The Brothers and Sisters gathered tonight for registration and get-together. Klemet had session 1 of the presentation (below) and we shared excellent Chicago style pizza. For those who couldn’t make it to Chicago for our conference, we are sharing recordings of the presentations.
At the end of reading his paper, Pastor Preus went through a powerpoint presentation that he had prepared showing Lutheran v.s. American Evangelical Worship. Some of the slides are shown at the end of the paper below.
NOTE The original paper has footnotes that are not duplicated here; if you want access to the footnotes contact us.
Pressing Issues in Lutheran Practice Today
There is only one question which confronts the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod today. Is Christianity a religion about what you do or what you get? Are Christians all about getting from God or giving to God? That’s the only issue. This is the same issue which has confronted our synod since its humble beginnings 170 years ago on the shores of the mighty Mississippi. It is the same issue which confronted Luther in his struggles both against Rome and throughout his career and against the Enthusiasts during the 1520s and beyond. It is the same and only issue which confronted Paul as he was challenged by the Judaizers and John as he fought against the early Gnostics. And it is ultimately the only issue which occupies the heart and efforts of our Lord both as he redeemed us through His sacrificial life and death and as He seeks to bestow His forgiveness on sinners today through His ministry of forgiving sins through word and Sacrament.
The only issue which ever confronts the church is the question of whether Jesus is all about giving to us or getting from us. Did he come into this world to get us to do and be better or to give us something? Jesus himself resolves this Issue, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) So our religion is about Jesus giving and us getting. Jesus serves and we are served. Paul expressed the issue similarly. “It’s a gift of God not of works lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) So the Christian religion is about us getting what God gives. He gives. We get.
This article of faith is, as our Lutheran fathers stated, the article upon which the church stands and falls and the chief article of the Christian faith. It may be articulated and nuanced in a million ways all valid and all beautiful, but it all comes down to who is giving and who is getting.
Any arguments which ultimately cannot reduce themselves to precisely the theological matters addressed in articles four and five of the Augsburg Confession are arguments not worth having. Article four talks about Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone. Article five talks about the means God uses to impart his grace. It’s about getting what Jesus gives.
In our church we tend to argue over all sorts of sub-issues. And there are forces which chide and challenge the church to quit these incessant arguments. I agree that contention for the sake of being contentious is not a charming thing to do. At the same time, if we can see that our incessant theological discussions actually do impact the whole question of giving and getting then these arguments are worth the contention and even worth working toward resolution.
There are three sub-issues which are both on our minds and pertain to the question of giving and getting. These I will address today. The first issue is our understanding of unity. The second is our understanding of worship. The third is how we view the office of the ministry. In this presentation I will show that our discussions in these areas of theology – these articles of faith – are really discussions about who gives and who gets. They all impact the central article of the faith. Further I will show that the influence of American Evangelicalism is that force among us which leads large segments of our church body to take positions which are contrary to our theology and which ultimately undermine the central article of the Christian faith.
“For the true unity of the church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the sacrament.” So unity is in the gospel and sacraments. These are things we get because Jesus gives them. Unity is really not something which we accomplish or achieve. It is not even something which finds its expression in the pious and godly things we do. It is something which we have because God has given us all the same gifts. All of us have Jesus through His word and Sacrament.
We argue about the gospel – the content of the faith. That’s actually a good thing. We need to understand better the things we get from Jesus which unite us, so we argue about them. Historically, we have argued about whether Jesus died for all. That’s a worthy discussion you can have with your Calvinistic friends. Or we have argued over whether Jesus predestinated us in view of our faith or solely in view of His atoning work. That’s a worthy discussion you can have with your synergistic conservative friends in the old ALC. We can argue about whether the Gospel has inherent power to forgive and renew simply because the Holy Spirit always attends the Words of Christ even when taught by inept pastors or proclaimed by timid laymen. That’s a good discussion you can have with your friends who have drunk deeply at the wells of American Evangelicalism. But notice that all these wonderful arguments have to do with the content of the message. They focus on the gift. We are getting. Jesus is giving. The arguments are worthy and necessary.
