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What Luther Says

Standing Firm: This Is Why Our Churches Are In Trouble

There's a reason why God gave each one of us a conscience, and there's a reason why Acts 24:16 says what it says, and there's a reason why Martin Luther himself said what he said so famously.

Acts 24:16 (ESV) So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

"Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason…my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen."
*- Martin Luther

As difficult as it was, that's why I decided it was best to obey my conscience, and obey God, and leave all the consequences to Him. Before I get to the specifics, you need a little back story.

After 16 years, our dear Pastor retired in September. I only knew him for 2 years, but it felt like 16. The church leadership said "Thank You" by telling him and his dear wife that they needed to stay away from church for the first few months so that their "shadow" wouldn't loom over the "Interim Pastor" or the new Pastor once he's called.

A single month later, and despite several hours of patient admonition and Bible study, our church decided to press forward with the "Emergent" Evangelical mega-hit CRAZY LOVE by Francis Chan as a church-wide Small Group Bible Study Series. Somehow, they thought it was still ok to teach the book as Biblical truth even though they ripped out several pages throughout the book that were "overtly dangerous and false" just to appease people like me who voiced their concerns. I guess the rest of the book is just fine though.

Now, just a month after all of that, our "Interim Pastor" has been conducting "Creating Our Future" seminars with all the families at our church. Helpful on a fellowship level and well-intentioned for sure, but the entire concept comes crashing down when they are used to discover "What Do You Want Our Church To Be Like?" since we're in a time of transition and this is as good a time as any to never let a good crisis go to waste.

My dear friends, please forgive me for my "snarkiness" today. I'm just so overwhelmed by the sheer lack of conviction and faithfulness to Him and His Word that I've seen this week.

This was just one of three separate occasions where my conscience was screaming at me. Worse, each case called for me to do the right thing, and yet, each case ended up casting me as the "bad guy" who's causing trouble because he can't be a team player. How unfortunate when I've tried to be as considerate, patient, loving, and long-suffering as possible when communicating things.

Please, no pity party, just prayers. Please pray indeed! I'm so heartbroken over this and don't want bitterness to take root in my heart.

First, here are the Congregational Survey Results as provided by our Call Committee.

Hence, the warning shot across the bow (or was it the opening salvo?).

I understand that this is probably typical of each and every search for a Pastor in the LCMS. However, did anything stand out to you from the list of priorities? And shouldn't we also be very careful not to make church all about our "felt needs" all the time, which this sort of thing seems to open us up to?

That was two weeks ago.

Today, I attended my "Creating Our Future" session with about 25 other families.

It begin with a homily on the whole "Every Member Is A Minister" view that's so prevalent these days. There were dire warnings about how far too many churches are in decline and the answer wasn't to preach Christ crucified let alone give a faithful confession of faith in His Word and His Sacraments, but there was an emphasis on a "Can We Do It Better?" approach.

Because nothing can build a church bigger and faster than you and me doing it all in the name of God by any means possible, right? That must be why the "Interim Pastor" also stressed our need to study other "successful" churches to see what works so that we can can apply those tactics here at Trinity.

We were then asked to anonymously answer 5 questions that the "Interim Pastor" and his team of helpers would compile and then pass along to the Call Committee who, in turn, would pass that info along to Eastern District President, Chris Wicher, for review so that he could recommend some potential candidates. Those questions?

1. What do you like best about this church?

2. What are your hopes for the future here at Trinity?

3. List the names of people who come to mind as "influencers" or people who can get things done. List the names of people who come to mind as though who might stand in the way of getting things done.

4. What are the challenges? What are the issues? What is the reality here at Trinity?

5. What are you personally interested in yourself?

Do you see why my heart is heavy and my mind is burdened tonight? I was especially offended by Question #3. How can that do any good whatsoever? Well, I had no choice but to respectfully decline to answer that one and I made sure I explained why. Please pray that my words did not fall on deaf ears.

In case you're wondering, here's the kind of church I'm told we want to be (or should want to be).

The "Interim Pastor" also made sure his message had comment after comment about how "it's not 1949 anymore" and "it's not even 2000 either" as the reason why we needed to "change" and become "more relevant" to those outside our four walls.

Makes sense I suppose. His stuffed penguins sermon on Grandparent's Day a few days ago (with actual stuffed penguins) is exactly what we need more of in our church today in order to draw in the "unchurched" goats each week. Besides, don't goats like to eat penguins anyway? Brilliant!

Forgive me. There's that "snarkiness" again. I'll let someone else do the talking here instead. Here's C.F.W. Walther from the 16th Central District Convention in 1871.

"We would emphasize particularly that confession by deed and action is here demanded of every Christian. Many are often of the opinion that they are not responsible for what their pastors do or do not do, or that they have no right to do anything against the majority which depart from the confession. That is, however, a dangerous error! Does not every individual belong to the whole? And ought he not to be responsible for everything he permits to be done? If church discipline languishes, if false doctrine forces its way into the church, if wrong remains unrebuked, then the responsibility rests on every member who does not witness against it. Truly, the great liberty of a Christian also imposes a great responsibility on him!"

*- C.F.W. Walther
Essays For The Church, Vol. 1
(St. Louis: Concordia, 1992) 198.

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, yes, our church is in a transition phase, but that doesn't mean we have to transition away from what's worked for 2,000+ years to the types of things the world deems successful.

Who are we to think our ways are better than God's ways? Since when is church all about you, us, and what we want? As Han Solo used to say, "I have a bad feeling about this..."
[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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