Monday, May 26, 2008

A Tale of Two Reports

This post is a tale of two reports issued by different bodies within the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS). These two reports, while investigating the same topic, the Church Growth Movement, leave the reader with two different impressions of the Church Growth Movement and its influence on the LCMS.

At the 1995 LCMS Synodical Convention, a resolution was passed to address the Church Growth Movement. In response to that resolution, the Church Growth Study Committee in 2001 released their report, “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission.” Their report is an excellent review of the theological and cultural considerations associated with the Church Growth Movement (CGM).

In 2002, President Gerald Kieschnick asked the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) to review “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission.” Their report, titled “CTCR Review of ‘For the Sake of Christ’s Commission’” was released in 2003.

Their report refers to the original Convention resolution, quoting in part:
--That The Lutheran Witness, Reporter and other publications of the Synod report on the errors in some Church Growth materials and practices and also in fairness show how some materials and practices may be used in service of the Gospel and the advancement of the Kingdom;
They go on to say
For reasons not explicitly stated in the report (e.g., perhaps a prioritizing of time and concerns, committee convictions about the nature and proper focus of its assignment, etc.), little attention is given in FSCC [“For the Sake of Christ’s Commission”] to the Synod’s request to “in fairness show how some [Church Growth] materials and practices may be used in the service of the Gospel and the advancement of the Kingdom,” toward the end that “congregations, Districts and entities of the Synod which are using Church Growth materials and practices” may “use them with proper discernment.”
The CTCR then proceeds to “remedy” this perceived lack of attention to the positive side of the Church Growth Movement in “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission.” They do so with great fervor.

While the CTCR report often praises “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission,” it rarely does so without adding qualifying language. They add conditional language so often that it would seem their purpose may have been to undermine FSCC rather than praise it. An example:
Once again, FSCC contains numerous salutary cautions and warnings in this regard.

At the same time—precisely because of the all-sufficient power of God’s means of grace—the church should be emboldened and encouraged to use all appropriate resources that God places at its disposal...
To illustrate this undermining effect, here is a list of the majority of these qualifying words, listed in order as they’re used in the CTCR report: “But,” “At the same time,” “also need to,” “But,” “At the same time,” “But,” “At the same time,” “it is also important to recognize,” “At the same time,” “At the same time,” “but it is important to emphasize,” “It seems reasonable and theologically defensible to hold that,” “At the same time,” “one might have expected more discussion,” “but more might have been said about,” “At the same time,” “we also need to guard against,” “may also find it helpful to.”

At the end of “CTCR Review of ‘For the Sake of Christ’s Commission,’” the following concluding remarks are made (quoted from the CTCR report “Evangelism and Church Growth"):
…as we attempt to evaluate Church Growth principles, two important questions need to be kept in mind: Do these missiological principles reflect a theology which is non-Scriptural to the point that their application in Lutheran congregations is unacceptable? Or, can they be modified so that they are consistent with Lutheran theological presuppositions, providing new missiological techniques acceptable to Lutheran pastors and congregations as they carry out the great commission? (ECG, 36)

...Dependent on the promises of God given through the means of grace for growth and on the power of the Holy Spirit who bestows on it His manifold gifts, the church accepts with thanksgiving all methodological insights and wisdom that will enhance and facilitate the proclamation of the Word. In Christian freedom, though with Biblically tested criteria, the church will gladly make use of methods and techniques designed to accomplish this end. (ECG, 50)
Their concluding remarks read more like what you’d expect from a CGM book, not a commission tasked with evaluating it.

Interestingly, their report does recommend “that the FSCC be read and studied.” And while their report is available on the LCMS website, “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission” isn’t.

The Church Growth Study Committee’s report, “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission,” is a document I’d encourage you to read. Here are a few of the many highlights:
In a previous generation, the unity of the Missouri Synod was shaken by controversy over the divine authority of Holy Scripture (formal principle). By the grace of God, the Synod emerged from that struggle with a clearer confession of the inspiration and authority of the Bible.

In this generation, the unity of the Synod is threatened by diversity of doctrine and practice originating from influences that have their sources in Evangelicalism and the Church Growth Movement. Here the content of the Gospel itself is at stake (material principle). Therefore, we address below numerous theological and cultural issues vis-à-vis the Church Growth Movement in the hope that the Synod’s mission and evangelism ministries may ever be faithful to Biblical and confessional teaching.

