It's been interesting for me to go back and reread one of the first distinctly Lutheran pieces of writing that I had ever put my hands on (even before getting my own copy of the Book of Concord, Small/Large Catechism, and Lutheran Study Bible) back when I fully embraced becoming a Confessional Lutheran.
I had forgotten just how life-altering and radical it was for me at the time to go from a sort of "American-Evangelical-Though-Self-Identifying-As-A-Non-Denominational-Spiritual-Island-Unto-Himself-Because-All-Denominations-Are-Bad" type of Christian to a Confessional Lutheran who was truly starting to adhere to "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3), which is always Christ-centered and cross-focused, because it constantly proclaims Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind.
For that reason, I've fallen in love with this book all over again and I hope that these meager Chapter Reviews will hep to explain all the reasons why while also enticing you to pick up a copy for yourself as soon as possible.
Before we get to our next Chapter Review, however, let's quickly review Pastor Fisk's main purpose in writing this book.
"In this book, I will dissect this tactic of the thief. We will look at how the devil uses such good gifts from God as your heart, your mind, and your hands to try to trick you into placing your trust not in God but in yourself. We will explore the seven counterfeit 'Christian' rules he tries to play off as if they were authentic Christianity. We will expose these rules as patterns of thinking that try to break your faith in Christianity by creating doubt. We will call these philosophical systems what they are: lies. And then we will challenge those lies with the truth given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. The crow comes cawing, promising you freedom, but telling you that YOU must earn it. He promises you supernatural wisdom, but tells you that YOU must figure it out. He promises you comfort, but insists that YOU find it inside yourself. He tells you that you're just on the other side of glory, if only YOU can create it. He offers you the world, but he leaves you hanging on a cross all by yourself, fed up with it all and wondering in anger and frustration where Jesus is. He was supposed to make it all better. He does this the only way he can: he steals Jesus' words, and he uses YOU to do it. I am not going to let that happen." pp. 21-22
Like I said once before, that's quite refreshing. It was incredibly refreshing when I first read it and it's incredibly refreshing to read it again now almost 3 years later.
Ok, but what about Chapter 5? What is the next lie that Satan uses against us so often?
"Never #5 Never follow a rule that has to start over (again and again and again) again."
So Chapter 5 introduces us to the fifth rule that every Christian ought to break as often as possible -- Pragmatism, or the incorrect belief that God's blessings for the Church can be received by us only after we have first done (You Fill In The Blank Here).
"IfWeCanJust" is a good label to use for those believers committing this error/sin, which is nothing more than the worship of Ecclesiology (a fancy-schmany church word that refers to the "stuff" that makes a church into Christ's Church or into "the Church"), that is, the worship of our efforts to "be" Church.
In short, it's the far too common mentality that "IfWeCanJust (You Fill In The Blank Here)" in our local congregations today, then we will see God moving in the Church. I like that Rev. Fisk says that "it's the fifth rule not only every Christian but every congregation and every denomination out to be absolutely on the ball about breaking as often as possible" (page 152). The danger here -- if it isn't already quite obvious -- is that zealous Christians need to make sure their zeal doesn't get the best of them.
To help clarify, Fisk gives us an example of something you'd hear from a fellow brother or sister who needs to start breaking this Rule #5 as often as possible...
"My family and I play music for worship," he said. "If we can just get the people in the congregation to find God's presence in my family's music, then the congregation will certainly grow." Forget the debates about music. That's not even where I'm going. Forget all the arguments about style and culture and context. Forget worship and praise and liturgy and song. Skip all of it and go to the root. For deadly words: "If...we...can...just..." Of all the spins the devil puts on his original Lie, this one remains the most subtle. -- page 148
My goodness, rereading this chapter makes me want to type entire paragraphs here in this Chapter Review post, but I don't have the time, don't want to ruin it for you if you haven't read this book yet, and don't think Rev. Fish or CPH would be too happy about that.
Still, for me, personally, this criticism of Pragmatism and the "IfWeCanJust" mentality really resonated since I still encounter it weekly from those at our former church and at the Lutheran Day School my kids and nephew attend.
It never ends either! No matter how much you try to talk to people about the dangers involved in this kind of approach to things, it always seems to fall on deaf ears, because if it makes sense and sounds practical, then it must be a-ok with God.
Some of you might be familiar with this sort of thing if you've ever encountered the "Five Two" para-ministry too.
