Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Transforming Churches Network: Part 7, Turning the Gospel into Law

This entire series may be downloaded in Word or pdf format.

Many of the details of the Mission Revitalization Process are locked behind password protected firewalls, yet there is one way in which the “process” is very transparent – the name Transforming Churches Network (TCN). In this case, the word “transforming” is very descriptive, because it really does set out to transform your congregation, and the entire Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS). As a spin-off of Ablaze!, the goal is to transform 2,000 congregations by the year 2017. Yet this is not a Biblical transformation.

As we saw in Part 5, this transformation is one which is caused not by the Holy Spirit, but by the dialectic process, complete with change agents, covenants, coaches, and a business plan. This same transformation process is used by Rick Warren in his Purpose-Driven (read Law-Driven) materials, and in his Global Peace Plan. Their mission is to create a paradigm shift in the Missouri Synod of immense proportions. “The ultimate goal of TCN is to bring about a deep and systemic change in the Missouri Synod, and for us to accomplish that not only do we need to provide training and resources for existing pastors and congregations, but we also want to make a significant impact on the formation of new church leaders at the seminary and university levels.”1

The Lutheran Confessions uphold justification by grace through faith as of paramount importance, but we are slowly drifting away from this, our material principle. As the focus in our Synod shifts more and more away from justification to mission, the bedrock of our theology is crumbling. We have tunnel vision. We are so intent on “mission” that we’ve forgotten what the mission is about – the forgiveness of sins. The marks of the Church are no longer Word and Sacrament, where forgiveness is found, they are now “a minimum of 5% growth in worship attendance each year.” The Church is now “a non-profit organization” that is “in the people development business.” The pastor has become “the chief vision officer,” and the priority of his ministry is to train and equip leaders. A prescription in one church’s Consultation Report went so far as to say “All existing and new ideas, facility plans, programs and ministries must be evaluated in light of this [missional] vision and any that do not enable the congregation to move closer to achieving this vision shall be stopped or not implemented” (online reference).

This missiolatry has been taken to the extreme. Our desire to tell our neighbor about Jesus, which should be a joyous response of thankfulness in Christ, has been turned into a false gospel of works by TCN. They have turned the Gospel into Law by prescribing a list of works that you must do. The pastor encumbered by the TCN millstone must sign a covenant agreeing to attend all monthly Learning Community meetings, participate in an annual District TCN retreat, start a Learning Community, bring church leaders to TCN training events, initiate a “prayer team,” begin the TRIAD strategy, assure that his congregation fulfills all the objectives prescribed in the Consultation in a timely fashion, meet with his Personal Trainer, complete a weekly Time Log, complete a monthly Vital Statistics report form, and fulfill any other directives given by his Personal Trainer. The congregation must initiate a season of repentance, forgiveness and renewal, launch two new interest/affinity groups by the end of the year and seven more soon thereafter, and annually hold at least six off-church campus events which are completely focused on people of the community (numbers vary). Every member must know and be committed to carrying out the vision. (LCMS Districts that participate in the Mission Revitalization Process may implement their own “version” of the TCN model. Not all districts require the pastor to sign a covenant.)

Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession cries out against this “vision”: “Who has given the bishops the right to lay these traditions on the Church, by which they snare consciences (42)? ...Ordinances instituted as though they are necessary, or with the view that they merit grace, are contrary to the Gospel (50). ...But when they teach or establish anything against the Gospel, then the congregations are forbidden by God’s command to obey them (23).”

We’ve already seen how the TCN ordinances are contrary to the Gospel. They are based on a theology of glory, assuming that only a growing church is a healthy church. They confuse the kingdom of the left and the kingdom of the right and ignore vocation, turning the pastor away from his called duties and assigning them to the congregants, all of which are contrary to the Gospel. They claim the pastor’s “vision” is the work of the Holy Spirit. These TCN failures are all related to a disinterest in doctrinal truth, combined with a willingness to use “whatever works,” including the use of business and non-Lutheran materials that are far from the truth of Scripture. If the Holy Spirit won’t grant us “growth” through the means which Christ ordained, we’ll do it ourselves. Paul speaks of this situation in his letter to the Galatians: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV).

In the TCN Consultation Report there is nearly always some form of statement related to the inward focus of the congregation.
The congregation has fallen into the habit of taking care of themselves, providing for their comfort and personal preferences at the expense of reaching out to the people of this community who are living without faith in Christ and thus destined for an eternity in Hell. Thus they have failed to fulfill their calling to participate with the Lord Jesus in the task of making disciples of all people.
This is nothing more than a naked preaching of the Law. The congregation is required to:
…initiate a season of repentance, forgiveness and renewal for the congregation, ...leading up to a Congregational day of repentance and renewal. The purpose for the Day of Prayer and Repentance is to offer prayers of confession for:

   ● Idolatry connected to an inward focus on members’ comfort,

  ● Apathy and or disregard toward those people that God misses most in this community,

   ● Rededication to God’s mission of making disciples in this community.

