Sunday, June 22, 2008

The New Methods - Subserving the Word of God

It has become common in LCMS circles to utilize creative, attention-getting methods in order to gain an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel -- implying that the Gospel might not have had such an audience without something creative and attention-getting. This creative attention-getting seems to be viewed as a kind of "pre-evangelism" and may be manifested in a variety of methods ranging (not meaning to lump them all together) from pop-music-worship to hot-air balloons and even billboards which say "JeffersonHills [Lutheran] Church Sucks, signed Satan."

For some people, the more creative an idea is, the more commendable it is -- and that rationale has led to some rather outlandish extremes with which even those who use creative ideas are not comfortable. Chuck Finney has video clips of some of these new methods on steroids. The Wittenburg Door awards the "Loser of the Month" green weenies to some standouts as well.

On one hand, objections are raised as to whether these creative, attention-grabbing items and activities are "gimmicks" and part of a bait-and-switch scheme while on the other hand those who participate in them are offended at such criticism. The latter contend that the items and activities are salutary efforts to attract the attention of people to the Gospel -- people who wouldn't normally or naturally be interested in hearing the Word of God, Christ, repentance, grace and faith.

When people have been attracted in this way, those who avail themselves of such methods intend and attempt to redirect people in what they call an "opportunity to proclaim the Gospel" but in some cases, the new measures may be a total repudiation of historic liturgy and Lutheran orthodoxy.

I hope that this introduction is a fair assessment of a situation which needs clarification among those associated with each other in the LCMS.

Are these methods something new, previously unknown in the Church, that St. Paul, Chrysostom, Luther, Chemnitz, and Pieper never imagined -- but would have approved? Has the LCMS had any official position on this type of strategem? And rather than arguing in generalities, might we address the specifics?

A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod [Adopted 1932] may have something to say about it in the article dealing with the Means of Grace:
"Whatever activities do not either directly apply the Word of God or subserve such application we condemn as 'new methods,' unchurchly activities, which do not build, but harm the Church."

What does it mean to "subserve" the Word of God?

What were the "new methods" or "unchurchly activities" which the Brief Statement condemned as not building but harming the Church? Is the term "new methods" to be identified with Charles Finney's "New Measures"? (See Michael Horton's article on Finney's New Measures.)

I believe we get a better sense of the issue by holding a debate in the public square. In future posts, I hope to spend more time investigating the historical background of "new methods" in the LCMS -- and reviewing what the Word of God and our Confessions say about evangelism, conversion, and the Means of Grace. But for the present, perhaps readers would like to post some salient observations, historic references and questions without harangues, diatribes or insinuations.

Finally, it seems to me from experiences at other sites, that people quite often are more upset about the tone of posts or about making judgments than they are with the premises themselves. People can't seem to get by the style and address the substance. The comments and responses are often more about the way something was said than what actually was said -- though it seems to me that people ought to be able to overlook uncharitable hyperboles while still getting at the sum and substance of the matter. Thus I wonder if this discussion will be any different even if it is hotly contested.

The proper form will be to state a premise and defend it with reasons -- and to react by referencing a specific sentence and then responding to it. And it may also be helpful at some point to state the things on which the controverted positions are agreed in the course of dealing with the disagreements.

In any case, if you are squeamish about such things, it might be better not to enter the comments area. And who knows? Maybe none of the three visitors to this site who actually read this post will care to comment anything at all.


dm42 said...

It seems to me that the need for "new methods" arises in inverse proportion to how well known the "target audience" is (on an individual basis). For example, in a small community where everybody knows everybody else, I don't observe such new measures as thought of as necessary except to keep up with what's going on in "Big City USA".

In larger cities, however, the circumstances are different. People hardly know their neighbors, have only vague social contact with their coworkers, and even church often becomes simply another circle of contacts (I speak from experience).

Historically, we can see similarities between this situation and the situation of earlier in America's history when Finney was around. Then it wasn't because of the isolation of large cities, but the fact that many preachers (like Finney) were traveling preachers without roots to a community for any length of time.

In these circumstances it becomes more and more necessary to "market" the message. On the other hand, if Christians loved their neighbor in word and deed in their daily lives, there would be a natural curiosity as to what prompts such love and a natural avenue for evangelism (Mt 5:16).

Thus, in my mind, any "new method" is actually contrived and insincere love for the individual(s) that are being "reached out" to.

Loving our neighbor (note the singular) turns into talk about "mission" and "reaching the lost" but the lost are defined as aggregate groups of the anonymous "unchurched" rather than those whom we know and truly love.

I'll admit, much of the aforesaid is based more on personal observation, anecdotal evidence, etc... does anyone know of counter-evidence to the thesis?

Dizziness said...

That is an amazing insight dm42. Thank you.