OSC is anti-mission!!! Free Beer!!!

OK. I’ve got your attention. You just may continue reading. What is church? That’s a question that is apparently once again facing my particular district of the LCMS. Or, more to the point, this district is seeking to reinvent church.

Last night I sat through a presentation on a “church-planting” program through the district. At the end of it I’m quite certain that I have now alienated these particular district reps. as well as having branded myself as anti-evangelism. (Before we go there, please reference this comment left on another blog.) So, now that we’ve set that aside, let’s consider some things.

I’m a fan of church planting. Where there is no area Lutheran church, I’m all for putting one in to serve area Lutherans and to be an instrument of outreach (I said it again. Man, I must be in favor of it.). The pitch went like this (my own paraphrase:

We’re Lutherans, and that’s good. But there are some things in our tradition that are roadblocks to mission. We’re a church of the head, not one about evangelism. We need to learn the purpose of the Father (that’s right, purpose) so that we can unite in that purpose. And the purpose of the Father is to unite all things in Christ. We can safely say that uniting all things in Christ is obviously mission, and we just need to get on bus with that and everything will be just great. Now, a church is where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, right? So we’re going to start social peer groups in the area. Maybe we’ll have a weekly fishing group here and a weekly basketball group there. So you start off playing ball or fishing and then you can work around to praying and reading the bible together and boom! you’ve got little churches. And maybe these churches will get together into one big church and you’ve gor your church plant.

We listened to the pitch. It was further suggested that pastors basically stay away from these groups, because these people are really afraid to get into “church,” and they don’t want to have any contact with a pastor for goodness’ sake. “After all, there was no St. Louis Seminary in the early church. They just asked an educated layman to step forward and lead the house church” (That’s actually a direct quote. So there wasn’t a seminary education–but there was a call to ministry).

When they’d finished I finally spoke. “What you’re suggesting is actually against what we believe, teach, and confess as Lutherans. We define church as ‘the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.'”

“Yes, that’s right. We’re talking about a paradigm shift in the way that we do things. And it works! All I can tell you is that in my *however many decades* of experience that it works.”

It went on from there. The Confessions, the Office of the Public Ministry–pretty much Lutheran doctrine–is a roadblock to planting what would be Lutheran churches! And I’m the narrow-minded jerk who isn’t willing to throw out Scripture and the Confessions so we can start social peer groups and call them churches.

In addition to selling out Lutheran theology, such programs merely give lip service to the power and work of the Holy Spirit, yet they don’t seem to realize how they theoretically and functionally limit that power and work. “Let’s take the Word of God out of the equation so that we don’t scare people away and then we’ll decide when the time is just right for that Word, by which the Holy Spirit works, to be proclaimed. He couldn’t possibly work effectively unless we pull a theological hoodwink on our unsuspecting targets of evangelism. Hey, we’re just going to shoot some hoops weekly. It’ll be great! Oh, yeah, three months into it I’ll complete the bait and switch on you by letting you know that you’ve really been going to church all this time, and would you like to receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” Honesty of purpose and trusting the Holy Spirit to do what we confess that he does in the Third Article is so sixteenth century. Does this sound like Amway to anyone else?

Relational evangelism is good. Lay persons generally have more contact with non-Christians in their individual stations, and they have relationships in which they can share the Word of God (through which the Holy Spirit works faith when and where He will). But social structures, peer groups, and the like do not constitute church, even as all saints of God are included in the church. These are not church.

“Where two or three are gathered…” Not to labor the point too much, but there is a contextual consideration to this little phrase.

Matthew 18.18-20: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The context is that of church discipline. So often this is said of any gathering together of Christians (although given that Jesus–and in fact, the Godhead–is omnipresent, he is certainly there even with the single person, Christian or not). Yet I’d argue that this is a word of comfort to those with the unfortunate task of reflecting the proclamation of heaven against the unrepentant sinner. This gathering is not a church. This would seem to be a gathering from within a church; not a church in itself.

I’m for evangelism. I’m for church planting. But really, can’t we be just a little bit better than this? Must we resort to redefining away our distinctive identity and proclamation? Must we constantly repent of our theology? Must we trade it all away so that we can pat ourselves on the back for our vast numbers and measurable successes in pandering to the lowest common denominator on everything? Shall we be about bringing people just as far as we can without upsetting the delicate equilibrium of their unregenerate selves, or do we take all of Scripture seriously?

