Mission: Decline of the Church, Self-Esteem, and the Small Catechism

At the recent LCMS convention, a recurring topic was the decline of the church. President Harrison had written about it in his report. Some had criticized one part of what he said, the part about declined birth rates among church people. Our birth rates are below the replacement rate. Other explanations also circulate, and each one has its critics.

The explanations and the criticisms of them are important because they are part of what drives our approach to mission.

I’ll add one more that is not the be all and end all explanation, but should be in the mix. We have had one full generation raised with the doctrine of self-esteem. That generation now is raising the next one with a doctrine whose name has yet to be crystalized, but it follows on from the trajectory of self-esteem.

Why does this matter?

It matters because people are not interested in what the Gospel proclaims when they are entrenched in self-esteem’s denial of sin and judgment. Self-esteem is a temperamental fortress against the witness of the Law about our sin.

This poses multiple challenges for how the Lutheran church is to proclaim God’s Word.

  • How to preach the Law to self-esteemers without turning into legalists.
  • How to preach the Law for the purpose of bringing self-esteemers to Christ without confusing that preaching with the mere promotion of civil righteousness.
  • At the same time, how to promote civil righteousness.
  • How to preach the Gospel in a way that does not become a mere general amnesty, but depends entirely on the sacrificial blood atonement of Christ, and the delivery of the justification of the world Jesus won on the cross through the means of grace.


At first, this does not sound so simple. It reminds me of a juggler, trying to keep several balls in the air without dropping any. To accomplish all this is what we might call the Lutheran art of proclamation. We need to be able to practice this art in the pulpit, at the font, at the rail, and with our neighbors in our vocations.

The Holy Spirit is sovereign over the effect of the preaching of the Word. It would be tempting to just proclaim the Word and then “Let go and let God.” The “Let go and let God” part would work if only the “Just proclaim” part happened. But let’s face it. In the Lutheran church, one arm of the body of Christ is not doing its share of work.

The two arms are:

  • All believers are royal priests and possess the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Laity in this royal priesthood has the right and the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel in their vocations to family, neighbors, friends, and coworkers. The Holy Spirit gives efficacy to this proclamation.
  • God has established a particular office to proclaim the Word, administer the Sacraments, and administer the Office of the Keys publically on behalf of the church. This Office of Public Ministry is to be held only by certain men who possess scripturally prescribed qualifications and who are rightly called into this office.


The priestly work of the people of God and the special calling to the office of preaching and the administration of the sacraments on behalf of the church are complementary. They are not competing. They exist side by side in Scripture and in the life of the church.

The pastors who are examined, called, and ordained into the Office of Public Ministry are practicing the art of Lutheran proclamation, as they have been trained to do. That arm is working.

The other arm – the laity, the royal priesthood – not so much.

Our vocations are presenting opportunity continually. The adage, “Opportunity only knocks once,” of questionable veracity even where it usually is applied, has no veracity at all when applied to the mission of the royal priesthood. Opportunity for witness is like wisdom in the book of Proverbs who calls aloud outside, raises her voice in the open squares, cries out in the chief concourses and at the openings of the gates in the city, and seldom gets an audience.

We actually know that. Whereas some decades ago Christians typically said they were waiting for a good opportunity to be a witness, I seldom hear that any more. What I hear nowadays is that “I don’t know how to present it.” People ask for classes, and even after having classes, the royal priesthood still often is AWOL.

This often is the result of bad experiences people have had in witnessing now that we are speaking to so many people who are sunk in self-esteem. The royal priests of the laity intuitively feel that they don’t have the art for this situation, and they don’t see how they ever are going to acquire the art.

But, this art has been given to us.

This art is in Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism. Here is the Law without legalism. Here is the Law to bring people to Christ. Here is the Law to promote civil righteousness, but without confusion of that with bringing people to Christ. Here is the Gospel that is not a trivial general amnesty but the Word of the cross of Christ and his holy, innocent, and bitter sufferings and death for our sin. Here is forgiveness not because God must be at least as nice a guy as we are, but for Christ’s sake, without which there would be no remission of sin.

The order of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine in the Small Catechism shows us the order in which to proclaim the Word. Luther upended the order of the catechism that had prevailed, placing the Law first in the Ten Commandments, then the Gospel in the Creed, and then the Christian life in the Lord’s Prayer.

He made the Gospel predominate. Even in the Ten Commandments, while he explains that each commandment means that we must fear God, he also includes love and trust. The Law commands love, but gives no power to love, so the Law alone would strike dread and despair. Certainly trust would be beyond hope, except that we already are anticipating the Gospel. This is a presentation of the Law that leads to Christ. Learn these words, “fear, love, and trust.” Meditate about why Luther chose them. These words make all of the commandment parts of the first commandment, and these words lead to the Gospel.

