Thursday, November 13, 2014

And you also get to keep your old phone number. . .

Picking up the ringing phone one day (yes, we still have non-cell phones both at my church and my home), I got a salesperson trying to tell me to give up my current phone service and purchase his own.  I would get everything I already had and so much more and even get to keep my phone number!  What a deal!  Who could possibly say "no"?

In all the years I have been a Pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, there have been those who saw this as the mission approach that would save our slowly declining confessional Lutheran church body.  In other words, for more than 30 years there have been voices suggesting that instead of bringing people into the Kingdom, we need to bring the Kingdom to the people.  It may sound like semantics but it is not.  This approach has transformed a significant segment of many denominations -- not in the least my own.  But I have struggled to identity clearly and simply the different parameters of these different mission approaches.

Pastor Bill Woolsey has done me the service of making the divergent paths very simple and very clear:  According to Woolsey,  “My desire in starting CrossPoint [the LCMS congregation in Texas where he is Pastor] was to create a congregation that not only spoke the language of the local lost person but also loved that person so much we could not help but speak their language and love their music and adopt as many of their values as possible.”  [Emphasis added]

Far from seeing the church as an agent of transformation, this idea sees the church as incorporating much of the language, culture, style, and identity of lost people.  Now, to be sure, Woolsey would insist that transformation would take place but it is a process and it begins with the church mirroring the values, culture, language, music, and style of the lost people (as much as is possible).  This perspective believes that nearly everything is negotiable and able to be compromised for the sake of reaching those lost (except for the barest core beliefs of Christianity).  Your confessional identity, your liturgical heritage, your musical legacy, etc... are all candidates for revision or replacement if they get in the way of your reaching the lost.  We have heard this all before by those who define style and substance as not only distinct but different and, essentially, not necessarily related.

To get back to the beginning, the sales idea for such a perspective is that you get to keep your life, keep your values, keep your preferences, keep your music, keep who you are but ADD to it Jesus Christ.  This was the whole basis for the seeker service movement (think Willow Creek) in which the idea was that if you pack them in by adopting a message and a medium from their own culture and experience, eventually they will learn and grow and be integrated into the "deeper" aspects of the faith.  This was admittedly not what happened.  People were content to have their values, desires, language, and music mirrored back to them but they did not adopt the transformation values of God's Kingdom and dig deep into the church's life.  They remained on the edges.

No one disputes that by adopting the language, music, and culture of the world you can fill the pews.  The real question is what you are building.  Some, even from within the movement, have begun to wonder if they are actually building the church and making disciples out of those who have surrendered little of their lives to be changed but who may be willing to add a little Jesus to their mix.  Clearly one of the most difficult things to do if you adopt this mission  perspective is how to bring these lost into the Kingdom and reflect instead the values of Christ, the language of Scripture and creed and confession, the continuity with the liturgical and hymn legacy of those who went before, and be able to pass on a distinct identity of the faith to those who follow them.  An orphan church made up of people who have little in common with those who went before finds it difficult to sustain their existence for more than the generation of the founder (without a radical change in direction).

Woolsey says, “most of the mainline churches in my denomination spoke a language long gone.”  What Woolsey forgets is that although there may have been the appearance of congruity between culture and the Church in ages past, the language of the Kingdom, the values of the Kingdom, the liturgy of the Kingdom,  the music of the Kingdom, and the piety of the Kingdom have always been at odds with the culture of the lost.  The Church grew not by adopting the shape of things and the preferences of those around them but by boldly preaching and through this planting the radical nature of the Kingdom of God.


Carl Vehse said...

Lufauxran Fivetwo flim-flammer Bill Woolsey has been getting a lot of (bad, but free) publicity lately on various Lutheran blogs. Woolsey also received a couple of nominating votes for 1stVP and 9.7 % of the votes for West-Southwest Regional Vice-President in 2013.

As has been made obvious, name recognition (rather than confessional Lutheranism) is the key to advancement up the corporate synodical ladder. Expect to see more votes for Woolsey in future synodical conventions.

Anonymous said...

How is this difference from Israel in the OT wanting to be like the nations and adopting their Gods?


Anonymous said...

