“Christianity Today” on Denominations, “Church Growth Movement,” and Confessions, by Pastor Martin Noland

The June 2010 issue of “Christianity Today” (Vol. 54 #6, pp. 24-29) has an excellent article on denominational loyalty and the continued relevance of denominations in America. It is worth reading the whole article, and is presently not available online.

I was initially interested in the article because many of our LCMS leaders have, over the last dozen years or so, told us how denominations are increasingly irrelevant. I always thought those leaders’ comments were (unintentionally) ironic, because it means that those leaders are increasingly irrelevant. And I disagreed.

Now from “Christianity Today,” of all places, the standard bearer for non-denominational Protestantism, comes this article: “Life in Those Old Bones” by Ed Stetzer. It tells me things I always knew and believed in, but had difficulty convincing: 1) my LCMS brothers who like the leadership of Jesus First; and 2) those pastors of LCMS mega-churches who think their congregation doesn’t need the LCMS. Maybe they will listen to “Christianity Today,” if they won’t listen to me.

Here are some of the more relevant quotes:

“We can do more for the kingdom of God by doing it together with people of common conviction—which usually means a denomination—than by doing it alone” (p. 26).

“The vast majority of world missions, church planting, discipleship, and other forms of ministry are done through denominational partnerships” (p. 26).

“A variety of recent movements among emerging generations demonstrate the need and desire for rootedness and history. The church growth movement in the 1970s and 1980s (itself a kind of proto-denomination) perpetuated the mistaken idea that only new and novel methods were effective in reaching the next generation. In exchanging older traditions for newer methodologies, it unintentionally cut itself off from a rich legacy of faith. A generation later, emerging leaders are yearning for a sense of rootedness. In an age of fragmented social identities, connecting with the past has become synonomous with finding purpose and meaning” (p. 27).

“Many leaders of the baby boomer generation untied their churches from tradition and charted their own courses; many of the boomers’ children have spent the last decade looking wistfully to the shore. Denominations have not done a good job of making the case, but they can provide history and legacy to a generation longing for stability” (p. 27).

“Orthodoxy is more likely to remain established in denominations with clear faith statements. Confessional anchors have prevented drift in such denominations as the Assemblies of God, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and the Evangelical Free Church” (p. 28).

“Confessional statements build trust for denominational agencies; without them, there is inevitably justifiable concern about whether the agency shares the denomination’s standards. But doctrinal standards are not mere safeguards. They have also long been teaching tools for churches, helping in evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual growth” (p. 28)

I recommend that the readers of this post obtain a copy of the complete article. It deserves wide readership and study in the LCMS. Maybe it will help people appreciate our Missouri Synod birthright, i.e., what has been given to us by our spiritual fathers and mothers, before we squander it on a mess of religious pottage.

 

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

“Christianity Today” on Denominations, “Church Growth Movement,” and Confessions, by Pastor Martin Noland — 12 Comments

  1. Some of these quotes effectively counter and contradict the worn-out “Evangelical Style & Lutheran Substance” argument. Like Clara Peller of Wendy’s fame, lately I’ve been asking/yelling, “Where’s the substance?”

    Thanks, Dr. Noland.

    J

  2. But doctrinal standards are not mere safeguards. They have also long been teaching tools for churches, helping in evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual growth

    WHAT!?! You mean there is a connection between doctrine and practice, a link between missions/evangelism and doctrine? These two AREN’T polar opposites to be played off of one another?!?

    How refreshing to see someone else come to this conclusion in a widely distributed, national publication. Thank you, Dr. Noland, for pointing this article out.

  3. OK, that didn’t publish correctly. The first paragraph was supposed to be surrounded by faux HTML code with “sarcasm” in hash marks at the beginning and “/sarcasm” in hash marks at the end. I guess there really is HTML code for sarcasm!

  4. Thank you for this article, Pr. Noland.

    “Orthodoxy is more likely to remain established in denominations with clear faith statements. Confessional anchors have prevented drift in such denominations as the Assemblies of God, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and the Evangelical Free Church” (p. 28).

    That statement is rich in meaning. Why implement the BRTF recommendations, such as changing the name of the synod, when we are recognized (by name) as having a “clear faith statement”? Putting synod leadership in place who will keep the synod connected to “grandpa’s church” is essential. Will the LCMS be better off four years from now if we maintain its current course of chasing defunct church growth methodologies and their consultants?

  5. “Orthodoxy is more likely to remain established in denominations with clear faith statements. Confessional anchors have prevented drift in such denominations as the Assemblies of God….” (p. 28).

    Assemblies of God has a confessional anchor? Can anyone elaborate on this?

  6. Thank you Pastor Noland for this great post. Incredible, as you say, that Christianity Today is the one championing the merits of denominationalism.

  7. I hope Pastor Martin Noland will write more articles for Christianity Today like that! I would actually hope to see it re-printed in the Lutheran Digest…I’m afraid I can’t imagine it appearing in Lutheran Witness.

    Thank you so much, Norm, for sharing this. I hope I can still get a copy before the stores replace it with a July issue!

  8. Rick,
    Google is an ab fab thing. As long as you remember it, you will be able to find it. I wonder how long this will continue to be practiced w/in the LCMS. Congregationally, I mean. Brian’s video is so telling & timely. More than I think he even realized.

    This or that. It’s just that simple.

  9. @Dutch #8

    Dutch, you, Brian and other have hit upon an essential truth–you can’t have it both ways, or all three ways, or a gazillion ways. It all boils down to a “this or that” proposition. Kind of like “Evangelical Style and Lutheran Substance.”

    Or, as the Hindu philosopher once said to Ravi Zacharias, “The ‘either-or’ does begin to emerge, doesn’t it?”

    j

  10. Dear Rick (comment #7),

    Actually, I didn’t write the article I commented on here. The author is Ed Stetzer, whom I don’t know, but by this article, am impressed with. Thanks for the kind words, in any event.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  11. Sorry for misunderstanding the header. You’re a good guy anyway. (Maybe you SHOULD try to submit something good to CT!) : )

  12. @Daniel Bergquist #5

    I would imagine they aren’t using the words “confessional anchor” to refer to that denomination in the way we use it to refer to portions of our Synod. Rather, I think this might be refering to the fact that, despite the AoG’s many theological problems (I would know, I used to go to an AoG church), the AoG hasn’t been hijacked by liberal theology as many other big name denominations have, the Episcopalians, Methodists, ELCA, etc.

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