Or we can argue about the sacraments. Does Christ give us, into our mouths, the same body which carried our sins to the tree and the same blood which drenched the ground under the cross and pleads to God’s throne of grace and justice on our behalf? Is that what we get? Or do we get a symbol, a reminder and a very powerful if unusual (read impossible) metaphor. Well that’s a worthy argument you can have with your Reformed friends. When words are added to water does that water regenerate and forgive? That’s a discussion you can have with your Baptist friends or anyone who is confused about baptismal regeneration. Notice again that the arguments are all about the content of the sacraments. These are good and necessary arguments. They are discussions about what we get.
Since our unity is based upon the content of the gospel then in order to guard this unity we must defend its content. So we argue theology. Unity is based upon what Jesus gives us and we must all get what Jesus gives.
Unity also depends on certain godly practices which must be retained and protected because of this unity which Jesus gives and we get. I’ll give a couple of examples. We have the evangelical practice of absolving sins without expecting people to make amends for their sins as a condition for the absolution. Such a practice of unconditional absolution is necessary because otherwise people would not be getting but doing and our unity would not be based on what we get.
We practice closed communion. Why? It’s not because we are purists and expect everyone to agree with us. And it’s not because we have passed umpteen convention resolutions which tell us to practice closed communion. Closed communion is simply this: we want people to get all of the grace of God. We need to talk to them and instruct them, even examine them to make sure that they get it. Get what? Get the gospel. And we want to make sure that they accept as a minister of Christ the one who is giving them the gifts of Jesus. We don’t want people to get something different than what Jesus gives. Since virtually every Christian church body in the world except the Lutherans believe in some way that the Lord’s Supper is something we do you must be very careful about to whom you give it.
So we argue about our unity. And these arguments are good right and salutary.
Lately however there has been a change in the things we argue about. And we need to take notice. Lately we have argued over taste. We have argued over technique. We have argued over zeal. We argue over achievements. We argue over who is best. And these arguments tend to change our understanding of Christian unity. Allow me to illustrate anecdotally.
I was at the 2001 convention of the synod. Early in the convention we passed resolution 1-02. During the discussion a motion was introduced to add a final resolve to the motion. “Resolved that all action taken in this resolution shall be used to help carry out ‘the great commission’ and shall not in any way detract or distract from the primary mission of God’s kingdom here on earth. We will remember 1-02.” So every other resolution had this resolved tacked on to it. OK, that seemed good to the delegates and I believe that their motivation was nothing but a pious desire that all come to the knowledge of the truth.
But there was something subtly disturbing going on here. We were forced to remember our own resolve. And our resolve tended, at least in my opinion, to dominate that convention. It’s as if all that mattered was what we were going to carry out something. What had happened to “letting the word do it all while we slept or drank Wittenberg beer with Philip and Amsdorf” as Luther boasted. The paramount essence of the church at that convention was not what God gives but what we do. We did not say that we would not forget the gospel of justification by faith or we would not forget Mark 10:45 or the atonement or the ministry of word and sacrament. Imagine, to get back to Luther, imagine a resolved that said, “Resolved that all actions taken in this convention shall be used to celebrate the power of the word while we sleep or drink beer.” How humbling that would be to our flesh which must always be doing rather than getting. How refreshing that would be to spirits tired of the endless admonitions to do. But, alas, such was not the case. Instead, we chose not to forget our responsibilities. We would not forget what we should carry out.
Now please do not misunderstand. I agree with the great commission. I seek to baptize and I seek to teach as this commission indicates. I apply this great commission to my ministry as is proper since it refers to the work of pastors and I do it. But the unity my congregation enjoys is not because the convention agreed to remember something.
Please do not misunderstand again. Unity is not in some abstractions which are never actually proclaimed upon people. Our unity is in the gospel which must be proclaimed heard and believed. So both the content and the activity of its proclamation are essential to our unity. But the zeal, effectiveness, resoluteness, or styles in which the Gospel is preached are not those things upon which unity is based.
Many people have forgotten this little episode which is a bit ironic in itself and a sign which actually portends good things for the future. But it still kind of strikes me as wrong and a bit triumphalistic since a subtle shift in our thinking was taking place. We made a shift at least practically in our understanding of the central article of the Christian faith. It was no longer justification by grace through faith. Now the central articles appeared to be the great commission.
Please allow another illustration. When pastors accept a call to a parish they get all excited when they get to go to their first pastor’s conference. Every once in a while at these conferences pastors get to discuss theology. And such heavenly experiences will keep them coming back. But it’s a deception, a mirage, a type of bait and switch. That’s what conferences used to be about. You would hear papers on theological matters and then the conference would accept or approve the paper. The process had the effect of reaffirming what we get. We get the gifts of Jesus. We get the pure gospel as expressed in the conference paper. Thank you God for what we get.
