“Confessional” is not the Antonym of “Progressive” or “Visionary,” by Pr. Rossow

Church Growthers often give the impression that Confessionals are somehow unprogressive and non-visionary. This is just not the case if you consider the courage and gumption of several confessional parishes that I know of that are starting building programs even in this uncertain economy.

The congregation I serve, at a special voters’ assembly yesterday, approved a million dollar building project. I will share more on that and the other churches in a moment.

God does not require of congregations that they be visionary and progressive. That is a myth of the Church Growth movement. Scripture speaks of the duties of the church as Walther teaches in his booklet titled “The Proper Form of a Christian Congregation.” The duties of the church are 1) to dwell in the word, 2) to uphold pure doctrine and practice church discipline, 3) to care for church members in need, 4) to do things in good order, 5) to work together with other orthodox congregations and 6) to advance the kingdom.

Some congregations are more progressive at fulfilling those duties and others are less so. That’s OK. That is not the issue in Scripture. What is the issue is to understand the Scriptural duties of the Church and to faithfully complete those duties.

That being said, I am impressed by the number of confessional churches that I know of in my limited field of vision, that are taking bold steps as they consider how to fulfill these duties. A small church in central Michigan is completing a half million dollar building program this spring that adds Sunday School and Bible class space and a new fellowship hall. A liturgical church out east is planning a multi-million dollar expansion program for their school. A traditional congregation in South Carolina is busting at the seams and so is reconfiguring their narthex and adding space to their sanctuary. A confessional parish in Nebraska has just finished the architectural plans for a similar program.

The congregation I serve, Bethany Lutheran Church and School here in Naperville, Illinois, the birthplace of The Brothers of John the Steadfast, took the courageous step of adding a third pastor last year (Jonathan Fisk) and at the same time planned a million dollar youth and music rehearsal space. Just this Sunday the Voters approved the construction contract and so construction will begin within the next few weeks. We also approved the bridge loan if needed, but God has been good to us and it looks like the million dollars will have all come in by the time the building is completed this fall and so there will most likely be no need for a loan.

So, say what you want about confessional churches but do not say that they aren’t visionary and even more fundamentally, don’t say that vision and progress are required of a church to be godly. What is required is faithfulness to the God-given duties of the church and sometimes, God-willing, that is done in a progressive way.

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

“Confessional” is not the Antonym of “Progressive” or “Visionary,” by Pr. Rossow — 25 Comments

  1. I say Confessionals are visionary in that they (we) offer something other than what the world provides. We give a better meaning to life, salvation, peace, the stability of an unchanging God in a highly fluid (bordering on chaotic) world. I’m good being Confessional. Thanks, Pr. Rossow.

  2. Pr. Rossow – I note that all of your examples, except for Pr. Fisk’s call, reference construction projects, the erection of walls. I can understand how building projects relate with Walther’s directive to do things in good order. However, new buildings aren’t necessary for the other five on the list that you cited. And, new buildings to not accomplish #6, advancing the kingdom – bringing Christ to the unchurched world – what is the point?

    Please understand that this comment is not a criticism of Bethany or the other congregations that mentioned who have initiated building projects. Rather, it is a suggestion that, in the 21st century, we need to remember the “nones”; we need to think differently about how we do “church”; we need to remember that our faithful presence requires engagement in our communities, engagement that is more than the physical presence of our church facilities. Are the new walls a warm invitation to those in need of the Gospel or are the new walls being used to segregate the faithful from the world that we are called to serve?

  3. Very good point Jason. We follow “the vision” given to the prophets and apostles. That vision and formerly hidden will of God is that Jew and Gentile are one under the New Covenant of the cross of Christ (Ephesians 3).

    A quick study of the word “bold” in the New Testament makes it clear that Christians do not make a generic boldness to try new things or step out of the box a new means of grace and a test for genuine Christianity as the Church Growthers teach. Insted, we are bold to teach the pure Gospel and administer the sacrments boldy against the work-righteousness of the world. (See for example I Corinthians 12.)

  4. Johann,

    I see your point. I agree that new buildings are not the only way to be progressive and visionary. I did not claim to give an exhaustive list.

