A Church Divided

The parishioners of St. John Lutheran Church in Kendallville, Indiana are blessed as they sing hymns during the Divine Service in their beautiful and ornate sanctuary – at the north end of the building. Concurrently, at the south end of the building, a different group of parishioners are singing praise songs in the “worship center.” They are a church divided.

St. John’s sounds a lot like a generic evangelical church-growth type church, similar to many other churches in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod that have compromised their Lutheran identity in order to “church the unchurched.” According to their website, St. John’s is “here to give glory to God by using as many ways as possible to bring as many people as possible into:

  • a life-long personal relationship with Christ;
  • a life-long, growing commitment to Christ;
  • and a lifetime of joyfully serving Christ.”

These goals mimic the evangelical church theology that has been imported along with the praise bands and Hawaiian shirts – they emphasize the Christian, not the Christ. By now you’re probably yawning – you’ve heard it all before. But wait! Now you can have the video to go along with the text, courtesy of YouTube. The following video’s music and lyrics were created by the Principal of the school at St. John’s. He’s an integral part of the congregation, having preached there (though he’s not a pastor), and is a member of their “worship team.” He takes “using as many ways as possible to bring as many people as possible” to a whole new level:

Woe is me. Our theology has become so poor and shallow that in a synod whose liturgical services begin in the name of the Triune God, we can now tuck a football under Jesus’ arm and contrast Him with sweaty smack-talking football players. While I assume the intent of the artist is to present a God-pleasing Gospel message, doesn’t this video rob Jesus of His honor, reducing Him to a cheesy quarterback? God incarnate, who created the universe, and the radiance of the glory of God, is assigned a place of honor a little higher than Peyton Manning, the MVP quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. In keeping with evangelicalism’s frequent theme, Jesus has become our spiritual cheerleader. Instead of singing “the Savior arose, and death, hell, and Satan He vanquished, His foes,” and “hail Him as thy matchless king through all eternity,” we’re singing “third and long he rose again” and “touchdowns all around got nothing on what God can do!” It’s a little like contrasting Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel to the fine art on the front of that Wheaties box that’s sitting in your pantry. The difference ought to be alarmingly obvious.

On a larger stage, isn’t this church emblematic of the LCMS as a whole? A sanctuary at one end, and a worship center at the other. At one end, the people humbly bow as the crucifix passes by. The chasuble-clothed pastor, gathered in the midst of the parishioners, speaks Christ’s salvific Word of the Gospel. At the other end, the people gaze at the screen as the polo-shirted pastor (or not), stands on stage and delivers today’s key Bible passage. Was there ever a more stark contrast in theology than this? Luther and Zwingli “got nothing” on this contrast.

A long dark metaphorical corridor separates the sanctuary and the worship center. On the floor of the corridor is a string with a Dixie cup affixed to each end in case either side wants to speak to the other. Those Dixie cups have been laying there gathering dust for a long, long time. While the dust gathers, the lifeblood of the LCMS, the doctrine of Christ, slips between our fingers. We must close our hand to grasp the didache of Christ, before it entirely slips away. This isn’t a time for either “side” to sit smugly and point fingers at the other. It’s a time for repentance. Like Hilkiah’s rediscovery of the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22), we must, like King Josiah upon hearing its words, tear our clothes and repent of our own disobedience to the Word of the Lord. We must reaffirm that which we have sworn to confess, so that we may come before the Lord’s throne with boldness, receiving His good gifts and rightly proclaiming to the world what He has done.

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