The leaders and congregational members are encouraged to offer silent and public prayers asking God to forgive them personally and collectively for failing to participate in making new disciples of Jesus Christ on a regular and consistent basis. (online reference)
This kind of talk sounds awfully similar to identification repentance. Aside from that, C.F.W. Walther, the first President of the LCMS, warned against this type of wrong motivation, which confuses Law and Gospel:
In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided... when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.
The attempt to make men godly by means of the Law and to induce even those who are already believers in Christ to do good by holding up the Law and issuing commands to them, is a very gross confounding of Law and Gospel. This is altogether contrary to the purpose which the Law is to serve after the Fall.... (The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, p. 381)
One TCN congregations’ “Day of Prayer and Repentance” bulletin contained the following:
Jesus not only had concerns about the churches in Revelation but he has similar concerns for Our Shepherd. If Jesus had the opportunity to say some things to us face to face, what do suppose He would say to us? Prayerfully ask the Lord to speak to as you ponder that answer and use the following questions to aid you in reflecting:

• What would Jesus say about our love for Him?
• What would Jesus say about our love for one another?
• What would Jesus say about our desire to serve others?
• What would Jesus say about our compassion for those that need Him?
• What would Jesus say about our commitment to impact our community with the Gospel?
• What would Jesus say about our desire to be comfortable? (archived online reference)
So what would Jesus say? Would he beat you over the head with the Law, as these questions do? No. He wouldn’t have anything to do with this set of Law-driven questions. We already know what He would say, because He’s already said it in His Word. He would say the words which repentant sinners long to hear - blessed words of absolution:
“Peace be with you.”

“Take, eat. Take, drink.”
TCN, in its attempts to spread the Gospel, preaches Law. It preaches a Law-driven motivation to its unsuspecting congregants, and a Law-driven message to the “seekers,” as they make a “commitment” to Christ and learn life application lessons, as we saw in Part 2. A Law-driven message cannot save; instead, it creates guilt-ridden followers or self-righteous Pharisees.

Tomorrow we’ll consider the spiritually harmful effects of the Mission Revitalization Process and the Transforming Churches Network.

Jump to Part 8

Go to Part 1

This entire series may be downloaded in Word or pdf format.

References updated 5-10-13.


1. Online reference no longer available.

photo credit: gotplaid


Anonymous said...

Is this frightening, or what? President Kieschnick has said, "There's trouble in River City." He's right, but not for the reasons he supposes. The LCMS--the true Evangelical Church, is in danger of becoming just another Law-preaching guilt-producing Protestant sect. The question is asked, "What would Jesus say to us?" To the LCMS, I think He might say, "Yet I hold this against you. You have forsaken your first love. Remember the heights from which you have fallen! Repent, and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." (Rev. 2:4,5).
This series is prophetic: Every pastor, every DP, every "Mission Exec." should read this series.


Anonymous said...

Sounds so very much like the proces of being 'cleared' in Scientology.
Yes it is scary.
It is also arrogant and, like all arrogance, hateful at its root.
Thank you, Scott Diekmann.

Matt said...

So what do you suppose happens if the Pastor breaks his signed vow to attend to the endless list of learning communities, prayer groups, retreats, strategies and acronyms because he thinks his real job is to proclaim the Gospel and administer the sacraments?

The pastoral care of souls takes a LOT of time, even in a small congregation. We must not ask pastors to neglect the work that Christ has called them to in order to satsify an unscriptural covenent written by men.

Also, most pastors have duties at home to their families, and they are entitled to a certain amount of rest, prayerful meditation and study and time for themselves.

Bottom line: if the pastor supports this unscriptural church growth ideology, the TCN process will enthrone him as a dictator. If he opposes it, he will be run out of the office.

This is even worse than making the pastor a king: We are making a false doctrine our king. Kyrie eleison.

Scott Diekmann said...

From TCN's perspective, what happens if the pastor breaks his signed vow is this:
"In addition, I understand that failure to fulfill any of my commitments listed above may result in immediate dismissal from the Transforming Congregations Network and any or all of the benefits that pertain to it."
More Law!
ref: http://www.missiontrainingcenter.com/Revitalization/covenantB.pdf

Anonymous said...

