A Response to USA Today Article “Faith in America: Get Ready for Change”

While adding a church to the Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgical Congregations website, I came across this article written by Pastor Pautz of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Muscatine, IA. It is a great response to a USA Today article that you may have missed in the Lutheran Witness.

Pastor Pautz introducing the article by DP Brian Saunders found in the Lutheran Witness:


This is an article written by our District President – Rev. Saunders which is reprinted from the recent Lutheran Witness. Blessings.  Pastor Pautz

Helpful definitions

A recent USA Today article, published May 16, 2011, by Oliver Thomas entitled “Faith in America: Get Ready for Change” forewarns the Church that “change” is on the way. That is no surprise to the holy Christian Church since “change” is at the heart of her confession. The change Thomas is offering, however, is not the same as the change of the historic Church. Instead, he suggests that the Church needs to change what she believes, teaches and practices. In other words, she needs to change everything.

It is helpful here to define what is meant by change. Change in the holy Christian Church is about repentance. Repentance is change that takes place in the heart and life of the convicted sinner, not the organism called the Church. Repentant change in the Church occurs when the perfect Law of God confronts the wayward and erring soul, bringing the unrighteous to his knees in confession of his sins. The Holy Gospel then rescues the broken soul with the promise of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. At the same time, it creates faith that receives God’s forgiveness. Thus, it is truly change. In short, the change is not in the Church and its creed but in the heart of the sinner whose life is now lead by love for God and for neighbor.

The Church is also, by its very nature, creedal. So, to change a creed means the essence of the organism itself has changed. To change the essence of an organism is to change the organism itself. The consequence of that kind of change is that the organism ceases to exist.
In other words, to change the creed of the Church is not only to change the Church, but it is to speak of no Church at all. Without the creeds, we are left to our own fallible and erring whims for truth. That is why the authors of the Epitome in theBook of Concord write:

“Immediately after the time of the Apostles–in fact, already during their lifetime–false teachers and heretics invaded the church. Against these the ancient church formulated symbols (explicit confessions) which were accepted as the unanimous, catholic, Christian faith and confessions of the orthodox and true church, namely, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. We pledge ourselves to these, and we hereby reject all heresies and teachings which have been introduced into the church of God contrary to them” (Tappert, 465:3).

Holes in the argument
A few points in the article in particular are worth discussing. First, it is interesting that Thomas points out that the populace today is more attuned to a God who is a “big God and is unbound by Scripture or learned scholars.” And yet, shortly thereafter, he leans on the wealth of knowledge of these “scholars” to discredit the apostleship authority and the hierarchical structure that has formed the current governance in the Church.

Apart from Scripture, we have no way of knowing the Son of God who reveals to us the will of God the Father. While He may be larger than creation, creation cannot believe in Him apart from the Word in which He reveals Himself. That means Thomas is simply in error when he says the Early Church had no clergy structure.

In fact, Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to appoint elders (clergy) in the local parishes where they served as overseers. As such, already in the time of Paul, the Church had formal structure. The Church was also growing, and the larger the group the more necessary it was that there be an organized structure for the sake of maintaining a faithfulness to a common confession and practice. The same is true today.

Next, Thomas makes the argument that the Church will become more counter-cultural. This, too, is no new thing, nor is it surprising. The Church is itself a culture that is in this world but not of it. She has her own language, music, relationships and disposition toward the lost. She addresses the lost with the Gospel (her unique language) that the Holy Spirit may have the venue to bring the erring heart to repentance and faith. The Church has never asked the lost world what it would like her to be based on its opinion of truth. Only the Church has the divinely-revealed truth to offer to mankind. Only she can communicate and bestow that truth upon the repentant sinner.

The Church’s response
Thomas affirms that the change that the Church needs to embrace is “loosey-goosey.” The silliness of that phrase alone is enough to discredit his suggestions. Maybe that is what he means when he says that the Church has already changed its worship times, places and instrumentation and that changing its beliefs is the next logical step.

