at the purple palace.


  23. Why do folks want to be called Lutheran (some of the time) but want to believe, teach, and confess other than what is expressed in the Confessions, if they “confess” anything at all?

  24. “District President,” “Bishop of a District” refers to the same thing. A bishop is an overseer by definitino and that is the most important thing our DPs are to do, although very few of them actually do it.


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