Who would you Immortalize in Stained Glass – Lyle Schaller or Robert Preus? By Pr. Rossow

Would a congregation ever immortalize Church Growth gurus such as Lyle Schaller, Wynn Arn, or Donald McGavern in stained glass? Probably not. Would they honor the memory of the likes of Robert Preus? Possibly, and in the case of our parish here in Naperville, Illinois, most definitely.

A few weeks ago we had some stained glass installed in our sanctuary and one of the panes is of Robert Preus lecturing. Before sharing the story behind that let me make my point.

I’ve got nothing against church growth consultants personally. As a matter of fact Lyle Schaller is a really nice guy. He is from right here in Naperville. He is a kind old man and as far as church growth consultants go, he is one of the most benign. (I have not talked to him in over ten years so I am not sure if he is still living.) He used to graciously offer his services gratis to all the churches in Naperville. I never took him up on the offer for obvious reasons but I will say that his “church growth wisdom” tends to be more theologically neutral and common-sensical than the average stuff although still far too steeped in sociology for the overall good of the church. I’ve got nothing personal against a guy like Schaller but let’s face it, his work for the church is probably not going to get him immortalized in stained glass.

Many parishes today are sadly more influenced by church growth gurus than they are by steadfast, confessional theologians. Yet, if push came to shove and heat was put to metal, church growth consultants would not likely be framed in lead. Their message is transitory. For sure, they may make the church history books some day since they do represent the overly romantic age the church is undergoing now – I still joke today with a pastor friend in North Carolina about the inclusion of two Jesus freaks by the names of Lonnie Frisbee and Ted Wise in one of our church history texts studied at the St. Louis seminary – but the church growth gurus are not supporting the church in any fashion even remotely close to what Robert Preus has done.

A theologian and churchman like Robert Preus represents the unchanging Gospel and a willingness to sacrifice riches and reputation for the sake of standing firm on the truth of Christ and for that reason we decided to do him up in lead and glass. There were broader reasons as well.

The overall theme of the windows is the reign of the ascended Christ over all time and space. Because our church is named “Bethany” we like to highlight things that happened in or near the little village which is our namesake. One of those events was the ascension of Christ to his rule over the universe for all time. The eleven windows begin with creation and cover all of time right up to the present day which is why we included Robert Preus. We included a contemporary because we wanted in part to demonstrate that Christian theology is not some ancient thing but is alive, vibrant and meaningful today.

Other characters illustrated in our glass include Noah, Abraham, Deborah, Ireneaus, Augustine, Luther, Chemnitz, Bach and Walther.

My favorite story of the windows involves a little boy. A few Sundays ago I noticed a father with his four year old and six year old. The father had to leave for the bathroom with the four year old. I wondered how well behave the six year old boy would be alone in the pew. He immediately craned his neck to see the stained glass and for the next three or four minutes was totally enthralled by the pictures and remained a perfect little gentleman in church. I am sure he understood the picture of the creation, flood and ten commandments but we will probably have to wait a few years for him to appreciate who Robert Preus was.

May steadfast theology remain, even while the church goes through its various and miscellaneous eras of wisdom and folly.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Who would you Immortalize in Stained Glass – Lyle Schaller or Robert Preus? By Pr. Rossow — 26 Comments

  1. Rather than erecting graven images, perhaps the better way to memorialize heroes of the faith who stood up for the Gospel would have been to spend all that money on projects that put faith in the Gospel into action.

  2. Memorializing in gorgeous stained glass heroes of the faith who stood up for the Gospel (such as Robert Preus) is likely to inspire many of the saints to put the Gospel into action.

  3. “Glazen” images, “Johan”. I know it’s hard, but please resist the urge the offer incense to the windows.

  4. “We zipped in and out of Hope, and there it was. I stopped and gaped. Others reached for their 110’s. Some at the fringes of our group gasped and fell to their knees. Even Glibface, who had seen it thousands of times, allowed a mirific glint to pierce his otherwise unctuous visage. Spreading here before us was a wall of shrubbery, some 100 feet high, and into that wall had been carved four heads, three of which bore full facial characteristics, one of which stood blank. This was what I had heard so much about — Mount Growthmore.

