Monday, August 30, 2010

Pietism and Ministry in the WELS: A brief review of Craig Groeschel, Part 1

On Tuesday of last week, in the closing sentence of the post, Public Ministry and the Divine Call, I promised that we would have more to say in coming days and weeks regarding the sources we see repeatedly surfacing among congregations implementing practices of the Church Growth Movement. One such source is Craig Groeschel’s, which, based on personal observation and the observations of numerous laymen and pastors who maintain contact with IL, seems to be rapidly growing in popularity among various churches and schools in our Synod. is online Church, with about a dozen physical locations throughout the United States. Of key interest to WELS churches, however, is the numerous resources that are made available for free, as a way of “equipping churches” to “bring people closer to God” (Church Resources). Chief among these “resources” are the sermons of celebrity evangelical preacher, Craig Groeschel.

Without going much further, already we see problems. WELS churches that enter into usage of these materials are doing so under the banner of being equipped for ministry by the heterodox. Further, as proof of their heterodoxy, we have the stated purpose of these materials: to bring people closer to God. This statement does many things, two of which are as follows:
  1. It attenuates the righteous severity of God’s Justice. If, apart from faith, apart from the benefits of Christ’s work on my behalf, I am separated from God, unable, because of my own inbred sin, to merit standing in His sight (Ro. 3:10-20), or to move myself closer to Him or to lay hold of Him (Is. 64:6-7), there is then a gulf between me and Him which cannot be traversed. I cannot get “closer to God. ” Any separation from Him is total separation from Him. Apart from the free gift of faith, there is no such thing as “closer to God” as if I can get closer and closer to enjoy the comfort of being “almost there.” Almost there merits eternal damnation in the fires of hell as surely as “nowhere near.” Everyone separated from God by unfaith stands equally as His enemy, and is equally doomed for eternity.
  2. It cheapens the value of salvation. If, through faith, I am God’s own dear child, how much closer to Him can I get? Through faith, the gulf of separation has been traversed, I am no longer God’s enemy, but am considered by Him to be the brother of Christ. Is there a status of “extra special child of God” for me to attain to? Perhaps there are levels of standing before God? Perhaps by pining and tarrying after Christ, or by some other regimen of pious exercise or form of right living, I may be granted the position of ruling at the right or left hand of Christ? The original disciples thought such things, and were corrected by Jesus for their error (Lk. 9:46-48; Mt. 18:1-4; Mk. 10:35-45). The fact is, as children of God, we all stand equally as the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven – there is none greater or lesser, there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, all are one in Jesus Christ (Ga. 3:28-29). I do not attain “closer” standing with God than other believing Christians have, regardless of our relative “progress” in Sanctification. Once I have Faith, I have arrived – I am God’s own dear child, and immediately have the greatest standing in His kingdom. And to this faith I cling. For a Christian to speak of being “closer to God,” as if other Christians are somehow not as close to God, or as if one can gain greater “closeness” or “standing” in His sight is to view his relationship with God purely through worldly eyes.
But let’s examine Craig Groeschel and a bit more closely. One interesting thing about Craig Groeschel is that he is not some fly-by-night, one-man-church-body with a theological perspective so unique that no one else agrees with him. He is not the non-denominational corner-church religious quack that has been so popular over the past two decades or so. He, and his online ministry, have religious affiliation with a bona fide church body, that has been in existence in the United States since 1885. He has gravitas.

The Evangelical Covenant Church
Craig Groeschel and are affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church – a church body with roots in Scandinavian Lutheran Pietism: is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) - a rapidly growing multi-ethnic denomination in the United States and Canada with ministries on five continents of the world. Founded in 1885 by Swedish immigrants, the ECC values the Bible as the Word of God, the gift of God's grace and ever-deepening spiritual life that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, the importance of extending God's love and compassion to a hurting world, and the strength that comes from unity within diversity (Beliefs).
So what does the ECC believe? Surely, given their Lutheran roots, there is much with which a WELS Lutheran might find resonance! Let’s briefly examine their claims.
    From the Preamble to the ECC Constitution and Bylaws

    The Evangelical Covenant Church is a communion of congregations gathered by God, united in Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to obey the great commandment and the great commission. It affirms its companionship in faith with other church bodies and all those who fear God and keep God's commandments.

