As a part of my regular column on “The LCMS in Her Own Words” I am doing a review of the Ablaze grants in the Northern Illinois District. Cantor Phillip Magness was our congregation’s lay delegate to the convention. In the exhibit hall he picked up a few one page summary sheets of the various Ablaze programs being funded in our district. Each day on the ride home from the convention we would have a “dramatic reading” of some of these sheets, spoofing the questionable spending of LCMS offerings.
Many of these programs are indeed questionable, like the comfort dog program where our mission dollars are going to support the use of dogs on hospital visits. We will get to those concerns in future posts, but for this post I would like to highlight a couple of the really good Ablaze grants within the NID. In general we are opposed to the Ablaze system of raising and spending funds (see our post from August 4) but there are some worthy causes that are being supported and before we get critical of the wasteful spending we would like to take a look at some of those worthy causes.
Our favorite grant is project number 49100-301, African Immigrant Ministry. The reason it is our favorite is that we know that this money is being used to support the proclamation of the gospel in the traditional and scriptural, format of the 2,000 year old liturgy. Rev. Stephani Kalonji reaches out to African immigrants in Chicago and the northwest suburbs through Bible study and the liturgy. There are no pre-schools, no major emphasis on hand-outs and as far as we can tell, no canines being used in the name of the gospel. Also, the liturgy that is being used is not some new fangled contemporary abortion of a ritual but is the full divine service that Lutherans have used for years. Cantor Magness is an avid French speaker and has attended the service that Pastor Kalonji conducts for the French speaking Africans and the Cantor reports that it is the traditional Lutheran liturgy only in French. As the grant summary states Pastor Kalonji is able to “connect with these immigrants and serve them in a language they know.”
There are three great things that are going on in this work that remind us of our grandfather’s church which conducted mission work in a traditional and scriptural way. First, it is being done by a pastor. Even though this is the historic model of the church that has worked for 2,000 years and is also the Biblical model, it is rare in the President Kieschnick run Ablaze program. In the Ablaze program it is more common that our offerings are going toward “evangelism” that is being done by lay people in pre-schools, used clothing stores, and by dogs in hospitals. We have nothing against lay people doing good works and giving praise to the God who moved them to such (this is the Biblical model of lay witnessing – see I Peter 2:4-12 where the emphasis is on doing good works in an evil world so that God may be glorified). But in today’s Ablaze world our offerings are going toward lay “preaching” and not toward traditional pastor-missionaries. Secondly, this work focuses on Bible study and the liturgy and not on peripherals. Again, this is how it worked in our grandfather’s church. Thirdly, there is a simple Pentecost emphasis on people hearing preachers proclaim the Gospel in their own language (see Acts 2:1 ff.).
This leads to the second project we want to highlight as very positive. It is NID Ablaze project number 49100-096, Arabic Outreach. It is sponsored in part by a congregation and pastor whose approach to “doing church” is routinely criticized on this website, Pastor Charlie Mueller Jr. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Roselle, Illinois. Pastor Mueller and his church are promoters of the church growth movement which we rightly criticize on this website because it overemphasizes psychology and sociology in its attempt to grow the church. Pastor Mueller is also one of the key leaders of a group called Jesus First that aggressively and politically promotes the harmful agenda of President Kieschnick. That being said, the Arabic Outreach program that it supports is doing some fine work of proclaiming the Gospel in the traditional way of our grandfather’s church. Missionary Hicham Chehab is a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne and has started a church for Arabic speaking people. Again, as in the case of Pastor Kalonji, the work is focused on word and sacrament. This is the traditional and scriptural way of doing evangelism and we are happy to see LCMS offerings supporting this work.
We commend President Dan Gilbert and the Northern Illinois District for mission work like these two examples. We will have more to say about other Ablaze grants in the NID that we believe are being misspent but these two programs get the basic model right and are an example of how we need to get back to the basics of our grandfather’s mission strategy.