Things have changed. Now, more often than not you will hear a paper which has little analysis of what we get from Jesus. Instead the papers are all about what you do. I suppose this is not all bad if what you do is preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. But the trend is more ominous than that. You will go to a conference and someone will get up and tell you how to be more effective. You will hear the incessant harangues about reports of the numbers of converts in the book of Acts (which themselves ceased once the ministry to the Gentiles was in full swing). You will be told that 70% of the congregations in your district confirmed less than three adults last year. And since you know that you are one of the 70% you will know that you have failed. Your numbers look bad. You will be told that 80% of the congregations of your district are in decline which is defined as 4% loss in worship over a two year period. And you will be more affirmed in your opinion that you have failed. Pastors will be challenged to make 100 contacts for Jesus in which one Lutheran Christian shares the gospel with someone who has not yet heard of Jesus. And they must teach their laymen to do the same. The result is that we all begin to realize that we have not contributed our fair share toward that critical goal. At these conferences you are treated to a report from the district treasurer which tells you of the district budget. Here you will be told that if 50% of the confirmed members of each congregation in the district would have tithed from the tax rebate of 2008 and passed that on to the district then the financial woes would end. And you will feel guilty because you spent the rebate before you even got it. Either that or somehow you missed the whole rebate thing.
What’s happening here is that the unity of the church or at least the synod (and in our circles the two are often the same) is not in what we get. It’s in what we do. I’ve heard it too many times. “If we can lay aside our differences and adopt some common goals and just work toward these goals then I think that would unify the synod more than anything else we could do.”
As a third example let me ask you to consider the Ablaze initiative. Ablaze is something we are doing. It measures the critical events we have initiated. It is supported by dollars that we give. Consequently if a congregation or a district does not want to participate in this program the unity of the synod should not be jeopardized. Right? Well not really. One of the districts decided it was not in its best interests to buy into this program and someone got so upset that a question was asked of the CCM who actually had to get involved.
93. Agency Resolutions and Synod Actions (09-2556)
A pastor of the Synod, in an e-mailed March 18, 2009 letter, asked the following questions regarding an agency’s possible negative response to an action taken by the Synod….
Question 2: May an agency of the Synod (such as a district), by passing a resolution not to participate in a Synod initiative or action (or by any other means) opt not to participate in an initiative or action passed by the Synod in convention? What would be the effect of an agency’s resolution not to participate in an initiative or action passed by the Synod in convention? How should the members of the Synod regard an agency’s resolution not to participate in an initiative or action passed by the Synod in convention? How should the officers of the national Synod and/or the various districts of the Synod regard such a resolution?
To the extent that a resolution of the Synod establishes an initiative directing action or participation by an agency of the Synod, whether a district or other agency, it is not the prerogative of the agency to determine whether it wants to participate. Rather, it is required as part of its covenant with the Synod to do so. The refusal of an agency of the Synod, including a district, to follow or accept the resolutions of the Synod is without authority and should be considered null and void.
This issue has been raised in the past. For example, in Ag. 632 (1974) the Commission on Constitutional Matters opined: “All resolutions of districts which provide for district action which is in conflict with the above are unconstitutional and therefore null and void (Article XII, 2; Bylaw 3.07). Districts and district presidents are obligated to carry out the resolutions of the Synod (Article XII, 9, a; Bylaw 3.07, a).” [The referenced Bylaw 3.07 is now Bylaws 4.1.1 and 18.104.22.168 in the 2007 Handbook.]
Similarly, with respect to doctrine taught and practiced by the Synod through its resolutions, the issue has previously been raised in Opinion 00-2212, as follows:
Bylaw 2.39, c [2007 Handbook Bylaw section 1.8] describes the procedure for dissent to doctrinal resolutions of the Synod by members of the Synod. Districts are not members of the Synod but are divisions of the Synod, “the geographical boundaries of which are determined by the Synod and are altered by it according to circumstances” (Article XII, 1). “The Synod establishes districts in order more effectively to achieve its objectives and carry on its activities” (Bylaw 4.01) [2007 Bylaw 4.1.1]. As such, districts “as component parts of the Synod are obligated to carry out the resolutions of the Synod” (Bylaw 1.05, f) [2007 Bylaw 1.3.6]. An official action by a district, therefore, to file an expression of dissent to the Synod regarding a doctrine taught and practices by the Synod is out of order and, therefore, null and void.
