“Good Morning Church Member!” A Few Thoughts on the Catechumenate, by Pr. Rossow

duccio_locked_doorsShe turned to her husband as they still lay in bed and said “Good morning church member!” This was the first morning they woke up together as church members. They had been to churches off and on but had never joined. They had just completed the second part of our three part catechumenate at Bethany Luthean Church and School in Naperville, Illinois. The in depth nature of the catechumenate was in part the cause of this joyful and rightfully prideful morning exclamation. It is also an encouragement for pastors to make sure that they properly teach adult confirmands in this day and age when in depth instruction is being sacrificed at the altar of church growth.

As best I can tell, the rebirth of the ancient catechumenate is an offspring of liturgical renewal. It was first seen again in the last generation in the Roman Catholic Church. It consists of casting the adult confirmation process into three distinct parts. First is the Inquiry Stage when potential confirmands discuss their interest in the faith with the pastor so that they can be encouraged and drawn into the second phase – the teaching phase. The third and final phase is an orientation into the practice of the faith called the Mystagogy.

Each phase is connected to the liturgy. Early in the second phase, after the catechumens have had their basic questions answered in the Inquirer’s Phase, they are brought before the church in the liturgy, introduced to the parish which is asked to pray for them, and they are given a hymnal, catechism, and Bible to use in the next phase. That next phase culminates with the adut confirmation in the liturgy. In the Spring module we do the confirmation and any necessary adult baptisms at the Easter Vigil as the church had done for centuries before the catechumenate process was lost. A few weeks later the confirmands are brought before the congregation for a third time. This time it is at the culmination of the mystagogy, which all new members are asked to attend. During the liturgy they are welcomed into the parish and also the congregation learns where in the parish they will be serving (e.g. Trustees, room mother, usher, etc.).

The best feature of the catechumenate is a clear emphasis on the depth of teaching for the adult catechumens. In some Roman Catholic churches the teaching goes on for a year. In our parish our teaching component lasts three to four months with an additional month for what the mystagogy.

We are also committed to depth of teaching in our day school. All three pastors work with the children. We teach Bible and the six chief parts in 5th through 8th grade and starting next year we will have a pastor in the younger grades supporting the day school teachers in our Scripture memory program. 

We also recently shored up our public school confirmation by adding a third year for Bible study because we found that their knowledge of the Scripture was greatly lacking.

Sadly, the last generation has not only brought to the LCMS increased depth in teaching adult confirmands but it has also brought us the exact opposite. For the sake of bringing in more members more quickly and not turning them off with all that boring and strict doctrine, there are churches that have gone the exact opposite way of teh catechumenate. There are far too many LCMS parishes that bring people into membership via a a single Saturday morning session with most of that time spent on teaching them the parish vision and the importance of giving a big offering to the church.

Even if you don’t adopt the ancient catechumenate as a means for adult confirmation, we plead with you pastors (and laymen – to encourage your pastors) to deepen your instruction in the faith for both juniors and adults. It will create members who are rightly proud of their accomplishment of membership and more importantly, it will create a chance for the Holy Spirit to work the depth of faith that is needed to be steadfast Lutherans and to withstand the flaming arrows of the Evil One.

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.

Comments

“Good Morning Church Member!” A Few Thoughts on the Catechumenate, by Pr. Rossow — 30 Comments

  1. I believe much of the problems and conflicts over closed communion, liturgy, and other doctrinal issues are a direct result of the lack of proper instruction, particularly from those who have come from the ELCA. Too many times we have accepted them thru affirmation of faith and just assumed they believe and have the same confession as the LCMS, until conflicts arise and it becomes obvious they do not. Sorry to sound harsh, just my 2 cents worth.

  2. The ALC approach: all they ask for is really a consensus in a kind of simple, narrow gospel. And that’s all. Basically, their idea of fellowship is what Sasse explained as the pietistic idea of fellowship; more or less the idea of Billy Graham. If you’re a born again Christian, we’ll fellowship with you. If you don’t agree on inerrancy, well, we’ll argue with you and so forth, but we certainly won’t withdraw the hand of fellowship. The ALC sees fellowship as sort of going steady or at best engagement. Missouri Synod sees fellowship as marriage–something that’s very serious–a total recognition of the other church body as authentically Lutheran. ALC doesn’t see it that way at all. They don’t see fellowship in the very biblical idea of koinonia. They see it pretty much as a kind of friendliness, a recognition of the other group as Christian. Let’s go out and have a little fellowship. That type of idea.

