Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Difference Between Preaching Christ and Preaching About Christ

The Rev. Dr. Ken Korby left a great impression on many pastors and laypeople. One impression he left on me was the distinction between preaching Christ and preaching about Christ. He illustrated it in this way:

If you were standing before a judge, having been condemned and convicted of a crime, could you tell the difference between the judge talking about a parole and the judge actually declaring that you are paroled?

The Gospel is not telling people about Jesus. It is, as the apostle Paul declared, preaching Christ -- and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Cor. 4:5; Phil. 1:15-16; Col. 1:28).

Lutheran pastors don't merely preach about forgiveness, they forgive in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Infomercial Lutheranism

If you had a cheapo gizmo that you wanted to make a killing on, how would you promote it? If you had a second-rate product which you wanted to sell to the American public, how would you promote it?


Use all the glitz and glam of various media, hire an enthusiastic "talent" with just the right look and a dynamic voice, combined with a adjective-rich script, plenty of testimonials, and an offer you cannot refuse.

And that doesn't look too terribly different than the Ablaze! / Fan Into Flame campaign.

No one is really asking whether the millions of dollars being poured into the Ablaze! campaign is money well spent. Since one cannot judge the effect that the Ablaze! presentations has on human hearts dead in sin, there seems to be no way of holding anyone accountable.

But is $20-million+ spent on consultants, ad campaigns, brochures, T-shirts and web development really anything more than infomercial Lutheranism? Isn't the Rev. Dr. Kieschnick and his ilk wasting millions of dollars on such things when it could have been spent on supporting ordained ministers of the Gospel to serve as missionaries abroad or in socio-economically depressed urban and rural communities here in the States or helping students at our teacher colleges and seminaries to graduate without being $40,000 in debt -- a debt very difficult to pay off with the types of salaries that LCMS pastors and teachers usually get?

The Ablaze!Program is infomercial Lutheranism. I'm not buying it . . . no matter how many "And wait! There's more!" they have to offer.

Ex Opere Operato is Alive and Well and Living in the Ablaze! Program

In the Twenty-First Thesis on the Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, C.F.W. Walther writes:

"... the Word of God is not rightly divided when men are taught that the Sacraments produce salutary effects ex opere operato, that is, by the mere outward performance of a sacramental act. The grave error which is scored by this thesis is held by the papists, who teach men that they will derive some benefit by merely submitting to the act of being baptized, despite the fact that they are still unbelievers, provided they are not actually living in mortal sins. That mere act is said to bring them God’s favor or make God gracious to them. They teach the same regarding the Mass and the Lord’s Supper, viz., that grace is obtained by the mere act of attending these rites. This impious and abominable teaching contradicts point-blank the Word of God, in particular, the Gospel, which teaches that a person is justified before God and saved by grace alone, and that he cannot perform any good work until he has been thus justified.

The Ablaze! Program doesn't make much mention of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper. For the most part, it seems to be interested in telling people about the Gospel -- telling them about Jesus and what an awesome, spectacular, praiseworthy and loving god our God is.

Adherents of the Ablaze! Program make it sound that encountering people with a Gospel presentation is worthy to be counted as a significant event. Just say something about Jesus or have a prayer with your waitress and we'll chalk it up on the Ablaze! counter.

The opus operatum approach, if one were to generalize or over-simplify, is the way of Roman Catholicism, while the opposite extreme, opus operantis is the way of the Reformed. The former emphasizes the efficacy of a done deed. The latter attributes efficacy to the faith one has in the heart.

Luther ultimately avoided such a dichotomy as being unhelpful. For him, the Gospel was not effective: it was salutary. The Gospel dunamis was not irresistable force and effective power, but it was enlivening and vivacious. (Life is so fragile, but at the same time no power on earth -- no chemical, no physical, no nuclear, no psychological, no spiritual power is capable of creating it.)

The Ablaze! Campaign says little about repentance, denying one's self, confession, and a salutary use of the means of grace. It's too busy doing its deeds ex opere operato and catching it digitally to promote in a newsletter, website or brochure.

When You're Done with that Cray 2 Supercomputer, Can I Have It?

Obsolescence is the way of electronics. I remember hearing, a good 20 years ago, about the Cray 2 Supercomputer. Surely by now it must not be fast enough or have enough memory or enough storage space that the owners haven't upgraded, right? But I'll bet it could still play some pretty cool games. Still, I wonder if it would run Windows Vista . . . without crashing?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Take the Ablaze! Challenge

In The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), we currently have an initiative promoted by our president Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick. Is the movement to be commended or condemned?