In circumstances where the Synod has adopted a resolution calling for action or participation by a specific agency of the Synod, or by all its agencies, the agency is not at liberty to ignore that resolution. Any attempt by the agency to pass a resolution calling for the agency’s disobedience of such resolution is without authority and thus should be considered null and void. Under such circumstances, the matter should be brought to the attention of the President of the Synod, who is charged under Bylaw 22.214.171.124: “The President shall oversee the activities of all officers, executives, and agencies of the Synod to see to it that they are acting in accordance with the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.”
Observe, with me, a couple of things in these opinions.
First, I think I recall the confusing insistence we heard back in 2004 that Ablaze was not a church program but a movement. Whether it was a movement or a program back in 2004 I will leave to others. If it was a movement it was only a movement until someone did not want to do it. Then it became an initiative and an action.
Second, the CCM supports its opinion that districts must participate in synodical initiatives in two ways. It sites a 1974 opinion of the CCM and it sites a 2000 opinion which reference then bylaw 2.39 (currently 1.8). The 1974 opinion was rendered in response to districts who were ordaining men who had not been certified by one of the seminaries. These were Seminex grads. So in this case there were clear doctrinal implications since who the church ordains and how the church determines the qualifications of ministers is clearly a doctrinal concern. The bylaw sited (2.39., currently 1.8) also is doctrinal in nature. It says that if the synod passes a doctrinal resolution then the districts and other agencies of the synod must not teach contrary to that doctrine and may not dissent from it since dissent is something only members can do and districts are not members of the synod. So doctrinal resolutions must be followed. OK. No one here would disagree with that I assume.
But are the Ablaze initiative and Fan into Flame doctrinal resolutions? I sure don’t think so. Oh they may say things which are doctrinally careless and they may assume a certain doctrinal position. But are the Ablaze resolutions passed in 2004 doctrinal in the sense that they define what we teach and confess. No. They are resolutions which commit us to do something not to believe something. It is works not faith. It is not what we get that is at stake. Yet we are treating it with as much deference as we do the doctrine of the Gospel which is a gift of Christ.
Further, in the past you actually had to say something contrary to the expressed doctrine of the synod to be rendered null and void. You had to disagree with Jesus (assuming that Jesus and the synod were on the same page). Now you get in trouble for simply deciding that you will not carry out the programs or initiatives of the synod. The unity of the Gospel which is given in the gospel has been replaced by the unity of us doing.
Finally, doesn’t the question posed to the CCM itself strike you as a bit anal? A district passes a resolution that says it does not want to do something that was initiated by the synod. The CCM opines that the district’s resolution is null and void. But will that get the district to embrace the doing of this task with all sorts of enthusiasm and godly zeal? Hardly. Let’s create an analogy. Dad has decided that the whole family will go skating and then to the Art Museum. Little Klemet says that he does not want to go since he has found better things to do with his time and money. What does Dad do? He can insist and say that Klemet’s decision to do something else is null and void. Such an insistence will certainly not engender any enthusiastic action on the part of Klemet. Or Dad can sit down and patiently talk about the importance of everyone doing things together. But if that does not work what should he do? I would submit that if Dad tells Klemet to have fun with his alternate plans and invites him to participate with the family the next go ’round then that might actually create a bit of good will. But I belabor this point.
Wait! One last reflection. If involvement in the Ablaze initiative is not optional because Ablaze is doctrinal (and that is what the opinion suggests), then expressions of concern with Ablaze are doctrinal in nature also. We have entire districts as well as countless congregations and pastors which have reservations about Ablaze. So, our synod has more doctrinal divisions than anyone thought. You can’t have it both ways. If Ablaze is doctrinal then we are really divided. If it is not doctrinal then quit forcing involvement in it.
In years past our unity was based on a common conviction of what Christ gives. Today unity is increasingly dependent on our actions.
