Friday, September 21, 2012

MIA -- Spiritual Passion

The most recent issue of Lutheran Forum offers some reasons why Lutherans may be having some trouble relating to the current culture.  David Luecke, noted church growth guru and author of the unforgettable Evangelical Style, Lutheran Substance, is the one offering sage advice to existing Lutheran congregations and to mission endeavors.  What's missing in so many Lutheran churches today is spiritual passion... The key to Lutheranism's future is recovering spiritual passion in ways more transparent to contemporary culture...

With these words, Luecke identifies what he believes is keeping Lutherans (mostly LCMS) from success in revitalizing and growing existing parishes and planting successful new ones.  Predictably, he translates "spiritual passion" in terms of the Christian and his awareness of and ability to speak boldly of his spiritual journey and of the ability of Christians to begin and build deep, spiritual relationships with others.  I can only assume that many would nod their heads in agreement both with his assessment of the problem and his description of the solution.  Luecke ends by saying stories about discovering higher levels of peace or joy or love or patience are certainly worth sharing. Stimulating such personal faith sharing is the frontier for Lutheran church culture.

Guess what.  I agree with Luecke.  Well, let me clarify that.  I agree that spiritual passion is too often either absent or invisible in Lutheran parishes today.  Indeed, from the outside it may appear that Lutherans have a modern, carefree "whatever" attitude toward their faith, worship, mission, and the church as a whole.  My problem is with Luecke is that I do not define spiritual passion in terms of sharing faith stories or talking about your faith journey.  I challenge the idea that this is the spiritual passion we need to develop.  The spiritual passion I think is missing is our confidence in the Word and Sacraments of the Lord.  Passionate Lutheranism is always born of our absolute confidence in the efficacy of the means of grace -- whether or not we see the results with our naked eyes.

Lutherans did not always lack such confidence.  But, like Garrison Keillor's characterization of us Lutherans, our natural inclination is to defer to others, to downplay ourselves, and also our church, and to presume that others know better or have better ideas than we Lutherans do.  A few generations of this overall angst have led us to borrow indiscriminately evangelism programs, worship forms, theological vocabulary, mission planting strategies, and parish renewal methodologies -- ones at odds with our Confessions and our identity as Lutheran Christians.  It has left us so unsure about the wisdom, value, and certainty of our Lutheran answers that we have given in to the idea that Lutheran parishes are best for those who were raised in Lutheranism.  If we want Lutheranism to grow, we are going to have to offer the world more than a pale imitation of  generic Protestant or evangelical worship forms, evangelism methodologies, and church growth strategies.

I know I have repeated myself on this point but I must again point to a TIME magazine cover story on Lutherans in America (April 7, 1958).  Lutherans were growing like gangbusters (planting a new church and filling it with people every 54 hours!)  We were on the new technology of television, had the most widely heard radio religious program in America, and we were sure of ourselves, our message, and our identity.  I maintain that if we were as confidant and bold today, we would see the results -- not because of our name "Lutheran" or because of the methodologies we used but because the Word does not return to the Lord empty.  It always accomplishes His purpose.  Now let me be clear -- I am not talking about adopting one more new paradigm or missional focus.  I am talking simply about our confidence in the means of grace.  The spiritual passion we need is not some new found courage to talk about ourselves or our spiritual journeys.  The spiritual courage and passion that needs to be rekindled is confidence and courage to believe that God will do as He has promised if we use the resources of the Word and Sacraments as He has promised.  When this is behind our use of technology and when this is what we teach to those who have not heard, we do not need to spend our time wondering if this will be fruitful.  We have God's promise.  What is missing is our confidence in that promise and, from that confidence, the passion to share it without shame, embarrassment or hesitation.

If you think the world needs a watered down Lutheranism lite that mirrors what is already happening in most of Protestant America, you have a screw loose.  We are always a johnny come lately trying to learn and perfect what is already passe instead of being simply who we are.  We are people who confess the one, true, catholic, and apostolic faith.  That is what we say in our Confessions and what we believed without question once.  Why not try being Lutheran without the angst before we try being some church we are not?


Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: your are so right when you write, “The spiritual courage and passion that needs to be rekindled is confidence and courage to believe that God will do as He has promised if we use the resources of the Word and Sacraments as He has promised.”

But how do we do this rekindling? Why have confidence and courage apparently disappeared? If we continue to believe in the efficacy of God’s promises - if that is left as a given – the only thing remains in the equation is that we do not use the resources of Word and Sacrament.

I propose that the answer is simply that it is difficult for slaves to be confident and courageous. We have failed to make it clear to the members of the Body of Christ that they have been set free; free not only from sin and guilt, but also free from the law and its threats. Free men, regenerated by the waters of Baptism, will be courageous and confident, but we are afraid to give them this freedom because then all kinds of chaos will break out in the Church.

An example: the CTCR report, “Theology and Practice of Prayer”, Nov. 2011. P 23, “Prayer, therefore is as strictly and solemnly commanded as all the other commandments …” P 24, “It is our duty and obligation to pray if we want to be Christians.” P 27, “We must understand that God is not joking, but that he (sic, rather than “He”) will be angry and punish us if we do not pray, just as he (sic) punishes all other kinds of disobedience.”