    Why don’t you give us a list of things that you see as progressive and visionary that do not include buildings and my guess is that the ones that pass the smell test of duties 1 and 2 are being done by confessionals.

    Walther puts his duties in order of priority based on what the Scriptures teach.

    Church Growthers teach that thinking outside of the box is a mark of the church. That is just not true. That is not taught anywhere in Scripture. It is not a bad thing. I am trying to demonstrate that some churches are bold like this and others more guarded. My personality is more bold and I like to lead my church in that fashion but I would never foist that on another church as a mark of faithfulness. I will foist on them the six duties of Walther however, because they are Scriptural.

    By the way, you overlooked the fact that every one of the exmples of building projects that I noted does advnce the kingdom. Santuaries are being expanded. Bible class rooms are being added. A music rehearsal room is being built so that the Word of God in song can be brought to the community. (It will also be used to support a community concert series.) And a youth space is being built so that kids can bring their friends to hang out, be taught the word of God, etc.

    The fact that you missed that reveals your bias toward seeing “progressive” and “visionary” to mean “out of the box and nearly all costs.”

  5. Johann,

    One more thing concerning the confessional vision and progressive spirit. Joshua Gale, a writer for BJS, has a church without doors and windows. Confessionals pay his salary so that he can prctice a daily routine of hitting the streets of down-trodden Philadelphia, making connections with the homeless and others and sharing the cross of Christ with them.

    There are buildings involved. It is hoped that the Lutheranism that has been lost in Philly can be restored so that the churches that are one by one being sold to others or torn down can be filled with practitioners of the true, visibile church on earth.

    Now that’s thinking out of the box that grows directly out of Walther’s first duty of the church!

  6. I am so sick & tired, of being pegged as something that does not exist. Confessional Lutherans do go into their community, the do speak, lead, & try.
    We do leave hearth & home for the lost. Our phones work 24/7. More so than CoWo, always will. All this is what any Confessional does, we just do not make a program out of it, a bylaw or Constitutional change by them. Confessional laity, follow the Publican parable. Confessional Pastors, are 2 things to laity, Holder of the Office & Shepherd. The Shepherd part is the toughest. They do not fob off, difficult, emotional, abuse, family, or marital issues. They know full well, if it hits those, it is both a left hand & Spiritual issue. Cowo, does not know how, nor will it do so, CoWo is nothing less than a Stepford Wife type Church.

    If we are beggars all, if we are poor, miserable sinners all, Office or laity, there reside many a dark side to CoWo, only laity know.

    Thanks again Pastor Rossow, Lenten Blessings to you!
    Dutch, Thing 1 & Thing 2

  7. @Johan Bergfest #2

    How is advancing the kingdom limited to bringing Christ to the unchurched world? Building to accommodate existing members with room to receive more helps keep them more involved and builds stronger families who baptize and catechize their children, thus advancing the kingdom.

  8. Was it Bonhoeffer who wrote in one of his books: “God hates visionary thinking”? Just asking.

  9. J. Dean,

    Good question. Certainly not in the sense of “political progressive.”

    In an earlier draft of the post I had a paranthetical note saying “by progressive I mean the simple notion of moving forward.”

  10. I would love to see confessional churches adopt the bold vision of helping University Lutheran Chapel build their own sanctuary right on campus at the University of Minnesota. That congregation has already amply demonstrated how superbly appropriately they would use such a facility. We should help them do this.

  11. @Johan Bergfest #2

    “. . .in the 21st century, we need to remember the “nones”; we need to think differently about how we do “church”; we need to remember that our faithful presence requires engagement in our communities, engagement that is more than the physical presence of our church facilities. . .”

    Where do you worship and carry on your community activities? In a park? Where is this place “without walls?” If people — are not connected to each other enough — the whole thing will disintegrate and fade away.

    How many years did God have His Tabernacle and then His Temple — a few thousand? Things were done there — things that He prescribed. Over and over and over. It was His system. The people were to come there to receive things from Him. When the Temple was destroyed the people were scattered to rebuild and carry on in new places. Doing the same thing, giving God’s holy things to His people. To keep them together.

