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What Luther Says

Hypocrisy 101: My LCMS Church Prefers Ronald McDonald To Martin Luther


Yes, I know that we're all hypocrites (even those of us who call ourselves Christians and sit in the pews next to one another each and every week).

But what happens when a church says it believes one thing and then its actions suggest otherwise? More specifically, what happens when a church claims it knows the importance of being "authentic" and then it goes and alienates its members -- members who are simply asking her to be more "authentic" or faithful to her beliefs, teachings, and confessions of God's Word -- to the point where those same members end up leaving the church when they're asked to leave for speaking up and speaking out?

At that point, can that same church really claim to be all that concerned about "authenticity" and "being real" with its parishioners? I thought about that today after something I read from my church's monthly newsletter.

Here are a few casual observations from the Trinity Church Tidings - March 2015 Newsletter that I received and only had a chance to read a few days ago (from the LCMS-Eastern District church that my family and I are still "officially" members of as of this writing)...

NEWSLETTER: In a recent article written by Mark MacDonald (Worship Facilities magazine, Jan/Feb 2015), he notes what he sees as 'trending' in churches these days. In the midst of what seems to be a technological explosion he cites the trend for personalization -- the 'Human to Human (H2H)' touch. He notes that even with social media, email, texting, and whatever...people desire more personal and conversational contact and communications. Now this can be accomplished in part through the use of social media that is carefully crafted and directed. Secondly he says to be real! Authenticity is a MUST, whether it is communicated on a website or when guests visit the church. What is advertised needs to match up with the programs and services offered by the church as well as the perceived motives of the membership. They must be real and truly care. Thirdly he sees the trend of keeping things simple. Whether it is sermon titles, programs, logos, web pages or whatever, simplicity is better. Actually, the new CEO of McDonald’s (the hamburger people) is saying something similar. The new track that the golden arches is going to take is keeping things simple, going back to the basics and sticking with one design and direction (USA Today, 2/10/15). Seems like all of this is something we ought to consider as a church... 1. Personalization; 2. Authenticity; 3. Simplicity. In our high tech, fast paced and sophisticated world, perhaps the church needs to focus on being high touch, genuine and simple. There is without a doubt a great benefit to be reaped in the use of the technology of the day, if we utilize it appropriately. Although it was in a different time, culture and context, it seems to be the way that Jesus ministered and related to people: personally; genuinely; simply. Food (hamburger?) for thought!!

OBSERVATION: At first, I was thrilled to read this in the newsletter! The new Pastor who has only been shepherding here for roughly 100 days now seemed to be sending a not-so-subtle message that we needed to "Keep It Real!" and "Get Back To Basics!" as a church. Eureka! Have my prayers been answered? I mean, the last time I expressed my heartfelt concerns to church leadership, I made a point to mention how, sadly, the only thing that's distinctly Lutheran about us is that such a name appears on our church sign out front. That's it. I even used a Fast Food analogy too and said it would be like seeing a McDonald's down the street and you crave a cheeseburger and fries so badly. Yet, when you walk inside EVERYTHING on the menu makes it look like you're inside a Red Lobster instead -- and your highly allergic to all kinds of seafood! Now, here we are, also roughly 90-100 days later, and I'm reading from the new Pastor that "authenticity is a MUST, whether it is communicated on a website or when guests visit the church" and "what is advertised needs to match up with the programs and services offered by the church as well as the perceived motives of the membership" because "they must be real and truly care." Well, that's fantastic and you'll get no arguments from me! Praise the Lord! Things might be starting to turn around slowly, but surely! It would appear as though my family's prayers have been answered!

Um, unfortunately, not so fast I'm afraid.

That was me putting the "best construction" on things (and why wouldn't I, right?). I was sky high for a few moments...then I kept reading the rest of the March 2015 Newsletter.

It's hard for me to remain optimistic and to think that my prayers have been answered when the rest of the Newsletter included things like the following, which I'll include V-E-R-B-A-T-I-M as written and/or permitted by the Pastor himself (who also wrote the above excerpt that got me all excited)...

Men-In-Ministry: Through various Bible studies; Simple (Andy Stanley), You’ll Get Through This (Max Lucado), and the church wide I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist (Dr. Frank Turek), members and friends have been able to learn and grow in their relationships with Jesus.

