What Can the Lutheran Laity Do to Stop the Change and Keep Their Church
1. Start Your Own Lutheran Congregation.
If you have no hope of regaining control of your church constitution from Church Growth restructuring and returning to the use of Lutheran hymn books, Creeds, liturgy, and catechisms then start your own "Lutheran" church.
The great subterfuge being promoted by the vast majority of District Executives and Presidents in the LCMS is that congregations, with so-called traditional structure, cant grow in the 1990s and beyond. This is a bold face lie. Most of the District Office Executives have been trained in Church Growth techniques by the Leadership Network, Fuller Theological Seminary, endless seminars, and others. They must now justify their positions and the laymans need for their expertise.
The truth is, this author helped to establish a mission congregation in another state over the telephone of which he has never been the pastor. Like real-estate, the three most important aspects of a mission congregation are location, location, and location. Yes, wherever the Holy Spirit wants to start a congregation is the right location. If He blesses the new mission congregation with the word, and the sacraments, and faith a church will grow in any location the Holy Spirit chooses, whether it be a catacomb, a prison camp, or wherever people live.
However, what the local LCMS District Office wants for a mission congregation may not be what the Holy Spirit wants. So in order to make a congregation grow they simulate the work of the Holy Spirit with marketing techniques and crowd manipulation and call it a church.
This writers brother, a dentist, was tired of traveling 20 miles to a church north of Indianapolis. He called me and asked what could he do? I said start your own church. I wont tell you how startled he was and all his excuses why he couldnt. I said, its easy. Just rent a hall, find a retired pastor and pay him $75.00 to preach a sermon. (I would raise that now to a $100.00 or more depending how far the minister has to travel.) Take out an ad in the paper and announce when and where the first services for the new mission congregation will be. Also go and ask your own congregation, the Circuit Counselor, and District Mission Executive for some weekly support for the mission congregation. My brother made few phone calls. He met with some people after an announcement in his church bulletin and it all fell into place. I told him because you are layman they wont give you much trouble. If they dont work with you there is no way they can stop you.
He held a meeting of potential new members. He found a retired pastor recommended by the District Office. He obtain mission subsidy from his congregation, the circuit, and the District Office. He found a dental lab lecture hall and rented it for Sundays for about $200.00.
They held their first service in the Spring of 1993. About 25 people showed up. By Christmas there were nearly 100 attending. Then the District office gave him a call list. My brother asked me what he should do? I said, keep taking their money and nod your head to everything they say. He didnt want a Church Growth pastor who was trained to take away their hymn books, liturgy, Creeds, catechism, and turn the service into a rock concert. I said, Ill get you a name and you put the name on the call list.
My brother asked how to make certain he didnt get one of those district trained Church Growth nut cases. I said stack the meeting the night before. Just call up all the voters and tell them who the best man is and why you want hymn books. At the meeting the vote went 16 to 1 for the new pastor. The District was upset. The executive kept asking him if he knew who this pastor was. I told my brother to play dumb.
I called up the pastor they called at their meeting. I told him the whole situation with the District Office. I helped negotiate his salary and I called him constantly about why he should take the call to the new mission congregation. I basically assured him that he had a core group that was wise to the District Office trying to open a mission congregations without hymn books. In other words, regardless of the pressure the District Office was going to put on him if he took the call, the congregation would back him up and he would be the pastor of a "Lutheran" congregation. I continually thank God that the pastor took the call to a mission congregation meeting in dental lab knowing that he was up against a District Office before he even moved his family. That took guts.
We wont go into all the details over the next five years. There are many that could be told. However, the congregation as of Easter 1998 had 580 people in attendance. It is one of the fastest growing mission congregations in the LCMS. It has 20 acres, a million dollar building, a great location, and magnificent New England style architecture with stained glass. It looks like a church not a theater. These are the externals not the cause. The new congregation has a pastor who uses the Lutheran Worship hymnal and wears a robe, not a business suit during the worship services. He preaches law and Gospel and is thoroughly committed to communicating the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. They now have two worship services even though their sanctuary, with a traditional alter, pulpit, lectern, and pipe organ seats 400. They are planning another expansion.
Their are many lessons to be drawn from this. Ill just name a few. Churches are not built for statistics but to give out the word and sacraments and lead people to eternal life. There is no question it is easier to have a larger congregation where lots of well-to-do people are moving. This is not Church Growth just simple logic. But dear reader, statistics dont validate what is being taught. After our Lord fed the 5,000, all but his disciples abandoned him when He told them His flesh was real food and His blood was real drink. Can you imagine loosing 5,000 members over a few verses of Scripture? Jesus Christ isnt a very good example for Church Growth. But then, the true church was never concerned with statistics, but with Christ and His word.