At every turn, in the commandments, in the creed, in prayer, in the sacraments, the Catechism is throbbing with genius, already all worked out for you, and distilled into a couple dozen pamphlet-sized pages.

To be a witness for Christ does not require learning something more or different from what you learned to be a Christian confirmed in your baptismal faith. When opportunity to be Christ’s witness arises, simply think catechetically. As you listen to your relative, neighbor, friend, or coworker, think to yourself, what part of the Catechism touches this? Then bring forth that part. The Catechism is small enough and simple enough that you can do it.

It is most gratifying to see that in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the Board for National Mission and the Office of National Mission are on to the strategic power of the Catechism for lay evangelism. They have developed a new Every One His Witness lay vocational evangelism program. This program weaves the Small Catechism into every part of its fabric. If you are in the LC-MS, look for your chance to participate in this program. Ask your pastor about it. Call the Office of National Mission.

But that is not the only way you could acquire the art. Here are things anyone can do:

  • Like Luther, read from the Catechism every day.
  • Learn to pray the Catechism.


Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. We cannot meditate on what we don’t know. We cannot give witness to what is not dear enough to us to meditate on. Get the Catechism into your heart. Meditate on it. When it is in your heart, your mouth will be able to speak it.

While we should learn to pray the Catechism for the value of doing that in and of itself, it also will have a side effect for witness. When you can speak from the Catechism to God, you can speak from the Catechism in vocation to your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

Just now, a fabulous new resource for praying the Catechism has been published. Every Christian home should have a copy of Praying Luther’s Small Catechism by John T. Pless. Husbands and wives should read this together, discuss it, and pray the Catechism together. Parents should read this to their children and pray the Catechism with their children. For $9, you can learn to pray the Catechism, and you can learn to speak the Catechism in witness for Christ.

True enough, the Holy Spirit remains sovereign to create faith where and when he wills. But He freely bound himself to the means of the Word, and He has given it to us, the royal priesthood, to speak the Word vocationally. Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism in the layperson’s little Bible. It contains the six chief parts of Christian doctrine, which are enough for anyone to witness for Christ.

People do not believe a Word they have not heard. Let’s open our mouths and speak the Word, and wait upon the Holy Spirit.

About T. R. Halvorson

T. R. Halvorson was born in Sidney, Montana on July 14, 1953, baptized at Pella Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sidney, Montana on November 8, 1953, and confirmed at First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota in 1968. He and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Sidney, Montana. They have three sons and six grandchildren. T. R. farms at Wildrose, North Dakota, and is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, Montana. He has been a computer programmer; and an author, conference speaker, instructor, and consultant to industry in online legal information. He is among the authors of the religion column in the Sidney Herald at Sidney, Montana. He is the Editor of LutheranCatechism.com.


Mission: Decline of the Church, Self-Esteem, and the Small Catechism — 31 Comments

  1. I have a couple of opinions on this piece, T.R.:

    1.) Regarding the birth rate, I do agree. Although it should not lead into a legalistic hammering upon couples to fix a quota of “x” amount of children for multiple reasons (some couples simply cannot have children for medical reasons, some couples are not realistically capable from an economic standpoint to have large families, etc), there is a far too large emphasis on chasing after bigger toys and bigger houses in our society and to a degree in the evangelical church, even at the expense of having children. Again, it’s the task of preaching against materialism without a legalistic condemnation of all things material or condemning a particular economic status.

    2.) The self-esteem issue is one of the hugest and most detrimental movements to infiltrate the church. In nearly every case, it’s simply pride or self-centeredness wrapped up in a pretty package. And when it’s addressed about this, those who propose it scream “No! No! You’ve got it all wrong! It’s not pride!” even though it inevitably becomes such. Frankly, it’s a concept that eventually ends up at odds with the doctrine of Original Sin. How can somebody think of themselves as the chief of sinners like Paul while trying to hold to high self-esteem? The two eventually bump heads, and unfortunately it almost always seems to be the biblical doctrine that suffers.

    And while I certainly agree that Lutheranism needs to avoid legalism (as I referenced in point 1), perhaps a little bit of stern saturation of the Law on this point in opposition to our world’s “me-generation” attitude would be a good thing. Even Luther and Walther believed the Law should seriously sting at times. Indeed, a blow against the “me-first” idea of self-esteem and self-gratification might even play out in assisting to redirect our priorities regarding the birth rate as well.

