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What Luther Says

'Mass Mob': Coming Soon To A Church Near You!?!

The city of Buffalo, NY ("City of Good Neighbors") has given the nation many things.

We've given you the Chicken Wing, Niagara Falls, "Wide Right!" and "No Goal!" Now, it looks as though you have us to thank for what's being called the "Mass Mob" and I would just like to apologize on behalf of my city to all my Christian brothers and sisters out there who might experience this one day.

I feel like so many of us have already commented on the reasons why "Contemporary Worship" is a dangerous practice and trend within the Christian Church at large today.

Congregations should be about feeding His sheep and not about attracting goats or even wolves.

While the resulting "Worship Wars" are never something you like to see a congregation struggle with, it could be worse -- much, much worse, in fact!

Have you heard of the "Mass Mob" movement? For now, it appears to be only a Catholic thing, but how long before this ridiculous idea (fueled by the desire to be "relevant" and "relational") is practiced in your District or comes to your church?

'Mass Mob': Coming Soon To A Church Near You!?! 
(From the Buffalo Mass Mob website)

Did you ever wonder how you can help make a difference at some of Buffalo’s incredible historic and heritage churches? Buffalo Mass Mob has an easy answer! Inspired by the successful Buffalo Cash Mob and a Facebook Mass done at Saint Adalbert Basilica a couple of years ago, Buffalo Mass Mob will, in grassroots fashion, allow you to support and experience some of Buffalo’s wonderful churches in need of a boost. The concept is simple. The Buffalo Mass Mob picks a church and you come to Mass there. Our city is known for its incredible architecture. Part of this architectural mix are the many churches located throughout Buffalo. These houses of worship helped shape and define the city as we know it. It is Buffalo Mass Mob’s hope to help create more awareness and appreciation for sacred sites in Western New York through the simple act of experiencing them in their intended purpose and encourage people to attend Mass more at Buffalo’s historic churches. Four Buffalo Mass Mobs are in the books. The first was at Saint Adalbert Basilica on 11/02/2013, the second was on 01/12/2014 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the third was at Saint John Kanty Church on 03/23/2014 and the fourth was at All Saints Church on 06/01/2014. All four were a huge success! The fifth Buffalo Mass Mob will be 08/03/2014 at Saint Thomas Aquinas Church in South Buffalo. It is an easy way for you to support the wonderful churches we have here in Buffalo.

Lovely. Looks like we have my home city of Buffalo, NY to thank for this unfortunate trend that's garnering national attention.

Now, before I continue, I want to make one thing crystal clear. I don't mean to disparage the men (and woman) who are behind this concept so much as I want to criticize the catechesis (or lack thereof) that led to thinking something like this would be ok in the first place. To put it another way, by all accounts, the people behind the Mass Mob movement who I've heard on our local talk radio station sound like genuine, well-meaning Christians. However, as we've tried to point out on numerous occasions here, "good intentions" does not give anyone (including myself) a "free pass" when it comes to the things of God let alone Ecclesiology (a fancy schmancy word that means "The Doctrine of The Church").

But perhaps I'm being "too generous" as I'm trying to put the best construction on things. I mean, after all, the publicly stated intent of "mass mobbing" these churches is not to introduce people to God's Word and Sacraments. For starters, it's targeted toward people who are already Christians (Catholics).

Even so, should going to church be solely about "supporting" the "struggling" church where "struggling" can be a euphemism for "struggling financially" and/or "struggling with a lack of attendance" and, in that sense, only serve to perpetuate this notion that the church is a business, that the Pastor/Priest a CEO, and that the congregants are consumers?

How else do you explain the insistence on a secular solution as opposed to a spiritual one?

Worst of all? These are planned, organized, and orchestrated events, and yet, those involved respond as if God's approval is clearly with them even though His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is left out of the picture and process completely!

Don't believe me? Here's a description of one event in their own words...

"When Buffalo Mass Mob started this past year, we didn’t know what to expect or if it would even be a success at all. After three Mass Mobs, the results have left us feeling awestruck." 
MY OBSERVATION: Because church is "successful" only by the world's standards, right? In this case, "success" is determined by the number of people in the pews. Mysticism makes an appearance and graces us with her presence too since "the results have left us feeling awestruck" indeed.

"At the center of it all are the churches the Buffalo Mass Mob visits and you. Without you, the impact that Saint Adalbert Basilica, Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Saint John Kanty have felt through our first three would have never been possible. ... There is some anxiety involved because we worry about the numbers." 
MY OBSERVATION: Now we're getting to the heart of the problem with something like this! "At the center of it all" is Jesus -- errr, I mean YOU, and not Christ, because "without you" a church could never "grow" and/or "succeed" at all. Clearly, the motivation behind such a movement is not that one's neighbors in the local community would hear God's Word preached to them, or that existing Christians would continue to receive the forgiveness of sins that they so desperately need each and every week, but that it would generate as many of one's neighbors as possible to attend an event.

