Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What denomination do you think this congregation is?





By all accounts this congregation does what they do very well.  It is the highest quality music and media.  My question is what does the appearance of Sunday morning tell you about this congregation?  Would you identify it as one of the larger and more influential congregations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (in and around St. Louis)?  This happens to be St. John's in Ellisville (I do not use the name Lutheran in their title because they have decided that the name Lutheran is either not essential to or beneficial for their work).  My point in this post is not to denigrate the content but simply to ask the question:  Would you have identified this as a congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod?  If not, and I presume most all of us would not, then something is wrong.  Sunday morning is the place where we show our colors to the world.  Regardless of whether you like or dislike what you watched, are these the colors of a confessional Lutheran congregation?

This is not about music or architecture (though certainly they flow from the identity expressed) but about who we intend to be.  We cannot have many faces before the world.  Missouri has had a split personality (maybe multiple personality) disorder for some time.  This cannot be sustained over time.  The day is rapidly coming when we will have to choose who we intend to be before the world and on Sunday morning.

In our Confessions we expect that people, if they confuse us at all, would mistake us for Roman Catholic.  There is no chance of that here.  But it would not be a stretch to identity what you watched with Saddleback, Willow Creek or Lakewood or anyone of a thousand other evangelical (or evangelical style) congregations.  The issue cannot simply be whether what they are doing is credible but whether or not what they are doing is authentic to Lutheran heritage and confessional identity.  The disconnect between this parish and, say, mine, is too great to ignore.  One or the other will have to give way over time and the face of Missouri will not be split any longer.  We have one face to show to the world.  The question for today is which one will it be?

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

I followed the bread crumbs to their site after a recent comment was posted on this blog about "1.1.15.6," and sadly I was not surprised by what I saw and read. I do not question the earnestness of the members at St. John's, but I am glad Pastor Peters uses this medium to raise the hard questions about our walk together and what it says to our dying world.

Jim Davis said...

LCMS, AELC, WELS, ELCA, ACELC Does this alphabet soup mean anything outside of Lutheran circles?
Does RCC vs. Marionite mean anything to you?
Can you describe the difference between Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox?
Perhaps the LCMS should write one sermon for each Sunday to be preached in every congregation; that would make churches look alike!
Is the image presented to the world important? Or, is the message presented important?

Anonymous said...

The truly sad thing is that the letters LCMS on a church building mean absolutely nothing anymore. Try finding a church to attend while on vacation. It's a crap shoot. The "synod" is not a "synod" since we no longer "walk together".

Gary said...

I would bet that most orthodox, liturgical Lutherans on vacation, will find more in common dropping into a Roman Catholic service than they would in the typical LCMS church.

The last LCMS church I visited while on vacation could very well have been any evangelical mega-church. Praise bands, large projection screen where a crucifix or at least an empty cross should be, no Sacrament, no liturgy, and nothing in the sermon that was distinctively Lutheran or even "catholic". No mention of Holy Baptism or the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. No hymns.

Just generic, "I love you, I love you, I love you..." music and a sermon that any evangelical pastor could have preached: Jesus loves you and we all love Jesus.

I was sick to my stomach.

David Gray said...

Luther said that justification by faith alone was the article by which the church stands or falls. One of the biggest problems with evangelical churches is the way they are increasingly like Rome, both are synergistic in their understanding of salvation.

Cliff said...

While there is a part of me that agrees with the sentiments expressed, there is another that says there are far too many in the LCMS, who appear, and I mention appear, to be legalistic Pharisees. The rigid church practice proposed by some are nothing more than legalism in the strictest sense.

The question in all this in not whether the worship service is the identical, but as to whether obedience to the gospel is maintained, and that is "to make disciples of all nations?"

Rev. Kachelmeier said...

Image and message are directly related. In fact, I would say that the image is a manifestation of the message. You can't have a message without an image.

It is time that we start calling attention to the division and fragmentation that the innovative and creative entertainment image is bringing to the LCMS. This is sin.

