Church & Ministry:
The Missouri Synod's Black Hole
The Gospel is easily lost by the congregation, as it was before the Reformation, when a few people are given full authority over the Gospel in behalf of the many. In the innocuous names of "Church Growth" and "contemporary worship" the order of church government in the LCMS, established by its founder C.F.W. Walther, is being removed. Voters assemblies across the Synod are surrendering their authority to Pastors who operate as CEOs and Boards of Directors. Congregations are giving up their God given responsibility to judge doctrine (see last part of chapter one) into the hands of a few people who follow the principles of business management instead of the Office of the Keys. (see Luthers Small Catechism)
Complaints are also regularly heard at the seminary and pastoral conferences that Walther style voters assemblies have degenerated to outright democracies, then to mob rule, and finally, to self-indulgent opinion polls. Issues at voters assemblies are rarely determined on the basis of doctrinal merit but self expression and felt needs in the name of Christian freedom.
As the desire for doctrinal unity diminishes, respect for organizational and constitutional unity of church government must also diminish. Without scriptural unity no form of church government can be held to any public confession of doctrine.
One hundred fifty years after Walther founded the LCMS, it is regularly heard in the Synods seminaries, colleges, and district offices that church polity or government is adiaphora, (neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture) that is, the congregations can govern themselves as they please. In a Synod that once said it officially followed Walthers "Church and Ministry," Walthers approach is now viewed as one choice of church government among many. Students in the Synodical colleges are taught three or more forms of church government as preparation for the congregations in which they might serve and chaos they will encounter.
Walthers "The True Visible Church" and "The Form of the Christian Congregation" published by CPH is out of print. Of course, the latest Church Growth material is available with flow charts, a sample structure for a board of directors, and how-tos for get-big-church-quick CEOs.
At this writing just about every faction and institution in the Synod, except the President of the Synod and a few of his aids, has abandoned Walther. Of course, the reality is that since 1969 the voters assemblies of the Synod have largely proved ineffective. Just from a practical standpoint, the advent of woman suffrage has made confronting a man on church related issues in front of his wife, or confronting an elderly woman, or a young woman in a voters assembly a pastors administrative failure. The established forum for debate is no longer a viable forum.
With a class of voters beyond public reproach one can hardly engage in necessary and meaningful and, yes, at times, confrontational debate and church discipline. The alternative approach to which pastors now resort varies from those who get everything done in their office, or everything done through boards, or everything done through a board of directors, always in the name of efficiency. Many of the Synods voters assemblies now only meet once or twice a year in the name of efficiency, another way of saying they dont work any more.
Rare are the seminary graduates familiar with a working knowledge of Walthers theses on Church and Ministry. Of course, why should they be schooled in principles of administration that neither the district office nor the congregations want to follow? Few of the congregations would agree to such shepherding. In fact new graduates who are steeped in Walther are likely to fail as parish pastors. Waltherian church constitutions are becoming the exception, not the rule.
The seminary graduate must now succeed in the parish more by force of personality and ingenuity and church growth style leadership principles. If there is a problem he certainly cant open up his copy of Walthers "Church and Ministry" at the District Office as a defense for his actions. Lyle Shallerts notes, a Methodist from the Yoke Fellows Institute, have virtually replaced Walther.
The Council of District Presidents (C.O.P.) has gone to war against Walther. I challenge any district president to send me their advice and counsel based on Walthers theses on church and ministry that they have mailed out to the parish pastors in the last ten years. Rather, they have sent out enough paper from the Yoke Fellow Institute; Corunna, Indiana; Concordia, San Antonio; Fuller Theological Seminary; Willow Creek; Peter Wagner; Karl George, John Maxwell; Barna; The Leadership Network; and others to reforest Yosemite National Park.
The call is for growth, yet the Synod is fragmenting. In the 1995 Convention, the C.O.P. is proud that one third of the delegates voted against the use of the name "Lutheran," Lutheran hymn books, and the necessity of Luthers Small Catechism. One can expect stacks of resolutions from the District Conventions clamoring for more anarchy in the name of Christian freedom in the 1998 workbook.