    No one does well on his own. Alone one will die. Faith will not be strengthened and grow. Yes, reach the “nones.” But bring them “in.” Changing buildings to no buildings is not going to be the answer for them. Ministering to them does not mean that we change to “look” or act like society. We don’t become “like” them to bring them to Christ. We love them and present to them the Gospel. The rest is up to the Holy Spirit. John 6:43-47

    This might surprise you: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/01/14/why-young-churches-want-old-buildings/ A church building is not what keeps people away. Sin is.

  12. Pastor Tim Rossow :J. Dean,
    Good question. Certainly not in the sense of “political progressive.”
    In an earlier draft of the post I had a paranthetical note saying “by progressive I mean the simple notion of moving forward.”

    Oftentimes when I hear about “Progressivism” it makes me think of progressive theology/orthodoxy.

    I like Baptist Pastor Robert Shindler’s remark about “Progressive orthodoxy”: “Indeed the progression is so considerable that the ‘orthodoxy’ is lost sight of.”

  13. Certainly Bethany is a faithful congregation…still, God has seen in His divine wisdom to bless Naperville with secular growth and affluence. May the Lord’s will be done in this season of His reign (rain) of grace and that His Word be preached in truth and purity and the elect come to faith!

  14. Some interesting comments, questions and answers, to which I would like to add a few thoughts. 1. Churches are needed, sufficient to tend to the flock in all ways Godly and 2. there must be a place to go from to reach those who need Christ. As Confessionals we do that via our vocations, whatever they may be, to reach our neighbors with good works and love. Ours is not to harvest, but to spread the good seed and invite those who will listen to “Come and See” what is going on in a Sunday Divine Service centered on Christ. Here they will hear a Law and Gospel sermon, participate in a historical liturgy where there is a dialogue between God and us and hear something called Confession and Absolution. These things you will not hear in a non-denominational church and most CoWo services, but you will hear a one-way monologue, a moral story rather than a sermon, etc. We have the real deal and we need to have confidence in who we are and serve our neighbors where God has placed us. In the end the Holy Spirit is the harvester, as he wills, not us.

  15. Gene #17,
    That was spectacular! So lovingly well said. Confessionals do all these things, w/o violating the boundries gifted by the Solas, Concord, or Lutheran Doctrine.
    We just don’t make a big deal out of it! We do it, because He asked, because they are His light & salt.
    Vocation, notwithstanding. Vocations, apply to laity, do they not? Or am I wrong?

  16. @Johan Bergfest #2

    Johan,

    What do you do with the people once you get them in the door?

    The emergent movement within the LCMS has failed. You don’t witness to evangelicals by trying to worship and pray exactly like them. If the worship and study materials are the same, then why should any disaffected evangelical bother jumping ship to become a Lutheran?

    I have been to seeker-churches that were so obsessed with getting new people to join, they did not spend any time growing longtime members with solid doctrine (unless you think the self-help theology promoted by Willow Creek and Saddleback is “doctrine”).

    I have had enough seeker-driven coffee, thank you very much:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=D7_dZTrjw9I#

    This is most certainly brew.

  17. Dutch :
    Gene #17,
    That was spectacular! So lovingly well said. Confessionals do all these things, w/o violating the boundries gifted by the Solas, Concord, or Lutheran Doctrine.
    We just don’t make a big deal out of it! We do it, because He asked, because they are His light & salt.
    Vocation, notwithstanding. Vocations, apply to laity, do they not? Or am I wrong?

    Dutch, the answer to your question is this. Vocations exist in the home, society and the church and all three venues have vocations for laity and clergy. Sometimes they are unique to clergy, like being a pastor, but for the most part vocations are universal among both groups. It is unfortunate that the old Roman Catholic teaching was that only those dedicated to the church had valid Vocations. For the Christian Vocation is much more than what you do for work. Read more in the Large Catechism. You can also check out the seminar on Vocations offered by CLCC by going to the seminar page on that Website.

