Friday, February 6, 2009

LCMS Ablaze!

It's the last day of Ketchup Week. We're nearly kaught up. This last post is one that Pastor Benjamin Harju posted on his blog Paredwka: Dropping the Ball last April. I know some of you will remember it, and it's definitely worth a second look. In it, Pastor Harju explores some of the fundamental theological problems confronting the LCMS today, problems that are deep-seated and manifest themselves in such programs as Ablaze!. Reprinted with permission.

I was attending a presentation by Dr. Mark Mattes (Religion and Philosophy Department Chair at Grand View College in Des Moines) on Easter Thursday. Dr. Mattes is an incredibly learned and insightful person, and I enjoyed his presentation a lot. Near the end of his presentation, this ELCA pastor helped we in the LCMS get 'clued in' to one of the critical problems we are facing. He suggested that the LCMS is in the midst of a Predestinarian Controversy, and to illustrate his point he referenced Uzzah's attempt to steady the shifting Ark of the Covenant. For these two insights I am indebted to Dr. Mattes, for this seems to be the missing piece of a puzzle for me. I mention all of this so that no one thinks that I arrived at the Predestinarian Controversy conclusion on my own, nor did I come up with the Uzzah and the Ark analogy in the least. These two points are from Dr. Mattes. The rest I am attempting to run with on my own


What do the Lutheran Confessions teach about Predestination? (My Orthodox friends may find this view rather different from theirs. It might make for an interesting side-post.) Simply put, Lutherans (are supposed to) believe that the entire race of humanity is lost in sin and death because of Adam and Eve's transgression, but that God - in His own particular wisdom and secret counsel - has determined to save certain individuals by grace, through faith, for Christ's sake alone. The Lord knows who are His. He will accomplish their salvation through His own appointed means. While God cannot be blamed for humanity's rebellion, He is credited for showing mercy on a remnant. Jesus dies for all, but not all are elect. Yet the elect (read: those specifically chosen by God before the foundation of the world) will be saved through His ordinary means. The question for missions is this: will God save them with us (as servants of His will), without us, or in spite of us?

It seems that in the LCMS a different model of Predestination is at work. The salvation of the elect is not dependant on God's secret decision from before the foundation of the world. Otherwise, why does our leadership illustrate the Ablaze! missions agenda by rapid finger snapping (snap, snap, snap, snap, etc.) and then say something to the effect of, 'This is people dying without knowing Jesus, and we need to do something about it.'?

Now for Dr. Mattes' Uzzah analogy: what happened when Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark? He died. Why? Because of his lack of faith. The Ark was not his to steady. It belonged to God, and it was the sacramental vessel of God's presence among His people. God had provided means for its care. Uzzah looked up and saw how the Ark was unsteady, and he attempted to rescue God. His faith was not in God's word, command, and promise, but like St. Peter who sank in the water when he experienced the wind and waves, Uzzah's faith became distorted and misplaced. And what happened to Uzzah? He died.

The Church is the Ark of God. The Church fulfills the OT Ark of the Covenant (as does the BVM, but we won't go into that correlation here right now). The Church is the bearer of His presence, but it is God who is at the helm, God who is driving everything, and God who has arranged for His elect to come on board and receive safe passage. What will happen to the LCMS if, by taking our eyes off of God's promises and worrying over the "wind and the waves" and the "stumbling oxen", we insist on reaching out our hand to steady things? The answer is obvious. (Great analogy, Dr. Mattes.)

Now, this is not just a rant or complaint against the LCMS and Ablaze! I'm going somewhere with this. Hopefully I will make some sense, so follow me if you will. I want to enter the public mind of Ablaze! and this skewed Predestinarianism:

People are dying every second not believing in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. (snap, snap, snap, etc.) So we have to do everything we can in order to reach them, so that God has an opportunity to save them. Thus our main emphasis needs to be missions. Every congregation needs to be a mission outpost. These mission outposts are successful when they reach new people with the Gospel. So we can measure success, in some way at least, by counting adult baptisms. Success isn't confused with faithfulness. A mission outpost with many adult baptisms is successful and presumably faithful. One that doesn't produce adult baptisms isn't quite successful in their mission, though they may be faithful (arigato gozaimasu for this, Luke).