As the only LCMS congregation in a small town, we had a visitor move to the area from another LCMS congregation. This man happened to be part of the rock band in the entertainment style worship at his home congregation. When he found out that we do not have entertainment style worship (we use the LSB hymnal), he made it clear that he was not in fellowship with us. He only attended one service and never came back. For this man the image was more important than the message. Now he attends a non-Lutheran entertainment church. He is in "image" fellowship with this non-Lutheran church. By the way, I talked to his former LCMS pastor who didn't seem disturbed at all. For this man the worship of the image was more important than the hearing the correct message.

Does the image matter? Yes!

Anonymous said...

The first two videos here will give you a flavor of the St. John Easter message this year. Also, no Communion for Easter day.

Their new big screen covers the large cross that is part of the architecture on the front wall.

Takes a lot of money to provide this level of entertainment for church. And, please, don't call this missional. It is entertainment. Like going to a movie. Might as well provide popcorn too.

This church is also part of the Willow Creek Association. So why don't the "Willow Creeks" just join Willow Creek? Why pretend Lutheran anymore? Especially since they want nothing to do with the name.

Well, you be the judge. Is the message here or not?

I know Jesus loves His Church. And His Church is more than only the LCMS. But I am more and more discouraged over the lack of confessional Lutheran teaching in these churches. It is more evangelical style -- ask Jesus into your heart. The assurance that comes from the objective Gospel is many, many times missing.

I wonder if this method of discipling is equipping people with a faith to die for? God help us all.

I have read that people who join evangelical style churches last only about 5 years.

(Hope the link works, it does for me.)
http://new.livestream.com/streamstjstl/events/2797975

Cliff said...

Anonymous, It seems you carry a mighty big stick, I mean plank.........

Anonymous said...

Cliff, I suffer from experience, in case you thought that my words come from being exposed to only one side of the track. It has taken me many years to realize again the message of forgiveness for my sins after having participated for years in churches like these.

The most freely forgiven times of my life were when I was taught and under the Lutheran church of the past. The most crushing guilt I could not find relief for was when I was with churches like these.

I am sorry if you think I am being judgmental. I hope and pray I am not. I can see more clearly than you think.

But maybe I do suffer from a plank. I don't know for sure. Because I'm not always clear about my sins. I just know that I need to go to a church where forgiveness is given to me. Everytime.

I wish I could tell you my whole story. But that is not possible, neither would you want to hear it.

I apologize if I have offended you.

I am not a pastor. I am a layman.

Cliff said...

Anonymous, I think you are sincere in what you say, and as you, I too struggle with sin, and I too have been around the block more than once. As a layman, it has been frustrating at times to remain loyal to the Lutheran Church, but I have resolved that, and accepted that this is my place here within the Lutheran church, warts and all.

My beef is with the legalists and Pharisees in our beloved Synod, those who wish to return the church to pre-Martin Luther era, where Rome and rules were supreme.

Worship is one area that is not clearly spelled out in scripture, and I have seen many a "Traditional" service sound more like a funeral dirge than a worship setting. Not all congregations are large and have good singers. You get my point……..

May God continue to guide us and our beloved church, because we owe thanks to it for bringing us the message of salvation.

Anonymous said...

Cliff, I was brought up "high church." But it was Lutheran teachings, not RCC. I was taught the differences very clearly. This is the time that I was most free in my forgiveness.

But what gave that to me? The "high church" setting? No. But the liturgy communicated the Gospel to me very clearly. It was designed to do that after many years of putting it together. Words matter -- hugely.

I'm not even looking for a high church setting. For one thing, I can't find it because nobody believes that it is of any value anymore. I am looking for the clear use of the elements which convey the Gospel. That is all.

I have been in too many churches where this contempo style is so badly done, as well as the good and simple elements of the service being traded in for lite-lyrics music and a 45 minute sermon. Dismissal and done.

I struggle with this division in our church. But even you equate a liturgy to a funeral dirge. I have not experienced that.

If all I wanted was pageantry I would switch and go RCC or EO. But they have the "ladder" theology. I think you know that is wrong.