    “Doctors McGavran, Wagner and Am,” Glibface intoned in empyreal reverence. “Need I ask who the fourth head is reserved for?” I said playfully, a remark Glib-face tossed aside with a wan smile. “Cho?” I taunted. “Schaller?” But we were off.”

    From “The Ultimate Church” by Tom Raabe:


    Sorry, but I just couldn’t help it. Too good to resist. Besides, you brought it up first, Pastor Rossow.

  5. @Johan Bergfest #1

    This is faith in action. It is called a teachable moment. I’m sure the boy will sometime probably soon ask what some of the pictures mean.

    Luke 16:19-31 Specifically… I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers…. But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” “No, if someone raises from the dead…” ***”If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”***

    To an extent, Luther, Chemnitz, Walther, and even Preus are like modern prophets: always preaching the Word and pointing to Jesus. Don’t try to divide doctrine and pracitce, for our practice (Gospel in action) is a worthless nothing without doctrine (the Gospel itself).

  6. Dr. Kurt Erik Marquart (1934-2006)…

    I also appreciate very much what colleague Houser has said. I’ve never had any doubts as to his orthodoxy. And I’m very pleased that he brought up the points that I have tried to raise, but to which I’ve received no reply: the Arminianism and the Charismatic Movement. Dr. Houser is absolutely right. The issue of the gifts is absolutely crucial here. We cannot hold to a view which thinks that today the gift of apostleship is still given. There’s an impossible position. All these other gifts that come right out of the Charismatic Movement. So thank you, Dr. Houser.

    I want to make it quite clear that my points are not addressed to his class. He’s a colleague and quite orthodox. I’m addressing it to the printed materials before us which present themselves as a Lutheran version of it. And here I must say this. I keep trying to get–and I wish Dr. Hunter would later on in response, perhaps, to other questions, still make it clear what I’ve asked him. To say that the Church Growth Movement–as a movement, not just a Lutheran one–is a movement which analyzes the health of churches, you cannot say that and at the same time say, “But we Lutherans add the Sacraments. Oh, of course, have the Sacraments. We have the Sacraments.”

    There is in Dr. Hunter’s book an incident where he goes to a church where they have a 50 minute sermon–some Free Church; no Sacrament; no, of course, no real presence; a sermon. Now, according to Church Growth principles, I understand that this would be pronounced healthy.

    If the Church Growth Movement is a way of analyzing, like X-rays, the health of a church, how healthy is a church if it doesn’t believe in baptismal regeneration? How healthy is a church if it rejects the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ? Now you can’t have it both ways. Either the Sacraments are central and then the other thing is simply peripheral. Or if you’re saying that the Church Growth Movement can analyze the health of churches, then if doesn’t have the Sacraments–if this is simply Lutheran addition–then it doesn’t compute. One of the two things has to go.

    “Church Growth Panel Discussion”
    Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN
    February 18, 1986

    William G. Houser, Pastoral Ministry (1975-93)

  7. If you ever hear, like Johann, “graven image…spend all that money on projects that put faith in the Gospel into action” “The money spent on the church is better spent on serving the less fortunate”, etc. Please refute this unScriptural view of sacred places, adoration to God. If the church were merely a meeting place this view would be legitimate. However, a beautiful church is also a house for the poor, a place of spiritual feeding, and a catechism in wood and glass and stone. The church is a beacon and a city set on a hill. It can evangelize, by expressing the beauty, permanence, and transcendence of Christianity. The church building contains a gathering in the Lord’s body, and in constructing, enhancing a place of worship we become like the woman anointing Christ’s body with precious ointment. (Mark 14:3-9). It’s a place where heaven and earth are joined like no other place on earth, in heavenly liturgy celebrating the Means of Grace! Take note too how God instructed the sacredness of His holy places as with Moses, the Jerusalem Temple, even Revelation is filled in sacredness of liturgical worship with colors and symbols and figures to bespeak of the faith and giving glory to God.