How did this happen? It happened because there are forces within our synod which are seeking to change our theology so that it more closely approximates that of American Evangelicalism. In American Evangelicalism it is not the word and sacrament which unite the church. Rather it is our response to Word and Sacrament which unit us. D. J. Hart claims that American Evangelicalism has a “tendency…to turn ceremonies performed by clergy that communicate divine grace, such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, into symbolic gestures that express the faith of converts.” The Sacraments have become gestures of faith. Listen to David Luecke:
One reason traditional Lutherans are reluctant to give witness to their faith is that the communication modeled for us is mostly doctrinal preaching supported with Bible passages. Carefully formulated doctrine is a great strength of Lutheranism. But this specialized language is more suited to professionals and often leaves lay people uncertain about whether they are ‘saying it right.’…An alternative used by many other Christians over the centuries is experiential language – expressing faith in terms of personal experience. Such language has phrases like: This is what God did in my life. Here is how I found new peace in the Lord. I found new meaning in the Gospel when…When I am getting to know individual Lutherans better, I have found it productive to inquire about when they felt closest to God or what they remember as a mountain-top spiritual experience, or when their faith means the most to them.
Notice that, in his thinking, it is not the content of the faith which is spoken – doctrine supported by Bible passages. Rather it is our response to the gospel which becomes the message.
Or listen to the words of Kent Hunter who asserts that “confessionals” have a “tendency toward proclaiming the Bible or their confession more than Jesus Christ….Is your primary mission to proclaim the truth as you have been taught or Jesus Christ? The first is confessionalism. The second is Evangelicalism. Those who wrote the Lutheran Confessions were evangelicals: ‘Christ wants His voice, His word to be heard, not human traditions.'” Notice that Hunter has placed a wedge between the confession of the church and the truth we have been taught on the one hand and “Christ” on the other. Content has been replaced by sentiment.
I still don’t understand why the worship wars continue. We know what worship is. “The service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God. The highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive the forgiveness of sins, grace and righteousness.” And that settles that. I’m not sure there is much left to argue about. Worship is not something we do it is something we get. We get forgiveness. Further, since we are united in what we receive this unity should be reflected in rites and ceremonies of our worship. “As far as possible we should observe the same rites and ceremonies, just as all Christians have the same baptism and the same Sacrament and no one has received a special one of his own from God.” But how are we to have the same rites and rituals when we are so diverse within the church. How about this? “Each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters, so that there will be one uniform practice throughout your district instead of disorder – one thing being done here and another there.” If we did that do you know what we would have? We would have the LSB. And we would have an end to the worship wars. We could “praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
Yet the worship wars seem to continue. Why? Because nagging voices continue to assert the opposite of what we learn in the Augsburg Confession.
Worship is the response we make to God within the relationship that God initiates with us in Christ…People yearn for a worship experience that is pure and simple worship…worship that is focused on God and is expressed in the heart-language of their culture. Such biblical, authentic worship in Spirit and in truth, rich in diverse expression, will then “fuel” the church in its mission of making disciples in the mission field.
Here worship is not what God does and gives. It is what we do. Let me talk about “heart languages” as I critique this statement from an LCMS pastor and leader.
My friends, I do not know about your heart language but I am painfully and shamefully aware of mine. And the heart language of my culture is no better. Our culture is dominated by at least three forces. The first is the baby boomers who are the most narcissistic, irresponsible and immoral generation in the history of the world. I speak as a member of that generation. The second is American Evangelicalism which has for almost 200 years “undermined the importance of creedal subscription, ordination and liturgical order… [and has] spoke[n] a different idiom [than confessional Protestantism], one that was individualistic, experiential and perfectionistic, as opposed to the corporate, doctrinal and liturgical.” The third is Postmodernism which postulates “a kind of unregulated marketplace of realities in which all manner of belief systems are offered for public consumption.” “All belief systems become aware of all other belief systems.” The result is that “it is difficult to accept any of them as absolutely true.” Consequently we have “culture wars” over the critical issues of education and moral instruction. It strikes me that such a culture and the heart language of it should not be indulged. We should, rather, repent of it.
My wife teaches kids who are behaviorally challenged. They have a certain very colorful sub-cultural heart language. When my own personal heart language sinks to the level which she experiences on a daily basis she winces. That is her subtle cue (and for those of you who know Jan you will recognize that she is nothing if not subtle) that my heart language should begin more closely to approximate that of the Divine Service. And so I strive, in deference to her sensibilities and because in my new man I really do love Jesus, to repent my cultural heart language and to obey Paul who said, “Let no corrupt communication proceed from your lips but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29)
Obviously we speak in the language of the people. I use English in my church services. Obviously we teach. My people know the Latin phrase for “Glory to God in the Highest” and the Greek words for “Lord have Mercy.” Obviously we adorn the ministry with love towards our people which is characterized by longsuffering indoctrination in the things they get from Jesus. Obviously we enjoy our people and speak their heart language (within the parameters of prudence and decency) when they invite us to dinner or to watch the Timber-Wolves. Obviously we act like normal human beings. But worship is not getting people to speak in their heart language to God. It is God speaking his heart language to people. Do you want heart language? I’ll give you heart language.
