Great Stuff Found on the Web — A Lutheran Manifesto

Found on Pastor Hans Fiene’s blog, The High Midlife. We’ve posted several articles from his blog previously, and highly recommend it as part of your regular reading.

 

I am a soldier in the worship wars.  Though I’ve only been a pastor for a few years, I have already lobbed countless bombs at those who seek to pervert our confession of faith.  Though I am but a lowly grunt, I have fired innumerable rounds at those who attempt to inject our fonts and pulpits and altars with the poison of Calvin and Zwingli.

And as I look at my fellow soldiers, as I survey the men burrowed in the Confessional trenches with me, I must admit that the deadliest wounds and the deepest scars we bear are not the result of the enemy’s attacks.  They are nothing more than self-inflicted carnage, the result of our collective frustration and exhaustion, the fruit of giving into our anger and pride and hatred and becoming exactly what the enemy has portrayed us to be in their vilest propaganda.

And it’s time for this to stop.  It’s time for a strategy change.  It’s time to fight the worship wars by putting down our guns and picking up our megaphones.  It’s time to fight the worship wars by leaving the Pseudo-Lutherans with no one left to deceive.

In our nation, in 21st century America, there is no culture of Lutheranism.  The world around us does not know who we are and what we believe.  While your average American is highly ignorant of the basic teachings of the numerous religious groups in the world, his ignorance of Lutheranism is far greater than his ignorance of most other Christian-ish groups.  Here is a table to illustrate my point:

A phony Romanist can’t trick the world into believing that the Catholic Church has women priests because the world knows better.  A false Evangelical can’t convince people that his community cherishes the Word and Sacraments because everything else those people have ever seen tells them that the real marks of his church are Starbucks and soul patches.  But, with a slate as blank as ours, a Pseudo-Lutheran can get away with pretty much anything.

And he will get away with pretty much anything until we teach the world who we are, until we teach our children and friends and neighbors to know what a Lutheran looks like and sounds like.  And if we want to fill in that blank Lutheran slate, we won’t do it by expending all our energy firing shots at the rebels.  We won’t do it by out-politicking the opposition at the synodical convention.  We won’t do it by mocking our enemies in secret rooms, in between puffs of cigars and sips of fine scotch.  And we won’t do it by sniping at the other side from a nest woven together with confessional message boards and blog posts.

No.  If we want to stop the false teachers in our midst from digging their fingers into the toilets of Willow Creek and passing off their findings as compatible with the Book of Concord, then we must teach the people around us to recognize the lie of evangelical form and Lutheran substance.  And in order to teach them to recognize that lie, then, when it comes to those who sell it, we must out-confess them, out-proclaim them, out-evangelize them, out-outreach them.  We must simply out-work them, both inside and outside of our congregations.

So when they sing vague, meaningless, mantra-driven,spiritualistic blech, we sing the best of our hymns and we sing them right in the face of the word.  We pour those hymns out in concert halls, in youtube videos, at our dinner tables and anywhere else we can fit them until the world knows what Lutheran music sounds like and knows that Lutheran music doesn’t sound like a horrible, husky voiced U2 sound alike.

When they teach purpose-driven poppycock, we teach Law and Gospel and we teach this to any set of ears we can find in this world.  We teach it, with the aid of the internet, to people starving for the Gospel halfway across the country and on the other side of the world.  We teach it in conversations with our friends.  We teach it to our neighbors when a couple of Mormons come knocking on their door and we insert ourselves into the discussion in order to show them that our Gospel is so awesome it just swallowed Joseph Smith’s gospel in one bite and crapped it out the other end.

When they teach their youth to talk like hipster-evangelicals, we teach our youth to talk like Lutherans.  We brand the Catechism into their memories.  We give them the vocabulary of the Scriptures.  And we train them to know their theology so well that the pastors of the other churches in town secretly hope their youth group members don’t bring any of their Lutheran friends to the next Bible study, lest another 14 year old respond to their denial of baptismal regeneration by tearing them apart in a fury of theological evisceration so bloody it would make Quentin Tarantino nauseous.

And when they embark on gimmicky outreach programs riddled with a theology of glory and a denial of original sin, we respond by reaching out further with our hands filled with big, fat chunks of Lutheran bread.  So when they build sleek websites that boast of their faithfulness to God, we build equally sleek websites that make it very clear to people in half a second that Lutherans aren’t interested in marketing themselves but in confessing Christ and His forgiveness.  When they build coffee shops for seekers where one can learn how to have a proactive faith walk, we build shelters for the needy where sinners can say to themselves, man, when those Lutherans feed me and clothe me and care for me and pray with me and talk with me, they don’t tell me about how my suffering will be gone if I just believe more or trust more or obey more.  Instead, they tell me about Jesus and His love for me in the midst of my suffering, even as they’re trying to take my suffering away.

