Monday, March 8, 2010

Rev. Dr. Kieschnick’s Book Waking the Sleeping Giant: Cleaving Practice from Doctrine

Rev. Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick is President of the 2.3 million member Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). In his new book Waking the Sleeping Giant: The Birth, Growth, Decline, and Rebirth of an American Church? he covers a variety of topics, including Synod history, strong points and weak points of the Synod, the present state of the LCMS and where it needs to head, and re-envisioning mission.1 In this short post we’ll take a look at some of his ideas and where they might lead us.

One of the things he covers in several areas of the book is division within the Synod. Give him credit for admitting that there is division within the Synod. At the same time, he would have us believe that the majority of this division should be attributed to things other than doctrinal controversy, and instead are the result of disagreements about practice and the result of a “party spirit.” He asks a series of rhetorical questions in which he obviously wants you to select the later of the two suggested responses:

Do the points of disagreement and division in our Synod deal with doctrinal matters or with matters of implementation of doctrinal principles?

Are the divisions or disagreements that exist among us primarily matters of faith and practice, or are they for the most part differences of opinion in matters of adiaphora—matters neither commanded nor forbidden by Holy Scripture?

Is the LCMS deeply divided theologically, or are our disagreements primarily related to the fact that for a variety of reasons some members of the Synod, prompted by the presence of a pesky political penchant and party spirit, have grown to dislike or distrust one another? (37-38)

The book states that “We in the LCMS simply are not arguing or even debating the major doctrines of the Christian faith…” (31). To bolster this thesis, our current doctrinal dilemmas are downplayed by comparing them with the “battle for the Bible” of the 1970s.2 Just because doctrinal error does not rise to the level of rank heresy as it did then doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. He points out that while the LCMS once forbade membership in the Boy Scouts (39), Boy Scout membership is now considered an adiaphoron, thus implying the same thing will occur with our current issues as time passes. (He may be correct about this, if we continue down the same undiscerning path.) Tragically, he comments that “other disagreements have been practical, namely, how our pure doctrine is to be applied in a rapidly changing world” (39). This statement is completely foreign to Lutheran theology. The application of doctrine is not something that is “practical,” something that is separate from doctrine and that can be changed and manipulated to meet this or that goal. As the Church goes forth into the world, its “practice” is the acting out of its doctrine – its practice is an extension of the Gospel itself. Dr. Robert D. Preus points out that

...doctrine and practice are totally intertwined according to the theology of Luther. Practice is the doing and application of the gospel, or the doctrine. The moment that doctrine is taught or articulated in any way, practice is taking place. …It is clear from Luther's high view of the purity of doctrine and the necessity for confessing it that the essential work of a pastor, called to the public ministry of preaching the Word and administering the sacraments, is simply confession, confession of Christ and His doctrine.3

President Kieschnick’s thoughts cleave practice from doctrine, failing to understand that the two cannot be separated. He continues:

While most major considerations regarding these serious doctrinal issues [such as “the battle for the Bible”] are no longer in contention, we nevertheless continue to experience in our Synod disagreement and divisiveness on several issues. Most such issues have to do with the practical application of our doctrinal principles, notwithstanding [in spite of] the reality that some among us would say that it is impossible to separate doctrine and practice. (41) (Brackets added)

Did he just say that? Is it possible to separate doctrine and practice? No. As Dr. Preus points out, “…doctrine and practice cannot really be separated. Doctrine must result in practice.”

Accompanying President Kieschnick’s severance of practice from doctrine is a fundamentalist approach to doctrine. He is fond of listing the major articles of faith, but beyond that, other articles of faith seem to be dismissed as unimportant – as something open for discussion. He presents a list of the major LCMS doctrinal and theological positions on pages 28-30, and on page 168, he points out that “people know and will always know where we stand on the infallibility of God’s Word, on life issues, on marriage and family, on the godly education of our children, on moral absolutes and the reality of sin, and on the fact that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and eternal life.” Once the high points have been mentioned, other “less important” doctrinal issues are marginalized, lest we commit the cardinal sin of “even appearing sectarian in a climate and culture radically different from when our church was formed” (23).

Luther had a much different perspective according to Dr. Preus:

Luther …sees doctrine as an organic whole, not a linear progression of ideas. It is at just this point that Lutherans in name deviate from each other: Lutherans following the linear, pietistic, and fundamentalistic model, separate the articles of faith, trying vainly to classify them according to some order of importance or logic; the true and confessional Lutherans, following their mentor, see all the articles as essentially one. Christ is the center and focal point of every article of faith….