I hope you can see that what I am talking about is more than "style." But when these churches adopt this style -- they generally adopt the Reformed version of doctrine along with it. Which in my mind, is akin to the RCC and EO ladder style theology after all. Hence the crushing guilt upon leaving church instead of walking away with Christ-given free forgiveness.

Please forgive my words if they offend you. I may not be as clear as I should be.

Anonymous said...

I see that the operation of the link I provided has been disabled.

Why? What are they ashamed of? Are they not open for all?

Jim Davis said...

I just tried the link; it works well.
Be aware that many of the videos displayed in the primary part of this blog entry are NOT from St. John; .
Based on other comments, Holy Communion is offered twice a month; I have seen this practice in numerous churches for the last 65 years. I am only aware of RCC offering communion every week.
Confession of sins and forgiveness are offered every week.
Baptism is offered during the service or after the service, if the parents choose.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what link you are seeing but the first two videos on the link that I posted were of the Easter service at St John.

Cliff said...

Anonymous, You definitely know what you want, and it appears that the liturgy and style of it is more important than Jesus. The liturgy did not save you, Jesus did. And if you prefer high church that is fine, but this does not relate to everyone, and culturally speaking you are eliminating scores of races who do not find value in Old Germanic Hymns taken from the 17th & 18th century.

Do you want only Germans saved? No offense, but this line of thinking rubs me the wrong way when we are to take the Gospel to all nations.

God's Peace!

Anonymous said...

Cliff-

You have it backwards. Constant innovation and attempts to stay relevant to the varying tastes isolate. Stable and time-tested ways of grounding worship in word and sacrament, so that Christians can clearly receive God's promises in faith and say back to Him what He says to us, unify not only culturally but generationally. Don't believe it? All you have to do is check out what's happening in Africa (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClxxEncX4bk). Not a German in sight!

Cliff said...

I think our dialogue is getting pointless, as you think one way and I fully support liturgical Christianity, but I also support variety. You have a narrow pharisaical view of Christianity, and who knows, maybe God only speaks to you and not to others of different views. But let us leave that for God to judge and when we get to heaven we can ask first-hand.

Anonymous said...

"Relevancy Fail"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QE6rFdVH26I

Anonymous said...

"The liturgy did not save you, Jesus did."

Does the liturgy communicate God's Word? And does God's Word save?

The liturgy teaches me theology as well as it is how I worship Jesus.

It doesn't seem to be a good idea to denigrate the liturgy.

David Gray said...

Does Frank communicate God's Word? And does God's Word save?

But Frank does not save, at least in the way the term is conventionally used.

Saying the liturgy doesn't save isn't denigrating the liturgy.

Cliff said...

Further to your comment about "denigrate the liturgy" that was not my intent at all as I have the greatest respect for traditional liturgy, but where you may be delving into error, is by placing an over-emphasis on the liturgy to save. This could be construed as "work righteousness", thus taking away from the work of Jesus on the cross?

Anonymous said...

I certainly am not meaning that -- "placing an over-emphasis on the liturgy to save." If I said anything like that, please point me to it.

Timothy Buelow said...

I am truly impressed by the humble, calm, personal and wise testimony of "Anonymous." Thank you.
It is my prayer that one day, Cliff matures into such a man, which will happen if he lets the means of grace do their work through a church which is rich in them.

Cliff said...

Now Tim that is a low blow and also very uncharitable giving a bad witness to Jesus Christ.

You must be of the opinion that the Holy Spirit's work has no place in Lutheran Theology?

The problem with the conservative factions of Lutheranism is that it presents a very fundamentalist, legalistic view of Christianity, and these are the same people, (Pharisees) that Jesus had so much trouble with.

Let us put on love and allow God's Holy Spirit to work in Synod.

Plus, if Anonymous is so "calm, personal and wise" does he not have the courage to sing his name?

Anonymous said...

Pen names and anonymous identities were widely used to publish papers and other essays during the time of ratifying the U.S. Constitution. It neither matters who I am or what I look like.