"Throughout the Mass, you could feel the energy of the people in attendance, the parishioners of church and the priests celebrating the Mass. There was the sense that everyone there was in awe of what was taking place." 
MY OBSERVATION: Whoa! I think this statement speaks for itself, but I can't be too hard on them since I know a lot of local LCMS Churches in my Eastern District who love to talk about the worship service like this each and every week, because they make it their mission to make the service as "entertaining," "emotional," and "uplifting" as possible.

Ultimately, the problem I have with such a movement is that it's doing things for the wrong reasons. How do I know that? Again, here's a description of these "Mass Mob" events as described in the media: "It’s the fourth time the group has gone to a church, to boost attendance and the help the church’s collection basket." Other media outlets have continued to shower the grassroots group with praise through such heretical headlines as "'Mass Mob' Breathes Life Into Catholic Church" too.

Notice what's missing? No mention of needing forgiveness of sins; no mention of needing to go to church to receive God's means of grace as delivered to us in His Word and Sacraments; and certainly no mention of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or needing our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as the propitiation for our sins! Why should that matter to us? Well, for starters, because "Christ is the head of the church" (Ephesians 5:23).

It reminds me of something Pastor Eric Andersen once wrote...

An adolescent ecclesiology also yields a highly individualistic approach to Christianity. Though we believe in the "communion of saints", the wholesale rejection of history and tradition (whether intentional or not) leaves the Church impoverished. There is little consciousness today of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the pew right next to us, much less our connection to the saints throughout the ages. Many see church in terms of "what’s in it for me" and generally have little concept of how their presence or absence in church, bible class, Sunday school, etc., affects the faith of their neighbor. Liturgy and history remind us that the Church is bigger than ourselves. They guard against the perpetual adolescent desire for self expression and remind us that Christianity is about Christ and His gifts for us. They keep the Church focused on Her Lord rather than Herself. As St. John said, "I must decrease, but He must increase," (John 3:30). Additionally, those who have gone before us have struggled with many of the same problems we face today. The mask may be new, but it’s the same old sin hiding beneath. As Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun," (Ecclesiastes 1:9). If we are willing to listen to those who have gone before us, we may just learn something helpful for life today. The liturgy and history of the Church is a treasure filled with riches of wisdom, guidance, comfort, and communion. Those who have gone before us were sinners and erred at times, but this gives us even more reason to sit at their feet. We can learn from what they got right (by the grace of God) and from their errors. As the Apology to the Augsburg Confession (article XXI) teaches, we remember the saints so that we may 1) thank God for giving faithful servants to His Church; 2) have our faith strengthened as we see the mercy that God extended to His saints of old; 3) provide us with examples by which we may imitate both their faith and their holy living according to our calling in life.

That's really what this is, IMHO. It's an "adolescent ecclesiology" that misunderstands the true purpose of why the church exists in the first place let alone one that arrogantly replaces Christ as the head of His church with YOU and YOUR FELLOW PARISHIONERS as the head of His church.

Yes, I'm well aware of the fact that "so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11), but that does not give believers the license to be pragmatic when it comes to their beliefs and practices related to Christ's catholic ("little c" or "universal") church.

So what's the point of this piece? What am I driving at, you ask? Lest you conclude that this is just a "Catholic Hit Piece" from a self-professing Lutheran, I would like to confess that the LCMS is not immune to this kind of enthusiastic urge to "Do Church" differently than our grandfathers did.

That's why I'd like to wrap this up with one final commentary from Pastor Eric Andersen who I cited earlier.

The Anti-Church 
New ideas require new ways of speaking. Old terminology doesn’t cut it when it comes to modern conceptions of church, especially when those modern approaches represent a radical break from traditional ecclesiology. To be sure, it is helpful when this is recognized. There’s nothing worse than attending what you think is a confessional Lutheran church only to find out it’s more Baptist than Lutheran. There seems to be a trend among some Lutheran churches to drop “Lutheran” from their name (usually in the name of outreach). While I lament the decline of the Lutheran church, I’d rather a nominal Lutheran church not identify themselves as “Lutheran.” For these churches to make this identification is misleading and gives people the wrong idea as to what Lutheranism is really all about.

To the “missional” crowd, using the language of the confessions to describe the Church is the equivalent of putting new wine into old wineskins (Matthew 9:17). “Out with the old, in with the new.” New ways of speaking are needed to describe new understandings of the church (as are new creeds, liturgies, etc.). For the missionals to use traditional language and identify themselves with the traditional symbols is misleading. In this respect, it is actually helpful for those who promote a historic understandings of the church to use novel terms like “missional.”