Isn't there more trouble in a congregation already, if they have a pastor who will entertain, for any reason, such an oath?
Hasn't he already sworm to uphold the confessions and the doctrine of LCMS?
Who is initiating the participation of churches in TCN? Is it members, pastors, either, both, DPs?
Can you also give us, or point us to, some histories of actual churches and TCN? Have any pastors refused it?
Thank you again, for this invaluable info and analysis.
Susan R

Anonymous said...

Dear "Anonymous Susan R":
You raise an excellent point. When I challenged TC in my former congregation, I called attention to the ordination vows our pastor took. I also read over and called attention to the call documents' "Supplement to the Diploma of Vocation" and the call documents themselves. The response was underwhelming-- it was like punching a cloud of smoke. I even told him "I don't want a CEO, I want a pastor!" If you wish, I will "sanitize" some stuff I have written about my experiences with TC and send to Scott and he can send it to you, allowing that it is possible. My anonymity (sic) has to remain under my "Johannes" tag at least for the next month or so. TC is being pushed by mission execs, by DP's in some cases, by circuit counselors, and by synod, of course, etc. There's practically no cost to the cong., and the promises are enticing. If you want some stuff, advise on this blog, and I'll send it to Scott. I check in here about three or four times a day.


Anonymous said...

You have a go, Johannes. I've been following your passionate comments here and at BJS, seeing as how you have first-hand experience.
organshoes - at- hotmail -dot- com
will get your info directly to me.
Not yet having to go all pseudonym, I'm Susan, an organist/choir director at a small, shrinking confessional church in the South. We're a 'great' candidate for tcn, once our pastor retires. I'd like to be as informed as possible. Scott's great posts are just the begining of the info I'd like to have us armed with.

Scott Diekmann said...

Hi Susan R.

I doubt too many laymen are initiating the TCN connection in their congregations. More likely the pastor. Some districts are encouraging it - others aren't.

Here's a link to TCN that explains the district involvement.

District involvement means dollars for the district, which is attractive.

Some people have speculated that this is a way to "weed out" confessional congregations. Support those who play the TCN game and let the other congregations starve. Only problem with that thought is that it is the TCN congregations who are actually getting starved - spiritually.

At the end of Part 4 there are links to congregations that have participated in TCN. That might give you a sense of who is getting involved. It's a voluntary program at this point. I don't know to what extent districts are pushing it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Scott.

Anonymous said...

Susan--thanks for the kind words--I kind of like "passionate" and, frankly, I think you're right. It will take me a couple of days to get the stuff together. In the meantime, I suggest you go to the addresses of cong's that Scott has provided and read the prescriptions. I have a collection of a dozen or so, and they all look pretty much the same.
Rest assured, Scott is right on target with his analysis--try to imagine Clara Peller (Burgerking) asking, "Where's the Gospel?" and you've got it. If you can get a copy of "Direct Hit" for free, read it. Ought to be someone you can borrow it from. I probably will not contact you directly--we preserve our identity and honor this blog.


Anonymous said...

What the links Scott provided haven't satisfied yet is: Who initiates the program in a given congregation?
But I suppose that point is not so significant when, once they're in, they're in. Like I said before, any pastor who signs on that covenant has surrendered, and must've been a very weak link to begin with. Sorry pastors. I know your path is hard, but ours is too. That's why we need shepherds all along it, from beginning to end.
It's sheer betrayal of the faith, and of the faithful.
And the sheep who follow him into this new church order are co-betrayers, in my book.

Anonymous said...

To the last "Anonymous" Susan. Ultimately, the voters make the decision, but it's after a presentation by a TCN guru, and some push from pastors & others in the cong. not to mention mission execs. Can pre-emptive action be taken? It bears some consideration and careful thinking and planning.


Scott Diekmann said...

After I wrote this post, I read Pastor Klemet Preus's excellent essay titled "Pietism in Missouri's Mission: From Mission Affirmations to Ablaze!" He discusses a series of resolutions related to mission adopted at the 1965 LCMS convention, which were pietistic in nature and had serious doctrinal flaws (they were called Mission Affirmations, or MAs). The same doctrinal problems contained in the Mission Affirmations are present in TCN as well. TCN's Day of Repentance harkens back to these MAs. Pastor Preus comments:

"The MAs replace Christ's doctrine with the Christians love in a number of ways. First, there is the annoying penchant for ecclesiastical repentance. We confess 'unfaithfulness,' 'individual and corporate self centered disobedience,' 'self interest,' having 'an imperfect understanding of God's truth.' Keep in mind that doctrine belongs to God and requires no repentance. When we repent in our theological documents we are tacitly placing our theology into the same category as our sins. Something is amiss."

Pastor Preus's essay is available in Mission Accomplished? Challenges to and Opportunities for Lutheran Missions in the 21st Century.