Another Analysis of the “LCMess”

This one is from First Things Blog. Here’s a sample:

The LCMS, in which I was baptized and confirmed, is unlike any other Protestant body: It’s not mainline and not quite evangelical, at least in the altar-call, clap-happy sense. Rather it is orthodox, confessional, and liturgical—or at least it’s supposed to be. For those Christians who are tired of the strip-mall approach to church-hopping, in which the congregation with the best music and most emotional appeal wins your heart this week, the LCMS has always been a traditional, sober, and catholic alternative. Unfortunately, many within the LCMS have decided that being Lutheran isn’t enough; they also want to be BIG and compete with the nondenoms around the corner. And so some congregations have gone all Baptist and charismatic in terms of worship style, and in some cases present a soteriology that contradicts that of a church with a very high view of the sacraments—a view that includes a doctrine of baptismal regeneration.

Read the rest here.

HT: Weedon

Letting A Pro Explain It

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway writes for the Wall Street Journal:

He may well be right. The program was in all likelihood a pawn in a larger battle for the soul of the Missouri Synod. The church is divided between, on the one hand, traditional Lutherans known for their emphasis on sacraments, liturgical worship and the church’s historic confessions and, on the other, those who have embraced pop-culture Christianity and a market-driven approach to church growth. The divide is well known to all confessional Christian denominations struggling to retain their traditional identity….

Since Mr. Kieschnick narrowly won election in 2001, the church has embarked on a program, called Ablaze!, that has the admirable goal of “reaching 100 million unreached and uncommitted people with the Gospel by 2017,” the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Historically the church kept statistics on baptisms. Now, however, it keeps a tally of what it calls “critical events.” On March 17 a man reported discussing Jesus with his waitress — and the Ablaze! count went up by one.

One congregation near St. Louis took a $25,000 Ablaze! grant and used it to put up billboards with kitschy statements purporting to come from the devil (e.g., “JeffersonHills Church Sucks,” signed “Satan”). A Michigan mission congregation replaced the historical message of Lent with a speaker series on sex. Following marketing principles, neither congregation uses the word “Lutheran” in its name or advertising campaign.

While “Issues, Etc.” never criticized Mr. Kieschnick or his colleagues, its attacks against shallow church marketing included mention of some approaches embraced by the current leadership. It opposed, for instance, the emergent church — an attempt to accommodate postmodern culture by blending philosophies and practices from throughout the church’s history — and the Purpose Driven Church movement, which reorients the church’s message toward self-help and self-improvement.

This isn’t the first time the Missouri Synod has been divided between confessional Lutherans and those enamored with the latest religious fads. In the 1970s, alert confessional laity thwarted a top-down imposition of chic liberal theology in the church’s seminaries. (Read the whole piece here.)

HT: Dan at Necessary Roughness.

So Could My Picture Over There Be an Icon?

Interfax quotes Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Fr. Mikhail Prokopenko:

I would not say that absolutely all cartoons… are immoral and offensive. In fact, some of the cartoons… can even be called Christian and promoting family values – take, for instance, The Simpsons, a cartoon series that I, for one, really like.

Just kidding about the icon joke.

HT: Orrologion.

The Congregational Ostrich Move

Early in my ministry it was relatively easy for me to ignore the troublesome things that were happening in the Synod. I made the refrain many do, “I am pastor here, not there, and what happens out there does not really affect my people here.” Or, “I have been called by God to this place, not to the Synod.” Those of you who are clergy in this denomination have heard it all before.

But such responses forget a few important items:

1. You are a member of Synod. Your congregation is a member of Synod. And while Synod is “advisory” and all that, we are still responsible to others. We do have “ecclesiastical supervisors.”

2. We are a Synod, and there are other congregations that people will visit. They will have friends in other congregations. You may stick your head in the sand, but other people will not.

3. The Synod does not seem advisory to many laypeople. And the Synod has ways of reaching your congregation around you, through radio, the internet, mailings and so forth. The message from the pulpit and newsletters is not the only message they hear from the LCMS.

4. If you really care about your people, you should care that one day you will not be there and someone else will be, and may undermine all that you have taught. You may respond, “That is not my concern; it is in God’s hands.” It is in God’s hands, but if you care about the people and believe you are right, you will care about what happens to them when you are gone.

Any additions to this list?

More Issues with “Issues”

The reaction in the LCMS about the abrupt cancellation of the radio show “Issues, Etc.” continues. One link provided by a respected blogger takes us here, where the author proposes the cancellation of the show is just one more step in a “Seeker Sensitive Take Over” of the LCMS. He tries not to sound like a conspiracy theorist.

Um….you think? To be sure, I don’t know if the LCMS is systematically, intentionally, knowingly, organizationally following the steps of change that Chris Rosebrough suggests. It may be a stretch to say that there are organized powers who have planned the process of change to “Transition” our church body into the bland, Purpose-Driven model and our congregations with it.

But look around, dear friends. It’s happening, and has been happening for some time. That much is incontrovertible. How premeditated it is and how many are involved is unknown…and moot.

We knew when Pres. Kieschnick was elected. It is not our Grandfather’s Synod, after all. Doubt this? Listen to this radio interview conducted the very same day Issues Etc was canceled.

We knew when the 2004 Convention re-elected Kieschnick and the resolution to provide Contemporary worship materials passed.

We knew when Ablaze! was passed.

We knew when Fan Into Flame! was promoted in our Districts (that’s the fund-raising scheme behind Ablaze!)

We knew when we read stories like this (note the Ablaze! Live Church in the bottom left of the first page. See more here). And saw websites like this. Yes, JH Church is LCMS in theory (to put the “best construction” on this, they have a very professional, sharp web design, and some slick marketing and branding. It is very effective marketing).