On one hand, "All that glitters is not gold," and every slick brochure and newsletter article which shows smiling faces and uses the word "mission" frequently does not necessarily promote the Gospel of Christ rightly. On the other hand, it isn't right to be mean-spirited, nit-picking and finding fault with others just because it represents a different way of doing things than what our own preferences would dictate.

The apostle John tells us: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world," (1 John 4:1). We know from Scripture and throughout history that not everyone who calls out "Lord, Lord!" is of the kingdom of God and that beliefs and actions which turn us away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ can start up within the Church.

In the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, ("Test all things; hold fast what is good") I offer some side-by-side considerations for examining the Ablaze! Movement. I haven't been able to polish these statements as carefully as I like, so readers should feel free to offer imporovements. Statements depicted with "A" represent positions which are clearly in line with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions while statements marked with "B" represent an antithesis.

Readers may also want to cite supporting examples from Ablaze! materials according to these comparisons and contrasts in order to clarify what's going on in the movement.

(1) The Means by which it works

☐ 1A. It clearly shows how the Lord does His gracious work through the Holy Scriptures, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion, demonstrating in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions that these are the only means by which the Spirit works.

☐ 1B. The majority of its sermons, articles, actions and expenditures show a heavy dependence and reliance upon clever stories or worldly means -- such as consultants who tell us nothing of the Gospel but focus on secular sales techniques or manipulative motivational methods to get the world’s attention.

(2) Right use of Law and Gospel

☐ 2A. It rightly divides between Law and Gospel in every aspect of the media it uses.

☐ 2B. It takes an “infomercial” approach to the proclamation of the Gospel in the way it uses various print and broadcast media getting people to buy into the program because it sounds so good.

(3) Leading to Repentance or Motivation

☐ 3A. It uses well-trained, called and ordained servants of the Word who by the Law of God lead people to repentance and in the proper application of the Gospel preach life and salvation in Christ.

☐ 3B. It makes use of motivational speakers who hold a faith contrary to that which we confess — speakers who confuse the distinction and application of Law and Gospel in promoting a course of action to save the lost and act in a Christian manner.

(4) Good stewardship and Highly-paid consultants

☐ 4A. uses good stewardship to support those who actually teach and preach the Word of God.

☐ 4B. has indebted the synod to the tune of millions of dollars by creating administrative jobs and relying on highly-paid consultants.

(5) Christians hated or liked

☐ 5A. It knows that the world hates Christians and doesn’t try to soft-peddle the Law or Gospel in order to make it appealing to the world.

☐ 5B. It attempts to be “likeable” to the world, not comprehending the Scriptures which tell us that friendship with the world is enmity toward God.

(6) The work of the Spirit or the Goals of Man

☐ 6A. It fishes for men without setting goals or quotas, knowing that the Spirit blows where He wills and that the Word needs to be taught and preached in areas where there may be no immediate results.

☐ 6B. It uses arbitrary numbers as goals or measures of accomplishment, establishing certain numeric and fiscal goals to be achieved by certain dates. If the arbitrary number is too low, the movement will be satisfied for accomplishing less than it could have. If the number is too high, a burden of conscience will be placed on people for not having accomplished it — or artificial means will be used to inflate the numbers.

(7) Proper training

☐ 7A. encourages and enlivens with the Word of God, not by making people feel guilty that they aren’t doing enough, but letting the power of the Gospel do its work.

☐ 7B. creates theological and practical problems in its zeal, as when an arbitrary number of congregations to be established is set — when there aren't enough pastors to fill them, the dubious practice of creating a “pastor specific ministry” is initiated, placing men into the functions of the pastoral office who have been less thoroughly trained than regular pastors, not taking into account the problems which arise from such a practice.

(8) Repentence or Attraction

☐ 8A. preaches repentance appropriately as did the apostles in the book of Acts.

☐ 8B. It says virtually nothing about repentance, denying one’s self or taking up the cross but rather depicts a god who is so loving and nice that people will want to be come Christians because God is so good.

(9) The Nature and Content of Sermons

☐ 9A. clearly and rightly distinguishes between Law and Gospel with sermons that clearly focus on the Word of God, showing how the Scriptures and the doctrines contained therein bestow forgiveness, life and salvation.

☐ 9B. sermons consist primarily of clever stories and anecdotal details of examples which “warm people’s hearts,” relying on human rhetoric to move people into action.

(10) Credit and creativity

☐ 10A. does not take credit for the success of the Gospel, which is solely the glory of God.

☐ 10B. takes the credit for the effectiveness of missions and evangelism in its “creative” ventures instead of giving proper credit to the Holy Spirit working solely through the Means of Grace as our Confessions maintain.

