The Bible emphatically confirms and supports this truth so all Christians should be able to agree on it regardless of the denomination they currently belong to.
Tragically, contemporary Christianity rejects the Means of Grace and, instead, wholeheartedly believes that persuasion and decision are the means by which disciples (a.k.a. members) are made and added to Christ's Church.
Worse, many even believe that their own creativity and ingenuity in advertising, event planning, and marketing is what's ultimately responsible for their "success" and is what deserves all the credit as opposed to solely the Holy Spirit Himself.
This is the "Church Growth Movement (CGM)" at its core. Why is this persistent mentality a problem for Christianity and Christ's Church?
This is crass marketing. It ignores that all are spiritually dead until the Gospel awakens them. There is one sole preparation for a person to receive the Gospel and that is the law. The law must kill, that is show a person how damnable a sinner they are and how they are utterly unable to lift one finger to please God. Then the Gospel comes and proclaims that sinner righteous on account of Christ. And this is all the work of the Holy Spirit who gives faith in the Gospel when and where it pleases him.
Furthermore, the CGM ignores the doctrine of election. Sinners are not persuaded or asked to make a decision about Jesus. Rather, God elects to eternal life through Jesus. The means of grace are how God’s election comes to a sinner. Without the means of grace CGM is a deck of cards that quickly falls down. They are the sole means given the church by which it grows.
Basically, CGM relies on first article gifts to grow the church (God gives me my reason and senses). But it is solely third article gifts of the Holy Spirit which grow the church (I cannot by my own strength or reason believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel).
This document published by the LCMS in 1987 is a wonderfully balanced resource for dealing with this topic in case you'd like a more in-depth treatment of it.
Moving on. In case you missed it in the news today...
Amid the craze over virtual characters in the smartphone-based Pokemon Go game, a Pokemon that people can touch in the physical world has mysteriously appeared in New Orleans. Someone put up a statue of the iconic Pokemon, Pikachu, at the center of a broken fountain in a park over the weekend. Pictures show a defiant looking Pikachu with his arms folded standing on a cement base with a Pokeball on the side. The inscription "#POKEMONUMENT" is also written in the cement. Pokemon fans have been visiting the statue in the city's upscale Lower Garden District, posing for photos with family and posting selfies with the statue on social media.
A modern idol being worshipped "at the center of a broken fountain," huh?
For what it's worth, and in my humble opinion, I find it quite fitting that this most well-known and beloved Pokemon character creature now exists as a real and tangible idol of sorts for adoring crowds of all ages to visit as though it were a religious shrine to worship.
Not that people are actually worshipping this game and its fictional characters mind you (or this statue), but the symbolism is still striking for the point I want to make today I think.
Now, before you think I've fallen back into my "Old Evangelical Adam" ways where anything and everything that doesn't have some kind of "spiritual" component to it is somehow "evil," "immoral," and "unrighteous," and that all avoidance of those things somehow makes a person "pious" and "righteous" even, please understand that that's not the case at all.
I mean, it's not like I believe that Pokemon is "demonic" or that ISIS could use the popular mobile app to target Christians with "cyber demons" like some Christians do.
I can assure you that I'm coming at this from another angle entirely.
See, it's certainly not the first time that churches have tried to make things "relevant" in an attempt to grow the church and find new members (remember the "Seusscharist" fiasco?). Sadly, it's just one more example of "Relevancy Fail" for sure.
It's also precisely what happens when well-intentioned people (Christians who certainly mean well and have a desire to save the lost) mix the secular with the sacred. It's also precisely what happens when doctrine doesn't inform our practices both inside and outside the Church as it should.
The problem? We've already explained how this notion that we as "Sacramental Entrepreneurs" is completely un-Biblical since we are not the ones who have the power to convert men's souls unto salvation.
In addition, please understand that I'm not "Get Off My Lawn Guy" at the ripe old age of 37. I have two small kids of my own who love their mobile devices and video games (even though neither of them plays Pokemon GO) and I'm a big kid at heart myself so I'm not going to criticize people for finding fun and entertainment with something like this during their leisure time.
I have no problem with any of that whatsoever if it doesn't become an idol and keep you from fulfilling your God-given vocations in this life.
However, I do have a BIG PROBLEM with those people -- particularly Christian Pastors and other so-called "church leaders" who should know better -- who insist that the Pokemon GO craze is "an incredible opportunity!" to reach the lost and to get many non-believers to come to their church as if the Lord was unable to grow His Son's Church all this time until man created the Pokemon GO mobile app.
Let's be honest -- it's absurd! Worse, it betrays everything we claim to believe, teach, and confess, especially if we're Lutherans who are doing this sort of thing.
"Hey, come for the Pokémon, stay for the Lord and Savior!"