For decades the LCMS has been playing with its practice to “reach out” to people while paying little attention to its doctrine. The youth group guitar song that crept in to the Divine Service of the 70s is now the full-blown praise band of the seeker-sensitive paradigm shift of the present. That guitar-led praise song grew and grew. It started out as a seemingly benign experiment in practice, but has now grown to the point where the practice has engulfed and disfigured our doctrine. We’re now to the point that we’ve created our own vicious circle of heterodoxy, with practice influencing doctrine which then cyclically further degrades our practice. We’ve lost our interest in talking about the pastor as confessor of Christ and His doctrine. President Kieschnick opines

…the genuine concern for doctrinal purity, together with a lack of clear communication between individuals and groups within our Synod who do not agree on matters theological, has the potential of diluting our focus on mission. In many ways our inward focus has become a preoccupation that has contributed to the sleepyheadedness the LCMS has experienced in the past four decades. (38-39)

Isn’t this remark backwards? We’ve now been around the vicious circle of heterodoxy so many times that a more accurate comment would be:

…the genuine concern for mission, together with a lack of clear communication between individuals and groups within our Synod who do not agree on matters theological, has the potential to suffocate our waning focus on doctrine. In many ways our mission obsession has become a preoccupation that has contributed to the sleepyheadedness the LCMS has experienced in the past four decades.

While President Kieschnick has toned down his “incessant internal purification” comments, they’re still all there in thought and deed, and the word part of it hasn’t changed much either: “…We spend too much time in introspection and internal housekeeping” (195).4 When one’s comments begin to sound more like those of a politician than a theologian, “we become absorbed with our abstract arguments, our ideological disputes, our contests for power, and in this tower of Babel we lose the sound of God’s voice” (spoken by President Barack Obama), it’s time to reevaluate.5 Our real sleepyheadedness comes from being asleep at the wheel of doctrinal watchfulness.

One doctrinal area where we seem to be daydreaming, as an example, is that of the Lord’s Supper. President Kieschnick includes a solid description of Communion in his list of major doctrinal positions on page 30:

- That in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we receive Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of eternal salvation.

He then turns right around, quoting from a letter written to him about the things “we aren’t fighting about,” affirms that we aren’t fighting about “The Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament” (36) – yet we should be. Every Christian denomination claims “the real presence” in some form, usually using some sleight of hand to claim Christ is somehow present while at the same time denying that His very body and blood are physically there. As Professor John Pless points out, “no Christian believes in a real absence.”6 There are LCMS churches who practice open Communion, and in doing so allow those who don’t believe in Christ’s corporeal presence to commune with those of us who do, to the detriment of the erring communicants’ well-being. Here’s what one LCMS church thinks of the Synod’s closed Communion doctrine:

Do I have to be a member to take communion at xyz?
No, you don’t. There are Lutheran churches that require church membership to commune as a way of ensuring a higher degree of unity among those communing. However, at xyz, we don’t want to have a human rule (church membership) stand in the way of a gift of God’s grace (His undeserved love and desire). We do, however, desire that you come to communion as one trusting in Jesus as your Savior and believing that He gives you Himself in the Lord’s Supper.7

The historical LCMS position on who can commune at the Lord’s table is crystal clear, and equally clear is the fact that the above quote is a violation of that Scriptural position. Yet nothing is done about these types of churches where their practice deviates radically from our Confession. This is the great LCMS “don’t ask, don’t tell” Communion policy, a policy which President Kieschnick upholds by refusing to take action and discipline pastors who practice open Communion and discipline their District Presidents who allow it to continue. It is interesting to note that in President Kieschnick’s discussion of the service of women in the church, he counsels: “Nevertheless, unless and until the official positions of the Synod regarding the service of women in the church are amended or rescinded, these positions are to be honored and upheld” (60), yet in his discussion of the Lord’s Supper and the question of closed Communion he recommends nothing more than “serious study and prayerful reflection” (50). The call to “begin our conversation” on page 50 sounds remarkably like the pleas of ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, imploring the people to continue in their conversation of deepening heterodoxy. This lack of discipline is yet another consequence of the separation of practice from doctrine.