I used to think that I was well in the mainstream of the LCMS. I thought that some congregation’s flirtation with modern Church Growth, Purpose-Driven methods would be short-lived. I believed that the classmates of mine at the Seminary would get discouraged when they realized that the Mother Ship does not change like that. Many of them were converts; I grew up hearing, “The Missouri Synod will never do such-and-such.” I believed that the Confessional, Liturgical movement in the LCMS (sometimes called the Evangelical Catholic movement) was not just faithful to the historic LCMS, but couldn’t even be argued against, there were so many of us.

All that changed for me in July 2004. Apparently many more are realizing this now.

When Moses was in Egypt Land…

As Marjorie and I left for church on Good Friday, Jack began throwing up. His Grandma stayed home with him and Grandpa brought the other kiddos to church. On the way home, Jack vomited again. Poor little guy.

After all the kids were in bed, Marjorie got sick. Then me. Holy Saturday we shuffled around, but by late afternoon we were all hungry and doing better. Easter was refreshing and joyous, that is until Mikayla ran across the street in the dark sans shoes, kicking the curb and splitting her toe open. It was too late for minor emergency, too minor (we thought) for a $100 trip to the ER. I spent Easter Monday morning in the walk-in clinic with her. It was broken. Not the day off I’d planned, but at least I was not expected to be at church, and I was glad I could take care of her.

Today she woke, toe broken…and vomiting. Olivia is nauseated too.

Marjorie said this morning, “I keep telling God, ‘If you would simply show me WHO Your people are, I will gladly let them go! Please spare my firstborn!”

The Corporation

Fr. Gregory Hogg is right whether you like it or not. The LCMS is a non-profit corporation as it identifies itself in its Constitution. The only “church” in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are those congregations which are members thereof.

He also wrote, “Toward his own people, a man may function as minister; toward the broader group, he is a field-office manager.” I recognize the rhetoric here, and he may not be far off. To Redeemer, I am their Pastor. But I also belong as a member of the Synod, and if not a “field manager,” then some position of responsibility in the Synod.

The background of his post is the cancellation and termination of a popular radio show on KFUO. In many senses it was the voice of Confessional Lutheranism in St. Louis. Since it was syndicated and available on the Web, its voice was also heard around the world. The show didn’t pull many punches, and sometimes the rhetoric was pretty thick. But it reflected a certain strain within the LCMS–the “Conservative” side if you want to call it that. The host and producer were employed by the Synod and now the corporation has removed them this week, without warning. Why? We don’t know. Who? They are not saying.

I don’t know the specifics, but I do know the radio show expressed a version of Lutheranism that is not reflected much in the Official Publications of the LCMS (That’s safe to say, I think). The pastors of the LCMS are also under authority, and as members of the Synod, expected to toe the company line, to some degree–perhaps not as much as if your check has “LCMS, Inc.” on it, but some nonetheless. I cannot be fired from the Synod, since they don’t pay my wages. Most of us are not high-profile enough to be noticed. Maybe.

Here’s some wisdom for those who aren’t used to answering to corporate bosses. The article was entitled “Four Things You Should Never Say to the CEO” by Bill Lane:

2. Making fun of a corporate program.

Yes, there are lots of vapid initiatives trotted out by marketing or PR or HR people: “Year of the Customer,” or “Zero Mistakes,” or “Zero Inventory,” or “Zero Drinking at Lunch.” And sadly enough, bad CEOs often buy in and pay these goofy ideas half-hearted lip service. Feel free to make fun of this stupid stuff–as long as you’re willing to leave the company the next day.

Once at GE, the chief financial officer poked gentle, martini-fueled fun at a Welch initiative, from the podium at a company dinner. Welch fired him shortly thereafter.

I ran with most of what Welch promulgated, because it made sense to me. As a communicator, my job was to take it to another level — often to the point that Welch had to rein me in, calling me crazier than he was. This might sound like butt-kissing, but not to me. I believe in “signing on or signing out.” If you don’t believe in the corporate mission, either keep your mouth shut or leave.

This kind of advice is a bitter pill to swallow these days.

Anonymity

I read this story and thought of Fr. Gregory Hogg, our favorite exhorter to online identity. He makes good points. The Christian is never anonymous, nor, if we trusted in God, should we fear the consequences of stating our beliefs.

Criminalizing anonymous posting, however, seems a little impossible and unwise. But I appreciate the thought behind this.

Begin with Prayer and See What Happens

At Bible Study a few days ago someone asked me a difficult question about the relationship between intentional good works and Jesus’ statement to remain ignorant of what we do–“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3).

My answer was to pray and pray before anything else. Even as I said it, it sounded like a cop-out to me, an easy excuse. Pastor doesn’t know how to answer, so he just says “Pray!” and weasels out of another jam. I don’t believe anyone besides me actually thought this. But I did. How do we do good works, but not place our faith in them? How do we help the needy, yet be ignorant of what we do? How do I bear fruit but not take pride in them? It must all start with prayer, which is to say a faith that calls upon the Lord often.

Life begun with prayer and continued with prayer will yield its fruits. If we are so occupied with prayer, perhaps our hands will help, our mouths will praise without our even knowing it. Perhaps if pray is upon our heart, we will confess our sin and glorify God for His mercy even as we give our offerings and sacrifice for our family, our congregation, our neighbor.

Family Update

We are all on the mend now, and I believe that’s official. I’m on round two of antibiotics for the sinus infection. Marjorie is on round two for her pneumonia, but it is improving. The kiddos are ok. We think John Patrick may have rotavirus, but he is staying hydrated. My parents were here a few days last week and helped tremendously; her parents are on the way to spend Holy Week with us, may God be thanked and praised.