Pharisees and legalists exist among the Progressives too. We should not make that distinction so one-sided.

In my experience, the Progressives tend to be more arrogant than Confessionals when it comes to pastoral care. (Note that I said "in my experience.") Is that because CEOs don't have much time to be Shepherds? Nor do they want to be? Show me what Jesus modeled during His 3 year ministry. What did He teach His disciples to do? Its unheard of to be able to approach the pastor for personal confession/absolution. Or for anything else that is not a business matter of the church. People in large churches don't know the pastor, and he doesn't know them except for baptism, possibly marriage, and burial. No congregational Bible study led by the pastor. Instead we get to be taught by Beth Moore, et al.

In the past, when churches would reach a certain unmanageable size another church was planted in another location. Instead of wanting to pack the house and expand for the sake of "numbers?"

This smaller format was used when pastors were Shepherds. They knew they could handle only so many people. And is not this how we spread and grew as a church? I wouldn't go to Osteen's or Warren's church if someone paid me a million dollars. I would stay home and do something else. In fact, in today's world, I would be getting the equivalent by just searching online and listening there. There would be no reason to go to "church." Why would I want to hastle with the traffic, parking, and "anonymous" crowds?

Cliff said...

You are an adept stick handler, and can certainly dodge around key issues by bringing into the argument irrelevant points, but anyway good luck with your faith, and you can remain in the "darkness" with your comments.

As it says in Hebrews there is a judgment day when all will be brought into the light.

Anonymous said...

For 2000+ years the practice of liturgical worship in the historical Christian Church has carried the Gospel of Christ forward. (Sorry Cliff, this way precedes Luther and the Reformation -- and was the worship "style" throughout the world which makes Germans only a tiny portion of it.) Now that a few large church leaders have presented the "seeker sensitive" model (which is a very new innovation), suddenly the liturgical church is failing to spread the Gospel? Suddenly the liturgical church is insensitive to "seekers?"

Bill Hybels did a survey. A "how are we doing/how to do church" survey among his people. After 30 years in ministry, and having spent millions of dollars on programs -- he said "they made a mistake."

Here is Bill Hybels in his own words:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3tmi8nK9wM

read it said...

This man happened to be part of the rock band in the entertainment style worship at his home congregation. When he found out that we do not have entertainment style worship (we use the LSB hymnal), he made it clear that he was not in fellowship with us. He only attended one service and never came back. For this man the image was more important than the message.

Who is the rigid legalistic Pharisee now?

That is right. Those who demand contemporary style are the actual legalistic ones.

Cornelia said...



You must be of the opinion that the Holy Spirit's work has no place in Lutheran Theology?

The problem with the conservative factions of Lutheranism is that it presents a very fundamentalist, legalistic view of Christianity, and these are the same people, (Pharisees) that Jesus had so much trouble with.



Now, Chris, that is a low blow and also very uncharitable giving a bad witness to Jesus Christ.

Cliff said...

Anonymous, you have drifted far into a realm that I am not sure how you arrived there?

How Bill Hybels entered the debate is puzzling. I in no way ever endorsed Evangelical, Pentecostal style of Christianity, or the "Seeker" church style. I stated quite plainly that I highly respect our Liturgy and in no way denigrate it in any form. I am more catholic than you if the truth were known.

Next lesson, contemporary music, to be continued.

God's Peace

Anonymous said...

Cliff, I don't see how I drifted so far.

From the text of the main article: "But it would not be a stretch to identity what you watched with Saddleback, Willow Creek or Lakewood or anyone of a thousand other evangelical (or evangelical style) congregations."

One of my initial comments: "This church is also part of the Willow Creek Association."

Bill Hybels = Willow Creek

"I am more catholic than you..." And, how would you know that? I'm not questioning how catholic you may be. You just don't know about me.

I'll get a step ahead of you on the contemporary music.

Popular Praise and Worship songs, Bryan Wolfmueller
http://issuesetc.org/2011/04/05/tuesday-april-5-2011/

http://wolfmueller.wordpress.com/2011/01/08/the-praise-song-cruncher/

I'll be happy to hear what you have to say about the contemporary music.