  8. Dr. Robert Preus (1924-95)…

    I had a professor once who said, “There is a cathedral, the sign of a dying church.” I think maybe the Pentecostals could teach us something. They make churches out of cement blocks. They look like John Deere implement buildings. I don’t think you have to be that way. But they cut their costs because they’re spending all their money on getting the Word out.

    “Dr. & Mrs. Robert Preus Speaking On Life In the Parsonage”
    Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN

  9. What Lutheran will the next stained glass image be?

    Martin Chemnitz? Johann Gerhard? Or within the Missouri Synod, there is:

    Friedrich Conrad Dietrich Wyneken, the second president of the Missouri Synod, wearing his yellow buckskin pants as a “circuit rider” to Lutherans in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan frontiers

    Heinrich Christian Schwan, C.F.W. Walther’s successor as synod president (1878-1899), a missionary in S. America, first to put a lighted Christmas tree in his Cleveland church starting a church custom in America, and as every LCMS catechumen was taught, the person who originally wrote the Q&A exposition to Martin Luther’s Small Catechism (the “blue book” for many of us).

    Franz August Otto Pieper, Concordia Seminary professor, Synod president (1899-1911), author of Christliche Dogmatik, and main author of “A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod” (1932), which explains what The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod teaches about key scriptural and confessional principles.

  10. “Who would you immortalize….” Pr. Tim Rossow

    Well, since you ask, Professor Kurt E. Marquart comes to mind.

  11. Neither… I am hesitant to put any of the Fathers in stain glass. I much prefer the object of their proclamation.

  12. A small school in Georgetown, TX, with Methodist roots, has tall stained glass windows from front to back. Christ is over the altar. The first pair, on either side of the chancel, depict Wesley and Luther.
    Methodists of later periods are continued down both sides of the nave.

  13. @#4 Kitty #13,

    One should not put up an image on a window that would only serve as target practice for some book publisher. It would be like a small German church putting statues of Calvin and Zwingli along with those of Luther and Melanchthon at the top of pillars along the dome.

    Of course, there are statues and there are (surrounding the Kanzelaltar) statues at St. Nicholas Church in Jessen, Germany (note Martin Luther’s statue, along with those of Peter, James, and John, in the upper part).

  14. Dr. Robert Preus (1924-95)…

    “Thirty, forty years ago, when I started teaching at the St. Louis seminary, we were aping the Roman Catholics and putting on the backward collar. Some of you people are old enough to remember you never saw a backward collar. I didn’t until I got into college. So they were aping the Roman Catholics, I guess. I don’t know why else they’d put it on. Now they’re aping the Fundamentalists and the pop Evangelicals and the Revivalists of the nineteenth century, and doing things that we would have never thought of doing thirty years ago. So we’re drifting in a type of Methodistic, Charismatic direction whereas, before, we were–some people–drifting in a kind of liturgical, high church way.”

    “Dr. Robert Preus Presentation”
    September 9, 1995

    Luther College, Decorah, IA (B.A., 1944)

  15. My current pastor is one of Dr. Preus’ sons (and I admire both father and son greatly), but I still would have to vote for “neither” if it came to stained glass in the church sanctuary proper. There, the focus should be on the Triune God alone, along with the word and the sacraments.

    HOWEVER, outside of the sanctuary proper, you can place all of the stained glass and photos you want, just like my current church has pictures of all of its’ former pastors (and the current one, of course) lining the hallway, along with the confirmation classes over the years. Let the debate begin on who would be included in a “heroes of faith” type of display, but not in the sanctuary.

    That’s my two cents worth…..

  16. Rahn, you might be surprised by the painting placed on the altar itself in St. Mary Church, Wittenberg, Germany, featuring Dr. Luther preaching.


    By the way, it is a beautiful stained glass window, would love to see pictures of the entire thing, but I had to smile that it showed Dr. Preus in a clerical collar. I don’t remember ever seeing him wearing the “round collar” as shown in the window.