There are also some clergy, on what they perceive are biblical grounds, who will not listen to their voters assemblies. They believe Walther went too far. How quickly they forget the groveling and boot licking the Lutheran clergy performed in Europe for the Burgermiesters, Dukes, Princes, or Consistories through the 1700s and 1800s. Now, the laymen who give the money and sign the checks arent fit to be obeyed when they are in assembly.
If the Synod cant agree on its past what will guide its future? With no agreed upon doctrine of church and ministry, the more new approaches to church government that are employed in congregation will only continue to divide the Synod. The Synod itself is now seen as adiaphora.
I want to know the name of the full-time seminary professor (not semi-retired or emeritus) in this Synod who will write a book, not saying how great Walther was but advocating and campaigning for the use of Walthers theses of church and ministry in LCMS congregations today. Where is that professor? The fact is, both seminaries Boards of Regents will not issue that man a call to teach.
In the face of this chaos, "Affirm," the conservative publication of Balance Inc. is stone silent. For "Affirm," the list of candidates is liturgy. In the 1995 Convention, "Affirm" operatives were silent or openly opposed to resolutions affirming the name "Lutheran" and the use of hymn books and catechisms. "Affirm," has difficulty deciding if the Synods constitution is law or Gospel. As a point of information all constitutions are law. No one legislates the Gospel. The best way to get rid of legalism in the Synod is to get rid of the Synod.
Hundreds of charismatic LCMS congregations associated with RIM (Renewal in Missouri) have no use for Walther because they are led by the "Spirit." For them, church government based on the Bible is a man made tool to limit the Spirit.
"Church growth" congregations in the Synod, that must number over a 1000, wouldnt dream of replacing their "leadership gurus" for direction from Walther.
So-called moderate congregations, who have for the most part restructured themselves with boards of directors, know little or nothing about Walther. These congregations send that wonderful group of uninformed delegates who come to the convention waiting to be convinced what they believe by someone else.
The liberal congregations view Walther as a legalist.
Many "conservatives" blame Walther for the "church growth" chaos. And, when this writer attends conferences he hears speakers from the podium and the floor openly condemn Walther and voters assemblies.
The C.O.P. has been so effective in interfering with the call process that it takes up to one year to get a call list in Michigan. Congregations were refused call lists and openly threatened if they put an LCMS pastor on the list that former President Heins didnt like. The C.O.P. has their own manual for operation which was not approved by the Convention. This writer doubts that one in twenty-five congregations openly supports Walthers theses on church and ministry and the pastoral office, or is even familiar with them.
Church Growth and Leadership Filling the Vacuum
There is no defense against "Church growth" if the doctrine of church and ministry is adiaphora.
A Milwaukee area pastor held up four different Lutheran hymn books over his head at a voters meeting, two in each hand, and said, "I dont have any use for these except for exercise."
The C.O.P., and the Synodical Faculties agree that church polity is adiaphora. Adiaphora means neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture. Yet the Synod, founded by C.F.W Walther, required a specific church polity for all its congregations well past its first hundred years. Currently the recognition of all forms of polity, as correct in practice only gives the advantage to those who really dont care about polity or the direction of the LCMS.
If all forms of polity are acceptable, the Synod must become obsolete. The Synods current structural liability was once its great asset that drew many congregations to it. Hamlet was right, "To be or not to be. That is the question." The following is a sample of what is filling the administrative vacuum in the LCMS.
Peter Jennings Reporting for ABC: "In the Name of God"
The hot topic and driving philosophy in staff and board meetings in LCMS district offices across the Synod was brilliantly portrayed by Peter Jennings, reporting for ABC on Thursday, March 16, 1995 at 10:00 p.m. There is no question that the Council Of Presidents led at the time by John Heins are Johnny-come-latelies to the ecclesiastical feeding trough of Church Growth.
The following was the opening dialogue to introduce the show:
Rev. Rodney Howard Brown (the apostle of holy laughter): "Fill! Let it bubble out your belly. Fill! Let it bubble out your belly."