The father bears his throbbing heart of love and sends His only begotten; the Son willingly lays down His life on our behalf and victoriously takes it up again; the Spirit delivers to us Christ and all his benefits. The chief action in worship is not the meager thanks and praise that we attempt to throw God’s way, but God’s gift of himself by which he imparts life and salvation.
That is language which warms my heart.
Pastors are often tempted both by their own flocks and by “those who seem to be important” (Galatians 2:6) to try to make God more relevant than the historic Divine Service has been able to do for the last 1500 years. And this at a time when a synergistic definition of worship has absolutely trashed the church both as to its spirit and as to its numbers (not to put too fine a point on it). Rather than behaving as though we wonder how God could have gotten along without us we should pray that somehow He is still able to give things to his people through us. We have rich coffers and favors to impart.
Pastors absolutely must resist, as charmingly as they possible can, the temptation to disparage or disuse the historic liturgy of the divine service and the LSB. If a pastor is called to a parish that has already begun the move away from the liturgy then lead them back. Shepherds speak. They don’t typically push. And sheep follow. They do not typically lead. If they do not follow the voice of Jesus in the liturgy then just speak it and speak it some more until its sound becomes familiar again to the ears and hearts of the people. Do a bit more each time so that almost imperceptibly the people begin to recognize the Voice of Jesus in the liturgy. “Shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) What’s at stake in the worship wars is the gospel that Jesus gives and his people get.
How did we mess up our understanding of worship? Well it wasn’t in the confessions that the leaders of our church discovered that worship is something we do rather than receiving the gifts of Jesus. Where in the confessions do we read the expression “worship experience” as we did above? But listen to George Barna, prolific, Baptist, church analyst who claims that the worshippers should be “moved physically, emotionally or intellectually by the worship experience and when they encounter God….have an undeniable sense of his presence.” I would submit that too many Missourians have read Baptist clergymen like George Barna without exercising the proper Lutheran discernment.
The office of the ministry
The administration of our synod and its districts is often characterized by a view of the ministry which is frankly contrary to that of the Confessions of the church. Here we read:
So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacrament, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given (John 20:22) He works faith, when and where it please God (John 3:8) in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.
God gives through the ministry. His people get. Contrast this with the following.
In 2006 a synodical task force called the “Church Planting Task Force,” was appointed by Bob Scudieri, executive director of North American Ministries for the LCMS. That task force issued a report entitled, “Toward Planting Large Churches: The Summary Report of the Church Planting Task Force.” This report concluded that an effective new mission start needed three ingredients; the right person, the right place and the right plan. The right person, predictably, is a strong preacher and a good communicator with good people skills. He is a good systematic thinker and “has a certain amount of magnetism that compels quality leaders to follow and contribute to the cause.” The right place is “growing communities with a high percentage of unchurched people that can fuel the fast growth of a new church start.” In its discussion of “the right plan” the report relied heavily upon the work of Edward Stetzer who reported on “A landmark study conducted by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist church of over 600 church plants.” The Southern Baptists and the LCMS task force agreed that:
An effective plan for planting large churches must readily engage the culture it is aiming to reachâ€”specifically by offering culturally oriented programming from the earliest stages, through launch and into the life of the church. Indeed, allowing ministry programming to be shaped and stylized by the findings of the planter’s cultural exegesis needs to be a prominent piece of any strategic plan as well as a core value in the ongoing life of the new community of faith.
Given its “culturally oriented programming,” (and that includes worship) shaped by the “cultural exegesis” of the “planter,” the congregation’s “style” will reflect neither the church’s catholicity in worship nor her theological unity around the gifts of Jesus. Rather, effective church starts (and by extension effective pastorates) must involve a consideration of “the unique cultural needs, values and lifestyle of the right place.” Predictably the type of pastor envisioned by this study is a “very small subset” of all pastors.