So this is what we do.  When the Pseudo-Lutherans speak, we speak louder to our friends and neighbors.  When they yell, we shout to the public.  When they shout, we scream to the world.  And we don’t stop screaming until God gives us what we need-a culture of Lutheranism, a world where people who have never even set foot in one of our churches know what a Lutheran looks like and sounds like, and a world where people understand that the only reason a Lutheran doesn’t preach or teach or worship or act like a Lutheran is because he’s not a Lutheran.

So we can either spend the rest of our lives firing on an enemy we’ll never hit, or we can let him shoot himself in the foot by letting the world call into question his doctrine and practice.  We can either keep piercing ourselves with our own ricocheted bullets, or we can teach the world to walk away from that enemy when he tries to sell them a Lutheranism that isn’t real.

I’ve already torn my flesh apart enough doing the former.  It’s time to try the latter.

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

Great Stuff Found on the Web — A Lutheran Manifesto — 42 Comments

  1. We don’t know because we have an identity crisis. Are we CW, low church or high church. The conservatives will shout one thing and the liberals/moderates will shout another thing. We can’t scream anything till we get our act straight.

  2. @John Eberhart #1
    That’s why whenever I shout out I describe my Faith as Confessional Lutheran. I wish that I could just say LCMS, but that is no longer descriptive.

  3. What further complicates identity:  most US Lutherans are members of a denomination (ELCA) which is generally indistinguishable from the other mainline protestant denominations (PCUSA, UCC, ECUSA, RCA, UMC, MCA) with which it is in fellowship.

  4. “…when those Lutherans feed me and clothe me and care for me and pray with me and talk with me, they don’t tell me about how my suffering will be gone if I just believe more or trust more or obey more.  Instead, they tell me about Jesus and His love for me in the midst of my suffering, even as they’re trying to take my suffering away.”

    This quote needs to be proclaimed from every LCMS pulpit.

    As a confessional Lutheran, reading the above quote made we wonder: “At what point will the Evangelical laymen grow tired of the ‘try harder’ mantra offered by the Evangelical churches?”

    Are there any LCMS churches that can offer encouraging testimony that they are now better off for having abandoned membership in the Willow Creek Association?

  5. The Willow Creek page on Baptism and Communion pretty much sums it up. To believe what they say they believe, it’s a safe bet that it isn’t Lutheran!!!

  6. “… we scream to the world. And we don’t stop screaming until God gives us what we need ….”

    I am looking forward to seeing the status report on this fine project.

  7. “Moreover, by such [untimely] yielding and conformity in external things, where there has not been previously Christian union in doctrine, idolaters are confirmed in their idolatry” SD, X, 16.

    “the lie of evangelical form and Lutheran substance”

  8. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek never graduated from a college
    or attended a seminary. He was a youth leader in the suburbs
    of Chicago who finally started his own church. He was inspired
    by Robert Schuller and took an entrepreneurial approach to
    overhauling the worship service and building a megachurch.

    His entertainment style of Christianity is extremely shallow
    and there is no Biblical depth to his approach. His live bands,
    dramatic skits, contemporary music have no room for a
    liturgical approach to Christ-centered Christianity. His story
    telling sermons have no law/gospel dynamic to enrich the
    spiritual life of the listener. At the age of 59, Hybels has
    probably peaked on the national radar, but his influence is still
    evident in “seeker” worship services across America.

  9. Dear Hans, et.al.

    Thanks for a great post! I agree with you. I also think the photo is very appropriate. Our habits as American Lutheran church-bodies are “entrenched” after several generations. It will not be easy getting out of that “trench.” A little bit of recent history might give some perspective on how we got into that “trench.”

    How did Lutherans lose their distinctives in belief, worship, and piety? It was not by accident or by carelessness. It was by intentional design from synodical leadership, with lay support. Those who tried to maintain the old ways were mowed over and plowed under.

    I can only speak to this with some accuracy with respect to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In my church-body, after the 1920s, there was a great push for de-Germanizing the LCMS. This was not just a matter of the German language, which began to be abandoned in the 1920s, but also all the other cultural and familial norms, morals, and customs.

    My grandparent’s generation (born ca. 1900) was the first to experience this as young adults in the late 1920s. Many of them wanted to get as far away as possible from the “German cultural ghetto.” When they became middle aged, and took over offices and leadership positions in the church, they began to make changes there too.