    There are two problems here: the emphasis is on "obey," rather than "believe," – Law over Gospel. Also, their concept of "fellowship" is very broad and ecumenical, assuming such with all who “fear God and keep His commandments” – which is subjective and ultimately legalistic. This concept is, therefore, unscriptural and not at all compatible with the Lutheran Confession.

    The Evangelical Covenant Church adheres to the affirmations of the Protestant Reformation regarding the Bible. It confesses that the Holy Scripture, the Old and the New Testament, is the Word of God and the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct. It affirms the historic confessions of the Christian Church, particularly the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, while emphasizing the sovereignty of the Word of God over all creedal interpretations.

    This sounds reasonable - at first. However, "emphasizing the sovereignty of the Word of God over all creedal interpretations" is an open invitation to any and all weak, false, and dangerous theology. It is an expression of a quatenus subscription to the Creeds, holding them up to qualification on the basis of personal interpretation of Scripture. Lutherans require an unqualified quia subscription to the Creeds as well as the Lutheran Confessions.

    In continuity with the renewal movements of historic Pietism, the Evangelical Covenant Church especially cherishes the dual emphasis on new birth and new life in Christ, believing that personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the foundation for our mission of evangelism and Christian nurture. Our common experience of God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ continues to sustain the Evangelical Covenant Church as an interdependent body of believers that recognizes but transcends our theological differences.

    Here the ECC clearly and unabashedly embraces the false theology of Pietism. Thus, the obvious emphasis is on sanctification rather than justification, again Law instead of Gospel. In addition, the "experience" of Christ becomes the standard of measurement among them, and allows their members to hold different theological beliefs and yet remain in fellowship. Once again, the Biblical doctrine of fellowship is disregarded.

    The Evangelical Covenant Church celebrates two divinely ordained sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper.

    Recognizing the reality of freedom in Christ, and in conscious dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit, we practice both the baptism of infants and believer baptism. The Evangelical Covenant Church embraces this freedom in Christ as a gift that preserves personal conviction, yet guards against an individualism that disregards the centrality of the Word of God and the mutual responsibilities and disciplines of the spiritual community.

    Once again personal theological interpretation and rationalism, along with a fair dose of Calvinism, runs rampant in this ECC statement. Both infant baptism, but also the so-called "believer-baptism" is employed in the same church body. It wouldn't be surprising to find both used on a single individual at different points in his life! Consistency with “believer-baptism” would require it!

    The Evangelical Covenant Church has its roots in historical Christianity, the Protestant Reformation, the biblical instruction of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, and the great spiritual awakenings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These influences, together with more recent North American renewal movements, continue to shape its development and distinctive spirit. The Evangelical Covenant Church is committed to reaching across boundaries of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, age, and status in the cultivation of communities of life and service.

    By acknowledging and even exulting in the "great spiritual awakenings" of the past, the ECC clearly lays out its theological parentage. This church body was not and is not a confessional Lutheran church body, pure and simple. The ECC is thoroughly ecumenical in the worst sense of the word, and thus degrades and denigrates both its tenuous connection with its Lutheran past, and its supposed devotion to Christ and His Word. Simply put, this is a heretical church body, with which WELS churches and Pastors should have nothing whatsoever to do!

Craig Groeshel and The Beliefs they Pass Along to their Users
    In Non-Essential Beliefs, we have liberty. Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters... Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls... So then each of us will give an account of himself to God... So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.

    What makes the Covenant unique from other denominations is the fact that while it strongly affirms the clear teaching of the Word of God, it allows believers the personal freedom to have varying interpretations on theological issues that are not clearly presented in Scripture (Beliefs).
Prior to becoming Confessional Lutherans many years ago, my wife and I visited an ECC Church. Upon leaving, after a conversation with the Pastor and his wife, we were handed a pamphlet describing the teachings of the ECC. The glaring error it contained, which prompted our rejection of this church body's claim to orthodoxy and guaranteed that we would never return, was the distinction of Scriptural teachings it emphasized (and I quote from memory): We divide the teaching of Scripture into two categories – negotiable and non-negotiable. My good wife scoffed: “Precisely what teachings of Scripture are ‘negotiable’?” In the reference above we receive the answer: negotiable teachings are the teachings that are “non-essential” to Salvation, i.e., the “non-fundamental” teachings of Scripture. Of these, one is advised to keep his mouth shut and his “opinions” to himself. And so we see that association with Craig Groeschel will include the teaching (whether subtly or overtly) that non-fundamental doctrines are merely matters of opinion, or adiaphora. This is the heart of doctrinal indifferentism, a hallmark of Pietism as described in our post two weeks ago, Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism. But let’s examine the perspectives of Craig Groeschel and a little more closely, from their Vision and Values document:
  1. We are faith-filled, big thinking, bet-the-farm risk takers. We'll never insult God with small thinking and safe living.