    3.) I have said this before, and I will say this again: Pastors should be looking at ways to involve the doctrine of vocation into their sermons and Bible classes whenever possible. I don’t mean that vocation should be front and center every single sermon, of course. But I do mean that there are times when vocation should occupy a space in the sermon. If you want people to bear witness before unbelievers (as we are called to do), a practical example certainly wouldn’t hurt: the factory worker who doesn’t check out early when all of his co-worker friends are huddled around the punch-out clock, but stays at his job, which opens a door as to why he is so meticulous about staying at his machine. The woman who grows silent and refuses to join in when her female companions begin to complain and gossip about their homes, their husbands, or their absent friends. The police officer who files a report with honesty, even though it may end up being to his disadvantage. The teacher who refuses to nudge grades in order to make herself look better in the eyes of the principal. All of these are ways in which our vocation can make us stand out and open doors to bear witness and explain the gospel to people. And I think that illustrations and examples like these–Again, not hour long testimonies that replace sermons, as evangelicals unfortunately do–serve to show congregations how vocation plays out in everyday life. In church, law and gospel intersect for the sake of the believer; in vocation, they intersect for the sake of the unbeliever. The more Christians understand how the doctrine of vocation works, the more likely they are to employ that doctrine in bearing witness to unbelievers, instead of falling into the evangelical trap that only mission trips and extravagant church projects are the only ways to witness about the faith.

    4.) Another lament: We do not know our doctrines in general, and our catechism in particular. Some of this is due to the notion that catechism is for confirmation and that’s it. Some of it is due to the creeping thought process of evangelicalism that seems to be doing everything in its power to abandon creeds, confessions, and catechisms (or at the very least relegate them to back shelves and closets). Again, the proclamation of doctrine should come from the pulpit. Doctrine does not need to be given a dissertation each Sunday in place of Law and Gospel (as Calvinists sometimes do with well-intentioned but erroneous usage), but doctrine needs to be heard from the pulpit. Within the structure of Law and Gospel, there is ample place to weave in doctrine, as Law and Gospel obviously do not replace doctrine, but rather give context to it. One can associate the Law, for example, with God’s omniscience: He knows not only our public acts, but even our private motivations behind those acts which no other person sees–and will judge the impenitent person for it. Likewise in the gospel we see God’s immutability: because He cannot change or lie, we know that He will keep His word and preserve his elect in the faith through Christ. He will not arbitrarily say “You know what? I’m finished with these Christians. I’m sending them to hell anyway” (incidentally, this capriciousness is found to a degree in the religion of Islam). Doctrine compliments Law and Gospel preaching, and finds its place best when properly applied to the context of each.

    Okay, enough rambling from me.

  2. Oh, one other thing: while I understand the reasons for wanting the church to grow, there is a serious danger in making numbers the focal point of the Christian mission to the world. Jesus calls us to be faithful in bearing witness, not to be responsible for the results of that faithfulness. Sometimes, people don’t want to listen to the preaching of the Word, no matter how well it’s done. In that case, we shake the dust off from our shoes and move on.

    Because if the focus turns to numbers instead of faithfulness, there will come the temptation to start “bending” the preaching of the Word, and that’s a step in the direction of American evangelicalism, a step that I think we can all agree is a dangerous one. Numbers mean nothing if the Word is not being rightly proclaimed and rightly divided.

  3. @J. Dean #1

    1.) Regarding the birth rate, I do agree. … there is a far too large emphasis on chasing after bigger toys and bigger houses in our society and to a degree in the evangelical church, even at the expense of having children. …

    Most couples would like to have children, if able.
    We would all like to have our children grow up and remain in the church.

    [The fact that half to two/thirds of them go elsewhere (or nowhere) needs more attention than the number we birth in the first place, if the church is concerned about souls. (Why isn’t that a concern, except to parents)?]

    Are ‘souls’ what the bureaucrats are really concerned about when they see declining membership? Or are they seeing potential reductions in their ability to chase after bigger toys and bigger houses, bought with the contributions of the pewsitters!?

  4. Are ‘souls’ what the bureaucrats are really concerned about when they see declining membership? Or are they seeing potential reductions in their ability to chase after bigger toys and bigger houses, bought with the contributions of the pewsitters!?

    “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

    At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” – Titus 3

  5. @John Rixe #4

    “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

    “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.
    It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.”

    Who would have believed, even six weeks ago, that the most effective “gag order” for faithful Pastors was being engineered inside the church!?

  6. Dear T.R.,

    Thanks for your excellent article on evangelism and Luther’s catechism. I agree with what you are saying here, and I wish more people would consider your points. Can I call this the “Halvorson method”?

    The Kennedy or Biesenthal methods seemed to be easy to train lay evangelists, but your method has the benefit of the lay evangelist already having the Catechism memorized–but only if they have done that. Memorization is so uncommon these days that it might be a steep curve to have lay evangelists memorize the Small Catechism who have not done it before.