Jennings: "They say, it is the work of the Holy Spirit."
Woman worshiper (speaking of the Vineyard): "Sometimes people will shake under the power. Sometimes people will cry."
Jennings: "It is, they say, what people want."
Male worshiper (speaking of Willow Creek): "Its like going to a movie, only better."
Jennings: "All across America Christianity transforms itself in an effort to keep church going alive."
Pastor Wes Duben: (Western Michigan Willow Creek clone) "I think Jesus Christ would use similar methods if He were here today. He would use video, He would use sports, to attract the person who is looking for hope."
Jennings (to Brown): "As I was watching you tonight I wrote to myself, you are taking people on a joy ride."
Rev. Rodney Howard Brown: "They come in depression and they leave in joy. There is real hunger in people. People just want to be happy."
Jennings: "Why are so many people leaving Americas established churches? What would those churches have to change in order to stay in business?"
Rev. Wes Duben: "It is not all gloom and doom. Now, lets all take your Bible and lets all bore each other. Lets show them also we can have fun."
Jennings: "Tonight we will see how some successful churches are radically changing Sunday morning in America."
The show began with Jennings walking into a church service at Willow Creek Community Church. Jennings noted that mainline churches have been declining since the 1960s, yet Americans are searching for spiritual meaning. He said some evangelical Protestant churches appear to be successfully answering the spiritual needs of Americans. Their pioneering forms of worship are giving them influence in thousands and thousands of other churches [including the LCMS].
Jennings asked if the efforts to attract people to church helps to deepen their spirituality or is it just a consumer oriented competition for souls.
The first church reviewed was Willow Creek Community Church. Jennings called it a modern cathedral, successful, and growing. Willow Creek Community Church has the highest attendance of any church in America with 15,000 people in worship every Sunday.
Jennings (to Hybles, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church): "It doesnt feel to me at all religious to be in the what; an auditorium, a sanctuary? Its really more like a theater. Is that intentional?"
Pastor Bill Hybles: "Yes. One of the things we are about is that people can come and investigate Christianity in a neutral setting."
Jennings: "You didnt think it was important to even have one cross?"
Hybles: "We are very serious about what Christ did on the cross, but to capture the essence of Christianity in a single symbol is a little dangerous, we feel."
Willow Creek services include actors, dramas, live stage shows, humor, and talks from Rev. Hybles. The church has a food court, book store, Christian aerobics, small groups, a staff of 167 people, and an annual budget of $13,000,000. Hybles visits Washington, D.C., to consult with President Clinton on a fairly regular basis. Words like repentance, sin, confession, absolution, arent discussed.
Willow Creek has a network of more than 2400 churches called the Willow Creek Association on line giving them weekly information on how to "do church" in the 1990s. Some LCMS churches are in this association.
Jennings then moved to western Michigan to visit with Pastor Wes Duben of Daybreak Church, a Willow Creek clone. He told Jennings "You need to use Madison Avenue."
Jennings interviewed Pastor Marlin Viss at Beachwood, also in western Michigan, of The Reformed Church in America. His church is losing members to the Willow Creek clones. Viss says, "Pastors feel pressure to water down the Gospel in order to grow. They are just dead wrong. That is just the opposite of what we need to do. Too many churches," says Viss, "are selling feel-good Christianity."
Jennings went to the West Coast to interview the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California, the mother church of more than 500 churches around the world. Jennings described the Vineyard as experiential or a charismatic church where people come to have an emotional or physical encounter with God.
Jennings showed a meeting with about ten pastors from the Vineyard at a strategic planning council, working on a statement of purpose. The Vineyard is described as a rock generation church. The Vineyards founder, John Wimber, was the former music arranger for the Righteous Brothers in the 1960s. He started the Vineyard because he hungered for the supernatural. Wimber says when he works for God he expects to do what Jesus did.
Wimbers church was so successful he became an established Church Growth consultant. He was invited to teach at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1982. Jennings then spoke with professor of Church Growth, Peter Wagner, at Fuller, who was won over by Wimber to the charismatic movement. Wagner claims he was healed of his high blood pressure at one of the Vineyards services.