    Interpretation: We like to tempt God.

    There is nothing laudable in casting Christian Stewardship aside, to openly take “bet-the-farm” risks with resources God has given to us, which he expects us to wisely invest. “Betting the Farm” is not wisdom, but foolishness.

  2. We are all about the "capital C" Church! The local church is the hope of the world and we know we can accomplish infinitely more together than apart.

    Interpretation: We're NOT all about the "Big C" Christ. We ARE all about ourselves!

    This is pure anthropocentrism – man “accomplishing” for God what He as defined as purely the Holy Spirit’s work. Moreover, this is expression of deep doctrinal error concerning the “Church” itself: the local congregation is not “capital C” church, it is visible Church, composed of hypocrites and believers together. We believe that the Church Militant is among the visible Church, but the local congregation is not, properly speaking, the Church Militant or the One True Church.

  3. We are spiritual contributors not spiritual consumers. The church does not exist for us. We are the church and we exist for the world.

    Interpretation: We don't need God to tell us or give us anything. We're the most important thing in the world!

    More doctrinal error resulting from a vacuous doctrine of The Church. The Church is the Bride of Christ. It exists for Him, and it serves Him. It does not exist “for the World.” The principle task of the Church Militant is to contend for the Faith – to hold on to the Truth – and, having it, to thus proclaim it before all Creation.

  4. We give up things we love for things we love even more. It's an honor to sacrifice for Christ and His church.

    Interpretation: We're very proud of our giving – boy howdy – and how!

    Here we have further obvious elements of Pietism emerging. Recall the quote from Professor Brenner contained in a previous blog post, Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism:

    1. Pietism’s emphasis on Sanctification over Justification resulted in Legalism, by shifting the emphasis in the use of Law from the Second Use (as a mirror) to the Third Use (as a guide) and by prescribing laws of behavior in areas of Christian freedom, leading further to Perfectionism; and
    2. Pietism’s elevation of religious subjectivism ...also “separated God’s Word from the working of the Holy Spirit” (breaking down the Biblical teaching of the Means of Grace), “changed the Marks of the Church from ‘the gospel rightly proclaimed and the sacrament rightly administered’ to ‘where people are living correctly,’” and “divided the church into groups according to subjective standards of outward behavior.”

    Sacrifice is a virtue at It is also a measure of individuals.

  5. We wholeheartedly reject the label mega-church. We are a micro-church with a megavision.

    Interpretation: We are super-concerned about how people see US.

    The ECC is a church body, and is a church within that church. Recall, again, from our blog post Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism the phrase, Ecclesiolae in ecclesia – “little churches within the church.” may be a “micro-church,” but it also a mega-conventicle. How much of this idea of “little churches within the church” is being passed on to WELS congregations who use Groeschel’s material?

  6. We will do anything short of sin to reach people who don't know Christ. To reach people no one is reaching, we'll have to do things no one is doing.

    Interpretation: We have a very, very broad definition of "sin," so just about anything we can think of, we can do!

    Do these phrases sound familiar? Do any of our WELS pastors make nearly verbatim use of the phrase, “To reach people no one is reaching, we'll have to do things no one is doing” and not only apply it to themselves but use it as the basis of their local ministry? Do any of our WELS pastors hail as a badge of honor, almost verbatim, that they “will do anything short of sin to reach people who don't know Christ?” If so, from where might they be absorbing these ideas? Is making such prominent and verbatim use of notoriously heterodox ministry fundamentals not tantamount to pan-unionism?

  7. We will lead the way with irrational generosity. We truly believe it is more blessed to give than to receive.

    Interpretation: Two points so far on our great giving! Have we mentioned that we're really, really great big givers, and the best and most givingest givers there ever were!?! WOW, are we good!

    Again with the Pietism. The Marks of the Church in these types of references are clearly “where people are living correctly” and division within the Church is established on the basis of outward behavior – in this case, outward displays of generosity.