Pastor Woolsey spoke at our church some weeks ago. At the time I was unable to put into words why much of his message left me feeling extremely uncomforable. Thank you for putting into words the reasons why I felt that way.

Anonymous said...


Entertainment is first. Without it, you can't sell the American people anything. Frank Capra, movie director

Is that the premise? To sell Jesus? I don't see that in Jesus' model or anywhere else in Scripture. The payment and satisfaction for sins is nowhere depicted as a "pretty" or a "fun" picture. How can you do that? It cannot be done. If people do not "get" sin -- they are not going to "get" propitiation, atonement, grace, justification, expiation -- either.

Sorry, I have to relate this to big screens and jazzy music in church. The whole entertainment and marketing thing. The model of TV, movies, sports bars, etc. etc. etc.

Visual communication can be used to show Jesus and the Cross and the Resurrection. But is that how the media is being used? I see the media being used -- almost always -- for the entertainment value.

To copy the entertainment industry for church use is a failure to communicate. Doctrine and teaching get changed. It is so mixed up it isn't even funny. (Maybe the Resurrection is not even preached on Easter morning?!)

Devise a little test and ask people in the pew what they believe about Christ and why they come to church. That might be a project we should undertake.


William Tighe said...

"According to Woolsey, 'My desire in starting CrossPoint [the LCMS congregation in Texas where he is Pastor] was to create a congregation that not only spoke the language of the local lost person but also loved that person so much we could not help but speak their language and love their music and adopt as many of their values as possible'.”

This was not how the Church "worked" in the Graeco-Roman world in its foirst three centuries. Rather, it kept their "values" (including their music) at as far a distance as possible. That was because it didn't envisage Christian conversion as "accepting Jesus" and somehow fitting their new (private) faith into their preexisting culture, values and outlooks, but rather as initiating and requiring a change in all of these.

Additionally, Pastor Woolsey's modus operandi seems more like what one would expect from Baptists, Methodists, or "American Evangelicals" generally.

Anonymous said...

This seems to be a war between ideologies, what is more important, the Liturgy, or "making disciples of all nations. (people)". Many in LCMS have turned this into a battle of intellect, or of interpreting Scripture to their own satisfaction without obeying every Word of God.

This is nonsense, and this war needs to end, as I am sure Satan is laughing his head off to see God's people embroiled in inner fighting.

Carl Vehse said...

Anonymous opines: This seems to be a war between ideologies, what is more important, the Liturgy, or "making disciples of all nations. (people)".

Another viiew is that, rather than the liturgy, the disagreement is over whether a Lufauxran can claim to be a Lutheran and remain in a Lutheran church body.

Anonymous said...

Carl, not sure exactly what you mean by "Lufauxran" but I would add, we definitely need to maintain the liturgy, but why can we not be evangelistic and reach out the world at the same time? It is also biblical to "make disciples of all Nations".

Perhaps, and this is a bold statement, we need to look at the Roman Catholic model of dealing with diverse groups within the church, such as different religious orders? This seems like a conundrum in itself, but at least they all claim to be "Catholic".


Janis Williams said...

We DO need to be evangelical Lutherans. We, however, are not the ones who do the converting.

The Church and her Liturgy should not be adapted. The old language of the church and her Liturgy is the language of Scripture itself. Latin is a dead language, certainly, but medicine, biology, etc. don't function without it.

Doctors and professionals in many areas must learn a new language for their vocation. Those who become Christians must learn a new language, also. If the Church speaks the language of the world, culture, etc. in order to bring people in, we are guilty of a bait and switch. Of course, if we don't teach those who do come in our language, we aren't; we are guilty of playing fast and loose with people's souls.

Janis Williams said...

Aren't so many (notice I didn't say all) of these contemporary, missional people really theologians of glory? Notice to whom they give credit for their plans, programs, ideas, results. Jesus gets mentioned at the first, when they're trying to get people on board to help with their agenda, but when people start filling their venues, who gets the credit? Usually the parking lot help, the small group leaders, etc.. Oh, Jesus may get a "hand" o round ofr applause when they talk about some miracle or their progress, but there's almost always a 180 to what they're doing, and who's (humanly) doing it.

Anonymous said...

All these aguments could be used to defend the Mass not being translated into English.