    Robert Preus
    Day of Theological Reflection
    1978

  3. Timmy :
    I believe much of the problems and conflicts over closed communion, liturgy, and other doctrinal issues are a direct result of the lack of proper instruction, particularly from those who have come from the ELCA. Too many times we have accepted them thru affirmation of faith and just assumed they believe and have the same confession as the LCMS, until conflicts arise and it becomes obvious they do not. Sorry to sound harsh, just my 2 cents worth.

    Truth. As good as church growth is, numbers are not the be all end all goal for the church. Give me the church of fifty grounded in truth rather than the church of five thousand whose understanding of the gospel and Christianity is superficial.

  4. @J. Dean #3

    “We are in the faith, and by this faith we hope to be saved! But there are still many millions who have no faith!  This is why we are here—so that we might bring salvation to as many people as we possibly can, so that the sad situation in Christendom and the corruption of the poor, blind heathen might be remedied. Only for this reason does our gracious God allow Christians to live on earth, that they might bring others to the saving faith. Otherwise God would immediately take a Christian to heaven as soon as he is converted.”  

    CFW Walther
    Essays for the Church
    CPH: 1992
    II:262

    Numbers matter.   Of course training the 5,000 in a firm grounding of the truth also matters enormously.

  5. John,

    One must read Walther like one reads Scripture and any other text. It is not right to yank things out of context.

    Just as I challenge people to read the Scriptures carefully and note that pure teaching is mentioned countless times more than calls for personal, lay evangelism, so too with Walther, in keeping with the ratios of Scripture, he mentions pure teaching countless times more than the quote you give us above.

    For instance, if you read his fundamental treatise on the The Six Duties of the Church you will notice that the first, second, and fifth of the six duties are about pure teaching. It is only the sixth and final one where he gets around to talking about growing the kingdom. In the detailed explanation of that duty only one of the six tactics is similar to what we call “evangelism” today. NB – the first duty is to encourage our young boys to become pastors.

    So, be careful with how many times you play the card you did above. You play it so many times that you belie the fact that you are not reading Walther nor presenting him in proper context.

  6. My pastor has been at my church for 6 months and bragged to a member that every church he has been at has doubled. Yet to add a single member. He apparently thinks it’s the churches members job to go out and reach people since as a pastor he is expected to talk about Jesus. I means more coming from others.

    Past confirmation classes have been few weeks and not in depth at all. That is my church has doctrinal issues because people haven’t been taught.

    I agree growth is the most important for many pastors and churches.

  7. Dear Pastor Rossow,

    Thanks for sharing with us your practice and experience of the catechumenate.

    Similar ideas and practices have been talked about at Pastor Peter Bender’s Concordia Catechetical Academy (Sussex, WI – http://lutherancatechesis.org/ ) and by Professor John Pless at CTS, Fort Wayne; and before them by Dr. Ken Korby and others. I think you are correct to point out its connection to liturgical renewal movements in the Catholic church, and that there is a lot that we Lutherans can learn and use from it.

    I had an adult confirmation today, after four months of weekly instruction in the standard LCMS catechism. For adults, I always have classes of from four to nine months, depending on their dedication, ambition, and schedules, and we always use the standard LCMS Catechism – the entire thing.

    After services today it occurred to me, “This is something a licensed lay deacon would not be able to do.” I don’t mean the confirmation rite. I mean the teaching of doctrine from the Small Catechism in depth for teens or adults.

    I have been thinking about those 570 (#?) licensed lay deacons practicing in the LCMS today, especially since the 2010 convention couldn’t make up its mind about what do with them. In the following statements, I am not thinking about what they are allowed to do according to Lutheran theology, but what they are realistically capable of doing without seminary training.