Right, because a bait-and-switch tactic like that (especially when it comes to spiritual and religious matters of faith) always works as intended with non-believers (*EXTREME SARCASM ALERT!!!*).
Apparently, this is how you faithfully confess the truth as a Christian in the 21st Century though, and the called and ordained with years of Seminary training as well as experience shepherding a congregation or two, are actually the ones leading lay leaders to think it's perfectly fine to do so.
What is it they say? "The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions..." Sure, you might think that's "too harsh" of me, but it's not so far-fetched when you recall that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Galatians 5:9).
Even The Babylon Bee, your primary source for Christian News Satire, chimed in with a piece titled "Church Attendance Spikes Nationwide Due To Influx Of Pokémon GO Players" which, to reiterate, is S-A-T-I-R-E or a J-O-K-E, and yet, many churches and believers continue to operate under the very same mindset and practices that the writer was criticizing.
I even know of one local church in the area (my old LCMS church, in fact!) that has hopped on the Hype Train without a care in the world.
On second thought, I apologize, because that's not entirely right. There was one person who objected to doing anything that would have non-believers from the local community trampling through the church's cemetery trying to catch Pokemon monsters.
If only this person felt the same way about this church trampling on doctrine so egregiously by suggesting that we can somehow "Make More And Better Disciples For Jesus Christ!" (this church's actual "Mission Statement") through our own efforts like hosting a Pokemon GO outreach event.
I guess they think an event like that will somehow spontaneously create Christians I suppose, but only once we capture them with our own bait-and-switch tactics.
With all due respect, have my brothers and sisters lost their minds!?! When will these people ever learn or simply believe and trust what God's Word says about how Christians and disciples are made?
Hosea 4:6 (ESV) My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
Despite the fact that this is found in the Word of God, and that the warning is pretty crystal clear, many Christians would prefer to just ignore what this verse and the text around it teaches us, and insist that they know better than God Himself on how to build His Son's Church.
Don't believe me? Here's what Rev. Dr. Rodney E. Zwonitzer wrote in his classic book "Testing The Claims Of Church Growth" many years ago that still holds true today...
Now, on the basis of my study of Scripture, I do not believe that God wants or needs much of what I did as a marketing executive to carry over into His church. Much of the talk in our Synod these days sounds like discussions I heard in corporate conference rooms. How can we get more people interested in the faith? How can we keep them interested? How can we make them "contagious witnesses," so they reach out to others? We're losing market share. What we have been doing just doesn't work anymore. The customers don't like it -- especially those who won't be attracted to any church and those who have fallen away from attending. We must change. We must utilize all disciplines -- marketing, sociology, leadership, and so forth. As a pastor an ex-marketer, I'm skeptical of this approach.
Which brings us to this book. I didn't want to write it. I'm basically a shy and private person and not confident in my composition skills. I thought someone else must answer the Church Growth Movement, which has created so much division and schism in our midst. Then it hit me. God has prepared me for this task.
May He grant you His spirit of discernment as you read these pages. They will present and test the claims written by both sides of the Church Growth controversy in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The goal is to reveal which side is pleasing God and which is pleasing people.
Basic to such a testing is this question: is the church a business? Were Jesus, Paul, Martin Luther, and even C.F.W. Walther marketing men, as the Church Growth Movement claims? The ex-marketer-turned-theologian says NO! Marketing is an overarching approach that seeks to please the customer, proclaiming the customer king. True theology can have no customer sovereignty.
The precious Gospel must be sovereign.
Marketing has never helped to grow Christ's true kingdom and never will. His kingdom is not of the business world.
That was only from the Preface too!
We might want to revisit the research presented in that book in light of this current Pokemon GO craze that Christianity insists on co-opting for its own perceived benefits.
If you're inclined to think I'm overreacting a bit, then please consider how many churches (yes, even some Lutheran churches) are promoting Pokemon GO rather than promoting "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2) Who is Christ Jesus.
Again, I learned of one Lutheran church in Minnesota that was doing this and now I learned that my old church right here in the LCMS-Eastern District is doing the very same thing! Rest assured there are many others within the Lutheran church and outside of it who are doing this right now too.
It just breaks my heart and saddens me to no end that this sort of thing continues unabated despite the constant pleas to carefully examine it in light of the cherished Scriptures and our Confessions.
What blows my mind is how that book by Dr. Zwonitzer was published in 2002 after already bearing witness to several years of this sort of approach to "doing" church. Yet, here we are, 14 years later, and the problem is still as prevalent as ever in the LCMS (especially here in the LCMS-Eastern District).
Zwonitzer admits from the get-go that "the goal is to reveal which side is pleasing God and which is pleasing people" and I firmly believe he achieved that goal by the end of the book.
