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'Let's Not Just Criticize, But Catechize' (Is That Too Much To Ask?)

Anyone who has spent even just a few minutes working their way through the Archive of this blog will know the challenges and frustration I've faced this past year as a new Confessional Lutheran who has had to come to grips with the fact that the local LCMS Church that I belong to would rather be an Evangelical or Non-Denominational church as opposed to a Lutheran one.

Sadly, I'm afraid that the only thing distinctly Lutheran about our church is the church sign out front, and it pains me that the congregation seems to exhibit all the telltale signs of spiritual amnesia, of having an identity crisis, especially when a newbie like me comes busting in wanting to know all about our Confessions, the Book of Concord, the Liturgy, etc. only to have members (and Pastors!) who have been there for 30+ years look at me like I'm speaking in tongues.

"Why do you want to read and study such things? Their time has passed. They're no longer relevant. Besides, we need to 'be the church' if we're ever going to grow and win people for Christ! Focus on showing love and not so much on doctrine all the time, ok?"


Yeah, ok.

That pretty much sums up the general responses and sentiments that I've received from others.

Plus, in the rare occasions when I've been able to get some brothers and sisters to actually listen to my legitimate concerns backed by Scripture and our Confessions, I'm told not to worry about it since diversity in doctrinal differences is actually a good thing for us, and when that doesn't work, I'm told I just don't understand what I'm reading, saying, and/or talking about (as Shakespeare himself should remind me!).

Still, despite these unfortunate series of events during the past year, I have continued to try and give others the benefit of the doubt as I would want them to give me, and have focused on trying to put the best construction on all things.

I mean, after all, I myself was deceived for so long and only within the past year was brought to that realization by the sheer grace of the Lord. That's why I always want to be careful when writing posts like this.

However, writing posts like this must be done. Our brethren need to know that there are those within their church who truly love them more than just giving them the usual "I'll Keep You In My Prayers" lip service. The LCMS Church needs to know that there are faithful from within the laity who have had enough of this nonsense in the name of Christ.

More importantly, everyone needs to know that we Confessional types desire our church leaders and Pastors to give us the full Gospel instead of some watered-down version fueled by the latest gimmicks and trends.

I think even more urgent than that is our desire to have trained professionals -- called and ordained ministers of God's Word -- actually oversee what's going on in the church they've been called to serve and to truly know what's being promoted to the masses as "Biblical truth" because far too often it's this whole "Every Member A Minister" mentality that's running wild and causing more harm than good despite anyone's best intentions.

Case in point, our church, like many others today, has a Facebook Page. Each week, the recorded sermon is shared online, and the individual who does that for us also introduces it with a brief quote (often a quote from the Pastor's sermon if not the Bible passage that the sermon is about).

Well, a few weeks ago, I was upset to find this for the world to see...

 
Now, in case you can't quite make it out from the screenshot of my church's Facebook Page above, here's the quote that absolutely upset me: "The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings." *- Masanobu Fukuoka


My dear friends, while I certainly wanted to give whomever it was that chose this quote to introduce the sermon the benefit of the doubt (I had no idea who was doing this for us each week), I also wanted to express my serious concerns since such a statement by such an author is the complete antithesis to what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess.

This only serves to underscore my previous concerns from this past year.

So, I took it upon myself to write the following response right there on Facebook...

Forgive me, but with all due respect (Ephesians 4:15), can I ask why this quote was chosen to serve as an introduction to this good sermon we heard from Pastor Belasic last week about the Parable of the Sower let alone how it's even remotely consistent with our shared and cherished Christian faith and our Lutheran Confessions? I mean, the whole point is that we can never be "perfect" (much less should our perfection be the ultimate goal in this life as if it's something we can achieve on our own apart from God; Simul Justus et Peccator), which is why we are so grateful that Christ lived a perfect life on our behalf, that we have our Baptism, the Word, and the Lord's Supper (all works of God, not works of man), and that His righteousness is imputed to us through our faith in what He did upon the cross for you and for me to atone for our sins, correct? In addition, Fukuoka is a well-known Zen Buddhist, who clearly wrote this quote from the Buddhist perspective that we can achieve perfection in this life through our good works. Dearly beloved, I can't think of anything more contrary to the Gospel (and to this particular Parable) than that. Fukuoka also wrote the popular book "Mu 1: The God Revolution" that delves deeply into his Buddhist beliefs -- nothing Christian about that work at all either. Some might think I'm overreacting here (maybe I am, especially if all of this info about Fukuoka was unknown by those who decided to reference him), but please know that I'm only bringing this up out of a genuine, heartfelt concern that our inclusion of a quote by a well-known Buddhist, even if it's a quote about farming/planting that, on the surface, seems to correlate to this important Parable, it may truly give the wrong impression that we tacitly approve of (and perhaps even agree with) the Buddhist faith or parts of it since it's introducing a Christian sermon. It's rather ironic too given what this Parable is all about. Regardless, I pray that my words here today will be seen as nothing more than the words of one concerned family member looking out for other family members, and as the words of one who's merely concerned about the truth and our spiritual health as a congregation with Christ as the Head of His Church (Ephesians 4-5). Lord knows I've been wrong like this myself in the past and I have thanked Him for the people He used to point out my errors so that I can repent and learn from them. As brothers and sisters in Christ who share fellowship around the Word and Sacraments, we are to reject as "false" anything and everything that is contrary to "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). Why? "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" (1 Corinthians 5:6). My dear friends, again, I sincerely hope that these comments were received in the same spirit with which they were written -- in gentleness, humility, love, and repentance. Grace and peace!