    On the other hand, I think a lay evangelist SHOULD have the catechism memorized. If they can’t memorize, they can become familiar with a pocket edition or carry it on their mobile phone as an iBook. And this has the advantage that anyone who has been taught the catechism can TRAIN THEMSELVES in your method, if their congregation or pastor is not up to it.

    I think your method is also best for our churches, because it will keep the lay evangelist on the main points of doctrine (a matter of focus) and keep him or her from straying from the Biblical doctrine (a matter of orthodoxy).

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    For those of you who were not LC-MS convention delegates, you probably did not see the various mailings that were sent to delegates bemoaning the statistical “decline of the synod” which were intended to put the blame on the current administration. Basically the message from those anti-Harrison mailings was “vote for me, and I will make the Synod great again.” It is only because of the political ramifications of statistical decline that this matter became of some interest.

    All churches have increases and declines in their population. That is nothing new. Churches are living things, not static things. This is as true of denominations as it is of local congregations.

    Statistics tell us nothing about the quality of membership or the members’ commitment to what it means to be a Lutheran. Sometimes the decline in membership is due to the loss of nominal Christians who were never really committed to anything in the first place. Numbers alone can’t tell you that.

    At other times, the church declines because of various types of persecution. The old eastern churches that used to exist in Armenia, southwestern Turkey, and eastern Syria–the heartland of early Christianity–are now all but vanished. This was due to intentional and persistent political activity by Muslims in those lands, as well as the occasional genocide (Armenia, 1915, 1.5 million people).

    The Lutheran people who believed in the Scriptures as the word of God, and so could honestly affirm the entire Book of Concord, are now in a very small minority in the lands where that used to be the official religion: most of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, etc.

    The decline of real Lutheranism in those lands was not due to lack of faith, hope, and love in those people. It was due to intentional and persistent political activity against the Gospel (on that, see my article “Walther and the Revival of Confessional Lutheranism” CTQ 75 no. 3-4 (July/October 2011), 199-203 (Part II, “Who Killed Confessional Lutheranism?”); see http://media.ctsfw.edu/Text/ViewDetails/3679 ).

    We are seeing intentional and persistent political activity against the Gospel in our day in America, which was not current when I was growing up in the 1960s. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the relevant point is that it is hurting ALL church’s outreach efforts, not just the LCMS.

    I wrote an article a couple of months ago on LOGIA Online that tried to look at the bigger picture of Christian membership decline in America (see http://www.logia.org/logia-online/why-the-lutheran-churchmissouri-synod-and-its-kin-have-declined-in-membership-and-what-to-do-about-it2016 and update here: http://www.logia.org/logia-online/an-update-to-martin-nolans-article2016 ). It is not the last word on the subject, so I recommend you consult some of the sources in my endnotes.

    Our synodical president, Matthew Harrison, is fully aware of the intentional and persistent political activity against the Gospel in America. He has been a vigorous leader among those Christian denominational leaders who have stood up against this attack on the Gospel, which comes in the form of denying to us the freedom to reach out to our communities in the ways that we have done for centuries (charity, education, public displays, etc.). If the government can deny to us the freedom to reach out, then it will eventually deny to us the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in any form. History teaches us that lesson over and over again.

    The First Amendment guarantees to Americans that the government shall not “prohibit the free exercise” of religion. That is a broad statement, because freedom is by definition a concept of boundless horizons. There is no freedom, if you are cooped up in one building to do your thing there, and only there. We need to elect government officials who actually, in practice, support the First Amendment. We ourselves also need to learn to tolerate the “free exercise of religion” of non-Christians and non-religionists.

    We can’t wait for the political climate to improve in America. We all have a call as the “royal priesthood” to “declare the praises of him who called you of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). This is the mandate for all Christians to share their faith with believers and unbelievers alike, with whoever might listen.

    Thanks to T.R. for a great and inspiring article!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  7. As long as LCMS Lutherans wring their hands over the decline in membership, they are vulnerable to falling away. This leads to the idolatry of Corporate Synod. God creates faith when and where he will. The job of pastors is to be faithful, to teach God’s word correctly and clearly, to refute error, to teach all things, whatsoever Jesus has commanded. If growth comes, fine. If it doesn’t; fine. As Christians, we are called to be faithful. Our call is not to create false growth, membership without regard to genuine faith, through manipulation, entertainment, or lying about what the Bible teaches, or not teaching those things which today are not PC.

    Unfortunately, IMHO, the main goal of many in our leadership is growth in membership and offerings. If the the Synod grows, then those in the Synod bureaucracy, the district offices, the colleges and seminaries can keep their cushy jobs, with full benefits and pension plans, that many pastors and teachers do not enjoy.