At the Vineyard people shake, tremble, cry, collapse, speak in tongues, prophesy, etc. The visual images of thousands of people in a highly emotional state was ever so effective. At the Vineyard and its hundreds of affiliated churches people are hungry for a faith they can feel, are slain in the spirit, and they receive signs and wonders during the service while ministered to by people at the front of the church. The encounter usually ends with them falling down.
One of the members Jennings interviewed said, "I dont understand why God makes us shake and uses this to bring life back into me?"
Jennings then went to cover the phenomena called "holy laughter." Evangelist Katherine Kuhlman dabbled in it during the 1960s. Today Rev. Rodney Howard Brown, a charismatic pastor from South Africa, is leading people to break out in ecstatic laughter. His goal is to revive charismatic congregations that are withering away. Jennings interviewed Brown while he was at Melodyland across the street from Disneyland.
Critics told Jennings all this was a distortion of the Christian faith.
Jennings then went to a seminar with marketing expert George Barna while he was speaking to about 160 pastors in western Michigan. Barna, author of "Church Marketing," was described as a "hot author."
Jennings concluded the show with the following statement: "When we started out to do this program, our original intent was to analyze whether these new forms of worship were making religion more relevant or whether they were diluting the message just to get more people in the door. We found it hard to analyze peoples spirituality. There are certainly those who fear that Christianity in America is in danger of losing its way. But, however controversial, the churchs effort to reinvent its forms and repackage its message is not all that new. The church has always tried new ways to attract people. Even the organ was once considered too worldly. Finally, the challenge is this. As these churches try to attract sellout crowds, are they in danger of selling out the Gospel?" With that statement, the show ended.
Where have all the young people gone? Theyve gone to church growth/charismatic congregations. Jennings interviewed such LCMS District Office heroes as George Barna, Peter Wagner, and Bill Hybles. Jennings is simply observing the collapse of the phenomena we know as American denominationalism. The no denomination, no doctrine, no catechism, no hymnal style churches are growing in America and the Synods Council of Presidents, led by John Heins, wants to be part of it.
The C.O.P. is not planning for the growth of the LCMS as they dream, as they hallucinate, as they fantasize, but its destruction. John Neuhaus reports that there are more LCMS pastors seeking advanced degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary than from both of the Synods seminaries.
Jennings quoted the heroes promoted and quoted at LCMS pastors conferences. Jennings asked out loud if what he was witnessing was a sellout of the Gospel. The sellout in the Synod is by the C.O.P. Who will save the Synod from the their despotic enlightenment? Who will make the C.O.P. enforce the Synodical Constitution in their Districts? Who will make the C.O.P. demand that every LCMS church use the name Lutheran, and use doctrinally pure hymn books, catechism, and agenda in church and school? The answer is, no one, because no one is going to stand in the way of body count and bucks. Its quite simple. True doctrine is now a hindrance to the church of Christ. The C.O.P. is sure that God Almighty understands.
Book Endorsed by Chairman of the Council of District Presidents Recommends We Not Use Hymnals
"The Other Story of Lutherans at Worship" by Rev. David Luecke of the LCMS recommends that LCMS congregations not use liturgy and hymns in Lutheran Hymn books. This is a complete violation of article VI.4 of the LCMS constitution.
The back of the book contains the following endorsement from Michigan District President, John Heins: "Lutheran pastors and leaders who are struggling with the winds of diversity in worship need to read Dr. Lueckes new book for insight, directions, and guidance."
The book proposes that the minister not wear a robe, remove all scripted liturgy, which means dont use hymn books, not use an organ, and introduce drums and band, in addition to other changes.
The most appalling part of the book is the suggestion that we not use the Invocation, the Confession and Absolution, Epistle and Gospel lessons, the Creed, the Lords Prayer, and that we serve communion once every three months so we grow faster. Some LCMS congregations in our area have already given up the use of hymn books. The pastor preaches in a business suit or sport shirt. They also do not use the Apostles Creed and the Lords Prayer in their regular services.