How else does the rending of practice from doctrine show up in Waking the Sleeping Giant? In large part, it shows up in an overemphasis on all things church growth. There’s a highly visible emphasis on leadership in the book. For example, he thinks the main point of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4 was to teach “His future church leaders” (the apostles) “key leadership points” (186-7). We see the usual church growth insistence on vision. There’s the familiar pandering to unbelievers:

Holistic ministry and mission efforts with a view toward identifying and responding to the needs of unchurched people in the community surrounding the church are emerging in congregations whose leaders understand the post-church culture. (132)

What is perhaps most disconcerting is the quoting of District President Dr. Robert Newton on page 130, allowing Dr. Newton to answer the question “How will the witness of our church to people in a post-churched culture be accomplished?” Dr. Newton is one of the acolytes in the headlong rush to overemphasize mission at the expense of justification. Dr. Mark Nispel has characterized Dr. Newton’s seminal paper “Accountability and Faithfulness in Reaching the Lost” as “problematic,” and that Dr. Newton has made “careless use and cavalier redefinition of theological terms.”8,9 Dr. Nispel summarizes: “…It appears that President Newton has made such a substantial change to the meaning of the word ‘gospel’ because he wants to make use of the word gospel to support his theological model of mission.” Dr. Newton’s “model” is the same model that President Kieschnick endorses – one that is not a Biblical one and one that should be avoided in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The endorsement of Newton’s model is another clear indicator that some people in the LCMS have made another full loop in the vicious circle of heterodoxy, and that our practice has now overcome our doctrine.

In fairness, we must note that in multiple places, President Kieschnick does present a bare-bones presentation of how one is saved – for this he should be commended. Unfortunately, the diminution of doctrine prevents him from preaching the whole counsel of God, something that one would expect from the President of a church body. It should again be noted that this post is critical of President Kieschnick’s ideas, not his person. As President of the LCMS, he is one who has been appointed by God, and his office and his person should be respected.

In summary, Waking the Sleeping Giant contains very little lehre (doctrine) and even less wehre (defense). What it does contain is a summary of President Kieschnick’s ideas, which we’ve all seen and heard before. Its attempts to elevate practice over doctrine and advance an unsound church growth movement agenda should be cause for concern. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I recommend you skip reading the book – your time can be spent more fruitfully elsewhere. This is one sleeping giant you should tiptoe past.

This document may be downloaded here.


1. Gerald B. Keischnick, Waking the Sleeping Giant: The Birth, Growth, Decline, and Rebirth of an American Church?, (St. Louis: CPH, 2009).

2. For a discussion of the “Battle for the Bible,” listen to the interview of Dr. Paul Zimmerman on the Issues, Etc. segment titled “The 35th Anniversary of the ‘Walk-Out’ in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod” on February 19, 2009:

3. Robert D. Preus, “Luther: Word, Doctrine, and Confession,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 3, July 1996:

4. A series of quotes of President Kieschnick’s references to “incessant internal purification” can be found on the blog TUEBOR: Honoring the Office of Holy Ministry in a post titled “Protecting My Family from False Doctrine and Bad Pastors”:

5. The quote of President Barack Obama comes from the intro to several Issues, Etc. segments, including the one on February 10, 2010:

6. John T. Pless, “The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Congregation,” paper presented to the Congress of the Lutheran Confessions:

7. The reference for this quote is omitted because it is not the purpose of the post to single out a particular congregation. Reference available upon request.

8. Robert D. Newton, “Accountability and Faithfulness in Reaching the Lost,” available on the Transforming Churches Network website:
President Newton was asked to write this paper by two of the Transforming Churches Network gurus, Dr. Dwight Marable and Rev. Terry Tieman. All three of them are on the Transforming Churches Network Board of Directors. For more information on the Transforming Churches Network, go here:

9. Dr. Mark Nispel’s response to Dr. Newton’s paper can be found here:


IggyAntiochus said...

He used some of the same material at this year's District Conventions. He pointed out 4 areas of disagreement in practice, but denied disagreement in doctrine.

* The administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, mainly the question of who should be invited or allowed to commune at the altar of our Lord in LCMS congregations.
* The service of women, mainly the question of in what roles and capacities Scripture allows or commends the participation and involvement of women in the church.
* Questions about proper forms of worship, mainly how much uniformity is necessary in the worship life of LCMS congregations, how much and what kind of diversity in forms of worship is acceptable.
* Inter-Christian relationships, mainly the question of how to remain a biblical, confessional, evangelical, Christian, Lutheran church body boldly confessing the truth in love, relating to other Christians and Christian churches while honoring our covenants of love to avoid unionism and syncretism.

There was a time, back when we had nothing to do with boy scouts and interfaith prayer, that the synod WAS in agreement on these things. My question is, WHY are we now in DISAGREEMENT???