  8. @Kurt Poeppel #10

    Why do you bother with such things? If humans are the product of random happenstance and our thought processes are nothing more than chemical processes in isolation that produce such vain constructs as ethics and morals – a sense of right and wrong – why do you care about the LCMS? Shouldn’t you concern yourself with survival? You do realize that if you are a product of evolution and there is no higher authority, no absolute right or wrong, then you are free to do anything because there are no constraints to prevent you from enriching yourself and hurting others for the short period of existence of your life that may or may not be real. What you think has no value because it is merely a construct of the molecules that managed somehow to arrange themselves in your brain so that you think that you are thinking… but you may not be.

  9. @Kurt Poeppel #10

    educated people are less likely to believe LCMS doctrines regarding human origins, the causes of suffering and hardship, etc. Educated people are less likely to fall for the baseless threats made by the church.

    The “snowflakes” of the present generation don’t want to be “threatened” in college with any idea that might make them think twice about the last twittermania! New ideas are a “microaggression”! [Now that is a new idea!]

    They may come out with a degree but they’ll know less than my mother, who graduated 8th grade about 100 years ago. [I have her books.] Spare us the Poeppelcock!

  10. @Kurt Poeppel #10

    You take a somewhat baffling position. Essentially you argue: “If you don’t believe as I do you are likely uneducated. I you don’t believe as I believe you probably have low self-esteem.” It reads more like a self-absorbed justification of ones own actions and decisions. Whatever the issues of LCMS growth truly are I suspect that they have little to do with education and self-esteem. My own daily experience demonstrates exactly the opposite of your assertion. I work in environment where all 6 of my officemates and I have advanced technical degrees (mine nuclear physics), we all work for National Labs, University Affiliated Research Centers, or US military research associated agencies….and everyone is a practicing Christian. Nope, haven’t got them all converted to LCMS yet but I’m working on it. 🙂 We’re all pretty happy folks too!

  11. @David Rehbein #12

    You take a somewhat baffling position. Essentially you argue: “If you don’t believe as I do you are likely uneducated. I you don’t believe as I believe you probably have low self-esteem.”

    In the interests of finding out how much “education” would effect unbelief, I asked a while back how much Poeppel had; I haven’t seen an answer yet.
    “If you don’t agree with me, there has to be something wrong with you.”, sounds like an argument from insecurity, (but I’m not trained in that field).

  12. That argument comes from Hillary”s idol, Saul Aulinski.
    -If you can’t argue the facts, attack the messenger.

  13. I noticed Mr. Poeppel’s comments are missing. Can we conclude that he has been banned from this blog? Please don’t take this the wrong way as an ad hominem attack but as an observation. I think Kurt is a teenager. By that I mean he argues like an adolescent; a precocious adolescent, at that. Like a young person, he thinks his views are profound; that he is thinking original, lofty thoughts no one else has considered before and that are even seminal, while the thrust of his argument is mostly irrelevant to the discussion (church growth in the LCMS) but he obstinately asserts it. He doesn’t realize that he has been indoctrinated; but firmly believes that what he thinks will prevail in the marketplace of ideas if he boldly asserts and plausibly maintains it. A young person argues like that, not because he is bad. A mature (reasonable) adult is more willing to weigh all the facts and admit error and fault when presented with evidence. It’s time Kurt recognizes that he has arrived at an impasse on this blog because his point in all these matters has been weighed in the balance by the others and found wanting. His proposition has been rejected out of hand by this community.

  14. Unfortunately, IMHO, the main goal of many in our leadership is growth in membership and offerings.

    You have the right to your opinion, Pastor, but shouldn’t you give some specific evidence?   Saying this is the main goal of many synod leaders is serious public defamation.  Who specifically?

    “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  – Colossians 3

  15. Coming from Evangelicalism to the Lutheran tradition, I think Lutherans aren’t very good at assessing what needs to be done in their own churches to preserve and promote the Lutheran tradition. All of the “answers” that I’ve heard proposed seem to fall flat.

    The main reason Lutheranism is not growing, in my opinion, is that there isn’t a lot of focused theological training in the church. There aren’t a lot of books being written that are meant to convey Lutheran theology to the masses. If Lutherans want to survive (and I want them to, because I believe the BoC is the accurate reading of scripture), then they need to start getting serious about sparking a passion for Lutheran theology in their laypeople.

    The New Calvinists are churning out books every five seconds. They’re making affordable paperback books designed to promote and spread their theology. They’re making concentrated efforts to influence the broader theological debates.