LCMS Congregations: From Voters Assemblies to Dictatorship
There is nothing inherently sinful about dictatorships, or kings, or oligarchies. The Bible never says exactly what form of government should rule the state or the church. Of course, some forms of government lend themselves to the abuse of sinful human nature more than others.
The LCMS voters assembly, developed by C.F.W. Walther in the 1840, was designed to give laymen the broadest possible powers allowed by Scripture in the church without infringing on the pastoral office. Walther structured the voters assembly with so much authority that it was necessary to keep women from voting for the same reason the Bible says women can not be pastors.
"Let the women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper a woman to speak in church." 1Cor. 14:34-35
"Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." 1Tim.2:11
Walthers model for the voters assembly even gave the voters authority in judging doctrine, church discipline, and establishing procedures for the pastoral office and judging doctrine in the congregation. At the same time, voter or not, any member in the congregation had opportunity for redress on doctrinal and spiritual issues. The voters existed to serve, not rule, the entire congregation, the priesthood of all believers. A majority vote has authority over the pastor, the Circuit Counselor, District President, and Synodical President. The voters have complete control of all church property, finances, and the calling of pastors. Some, to this day, believe that Walther went too far.
Lutheran voters assemblies are an American phenomena. The European Lutheran Churches of the last three centuries were supported by taxes and contributions. They were run by Consistories, comprised of city officials, prominent citizens, royalty, and high placed church officials. There were no voters to be involved with the pastoral office.
The Church Growth Movement encourages the transfer of power from the voters to a corporate board of directors or executive council. It operates more like a corporation and treats the members like stock holders, instead of members of the "priesthood of all believers"
Can American Lutheran churches survive without a voters assembly? Of course, they can. There are 60,000,000 Catholic men, women, and children and millions of Orthodox, who never cast a vote with authority. The Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Evangelical Lutherans in America may vote, but the regional Bishop or office headquarters has the final authority. In most of the 1,500 denominations in this country, small groups or the pastor run the congregation.
Walthers design for the voters assembly resulted in the direct involvement of lay people in the work of the church and a greater level of education of lay people. This encouraged increased participation and giving. This superior structure helped to establish a superior church body.
The LCMS grew and prospered to 4,000 congregations from 1847 to 1947. It grew by an additional 2,000 congregations by 1969. Since the time that woman voting was initiated in LCMS congregations in 1969, the results are obvious. The LCMS has shrunk by more than 300,000 members. Advocates of church growth point to antiquated worship as the cause, but they fail to observe that the 1969 resolution crippled the LCMS voters assemblies. The 1969 resolution confused marriage with the Office of the Keys and the pastoral office.
The current crisis in LCMS church government is certainly not the fault of women. Rather, it was a crisis initiated by clergy who knew their restructuring of LCMS voters assemblies in 1969 would also make them dysfunctional. Thus they had the opportunity to provide a second solution which coincidentally and inevitably would position them as supreme over the voters assemblies. Under the current "Church Growth Constitutions" only the advent of women clergy will give women the "equality" in the congregation they thought they gained in 1969. The Pastor/CEO is always a man in the LCMS.
Why are the lay people now expected to have greater sanctification? When did the voters stop being sinners and saints? The new voters assemblies after 1969 were designed for non-humans. Their structure is now predicated on a skewed understanding about the nature of man, marriage, the order of creation, and the priesthood of all believers. After 1969 when the voters couldnt make any progress, neither could the congregations, and neither could the Synod.
At this time, at least half if not more of the LCMS congregations are restructured for "growth and efficiency" and have initiated a board of directors or executive counsel to administer the monthly operations of the congregation in place of the voters assembly.
The board of directors model is almost like the old European Consistories. Of course, it also means less people are involved so there will eventually be less participation and giving on the part of the membership. The corporate model has replaced Walthers understanding of Matt. 18:15ff.
My friend from another LCMS congregation called me up and said his pastor was "going" Church Growth and they had just put in a new constitution. My friend says he hates contemporary worship.
I said, let me guess. You now have a board of directors to make the church more efficient and structured for growth. He asked, how did you know?
