Thursday, May 22, 2008

Conflict of interest: How the LCMS is killing itself.

As a former Evangelical, I have been witness to may different types of "Christian" worship over the years. Some of it has merit, while others have some particularly devastating consequences on the souls of those who participate. For instance, there are some aspects of Pentecostal worship that can stir the mind, usually manifest in their tendency to emphasize the Imago Dei, by way of expressing that we are children of God called to worship Him and to express that worship in daily service to others. But keep in mind, I'm expressing to you now this aspect of Pentecostal worship using language more common to the theologians of our past than to the theologians of our day. Yes, how I'm expressing it would confuse most Pentecostals, but once you unpack the language for them they typically understand it. A Pentecostal would say "I'm a child of God and I can do what God does in my neighborhood because it gives Glory to God and Jesus! Amen!"

The reason I bring this up is thus: The LCMS is inadvertently killing itself. It's death by conflict of interest. Now what do I mean by that? It's simple. Although a Pentecostal can be made to understand the concepts behind the Imago Dei and to understand the implications behind it, I wouldn't expect them to adopt that more precise way of expressing it just because I told them to. No, that would be ridiculous. I would expect them to try to understand it in the same way I'd expect them to understand one of the Ecumenical Creeds, but I wouldn't expect them... Well, I might as well say it. I wouldn't expect them to just become Lutheran.

It doesn't seem at this point like I'm unpacking this very well, but hear me out. There was a time when the Lutheran Heritage was closely tied to German Heritage. The congregations were German, they spoke German, the liturgy was in German... But as time has gone by, the German Heritage has been falling away and to some extent the Lutheran Heritage goes with it. Fair enough. This is what happens with the passing of generations and time. But to a growing number of former outsiders, the "Lutheran Heritage" has quite an appeal for a number or reasons.

Let's look at one of the primary reasons why the idea of "Lutheran Heritage" would appeal to someone becoming Lutheran. First and foremost, the appeal comes from the fact that it's fundamentally different from everything else. Evangelicals who are fed up with what is going on in their own churches look outside and recognize something authentic, and they cling to it because they get a sense of having moorings in a ecclesial culture that is all too often infatuated with itself.

But after that, there's another reason. Beyond authenticity, there is quickly recognized a maturity of the Faith. A maturity that wishes to understand all aspects of the faith, however intimidating much of it may be at first glance. This reason soon reaches beyond mere liturgical matters, and soon begins to expose the raw doctrine of what it means to be a Lutheran. Scratch the liturgical surface of Lutheranism and you have what the Formula of Concord calls, "that special brilliant light" beginning to ooze out like the life blood of Christ himself.

Law and Gospel. Not much is said these days about this. We hear a lot about Peace, unity, compassion, speaking truths with love... But not much about God's law or God's Gospel. The practices of the historic Lutheran Church reflect a proper distinction between Law and Gospel. Our pastoral edge often is grounded in this distinction. In fact, there would absolutely be no Lutheranism whatsoever if there were no right division of God's word.

The minute someone begins to tell us, as a synod, that there is something else that is more important than dividing Law and Gospel, the Synod is in conflict of interest with itself. Without God's word rightly divided, we have no heritage to speak of, for God's word confused by the acts of sinful men can be dangerous. The practices of the Lutheran Church, when cut loose from Law and Gospel, are nothing but a confused mess of laws to keep. If they are just laws to keep, then they can be set aside under the same premise that all laws are ultimately disobeyed. The Historic Liturgy can be set aside in favor of Rock concert style worship, or theatre worship, or pseudo Buddhist/Islam/Judaism stylings... All of which amounts to a slow death of Lutheran Heritage, and perhaps even Christian heritage. A death, I might add, that is totally unnecessary.

So why talk about Pentecostalism and aspects of the worship practices of those who call themselves by that moniker? To highlight the fact that there are only aspects of their worship that is beneficial. Scratch the surface of Pentecostalism and you don't have Law and Gospel rightly divided. For the most part, there is nothing but confusion of Law and Gospel evidenced in their worship practices. The same emphasis on the Imago Dei also winds up resulting in an emphasis on the person and work of the children of God over the person and work of Jesus Christ. That's a very dangerous place to be.

The LCMS is in that same position even now. There is a conflict of interest. Law and Gospel is not rightly divided. The latest communiques from many of our leaders, be they congregational pastors, district presidents, or synodical leaders, betray a steadfast forgetfulness of what it means to be who we are. As a layperson, I don't expect those who don't use the language of our Lutheran heritage to adopt such language, but I do expect them at least understand it. Understand what it means to divide Law and Gospel. Understand that the Cross has, as it does Christ's own blood, the Law of God and the Gospel of God splattered upon it. Understand that the Law of God condemns and instructs but does not have the power to create a Church. Understand that the Gospel of God Forgives and instructs and has all power to create faith, to create hope, to create believers and to build a Church on that foundation alone.