(11) Where offerings go

☐ 11A. the freely-given offerings of Christ’s people go to actual mission work.

☐ 11B. money is spent on advertising campaigns while pastors, teachers, and deaconesses are withdrawn from the mission fields.

(12) Theology of cross or glory?

☐ 12A. it promotes the theology of the cross which is beset with troubles and hardships from the moment faith is given, but meets them with the patience and joy of forgiveness in Christ.

☐ 12B. abandons established Word and Sacrament missions and ministries in socio-economically depressed areas simply because they don't seem to be effective or growing in numbers.

(13) Pure doctrine advanced or downplayed

☐ 13A. The Ablaze! movement should be commended if it finds speakers for conferences who speak the truth of the Holy Scriptures in accord with our Lutheran confession of faith as stated in our synodical constitution. While analyses from those outside our confession of faith may be of interest to us, there solutions and commendations are not, for they do not direct us to the means of grace.

☐ 13B. embraces postmodernism’s rejection of pure doctrine and utilizes constructivist approaches to missions, evangelism, faith and life. Individuals should be empowered to go their own way as it pleases them and doctrinal “absolutes” are downplayed.

(14) Accurate or misleading

☐ 14A. accurately portrays the history of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod with regard to the emphases on doctrine, missions, and evangelism.

☐ 14B. renders false judgments and makes misleading insinuations and unbalanced assumptions about the lack of mission zeal in The LCMS.

(15) Formal training or 90-day wonders

☐ 15A. emphasizes the formal training in the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures as in 1 Timothy 3:6 and 5:22.

☐ 15B. provides quickie, "90-day-wonder" trainees to serve as limited-capacity "pastors" thinking that quantity and haste are appropriate even when all the regularly-trained pastoral candidates from the seminaries cannot be placed.

(16) False divisions

☐ 16A. emphasizes Article V of the Confessions, acknowledging why the office of the keys exists and affirming what the Scriptures say about the Office of the Holy Ministry and that “not many should become teachers”

☐ 16B. raises false dichotomies between laypeople and called-and-ordained servants of the Word, maintaining that untrained, undisciplined hosts can lead small-group Bible studies and services in their homes.

(17) Pre-evangelism

☐ 17A. sees the Law as the only “pre-evangelism” appropriate before the Gospel

☐ 17B. embraces the idea of “pre-evangelism” in terms of kindly, civic acts rather than the proclamation of the Law. It proclaims a “loving” God in such a way that does not distinguish between the worldly idea of “love” and the Scriptural understanding of love, suggesting to unbelievers that their life on this earth will be “better” in the face of divorce, alcoholism, and the like.

(18) Self-promotion

☐ 18A. like John the Baptist, seeks to decrease while Christ increases

☐ 18B. it promotes itself in all the synodical publications, missions programs, and causes hundreds of thousands in media expenses to promote its logo and trademark

(19) Use of offerings

☐ 19A. uses offerings to help those who are poor in spirit, and to assist needy congregations in the inner city which may not appear to be “successful”

☐ 19B. it uses offerings and gifts to pay for the equipping of “Christian” coffee houses among the affluent while it withdraws funding from poor minority mission congregations in the inner city.

(20) Theology of cross . . . or glory

☐ 20A. promotes a theology of the cross which does not rely on outward measures of success to determine true worth; it denies itself even as it feels the devil, the world, and the flesh pressing hard, causing pain and suffering.

☐ 20B. it promotes a theology of glory wherein the Christian life is depicted in a triumphalistic manner, acting as if the Christian life can be exuberant and successful if only one tries hard enough — and showing little need for confession of sins, daily repentance, and denial of self.

(21) Full counsel or partial picture

☐ 21A. proclaims the full counsel of God in both Law and Gospel that people may rightly know what it is to fear, love and trust in God above all things instead of making up their own ideas about God which is idolatry.

☐ 21B. it attempts to promote a picture of God which is only loving, kind and caring without a word that our Lord is a zealous God who condemns sin.

(22) Relying on those whose doctrine we condemn

☐ 22A. it relies on seasoned pastors and teachers who put forth Law and Gospel who have been thoroughly equipped, not with the latest trends and market research but are rather well-grounded in the Biblical languages, comparative systematics, historical theology, and the practical aspects of a well-rounded Liberal Arts curriculum.

☐ 22B. it invites, pays, and advertises keynote speakers who deny infant baptism, who do not believe that pastors have the authority to forgive sins in the words of absolution, who do see the Lord’s Supper as a friendship activity rather than as the forgiveness of sins and preservation of faith, who confound Law and Gospel, who teach that people can decide to become Christians according to their own free will, and who maintain double predestination. (Have we ever had so many Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and “non-denominational” motivational speakers telling us how to live the Christian life as we now have with the Ablaze! initiative?)