    I have been thinking that these licensed lay deacons are, with a very few exceptions, not any different than the typical elder I have had in my congregations. They are pious, well-meaning, and good worship assistants – but often not well-versed in basic Lutheran theology as described in the Small Catechism. They will affirm that doctrine, but often have trouble explaining it coherently, and even more trouble teaching it.

    In a pinch, a licensed lay deacon could read a sermon for the day from Luther’s House Postils or Church Postils, or from Concordia Pulpit. He could read liturgy, and could read any of the official acts from the LSB Agenda, such as Baptism, Confession and Absolution, the Eucharist, Weddings, and Funerals, if authorized to do so.

    A licensed lay deacon could make visits to hospitals and nursing homes, pray with the shut-ins, and give communion, if authorized to do so.

    But unless he was extremely gifted, a licensed lay deacon would not be capable of teaching the Small Catechism to teens or adults. I have known a few elders that have had that capability, but they were lifelong LCMS, had Ph.D.s or the equivalent, and were brilliant teachers in their own right, apart from the church and its work. We have very few laymen like that in the LCMS, certainly not enough to go around, and rarely in the parishes where licensed lay deacons work.

    Anyone can ask the questions and receive the printed responses in the Catechism. Only someone who knows the teaching (doctrine) can do the teaching (pedagogy) with any effectiveness.

    This leads me to conclude that parishes which only have licensed lay deacons are “sterile” in the matter of church growth. They can’t grow new Christians in the FAITH and the WORD OF GOD. And they have difficulty in helping older Christians mature in the FAITH and the WORD OF GOD. They are doctrinally handicapped from the start and in principle.

    To me, this is the greatest problem with the licensed lay deacon idea. DELTO was, and SMP is, an attempt to move that cohort of men toward better doctrinal competence, so that their parishes will not be sterile in the area of church growth. I think it is time that all of our licensed lay deacons were moved into the SMP program, in order to improve their doctrine and pedagogy, for the sake of the catechumens (teens and adults) in their parishes.

    That is what came to mind as I read your fine post this evening.

    A blessed Christmas to you and yours–and don’t forget a nice treat for your cat under the Christmas tree! 🙂

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  8. Martin,

    How true about the deacons.

    I too was thinking of Bender when I wrote this. Maybe someday our catechumenate will be as effective as his program. I have reviewed it and it is fantastic, particularly the emphasis on support from the parents of the junior confirmands.

    Happy Bob, the world’s best kitty and arch enemy of Synodocat, shall get a pack of Crave cat treats – his favorite. I will tell him you were thinking of him. 🙂

  9. @John Rixe #4
    Also:
    “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9

  10. Carl,

    Look at the context. Particularly v. 5 and v. 12 and you will see that Peter is talking about letting your good works shine, not so much your tongue, although that is certainly fine as well but clearly this is not a mandate for going door to door.

  11. Pastor Rossow,

    This sounds like an extremely well-organized program–great job!

    As you begin working with the younger students, I would suggest having them memorize, memorize, memorize. It’s what they’re good at. And not just Bible verses. Bible stories, arcs, etc. Walk them through the OT & NT with body motions for significant events. Give them songs of the catechism, of good kings and bad kings, etc. Once they get to 6th grade, they will not tolerate this type of learning and will protest that memorization is useless, and everything will be an uphill battle. If they’ve already done it, however, then they will be prepared for the critical thinking & analysis they are ready to begin as they move into adolescence. This is my theory, in any event.

    Pastor Noland, if only our deacons would listen to Issues, etc.!

  12. John Rixe :@J. Dean #3
    “We are in the faith, and by this faith we hope to be saved! But there are still many millions who have no faith!  This is why we are here—so that we might bring salvation to as many people as we possibly can, so that the sad situation in Christendom and the corruption of the poor, blind heathen might be remedied. Only for this reason does our gracious God allow Christians to live on earth, that they might bring others to the saving faith. Otherwise God would immediately take a Christian to heaven as soon as he is converted.”  
    CFW WaltherEssays for the ChurchCPH: 1992II:262
    Numbers matter.   Of course training the 5,000 in a firm grounding of the truth also matters enormously.