Anonymous said...

Cliff, these are your comments I have been responding to. If I have strayed too far off the path, I apologize. But this is what I read you saying:

"The rigid church practice proposed by some are nothing more than legalism in the strictest sense."

"I have seen many a "Traditional" service sound more like a funeral dirge."

"..if you prefer high church that is fine, but this does not relate to everyone.."

"You definitely know what you want, and it appears that the liturgy and style of it is more important than Jesus."

If you would like to show me how I failed to answer these assertions, I would appreciate it. (I do admit to rambling somewhat. This subject tends to get me going. :)

And, the pastors at this church? -- I love them in Christ. Just so you know.

Cliff said...

To clarify, my comment about Traditional Services was that some leave a lot to be desired and do not meet everyone's spiritual needs. If high church is your cup of tea that is fine with me.

There are two enemies of Truth that exist in the church today, and that is liberalism and ultra-conservatism, as they both take liberties which are not presented in Scripture.

Liking contemporary/modern music should not be considered sin. Does that mean that I am condemned to Hell because I prefer contemporary music.

The Bill Hybels, Rick Warren style of church have no appeal to me whatsoever. A Lutheran liturgy with contemporary music done in good taste is what makes the most sense, and many young people would agree with me.

Cliff said...

To add to the above comment, I consider myself a staunch conservative, but not a legalist.

Anonymous said...

"Liking contemporary/modern music should not be considered sin. Does that mean that I am condemned to Hell because I prefer contemporary music?"

Obviously not. Why would you make such a strong inference from what I said?

I listen to it in my car -- sometimes turning the radio off when I can't take anymore. :) I do not like it in church. But that is because so much is so shallow. It teaches virtually nothing, and is usually loaded with bad theology or no theology to speak of.

If you listen to what Bryan says in the links I provided, he will show how to evaluate a song. A good pastor/worship leader will be careful what is used in church because there is so much bad that exists.

The words in our music -- both congregational and choir -- are amazing in what is taught. If we could find some real talent in our church, maybe some updates (musically) could be done without sacrificing content.

“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through Music.” . . .

"“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” . . .

“Next to theology I give music the highest place of honor.” . . .
---Martin Luther

I love the singing of the Psalms.

Anonymous said...

"Traditional Services -- some leave a lot to be desired and do not meet everyone's spiritual needs.."

You clarified that you do not desire to join with the "seeker sensitive" crowd.

But your statement IS the mantra that they use. "Felt needs" . . . is what everyone is looking for. Supposedly.

How about -- forgiveness of sins? And the assurance of that communicated and taught? Which is found only in Christ and the Sacraments. Why the minimization of these? Please don't say it doesn't happen, because it does.

Cliff said...

Boy are you a tough kid to get to understand. How did you ever pass confirmation, when you read so much into everything?

How you can misunderstand so much is hard to believe that one human is so incapable of understanding.

"Felt needs" that is the dumbest comment I have seen yet from you.

"Forgiveness of sins" "Assurance" etc. where in the world did that ever come across that I inferred that I do NOT believe those things? Do you get at all what a "conservative Lutheran" is?

Boy you are a tough catechesis. I hope your pastor is a patience teacher!

Anonymous said...

"I hope your pastor is a patience teacher!"

He has needed to be, yes.

Anonymous said...

"How did you ever pass confirmation.."

This will sound wrong, I am sure. I was Valedictorian. True story. I passed ahead of the Pastor's kid. Actually I felt bad that I was the only one answering most of the questions. It was embarrassing. I always waited for someone else to answer. But after the Pastor asked a question, and waited for awhile for an answer, and none came -- well what are you going to do? Leave the poor guy hanging?

Now, that is not to say that I am not guilty for misunderstanding you in some way. I will take your word for it.

Please forgive me for clarifying that point.

Anonymous said...

"..not a legalist."

I'm not either. My wife was. I'm all for Grace. Our children mirrored us. We raised one of each -- a Legalist and an Antinomian.