(23) Postmodern methods

☐ 23A. it relies on the same Word and Spirit as is found in the work of the prophets, apostles and evangelists.

☐ 23B. it succumbs and resorts to postmodern methods while claiming to lead people away from postmodernism. It should be condemned if it fails to teach people to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Christ (Mark 8:34). It should be condemned if it suggests that if potential members want to have “purple carpeting with pink polka-dots” installed in the church sanctuary then Christian congregations are obligated to install it in order to win souls for Jesus.

(24) Forms of Worship

☐ 24A. It uses forms of worship which has, like the historic Lutheran liturgy, a high percentage of word-for-word texts from the Scriptures instead of relying on the creativity and whims of a worship committee.

☐ 24B. It uses forms of worship which use poetic license and human ingenuity in an attempt to make worship meaningful and relevant.

(25) Reverential or sensational worship

☐ 25A. Conducts worship services with reverence so that the focus is on the holy, living Word of God.

☐ 25B. Glamorizes corporate worship by making it sensational according to the flesh with such things as liturgical dance, dramatic effects, technological whizz-bangs.

(26) Sacramental or symbolic

☐ 26A. It is sacramental rather than symbolic, emphasizing at every point in worship and life how the Means of Grace, not means of power, concretely impact the hearts and minds of people.

☐ 26B. It is symbolic rather than sacramental, emphasizing abstract verbal and visual allegory to impact the hearts and minds of people.

(27) Use of the Law

☐ 27A. Teaches that the Law condemns and kills; it always accuses.

☐ 27B. Teaches that the Law tells us how to live a Christian life.

(28) Appealing to allegory

☐ 28A. relates our Lord’s words that He speaks in parables because “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’” (Mat 13:13-15)

☐ 28B. It thinks that parables are allegories intended to appeal to man’s intellect in making the Bible more meaningful as if they were mere object lessons.

(29) Law as the goal of the Gospel

☐ 29A. Preaches Law and Gospel, not Gospel then Law, confessing that the Gospel gives life not so that men may return to the Law, but so that they may live by the Spirit in freedom (Gal. 5:8).

☐ 29B. It preaches Gospel then Law, teaching that the Law is the goal of the Gospel.

(30) Acknowledging the end times

☐ 30A. Appropriately lays forth what the end times will be like and acknowledges what Matthew 24:6-22 and 2 Timothy 3:1-11 say, comforting and supporting faithful pastors and congregations with dwindling membership in neighborhoods that are in decline or communities which place great importance on worldly matters.

☐ 30B. It sets forth a picture of the Christian Church that it should always be growing in number and that churches which are in decline, even in socio-economically depressed neighborhoods, are somehow unsuccessful, unfaithful and unwanted.

(31) Church militant or triumphant

☐ 31A. Confesses the Church Militant which in this life is besieged and embattled.

☐ 31B. Attempts to establish – or at least give the appearance of being – a Church triumphant which assumes it is capable of overcoming the effects of sin with victorious living.

(32) The Christian Life

☐ 32A. Makes clear to new converts that the devil, the world and their own flesh will be at war against them now that they have become Christians and that they ought not expect to have a life free from doubts and hardships – that they should trust the Word of the Lord more than their own feelings and experiences.

☐ 32B. Implies to potential converts that their life will be so much better once they have become Christian.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Good Samaritan

This past Sunday, in the historical lectionary (not the same as the three-year lectionary used by many American congregations of various confessions), the account of the Good Samaritan served as the Gospel reading and text for the sermon.

One memorable thing from the preaching of Rev. Matthew C. Harrison while I served with him at Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, IN was the summary of this text that he proclaimed from the pulpit.

The robbers said:
"What's yours is ours and we take it."

The priest/scribe said:
"What's ours is ours and we keep it."

The Samaritan said:
"What's mine is yours and I give it."

Thus, Christ and His righteousness for those who have been beaten up by sin -- and not a moral example for people to obey.

Clergy Supporting Evolution

Here is the website of the Clergy Letter Project wherein may be found the Open Letter of clergy members embracing and supporting the teaching of evolution in schools -- along with an alphabetized list of reverend subscribers.

There is also a resource for scientists "on-call" to assist pastors who want to promote and defend evolution as "a core component of human knowledge, fully harmonious with religious faith."

Personally, I can't wait until Ben Stein's "Expelled" comes out on DVD this October. Until then, I guess I just have to wait and hope that the clergy who embrace evolution will evolve into some higher life form.