If you start your own congregation it may stay small, it may grow, it may struggle, or it may prosper. Read the seven letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. The remarkable events of this mission congregation in Indiana only demonstrate that the Church Growth Movement is not about the Gospel, but marketing. If the Lord wants to grow a church based on His word and sacrament He will do it whenever and wherever He pleases.
For those who read this book and want to start your own "Lutheran" congregation give me a phone call and Ill give you some advice on what to do or put you in touch with someone else who will. In the majority of cases, the District Office will not be your friend. I pray that God saves what is left of the LCMS.
2. Keep Walthers Structure for the congregation and keep Gods order for your church.
Actually the Lord never prescribed the exact form of church government for the congregation. However, He did prescribe certain principles for order in the church that should be followed by the congregation, regardless of the particular order or emphasis in external structure.
Walthers ten theses from the word of God on the structure of the church are foundational for the Missouri Synod. Any structure that abrogates these 10 theses works against the very fabric of the congregation. Walthers book "Church and Ministry" is filled with quotations from the Bible, Luther and the Lutheran Confessions that support his order for the congregation. It can be purchased from Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis. However, CPH no longer keeps Walthers "True Form of the Christian Congregation" in print.
The previous chapters of this book identify a series of problems that are turning congregations into non-profit corporations or dictatorships. The advice in these chapters is basically how to identify and stop the "change." The following are just a few principles from Luther that will give some guidance to the reader trying to establish and or maintain a Lutheran Church.1
"The keys belong to the whole church and to each of its members, both as regard their authority and their various uses."
"On the other hand, the church can be recognized through concrete signs such as the preaching of the word, the distribution of the sacraments, the confession of faith, and even the bans."2
"...the assembly of the church is visible for the sake of the confession of faith." Rom.10:103
"Luther charged the congregation with the exclusive responsibility to call and to ordain ministers."4
Walther Says: Judging Doctrine Belongs to All Members
Walther quotes Luther here to prove that lay people, not only the clergy, are to judge doctrine for themselves in their own church.5 In other words, the final right to decide what doctrine is correct and incorrect in the church belongs to the church members, not the clergy, not the denomination, or any other group.
"Again Christ says, Matt. 7:15: Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheeps clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Behold, here Christ does not give the judgment [of doctrine] to the prophets and teachers but to the disciples, or the sheep; for how could they beware of false prophets if they should not consider, judge, and pass an opinion on doctrine? . . . The third passage is that of St. Paul, 1 Thess. 5:21: Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Look, here he does not want any doctrine or ordinance to be kept unless it is first proved and approved by the congregation which examines it, for this proving is not the business of the teachers, but the teachers must first declare what is to be proved. So also here the judgment is taken away from the teachers and given to the disciples among the Christians, so that among Christians the matter is totally different from the way of the world. In the world rulers command whatever they desire and subjects obey them. However, as Christ says, it should not be so among you; but among Christians everyone is a judge of the other, and again he is also subject to the other. Nevertheless the ecclesiastical rulers have turned Christendom into a secular government. . . . In sum, what need is there for more passages? Every warning that St. Paul puts forth, such as Rom. 16:17, 18; 1 Cor. 10:14; Gal. 3:4, 5; Col. 2:8, and elsewhere, as also all declarations of the prophets teaching us to avoid the doctrines of men, do nothing but take all right and power to judge doctrine from the teachers and give it to the hearers, earnestly commanding this at the peril of their souls. Thus they [the hearers] not only have the right and power to judge everything that is taught but also must do this at the peril of the wrath of the divine Majesty." (Reason and Cause from Scripture that a Christian Communion or Congregation Has the Right and Power to Judge All Doctrine, 1523. X, 1797-1800; SL X, 1538 ff.)