  17. Dr. Robert Preus (1924-95)…

    “The Church Growth Movement is a threat to any church body which takes its confessions seriously.”

    “Dunn. Good friend of mine. He thought I was great because I used to quote Lutheran hymns. And the Calvinists don’t have any decent hymns. And the Lutherans don’t sing the ones they got.”

    “Dr. Robert Preus Presentation”
    September 9, 1995

  18. @Rev.Paul T. McCain #18
    It doesn’t surprise me. I have seen similar designs in other churches. Both the picture and the stained glass are artfully beautiful, and have deep Lutheran meaning.

    I wouldn’t condemn any church that does things like this. It is just my personal preference to keep the focus in the sanctuary on the altar and what Christ does in the service, and not how that message affects or has affected others. It’s just a matter of individual taste. Besides, I am more concerned with the message that comes out of that service. And I am sure Pastor Rossow would conduct a fine service in any place that passes for a sanctuary:)

  19. Rahn, the point I’m trying to make is that you should not allow your “personal preference” to trump the continuous practice of the Lutheran Church since Reformation times. Your understandings on these points are more along the lines of what Calvinists would want us to believe and teach about church art. So, you see, it is not a matter of “individual taste” … that is to say, your “individual taste” is misinformed and based on erroneous understanding.

  20. @Rev.Paul T. McCain #21
    Calvinist, I am not. Calvin sought to eliminate all images in the sanctuary, up to and including crosses:
    To quote:
    “The Protestant Reformation induced a wave of iconoclasm, or the destruction of religious imagery. All forms of Protestantism showed a degree of hostility to religious images, as idolatry, especially sculpture and large paintings. Book illustrations and prints were more acceptable, because they were smaller and more private. Protestant leaders, especially Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin, actively eliminated imagery from churches within the control of their followers, and regarded the great majority of religious images as idolatrous, even plain crosses. Martin Luther, in Germany, initially more hostile, finally allowed, indeed encouraged, the display of a restricted range of religious imagery in churches so long as viewers were reminded that images are symbolic of the divine, and are not holy in themselves (in fact the Catholic position also). The use of images was one of the issues where Luther strongly opposed the more radical Andreas Karlstadt. For a few years Lutheran altarpieces like the Last Supper by the younger Cranach were produced in Germany, especially by Luther’s friend Lucas Cranach, to replace Catholic ones, often containing portraits of leading reformers as the apostles or other protagonists, but retaining the traditional depiction of Jesus.” (NOTE: This is the image you referred me to in post #18).

    My initial comment was a preference not to eliminate all images from the sanctuary, but to make sure the focus of the sanctuary images was on the Triune God and not the individual.

    There have been posts on this site about the badvestment blogspot:

    You have countered it with your own blog:

    Let me be clear: Art in the church (whether it be stained glass, paintings, vestments, music, or whatever) is not wrong by itself, and I condemn no one for such art in any part of the church. I just feel the purpose of church art work in the sanctuary proper is to place the emphasis on the Triune God and what that Triune God does for us in the Divine Service. If that art (in any form) distracts from where the focus should really be, it should be examined. To use the theme of the badvestments blogspot, “It’s Not About You”…..

  21. Rahn, again, your opinions are based on faulty assumptions that were never embraced by confessional Lutheranism. The Reformation and Orthodox Lutheran churches always focused on Christ but never shied away from rejoicing the incarnate blessings given through His servants. You are creating a false dichotomy and that’s where your thinking goes wrong.

  22. @Johan Bergfest #1
    Yes, like spending it on a hot air balloon with the LCMS logo, and having it fly (or not fly) all over the country. Or spending it on billboards that say, “God ****s, signed the devil.” Etc., etc., etc.

  23. @Carl Vehse #10
    My vote would be for Friedrich Pfotenhauer–the guy who saw the gathering storm, and warned us as well as he could–the first major political casualty of the LCMS. He’s my new hero, thanks to Harrison’s “At Home…”

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