    On a personal note, how do you come by the moniker of Dutch? Are you by chance Dutch or part Dutch? If so, we have that in common.

  18. Lumpenkönig :
    As you hit the streets to witness to the public (in a disguised attempt to get them to join your church), what happens when you run out of hamburgers?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIpcizLI5vQ

    I don’t know if your question was directed to me or not, so forgive me if was directed to someone else.

    The laity, working through their vocations “don’t hit the street” and try to convert people. That is the decision theology model, which generally leaves the Holy Spirit out of the equation. Rather you serve people via your vocations in love, no strings attached. You don’t run out of hamburgers because you never had any to start with. People see God in action through your actions, which is where the term “Mask of God” comes from. No gimmicks, no pony rides in the parking lot, just plain old fashioned Godly love to your neighbors. (which are those folks you normally come in contact with in your daily walk) You spread the seed by witnessing what God has done in your life, not someone else, and leave the harvest up to the Holy Spirit. If they accept the invitation to come and see and do it then the Holy Spirit is already at work. Another reason why you need a church, so you have a “sanctuary” to take them to for a new environment and a place where they can learn without secular distractions and interruptions. Your support and prayers for them continue. It doesn’t work 100% of the time in this world, but that is okay too as you and me are not responsible to make it work, but only to be the vessel to bring the Gospel message in a direct personal way. It doesn’t get any better than that in this world.

  19. Gene White :

    Lumpenkönig :
    As you hit the streets to witness to the public (in a disguised attempt to get them to join your church), what happens when you run out of hamburgers?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIpcizLI5vQ

    I don’t know if your question was directed to me or not, so forgive me if was directed to someone else.
    The laity, working through their vocations “don’t hit the street” and try to convert people. That is the decision theology model, which generally leaves the Holy Spirit out of the equation. Rather you serve people via your vocations in love, no strings attached. You don’t run out of hamburgers because you never had any to start with. People see God in action through your actions, which is where the term “Mask of God” comes from. No gimmicks, no pony rides in the parking lot, just plain old fashioned Godly love to your neighbors. (which are those folks you normally come in contact with in your daily walk) You spread the seed by witnessing what God has done in your life, not someone else, and leave the harvest up to the Holy Spirit. If they accept the invitation to come and see and do it then the Holy Spirit is already at work. Another reason why you need a church, so you have a “sanctuary” to take them to for a new environment and a place where they can learn without secular distractions and interruptions. Your support and prayers for them continue. It doesn’t work 100% of the time in this world, but that is okay too as you and me are not responsible to make it work, but only to be the vessel to bring the Gospel message in a direct personal way. It doesn’t get any better than that in this world.

    Gene: I do like your reflections and I agree with them 100%.

    I was addressing my concern to the LCMS pastors whose congregations are members of the Willow Creek Association and who love anything promoted by Rick Warren. According to the YouTube video: “Doctrine is not important. Witnessing to people by doing ‘good works’ in the community is key.”

    I was hoping a “missional” LCMS pastor such as Mark Louderback would be able to answer my question after watching the YouTube video.

  20. The laity, working through their vocations “don’t hit the street” and try to convert people. That is the decision theology model, which generally leaves the Holy Spirit out of the equation. Rather you serve people via your vocations in love, no strings attached. You don’t run out of hamburgers because you never had any to start with. People see God in action through your actions, which is where the term “Mask of God” comes from. No gimmicks, no pony rides in the parking lot, just plain old fashioned Godly love to your neighbors. (which are those folks you normally come in contact with in your daily walk) You spread the seed by witnessing what God has done in your life, not someone else, and leave the harvest up to the Holy Spirit. If they accept the invitation to come and see and do it then the Holy Spirit is already at work. Another reason why you need a church, so you have a “sanctuary” to take them to for a new environment and a place where they can learn without secular distractions and interruptions. Your support and prayers for them continue. It doesn’t work 100% of the time in this world, but that is okay too as you and me are not responsible to make it work, but only to be the vessel to bring the Gospel message in a direct personal way. It doesn’t get any better than that in this world.

    Wish I had heard this sooner in my younger years.

  21. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

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