Sunday Morning Bible Class: Would you like to know God better? Would you like to understand the promises and precepts in the Bible so you can walk better in His will? Then check out these principles and begin your journey to experiencing life in a better way. Facilitated by NAME REMOVED and NAME REMOVED (who are excellent high school teachers), the study meets on Sunday mornings in the church meeting room at 9:15am. March 1 - The awareness of God's presence energizes us for God's work; March 8 - God does not require us to understand God's will, just obey it, even if it seems unreasonable; March 15 - You reap what you sow, more than you sow, later than you sow; March 22 - The dark moments in our life will last only so long as is necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us; March 29 - Fight all your battles on your knees and you win every time. 

Vision and Passion: We need to determine what the members of Trinity passionately want this church to look like in 3 to 5 years from now. It’s so very easy to fall into ruts and routines, especially with the rich and long history that Trinity has. On the other hand we have to always be mindful of the changing culture and community around us and consider what that means to the mission and ministry of the church. It may require some changes, then again it may not. 

Expanding the Ministry: Trinity is gifted with some wonderfully talented disciples who have big hearts for ministry. We need to equip and expand the ministry staff in order to better shepherd our congregation. The called pastor can only do so much. His calling is to coach and equip as well as shepherd. To that end, like the early church, we need to equip and train more of our members to assist in the ministry. I’d like to look at the Stephen Ministries Training Program to help us train more of our laypeople. The Deacons and I have already begun discussing either expanding their role and responsibility or possibly creating a new board of elders or lay ministers. 

A Time For Women: Looking for a group that leads to great discussion and connects a relevant study to your life? Intriguing questions, inspirational stories, and poignant reflections take folks deeper into God's Word in the Biblical book of Galatians with the author of the study Max Lucado. Facilitated by our own seasoned leader NAME REMOVED, come and find out why the women and friends of Trinity have taken to this meaningful gathering twice a month.

Trinity Lutheran School: Our school is the 6th oldest school in the LCMS! That is amazing! And what a blessing that has been to thousands of children over the past 165 years! I’m amazed at the number of alumni of our school are still members of Trinity Lutheran Church. That said, we are being challenged in this mission with declining enrollment and the need to find a new school principal. Please know this: It is not my intent to close the school! However it is my intent to challenge the church and the school to see if we are "all in" and still totally committed to this mission. I attended a Lutheran Day school and am in full support of this ministry. But unless we are "all in", we’re all done. ... Most importantly, our curriculum centers around the Word of God. The Fruit of the Spirit is the base upon which all other subjects are built. We don't have to implement a "character" program, we ARE a character program! 
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The school hasn't gone by the name "Trinity LUTHERAN School" in years because it was changed to "Trinity CHRISTIAN School" to attract more Christian families from other non-Lutheran denominations in the local area. As a result, doctrine has been watered down and the Gospel reduced to the lowest common denominator so as not to "offend" anyone and risk having kids pulled from the school. Any attempts to catechize children with distinctly Lutheran teaching during daily religion classes and/or Wednesday chapel services have not been consistently applied and whenever something is presented that smells Lutheran, it's always immediately qualified by being given a disclaimer of sorts. Oh, and you can forget about teaching them any sort of hymns and Liturgy too since Contemporary Worship rules the day. As someone who has been asked to participate in such activities over the years, as well as someone whose wife serves as Teacher's Aide/PTO President while my son, daughter, niece, and nephew all attend the school, I can confirm all of this as undeniable fact. So, are we "all in," you ask? Well, that depends. Called Lutheran Teachers should be teaching Lutheran doctrine to their students at the 6th oldest school in the LCMS, don't ya think? If that's what constitutes "all in" moving forward, then sign me up! If not, then it may be time for us to leave the school also. Either way, let's remember that the "success" of the school is ultimately up to God for 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 says, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."]

See what I mean?

As if that weren't bad enough, I also saw something listed on the Church Calendar that started recently this month that raised an additional red flag for me.

Apparently, a "Prayer & Meditation Group" will be meeting every Friday night at the church. Now, the word "meditation" by itself doesn't scare me. For Lutherans, studying the Bible is never merely an intellectual exercise, because study is meditation on God's Word, or "meditatio," and that is an act of devotion (Philippians 4:8; Hebrews 4:12).

However, knowing what I know about what so many church members there actually believe, teach, and confess -- including the types of practices they are open to (I was at a Sunday morning Bible Study one time where we were asked to "rewrite a Psalm" of our choosing "in your own words" and "with you as the focus of it" and, while we were expected to do this, the group leader put on some strange, instrumental New Age music in the background!) -- I wouldn't be surprised one bit if this was a "Centering/Contemplative Prayer" group meeting as opposed to anything appropriate (a.k.a. Lutheran). To be fair, I could be wrong about that (I pray that I am!), and I'm still waiting for someone to get back to me with more info on this though.