It is a conflict of interest to hold anything above the Gospel. May it never be with us that the Gospel be forgotten.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Crushed by God's blessing

This evening I'm sitting here, listening to an old episode of Issue's etc. It's a Sunday night episode, and Dr. Rod Rosenbladt is the guest. The topic is "Justification". It's one that I called into, mainly at first because it was Rod on the show. It was before I was on the Radio myself.

It was a devastating night. The reason it was devastating is because I was on the phone, listening to Rod say something to this effect: "There is something about the work of Christ in us that is so gentle and so loving, like the scripture says, 'A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.' " By the time it was my turn, I was an emotional wreck. But it was good, because once again, the blessings of God had crushed me.

That sounds weird, but it's true. For this Christian, God's overwhelming blessings and goodness toward him daily are part of what causes repentance. God blesses me with lots of good things, and sometimes I'm floored because... How could he give these things to me? I'm such a broken reed, I don't deserve his good blessings at all. I deserve eternal condemnation. I sit in front of a radio microphone, and I'm crushed. Lots of people would kill to get in that position, to talk on the radio, to be in the driver seat. But for me, each blessing is another crushing blow. And when the Gospel hits my ears again, and I hear "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory", I realize the depth of His riches and goodness.

Without the doctrine of Justification, one can't have a true relationship with Jesus. You don't understand his goodness towards you till he crushes you with his blessing. You don't know his mercy till he lifts you up from that sorrow and weeping, and gives you new life. And it's not even about temporal tears most times, but rather a sense of awe and wonder. Tears can be involved indeed, but the word remains the same.

This smoldering wick is forever thankful.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Evangelicalism at a Crossroads.

I used to be an Evangelical. What that means is, I subscribed to all the doctrines that Modern Evangelicals believe. Whether is was the doctrine of "make a sincere decision for Christ" doctrine, or the "age of accountability" doctrine, or "believer's baptism" doctrine, I was staunch in not only believing them, but in proclaiming them.

But with all of my certainty over these teachings, there was something about all of this that made me worry. After all, as much sense as everything made, all the doctrines seemed to line up very well, I didn't seem to have any peace. I remember back during my days as a moderator at, that with all the people who would sign up daily to the forum and start posting, the majority of them were almost looking for a fight, and many of them actually were looking for a fight.

Now being what I called a "thinking evangelical", I liked taking on the ones who were spoiling for a fight. I remember one individual who billed himself as a "Messianic Jew", who called himself SolaScriptura. He was all about proclaiming to everyone that they needed to start being Jews as soon as possible because that is what pleases God. Of course, when you tried to pin him down for proof that being a Jew, keeping all the commandments and Holy Days and Festivals actually is pleasing to God, he had none. Not pragmatic proof, anecdotal or biblical proof. We eventually wound up banning him from the forums altogether for teaching false doctrines.

But the thing that got me about all of that was, no matter how many times you banned them, they would sign up again and come back for more. The fighting still goes on at the Forums at There's a thread there that is a debate between so called "Arminians" and "Calvinists" that is currently on 29379 replies with no end in sight! Nothing solved, no doctrines ironed out.

But, after a while of having to deal with this kind of thing, I was challenged by someone to listen to "the White Horse Inn". I accepted the challenge, and that led me to Issues etc, which led me to the confessions and the LCMS. That's the nuts and bolts of it, but the reality was that I was tired of the bickering, tired of always having to defend something that I knew wasn't robust and fully fleshed out... That being Evangelicalism.

Don't get me wrong, there are some wonder Evangelicals out there who know there stuff pretty well. In such cases you can tell talk about the finer points of doctrine; The Lord's supper, Holy Baptism, Monergism, the Holiness of God... But for the most part, Evangelicals are either one of two types: They are as close to perfectly happy as they can get with where they are spiritually, or they are growing tired of what's going on. The ones who are growing tired of Evangelicalism are the ones I identify with the most.

They are like me. I started down the Wittenberg Trail because I was tired of all the shallowness, lightness and frivolity that was going on around me. I was tired of feeling beat down. I was tired of seeing people being destroyed by weird doctrines, talk of annointings, extra blessings from God... I was tired of being told how to manipulate God, even though they wouldn't put it in such stark terms as that. I was tired of hearing someone say, "if you do A, B, and C, you will begin to see the hand of God move in your life"...

I'd imagine that there are people out there just like me. I've talked to them a lot in the last couple of years. People like that are at a crossroads. What will they do? Will they find a robust faith? Will they find people to challenge them to dig deeper into God's word than they ever have before? Will they find someone who will enthusiastically proclaim Christ and him crucified, for them!

Oh Heavenly Father. Let me be your sounding board. Let me be the watchman at the Crossroad to point the true way. In the name of your son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. One God forever and ever. Amen.

the big test

Since someone, somewhere, has seen fit to deprive the world of Issues etc and take a huge bite out of confessional Lutheranism at the same time, I will not take up the mantle of working to see that those who did it answer for their actions.
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