  8. We will laugh hard, loud and often. Nothing is more fun than serving God with people you love!

    Interpretation: We totally reject what Jesus said about serving Him in His Kingdom having anything whatsoever to do with any kind of "cross," pain, trial, or hardship!

  9. We will be known for what we are for, not what we're against. There are already enough jerks in the world.

    Interpretation: Anyone and everyone who wants to talk to us about anything resembling "doctrine," or "theology," is a fat-head and a creep – not to mention, jerk!

    Consistent with Pietistic doctrinal indifferentism, discussion of doctrinal matters, or holding to a Confession extending beyond the so-called “fundamentals” of the Christian faith earns nothing but a pejorative reference. Indifferentism is by no means a source of peace, but a catalyst for conflict. It is the true seat of division within the Church.

  10. We always bring our best. Excellence honors God and inspires people.

    Interpretation: We forget, have we told you how good and great and wonderful we are yet? If not, we sure are – and then some!

    Again with the Pietism – of comparing one’s Sanctification with others, and using that as a defining characteristic. They “bring their best” in distinction to those who don’t, or who don’t on their terms.

  11. The only constant in our ministry is change. God is always doing a new thing. Why we do what we do never changes. How we do it must change.

    Interpretation: We think that guy in the Bible who said there wasn't ever anything new under the sun is an idiot (Ec. 1). Also, we think the way the Apostles and 2,000 years of Christianity has worshiped is dumb, boring, and stupid, and besides which – we like to have fun, remember!?

  12. We don't recruit volunteers; we release leaders. Volunteers do good things but leaders change the world.

    Interpretation: It is not Jesus and His work, but our goodness and greatness that will save the world!

    There is no Cross in this. There is only a Theology of Glory.

  13. We're living in the "good old days." We're thankful for God's blessings today and expect even more tomorrow.

    Interpretation: We don't believe in "tribulation," or persecution, or Judgment Day. We're getting better and better and greater and greater day by day until we reach heaven all by ourselves! Are we really something, or else?!
Use of Craig Groeschel’s material in WELS congregations and schools is a serious matter. Sure, it may be tempting to use material from a church body having roots in Lutheranism somewhere in the distant past, especially if the materials are essentially Public Domain. But it is a severe and disqualifying lapse of ministerial judgment to seek ministerial “equipping” from heterodox sources, to allow oneself to become openly associated with heterodox teachers, and, further, to willingly endanger the souls under one’s care by making verbatim use of such materials and thus expose Christians to faith killing error.

We will have more to say regarding the sermons of Craig Groeschel, and implications of their use in WELS churches, in coming days.

Mr. Douglas Lindee
Rev. Steven Spencer

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sectarian Worship - Reprise

A brother in the ministry asked me to compile the four posts I had written previously on "sectarian" (aka "contemporary") worship into a single document, so here it is!

One of the biggest misunderstandings in the worship discussion has to do with the term “contemporary worship.” Is a hymn un-Lutheran just because it’s not yet 400 years old? Is music un-Lutheran just because it was composed in the 20th or 21st century? Couldn’t many of the hymns of the Reformation have been considered “contemporary” at the time of the Reformation? What’s wrong with something that’s contemporary?

It’s not about when it was written or composed. Let’s clear that up. It’s not that old is better because it’s old, or that new is worse because it’s new. New can be good, old can be bad. We are not against using worship forms in a Lutheran service that are “contemporary.” We are against using worship forms that are “sectarian.”

What do we mean by “sect” or “sectarian”?

The Lutheran Confessions speak of the “heretics of our time” who “err and teach contrary to our Christian faith and confession” (FC:E:XII:1). The term “sect” was used to refer to any group that, by few or many false teachings, had departed from the truth of Scripture, outlined especially in the Augsburg Confession. Today, examples would include Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Pentecostals, among others. Technically, even Lutheran churches that have departed from confessional Lutheran (and therefore, Scriptural) theology have now become “sects.” Roman Catholicism itself became a sect long ago when its teaching broke away from the pure truth of Christ, but, perhaps because it formed from within the Church catholic, its adherents are usually referred to as “papists” in the Confessions and not as “sects.”