    That was also from a sermon in the “God Grant It” Walther devotional. It wasn’t about numbers but about good works.

  13. “Pastors and laypeople work together in the great task of making disciples of all nations, as together they tell the good news of Jesus. Together they work to make their congregations places where visitors feel welcome and places that have as a priority reaching out boldly with the Gospel. Hand in hand, pastors and congregations tell the good news about Jesus!…Telling the saving Gospel is the greatest service any Christian can perform for a neighbor, or family member, or even the most casual” – Pr A L Barry

    http://lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=1091

  14. @Martin R. Noland #7

    I am a certified Lay Minster in my district, and I totally agree with you. I was priviledged to grow up under Dr. Ernest Bartels, who sent us through 4 years of ocnfirmation. 5th grade Bok of Acts, 6th grade Luther and Reformation, 7th grade catechism with the vicar, 8th with pastor doing everything in the catechism again, both times with memory work. In the mid 80’s I knew about LC-MS, ALC, LCA, WELS, Lutheran Brethren, plus a couple more. Later, I evnetually emnrolled in the DCE program at CSP. (didn’t finish)

    So when I got out east, I eventually had the opportunity to enroll in this program. I have always wanted to learn, and help others, particularly youth, understand that there are biigger things out there. Yes, it would help me with a sense of completition to my DCE studies. And anything I could do to help counter the abysmal catechetical work I had seen all over. (I am so blessed with the work I had to go through)

    I take a critical eye towards these programs. The leaders running them tend to brag about quality tha tis just not there. 3 quarter credits for 18 hours of class room. Really? In what accredited college? I leveraged a few of my CSP classes to replace the district offereings, but one I had push back on. CSP Worship was 2 semester credits, and the “2” was a hangup. Apparently the administratoer cannot do simple math: 2 semester credits = 3 quarter credits. (in my college transfers, I know all about that conversion) Isn’t there something about not being given big things if you cannot handle the little things?…

    I have had a couple of my pastor instructors suggest I go off to seminary, and I have thought hard about that. So that is understandable Pr. Noland’s comment about SMP. But really SMP is so light weight pastorally. I think it should be more Specific Ministry DEACON, and the LC-MS should think long and hard about the Diaconate, or flat out dump the SMP in light of the ONE (fold) Office of Holy Ministry.

    So my experience is about the same. These people are sometimes even being promoted by others to play pastor, and far too man are not even remotely gifted to do so. (or even called…) As for me, if I am to play pastor, I have been consulting people and pastors, and I would choose residential seminary. I respect the Office way too much to mess around with anything less and substandard. I also have long thought of basic catechism stuff during Sunday school, the younger grades, when kids WANT to learn. I have long admired Pr. Rossow for his discriptions of Bethany (teacing, liturgy, governance structure). Let us all learn from the wisdon here.

  15. John Rixe :
    “Pastors and laypeople work together in the great task of making disciples of all nations, as together they tell the good news of Jesus. Together they work to make their congregations places where visitors feel welcome and places that have as a priority reaching out boldly with the Gospel. Hand in hand, pastors and congregations tell the good news about Jesus!…Telling the saving Gospel is the greatest service any Christian can perform for a neighbor, or family member, or even the most casual” – Pr A L Barry
    http://lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=1091

    This statement could apply to a Lutheran Church’s Kids Christmas Eve service where the Gospel is proclaimed to visitors in our Lutheran churches.

  16. @Perry Lund #16

    Agreed.

    As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10, 11)

  17. @Jason #15

    Dear Jason,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with the BJS readers.

    I bet there was hardly anyone, out of the 660+ who read this post so far, who knew that your office of “Commissioned Lay Minister” is radically different from the “Licensed Lay Deacon.” Most people just see the term “Lay” and assume its the same position.

    Your office is rosted by the synod, and your group of church-workers is included in the Lutheran Annual. The “licensed lay deacons” are not listed in the Lutheran Annual. Furthermore, as far as I can tell, they are not even mentioned in the LCMS Handbook. What are they then?