It's the talk of the conference circuit, a blitzkrieg of missiology, mission mindedness, missional missioning, and "doing church." -- page 150
It is explained in the section titled "Lycanthrop(church)ology And The Rise Of The W(h)ereChurch" that this is a direct response to our twisted belief that Christ's Church is "sick" and that it's up to us to "fix" her no only for ourselves, other, and the non-believing world, but for Jesus Himself.
It's the height of arrogance, of course, and it completely ignores what Jesus said about His Church (Matthew 16:18). Sadly, it's always been this way, but we never seem to learn.
It is a long and storied tradition. It is the only real tradition of American Christianity: the perpetual quest for pure and perfect Church, the hunt for the truly Spirit-filled assembly of people that we can point to and say, "See! That is God's people." And we believe more firmly than any doctrine that this "Church" can be found only on the other side of our renovations to whatever the current "Church" is. -- page 156
The irony? Rev. Fisk points out that the truth is always old (Ephesians 4:11,24; Jude 1:3) though we often reject that notion for the "exciting" and "new" and adds, "Now, I don't think for a moment that anyone really wants to kill the Church, but I am convinced that the IfWeCanJust churchology is a tradition of men doing just that" (page 157).
From there, he includes a section he calls "Hooked On A Restoring" which focuses on this persistent desire for "Restoration" or a "New Reformation" that a majority of Christians insist the Church needs.
The assumption and mentality today?
The Church that Jesus started failed, so it is up to us to bring it back. In this way, Restorationism is the single shared tradition of Americanized Christianity, the belief that we, over here in this corner, by getting back to "IfWeCanJust (You Fill In The Blank)," are turning ourselves into the Church Jesus always wanted us to be. This need is ingrained in our habits like a theological DNA, a hyperobsession with starting over. Again and again, with all the hindsight of an amnesiac, we declare that everything that came after the apostles but before us has obviously failed...BUT! WE WILL BE THE ONES TO GET IT RIGHT. IfWeCanJust."
-- page 159
The rest of this chapter is rich in poignant and persuasive arguments against the "IfWeCanJust Churchology" we see so often today.
It talks about "The First Path: The Idolatry of Order" or the the belief that "IfWeCanJust find the right structure" for our church government, then the mission can really get done!
Then there's "The Second Path: The Idolatry of Worship" or the belief that "IfWeCanJust change the liturgy" and perfect it, get it right, bring it back, take it forward, then the churches will at last become the Church God wants them to be!
There's even "The Third Path: The Idolatry of the Leader" or the belief that "IfWeCanJust find the right way to organize and the right way to worship and find the right person to bring the two together," then we will truly be God's assembly or the real Church!
All of it amounts to nothing but "Ecclesiological Pornography" described as follows...
Silver bullet churchology works the same way. Just as pornography feeds young men and women falsely perfected images of impossibly idealized sexuality until they cannot find contentment in any real relationship, so also trying to compel God's blessings into the Church through "IfWeCanJust" theology preaches a falsely perfected vision of an impossibly idealized "Church" until no congregation can live up to its expectations. The manipulated images of "what the Church ought to be" in the end only teach us not to love the Church as she really is, but instead to lust after a Church that can never be. ... Just like the effects of porn on young men, the average American Christian is only further trained to expect from the Church something that she is not. Like the young man clicking from image to image on the Internet, the Christian begins to hop from congregation to congregation, the rush of new experience lasting only so long. ... Forget that two thousand years of Christians were comforted in her arms, calling her Mother. Forget that she has always been made up of sinners. Forget that her true beauty has always been the hidden faith of a gentle and quiet spirit, steadfast in comfort, graceful in blemishes, wise in age, and in God's sight very precious. Forget all that. Today, expecting her to be a trophy wife, having wasted our last pennies on plastic surgery, and insisting that she play the harlot for anyone who happens to drop by, the only thing we've gained is a spirituality that excels in training Christians to worship their covetousness. -- pp. 171-172
The rest of that section is an incredibly well-written analogy.
Again, I really wanted to keep going, but I don't want to ruin it for you if you haven't read this book yet. Rev. Fisk spends another ten pages attacking this tired and twisted idea that we need to constantly change Christ's Church or "reinvent" it somehow in order to remain relevant.
It's easily one of my favorite chapters in the entire book.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, please stick around for more on this exceptional Christian book; a book that you need to add to your own personal library right away if you haven't already.
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. 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 repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) 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!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, 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 they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I 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 footnotes 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 both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). 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 "Christian 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. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!