With the term “sect,” we do not mean to imply that only members of confessional Lutheran churches will be in heaven. We acknowledge and rejoice that the Holy Spirit is able to preserve the faith of believers wherever the Gospel is rightly preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered, even though false teachers have introduced the leaven of false teaching. But this leaven is always harmful to faith, and eventually works its way through the whole batch of dough (Galatians 5:9). And so we use the label of “sectarian” as a warning to all that these false doctrines are not consistent with the saving truth of Scripture and are to be avoided at all cost.

The sectarian origin of “sectarian worship”

Since it was the Roman Catholic Church that, with its heretical innovations, had really broken away from the ancient, orthodox, catholic (“universal”) Church, the Lutheran Reformers did not feel compelled to abandon the worship forms of the Church catholic. On the contrary, they insisted on using the catholic ceremonies, both because of their usefulness for instructing the common people, and to give a clear confession of their unity with the Church catholic. The Lutherans refused to be numbered among the sects, although Rome still refers to us this way. At some times and in some places during the 16th century, Lutherans did feel compelled to stop using this or that ceremony as a confession against the papists who were trying to compel the use of these ceremonies among the Lutheran churches. But wherever possible, Lutherans retained the ceremonies of the Church catholic, because they proclaimed the unity and collective wisdom of over a thousand years worth of believers from all over the world, especially the Western Church in which the Lutherans mainly lived.

Unlike the confessional Lutheran Church, the sects have broken away from the Church catholic by false teachings. Most of them don’t even wish to be associated with the Church catholic. One of the most widely shared of these false teachings is a false teaching regarding the Means of Grace, that is, how God communes and communicates with men, how God creates and strengthens faith in man, how God distributes to individuals the forgiveness of sins won by Christ for all men. The Lutheran Church recognizes that it is the Gospel alone, in Word and Sacrament, that God has chosen as his means to accomplish these things. (More will be said about the theological underpinnings of sectarian worship forms in the next post on this subject.)

The sects, having abandoned the Church catholic, have developed their own worship forms, their own practices, in keeping with their false understanding of the Means of Grace and how man interacts with God. The “contemporary” worship phenomenon has grown out of this false understanding commonly held among most of the sects. Because of the sectarian origins of these worship forms, we refer to it as “sectarian worship.” “Sectarian worship” is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it confesses (intentionally or unintentionally) a disassociation from the Church catholic.

The confessional Lutheran quest for clarity

Confessional Lutherans strive to be as clear as possible in our preaching of the Gospel of Christ. That not only means teaching the truth clearly, but also clearly distinguishing ourselves from the sects that have severed themselves from the confession of the Church catholic.

As the Confessions say, “We do not want the condemned errors of the factions and sects we just mentioned to be silently ascribed to us. For the most part these groups, as is the nature of such spirits, secretly stole in at certain places…Poor, simple people, in their simplicity (who could not help but feel the clear idolatry and false faith of the papacy), embraced whatever was called the Gospel and was not papistic. We cannot avoid testifying against these groups publicly, before all Christendom. We have no part or fellowship with their errors, be they many or few. We reject and condemn them one and all. They are wrong and heretical, and are contrary to the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles and to our Christian Augsburg Confession, which is well grounded in God’s Word” (FC:SD:XII:7-8).

We’re not talking about this or that song that happened to be composed by a non-Lutheran when we refer to “sectarian worship.” We’re talking about a genre. We’re talking about elements of worship that originated as new practices of the sects. “Sectarian worship” is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it confesses an improper association with the sects, as if Lutheran doctrine were similar to sectarian doctrine. Those who hold a quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions must agree with what the Confessions say about giving clear testimony before all Christendom that we have no part or fellowship with the errors of the sects.

So when Lutheran pastors pore over books written by sectarian authors or attend sectarian seminars, conventions and schools to sit at the feet of the sectarian teachers and then bring back into their Lutheran churches or share with their brothers in the ministry the latest and greatest sectarian worship forms, it’s like the shepherd who learns from the wolf how to care for the sheep. It doesn’t serve the sheep. And it fails to give a clear witness to the sectarians that they are in error and in need of correction.

"Embrace your inner Pentecostal!"

It’s time to talk a little bit about the theology of the sects and how their theological assumptions impact their worship practices. It would take many books to do this thoroughly, but for now, a cursory review will have to do, admittedly oversimplified.

Sectarian worship (a more helpful term than “contemporary worship”) is not confined to any single denomination. Much like Pentecostalism itself, sectarian worship transcends denominational lines, being itself a product of the experience-focused worship that characterizes Pentecostalism.