    The problem, as far as I can tell, is that there was no clear distinction in people’s minds between what was German and what was Lutheran. So as loyalty to the German culture faded, loyalty to the Lutheran culture and ideology also faded. This topic of “ethnic identity” is much discussed among Lutheran historians, so my comments on this are not original. A current historian interested in this work is Mark Granquist, on the staff of Lutheran Quarterly and at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul.

    In place of the German-Lutheran ideology and culture, there first came the influence of A.C. Piepkorn (at Concordia Seminary) and Berthold von Schenk (founder of the St James Society), who wanted to move the LCMS in a Roman Catholic direction. A bit later came the influence of Oscar Feucht (a district and synodical executive) and Waldo Werning (also a district and synodical executive, later at CTS-Fort Wayne), who wanted to move the LCMS in an American Evangelical direction. A number of good things came from these men and their disciples, but what suffered was Lutheran identity. None of them seemed to have realized that they were undermining Lutheran distinctives and thereby Lutheran identity.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, these two “tendencies” in the LCMS tended to be opposed to each other, with the imitate-the-Catholics-men allying with the higher critics and ecumenicists on the one side, and the imitate-the-Evangelicals-men allying with the conservatives on the other. After the dust had settled, i.e., after the Seminex walkout and the formation of the AELC, there was a brief period of peace (ca. 1976-1987).

    Then in 1987, there was a big blow-up at the Fort Wayne seminary. Waldo Werning felt that he, and Church Growth advocates, were being unfairly criticized. He came into conflict with Kurt Marquart, David Scaer, and Robert Preus over these issues (see Werning’s book Making the Missouri Synod Functional Again). As a result, both Werning and Preus lost their jobs within a year of each other. Werning then went on the attack on anyone he believed to be “confessional Lutheran” (see ibid.). I was one of the people against whom he filed charges, though nothing came of that. This resulted in a growing hostility between the imitate-the-Evangelicals-men and other conservatives.

    In 1999, the imitate-the-Evangelicals-men teamed up with Seminex-sympathizers, charismatics, pro-women’s-ordination-people, and others to form the organization known as Jesus First. The primary purpose of this organization was to purge out leaders and pastors who were loyal to Lutheran doctrine and practice–as defined by the Lutheran confessions and the LCMS Constitution–and to replace them with people loyal to the Jesus-First-revisionist cause. Jesus First had a severe defeat at the 2010 national convention, but their people are still around us, serving in many synodical and district positions.

    You should not assume that just because the Jesus First website ( http://www.jesusfirst.net ) has not seen any activity since September 2010 that the leaders of that group are doing nothing. A new website with some familiar names has shown up on the Internet ( http://www.onword.net ). I see that it has a logon and password system, which the former website did not have. I expect things are going on behind that “door,” and we will find out soon enough what those things are.

    What does this history mean for us today?

    First, it means that there are plenty of people in high positions in the LCMS, both at synodical and district levels, who are opposed to real Lutheran doctrine, practice, and/or identity. Any proposal, like “Let’s be more Lutheran!” is going to get shot down at point blank range by these folks. Even though they might not control the LCMS presidency right now, they can and will continue to oppose, fight, and just make things miserable for the rest of us.

    Second, we have to re-examine our own tendencies or prejudices, to see whether the imitate-the-Catholic or the imitate-the-Evangelical tendency is afffecting our own judgment. There is no third tendency in our memories. There is no one living today who remembers the pre-1920s German Lutheran culture of the LCMS. It is gone, and we couldn’t recover it even if we wanted to.

    Third, we Lutherans have survived the onslaught of the most powerful religious trends in North America, and we are still here in the LCMS. Don’t be fooled by what is going on in the religious world around you, or in your own community. Survival in the face of opposition and odds-against-you is a significant thing. We can build on that and we will build on that!

    Fourth, Americans are waking up to the hollowness of both Liberal Protestantism and American Evangelicalism, and are looking for something different. Books that document this are: Thomas C. Reeves, The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity (Free Press, 1996); Christine Wicker, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation (HarperOne, 2008); G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (Basic Books, 2010); and just out, Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press, 2012).

    The LCMS and other conservative Lutheran churches are the modern manifestation of the ancient Christian church, reformed acc. to the canonical Scriptures, and so we really are something different. We don’t need to become something different; in America we already are.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  10. I’m all for the gist of this post. I believe as confessional Lutherans we really need to be aggressively assertive about articulating our message with clarity and volume. However, there is something to be said about meeting people half-way or building bridges. I’m not advocating an impure mixture of theological or doxological dung with diamonds. But we have to hold our rock solid commitment to the Book of Concord with somewhat of an open hand: Lutheranism is a means to an end and not an end itself. It is the best way of doing Christianity if the text of scripture is considered the standard. But when we start pounding on Lutheranism for the sake of Lutheranism, we run the risk of sounding so narrowly dogmatic that we are off-putting to Evangelicals and skeptics alike. Harping on hobby-horses isn’t an essential part of being Lutheran, but the world stands to gain a ton of benefit if we can learn to be more winsome without compromising.

