The Real Reasons LCMS Pastors Want to be like American Evangelicals, by Pr. Rossow

In a post yesterday Martin Noland quoted John Hannah asserting that an aversion to Roman Catholicism is what makes LCMS’ers want to look like Evangelicals. I am sure that is a part of it but I think it is a lot simpler than that. It’s not theological. It’s personal. It has to do with the personal experience in junior high, high school and college of the young men who became pastors in the LCMS in the last generation.

I have identified seven things in the life of the pastors of the last generation that have caused them to want to look like Evangelicals. Early in my pastoral career I had a lot in common with these Evangelical wannabes and so part of this is personal reflection but I have also known dozens of LCMS pastors with similar stories and I am currently involved in an ecclesiastical debate with a fellow pastor and my district president and I am seeing most of the experiences I list below to be in play in our disagreement.

Here’s my list:

  1. Many of the young Lutherans of the late 60’s and early 70’s were bored with church mostly because there was no instruction about the liturgy and the bronze age pastors did not embrace and proclaim the mystery and power of the sacraments.
  2. Boomers like me started going to contemporary Christian concerts. The bands playing were usually Pentecostal (Second Chapter of Acts), legalistic pietists (Keith Green), flowery praise types (The Imperials) or even counter cultural Jesus freaks (Larry Norman, Phil Keagy, etc.).
  3. To supplement the concert culture local Christian bookstores popped up everywhere (even in my little home town of 6,000 people in rural Iowa) and we good Lutherans were reading the non-Lutheran stuff because it was written on and marketed at a far more popular level than the CPH stuff.
  4. Most of us who became pastors went to a Concordia for pre-sem work and the dormitory culture of the Concordias was loaded with this same non-sacramental theology.
  5. The sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960’s of course changed everything.
  6. Television captivated our generation and along with the rest of the new media, destroyed nearly all of the healthy parochialism of the LCMS. We were no longer isolated.
  7. The seminaries worked hard to reorient us to pure Lutheranism but they also contributed to the problem and in the end and were also helpless to counter the cooperate and graduate mentality.

Here is some additional commentary on the seven causes.

  1. Many of the young Lutherans of the late 60’s and early 70’s were bored with church mostly because here was no instruction about the liturgy and the bronze age pastors did not embrace the mystery and power of the sacraments.

The liturgy had become something that we just did in church. It was traditional. It was never taught to us. We never learned where it came from and why it was the proper expression of faith and prayer. The pastors of the bronze age of the LCMS (1945-1970) did not seem to embrace the mystery and power of the sacraments and so they did not pass the joy of the sacramental life. We did not stand in awe of the power of the sacraments. We just did them with no emotion or intensity.

  1. Boomers started going to contemporary Christian concerts.

Our parents were good Lutherans but they sort of embraced this dangerous ecumenism because they were just glad we were doing something religious and not joining the counter culture of tie-died shirts and Mary Jane.

These contemporary Christian concerts titillated us in ways that the sacramental-less bronze age faith did not. Most significantly these concerts led us to begin to embrace the theology of pietiesm, legalism, charismania and Arminian free will theology.

  1. To supplement the concert culture local Christian bookstores popped up everywhere (even in my little home town of 6,000 people in rural Iowa) and we good Lutherans were reading the non-Lutheran stuff because it was written on and marketed at a far more popular level than the CPH stuff.

Like many future LCMS pastors, I gobbled up dozens of the Evangelical offerings of these book stores as well as bought countless cassette tapes of my favorite contemporary Christian artists.

  1. The dormitory culture of the Concordia Colleges was rife with bad theology.

There were charismatic groups on the campus of every Concordia as far as I can tell and many of the future teachers and pastors attended these “ecclesiai in the ecclesia.” Even more influential were the Campus Crusade types who were discipling all sorts of students in decision theology and a thorough smack down of anything remotely ritualistic. (This is where Hannah’s theory gets some traction.) I had a well-intentioned fellow student teach me the four spiritual laws of Campus Crusade and ask me to give my life to Jesus. He is currently and LCMS pastor.