Roughly 24-48 hours later my wife received a phone call while I was at work from the Chairman of the Church Board/Council. In short, he was calling to ask her to please tell me that he and a handful of others were thankful that I wrote what I wrote because they agreed with me. In fact, even our Interim Pastor was appreciative since he had no idea.

Apparently, the whole situation was discussed the night before at a Church Board meeting that was attended by our Eastern District President, Pastor Chris Wicher, who no doubt had to recall the first time I brought similar concerns to his immediate attention a few months ago over another separate issue.

Yet, in the very next breath, he then proceeded to tell my wife that they wanted to know if I would like to be nominated to serve as the "Endowment Fund Manager" for the Church/School Boards.

Typical. Maybe it's the cynic in me, or maybe I'm just sick-and-tired of expressing a heartfelt concern like this that truly impacts my beloved brothers and sisters spiritually only to have it fall on deaf ears, but the problem is A LACK OF CATECHESIS AND INSTRUCTION IN OUR LOCAL CHURCH -- not that we have a vacancy on the Church/School Board!

Maybe I'm overreacting a little here, but it just feels like they're trying to "silence me" by offering me a "position" on the Church/School Board in a role which I know absolutely nothing about.

Why in the world would my willingness to comment on spiritual matters within our local church in a public forum like Facebook somehow indicate to them that I would be good at managing the same church's finances and money? Maybe it's a not-so-subtle message that they view me as the congregation's Judas (John 13:29), because they feel betrayed that I'm not on board with the collective "vision" of the church, and my outspokenness is only "hurting" their efforts.

No, I don't really believe that there was some sort of conspiracy to send me that message intentionally, but I can appreciate the sheer irony.  

Before you cast judgment on whether or not I'm "overreacting" here, I would kindly ask that you consider the following. This is the email I received from all the parties involved. It was sent the night before my wife received that phone call and I never saw it until after she received the phone call because I was so busy with work.

Hi Jeff! Wanted to let you know we talked about the post on the Trinity facebook page at our council meeting tonight and how to rectify that situation. Give us a day or two at most to get that taken care of as there are a few people who will be involved in this process. I know you talked with NAME WITHHELD today as he had mentioned. This is simply (not to minimize the possibly damage it could effectively cause) a case where a member was trying to do something good and made a mistake. In the process we're trying as best as possible to preserve the relationship with that individual so please pray for that- that Satan doesn't work his way more into this than he already has. Again, please give us the two days in understanding to take care of this. We will start on this in the morning. As always- I appreciate your concern as well as insight! ~NAME WITHHELD


Ok, fair enough. Glad to see that it's being taken seriously and I agree 100% that it's a very delicate situation that needs to be handled properly.

These were my immediate responses to that email...

NAME WITHHELD, 
Good morning, my friend. Sorry for the delayed response, but I just saw your email. It looks like you may have called last night too (although I haven't been able to access that message yet b/c we don't use that number much anymore; my work number is 716-XXX-XXXX if you need to get ahold of me, or need me to respond quickly after leaving a message at some point today). In addition, Lindsay just told me she talked to NAME WITHHELD within the last hour or two since he called to talk to her about it and give her a quick update on what has been going on in the past 24-48 hours. 
Obviously, we had no idea that it became a point of discussion during yesterday's meeting nor intended for it to become any kind of "controversy" within the church despite the serious nature. I also had no idea who I was addressing (who was responsible for originally posting that quote) and still don't, which is why I tried to write it as a general message (a friendly reminder of sorts) for all of us at Trinity to prayerfully consider (myself and my family included). I also agree with you that, whoever it was, I'm sure they were likely only trying to be helpful. For now, our Small Catechism's teaching on the 8th Commandment is a fitting guide and reminder that we should all put the best construction on this sensitive situation so that God's grace may prevail. 
Truth is, while I'm glad that this is being taken seriously, and that it's generating a positive discussion within our church family regarding the importance of our shared confession of faith, we're still a family of believers, and the individual behind that post is not to blame if they've never been taught anything different, right? That's why I agree with you 100% that grace must abound in this situation! Yes, let's address it, let's make sure that person knows why that quote is dangerous, and let's take the necessary steps to ensure it doesn't happen again, but let's not attack/destroy/shun the person for making what could've been an honest mistake on their part, especially if it's determined they didn't know any better (I have no way of knowing that though without knowing them and their motivation, which is why I will certainly give them the benefit of the doubt here). Better yet, let's not just criticize but catechize since it's only proper instruction about what we Lutherans believe and why we Lutherans believe it that is always the best defense against such things happening again in the future. 
Grace And Peace, 
Jeff