However, there’s just one small problem with the underlying premises in Thomas’ article: These are not creedal issues. The Church will do the unbelieving world far more good by sticking with its faithful adherence to the Word of God expressed in the creeds of the historic faith.

In other words, the living ought never ask the dead how the living should live their lives. By doing that, the living condemn the dead to an eternal death. The cost of each soul is too precious and valuable to leave the lost to their own ways.


August 2011
Brian Saunders
President of LCMS Iowa District East

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

A Response to USA Today Article “Faith in America: Get Ready for Change” — 30 Comments

  1. American youth are becoming like Europeans?

    Oliver Thomas fails to acknowledge that most Europeans view the Church as yet another sluggish, ossified, bureaucratic organ of the State. In Europe, Church and State have been inseparable for centuries. For example, clergy in Germany are government employees. They receive their salaries from the State. Many people also blame the Church for participating in the crimes committed by the State throughout the centuries. No one would argue that feudalism was a good thing (unless you were a Lord or a church employee).

    The theology of the majority of churches in Europe is liberal. People are leaving those churches in droves. Americans are also leaving theologically liberal churches in record numbers. Young people are slowly starting to discover that the theology of non-denominational churches is mushy and shallow. As a result, they are choosing to quit Church altogether.

    How should the Church change according to Thomas? Should it have more liberal theology, more mushy non-denominationalism, or a mixture of both? Isn’t that a prescription for losing more church members?

  2. @Wallenstein #1

    Just a few corrections: The clergy in Germany are not government employees, and they don’t receive their salary from the state. It is not even possible to compare one European country to another; e. g. the situation of the church in the Scandinavian countries is different to the situation in Germany, France or England, let alone the eastern countries.

  3. @Sven Wagschal #3

    In what way is the situation of the church in the Scandinavian countries different that that of Germany, France or England? This is an honest question. I don’t know much about the church in Scandinavia.

  4. Oliver Thomas strikes me as rather blind, seeing only what he wants to see. Seriously, only interviewing and presenting the work of Liberal hacks? Of course, he is going to get wishy-washy, loosy-goosy mush. The more I read of liberal theologians the more I wonder if they do any actual research.

  5. Thomas is correct; faith is less creedal now and very few believers care at all about doctrine. The young adults he refers to who “appear largely uninterested in our denominational joustings over “correct” doctrine.” feel very comfortable telling you that they are “spiritual” but not “religious”. You can of course then call them heterodox, heretical, irrational, anti-intellectual, liberal, etc., and then completely demolish their arguments. They would respond with a shrug and perhaps amusement but then they would do what believers have been doing for the last thirty years~ walk away.

  6. Many people in our “whatever you think is true is true for you” society believe that all religions are man-created. Therefore it isn’t surprising that the world would come to expect Christianity to adjust itself to accept as true whatever anyone believes Christianity to be.

    In Europe today, it is readily accepted that “Christian” merely indicates white European. To be honest, Christians that are not suffering persecution in the world have readily fallen into the trap of accepting any and all opinions on just about anything, even their faith. Afraid of bucking the stream, they choose to flow along with it. Their own faith weakens as a result.

    I know that I will be stepping on some toes here, but we are often too concerned with catechesis (hope I spelled that right) when we should be dilligently teaching apologetics. No, they are not the same thing in most churches.

    Catechism class often produces little parrots who know what to say on confirmation day, but really don’t understand what they are professing. Think I’m wrong? How many post-confirmation teens are faithful to worship and service in the church? Too often we hear the prognosis that “they will be called back to the church some day by their good catechism training.” Memorizing doctrine does not prepare a young person to defend their faith in a world constantly chastising them for being part of that hateful Christianity.