Let's break it down:

* Close communion: doctrine, not practice.
* Role of women: doctrine, not practice.
* Worship practices: sounds like practice, but is really doctrine. The content of our worship is the confession of our belief.
* Interfaith prayer: a joint prayer in a worship setting is akin to altar fellowship. This had been our doctrine until the mid 20th century. It was doctrine then, but it is practice now? No. It is a change in our doctrine.

As this post has pointed out, Practice = Doctrine. How our faith is displayed (practice) is a total reflection on what we teach (doctrine).

Rev. Thomas C. Messer said...


Excellent review, brother! The main error, from which all other errors flow, in Pres. Kieschnick's book is the false belief that doctrine can be separated from practice. With that premise, truly anything goes. I think this is what Pr. Wilken was getting at in his presentation, "The Myth of LCMS Exceptionalism." It's the idea that we can employ all the heterodox practices we wish without having them affect our doctrines. It's an idea that has no Scriptural or Confessional foundation whatsoever upon which to stand, but it's certainly the idea promoted by our president and others like him.

Again, great review - you've hit the nail squarely on the head, my friend!

Scott Diekmann said...

I hadn't thought about it, but you're right Pastor Messer. The whole LCMS exceptionalism idea as Pastor Wilken presented it is at work in President Kiescnick's book.

Thanks for your well laid out comment Iggy!

IggyAntiochus said...

I left a few more comments over at Messer's blog!

Scott Diekmann said...

Your comments at Pastor Messer's blog were right on Iggy, as was Pastor Messer's post(s).

Matthew said...

Can anyone tell me how this whole "practice divorced from doctrine" thing got started? It would seem to me that Scripture, the Book of Concord, and the vast preponderance of Lutheran writings, traditions, and practice over the past 500 years make it pretty clear that what we DO flows out of what we believe. The topic is foremost in my mind because the congregation I serve as pastor is in the throes of serious division and angst in the area of worship practice, mostly because I have spoken up about my concern with practices that are totally at odds with with what we believe, teach, and confess. There is no understanding at all of how the two are connected (and of course, having all the other LCMS congregations in my circuit utilizing generic CCM materials doesn't help either).

IggyAntiochus said...

Practice and Doctrine, Part I:

Anytime someone wants to make a change, they have to justify it. By calling somethings "practice" and therefore "adiaphora" it opens the door to the new element. In the LCMS history, we opposed interfaith prayer, then it became part of "levels of fellowship" then it became a distinction between "serial prayer" which apparently is different than actual worship with non-Christians. The LCMS has a history of letting things in through the back door, allowing them to gain a foothold, then accepting them as normal through, say, a convention resolution that contradicts a previous one. Another PRIME example is our teaching on women in the church.

Getting back to CCM ... I suspect this started with Christian folk music in the 60's and 70's with the likes of "Kum By Yah" and "Pass It On." Remember this?

That's how it is with God's love, once you've experienced it. You want to sing, it’s fresh like spring, I want to pass it on.

It crept in through our Sunday Schools, youth groups, and day schools. It was OK for the kids to sing this stuff during worship. Perhaps even a monthly “folk service” was instituted. Those kids are today's pastors and teachers.

Like other things in our history, it came through the back door.

IggyAntiochus said...

Practice and Doctrine, Part II:

Delay after delay of getting a new hymnal together, combined with dissatisfaction with the ones that finally came didn't help matters, either. If one congregation uses TLH, another LW, and another LBW, why can't we use CCM?

Some of the early 80's stuff had substance, some did not. "El Shaddai" was a great song with plenty of Advent/Lent/maybe even Easter Vigil imagery. Most of it was fun to sing in the car, but still not suitable for worship, like this one...

I have decided, I'm gonna live like a believer, turn my back on the deceiver, I'm gonna live what I believe...

THOSE kids are now pastors and teachers.

The 90's brought the megachurch with it's user-friendly format, cross-less auditoriums and substance-free teaching. It speaks to our old Adam, since nothing is required of us and we can go about our business without the church butting into our lives. They sang Lite FM for Christians with the praise band. Sing along if you like, or just listen to them. Your choice. It doesn't matter.

I love you, Lord,
and I lift my voice
to worship you,
O my soul, rejoice.
Take joy, my King,
in what you hear,
may it be a sweet, sweet, sound
in your ear

Kids who were born, say, in 1985 essentially grew up in the 90's with the choice between grunge and Lite FM for Christians. Those kids are teachers now, or studying for the ministry.