I said, let me guess. The pastor now has a lot more authority and the congregation believes this will be good for its future. He said thats right, the pastor is chairman of the board.
I said, let me guess. The pastor chooses what the worship will be every week and you never know what to expect. He said thats right. I told him there is no such thing as contemporary worship because it has no definition. Sometimes the worship may be edifying and sometimes it may not. It all depends if the pastor has a good day. If the Gospel is present, it is more by accident than by design.
The rapid spread of the Church Growth Movement in the Synod would never have been possible without the collapse of voters assemblies. My friend said all the new changes took place by a vote of 50 to 3. I said, let me guess, no one in the congregation has read C.F.W. Walthers "The Visible Church and the Form of a Christian Congregation." He said, thats right.
My advice is for every pastor is to read Rev. Lawrence Whites "The Role of Women in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod," updated July, 1994. You can order it through Our Savior Lutheran Church, 4425 North Shepherd, Houston TX 77076-1799.
This author does not propose that the congregations revert back to all male voters assemblies. Such a change would be too difficult to explain. Many would immediately assume such a "regression" was based on prejudice against women rather than a desire for Gods order in the church. The average Lutheran is no longer able to make a distinction between church government and state government. It is too late to change.
However, it is important that we recognize one of the causes of the current administrative crisis in the church. Whatever form of church government is chosen it must never interfere with Gods order for marriage as stated in many passages of the Bible including the following. "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body." (Eph. 5:23)
"Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement." (1Peter 3:6) No form of church government should place husbands and wives in potential conflict situations. Church meetings are not isolated voting booths or union halls. Husbands must not surrender up their God given authority in the home and marriage when they walk into their church.
Whatever form of church government is established it must not be the corporate model proposed by the advocates of Church Growth. The goal of the church is not efficiency but growth in faith. The Church Growth model for the board of directors or executive board inherently violates the priesthood of all believers. When Christ says "tell it to the Church" in Matthew 18:15ff, He does not mean tell it to the pastor, elders, or board of directors. Christians must not give up their God given responsibilities and women must also not administrate the pastoral office. They must submit to their husbands in church and home according ICor. 14:34 and Eph. 5:22-30. This is Gods order not mans order.
We base our church government on Gods word not the consumer driven felt needs of the market place. Some three million Israelites "felt the need" to convince Aaron to make the Golden Calf. It was what the people wanted. Moses, the meekest man whoever lived, came down the mountain, smashed the Ten Commandments, ground up the Golden Calf, dumped it in the water, made the Israelites drink it, and they got sick to their stomachs. Any order for the church that are not based on Gods word will fail as we now we now see in the LCMS. There must be no apologies for the Bible in the church. "Thus saith the Lord" knows nothing of consumer driven market psychology.
What Many Call Church is Anything But
The closer we get to the year 2000, the more we see bizarre events taking place in so many congregations. So many think that somehow, this change in the date also means they have to change their church. It is as if everything in the past doesnt work any more and they need something new. Of course, this is a delusion. People will wake up from this millennial hangover around the year 2005 and realize that the only thing that changed was they themselves.
These new style churches are giving up the true worship of Christ and become entertainment centers, group counseling sessions, and self help seminars. They tell people almost everything except to keep repenting of their sins and receiving forgiveness. They offer almost every kind of activity except presenting the forgiveness of sins in Christ.
All of our members who live in a nearby community received these words in the mail from Lake Side Community Church, formerly Lake Side Baptist Church.
"Is your idea of Church a place to catch some ZZZs.
Wed like to invite you to attend a church that wont make you yawn. We believe that going to church should be an exciting, rewarding experience for everyone. So were different
We have no organ, hymnals, or choir. Our service is very informal. Our band plays upbeat music. Our vocalists sing upbeat songs. And our pastors messages (even the flat ones) contain positive suggestions that help you enjoy life to the fullest as God intends us to.
Were friendly people, and we accept you just the way you are: married, single, divorced, whatever. Check us out. Bore you we wont!"
The more Church Growth we have, the less people will know doctrine and the smaller the Synod will get, all in the name of efficiency.
April 15, 1999
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