Make no mistake, despite good intentions, one side is definitely more pleasing to God than the other, and if that bothers you in any way, then I'd say that you're precisely the type of person who needs to read that book right away.
Then again, maybe it's not as bad as I think it is.
Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut until some Christian church erects a Pokemon statue out front, or worse, places one inside and near the Baptismal Font or Altar.
Too late! I mean, isn't that what these churches that are using Pokemon GO as a tool to draw sinners to church are already doing though even if it's only symbolic? After all, they've simply replaced the physical Pokemon idol that's being visited "at the center of a broken fountain" in New Orleans with a virtual Pokemon idol that's being visited in the very place where the the Lord through His Word and Sacraments should be the One drawing sinners (John 6:44); the same place where Jesus Christ should be the one at the center of the Font and Altar!
So my encouragement to all Pastors (and particularly to Lutheran Pastors who should know better) is simply this...
By reason of your ordination and installation you are to be Christ’s servant in this place for Christ’s people. Remember, it is Christ’s office. You are Christ’s servant. On the other hand you are NOT to seek out new ways of doing church thereby causing the faithful to stumble. You are NOT to confuse God’s Law and God’s gospel which burdens Christ’s sheep with the idea that there is something they not only can but should offer to God for their salvation. You are NOT to chase after every new fad that comes from the church growth gurus, or even district or synodical officials and is peddled on the shelves of many so called “Christian” bookstores. You are NOT to give in to the whims of a fickle flock who might desire something other than Christ’s Word and Sacraments. You are NOT installed today in order to enact or create some new vision for Christ’s church. You are not pope, you are not lord. It’s not your office. It’s not the church’s office. Remember, it’s Christ’s office. You are His servant and are given to do His Work in this place showing forth His heart to His people.
This is most certainly true.
Remember, our Confessions emphasize what Scripture already teaches us...
"Through these, as through means, He (God) gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel."
-- Augsburg Confession, Article V
In other words, the Lutheran Confessions emphasize what causes true church growth based on the clear witness of Scripture -- faithfully preaching the Gospel and faithfully administering the Sacraments.
God doesn't need our creativity or our help. Yes, we get the honor and privilege of sharing with others what it is we believe, teach, and confess, but then we invite those people to church to hear the Word preached since "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).
So, with that in mind, let's stop acting as if we believe, teach, and confess "another gospel" (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6-7) that's found in the "Lost Gospel of Pikachu" from the "Book of Pokemon" that says...
Pikachu 1:1 Christ will build His Church using Sacramental Entrepreneurs, the cell phone, and the mobile app Pokemon GO
Isn't that what these churches and those believers who support such an idea are saying they believe?
Is it wrong of me to cringe and to be offended whenever I see this sort of thing being done by Christians who should know better?
I know they say it's all about "sharing their faith" and "winning souls" but how hollow are explanations like that when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that that's not how it works at all? That's not how Christians and disciples are made!
Personally, I think it's sort of akin to how people who suffer from "white guilt" will often act these days whenever they do whatever they can that they think will earn them favor with others from the group of people they're trying to impress.
Think about it.
It's as if many Christians (many who are adults too) are so desperate for the world's acceptance and approval that they think the easiest and quickest way to be liked by the outside world is to imitate and mimic it.
Is that exhibiting godly wisdom though in light of what we've been told?
James 4:4 (ESV) You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Galatians 1:10 (ESV) For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Again, two Bible verses that should clearly speak to us when it comes to such Pop Culture fads and trends like Pokemon GO, and yet, our sinful tendency is to want to use them to lure non-believers in our community to Christ's Church rather than simply performing good works for our neighbors within our various vocations, and then inviting those same people to church to hear the Word of God preached.
But I thought "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12) or don't we believe, teach, and confess that anymore either?
I'm sorry, but it just saddens me to no end to see Christianity cheapened like this all the time. Furthermore, the house of God is a sacred place. It's not a circus or a playground and there should be some semblance of decorum and reverence there, right?
Of course, the Lord told us to expect times like this, especially as we get closer and closer to His Second Coming...
2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV) But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
"Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" seems sadly appropriate.
My dear friends, we MUST remember that practice can change doctrine, which is why Christ's doctrine MUST always inform our practices both inside and outside of His Church.
We need to repent of our sins of arrogance and pride at the root of our thinking that our ways are better than God's ways (Proverbs 16:25; Proverbs 14:12), that He needs our help at all times, and that we are the ones who have the power to convert men's souls through our own ingenuity and works.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, we need to be aware of the wolves among us, and we should always keep the Word of God in mind when considering these popular fad-driven churches and their gimmicks, because we know the truth as well as the warning that "God is not mocked" (Galatians 6:7).
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!