    While still in the church they need to question, doubt, investigate, discuss, and solidify their faith by knowing WHY they personally believe. Pastors, teach them to think! Prepare them to defend their belief! Don’t be afraid that their hard questions indicate a lack of faith. Jesus sometimes just answered the hard questions; sometimes He let the student figure out the answers; He was always patient (woman at the well, Nicodemus, Thomas, even Saul). Be like Christ–send them out prepared to meet the wolves of the world.

  7. @Sue Wilson #9

    Catechesis and apologetics is a “both/and” and not an “either/or.” In order to effectively teach apologetics we have to catechize in the basics of the faith. We certainly don’t want to turn out youth who can present some sort of Josh McDowell type of “Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” but really can’t explain from the Scriptures our sinful condition and the forgiveness of sins.

    I firmly believe in continued catechesis. We shouldn’t stop after reading the Small Catechism. Let’s train our youth to be theologians of the cross.

  8. #4 Kitty :
    Thomas is correct; faith is less creedal now and very few believers care at all about doctrine. The young adults he refers to who “appear largely uninterested in our denominational joustings over “correct” doctrine.” feel very comfortable telling you that they are “spiritual” but not “religious”. You can of course then call them heterodox, heretical, irrational, anti-intellectual, liberal, etc., and then completely demolish their arguments. They would respond with a shrug and perhaps amusement but then they would do what believers have been doing for the last thirty years~ walk away.

    I suppose if you get in their faces and lecture them about “correct” doctrine, they would get turned off and walk away. Under those circumstances, who wouldn’t walk away? And yet…..are youth *really* uninterested in correct doctrine? Is Church really supposed to appeal to our personal feelings and tell us everything that we want to hear. Are youth perfectly happy with the promises made by the big-haired preachers at the mega-churches.

    I often wonder if many youth have a subconscious hunger for the kind of “deep” doctrine that a traditional LCMS congregation could provide. Is there ever a point in time when a young person who attends a non-denominational or a “Church Growth” LCMS church gets tired of the emphasis on the praise bands, the light shows, the pop music, and the overall spiritual shallowness. Do youth yearn to grow deeper in faith?

    @Sue Wilson #9

    You have a legitimate point. I absolutely *hated* being forced to memorize bible verses when I was in 3rd and 4th grade at an LCMS school. Every one of us in the classroom had a unique verse to memorize and to recite for the teacher the next day. Such verses were taught without any context, and without any explanation.

    Catechesis is a different animal. Fast forward to LCMS grade school, 7th and 8th grade. We were required to memorize the answers to 200 questions that were lifted directly from the Small Catechism. Recall that in the Small Catechism, Luther would write questions, followed by explanations. One Questioning Sunday, we would gather in front of the congregation, the pastor would ask a question, and then he would randomly call on one of us confirmands to answer. We would be reciting an explanation to his question. At that age, we are old enough to handle the drills.

    “Little parrots?” The knowing “what” and “why” we believe as traditional Lutherans should come from solid bible study, Sunday school, and from church services. I will assume that you are college-educated. How much content from your coursework do you still remember:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO8x8eoU3L4

    We continue to go to church and to study God’s Word in order to remember what we were once taught in confirmation class.

    By the way, the ELCA does not emphasize Catechesis. We see the results when instruction in “social statements” take precedence over the teaching of traditional Lutheran doctrine. Whether the NALC or LCMC will become more confessional remains to be seen…..

  9. @Wallenstein #11

    The “spiritual but not religious” or SBNR demographic is not into the mega-church scene so much either. According to the article it’s a type of “Burger King spirituality” where one could, with equal parts curiosity and courage, customize spirituality to fit experience and temperament. In other words “have it your way!” They borrow from Buddhists, Hindus, skeptics, Christians, etc., and fashion something that they believe to be authentic and personal. If they were looking for something “deeper” it wouldn’t be doctrine that they would seek out but experience.