**************************************************

NAME WITHHELD, 
I just reread your email and noticed something. You stated in your email that NAME WITHHELD mentioned that he and I spoke. Actually, I never spoke to NAME WITHHELD myself -- let alone anyone directly about this -- so I'm not sure why he would've said that last night. I'm not trying to make a difficult situation worse, but I don't want you and everyone else to believe an outright lie (or that I somehow wanted to do more than share my sincere comments on Facebook in response to that quote in the hopes of getting us all to think about some things) because that would be rather hypocritical of me, wouldn't it? Maybe he meant that he planned to talk to me about it at some point today (???). In any event, I just thought you should know that. Grace And Peace, Jeff


Would you believe that the 3 parties involved in this situation (Church Board/Council President, Church Leader, Interim Pastor) NEVER responded to me about any of this after I wrote the above emails? That was a full month ago.

I did receive a voicemail from the Church Board/Council President though. It had nothing to do with the this situation and addressing the root problems that led to this situation occurring in the first place though. It did have everything to do with, "Jeff, we need an answer from you ASAP about whether or not you'd like to be nominated to serve as the Endowment Fund Manager like we discussed..."

"Like we discussed" you say? You mean, that one time you called my wife and communicated the message to her and haven't said a single word about any of it to me at all since? You mean, that's a more pressing need than better, careful, and more Biblical instruction within our church?

Sorry to sound so "snarky" and to air my grievances here in a public forum like this, but we have much bigger concerns as a church body than a vacancy on our Church Board/Council, IMHO, and it saddens me that my repeated efforts to gently and lovingly bring them to everyone's attention always seems to fall on deaf ears.

At least the person responsible for the poorly chosen Buddhist quote that introduced the sermon wrote an email to me to apologize. For what it's worth, this was my first and only interaction with this individual in all the time that we've attended the same church together.

Jeff, first and foremost, I appreciate your faith and willingness to speak out regarding your perspective to the quote used for the heading of the July 13th sermon. In reading your comment, I made the decision to remove the quotation that was used as well as the comments to start anew. Often with sermon postings, I will use a passage from the gospel to use as the heading, but occasionally I try to also use quotations to try to mix things up. As you had stated, I was indeed ignorant to the background of the source of the quotation and I meant nothing against the doctrine of the Church. My goal was to find a quotation regarding the "farming" of humans, as the gospel refers to each of us as a seed. In terms of "perfection" I had meant for that to be taken as the goal of each human life -- to live life as Christ did in perfection -- not to imply it was a possibility of our own. However, in light of the information provided, I do apologize if you were offended by the quotation and hope you find the resolution satisfactory. Please do not hesitate to message if you find any other conflicts or issues and I will certainly try to be more careful in regard to content.


Ok, again, I promise that I'm REALLY trying to put the best construction on this whole sordid mess, and maybe I'm just being a jerk who's "nitpicking" now, but to write "I appreciate YOUR faith" (I thought we all shared the same confession of the faith?; Jude 1:3) and "regarding YOUR perspective" (as if sharing the facts about the author cited in comparison to what God's Word actually says is MY SOLE OPINION?). Plus, is trying "to mix things up" when introducing a sermon ever a good idea?

If you think I'm being "too harsh" here particularly when it appears as though this brother issued a Mea culpa, then I would ask you to consider his closing statement in which he seems to contradict himself.

In terms of "perfection" I had meant for that to be taken as the goal of each human life -- to live life as Christ did in perfection -- not to imply it was a possibility of our own.


So we can "live life as Christ did in perfection" or we can't? Which is it because I'm confused and it sounds like you are too.

Sorry, but this is Exhibit A of why we must focus on better and more Biblical instruction in our church ASAP to prevent this kind of un-Scriptural thinking (this brother in Christ has attended this church for 20+ years!).

Look, I know we're all sinners and we're all prone to let each other down from time-to-time, but this is a pattern of behavior dating back a full year now and nothing seems to be changing at all. It concerns me. Why doesn't it seem to concern anyone else?

At this point, all I can do is continue to pray about things.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, I don't want to just criticize, but want to encourage those I look to within my church as called and ordained ministers of God's Word and Sacraments to catechize me and the rest of us in the Lutheran faith since that's the best line of defense.

Is that too much to ask?

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 our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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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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