In an article entitled, “Embracing Your Inner Pentecostal,” Professor Chris Armstrong of Bethel Seminary in Minneapolis writes,
Many non-Pentecostal (and non-charismatic) congregations have become "Pentecostalized" in other ways. Contemporary worship style is an oft-noted influence of Pentecostalism, with congregations of all stripes now singing choruses and praise music, even raising their hands in adoration (Chris Armstrong, "Embracing Your Inner Pentecostal".)

You see, this “style” of worship not only has its roots in Pentecostalism, but it carries Pentecostalism with it, wherever it goes. It appeals to all the sects, because it fits in perfectly with the common theology of the sects: that man is not totally helpless before God, and that man approaches God on the basis of man’s feelings, man’s preferences and man’s works.

Sectarian worship and its theological assumptions

(Most of the following summaries can also be found in another fine essay by Prof. Em. Dan Deutschlander, “Reformed Theology and its Threat.”)

For Pentecostals, you’re not a real Christian if you don’t feel the Spirit and even exhibit outward, supernatural signs of the Spirit. Worship is designed to put people in a “spiritual mood.”

For classic Calvinists (Reformed), reason reigns supreme. Everything has to make sense. If something in worship doesn’t appeal to man’s reason, then get rid of it! It’s an “obstacle” to faith! Then there’s the burden of thinking that Christ didn’t die for all men, but only for some, while some have been predestined to condemnation. Since they can never be sure which group they’re in, worship has to be about proving to themselves that they’re among the elect by their efforts to “live right,” “experience” God and “feel” saved.

Arminianism was born in the Netherlands, nursed in the UK, but bred in America. It is the quintessential American religion. It tends to be centered on the individual, entertainment-oriented, superficial, casual, anti-intellectual, anti-clerical, and anti-authority – just like American culture (and not unlike Lutheran Pietism). For Arminians (mostly Methodists and Baptists), it’s about using the right set of methods to climb the holiness ladder. Arminianism is pragmatic to the core: “Whatever works” to get people fired up for Jesus. “Do church” right, and you’ll see the right results. In Arminian theology, man is not thoroughly corrupted by original sin. It’s still up to man to make his decision for Christ, and he has to really mean it, or it doesn’t count. So worship has to be “upbeat” enough to get people in the right state of mind to choose Christ, and informal enough to allow the individual to relate to God on his own terms. This is exactly what American Revivalism was all about. Creeds and confessions, if used at all, have to be rewritten and “personalized” so they become more meaningful to “me.”

All of these sects are represented in modern American Evangelicalism, united by their common exaltation of man and rejection of the Means of Grace – the Gospel in Word and Sacrament – as the way God has ordained to create and strengthen faith in helpless man, and thus distribute to him all the benefits of Christ. For the sects, Baptism and Holy Communion are definitely not the Means of Grace. Even the Gospel preached isn’t necessarily a Means of Grace, because they (especially the Reformed) teach that the Holy Spirit may be absent from the preaching of the Gospel.

So how does man approach God, as far as the sects are concerned? Through man’s prayers, man’s praise, man’s “worship,” man’s emotional responses, man’s devotion, man’s self-chosen, self-defined faith. God’s Word may well be preached in addition to all this. But God’s Word is only a part of the sectarian worship equation. It’s the upbeat musical style, the casual, “real” atmosphere, and the emotional responses of the people that really “bring God’s presence into the room.”

Lutheran worship and its theological assumptions

According to Lutheran theology, man is thoroughly corrupted by original sin, without true love of God or fear of God or faith in God, by nature. The unbeliever cannot praise God, thank God, worship God, love God, trust in God or appease God. On the contrary, he is hostile to God and cannot understand the things that come from the Spirit of God. He is dead in sin, and his heart a heart of stone, unable to be opened, moved, or attracted to God in any way, by any method, through any musical style.

Only the miraculous power of the Means of Grace, as the Holy Spirit’s tool, is capable of changing a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, of giving life to the dead and faith where there was only unbelief. It’s not the style in which it’s presented, but the power of the Holy Spirit that brings this about. The Means of Grace is not a matter of manmade style or man’s preference, but of the Spirit’s proclamation of God’s favor for Christ’s sake. Faith comes from hearing the message, not from being able to relate to how it was presented.