  10. @Jim Pierce
    A succinct statement of what I was trying to say. I hope that most pastors take the time to do both, but in my own district I hear many pastors complaining that they just don’t like to teach confirmation classes. So, I have to wonder if they think the youth are worth teaching the defense of the faith. Hope you are in a situation where you can keep reminding them.

  11. @ Wallenstein.
    I know that you know that times have changed. Most of our catechism students do not attend a Lutheran school, so that limits their religious training to Confirmation class and Sunday School.
    As to remembering college, I was a Bible history major with a minor in language. I must admit the Hebrew disappeared, but what the Hebrew communicated in the Old Testament is embedded in my mind and heart.

    Hopefully, I can say this in a way that communicates what I know is needed–you are right, it is a continual, lifelong study of Scripture that prepares us for the world’s questions. And, we are in a different world than fifty years ago (when I was in the public school system). In those days, everyone knew about church, many or most attended or were at least familiar with the ethics of being a Christian. In today’s world, millions (even in this country) really have no idea who Jesus is or was. We are now in a culture that rejects the church as a viable communicator of the faith (I am speaking of the unchurched). Everybody wants to be “spiritual” but they don’t believe it matters what “flavor” of spiritual they choose.

    This is my point in writing the previous paragraph: It is great for a life-long Lutheran to be able to answer all of Luther’s questions and answers (my pastor in confirmation class tested us on knowing which Bible verses correctly answered each question), but answering an unbeliever’s hard questions with quotations from a Bible that he or she does not believe is God’s word does little to persuade the questioner, and sometimes little to assure the Lutheran in front of them.

    Today’s statements (rarely questions) to our college students include, “Why do you Christians hate gays?” My nephew (a self-proclaimed atheist) says things like, “Yeah, I’m gonna think that a dead guy hanging on a cross is anything but dead.” Our high school and college youth are being subjected to abuse for their faith.” Others tell our youth that they are exclusivists for believing that there is only one way to God–for we, after all, live in a society void of “absolutes”. “Why are you against a woman’s right to choose how she uses her own body?” These are the real questions and even persecutions that our youth endure, and I am convinced that reciting a verse from God’s word, while of great value to the youth, cannot strengthen their ability to logically explain what they believe and WHY.

    Don’t misunderstand me. I am not denigrating our catechism training or the importance of teaching our children Lutheran doctrine, but it must go beyond that if they are to be able to properly make use of the armor of God. Fifty or sixty years ago when everyone’s ethics and respect for God were pretty well founded, we could get by with knowing the catechism in the spiritual battle we encounter every day.

    Today, in 2011, we need to, as Jim Pierce said, do both–catechesis and apologetics. The enemy is more active now than every before; our youth need to know the enemy and how to answer his claims in confidence, or like Eve, they may begin to think that Satan’s hold on our world makes sense. That, we must arm our children to resist by allowing them to question, doubt, discuss, learn, within the church–not just the catechism, but to moment by moment in their lives compare what the world is telling them with what God says, and WHY.

    Our kids are leaving the church in droves after Confirmation Sunday. I think that if we allow them the freedom to examine what and why they believe without limit, many would stay and realize that Jesus wants to be their Lord of Life, and not only their wonderful Savior.

    Thanks for your comments. I hope I make a little sense to you, because after teaching both teens and adults in LCMS churches for almost 30 years, I’ve had quite a bit of experience in listening to them and seeing what they want and need to know.

  12. @Sue Wilson #16
    I know that you know that times have changed. Most of our catechism students do not attend a Lutheran school, so that limits their religious training to Confirmation class and Sunday School.

    I don’t think that is the problem by itself. I grew up in rural ALC; we had catechism to learn from the time we could read, and repeated it each year. The Pastor added explanation, other passages and hymns.
    My children went to public school, though there was a day school. Their after school class prepared them to answer the examination questions as well as the day students. I don’t doubt that my expectations played a part.
    Pastors in this generation have to teach the parents the necessity of religious education, sadly.
    Most of my daughter’s class (job transfer, different church, no day school) told her they were finished as soon as they were confirmed, and they were.

