Friday, May 29, 2009

Can Transforming Churches Be Fixed Part 5: New Prescriptions (II) The Church, The Royal Priesthood Of Believers, And Conclusion

By Johannes

Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone and rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known, with love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify; works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.

  1. The Office of the Holy Ministry (IV) The Call: Little has been said about the Pastor’s ordination vows, and his call documents, including the Supplement to the Diploma of Vocation. The pastor and congregation should review these documents, preferably before commencing with any other prescriptions; they promise to be quite revealing. If the congregation’s self-study preceding the pastor’s call is available, that, too ought to be reviewed. Do not these documents supersede even Transforming Churches’ prescriptions? Can the congregation’s constitution and bylaws be changed if such changes would qualify or modify the pastor’s call and his ordination vows? This is an area where great caution should be exercised. Given the manifold pastoral duties in service of the Gospel enumerated in (2) above, how can any pastor assume CEO duties as well?
  2. The Church: “It [the church] is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments administered according to the gospel.” (AC VII, Book of Concord, Kolb-Wengert). TC seems to define the church an assembly of behavers, while believers is treated as a “given” and hardly mentioned in the consultation reports. (For a more detailed treatment, see Ken Schurb, Missional? The Church in Luther’s Large Catechism, LOGIA, Epiphany 2009). There is a constant need for the believers and unbelievers alike to be showered with the Gospel.

    “Further we believe that in this Christian community [the Church] we have the forgiveness of sins, which takes place through the holy sacraments and absolution as well as through all the comforting words of the entire gospel. This encompasses everything that is to be preached about the sacraments and, in short, the entire gospel and all the official responsibilities of the Christian community. Forgiveness is constantly needed, for although God’s grace has been acquired by Christ, and holiness has been wrought by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word in the unity of the Christian church, yet we are never without sin because we carry our flesh around our neck.
    “Therefore everything in this Christian community is so ordered that everyone may daily obtain full forgiveness of sins through the Word and signs appointed to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live on earth. Although we have sin, the Holy Spirit sees to it that it does not harm us because we are a part of this Christian community. Here there is full forgiveness of sins, both in that God forgives us and that we forgive, bear with, and aid one another.” (Large Catechism, II, 54, 55, Kolb-Wengert, emphasis added)

    Here is the Gospel, with no Law-based urging to “make new disciples.” If a sermon series is contemplated, rather than one on the “missional nature of the church,” (for indeed, it is not only missional) a series focusing on the forgiving nature of the church would be more beneficial. Statements such as “we are saved to serve” and “the people come to church and receive forgiveness for a purpose—that purpose is to make disciples,” serve to transform the sweetness of the Gospel into the terror of the Law, placing the sanctification cart before the justification horse. The church is indeed called to serve, and that service is plainly the offer of the forgiveness of sins. Give the believers the Gospel, “teaching them to cling to all I have taught you as if their lives depended on it!” Have you noticed that much in this paragraph is also directed to the pastor? To repeat, why would a pastor take on CEO duties when his plate is plenty full of delivering Gospel benefits at every turn?
  3. The Priesthood of all Believers: The laity in our congregations must be affirmed in their offices as parents, children, neighbors, employees, etc. In living out their vocations, they are potentially powerful witnesses. Are they aware that in their callings they are fulfilling God’s purposes not only to provide “daily bread”, but also as a witness to the Gospel, the “hope [they] have” (1 Peter 3:15)? A thorough study of the Priesthood of All Believers and the Doctrine of Vocation should be part of every prescription (Pastors, note!). These doctrines are poorly understood by most of the laity and have been sorely neglected for too long. God at Work by Gene Veith (Crossway Books) is a good starting point for such a study. The 2007 Convention of Synod passed resolution 1-03, which speaks to this very doctrine: “To Prepare A New Study and Emphasize Priesthood of All Believers.” That study is not yet complete, but the emphasis in our congregations can begin right away. Further quoting Diekmann’s TCN study (part 9):