IggyAntiochus said...

Practice and Doctrine: Part III

Health and Wealth/Name and Claim/Blab and Grab came after that. Not only are we not accountable for ourselves, if we just trust in God all the earthly riches will be ours! I can't say as I have heard this from an LCMS pulpit, but I have heard it from LCMS parishoners. Joel Osteen is a winsome fellow even if his teaching is way off.

The music associated with this movement probably hasn't hit Suburbia's megachurches, but it has arrived in full-throttle at the urban megachurch. High energy, stand-up-and-dance, heavy beat, Gods-gonna-bless-us-here-and-now-can-you-feel-it music. Of course you can feel it, it is vibrating though your body!

Here is an excerpt from Kirk Franklin's Declaration (This Is It)

You're life ain't over
(Not unless you want it to be)
(Are you gonna wait for a sign?)
Your miracle
(Stand up and fight)
Turn the mic up real quick
This is it ya'll, this is it ya'all
You've been waitin' and debating, here it is, ya'll
All your stuff from your past, shake it off ya'll
Though they said you wouldn't last, but who is ya'll?
Want your dreams back? Let's get it!
Your peace of mind back? Let's get it!
Want your family back? Let's get it!
Are you ready? Let's get it!
(This is it!)
I speak against everything that comes
To destroy the purpose in your life
(This is it!)
Worrying about your finances, your future
When you can't even sleep at night
(This is it!)
I speak against depression and fear, every attack from the enemy
(This is it!)
This is your day, the Lord made it baby! God has set you free!
(This is it!)

IggyAntiochus said...

Practice and Doctrine, Part IV:

So far all of these forces have crept into the church in one way or another.

Emergent forces might be more prevalent than Name and Claim forces when it comes to preaching, but N&C trumps Emergent in the pews. A walk through Target's book section will reveal Joel Osteen on the top shelf, and Brian McLaren nowhere to be found.

I would add that when I discuss CCM with people, I talk about the text and not the form of music. If the organ dies on Reformation Sunday, you might use a guitar or keyboard to sing A Mighty Fortress. Perhaps it is less majestic, but the text still speaks for itself.

I would also add that every congregation has its peculiar piety that doesn't quite jive with Lutheranism. Perhaps they have the Maranatha Song Book in the choir loft (or the pew racks). Perhaps they sing Amazing Grace with the original line, "The hour I first believed." Perhaps they sing "Beautiful Savior" at the end of every non-communion service.

As a person who used to go into a new position and discard all of the congregation's peculiarities, I can say that patient catechesis and gradual change has gone a lot further than the time I threw out all of the photocopied material in the choir files.

IggyAntiochus said...

Practice and Doctrine, Part V, Practical Application:

If I were assigned a church that was totally CCM, I'd first start by changing out the texts one at a time. I would find a decent Agnus Dei for the band to play. Even the aforementioned Kirk Franklin has "Now Behold the Lamb." It's short and sweet, and has many of the same themes. You get one victory this way without having to do battle.

Next, I would seek out a Sanctus. Cut in some responses, a prayer, and the Verba and the Service of the Sacrament is nearly complete!

Remember, shoot for content in the text and worry about music forms later.

Working backwards on the chief parts of the mass, the creed is spoken, so if it is not already done, it can be added in without new music.

The Kyrie is another thing that works well spoken. Alternately, there are probably a number of short-form Kyries out there. In my church, we are using a spiritual setting of this text. It is a simple repetition of "O Lord, have mercy," but it serves the purpose and sets the season of Lent apart just a little.

When I came to my current congregation, they only knew "This is the Feast." They did not know the Gloria at all. Not even, "All Glory Be to God on High." We took the opportunity to teach the Gloria from This Far by Faith. Filled with nineth chords, it comes across more meditative than praise-filled, which distinguishes the text even further from This is the Feast. We have used this Gloria for Christmas and Epiphany and have alternated with that other Hymn of Praise during the long Pentecost season.

Take your time with this, it can take a year to learn a new liturgy in some congregations.

Once the liturgical texts are in line, then the hymnody follows. Find out the classic hymns the congregation knows and sing one per Sunday. Examine the body of praise songs that they do sing and see if there are any that can be salvaged. A weaker song can be strengthened through preaching. The preacher can fill in the blanks. Sometimes a weaker song still relates to the readings and the readings fill in the blanks.

Blessings to you, Matthew, and may God strengthen you in this time. Holler if you have any questions or need encouragement. iggyantiochus aught gmail daht com.