Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why This Will Work - Part 3

How often do the children of God try to fix or improve His kingdom using their own methods?

This approach, foolish and disobedient to its core, leads to nothing but division in the church. As sinful men, we want to do things our way using our timing. When an individual, movement, or initiative replaces Christ as the central focus of the church, the unity of the body is inevitably compromised. If there is a place where loving unity has given way to harsh discord, you will find people who have turned away from Christ and sound apostolic teaching.

Look at the discord--the unrighteous bickering--that has been born out of the progressive additions to the church. As more humanly invented systems are introduced you find more division and theological compromise. In many places, the mystical body of the faithful has been reduced to a collection of board meetings, politics, demographic marketing, and partisanship. Christians have abandoned their scriptural call to be "in the world but not of it" in favor of becoming "community-based", "relevantly modern", and "seeker-sensitive".

That does not make my conservative brothers and sisters innocent by any measure. In their zeal to combat this foreign invasion of the church, some have resorted to many of the same progressive methods. The conservatives have taken the bait and have invented their own board meetings, politics, and partisanship.

Rather than addressing the root causes of these issues, they have allowed it to degrade into an us-versus-them battle for the heart of the synod... a heart which should belong to Christ alone. Not only has this move led to more division, it has fundamentally failed to vanquish the errors that this strategy was employed to combat. Not only does progressive theology and practice persist, it seems to flourish and grow in many areas. Do the conservatives recognize this and correctly diagnose their weak strategy? For many this is sadly not the case. They have turned to hopelessness and hand-wringing.

My answer to all of this mess is to stop wasting time just talking about the problem and do what you can to fix it. The bickering has become so absurd that we now argue about whether or not we are arguing and how deep that arguing goes. If public debate and rhetoric was going to work, we should have seen progress by now. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

We only have so much time, so much energy, and so many resources to devote to this issue. All of those assets should be thrown into getting each of our congregations as close to the apostolic model as possible. Think of how far we could go toward unity under pure doctrine if we all got off of our lazy rears and did something about it at the place where it matters the most: the local congregation. We have way too many generals up in the command tent saying, "we are losing on this flank... and that flank... we should counter-attack here, here, and there." We do not have enough people on the front lines taking the steps that are necessary to bring this conflict to a favorable end.

If the battle to defend confessional Lutheranism is really going as bad as you all say, pick up a rifle and head to the front lines. That is where your efforts are actually going to make a difference. It is very easy to point out what is wrong and whine about it to an audience that agrees with you. It takes a great deal of blood and sweat to actually deal with the problem.

  • Division is defeated by patience, love, and humility.

  • Minimalism is defeated by boldly teaching pure doctrine and scripture.

  • Partisanship is defeated by focusing on the entire mission of the church through dedication to the Word of God and deference to those who are weaker in the faith.

  • Heresy is defeated by equipping everyone with the ability to discern truth from error.

  • Unionism is defeated by encouraging love for the Lutheran confessions and Lutheran identity.
This kind of stuff takes sacrifice. It is very easy to identify a problem that should be fixed. It is quite another to devote yourself to the solution of that problem. If the problem in the LCMS is to be fixed, it will take a great deal of individual effort to repair the division from the ground up. The big question is: Are we willing to do the work?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Why This Will Work - Part 2

Despite the obvious division in our synod, there are still bastions of confessional Lutheranism in every city that I have visited. Such a statement of good news does not make for a popular blog post, but it is the truth. If one wants to find a confessional church, they are readily available in every city of every state that I have visited this year. These lighthouses of truth shine light out into the theological darkness of American Protestantism. Even in those places where progressive theology has all but replaced sound doctrine, stalwart churches stand against the tide of error and unionism.

If you visit a Mecca of works-righteous Christianity like Houston, you can still find dedicated Lutheran pastors saying things like:

"In order to fulfill this Great Commission, to baptize and make disciples, you--yourself--must be a disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ. A disciple by definition is a person who follows a particular teacher....To be a disciple, you must believe that what your teacher is teaching is the Truth; not just truth, but the Truth."

As the humanly invented programs and business models gain high praise here on earth, the angels in heaven continue to rejoice over the thankless grunt work that the good and faithful servants are doing every day. Despite what you may be told by the hot-heads on both sides, there are many churches who love sound doctrine and seek to walk with a spirit of peaceful mercy toward one another. They do not have the time to bicker and seek public glory for their many accomplishments. They are too busy following the New Testament model for the church: faith, love, good order, peace, unity, and righteousness. They are too busy lifting each other up, teaching their young children the Athanasian Creed, holding regular prayer services during the week, and helping the poor in their community.

In the last year, I have visited over a dozen faithful churches that you have probably never heard of or seen. Their humble spirits prevent them from attempting to draw attention their way. The various factions in the synod are so occupied with the task of tilting at windmills that they fail give these congregations a moment's notice. Do not lose sight of the fact that they do exist. Do not forget that there are places where the systems are working, the gospel is being taught in its purity, and the sacraments are being properly administered.

Church growth is not a popularity contest. The Body of Christ is not a place for division and discord. It is not a place for finger-pointers, doom-sayers, and credit-seekers. In all things we are a people of faith, hope, and love. I pray that God will cause this fruit to grow in all of us.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."

-James 3:13-18

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Going Back to Egypt

And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to one another, "Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt."

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel.