    And of all CCM songs to blast (no issue with that here!), you have certainly picked an example that is far from worst. This song is not that bad, either musically or textually. Listen to the songwriter’s description: He even MENTIONS Christ crucified for sinners. If Evangelicals are to remain Evangelicals, at least we can encourage them to focus on the cross more often.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3oOA22x9q8&feature=relmfu

    But yes, let’s waste as little time on consumer CCM trends as we can get away with. The music of our tradition is too excellent for us to ignore it. I know some purists weren’t completely satisfied with the LSB, but compare it to any other current tome on the market and it stands head and shoulders above the rest, hands down. There is enough good stuff in there to satisfy the most demanding aural palettes until the calendar runs out in 2050.

  11. Miguel,

    Just a quick note: I selected “Where I Belong” simply because it’s currently #1 on the CCM charts. It’s certainly not the worst piece I’ve ever heard, but, to paraphrase a friend of mine, if you’re going to write a song whining about not getting enough Jesus, it’s probably a good idea for you to actually give people Jesus in that song, which doesn’t quite happen.

  12. As a parish pastor I remember Waldo Werning as giving
    presentations in various LCMS Districts during the early.
    1980’s on Biblical stewardship. He would be a presenter
    at District Pastoral Conferences. I do not remember him
    being involved or giving any opinions on worship One of
    the men who impacted Contemporary Worship in the LCMS
    was Dave Anderson during the 1990’s. He compiled the
    famous “The Other Song Book” and gave worship seminars
    for those who were interested. He pushed CoWo as an
    evangelism tool to wake up the LCMS. Obviously he was not
    a pastor and did not think much of our Lutheran liturgical
    heritage.

  13. There is still no ability to distinguish between what is German/white/European and what is Lutheran.

  14. How “Lutheran” are the confessional Lutheran churches in the Southern Hemisphere?

  15. @Dave Likeness #15

    Dear Pastor Likeness,

    I agree. I don’t think that Dr. Werning gave any particular opinions on worship in his presentations–at least, I never heard him give such opinions. He often said that he appreciated traditional Lutheran worship and liturgy, and I believe he was sincere in that testimony. This demonstrates that people should distinguish the issue of “Church Growth” as a mission ideology, or theory, from its expression in worship practices.

    I had a conversation with Dr. Werning many years ago, when he was still on the faculty at Fort Wayne. At that time, I was surprised to find that he was a supporter of “Church Growth.” In fact, he claimed to be the “father of Church Growth in the LCMS,” pointing to his several books on missions, evangelism, and renewal to prove his point. When I read through his books a bit later, and looked at their publication date, I think he proved his point. The book he edited in the early 1970s, with the title “Evangelical Directions for the Lutheran Church,” should have clued some people into his intentions. Werning cannot be blamed for all the innovations that came from the “let’s-imitate-the-Evangelicals” crowd, but he certainly pushed the synod in that direction.

    Dr. Marquart authored a book somewhat later, with a title of something like “Church Growth as a Mission Paradigm,” published by either Pastor White’s church in Houston or the Luther Academy, that took “Church Growth” to task for many errors. The CTCR also published two treatises on the subject, which also was critical of many church growth ideas. Klemet Preus has also addressed the topics in his excellent book “Fire and Staff” published by CPH.

    Worship is just one symptom, or result, of “Church Growth” theory. It is the part most obvious to laymen, because they see the changes in worship every Sunday. “Church Growth” provides the arguments, or theoretical justification, for why the Lutheran church has to imitate American Evangelicals or die–or so they claim.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  16. Martin R. Noland :
    In 1999, the imitate-the-Evangelicals-men teamed up with Seminex-sympathizers, charismatics, pro-women’s-ordination-people, and others to form the organization known as Jesus First. The primary purpose of this organization was to purge out leaders and pastors who were loyal to Lutheran doctrine and practice–as defined by the Lutheran confessions and the LCMS Constitution–and to replace them with people loyal to the Jesus-First-revisionist cause. Jesus First had a severe defeat at the 2010 national convention, but their people are still around us, serving in many synodical and district positions.
    You should not assume that just because the Jesus First website ( http://www.jesusfirst.net ) has not seen any activity since September 2010 that the leaders of that group are doing nothing. A new website with some familiar names has shown up on the Internet ( http://www.onword.net ). I see that it has a logon and password system, which the former website did not have. I expect things are going on behind that “door,” and we will find out soon enough what those things are.
    What does this history mean for us today?
    First, it means that there are plenty of people in high positions in the LCMS, both at synodical and district levels, who are opposed to real Lutheran doctrine, practice, and/or identity. Any proposal, like “Let’s be more Lutheran!” is going to get shot down at point blank range by these folks. Even though they might not control the LCMS presidency right now, they can and will continue to oppose, fight, and just make things miserable for the rest of us.