    Chris Rosebrough is doing this with FFTF, but sometimes his tone and approach is overly bombastic. Jordan Cooper is starting to do this with Just & Sinner Publications, but it seems like not a lot of his works are being read and passed around. Bryan Wolfmueller wrote a book that I would love to read, but how many Lutheran laypeople are going to be given a copy of this book by their pastor, or hear their pastor promote this book from the pulpit? You can buy the DVDs from the Issues Etc. Conference, but it’ll cost you $300!

    Above all, if we want Lutheranism to thrive in America, we need to spark a love of Lutheran theology in our congregations. PASTORS! Buy Wolfmueller’s book and give it away to members of your congregation. Read one of the American Lutheran Classics from Just and Sinner, then give it to a young guy that you’d like to disciple and encourage him to read it. Don’t just talk about the Two Kingdoms vaguely, tell your people that we, as Lutherans, have a robust doctrine of Two Kingdoms that would solve many issues of the “religious right” if they properly understood our doctrine. Tell them where they can read more about it.

    Why is it that I go to a fellow parishoner’s house, and their books are all written from a Puritan/Reformed perspective? Why do my fellow church members have no idea that the Bible teaches the doctrine of election? Why do those same church members communicate a missiology from a premillenial-dispensationalist perspective?

    What we need is an explosion in Lutheran theological resources. We need more. We need them to be cheap. We need them to be available. We need to pass them out. We need to promote them. That is the only thing that is going to make Lutheranism flourish. Otherwise, we’re going to be left with congregations full of people who don’t realize the uniqueness of the Lutheran tradition in comparison with broader evangelicalism. If Lutheran Churches aren’t special, why not just go to the big box Evangelical church that is closer to your house? They probably have more activities for the kids anyway.

    Let me say this again:


  16. @Ken Miller #17


    “Worth repeating” 🙂

  17. @Ken Miller #17

    Hi Ken,
    I think the answer to most of your questions is because we have a lot of people in the LCMS who are American Evangelical wannabes. A decade ago you could go into a good number of our congregations and see ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ by Rick Warren on the pastor’s bookshelf. Now we have life-long Lutherans thinking that they have to make a decision for Christ. By the way, I’m reading Pastor Wolfmueller’s book right now. I just might pass the book around!


  18. @Ken Miller #19

    Thanks. Glad you agree.

    About less expensive Lutheran materials, yes.
    But about expecting the Pastor who would care about Lutheran reading for his members to buy them books : many can’t afford all the books they’d like to read/have for reference themselves, but they will usually lend what they have, if asked.

    [I wonder how many copies of Purpose driven life on pastor’s shelves were purchased by members.]

    Has your Pastor got a copy, Diane?

  19. @Ken Miller #17

    You make a solid point about a. getting theological works into the hands of laity, b. making them cheap.

    One would think that with Reformed doctrines of double predestination, irresistible grace, limited atonement and such, a Reformed Christian would tend to be lax about evangelism, but the opposite is true. Publishers like Evangelical Press in the UK, Banner of Truth Trust in the US and the UK, Gospel Mission Books in Choteau, Montana, and many others like them are providing the literature to evangelize and teach the Reformed faith. (Here I am talking about actual Reformed faith, not the apostate stuff loaded with universalism, annihilationism, and so on.) I have read a bunch of their stuff, such as by Thomas Watson, Thomas Manton, Ralph Venning, and so on.

    But, the Reformed don’t have a catechism in the anything like the category of Luther’s Small Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism and so on, are more like systematic theologies, and they are hard to pray and hard to connect to liturgy. Luther’s makes no attempt at systematic doctrine, but goes straight to trust, can be prayed easily, and connects to liturgy. With all those uses, and as simple yet inexhaustible as the Small Catechism is, if we can’t get people to so much as learn the Catechism, I am not sure how much good it would do to have a Reformed-like repertoire of cheap Lutheran literature. But, having said that, we still should produce that repertoire, as you said. Maybe a twin track would accomplish something.

  20. @helen #21

    I don’t know if my pastor has a copy of Rick Warren’s book, but I just might lend him my copy of ‘Has American Christianity Failed?’ by Bryan Wolfmueller.

  21. Thanks for the response, T.R.

    One thing I think we don’t realize is that packaging/marketing matters. I agree that the catechism is great. My 3 sons are all under the age of 4, so we’ve started by just teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the 10 Commandments. As a Baptist, I already knew the Lord’s Prayer, but my wife and I had to learn the Creed and the 10 Commandments.

    However practical and even devotional the Small Catechism might be, what do people think of when they hear the word “Catechism”? It invokes the idea of boring, rote memorization. While that may not be the reality, that is certainly the perception.

    I was talking to our pastor and he mentioned that the women at our church are reading Beth Moore for the women’s Bible study, much to his chagrin. They don’t seem interested in studying the confessions or deeper theological works.