But even once faith is given and dead souls are raised to spiritual life, Lutheran theology emphasizes man’s constant neediness before God, a lifelong beggarliness that still depends entirely on God’s grace for everything. And the Means of Grace is the same for the believer as for the unbeliever. It remains the only source of comfort and strength for believers. It remains the Holy Spirit’s power for God’s people, unhelped and likewise unhindered by its manner of presentation.

While it’s certainly true that believers can read Scripture in their homes and serve the food of the Means of Grace to themselves, God has ordained the gathering of believers and the office of the Holy Ministry for the purpose of serving his people with the Means of Grace. This is a uniquely Lutheran understanding of worship, that God should serve man, and not the other way around. Or perhaps more accurately, that man serves God best when he simply receives the service of God in faith. This is how our Confessions speak about “worship.”
Thus the worship and divine service of the Gospel is to receive from God gifts; on the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God. We can, however, offer nothing to God unless we have first been reconciled and born again. This passage, too, brings the greatest consolation, as the chief worship of the Gospel is to wish to receive remission of sins, grace, and righteousness. Apology V:189

Faith is the divine service, which receives the benefits offered by God...By faith God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers. Apology IV:49.

Most of a believer’s time during the week is spent living out his or her faith, surrounded by opportunities to interact with unbelievers. But when the Church gathers for worship, the Lutheran Church understands this to be the time for faith primarily to be fed, for God to serve his people with the Living Bread from heaven – Christ in preaching and Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Even the people’s thanksgiving and praise proclaims Christ in Lutheran worship.

This is also why the Lutheran Confessions insist on celebrating the Sacrament every Sunday (and at other times as well). Because God’s people always need to be fed, Christ’s Sacrament should always be available to them, right alongside the preaching of Christ. The Lutheran Mass, or liturgical service, has this as its primary goal, not just saying the name “Christ,” but presenting the whole story of Christ, the entire teaching of Christ, and all the benefits of Christ.


Sectarian worship is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it denies man’s utter neediness before God.

Sectarian worship is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it denies the Means of Grace as that alone through which God communicates and communes with man.

Sectarian worship is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it rejects the very concept that God distributes forgiveness of sins through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.

Sectarian worship is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it does not have as its primary goal to bring Christ to his people in Word and Sacrament.

Sectarian worship is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it starts with the assumption that man is capable of encountering God through his own feelings, praise, prayers and experience.

Sectarian worship is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it is designed, not to teach men about Christ, but to work men up into the right “spiritual” state to be affected by God.

Since these are fundamental principles of sectarian worship that flow from sectarian theology, why do Lutherans think they can somehow “Lutheranize” that which is diametrically opposed to Lutheran theology? And here’s the real question: Why do they think it’s so important to turn to the sects to learn how to worship in the first place?

Sectarian worship is what it is for a reason. Want proof?

Here are a series of quotes from one of the most famous and influential sectarian worship leaders in America, Pastor Rick Warren. If you’re wondering what Church Growth theology looks like, here it is! His reasoning is echoed to one degree or another by some in WELS who insist that “we have to rethink the way we do church.”

“We want to loosen up the tense muscles of uptight visitors. When your body is relaxed, your attitude is less defensive” (Rick Warren. The Purpose Driven Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, p.256).
And a less defensive attitude makes conversion “easier.” An “aid” to the Means of Grace. False doctrine!

So a casual atmosphere must be created, because formality is intimidating and doesn’t allow a person to “loosen up in God’s presence.”

“Worship is a powerful witness to unbelievers if God’s presence is felt and if the message is understandable…God’s presence must be sensed in the service. More people are won to Christ by feeling God’s presence than by all our apologetic arguments combined. Few people, if any, are converted to Christ on purely intellectual grounds. It is the sense of God’s presence that melts the heart and explodes mental barriers” (Warren, p. 241-242).
So the musical style must be relevant enough to the participants and upbeat enough to bring God’s presence into the room and open unbelievers’ hearts to the power of the gospel. “Feeling God’s presence” is an essential part of the “Arminian/Pentecostal Means of Grace.” False doctrine!

“It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart…The most likely place to start (looking for the key) is with the person’s felt needs” (Warren, p.219).
Man’s heart is not dead in sin, by nature, so it just needs to be unlocked, not with the “Keys of the Kingdom” that Jesus talked about, but by addressing the person’s felt needs. False doctrine!