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6 Responses to OSC is anti-mission!!! Free Beer!!!

  1. Anoki Ha Ish says:

    …a roadblock to planting what would be Lutheran churches… Um. Yep. Probably not Lutheran churches.

    1. Love the title

    2. What do you think the bait and switch does to people?

    3. What room would you say there is within the church for affinity type groupings?

    4. What concession could you make to the anti-institutional nature of this age? Or is that too close to saying something about the ruler of this age?

    5. It came to my attention that this year is the 100th anniversary of Pentecostals. 580Mil strong now, and a butchered quote, “found in every denomination.”

    Just some questions and a thought. I want my beer now.

  2. OSC says:

    1. Thanks. Sorry, the guy who visited just before you got my last beer.

    2. Honestly, I think it undermines the integrity of the message we’ve been given and makes us look like a bunch of bobs who aren’t willing to rely on the (forgive the marketing terms) quality of the product to do the selling for us. It makes it look like smoke and mirrors and redirection tactics (which is *ahem* really what it is) rather than depending on the Spirit to do what He does. It makes us look like we don’t even believe what we’re saying.

    3. I think there’s plenty of room, but building on that is putting the sociological (affinity type) cart before the theological horse. In my congregation one of the most interesting relationships I’ve seen is between a blue-collar salt-of-the-earth master electrician converted Jew and a white-collar, Norwegian, on-the-cutting-edge-of-the-practice , dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran dentist. That just wouldn’t have happened outside the church. When you talk to these guys they don’t really get it either. In the congregation affinity-type-groupings will happen, but what also happens is that folks who wouldn’t find themselves sociologically grouped are grouped theologically, and the social stuff does, in fact, happen. And then also the hunters go hunting together, the scrapbookers cut and paste together, etc.

    4. I’m not sure. I’m still working on that one. I think one could argue that when concessions are made to each of the progressing “ages” the result is that we gradually spiral away from the heart of the church’s proclamation. Thinking of a geometrical ray, when the direction of that ray is altered by a degree, three centimeters away from the starting point along the ray the distance from the original line is not terribly drastic. Yet at twenty centemeters, two meters, two kilometers, the difference between the original line and the current line becomes drastically different.

    5. Hmm. Yeah, every denomination. It’s amazing to me that the Pentecostal gifts lay dormant in the church until 1906…

  3. Whey Lay says:

    Nice post, it was even better before I found out you ran out of beer.
    …..The Confessions, the Office of the Public Ministry–pretty much Lutheran doctrine–is a roadblock to planting what would be Lutheran churches!
    Where did all these 100 + year old Lutheran churches come from then? Seems like Lutheran doctrine worked well then. Maybe the current crop of business associates tasked with growing membership roles aren’t as talented as the old school type. Or maybe we should show a little patience while the Holy Spirit works in its own time, not ours.
    The church growth speak makes me want to pull my hair out. It is soooo business orientated. On that vein, the bait and switch tactic that is being offered in the guise of peer group ministry, er church or whatever, is a horrible business tact in the world, its even worse when applied to the Body of Christ. Getting together with peers under a false pretense (and that’s what it is) seems very un-Christian. What is needed is discussions of vocation and how we best serve our neighbor and the Church when in the coarse of our day we let our co-workers know that we are followers of Christ, and portray the best we have to offer to our employers and peers. Yes, witnessing takes place during this, we can talk about the Church services we are attending this weekend and what it means to us, and can mean for our unchurched peers. This would be genuine, but takes time and requires us to take our faith into our daily lives.