    Second, we have to re-examine our own tendencies or prejudices, to see whether the imitate-the-Catholic or the imitate-the-Evangelical tendency is afffecting our own judgment. There is no third tendency in our memories. There is no one living today who remembers the pre-1920s German Lutheran culture of the LCMS. It is gone, and we couldn’t recover it even if we wanted to.

    I would like to think that most of the LCMS people in such high positions attended seminary in the 1960’s and early 1970’s and will retire within the next five to seven years. You have indicated that increasing numbers of people in this country are waking up to the hollowness of both Liberal Protestantism and American Evangelicalism. The gig is up. The Church Growth Movement promoters within the LCMS know it and are getting desperate, as evidenced by the forced sale of the ULC by MNS. Younger Lutherans are much more conservative and pragmatic. The hippie grandpa Willow Creek LCMS leaders are starting to squirm.

    I do like Pastor Fiene’s Lutheran Manifesto. We need to speak louder to the world in a proactive way regarding true confessional Lutheranism and to let the Willow Creek Lutherans be judged by the rest of the world as frauds. If shopping for a confessional LCMS church is a game of Russian Roulet for a Lutheran new to a metro area, then how much harder must it be for a curious non-Lutheran to find the “right” LCMS congregation?

    German Lutheran culture? German Lutheran immigration to a specific geographical area would be only way to revive such an LCMS congregation within the USA. Would the establishment of such a “lab church” be possible? Would one thousand Germans agree to move to the USA and settle in a specific town to start a SELK mission church?

  17. You have identified the exact reasons why many Lutherans end up pointed in an evangelical direction. They WANT to be carrying out all of the actions you said must be taken, but generally find church leadership – pastors – unwilling to be so bold. The focus on conduct of the Divine Service as the ONLY acceptable means of sharing the gospel has bludgeoned the faithful to the point of a desire to escape from the coffin before the lid is closed.

    Willow Creek Lutherans are not frauds. They’re frustrated because their own synod has been so utterly complacent for such a long time.

  18. Rich :
    You have identified the exact reasons why many Lutherans end up pointed in an evangelical direction. They WANT to be carrying out all of the actions you said must be taken, but generally find church leadership – pastors – unwilling to be so bold. The focus on conduct of the Divine Service as the ONLY acceptable means of sharing the gospel has bludgeoned the faithful to the point of a desire to escape from the coffin before the lid is closed.
    Willow Creek Lutherans are not frauds. They’re frustrated because their own synod has been so utterly complacent for such a long time.

    Sounds like the sinful flesh on both sides. Two wrongs do not make a right.

  19. I am a soldier in the worship wars. Though I’ve only been a pastor for a few years, I have already lobbed countless bombs at those who seek to pervert our confession of faith. Though I am but a lowly grunt, I have fired innumerable rounds at those who attempt to inject our fonts and pulpits and altars with the poison of Calvin and Zwingli.

    Come join the Lutheran Taliban!

  20. @#4 Kitty #22

    Kitty,

    I believe you missed this part…

    They are nothing more than self-inflicted carnage, the result of our collective frustration and exhaustion, the fruit of giving into our anger and pride and hatred and becoming exactly what the enemy has portrayed us to be in their vilest propaganda.

    And it’s time for this to stop. It’s time for a strategy change. It’s time to fight the worship wars by putting down our guns and picking up our megaphones.

    IOW, no “Lutheran Taliban,” thank you.

  21. @Jim Pierce #23
    Yes, points should have been awarded for the putting down of guns. However, I still contend that my description is appropriate for those who have not~ even if we’re dealing merely in metaphor. Religious fundamentalism is the same all over the world in that it delights in jihad.

  22. @Martin R. Noland #18
    Dr. Marquart authored a book somewhat later, with a title of something like “Church Growth as a Mission Paradigm,” published by either Pastor White’s church in Houston or the Luther Academy,…

    Our Savior Lutheran in Houston, [Pastor White] published my copy of that book.