So, what can be done to make these congregations successful, so that fewer people will die without faith in Jesus? Well, we want to remain faithful, so we can't cut or change anything other than adiaphora. Thus the following are usually changed to be geared to mission success:

Worship Style - From liturgical to pop-evangelical and contemporary;

Preaching - Keep the core message of faith in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation, but gear topics toward effective and successful daily living as Christians;

Ecclesial Life/Ministry Dynamism - Remove the emphasis from the pastor as a Seelsorger and the people as hearers of the Word and vocation. Instead the pastor is a visionary who facilitates small groups and trains lay leaders. These lay leaders in turn empower and train other disciples, who then bring others into the small groups, who become disciples that will one day empower and equip others, and so on and so forth... So now the emphasis is not receiving forgiveness and life from Christ through His sacramental means administered through the Office of the Ministry, and living out that life and forgiveness in vocation. The emphasis is now on training and equipping people to get the message out and to improve the quality of life in the world through faith.

More could be said, but these three categories will suffice for now. So, what happens if your congregation is not showing any marked increase in adult baptisms (or an analogous statistic), AND you are unwilling to make the changes in these so-called adiaphora? "You're not mission-minded." "You're not being faithful to Christ." "You have no compassion." "You don't love people." "You're some kind of Pharisee, insisting on your traditions." Sound familiar?


The primary ailment here is the faulty Predestinarianism. This is our mission motivation in the LCMS right now. I think many of us have only intuitively recognized how askew the promotion and implementation of Ablaze! is, but we haven't been able to really, clearly point out the heart of the problem. I think it is this skewed Predestinarianism. It's just not Lutheran. We're trying to steady the Ark.

The problem is compounded by a number of secondary ailments:

Faulty Adiaphorism. Leitourgia Divina adiaphora non est. The Divine Liturgy is not indifferent things (adiaphora). Pop-Evangelical, contemporary worship is not the worship that the Holy Spirit reveals in the Scriptures, but the Historic Liturgy is. What passes for Praise Worship in many of our congregations, at our Youth Gatherings, even at our District Gatherings, is hardly the worship to which Christ calls us by His ascending to the tabernacle of heaven with His own blood, or the worship revealed to St. John in his Apocalypse. There is more to Scriptural worship than commands to do this, and the absence of commands or restrictions with regard to other things. There is the very worship that is described by the Scriptures. There is the worship that is going on perpetually in heaven and has been revealed to us. This worship of Spirit and Truth may not come with commands and decrees of the law that so many people search the Scriptures to find. Yet Christ's blood and the gift of the Spirit to the Church accomplishes what law is too weak to accomplish. Or to put it another way, Christian worship is what is alive and current in heaven among the angels, archangels, and all the redeemed - all who gather around and worship the Father and the Lamb in the communion of the Spirit. Leitourgia Divina adiaphora non est. This issue is not simply that of education. This is about how we in the LCMS read the Scriptures. This is about faith: do you believe the Scriptures or not? Do you read the Scriptures with the eyes of a Pharisee (seeing the outer characteristic, but missing the heart and soul), or do you have the mind of Christ?

