An Hour (or three) with Pastor Tim Rossow, by Rev. Jack Gilbert

On July 30, 2010, I had the privilege of meeting with Pastor Tim Rossow at Bethany Lutheran Church and School in Naperville, Illinois. In communicating with him through the Brothers of John the Steadfast blog and by private e-mails, we decided that a face-to-face meeting would serve us best. I am currently serving as the assistant pastor at Carmel Lutheran Church in Carmel, Indiana. The reason we chose to meet was to smooth out some misconceptions and false assumptions that spawned from Pastor Rossow’s article “LCMS Council of Presidents Chooses to Focus on a Functionally Non-Lutheran Parish as a Model for the Synod,” dated March 11, 2010 and found here.

Having recently graduated from the St. Louis seminary (class of 2009), I am certain that I have much to learn when it comes to serving the Lord and His Church as a pastor in the LCMS. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve at Carmel Lutheran Church, and I wanted to address some issues that Pastor Rossow brought up in his article with respect to the church I am serving through my first call.

While we had interacted in the past, we did not quite reach agreement through the website or through our e-mails. I was regularly sending him an e-mail by which I hoped we could resolve some or all of the problems I had with his article, but this proved unfruitful for over four months. Thankfully, an opportunity arose for me to be in the Naperville area, and Pastor Rossow graciously accepted my proposal that we meet. A major motivation for me to meet personally with Pastor Rossow came from my reading of his own attendance at a past meeting with soon-to-be former President Gerald Kieschnick. In the meeting held on March 27, 2008, President Kieschnick “expressed his regret that he did not meet or talk personally with the authors of [TTMBO] prior to his May 30, 2003 memo. He also noted that doing so could possibly have spared everyone a lot of grief.” In seeing this, I thought the precedent of a fellow member of the Body of Christ seeing an error in jumping to conclusions without meeting or talking personally with involved parties was a good one to lean back on, and found this to be even more fitting due to Pastor Rossow’s presence at this meeting. (If interested, read more here.)

Please know that I have done my best to record what Pastor Rossow and I discussed and agreed on, specifically pertaining to the problems I had with his article. Below you will find the four major points of contention I had with the article in question, and I have provided the agreements we came to according to my memory. I will note that Pastor Rossow explained his view that the article he wrote in which he named Carmel Lutheran Church was more about the idea of churches in the LCMS not representing Lutheran doctrine and practice properly, rather than Carmel Lutheran Church specifically. We disagreed on this, because I find that naming a church and her pastor solidifies it as a very real example and removes any theoretical aspects from the conversation. (Pastor Rossow may wish to clarify here or there, which I will welcome warmly.)

  1. It was agreed that certain words Pastor Rossow originally claimed to be missing from the Carmel Lutheran website (after spending 45 minutes at the site) are, in fact, there. Clearly they are not as easy to find as all would wish. It was also agreed that a church’s website is not the best place to go in order to obtain a full or proper understanding of what is taught and believed there.
  2. It was understood that in his separate presentation, Professor Tony Cook did not identify Carmel Lutheran Church as anything at all, let alone as “an example of emergent church theory” as falsely surmised by Pastor Rossow. In fact, Professor Cook’s presentation came before the Carmel Lutheran presentation. His contact information is available here if anyone should wish to pursue this subject with him.
  3. It was explained that Pastor Rossow did not read the pastor’s letter in Carmel Lutheran’s newsletter for March 2010, though he did use portions of this newsletter as evidence against Carmel Lutheran Church. Of note is the fact that some of the words and ideas he claimed to be missing were specifically discussed in this portion of the newsletter. Similarly, he did not recognize my name as one of the pastors at Carmel Lutheran at the time of writing the article or in interacting with me in the comment section below, though my name and picture can be found both on the website and in the pastor’s letter of that issue of the newsletter (page 2). We also discussed the fact that he and I had been interacting off and on through the Brothers of John the Steadfast website and private e-mails since December of 2009.
  4. The title of Pastor Rossow’s article implies that the COP thought all churches in the LCMS should be like Carmel Lutheran, as he claims she was held up as a “model for the Synod.” As the Reporter article clearly indicated, the presentation given by the pastors and some staff members of Carmel Lutheran revolved around her church planting history and practice. If anything, Carmel Lutheran was there as a model for parishes currently involved in or considering future involvement with planting new churches, presumably due to spacial reasons. It was agreed that given the nature of our presentation to the COP, the title of the article could have been more accurate.

The reason I write this now is because I hope that anyone who read or commented under that article will recall Pastor Rossow’s willingness to “set the record straight” if his characterization could be proven wrong. As one of the pastors, and more generally, as a fellow member of the Body of Christ, I wanted the readers here to know that this conversation took place and that clarifications were made and agreed upon. While Pastor Rossow explained in our time together that the articles at the Brothers of John the Steadfast blog have a shelf-life of around 36 hours, the churches and pastors discussed therein very commonly outlive the articles written about them! This can, in some cases, bring about undue damage to one’s reputation. This is even truer when articles are taken down without retraction or correction. While Pastor Rossow discussed the possibility of putting together an article to summarize the meeting we had, I have taken the initiative in doing so after waiting one month and assuming he is occupied with other projects.

I encourage the readers and writers at this blog to engage in actual discussion before publishing or commenting on an article. Certainly there are practices at Carmel Lutheran that some readers here will disagree with. If you wish to discuss them with me, I ask that you please send me an e-mail (available, among other ways, through Norm Fisher upon request). While there are variations from parish to parish within the LCMS, we are united as the Body of Christ, and we are called to pray for, encourage, build up, and if necessary, rebuke one another according to our Lord’s teaching.

Be assured, the meeting Pastor Rossow and I had was a wonderful and loving conversation between brothers in Christ—precisely what I had prayed for and expected! He is an intelligent man who comes off as very driven by his love of and concern for authentic Lutheranism. I look forward to meeting with him again in the future if the Lord wills.

Rev. Jack Gilbert
Assistant Pastor, Carmel Lutheran Church
317.814.4256 x 213

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