  23. @Lumpenkönig #19
    I would like to think that most of the LCMS people in such high positions attended seminary in the 1960?s and early 1970?s and will retire within the next five to seven years.

    I’ve been hearing that “they’ll retire and we’ll go back to being Lutherans” now for about 20 years. What about the next generation, which is showing up at seminary, and has never heard or been in a Lutheran liturgical service? Will they suddenly see the light, or will they “cooperate and graduate” and go on as they were raised?

    Meanwhile, and some here seem to be blind to it, while others have seen it clearly, confessional Lutherans are 1. discouraged from going to seminary (heard that from a Concordia prof 15 years ago; he was quite proud of it) 2. often not placed, [See class of ’92 or class of 2012, CTS, probably some others] 3. given congregations which will drive them out (sometimes with the assistance of the DP “who doesn’t have to talk to the Pastor or the church officers”, but can deal with selected dissidents, according to a CCM ruling.)

    CCM rulings are Law unless overturned at convention, where they never come up.
    [It should be that CCM rulings have to be ratified by convention and are provisional until they are, in an “advisory” synod. Maybe a couple of conventions….]

    “Just waiting them out” has not worked and is not going to work. It only ignores the termites in the woodwork, which is getting paperthin.

  24. Rich :
    You have identified the exact reasons why many Lutherans end up pointed in an evangelical direction. They WANT to be carrying out all of the actions you said must be taken, but generally find church leadership – pastors – unwilling to be so bold. The focus on conduct of the Divine Service as the ONLY acceptable means of sharing the gospel has bludgeoned the faithful to the point of a desire to escape from the coffin before the lid is closed.
    Willow Creek Lutherans are not frauds. They’re frustrated because their own synod has been so utterly complacent for such a long time.

    Ok, I’ll bite.

    Willow Creek is providing something to “missional” LCMS congregations that the LCMS cannot and/or will not do. Agreed.

    Could someone identify those needs?

  25. @Lumpenkönig #27
    Lumpy: First, I do not like the “missional” label. I prefer to follow Dr. Barry’s two-part formula – “get the message straight and get the message out.” Simply desiring to be a congregation that gets the message out does not automatically compromise one’s “straightness.” 🙂

    I would say that Willow Creek and its like do not fill so much of a need as they provide an attitude. Let me explain.

    A congregation can approach its place in the kingdom from one of two directions – the Holy Spirit WILL use this congregation to minister to the lost souls of this community or the Holy Spirit MIGHT use this congregation for this purpose. I believe most LCMS congregations operate in the latter – God MIGHT use this congregation for his purpose. This attitude is not wrong per se, because there is no guarantee that any congregation will grow in numbers. God blesses some congregations with rapid membership growth and he blesses others with smaller numbers of faithful members. Neither is superior to the other.

    Many of us, seeing the harvest that is plentiful all around, desire to prepare for service based on the assumption that the Holy Spirit WILL work mightily among us. This is the type of attitude often reflected in the large non-denominational churches. As a result, many of the growth experiences of these larger congregations can serve as examples of how (and how not) to carry out certain functions within the church.

    In the LCMS is seems that there is a fear of being visible. And when we are in the spotlight it is because of our internal conflicts. We spend all of our time saying who we are not and little time explaining who we are and what we confess. You can never accuse WC and Saddleback of not being visible.

    Many on this site love to castigate the Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks for their faults, especially doctrinally, and I have no quarrel with that. But these churches have been willing to try new things to bring more people into contact with the Gospel. And they enter into service with high expectations.

    Perhaps it is this quality – positive expectations – that is sought by our congregations filled with “poor, miserable sinners.”

    I am certainly not implying that we must do anything in order for the Gospel to have an effect. But the attitude of excitement in carrying out the good works prepared for us to do is part of what draws Christians to these types of congregations. And it helps give members the confidence (will power?) to share their faith and invite others.

    On a strictly functional basis, WC has provided assistance and training dealing with technology, choir and music direction, sound systems/AV and other areas that are important to the overall operation of the congregation and the worship service. From managing people to handling traffic flow, they have broad experience to share.

    What is disheartening is that when a serious, confessional congregation such as ours experiences rapid growth, the ultra-cons immediately assume that we have watered down the Gospel or abandoned the liturgy in order to obtain this growth. It is interesting to see them negatively accuse the Holy Spirit for doing what he promises to do.

    Unfortunately, the LCMS still operates from a level of low expectations and a “one size fits all” mentality. And it is sad when we witness the Holy Spirit at work and the ultra-cons view it as the work of Satan.