    I brought this up with my wife and asked, “would you be interested in reading the BoC for a women’s Bible study?” She laughed at me. She said, “that’s not very practical. That’s not what women want.” I protested, stating that the BoC has immense practical applications. Nevertheless, that is not the perception.

    If Lutheran pastor’s want their congregations to be more theologically knowledgeable, they have to meet people where they are, not where they should be. I think we need more resources that fill the gap between seminary and the pew. We have to be realistic, though, about what people will actually be interested in reading. I’m not saying that we should change the doctrine of the confessions, what I’m saying is that we could contextualize it better for a 21st century audience, rather than hoping that a 21st century audience will start acting like a 16th century audience. A good way to do that would be to produce books that address issues which are specific to women, but come from a confessional Lutheran position (i.e. table of duties, Luther’s counsel to women who have had miscarriages, Luther’s understanding of the Freedom of the Christian, etc.). I’m not talking about just reprinting and distributing these works, but taking the theology that is contained therein and applying it in a practical way that will effect the everyday lives of women.

    Another thing that I think Lutherans could do to get our message out, would be to engage in the broader theological debates within Evangelicalism. In the 1980s, there was a dispute between “free grace” theology and “Lordship salvation.” The free grace side veered towards anti-nomianism, and the Lordship salvation side veered towards Legalism. Fortunately, the Reformers already dealt with these issues and they bequeathed to us the proper distinction between Law & Gospel. Mike Horton addressed this in his book Christ the Lord. I believe there were some Lutheran contributors to that work as well, but it was a Reformed theologian who was leading the charge. However, there are many issues in Evangelicalism today that could be addressed successfully by Lutheran pastors and theologians. Pastor Wolfmueller’s book sounds great, but how many Evangelicals will read it? I know a few read Jonathan Fisk’s book “Broken”, so that’s a step in the right direction.

    It would be great, though, if Lutheran teaching was more accessible for Evangelical Christians. I came to Lutheranism because I heard Rod Rosenbladt on the White Horse Inn. I was exhausted from the Legalism of John MacArthur’s Lordship Salvation and always trying to prove that I was really saved, both to myself and to others. I was looking for something else, and I loved the guys on the White Horse Inn. They seemed so much more realistic and honest to me. I started looking into who they were and the traditions that they were a part of, and I found that the Reformed are sort of a mixed bag when it comes to legalistic tendencies. Dr. Rosenbladt’s “The Gospel for those Broken by the Church,” resonated so much with my experience, and the more I took the time to investigate the Lutheran tradition, the more I realized that this was what I was looking for. The primary thing that attracted me was the proper distinction between Law & Gospel, but the Lutheran approach to election was also very attractive. I considered myself a Calvinist, because I knew Arminianism and free will theology was bunk, but I was never comfortable with every point of TULIP. The Lutheran approach made more sense, because they only say what the Bible says, and they don’t have to tie everything up in a neat little box that forces us to explain away a number of passages of scripture.

    I was also a Western Civ history major, and I took a couple of classes on church history. I read some of the church fathers and I had questions about why the theology I was taught at church seemed so different from the historic teachings of the church. I didn’t realize that it was possible to be both Evangelical and Catholic.

    I’m sharing this because I had the feeling, “Where the heck were these Lutherans all these years!?” We have a lot to offer with our theology. Baptists desperately try to find theologians in the history of the church that they can claim as their own, but the truth is, their theology is pretty innovative. Reformed Baptists try to argue that they’re carrying on the legacy of the Reformers, but they contradict the Reformers all over the place. Evangelical Christianity tries to maintain the 5 Solas of the Reformation, but they’ve seriously distorted them at many points.

    Lutherans could step into many of the theological debates in Evangelical Christianity with something serious to contribute, and we can make a case for the historic and Reformation character of our theology. It may be difficult to do since we don’t have the same access to Evangelical publishing houses or book stores, but I think that would be a great way to grow our tradition and influence the broader Evangelical landscape.

    If Lutherans fail to produce the resources that their congregants are willing to read, and if we fail to speak into the American Evangelical scene, we are going to continue to have marginal influence and floundering flocks. We need to do a much better job at each of these.

  22. @Ken Miller #24

    I brought this up with my wife and asked, “would you be interested in reading the BoC for a women’s Bible study?” She laughed at me. She said, “that’s not very practical. That’s not what women want.” I protested, stating that the BoC has immense practical applications. Nevertheless, that is not the perception.

    Filed under : “Why I’ve given up on church women’s groups” and judging from the usual handful I’ve seen there, I’m not the minority.

    [What does she think “women want”?]

    @Diane #23

    I don’t know if my pastor has a copy of Rick Warren’s book, but I just might lend him my copy of ‘Has American Christianity Failed?’ by Bryan Wolfmueller.