    “Though the public ministry, which the congregation confers mediately by a call, must be maintained as a divine ordinance, still no absolute necessity dare be ascribed to it. The Holy Ghost is active to generate and sustain faith in the hearts of men also when lay Christians preach the Gospel from inner necessity as well as according to God’s command. The preaching of the Word by Christians in their homes, in their intercourse with their brethren and with the world, is not left to their option or caprice, but is God’s order. This fact must be stressed unceasingly. In so far as Christians fail to bear witness, they are forgetting their Christian calling and doing the Christian Church untold harm.” (Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III, p. 449).

As was stated above, these additional prescriptions center on the Pastoral Office. They may seem self-evident and obvious to some. “We already do that,” others may think. But when the Gospel is treated as a “given” and ignored, as it is in TC consultations, there is a very real danger that it will fall by the wayside, as we come to rely on ourselves, and our own works. None of the above prescriptions—none of them—have been included in any TC consultations. These added prescriptions and practices simply cannot go unstated—and they must be essential and integral to any attempt at real and genuine revitalization. This is true revitalization: life and salvation flowing from the forgiveness of sins, delivered to us through the Means of Grace.

Fixing Transforming Churches (Conclusion):

The 2007 Synodical Convention passed Resolution 1-01A “To Support Revitalization of LCMS Congregations.” There is a significant difference, however, between revitalization [“to give new life or vigor to”] and transformation [“TRANSFORM implies a major change in form, nature, or function”] (definitions from Merriam Webster Dictionary, 1993). (The delegates were not informed that TC was not only among those programs being tested in a pilot program, but that TC had already been chosen to implement the resolution.). Transforming Churches, as presented to some 265 LCMS congregations to date, is itself in need of a drastic intervention—a generous infusion of the Gospel is sorely needed. It can readily be seen that the proposed version of Transforming Churches presented here is quite different from the program now being so aggressively promoted by Synod. Perhaps TC needs a new name, something really faithful to Resolution 2007 1-10A, like Revitalizing Churches (RC), for instance.

What have we done to TC (now RC)—how has it been transformed, better yet, revitalized?

  1. The self-study packet has been revised by adding information vital to assessing the spiritual health of a congregation.
  2. The consultation weekend has been fine-tuned to make the Gospel predominate throughout
  3. Questionable and dangerous prescriptions have been eliminated
  4. Useful and helpful TC prescriptions have been retained
  5. New Gospel-oriented prescriptions have been added, centered on the Office of Holy Ministry
  6. A new name has been suggested, Revitalizing Churches (RC), for instance.
Gone are the threats, the law-based prescriptions, the revivalist practices, the misuse of Scripture. The Gospel predominates throughout. Gone also are misleading promises of growth, effectiveness, etc. All is dependent on God’s promise: “…So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 NIV).

Pastors and laity alike can depend on God’s promises, rather than on man’s hollow and deceptive promises, however well intentioned, or on man-centered programs that demonstrate a lack of confidence in the power of the God-given Means of Grace.

This is no “quick fix”—God’s timing is not our timing: we cannot and should not expect immediate measurable results: no such promise is implied. Whether even in our lifetimes we will see any tangible results, concerned laity and faithful pastors can only say, “We are unworthy servants, we have only done our duty” (Luke 17:10 NIV).

All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise to Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God who saved us by his grace; all glory to His merit.
O triune God in heav’n above, You have revealed Your saving love;
Your blessed name we hallow.

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"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and by teaching them to cling as if their life depended on it to everything whatsoever I authoritatively said to you.” Matthew 28:19, 20a (Interpretive Paraphrase)

May 25, 2009

Soli Deo Gloria

This entire series may be downloaded as a single document in Word or PDF format.


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this!

Anonymous said...

You are very welcome. I hope it is helpful.


Anonymous said...

Please fix the headline, the typo (prePscriptions) is driving me koo-koo!