Lucas Woodford traces the origin of the term “missional” back to 1998, which arose during a time when there was a desire to “stop, check our assumptions, and ask if there might be a different way of being the church.” [endnote 1] However, this new understanding of church is actually anti-church, quite the opposite of biblical ecclesiology.

For Lutherans, there is no better summary of biblical ecclesiology than Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, which says, “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered.” For the missionally-minded, such an understanding of church is too inwardly focused. The missional, according to Carl Raschke, are those who “must incessantly reach out to those who are beyond the fringes of established Christianity, and they must do so in a way that is integral rather than incidental to their mission and purpose.” [endnote 2] It is striking how different this conception of church is from AC VII. While AC VII emphasizes those who belong to Jesus (saints gathered around Word and Sacrament), the missional conception emphasizes those who do not.

In addition to needing new language to describe itself, the missional church is constantly looking for new ways of doing things. Time Anti-church that could have been spent on exegesis is instead spent writing new liturgies. Hymnals, which contain texts that cannot be manipulated, are replaced by screens, where the message is supposed to change. The body of Christ, in which each part plays a vital role and members are dependent on one another (1 Cor 12:21) is severed into several parts (“small groups”), which have little to no interaction with one another. Ironically, the focus on outreach is quickly lost, and the true mission of the missional church becomes one of reinvention, of coming up with new ways of expressing itself. The Gospel is replaced with the endless quest of coming up with the next big thing.

That the missional approach to church is anti-church can also be seen in their loss of the church’s marks, the purely preached Gospel and rightly administered sacraments. The distinction between Law and Gospel no longer plays a vital role in preaching or the liturgy, which is replaced with a desire to motivate or entertain. The proper administration of the sacraments is disregarded, which is particularly evident in the practice of open communion and the use of women in distributing the Sacrament. Anything that would hinder a total stranger to Christianity from fully participating or feeling immediately comfortable in the service is removed. The culture sets the agenda and the church begins practicing what William Willimon calls “promiscuous ministry–ministry with no internal, critical judgment about what care is worth giving.” [endnote 3] He continues, “We have become the victims of a culture of insatiable need. We live in a capitalist, consumptive culture where there is no purpose to our society other than ‘meeting our needs.’” [endnote 4]

The classic definition of church, as set forth in AC VII, is a truly “missional” definition (if we may risk identifying ourselves with such a term). For there, God is at work accomplishing His mission. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, who creates faith when and where it pleases God (AC V). In this Church, the Holy Spirit is at work calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying His people (SC, Creed, III). Replacing doctrine with emotional manipulation, compromising with the culture, and the latest strategies from TCN will not “grow the church”; they are anti-church. Only God gives growth, and He does it in the same way He always has.

I love that analysis of the current trends in Christianity today. It's a fitting commentary for a story about this Mass Mob stuff too. One of the Mass Mob's founders, Danielle Huber, was quoted as saying, "We need to be proactive to save these buildings."

She's not entirely off base in her assessment, but I like to believe God when He tells me that He is the one who grows His Church. That doesn't mean that the congregation should become apathetic, but that also doesn't mean that they should just assume that they are the ones who have the problem to determine whether a particular church stays open or closes its doors (a.k.a. "succeeds" or "fails" by the world's standards and using the world's language).

Besides, I'd rather invite my neighbors to church not to save our precious building made out of brick and stone, but in the hopes that the Word of God that they will hear preached to them will actually turn their attention to the "cornerstone" (Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6) Who will save their souls instead.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, it breaks my heart to see this kind of thing becoming popular in Christian churches here in America (whether they're Lutheran or not).

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the truth about Contemporary Worship and the Worship Wars, because then you'll better understand why we need real worship in our churches.

One final thought. If this is the latest iteration of Internet "flash mobs," then I hate to see how the current Internet phenomenon known as the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" will be hijacked and used by "cool" and "relevant" churches across the country to supplant holy Baptisms.

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!

About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

1 comment

  1. Mass Mob?! This is ridiculous! Kind of makes me think of a term like "Bar Hopping". Going to church is supposed to be about spending time with God. Worshipping and hopefully hearing a good sermon. It's not about seeing how many people we can get to come to a church that has low attendance or needs more money in the collection plate. Who are these people that come up with these ridiculous ideas? I've seen church signs advertising all kids of things to get you to come to church. Free roses, free gift cards, tickets to win a car etc. What is this world coming too? If I have misunderstood the article I read I apologize,but I think I got it right from the start with the words, "Mass Mob".


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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