    Oh, dear me! I meant, of Wolfmueller!

  23. @Helen #25

    As far as “what women want” well, we’ve been asking that question for ages! 🙂

    I know my wife just expressed a desire for something more practical. I think she doesn’t realize that the catechism is practical, because she’s never read it. I’m guessing there are a lot of women in that boat.

    If a smart Lutheran woman took the practical applications of the catechism (i.e. table of duties, ten commandments, etc.) and re-packaged them into a book about “Feminine Virtue” or “Women of God” or some flowery title, I think it would sell better. Put some flowers or a cup of tea on the cover, give some illustrations from your own life and experience, and then expand on some of the topics.

    Maybe I’m being a bit “chauvinistic” in the eyes of some, but I really think that’s the kind of thing that a lot of women are looking for. We’re so accustomed to being divided into unique markets and having products available that fit our “demographic” that sometimes its hard for people to break out of this. Lutherans are rightly suspicious of the way the message of the gospel has been distorted for the sake of marketing, so we tend to eschew marketing altogether. A better approach might be to meet people where they are with the express purpose of moving them to a better position. Go on Amazon and look at the cover of a Beth Moore’s books (or Elyse Fitzpatrick, who is at least pretty good theologically). They are clearly marketed to women, and they are short, so it’s manageable to read them.

    Then go look at the BoC. Not only is it intimidating in how thick it is, it’s clearly marketed toward people who are interested in classical learning, primarily men. Same goes for the design of the small catechism. Who is it marketed towards?

    We can’t expect people to break free from this kind of cultural baggage immediately. We need to meet them where they are, and bring them to a better place. Start introducing theological vocabulary slowly with simple explanations and you might spark an interest in deeper theological study.

    I’ve encouraged my wife to start reading Sisters of Katie Luther, and at night we’re reading Jordan Cooper’s “Baptized into Christ” as an introduction to Lutheran theology. Although a lot of it is pretty basic for me, it’s been a good way to explain to her why we left our Baptist church and why we’re Lutherans now.

  24. @Ken Miller #26

    A few ideas that might help some people:

    – Husbands use the Catechism itself, not any explanation of it, with their wives. It’s just a wee little pamphlet on small pages.

    – When you hear your wife talking about something that interests her, over the next few days, locate the most relevant part of the Catechism, and bring that up in response to her interest. Don’t just seize on the first thing that seems to relate. Consider the whole Catechism to select the most directly helpful piece.

    – Instead of dropping the whole BoC on the table, order from CPH the booklet sized edition of just the Augsburg Confession. Same for the Smalcald Articles. The size of the BoC IS a problem for many, so move that out of the way with these smaller publications.

  25. @John Rixe #28

    The “what about” series also provides an excellent introduction to Lutheran topics.

    The LWML could do worse than feature the “What About” series as Bible studies.
    They have “done worse” for at least 20 years. Once a Pastor’s wife was song leader at a rally and we sang hymns. Usually, the membership is treated to pre-school levels.

    [Mark the calendar, Rixe; we’ve agreed on something.]

  26. @T. R. Halvorson #27

    Instead of dropping the whole BoC on the table, order from CPH the booklet sized edition of just the Augsburg Confession. Same for the Smalcald Articles. The size of the BoC IS a problem for many, so move that out of the way with these smaller publications.

    Our ladies, (at least high school graduates and mostly BA’s), should be able to absorb what their grandmothers learned for confirmation, in German, yet. The AC was in the old hymnals.

  27. A few years ago my congregation started reciting a section of the Small Catechism each Sunday during services. When we came to the First Article of the Apostle’s Creed, I balked because the explanation describes a life that doesn’t really match the lives of most Christians. The congregation said, “This is most certainly true,” even though it is not literally true for most of us. The Lord both gives and takes away according to his perfect will.

    In Luther’s preface to the Small Catechism, he advised, “Choose the form that pleases you….” Noting that, I have tried to see if I can come up with an alternative explanation that is general enough to suit Christians in most every situation. Here’s one humble attempt:

    I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

    What does this mean? I believe that God made the entire universe of which I am a part, and that he has given me my body and soul and all my abilities.

    Because God has power over all that he has made, I can look to him to provide me with food and clothing, a place to call home, people who care about me, and everything else that I need to be healthy, happy and safe. As God is a spirit, I can trust that he is continually working for my good in ways that I cannot see.

    Everything that supports me in this life God has provided not because I deserve it, but because of his own divine mercy and goodness. Whether I have a little or a lot, my best response is to live with gratitude — praising God, obeying him, and using his gifts to demonstrate his love to other people.

    This is most certainly true.

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