...The problems with the Church Growth Movement have to do with the assumption that God’s Word is not sufficient, that it needs to be supplemented with “contemporary social and behavioral sciences.” In practice, this means changing the church—its worship, its self-understanding, and its confession—so that it conforms to contemporary American culture. Marketing techniques turn sinners in need of salvation into consumers. The church adapts its practices to attract consumers and seeks thereby to grow in numbers. Institutes and mega-church workshops and church-growth materials are potential sources of introducing alien doctrines into the life and mission of the Synod. Tragically, the Gospel itself is sometimes compromised, redefined, or treated as secondary.

...The saving presence of God the Holy Trinity through the means of grace Word and Sacrament) is the heart and center of the church’s life, worship and growth.

...It follows that spiritual growth does not happen entirely or in part through man-made devices and methodologies.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

• When absolution and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are minimized in favor of personal religious efforts, relational concerns or church activities.

• When people-oriented social sciences and methodologies subtly dominate the God-centered Means of Grace.

• When small-group (meta-church) organization and interaction are considered essential or compete without the public ministry of God’s Word and Sacrament.

• When “spiritual gifts” are substituted for the Means of Grace as the organizing principle of the church.

• When every-busy church activitism is substituted for God-pleasing service in daily Christian vocation.

• When programs of “leadership training” result in (1) substitution of lay leaders for public ministers of the Gospel or (2) inadequate training for the proper theological preparation of preachers.

The mission of the church is God’s mission.

• ...God has called the community of faith in every place to welcome visitors and inquirers warmly and openly. He calls His church lovingly to adapt her outreach to the culture of the hearers without giving up any of the doctrinal and sacramental fullness of the Gospel (Lev. 19:34; Matt. 25:35; 1 Cor. 9:22; Heb. 13:2).

...God’s people are a glorious priesthood (priesthood of all believers), which is far greater than and different from the new idea of “everyone a minister.” The public Gospel ministry, in turn, serves this priesthood of all God’s people.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

• When the modern concept “everyone a minister” is equated with the priesthood of all believers: a) This denies the true priesthood of all believers, which is exercised not only in worship and prayer, but also in daily vocation (i.e., the work of one’s earthly calling, Christian witness in daily life, parental teaching in the home, etc.) (1 Pet. 2:9; Rom. 12:1–2); b) It confuses individual Christian lives with public offices in the church. (Acts 6); c) It can be used to undermine Jesus’ gift of the office of preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments (pastoral office) (Eph. 3:7–10, 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28–29 (AC V, XIV, XXVIII [8]).

• When congregations or small groups are encouraged to regard fellow lay Christians or church staff personnel as their pastors rather than those men properly trained, qualified, called and ordained to the pastoral office.

• When the pastor is viewed as a chief executive officer, administrator, or director whose primary purpose is to train laity to do the real pastoral care.

• When it is held that some ethnic groups or small congregations do not need properly educated, called and ordained ministers of the Gospel.

• When pastors lord it over their flocks, not giving patient attention to careful instruction and faithful service as Christ’s undershepherds to His sheep.

Worship is the center of the church’s life both in this world and in the next.

• ...The church’s life in its worship is transcultural. The Law and Gospel message of the church is otherworldly and is not a servant to satisfy the felt needs of the world. Rather, felt needs provide an occasion for the clear proclamation of Law and Gospel.

It follows that not all humanly devised ceremonies faithfully confess the presence of Christ in worship.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

• ...When the church’s preaching, teaching, music and worship are changed to be more like the world in order to be accepted by the world.

• When the church’s solemn public worship is treated as a matter of experiment and entertainment.

• When the loving God-given practice of close(d) communion is abandoned for the sake of perceived friendliness, inclusiveness in worship and numerical growth.

• ...When music and hymnody used in worship focus principally on human sentiment and emotion rather than on the Biblical content of the Christian faith.

...The “theology of the cross” defines the mission and ministry of the church.

• ...As at Pentecost, God built His church with dramatic increase in numbers through the proclamation of the cross; so in the days of Noah, Elijah, and Jeremiah, He built His church in times of decreasing numbers (1 Pet. 3:17–22).

...It follows that the “theology of glory” (the wisdom of the world) misleads the church.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

• ...When a congregation sees itself as necessarily more faithful because it is not growing. Or, conversely, when a congregation views growing numbers and income as an indication that Christ is necessarily building His church. Numbers, large or small, are not a litmus test of the Gospel’s power (Matt. 7:24–27).

• When anything other than faithfulness by pastor or people to the pure Gospel and Sacraments of Christ is used to measure the “health” of a congregation (1 Cor. 2:2).