I enjoyed the ministry more when my job was “the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments” as instituted by Jesus. I found myself more relaxed and frankly better prepared for the ministry when “The Holy Spirit worked faith when and where it pleases God in those who heard the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake” as AC V confesses. That conviction really took the pressure off. I have found biblical exegesis very enjoyable especially since the bible never changes and the exegetical work I did 34 years ago is still good. Cultural exegesis, on the other hand, is enjoyable and challenging only as long as the eternal souls of the people in my church are not at stake if I botch it; and as long as my success as a pastor is not in the balance. Otherwise the pressure is just too great. I’d rather do biblical exegesis where if nothing else I can read a sermon by Luther or John Gerhard and figure that they can’t be completely off base. And I have the Confessions of the church by which the bible is rightly exegeted.
Besides, what my people need is not a pastor who attracts “quality leaders to follow and contribute to the cause.” They need to get forgiveness from Jesus. They need a pastor who can be the mouth of Jesus through which our Lord gives and they get; hands which distribute body and blood through which Jesus gives and they get; hands which wash infants eternally with water made holy through the word of Jesus. He gives and they get. People need a pastor whose feet are beautiful not because they expect something but because they bring good news. (Isaiah 52:7) He gives and they get.
Or consider the following. A pastor of the synod asked some counsel of his district exec as he sought to lead his congregation in updating its constitution and bylaws. He had been in the parish for a couple of years and it occurred to him the constitution of his congregation was obsolete. Never mind that irrelevancy is never really obsolete. The district exec from the Mid-South District of the LCMS sent a sample of a proposed constitution for his consideration. This proposed constitution which is encouraged upon the congregations of our synod in that place has in it the following:
(a) The role of the Congregation is to serve as the primary ministers of the Church.
(b) The role of the Board is to establish Guiding Principles for the Pastor’s leadership.
(c) The role of the Pastor is to lead the Church to accomplish its mission.
(d) The role of the Staff is to manage the ministries of the Church, directed by the Pastor.
The role of the Senior Pastor is to lead the Church to accomplish its mission. The Pastor shall lead the Congregation by teaching biblical truth, casting vision, and advancing the mission. The Pastor shall lead the Board by guiding its discussion of mission and boundary principles. The Pastor shall lead the Staff by directing them in their management of all Church operations. With regard to compensation based on performance, the Pastor shall be accountable to the Board. With regard to job retention and approval of major decisions, the Pastor shall be accountable to the Congregation. The Pastor shall hire, direct, compensate, and fire any and all Church Staff in compliance with the Guiding Principles established by the Board.
Notice that the church does not exist to get but to do. Notice that the pastor does not give in the place of Jesus.
Congregations which use this constitution are also encouraged to follow the Guiding Principles which accompany it. They contain the following.
BP 1.8 Component: Emergency Senior Pastor Succession
In order to protect the board from the sudden loss of Senior Pastor services, the senior pastor may have no fewer than two other ministry staff members familiar with board and senior pastor issues and processes.
The good news is that this pastor must have two assistants. That’s two less unemployed pastors. That bad news is that if you get a call as an assistant pastor to this church you better be nice to the senior pastor and affirm his “ministry.” He can fire you if you do not perform.
AP 1.3.4 Detail: Performance of the Senior Pastor
Systematic and rigorous monitoring of senior pastor job performance will be solely against the only expected senior pastor job outputs: church accomplishment of the board’s Mission Principles and church operation within the board’s Boundary Principles.
AP 1.3.5 Detail: Annual Goals of the Senior Pastor
The senior pastor will be required to write measurable goals each year that correspond to each of the board’s mission principles. At least one of these goals for each mission principle must project growth in the number of people who benefit or participate.
In John 6 all of Christ’s disciples left except a few who believed that he had the words of eternal life. Maybe it was the comment about no one coming to him “unless the Father draw them” or maybe it’s because he said that his flesh was food for the life of the world. Maybe it was his disparaging of miraculous signs. Based on John 6 Jesus would be fired. Maybe worse.
AP 1.3.6 Detail: Annual Review of the Senior Pastor
Each year, the board shall review the results achieved by the senior pastor on each of the annual goals. A merit raise, cost of living raise, corrective action, or request for resignation shall be based on these results achieved within the board’s boundary principles.