  26. “I’ve been hearing that “they’ll retire and we’ll go back to being Lutherans” now for about 20 years. What about the next generation, which is showing up at seminary, and has never heard or been in a Lutheran liturgical service?”

    Yeah, that is what I wonder, too. All they know is contemporary, emphasis on temporary.

  27. @Rich #29
    You can never accuse WC and Saddleback of not being visible.

    Willowcreek is visible, as the Missouri River is visible: “a mile wide and and inch deep”.
    Bill Hybels has said, (and who should know better?), that they are processing a lot of people but they are not producing many Christians. (paraphrase)

    But Missouri ignores Hybels’ confession and goes on making him rich by sending membership dues and buying his books. So Willowcreek is a “success” …. by whose measure?

  28. @helen #26

    Dear Helen,

    I agree with what you have said here. You obviously have a good number of years of experience in these matters, either by observation or by personal involvement. I always look forward to your comments here at BJS.

    You are correct that just “waiting it out” won’t work. It is true, as someone noted above, that the Seminex-era liberals are retiring, passing from active duty, and passing away, but they have been replaced by new “troops” of a different type while most of the LCMS leaders “slept in their easy chairs.”

    I don’t think that membership in Willow Creek Association is, per se, problematic. If a pastor joins that group and can tell me the problems with its theology and practice, then it can be beneficial. But if he joins that group and uncritically defends it, then I am worried. Does he really know what is wrong with these non-denominational churches today?

    I don’t think that the use of different liturgies that are non-traditional is, per se, problematic. (“Liturgy” here simply means any order of worship elements). If a pastor uses or creates such things, and can tell me the pitfalls he has to watch out for, then it can be useful. But if he uses such liturgies, and thinks they are superior to the traditional ones, and can’t explain to me in a reasonable way why they are superior, then I am worried. Does he really know what is wrong with most non-traditional orders of worship today?

    I don’t think that the use of electronic instruments in worship is, per se, problematic. If a pastor or church musician uses such things, and can tell me the pitfalls he has to watch out for, then it can be useful. But if he uses such instruments, and thinks they are superior to the traditional ones, and can’t explain to me in a reasonable way why they are superior, then I am worried. Does he really know what is wrong with the way most churches use electronic instruments today? (I am a church musician, with a Director of Parish Music certificate from Concordia-River Forest in 1979, so I know).

    Lack of allegiance to the Bible is the really critical factor, at least in our type of church. This is the core belief around which everything else hangs or is attached.

    What kept the LCMS from falling into the laps of the ELCA overlords was the arrogance of the LCMS liberal professors. If they had just waited until LCMS-ALC fellowship was declared, and the ALC tendrils had grown into every LCMS institution, then they could have come out with their attacks on the Bible, and no one would have dared to attack them. But they grew impatient, and prosecuted seminarians like Herman Otten, threatening them with expulsion and psychological grilling because of their “fundamentalist” beliefs in the Bible. The attacks of those professors on the Bible and Bible-loving students woke up that generation of LCMS laymen, who loved the Bible, or at least respected it. Allegiance to the Bible is what saved the LCMS for a generation.

    I don’t see that sort of allegiance to the Bible hardly anywhere in the LCMS today in the younger generation, and this includes “conservative” young people. I hope I am wrong; I just don’t see much evidence of it.

    This is what may eventually undo the LCMS–not changes in the liturgy, or attraction to the latest Evangelical fad or superstar. Loss of respect for, and loss of obedience to, the Word of God will be our undoing, if trends are not reversed. The new Fort Wayne seminary curriculum, with a greater focus on the Bible and Biblical preaching, is an attempt to address this malady. The Fort Wayne faculty should be highly praised for recognizing the problem in advance and addressing it directly through a renewal of Biblical preaching. I am waiting for the rest of synodical leadership, i.e, District Presidents, Saint Louis seminary, universities, etc., to come around on this matter.

    In one sentence: The problem with Church Growth ideology is that, in matters of church practice, it replaces “respect for and obedience to the Word of God” with “respect for symbols of worldly success and obedience to quantifiable results.” That will be the undoing of the LCMS, if it is not decisively repealed and revoked. Mark my words.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  29. Rich :
    @Lumpenkönig #27
    Lumpy: First, I do not like the “missional” label. I prefer to follow Dr. Barry’s two-part formula – “get the message straight and get the message out.” Simply desiring to be a congregation that gets the message out does not automatically compromise one’s “straightness.”

    I do understand the concern that many traditionalists creep around the sanctuary in their long flowing robes and make no effort to attract new members. I hope pastors from either side of the “missional versus confessional” conflict can agree on the substance of the message and worry about style later.