Elsewhere Luther writes: "The seventh and last office [of the congregation] is that of judging and discerning all doctrine. Certainly it is not for the trivial reason that these priestly hypocrites and painted Christians have arrogated this office to themselves; for they well knew that if they left this office to the congregation, it would happen that they would keep none of the offices mentioned above. If the right to judge doctrine is taken from the hearers, what may or dare not a doctor or professor teach, even though he be much worse than the devil, if such a thing were possible? On the other hand, if the judgment [of doctrine] is left or commanded to the hearers, how could a professor dare teach anything [false] though he were more important than an angel from heaven? If it were permitted [that only the priests had the right to teach], Paul would not rebuke Peter only, but he would condemn even the angels from heaven. No doubt the popes and councils would have spoken and legislated with much more respect and fear concerning the priesthood, the public ministry, and such functions as baptizing, blessing, binding, praying, and judging doctrine had they been obliged to fear the judgment and condemnation of the hearers. Indeed, the papacy would never have become what it is had this doctrine [concerning the hearers right to judge doctrine] prevailed. . . . Here stands the Word of Christ, Matt. 23:2, 3: The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses seat. All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works, for they say and do not. What else does Christ teach us in this and other similar sayings of the Gospel and the whole Bible (by which we are admonished not to believe false teachers) than that everyone personally take measures for his salvation so that he may know and be sure what he should believe and whom he should follow? Similarly also that every believer is a free and authorized judge of all those who desire to teach him and that he is inwardly taught solely by God, John 6:45. Not the doctrine of another will condemn or save you, whether it is false or true, but solely your faith. Let anyone teach or preach whatever he desires, you must consider what you believe either for your harm or for your benefit." (Letter to the Council of Prague, 1523. X, 1853-1855; SL X, 1585-1587)
3. You could try to promote the following resolutions at The Synodical and or District Conventions
To Limit the C.O.P. to Activities Mandated In the LCMS Constitution
Whereas, the December 1997 issue of the Reporter states the C.O.P. has created nine committees not mandated by the Handbook including Council on Mission and Ministry, Distance Education Leading to Ordination, and Lutheran Family Association Board, and
Whereas, the Handbook only directs the district presidents to act as the Board of Assignments; 2.11a, to place emeritus pastors from another church body on the Synodical Roster; 2.11d, to be responsible for ordination and initial installation 2:13 of pastors; and 2:21-2.45, to oversee doctrinal and disciplinary supervision of clergy and congregations, and
Whereas, there is confusion in LCMS congregations and in the C.O.P. about the definition of the Gospel demonstrated by pastors writing and confessing their own creeds for communion services; and
Whereas, many congregations must wait six months or more for an approved call from the district president; and
Whereas, the Handbook does not direct the C.O.P. to create a bureaucracy of committees that duplicate the responsibilities of the Synodical Headquarters and seminaries; and
Whereas, the Handbook does not direct the C.O.P. to train LCMS clergy for "leadership," to be "congregational mentors" or to "experience...cross denominational leadership training" as they intend to do in the December 1997 Reporter; and
Whereas, the Handbook does not direct the C.O.P. to raise and expend funds to support programs and committees it chooses to invent outside those expressly stated in the Handbook; and
Whereas, the Convention of the Synod is to administrate the Synod, raise funds, and fulfill the objectives of the Synod; and
Whereas, each district president has more than enough responsibilities to occupy his time besides setting up a bureaucracy to administrate the Synod outside of his district; therefore be it
Resolved; that the C.O.P. is required by the Convention of the LCMS not to exceed any duties other than those specifically stated in the Handbook; and be it further
Resolved; that the C.O.P. is prohibited from raising funds, accepting funds, or expending funds for any programs or committees unless expressly directed by the Convention; and be it further
Resolved; that the C.O.P. focus its attention on teaching, confessing, practicing, and defending from error the doctrine of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod as is the duty of every LCMS pastor.
To Return to the Former Structure of Adjudication
Whereas, the current system of Dispute Resolution is a process adopted from secular and not Biblical sources; and
Whereas, those who seek to use this process often find their cases being "reconciled" by people who have little or no theological or legal expertise; and
Whereas, district presidents are not bound by the Handbook to adhere to the ruling of the Reconciler, such as the ruling in Michigan that one of the three Creeds and not one of the pastors invention be used during Communion services, and such as the Central Illinois District President who refuses to lift restricted status from a congregation and pastor in the District after ruling of such release was issued by the "Reconcilers," etc.; and;
Whereas, the minutes of the reconciliation are not required and often are not kept; and
Whereas, it is Scripturally impossible to reconcile good and evil so that both parties in a dispute are perceived winners; and
Whereas, the ruling of the Reconciler is often based on the arbitrary opinions of psychology and personal bias not tolerated in society at large; and
Whereas, decisions of the Reconciler are not bound to specific citations from Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and the writings of C.F.W Walther on church and ministry adopted by the Convention; and
Whereas, the Dispute Resolution process has shown itself to be based more on the subjectivity of the Reconciler rather than an objective and printed basis for settling disputes; therefore be it
Resolved; That the Synod return to the former structure of adjudication prior to 1992; and be it further;
Resolved; That the Synod does not wish to maintain a system prone to the weaknesses observed in the Sanhedrin when they tried Christ and the Apostles; and be it finally
Resolved; That there be a strict adherence to the rules of evidence and law that all may perceive that the LCMS seeks and upholds truth and justice in all its disputes, thus leading to a God pleasing renunciation of sin that can only be resolved with repentance and absolution in the church.