    If we could keep our own, our numbers would have declined much less. How much of that can we assign to pastors’ reluctance to teach, and how much to parents’ failure to follow up, to support the pastor, to attach greater importance to “Little League” than to Lutheran education!?

  13. @Sue Wilson #16

    Thanks for your comments. I hope I make a little sense to you, because after teaching both teens and adults in LCMS churches for almost 30 years, I’ve had quite a bit of experience in listening to them and seeing what they want and need to know.

    I’m glad you’ve been teaching! The problem is that we can only teach the ones who come.

  14. @Sue Wilson #16

    You wrote:

    “That, we must arm our children to resist by allowing them to question, doubt, discuss, learn, within the church–not just the catechism, but to moment by moment in their lives compare what the world is telling them with what God says, and WHY.”

    Within the context of that entire paragraph regarding the challenges faced by youth today, I now comprehend and agree with you 100%. I am sorry I originally misunderstood your position. It is not enough to understand Christian doctrine via Luther’s Small Catechism; As a Christian, you must be able to know how to defend yourself when challenged by unbelievers and liberal Christians. (I would also like to learn self-defense against those rabid non-denominational “Christians” who condemn and then relentlessly try to convert you if they hear you belong to a denomination such as the LCMS.)

    Perhaps the LCMS could provide a supplement to Catechesis?

  15. The trouble began long time ago when parents viewed the catechism as something to be taught at church, not at home. The child should come to church knowing the catechism already from home, and then the teachers and pastor could carry on from there.

  16. @Mrs. Hume #22

    I don’t think so, but I live in a very rural area, so my knowledge of conditions here probably are not representative of the rest of the country. For the rest of the country, I rely on less direct information, but I also originally got the idea that parents are defaulting from something I read a long time ago that, if memory serves, was written by G. H. Gerberding describing conditions near the end of the nineteenth century.

    My father grew up in Stordahl Lutheran Church about 7 miles southeast of Wildrose, North Dakota. The pastor served more than one congregation. He rode between them on horseback. He visited in the homes regularly. When he visited the home of my grandfather and grandmother, both of whom immigrated from Norway, he was on a mission. He conveyed to Father Knut that it was his responsibility to teach the Small Catechism to his children in the home. Mother Rebecca played the organ, a foot pedal bellows affair, so he also gave them the hymnary, which would help the home instruction through music. Father Knut did not need any special competence beyond being about to read English aloud. It was his job to simply read the Catechism to the children, or later when they had entered school, to listen to them read it aloud. My father, Oscar, tells me that Father Knut wanted to believe the Gospel, hoped it was true, but thought he and everyone had to wait and die to see whether he was saved or damned. He was more Nordic than Lutheran. But he knew that the pastor was saying we could be confident in Christ now. Because of his respect for the industry of the pastor in visting the home and bringing a definite message, he thought that if anyone “had it,” the pastor did, and that it was a stroke of immeasurable luck that in such a remote place, they had such a pastor, and maybe his children could “get it” from him. He wanted better for his children that what he could believe for himself. Thus my father was exempt from work during Reading for the Pastor (aka, confirmation class) even during seedtime and harvest. The church being the mother of the saints, as the confessions say, birthed my father at his baptism, and nurtured his life through confirmation and beyond. It impressed on him what the Catechism is for, where it is to be used, and by whom. Meaning no slight to my mother, who was also active in the home giving the nurture and admonition of the Lord, it was my father who regularly checked over our Sunday school lessions, our confirmation lessons, and prayed with us at night, unless he was away for work, at which times it was my mother. The church with all its offices and ministries was in a supporting role, helping my father and mother evangelize and teach their children. I was unaware that this was not the norm in other homes. This norm came through to me because of that lonely pastor on horseback. My father imitated his father, and imitating my father, my wife and I catechized our children before school in the mornings, and read the Bible in the evenings, just after Hogan’s Heros was on TV Land. How many times do you suppose that pastor wondered or even despaired that all his work was useless?