Gospel Reductionism. Somehow the gospel has become an idea to be accepted. "Jesus died for you. Jesus forgives you. Okay, let's move beyond that to daily living (or other things)." Sorry, friends, but the Gospel is more than that. It is passing over from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from enmity with God to adoption into His family. More than just an idea, this passing over is something that happens to you by grace, through faith, for Christ's sake alone. It's daily, constant saturation in Christ's cross and resurrection. You die with Christ, daily through Baptism, and thus you die to sin. Your life is now Christ really and truly. Your life is hid in Him, and He (your Life) implants Himself in you. He is your everything (new birth, adoption, food and drink, heart, mind, life, etc.). Old things have passed away, behold! all things are new. This is the gospel, and it's a constant reality in which we live, move, and have our being. This defines and shapes what preaching says, what daily life is about (and it isn't success and milking earthly abundance from God), and holds us in a now-not-yet eschatological tension. I cannot say enough about what the Gospel is to satisfactorily show how it isn't just the notion that Jesus died for you. That may be the heart, but if you pull out the heart from the Body then you've killed the whole thing.Ecclesiology. These two previous ailments feed into a third. What does the Body of Christ on earth look like? If you look at the previous two ailments, you might see how this oft-quoted Lutheran dictum fits: 'Where the Word is preached in its purity, and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ's institution, there you find the Church.' We don't find the Church like we should in the LCMS, especially where this skewed Predestinarianism feeds into the Faulty Adiaphorism and particular Gospel Reductionism that I've mentioned above. Many congregations in the LCMS no longer order themselves internally to fight sin, death, and the devil by Christ's gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We have lost our ecclesial (corporate) identity as Christians. Everything is geared toward facilitating the individual to maintain a personal, almost enthusiast-styled relationship with God. Like we custom fit everything in our culture to our own tastes and whims - image, job, lifestyle - so now our internal congregational dynamic is geared to empowering the individual, so he or she may craft his or her own special relationship with Jesus. It goes without saying that this is a relationship of subjectivity.

Like I said, the main problem is a faulty Predestinarianism. However, the secondary problems go straight to the core of what Christianity is. The LCMS is ill in its carrying out of worship, preaching, and living out the Faith ecclesially. It doesn't get more fundamental than that. This is why people of solid liturgical parishes look over at their fellow LCMSers who are totally contemporary and see no compatibility, and then get really depressed and confused. We have in our Synod two entirely different Christianities (and here I believe I'm being overly optimistic). They may be able to tally up many of the same doctrines on paper, but the heart and soul of just who Jesus is - just what Christianity is - is fundamentally different. Ouch.

(If you think I might be on to something, please spread the word. However, giving this a third-time-over review, I expect I'll probably anger people from all sides of the fence with what I'm saying.)

The next question is: what do we do about this?



Thank you. You make sense out of non-sense. I am certain that your congregation knows it is blessed with such a pastor.

Anonymous said...

Wow! We are coming from this stuff via the SB and PCA, actually fleeing from it, and now, without a lot of detail into a wonderfully liturgical LCMS. We have become aware of this whole Ablaze thing and the first thing that came to mind is that we immediately sensed this as the very thing we fled, especially in our former denomination of SB and especially in the church growth movement. EVERY aspect of this article is EXACTLY our experience in the SB church, I mean every sentence. The only thing eye opening for us now it the link to “faulty predestinarianism” and the sacraments, which one would not see in a SB church or most Reformed churches for that matter – there are no sacraments in the former and faulty one’s in the later.

All I can say, and I say this with MUCH experience, is you’ve nailed it. You are speaking SBism, mission, mission, mission, evangelism to the loss of the evangel, “don’t you love the lost”, etc…in a Lutheran context. In fact had you not mentioned the denomination in which you were speaking, LCMS, and I had no other way of telling, I would have said (minus the sacrament talk of course) – this is a conservative SB preacher talking about Rick Warren’s movement and the over all movement of “missionism” we find EVEN in the “better” more conservative SB institutions like Southern seminary.

WOW! Dead on analysis, and this comes from someone who ALREADY knows, in fact is fleeing where these in the LCMS are running. Running experientially from the other direction I would yell at the Ablaze LCMS crowd, “You’ve got it wrong, I KNOW, I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, I was IN IT, I was ACTIVELY IN IT…you are headed toward hell and not heaven…listen to one who has actually been there before it’s too late.”

Larry KY

Scott Diekmann said...

Thanks for your comment Larry - it is a helpful warning. For some reason we in the LCMS seem to be capable of copying others, but not capable of learning from their results.