The Lutheran Theology of the Two Kingdoms teaches that God reigns in all cultures, but that the church is to be ruled by the Word of God alone, and not by the culture.

• ...The church is not to imitate the culture. Nor must individual Christians think they must create some separate Christian culture or attempt to conquer the world for Christ. God already reigns, even in the most secular culture among those who do not know Him.

...It follows that the culture is not to set the agenda for the Church.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

• ...When the church is operated as a purely secular corporation, with the pastor functioning as the “C.E.O.,” the elders being reduced to a Board of Directors, and the congregation treated as workers, all organized according to a business plan to market a product.

• When the “Priesthood of All Believers” is taken to mean “every member a minister.” This view denigrates the secular vocations (in implying that everyone ought to be engaged in ministerial functions to serve God, as if their existing callings were not equally spiritual in God’s sight). It also can be used to denigrate the pastoral vocation (in implying that everyone can do what the pastor has personally been called to do).

American culture offers many blessings, but it currently includes features that can undermine the faith.

• ...The American philosophy of pragmatism aims only at quantifiable results, assuming that the desired outcomes can be produced when the barriers are removed. Such a view—concerned only with the question “Does it work?”—often neglects issues of objective truth and the radical consequences of the Fall.

...It follows that adjusting the church’s practice to appeal to today’s American culture, as advocated by the Church Growth Movement, will be particularly problematic.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

• ...When certain doctrinally-based features of the church—its liturgy, hymns, moral stances, theological teachings, or culturally unpopular practices (such as close[d] communion and refusal to ordain women)—are construed as barriers that need to be eliminated for the church to grow.

• When it is assumed that the church grows through the application of principles, prescriptions, programs and other human actions, as opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Means of Grace.

...The key to how well the church thrives in today’s culture is surely in how well and how thoroughly the church teaches. This is not a time to cut back church membership classes to one Saturday afternoon, as some are doing. This is not a time to turn Bible classes and the Sunday School into “sharing times,” rather than training in God’s Word. This is not a time to minimize doctrine, morality and discernment of error. Rather, the church must pay new attention to catechesis, not only of young people and new members but of the whole congregation struggling to live as Christians in a non-Christian culture.
That’s just a small sampling of the great work done by the Church Growth Study Committee in “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission.” In critiquing any movement that is riddled with theological problems that are contrary to God’s Word, there is generally not a lot of time spent heaping praise on that movement. The Church Growth Movement should be no different. While there are useful methodologies in the movement, its foreign theology should leave us wary to embrace it.

In this tale of two reports, it seems that the “CTCR Review of ‘For the Sake of Christ’s Commission’” gives an excuse to those who want to bathe in the waters of the Theology of Glory, aiding in the furtherance of their plan. On the other hand, the Church Growth Study Committee’s “For the Sake of Christ’s Commission” does a thorough job of upholding and proclaiming the Gospel and defending it against false doctrine.


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Thank you for posting this. I am looking forward to reading the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Having read both "For the Sake of Christ's Commission" and the "Review," I must comment that the "Review" seems to be a most serious attempt to weld two opposing viewpoints. Again and again, the "Review" praises "For the Sake of Christ's Commission" just before it adds "At the same time, . . . ." I recommend that all who read this post of Scott Diekman's to take the time to read both documents and compare them. The results are astonishing.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Anytime a compliment is followed with a but - the result is contrary to what the person who was initially complimented wanted.

You are an excellent worker, but. . .
I like you a lot, but. . .
Most cancers like this are quite treatable, but. . .

But what happens is simply a desire to appear nice and insightful, while letting people go run and do whatever they wish.

Rt. Rev. Jack Bauer said...

The tendency to take away what is stated is seen in many CTCR documents as well. But, Scott, your presentation does much to show what is going on in the re-education of pastors toward the Purpose-Driven, Hybels, Neo-Revivalism, Pietistic way of doing things. Keep it going.

Family of Michael & Jen-Yi Paul said...

Thank you for your research and presentation here, Scott. It's a valuable service.

Family of Michael & Jen-Yi Paul said...

oops...I had meant to attach the above comment to the "third seminary" post. I haven't yet looked at this post (though I would like to!)

Anonymous said...

"The review will not be released until the CTCR receives at its February meeting a "minority opinion" being prepared by one of its members, Nafzger told Reporter."

The minority opinion for the CTCR's review of FSCC is not available either.

Mentioned at:

Scott Diekmann said...

As per Dr. Nafzger:

"At its April 2004 meeting, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations adopted a resolution stating that this proposed minority opinion not be received by the Commission because it was not in conformity with the Commission's guidelines."