-Numbers 14:2-5

On Pentecost Sunday, I was reminded of just how far the Holy Spirit has dragged me from the deluded, Christian-ish religion of my own construction. For those of you who do not know my background, I came to Lutheranism only recently from a charismatic pentecostal church within the Southern Baptist Convention. For years, I helped to lead the praise music. I participated in the missions. I rejoiced over the church planting and the "creative evangelism". I studied at the feet of the "Promise Keepers" and the "Purpose Driven Church/Life".

...that is, until that humanly devised religion all came crashing down under the weight of the Law and the clear testimony of Holy Scripture.

All of that is still very fresh in my mind. I am a Lutheran that remembers the harsh labor that came with the slavery of Egypt. I remember toiling under the whip of the Law. I remember the heavy burden of humanly-constructed principles, duties, and methods. I wandered through a theological desert for much of my life as I thirsted for truth, but did not find it.

The LCMS, a jewel of American Christianity, has done its share of desert wandering as well. Since her creation, she has battled those who want to go back to Egypt. The supporters of Pietism, Revivalism, and Rationalism have all tried to turn this pilgrimage around and head back to the bondage of error. They do not enjoy the difficult road that Christ has called us to walk. They do not want to be lead by the cloud, the pillar of fire, and the snake on a pole. They want to do things their way by using the wisdom of the world. They want human task masters to tell them to engage in human works. Many times, the faith of the LCMS has faltered because of the advice of these people. Many times, God has permitted our Synod to wander in a desolate theological desert because of our unwillingness to embrace the promised land of the gospel.

Yet again, we are at the edge of the desert, but there are complaints. After all that we Lutherans have suffered as keepers of the apostolic faith, we have those who want to appoint new leaders and go back to Egypt.

Well I remember Egypt. I am worried that some of my Lutheran brothers are speaking Egyptian on their websites, at their conferences, in their churches, and through their missionnal programs. I vividly remember what it was like to work in Egypt. Now that I am free, I am alarmed at all the Egyptian being spoken by the people of Israel. I thought that I had left the ways of the SBC behind me. As I research many of the missional initiatives in the LCMS, I am amazed at how Baptist it all sounds. The problem is that members of the LCMS are borrowing methodologies from non-Lutheran church bodies.

What is the problem with that?

Any methodology is built upon a foundation of agreed upon truths and concepts. If the foundational concept is flawed, then the methodology will also be flawed. When you accept a methodology, you must accept the foundational principles on which that methodology is built. You may not agree with them (or even be aware of them), but the principles exist.

Keep that in mind as you think about the foundational principles of the churches that have spear-headed the modern missional movement. How did these churches, primarily those among the UMC and SBC, develop this missional methodology? Think of it as a theological pyramid that shows the progression of a group's theology. At the base are its core beliefs and understandings. Built on that is the group's practice. On the top of this structure is that belief's inevitable conclusion. In the case of modern generic protestantism, you find modern missional methodology. That methodology stands like a capstone on the foundation that elevates it. You cannot seperate the pyramid. You get everything or nothing.

I really want to reach lost people ...but I am asking for more than that. I want a higher standard. I want to create a church that is both "missional" in that it delivers the Gospel to the nations and "custodial" in that it cares for the faithful and preserves the one true faith. She cannot do both with the current missional pyramid because it was designed using a foreign dogma that neglects true doctrine and the spiritual health of the faithful.

I put three questions to my brothers and sisters in the LCMS:

1. If we adopt a foreign methodology, what foundational errors do we have to accept in order to support it?

2. What does the Lutheran theological pyramid look like?

3. How does that solid Lutheran foundation make our methodology different from everyone else?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Why This Will Work - Part 1

I apologize for the delay between posts. The demands of my vocation(s) have given me little time for online posting. I doubt that anyone reads this anymore, but that has never stopped me from opening my big mouth in the past.

There has been a wave of doom and worry flowing through the Lutheran blogosphere. It is really easy to get drawn into the "glass half empty" mentality. The LCMS has given people good reason to worry here lately. So what do we do?

That is a telling question: "what do we do?" It is easy to get anthropocentric when things become difficult. The devil wants us to despair. He wants the confessional elements in the LCMS to become cynical. He wants you to despair. He wants you to abandon your light house. He wants you to stop calling into the wilderness. He wants you to abandon your brothers and sisters and right them off as hopeless.

We are supposed to be a people of hope, brothers and sisters. Christ continues to care for His bride and protect the truth of the Gospel. All around the synod, the right things are taking place and the right things are being taught. I see it all the time in church after church as the Army sends me all across the United States.

If you joined the Lutheran Church expecting a unified body free from heresy and division, then you haven't paid attention to Lutheran history. If you think that there will be a time before the Last Day where we will not have to guard against things like pietism and crypto-calvinism, then you are not living in the reality of the church militant. We have been fighting this fight since Luther. It is not going to get any easier and it is not going to feel any better. Suck it up and perform your calling.

Someone give me a time in our history when these elements have not been on the brink of extinguishing the flame of confessional Lutheranism. Such a utopian day has never existed and is not likely to exist in this life. Do we lay down and die? Is that the legacy of Luther?
I am alarmed by the protestant errors that are infiltrating Lutheranism. As a recent convert from the charismatic movement, I think that it hurts me the most.

...but it doesn't take much to see the good that is going on all around. In a world where the squeaky wheel gets the grease, the LCMS is full of well-oiled, confessional people who quietly live out their vocations. We must not lose sight of that.

So the question: what do we do?

1 Timothy 4:6-16

"If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe."

"Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."

Brothers and sisters, the sky is not falling... it has just always been lower than we want it to be. We shouldn't cry out in panic every time we look up.