To Return All District Presidents and Ordained Staff to the Parish Ministry
Whereas, prior to 1947 nearly all district presidents in the Synod, no matter how large their districts, continued to serve their congregations up to which time the LCMS grew to 4,000 congregations; and
Whereas, the current cost of maintaining district offices and their ever increasing staffs and programs throughout the LCMS is approaching the size of the Synodical budget; and
Whereas, the development of computer technology, faxes, E-mail, the Internet, etc., make the maintenance of regional district offices an unnecessary expense and financial burden to the congregations,
Whereas, the local district support of an additional pastor and secretary to the elected district presidents congregation, if needed, should be more than enough assistance for the district president to serve the district without giving up his call; and
Whereas, there would be no need for the district president to draw a salary from the district, and
Whereas, larger districts such as Michigan and Texas should be divided to provide more effective service to congregations; and
Whereas, in 1994 there were 8,510 pastors on the Synodical roster but only 5,312 pastors serving 6,168 congregations, and
Whereas, in 1995 there were 8,564 pastors on the Synodical roster but only 5,287 pastors serving 6,175 congregations; and
Whereas, the increase of district staff and "church growth" programs, conferences, seminars, etc., has proven to be a statistical failure; and
Whereas, providing pastors to congregations is more important than expanding district staff and services, and
Whereas, the increase of staff, services, and bureaucracy in district offices continues to divert congregational resources from recruiting and training more pastors; and
Whereas, the continuing statistical decline of pastors serving congregations is accompanied by the statistical increase of pastors supported by the district bureaucracy; and
Whereas, there are approximately 900 vacancies in the LCMS; and
Whereas, the first desire of pastors is to preach the Gospel and serve congregations; therefore be it,
Resolved; that in order to help alleviate the current crisis of vacancies in the congregations all pastors now serving in district offices immediately enter the parish ministry; and be it further,
Resolved; that all district presidents and district staff set an example by such service that the foremost desire of all pastors is to preach the Gospel and to serve congregations; and be it finally,
Resolved; that the numerous redundant programs currently diverting the district staff and resources be abandoned in order to focus full attention on pastors serving congregations in the Synod.
To Create a New Non-Geographical District
Whereas, Redeemer Lutheran Church of St. Clair Shores, Michigan was granted a transfer to the English District from the Michigan District; and
Whereas, Redeemer Lutheran Church was denied admission to the English District by the English District Board of Directors without explanation; and
Whereas, many districts of the LCMS no longer publicly endorse the doctrine of Church and Ministry taught by C.F.W. Walther; and
Whereas, the creation of the "Walther District" would give congregations in the Synod the opportunity to continue practicing the doctrine of Church and Ministry promoted by C.F.W. Walther without being in conflict with their current districts; therefore be it
Resolved; that the 2001 Convention of the LCMS establish the creation of a new non-geographical district called the "Walther District of the LCMS"; and be it further,
Resolved; that the "Walther District" adhere to the Constitution of the LCMS; and be it finally,
Resolved; that the Walther District will own no property and have no salaried officers or staff thus avoiding the creation of needless bureaucracy and enabling it to conserve a greater portion of congregational resources for missions and the Synod at large.
I will close this book with the two quotes from Theodore E. Schmauks "The Confessional Principle and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church" published in 1911.
"The symbols are public confessions, and the preacher is a public confessor; but only then an official confessor in the Church, when he confesses himself in harmony with the confession of the church by whose servants he is ordained a fellow-servant. And where the preacher does not consent to the confessions of the church, by whose servants he has been ordained, he is no fellow-confessor, and certainly cannot be a preacher of a confession which he does not acknowledge."6
"After a thorough understanding of the general relations between Faith and Truth, between Freedom and Loyalty, between Liberty and Standing Order, between Criticism and Service, between a Call and an Acceptance, only those could dispute the propriety of such an obligation who find themselves outside the Confession, but who desire to remain in the service [of the church] from other than the highest motives; or by those who, influenced by a false ideal of the abstract rights of truth, desire to be unfettered in making their own confession effective. But, as v. Burger observes, to ask freedom from the Church itself to do this, is not any longer a right of her servants, but a violation of the same."7
"Preach the Word...." 2 Timothy 4:2
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1. Martin Luther, Luthers Works, Muhlenburg Press, Philadelphia Vol. 40, page 27
2. Martin Luther, Luthers Works, Fortress Press, Philadelphia Vol. 39, page xiii
3. Ibid., page xiv
4. Ibid., page xxv
5. C.F.W. Walther, The Form of the Christian Congregation, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, combined edition 1989, pages 98-101.
6. Theodore E. Schmauk, The Confessional Principle and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church, Philadelphia 1911, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Heritage Series 1980, page 86
7. Ibid., page 92
Rev. Jack Cascione is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church (LCMS - MI) in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. He has written numerous articles for Christian News and is the author of Reclaiming the Gospel in the LCMS: How to Keep Your Congregation Lutheran. He has also written a study on the Book of Revelation called In Search of the Biblical Order.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 3, 1999
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