In short? Another month, another exercise in Lutheran Churchianity (Hypocrisy 101) I'm sorry to say. Please spare me the charges of committing a sin against this Pastor and my fellow parishioners by saying I somehow violated the 8th Commandment. The Book of Concord is crystal clear on how and when to respond to public sins (and, yes, issuing public statements like these as though they're unadulterated "Biblical truth" when, in fact, they are evidence and examples of blatant false teaching is a "public sin").

Unfortunately, it's all just the latest list of many more reasons why my family's decision to look for a more faithful church to attend is a good one, IMHO. Now, how do we go about officially terminating our membership there? I mean, I hate that it's come to this, but I feel like we're delaying the inevitable at this point, you know?

This March 2015 Newsletter came on the heels of the church's announcement that they were enthusiastically participating in "The Lenten Journey" again this year (or ecumenism/unionism, which is strictly forbidden by the Holy Scriptures, our Confessions, and our Synod Constitution).

Last night, I looked at the April 2015 Newsletter that was just published and released and found so much more to be greatly grieved about I'm sorry to say.

Where do I begin? They have a college kid (a member of the church, but a de facto "Youth Pastor" type) teaching all the Confirmation Classes instead of the Pastor. He was eager to share with the congregation how he led the Confirmands in a "Spiritual Gifts Inventory" exercise. Boy, I would love to have been a fly on the wall during that one!

One Lutheran Day School Teacher went on-and-on praising an over-the-top instance of nothing but pure "Decisional Theology" when he shared the story of how one of his students revealed in class that he and his dad were getting baptized at their Wesleyan mega-church complete with a video testimony on a giant movie screen that made it all about them and all about their decision (a.k.a. what THEY DID in the form of a "good work" for Jesus) rather than being all about Jesus Christ (a.k.a. what HE DID/DOES for them through baptizing them with water and His Word).

It's a shame I even have to include a disclaimer like this, but let's keep in mind what I'm not saying here. I'm not somehow suggesting that their baptism is no good or anything ridiculous like that. Look, being baptized "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" is valid no matter who's doing it, no matter how it's down, and no matter in what denomination it takes place within. The point is that it's something that happens to us and outside of us with Christ getting all the credit and glory. I'm not here to debate that at all. That's not what I took issue with.

My main issue is with the fact that this is supposed to be a distinctly Lutheran publication that is supposed to be used to reinforce what Lutherans already and distinctly believe, teach, and confess and baptism is a pretty big subject where we differ with most other Christians. It's a golden opportunity for on-going Lutheran catechesis, but those who write content for it prefer to use it as an opportunity for on-going Evangelical catechesis with a Non-Denominational flavor. Why?

So, instead of taking the opportunity to reinforce what it is that we at the 165-year-old Lutheran Day School and accompanying LCMS church actually are supposed to believe, teach, and confess about the Holy Sacrament of Baptism (remember, this was a publication going out to ONLY the official members of this particular LCMS Church, which means WE SHOULD ALL BE ON THE SAME PAGE as self-professing Lutherans!), he decided it would be better to give this student and his father praise for their "good work" done "in obedience" in Jesus' name. To what end? To encourage us to do the same perhaps? Law anyone? Works Righteousness maybe?

Sadly, even despite my attempts to "put the best construction on things," it's clearly obvious that there's no way the Pastor was talking about a return to our Confessional Lutheran heritage, history, roots, and tradition in his piece about the McDonald's CEO, especially when he's also proposing, promoting, and spearheading such non-Lutheran concepts as Small Group Bible Studies using material from blatant blasphemers and heretics, "vision" casting, relevancy, and "Lay Ministers" too.

Sadly, the so-called Lutheran "Leaders" at the church and school are on the same page as him as evidenced by their constant refusal to proclaim anything even remotely Lutheran regardless of the fact that they're members of a Lutheran church and school writing for a Lutheran publication.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, how can I not feel like this particular LCMS church prefers the confessions of Ronald McDonald to those from Martin Luther; a worldly approach to church and school rather than the one that's prescribed for us in the Word and Confessions where doctrine informs practice?

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. 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 inconsistent 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 Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. 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). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). 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.

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