Welcome to the NFL. Can you imagine the pressure here? And you could be sleeping or drinking Wittenberg beer. Please do not misunderstand. Lazy pastors are the bane of the church. Unimaginative pastors are almost as bad. Your job is to give and part of that is to encourage your people to get. That takes perseverance, tact, diplomacy, patience and an endless affection for you people. No ministry is well served when shepherds are adversarial with sheep. Your adversary is the wolf. So be charming.
But no ministry of Christ is served when every year the pastor could be asked to resign. I tell you I’ve got issues with people who get rid of faithful pastors. These guidelines are sinful; I don’t care if they do come from a district of the LCMS. A pastor’s call is from the Lord of the universe. He who hears you hears Jesus. Christians do not ask Jesus to resign.
What’s at issue here is not the job security of the pastor. That is really inconsequential. What is at issue is the definition of the pastor. Is he someone who leads by his personal magnetism and attracts good staff who achieve numerical goals set by a board? Or is the pastor the one who gives the blessings of Jesus to His people so that they can get all which He died to obtain. They couldn’t pay me enough to do the former. And the latter is worth more than all the money in the world.
How did this wrong understanding of the ministry creep into Missouri – rather invade us like a Tsunami? It happened because lately we have learned about pastors not from the bible, the confessions of church or her fathers. Rather we took a page out the playbook of American Evangelicalism.
American Evangelicalism with its view of conversion as a “crisis like experience” gave birth to what has been called “folk religion.” One of the characteristics of folk religion is that people skills replace the call from God through the church. Sociableness in a pastor transcends training. You’ve all heard it, “the people don’t care what you know. They want to know that you care.” In this system “folksiness” excels mere traditions. Effectiveness surpasses doctrinal purity. Revivals did not need trained, called and ordained pastors. They needed preachers who could bring the people together and inspire them. “They measured the progress of religion by the numbers who flocked to their standards.” Consequently, “Evangelical ministers broke with the established pattern of learned sermons and began to preach in ways designed to bring hearers to a point of crisis.” “From the time of the revival it was no longer possible for a minister to be successful in the pulpits solely by his homiletical prowess. As a result of the revival….a sermon was now judged by its effect. Style was secondary to conversion; organization gave way to immediacy. No longer did a sermon direct itself to…a theological issue, rather the sermon called for the sinner to admit his dependence on God and repent. The minister was judged by whether or not he could bring about this experience. If the minister appealed to logic or used notes or prepared his sermon, he was standing in the way of a direct confrontation with God….The method of preaching sprang logically from their concept of the doctrine of regeneration.”
If you wonder why our people are flitting from church to church shopping for the most dynamic pastor, why pastors are being forced out of their office for lacking the proper people skills, why theological experts are not typically recruited to be church leaders, why theological training is devalued and defunded, why theological education is dummied down, and why theology at conferences has been replaced by psychology or sociology then wonder no more. Theological exegesis has taken a back seat to cultural exegesis.
Have you ever wondered by so many Lutherans study at Evangelical schools such as Fuller theological seminary and so few Baptists come to our Seminaries for advanced degrees. Charles Porterfield Krauth described the Lutheran Church in America 150 years ago with words which bear repeating:
We must begin by knowing ourselves, and being true to that knowledge. Let us not, with our rich coffers, play the part of beggars, and ask favors where we have every ability to impart them.
Included within Krauth’s “rich coffers” are 1) The correct understanding of the unity of the church, 2) Worship and 3) The proper understanding of the ministry of word and sacrament. So, as Lutherans we have something very precious to impart. We are the ones with the rich coffers. The cost was so steep, the value so high and our “coffers so rich” that we simply must give it away. Our theology is like a smile; when you give it away it remains with you. You never lose it: The distinction between getting and giving. Today that distinction requires a proper understanding of Unity, Worship and Ministry.
So I call upon you to defend the unity Christ’s church based upon what He gives and what we all receive by grace. Defend and use the Divine Service of Christ’s Word and Sacrament as gifts which he freely gives and which we, by grace, get. Defend the pastor’s call as a divine responsibility to give. “Knowing ourselves, and being true to that knowledge” must dominate our thinking.
Our coffers are so rich.
Here are a few of the slides from Pastor Preus’ powerpoint presentation that he gave after his paper; for the full presentation click here.
Summary (from memory); the minister is shown with an open mouth, so he speaks God’s word. He has no eyes and ears, he is not to see or hear but speak the Word. He is holding a bible in his hand, and is robed to identify him as a Minister.