    The influence of father and mother is powerful. It is built into nature by the grace of Jesus Christ. It goes sadly to waste.

  17. I think that there is an importance in continuing catechesis throughout life. It is not something that should stop with confirmation. How many adults attend Bible study? If the children do not see the adults putting importance on continuing their Christian education, why should the children?

    I was blessed to grow up in a home where family devotions occurred after every supper; and there was open discussion on what had been learned at church on Sunday morning. Both my parents placed an emphasis on the importance of private devotion as well.

    Luther said that the catechism should be used as a prayer book. When looked at that way, how can we, as adults, not continue to read and use our catechisms?

  18. @Sue Wilson #9
    “Catechism class often produces little parrots who know what to say on confirmation day, but really don’t understand what they are professing. Think I’m wrong? How many post-confirmation teens are faithful to worship and service in the church?”

    Sue:

    This may be true in many congregations, particularly in more liberal l;eaning / CG / CoWo environments, like the ones I grewe up in and experianced in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s, but in the more confessional Churches I’ve had the pleasure of experiancing in the last 10 – 12 years, particularly my own, I’d estimate that 85% of the catechumens remain very active in worship and Bible study, and most xan still recite the memory work they did in catechisis when xalled to do so. Sadly, I never had to do memory work, and in fact necer even saw a catechism until I was in my 20’s and specifically asked for one because I had no idea what the older members of our bible study group were talking about. And before you think it might have been some kind of local abheration, I can tell you that my parents were FederaL Employees and moved rather frequently. I attended 6 different LCMS congregations during that time.

    Eric Ramer

  19. The Church has always received these pitiful, hare-brained comments from arrogant, narrow-minded, bigoted narcissist tools like Thomas writing premature epitaphs that often turn out to be projections of the author’s own imminent demise, as in the (in)famous, “God is dead – Nietzsche” “Nietzsche is dead – God.”

  20. I loved the article until this:

    “In other words, the living ought never ask the dead how the living should live their lives. By doing that, the living condemn the dead to an eternal death. The cost of each soul is too precious and valuable to leave the lost to their own ways.”

    This is saying a couple of things that would seem to be contrary to Holy Scripture:

    1) It would seem to deny that Pagans (the dead) do not have the same Divine Law that Christians have. Romans 2:15 seems to be clear that those without Bibles have the same Divine and Revealed Law christians have. That natural law, which is reason, agrees with the Decalog precisely because it is the same Law (Lutheran Confessions, Apology Art IV).

    2) But the worst part is this: it implies that getting the Law right or wrong can make the difference between eternal life and eternal death. Or worse! It suggests that the Divine Law is about some external following of of the Law is a keeping of the Divine Law in the same way as the civil keeping of the Law is kept. This ignores that the true keeping of the Law is ONLY kept by obeying the First Table of the Law, which demands alone, faith in Christ that can only be done by New Heart Movements. (ibid, and Apology art III).

    3) The Law is powerless to fix or overcome sin, because sin is unbelief. Sin is not what we do, that is the consequence and symptom of sin. This last paragraph implies differently.

    4) Only the Holy Gospel , alone, in invisible faith, in Christ ,alone can and does make the difference between heaven and hell.

  21. In other words, the living ought never ask the dead how the living should live their lives. By doing that, the living condemn the dead to an eternal death. The cost of each soul is too precious and valuable to leave the lost to their own ways.

    The problem with this paragaph is only one of composition. There is a transition between the first and second sentence, which is not where readers expect a transition to be, so it is confusing the first time one reads it. The transition is from one of the three uses of the law to another. Once this transition is recognized, the doctrinal content of the paragraph is fine. It accords with the Formula of Concord.

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