  4. A says:

    Or, I might offer another approach – the approach which I am leading my congregation to use in our living of the gospel.
    Background: A 113 year old congregation in the middle of what used to be a German immigrant neighborhood in a decent sized midwestern city. Now it sits in the middlf of what is an African American ngihborhood in a very depressed part of town. This 113 year old congregation consists of exactly zero people who live within 2 miles of the church building. Everyone wants to do evangelism – right? Everyone wants more people in this church on Sunday – right? THe folks in the pew do. They have tried the bait and switch thing for years and years – with which results? The results were 30 white folks in a black neighborhood for one hour a week on Sunday morning. Great.
    Bait and switch is out. What I am proposing is simply bait – without any hook, line, sinker or switch. The way I read the New Testament (and the Old, for that matter) the call from God to his people is to love those around them. (With me so far?)The quesiton is – what does it look like to love the people in the neighborhood with whom I have no relationship? The answer is NOT (1) knocking on doors asking people to come to church (2) knocking on doors inviting people out fishing (3) knocking on doors demanding confession and pronouncing absolution (4) not knocking on doors.
    I think it looks like this – knocking on doors and saying, “Hey – we’re the church over there. You may not believe it, but we actually care about you. Can we have fifteen minutes to get to know you? (assuming a yes, the conversation continues with the person from the congregation engaging the other person in a conversation centered around the things most important TO THE OTHER. Then…) What’s going on in this neighborhood? What things are great about it? What things are horrible about it?
    Did you notice something? I did when this was presented to me. Other people are not talked about nor treated as prospects, sinners, unsaved, or anything else. They may be all or none or some of those things, but the point is that we care, and we want to begin a relationship with you.
    The affinity group folks are taking a short cut approach to what I just laid out. OSC, I think you are operating in the world as it should be for the most part, and not recognizing some of the realities in the world as it is – people are scared of the church. People don’t always want contact with pastors, people (I) am more likely to show up to go fishing than to go to church, etc.
    THe basic quesiton which I think is missed by both OSC and the affinty groupies (hah) is this – why? Because we want to change people, or because we really care about who they are, right now, and want to get ourselves mixed up in thier lives? I answer in the affirmative to the latter question.

  5. OSC says:

    a:

    Ought we to “really care about who they are, right now, and want to get ourselves mixed up in their lives?” My answer is “Yes, absolutely.”

    Ought we also to pray that the Holy Spirit would change people, and act toward them according to that Word of God that does change them? My answer again is, “Yes, absolutely.”

    I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. Yet I am appalled by attitudes that treat them as if they are, to quote my original post again, being willing only to bring people “just as far as we can without upsetting the delicate equilibrium of their unregenerate selves.”

    Again, God is the actor and we are His instruments. I think you read me as an advocate of some “If you build it they will come” mission thrust. That’s simply not where I am. Evangelical quietism is flat wrong. I am in favor of relational evangelism. I am in favor of getting out there and, as you put it well, simply baiting (chumming with the Gospel, perhaps? combined with a more direct approach?). My beef is that anthropology is no basis for church, and if we’re going to redefine things in such a way we’re taking God out of evangelism.

    Again, relational evangelism = good. You’re working on this, quite clearly. That’s a good thing. And it takes time and effort. But I don’t read that you’re willing to throw theology to the wind and do whatever it takes to help to fabricate some kind of sociological bond and then introduce God to the mix because you’re concerned that if you do it too soon then you scare them away (notice the subject of the verbs…). It’s being open and upfront with what you’re about and letting God be God and do the God stuff.

    In my place here I’m not dealing with a racial boundary, nor an economic disparity. Yet most of the time when I meet people in the park with my son, for example, and they learn I’m a local pastor, the walls don’t go flying up. Many times they’re just a little curious. And I think I generally come off as a normal human being. We’ve made some non-churched friends in the process. So it leads me to a question: If people are hesitant regarding contact with pastors, then a) why?, and, thinking I have a good stereotypical answer for that, b) what might we do to break free from such things while remaining faithful to Scripture and the Confessions?

  6. A says:

    You’re quite correct – I haven’t thrown out the Bible. All I’m saying is that the book of the other – reading it, understanding it, and attempting to do my best to figure out how to best apply the Word of Truth to that person is the goal that everyone has in mind. One thing that I learned recently is that it is easy for many diverse people to agree on an end. FOr example, everyone in our circles would agree that connecting more people with the gospel of Jesus Christ is our goal. That is the easy part. The tough part is to get everyone to agree on a way to do that, or to accomplish any goal.
    Keep up the good work, and yes, I’d like my free beer now that I have left two comments. Maybe its in the mail….

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