    What is disheartening is that when a serious, confessional congregation such as ours experiences rapid growth, the ultra-cons immediately assume that we have watered down the Gospel or abandoned the liturgy in order to obtain this growth. It is interesting to see them negatively accuse the Holy Spirit for doing what he promises to do.

    Ultra-conservative laymen do notice the Bill Hybels and Rick Warren recommended worship and Bible study materials. Advice regarding proper sound systems and crowd control……They do not at all. Conservatives see the type of theology being promoted, and it bothers them. Doctrinally speaking, could a “missional” church remove such materials and still experience rapid growth

    Unfortunately, the LCMS still operates from a level of low expectations and a “one size fits all” mentality. And it is sad when we witness the Holy Spirit at work and the ultra-cons view it as the work of Satan.

    Yes, but….. Touché! It angers a lot of lifelong Lutherans to witness increasing numbers of LCMS congregations drop ALL traditional services and replace them with contemporary worship. This is the current trend within the LCMS. One size fits all, indeed! A perfect compromise would be to offer both types of worship services.

  30. No. Offering both kinds of worship services can be quite destructive. I have seen this over and over. We need reasonable uniformity of liturgical practice throughout our Synod.

  31. @Lumpenkönig #34
    @Old Time St. John’s #36

    RE: two services

    At my former congregation, the new pastor and his cronies just HAD to have an even hipper service than contemporary. So they took the anemic third service (traditional) and changed it. So the traditionals got rather upset. There already was a little tension inphilosphy and such with two types of service, now there are three. All different enough. I could see the stratification happening. It felt as though we had three congregations who happened to share the same building. The traditional provided almost half the offerings (maybe 1/3 total attendance), contemporary that was sandwished and ‘competed’ agaisnt the education hour, and a ‘resonate’ that had a weird rock-n-roll vibe.

    As per Hybels, all show, no discipleship. We would come back the next Sunday and see al the ‘trash’ from the week before. Due to time constraints I will give a moderate pass to how well ushering teams clean out left behind bulletins. But after the third service, take the time and straighten up. But because they were so screen drivien, the thought probably never crossed their minds that they may be papers floating around. (if they even had ushers, it was hit or miss) You can take all the time necessary to clean out/straighten up afterwards.

    I think it’s four years now, and I haven’t seen them post great attendance increases. For all the new people they market to, they managed to alienate longtime members causing back door loses. I could go on about a lot of other things that caused me to leave, like the pastor’s Baptist style preaching (form and content), but yes, I have seen it very divisive. I see no good in offering alternatives. I do no believe it promotes unity, family, fellowship, etc.

  32. Re: 2 services

    If implemented carefully and well with laymen feedback and cooperation, having both services can be a blessing.  We have had both for over 15 years at my church.

  33. Old Time St. John’s :
    No. Offering both kinds of worship services can be quite destructive. I have seen this over and over. We need reasonable uniformity of liturgical practice throughout our Synod.

    Agreed. However, I would prefer to see the advocates of contemporary worship have a second service instead of replacing the traditional one. If a congregation wants a contemporary service, that could be added as a second service. “May the best man (or service) win.”

    Why is it so hard to mandate that all LCMS churches must offer at least one traditional Sunday morning service? Even McDonald’s franchisees everywhere are required to sell Big Macs. Imagne if some of those restaurant owners insisted on selling grilled cheese instead of Big Macs. How should the corporate office respond?

    @John Rixe #38

    John Rixe: I also agree with you, but lack of uniformity and consistency in contemporary worship styles among congregations is not good for the health of the Church. The fact that many non-Lutheran materials are not reviewed for compatibility with Lutheran doctrine also adds to the mess.

    LCMS dysfunctionalism is alive and well……

  34. @Lumpenkönig #39

    If there’s a lack of uniformity and consistency in pure doctrine among congregations, now that’s something to worry about.  I’m sure there are a few outliers, but I’m not aware of much inconsistency in doctrine.

  35. John Rixe :I’m sure there are a few outliers, but I’m not aware of much inconsistency in doctrine.

    You need to get out more. I run into enough pastors and others to see the variation. While it may not be extreme, it is enough of a strain that I question how unified we are. There is definitely tension out there.

  36. I have really enjoyed reading this website and all the comments. I feel like I am at home in the LCMS church I am so glad I left. Downstairs in the church basement listening to the pastor talk about a church he has never been to and putting down a service he has never experienced. Judging it and the people because than he can continue to navel gaze and keep the sheep in the pen. Are your hands tired…..your knuckles white.

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