    They are creations of the 1989 Wichita Convention, without official synodical roster status or official bylaw reference, and are basically ad hoc ministers appointed by District Presidents. As far as I can tell, from a legal standpoint, that means that if something goes wrong with a “Licensed Lay Deacon” and the damaged person or party seeks legal redress, the only person they can sue is the District President–who would be held PERSONALLY LIABLE. I don’t think the insurance coverage for officers and board memebers would cover such an extra-legal situation, so the DPs have personal liability to consider when they appoint these men. This is what happens when you try to operate outside the bounds of church law.

    Furthermore, as far as I can tell Jason, the “Licensed Lay Deacon” undercuts your position, more than anything or anyone else. And most people confuse your position with the “Licensed Lay Deacon.” What a mess!

    Who is responsible for this mess? The DPs who advocated the position (not all did, by the way), and who continue to muck up the synodical ministerial classification so they can control and enjoy their little district fiefdoms. I hope they enjoy their personal legal liability too . . .

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  18. There’s also a problem with the District Presidents licensing vicars to administer the Sacrament during a vacancy (not to mention why is there a vicar present at a congregation with no pastor?), even when there are other congregations nearby with ordained pastors where the members can take Communion.

  19. Well John, they don’t mean what you make them out to mean that we can mess with the liturgy for the sake of saving some because Walther is very clear elsewhere that he disdains the Methobapticostal worship that you favor.

    They mean exactly what they say. God would take us all to heaven if weren’t for his other promise that he won’t do that until the Gospel gets to all four corners of the earth.

    How that happens, Walther is quite clear, through the historic liturgy, the means of grace, and definetely without the spirit of tolerance and compromise that you favor.

  20. How that happens, Walther is quite clear, through the historic liturgy, the means of grace, and definetely without the spirit of tolerance and compromise that you favor.

    AUGUSTANA V ?

  21. Please show me the evidence that I believe we need the Anapatists [sic] preparations of man found only in COWO. I don’t even like COWO. I have no interest in imposing my preference for traditional liturgy on anyone else, but I do feel everyone should use synod approved materials. Merry Christmas.

  22. @Martin R. Noland #18

    That’s just it. It is a mess. Only the Mequon program is an officially rostered across the synod as a Commissioned Minister. In my neck of the woods, Atlantic has a Commissioned Deacon program. Look at their website under Ministries. The AD also does not render the office gender specific. When we have seen women in alb and a deacon stole, this is why. There are preaching and worship classes. New Jersey has a Leader & Learners program, where they establish Certified Lay Minister (although enough are called locally Deacons). Similar with a Worship and Homiletics classes. I am not aware of nor do I find on websites a similar program in New England or Eastern. So if these districts start to combine, should be interesting to see how this concept plays out. But the lay people are attached to their individual congregations. Not really much say about being general practitioners across the district. And obviously these only count within the district. Should I move to somewhere else, I cannot bring certification with me.

    And seriously, how are these programs much different from SMP? Except that SMP get to be pastors, although with limitations. From rough memory (correct me if I am wrong) Atlantic and New England, maybe Northwest, passed convention resolutions supporting SMP. Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin South passed resolutions calling for things ranging from serious review to discontinuation of SMP and Lay Minister programs. Definitely a Koinania topic. I personally may be a little soft on what the final result will be (i.e. office of Deacon) but I would so much prefer an objective standard, across the whole of synod. I do worry about the fiefdoms, and how it draws us apart as a national body.

  23. The big push that Dr. Hemplemann made at the 2007 Synod Convention floor committee meeting which persuaded so many people to vote for the SMPP was to get an ordained minister into the congregations. That was the big alternative to the licensed lay ministers. I voted against it because I wasn’t in favor of either SMPs or lay ministers. I liked Pr. Dissen’s response at that meeting: we would have not one but two greased pigs running around in the synod.

    We memorialized the synod this summer at the MO District Convention to dump the licensed lay ministers as soon as possible, with a deadline for them to get out.

  24. @Jason #26
    @Tim Schenks #29

    Thank you, Tim. That is one of the memorials I remember reading about in the Reporter, from all the different district conventions. And I am so happy for you and your district for sending that forward to the synodical convention.

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