  1. The sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960’s changed everything.

Of course behind all of this were the larger cultural movements. The cultural revolution of the 60’s brought an anti-authoritarianism that challenged all institutions. We were all affected by this. Amazingly, I was taught values clarification in my high school in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere in Iowa in the mid 70’s. We had twenty minute home room sessions to start every day and a fifty minute session on Fridays. We were being taught to value ourselves and our own freedom over anything else which meant that the extra nos, Christ-centered liturgy was superfluous. Unbeknown to us we were being taught to re-make church in the image of our personal pop tastes and likes.

  1. Television captivated a generation and along with the rest of the new media, destroyed parochialism in the LCMS. We were no longer alone.

An unexplained liturgy, vacuous sacraments, and crucifix and procession-less Divine services were no competition for the pleasure and visual stimulation of television, videos and ultimately our laptops, smart phones and game boxes.

  1. The seminaries did not help.

I will be very careful here because I owe the seminaries so much because of the rich deposit of faith they placed in me but they also have some blame in all of this. After we won the battle for the Bible the St. Louis Seminary replaced the liberal but mostly liturgical faculty with men for the most part who were the bronzies who did not embrace the mystery of the sacraments. They were safe but they were not models of the sacramental life. The Fort Wayne seminary was better but I still must say that even though I nearly worship Robert Preus, if I am not mistaken, he was not as sacramental and liturgical as many of the men he brought into teach at the Fort.

In addition, believe it or not, both seminaries had nearly one fourth of their faculties (the Practical Department) who were devoted to the Church Growth Movement. (Can anyone say Waldo Werning? I forget the name of the professor at St. Louis who taught the required Church Growth class. Yes, in the early 80’s there was a required Church Growth class at St. Louis.)

Another nasty phenomenon at the seminary was the “cooperate and graduate” principal. We all know classmates who simply said what the profs wanted to hear, graduated, and then went off on their little church growth path in their first call. The seminaries cannot be blamed for such violations of personal integrity but they are affecting the church today.

There were also those who sincerely embraced confessional Lutheranism but caved when pressure was applied to them in the parish. I can recall countless times in the first few years of being a pastor where I was tempted to go down the path of tolerance so as to avoid confrontation. Fortunately I stood my ground more than I compromised and after engraining that as a habit it became much easier to stand strong. That has not been the case for many pastors.

In conclusion, there are certainly countless pastors who were never greatly affected by the seven causes I listed above. But there also many who fit this description, enough to make a huge difference in our synod. I am surrounded by these type of pastors and sadly, even my District President is one. Will the LCMS survive as a confessional synod? Sometimes I wonder. Lord have mercy on us.

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

The Real Reasons LCMS Pastors Want to be like American Evangelicals, by Pr. Rossow — 54 Comments

  1. @Alex K #47
    The much beloved TLH was not as Lutheran a hymnal as it should have been, and depending on the tendencies of the pastors using it, could itself lean people toward an openness to certain pietist and/or evangelical tendencies.

    None of the hymnals are as good as they could be… probably because of pressure from pastors who wish to accommodate “the great unwashed” with songs that are familiar. Lutherans (who are washed) are thereby deprived of some of their best hymns and in the case of LSB, many of Luther’s hymns are omitted. : (

  2. @helen #50
    Hi Helen,
    As you know, TLH was published in the 1940’s during the war and it was a rush job. I think the liturgy and hymnody in it were highly influenced by the Anglican tradition. LW came out playing catch up when we broke off with the people who eventually published Lutheran Book of Worship. The hymnal we are using now – LSB is used by a large majority of congregations in the LCMS. IMO, it is the best hymnal in a century to come out of our synod.

    Loved the way you used the phrase, ‘the great unwashed’ in contrast to ‘the washed’ via Holy Baptism.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  3. @Diane #1
    LW came out playing catch up when we broke off with the people who eventually published Lutheran Book of Worship.

    LW was done way too fast because some LCMS congregations were being sold LBW.

    The liturgy review was better than the hymn selection, which got rushed, according to a committee member. [My son did a paper on it in sem when it was new.]

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