Now if anyone maintains that the foregoing are a true exposition of the Gospel, then it is clear were our problem is. We do not understand the Gospel. If we believe that God will punish our lack of prayer and every other sin (disobedience), then what happens to, Jer. 31:34, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” Then our entire pretense at faith is a sham.

Earlier, on P 14 of the report, we read, “…what needs to be emphasized first of all and above all is that God-pleasing prayer in the Scriptures is always a response of the believer to the grace of God freely given in His Son Jesus Christ.” How could they get that part right and not see the obvious contradiction when they added “angry” and “punish”? Well, there are enough contradictions in the report that I am not surprised at anything.
Now here is Luther’s commentary on the first chapter of Galatians, “Even one passage of Scripture containing some threat of the law overwhelms and drowns all other consolations and so shakes our inner powers that it makes us forget justification, grace, Christ, and the Gospel.” Amen!

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

"If we want Lutheranism to grow, we are going to have to offer the world more than a pale imitation of generic Protestant or evangelical worship forms, evangelism methodologies, and church growth strategies."

Translation: We should cultivate among our LCMS church members a taste for Calvinist and Evangelical worship and study materials.

Put all the catechisms and hymnals in the closet. Those old materials from the 16th-20th centuries are "not relevant" in the "modern" 21st century and they turn off younger, prospective members.

Start a praise band. Have your LCMS congregations join the Willow Creek Association. Use only worship and study materials recommended by Willow Creek, TCN, and Saddleback.

So what if the theology in such materials is deliberately vague and watered-down. We don't want to offend anyone. Encourage small group members to share among themselves intimate, personal, potentially embarrassing stories. Shift the focus of all conversation from the cross to self and "personal experiences."

Result: Congratulations, LCMS leaders. You have succeeded in convincing LCMS laymen (and prospective members as well) that denominational differences no longer matter. Once they have discovered that the coffee and the praise bands are superior at the local non-denominational mega-church, then they leave the LCMS forever.

Anonymous said...

Both books are no longer for sale on Amazon. Are they out of print? They look "dated" to me. What has changed since April, 2000? Since Mr. Luecke's recommendations have not had the desired effect (surprise!) does the author plan on publishing yet another book and then cash in from the corresponding consulting fees and speaking engagements? What would Mr. Luecke have to to say regarding Matt Harrison and the restructuring that has occurred since the last LCMS convention?

Evangelical Style and Lutheran Substance: Facing America's Mission Challenge by David S. Luecke (Jul 1988)

Apostolic Style and Lutheran Substance: Ten Years of Controversy over What Can Change by David S. Luecke (Apr 2000)

Anonymous said...

"Encourage small group members to share among themselves intimate, personal, potentially embarrassing stories. Shift the focus of all conversation from the cross to self and "personal experiences."

Look at any of the small group study guides by Bill Hybels or Rick Warren, and you will note that the study guide questions ask readers to describe "how they feel" or to relate past deeply personal stories. Example: The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels. Check it out.

Gnesio Hamartolos said...

Rev. Peters,
You wrote, "We are people who confess the one, true, catholic, and apostolic faith." Amen and amen. Yes, I am an LCMS pastor, but I wasn't born in a Lutheran family. My parents are nominal Methodists, my paternal grandfather was United Church of Christ (Congregationalist). I was raised by my maternal grandparents who were Soto Zen and Shingon Buddhists (exclusivity is not required in Buddhism). I am a descendant of the first person who was deified in the Shinto religion and according to the Nihon Shoki (imperial chronicles) I am a descendant of two other Shinto gods. As a teen, I attended an Independent Fundamentalist church, graduated from a UCC high school and a Methodist law school where I almost converted to Orthodox Judaism. None of these other paths provided the answer and none are as internally consistent and systematically integrated as orthodox Lutheranism. Those who were born into orthodox Lutheran families and have known nothing else usually do not realize that by God's grace you were born into His treasure house. Yet, you want to drag into this treasure house the trash base metal of the denominations that surround us.

The reason so many LCMS laymen and pastors do this is because they are not convinced that Lutheran dogma is far more faithful to Christ's teachings than anything else around. This is a result of poor continuing catechism. Because so many do not conscientiously study the Book of Concord along with Holy Scripture and the writings of the Reformation Fathers and compare them to what the denominations say, they do not see the vast, gaping chasm between the truth we confess and the error they believe. Lately, this has been called “the Lutheran difference,” and it is the most significant truth of our time.

Yesterday, after I concluded teaching the adult Sunday School class, I asked a question to a woman who is attending my church on the advice of her grandson who converted to Lutheranism while attending one of our Concordia colleges. The question was whether she understood what I was teaching. This usually quiet woman, a lifelong church-going “Christian,” gave a lengthy answer that for first time she really understood the Holy Trinity. She added she is no longer anxious about the mysteries of the Trinity because Scripture does not explain certain things. Unlike the pastor of her former church, Lutherans differentiate what we know and what we don’t know because Scripture reveals only so much.

Over the years, I have had several conversations with Protestant clergy and laity. From these interactions I can say with certainty their doctrines are filled with errors and gaps. To adopt the practices of churches that are so deep in error is the height of folly that we must avoid at all costs.