So the Lectionary and the Church Year are abandoned, because topical series are better able to address people's felt needs. (The Lectionary assumes that all people have common needs caused by common sin, and a common solution in Christ, brought to all in common by the Means of Grace.)

There are some types of people your church will never reach, because they require a completely different style of ministry than you can provide(Warren, p.174).
The style of your ministry is the key to saving the lost. The Means of Grace depends on the right style in order to be powerful and effective, living and active. False doctrine!

The style of music you choose to use in your service will be one of the most critical (and controversial) decisions you make in the life of your church. It may also be the most influential factor in determining who your church reaches for Christ and whether or not your church grows. You must match your music to the kind of people God wants your church to reach. The music you use positions your church in your community…It will determine the kind of people you attract, the kind of people you keep, and the kind of people you lose. If you were to tell me the kind of music you are currently using in your services, I could describe the kind of people you are reaching without even visiting your church. I could also tell you the kind of people your church will never reach” (Warren, p. 280-281).
This is Church Growth theology in its purest form. Conversion depends on style. Right style = success. Wrong style = failure. False doctrine!

“Explosive growth only occurs when the type of people in the community match the type of people that are already in the church, and they both match the type of person the pastor is” (Warren, p.177).
Not the Means of Grace, but the right kind of people and the right kind of pastor will reach the right kind of people. False doctrine!

“Today’s most effective worship songs are love songs sung directly to God. This is biblical worship. We are told at least seventeen times in Scripture to sing to the Lord. In contrast, most hymns are sung about God. The strength of many contemporary worship songs is that they are God-centered, rather than man-centered” (Warren, p.289).

"I receive notes that say, 'I loved the worship today. I got a lot out of it.' It isn’t for our benefit! When we worship, our goal is to bring pleasure to God, not ourselves…Bringing pleasure to God is called worship.” (Rhoda Tse. ”Rick Warren’s Secrets of Worship.” ).

Worship is from believers to God. We magnify God’s name in worship by expressing our love and commitment to Him. God is the consumer of worship.” (Rick Warren. “First-Person: The Evangelistic Power of Worship.”).
What Warren means by “God-centered” is that the songs express man’s feelings about God, rather than God’s gracious acts toward men. What he means by “man-centered” is that man is on the receiving end of God’s saving acts.

So for Warren and the sectarians in general, worship ought to be man’s gift to God, entirely (or certainly mostly) “sacrificial” rather than “sacramental.” Man gives, God receives. Man is active, God is passive. Man works, God enjoys. Man expresses his love for God, God revels in man’s great love for him.

Notice how this is a complete reversal of the Lutheran view of the Divine Service (worship), where God is the primary actor and man is primarily on the receiving end. Lutherans call this “God-centered,” because although man is doing the singing, speaking, and administering, what is it, in the Lutheran Divine Service, that man is singing, speaking and administering? The Word of Christ – God’s saving acts in favor of mankind. In Lutheran worship, a believer’s praise includes a proclamation of God’s saving acts, and when a believer proclaims God’s saving acts and receives God's gifts in faith, God is praised! (Praise is proclamation, proclamation is praise.)

This is why we call sectarian worship “man-centered,” because instead of focusing on God’s saving acts, it focuses on man’s thoughts, feelings and actions.

If Lutherans think they can innocently imbibe the practices of the sects without also drinking in the reasons behind their practices, they are sorely mistaken. This is precisely the sheep's clothing that allows the wolf to enter through the gate.

So if you see any books or Bible studies by Rick Warren in your church library, you should first ask your pastor (kindly), “Pastor, why is this here in our church?” Give him a chance to explain. If he says, “You have to know your enemy in order to defeat him,” or “We’re collecting materials to burn in case the heater goes down,” or something like that, then breathe a sigh of relief.

If he says anything like, “There’s lots of good material in there,” or "The benefits outweigh the risks," or “We can learn some valuable strategies” from Rick Warren, then you should (more forcefully) say to your pastor, “Pastor, we called you as our shepherd to protect us from the wolf, not to invite him into our fold. Please remove this immediately. How about something from Chemnitz or Luther instead?”

The sectarian effects of sectarian worship

Sectarian worship is incompatible with Lutheran worship because it has, both as its goal and as its outcome, to further divide God’s people into “sects.”

Numerous examples were given above of the heretical Church Growth theology taught by sectarian Pastor Rick Warren. Church Growth theology teaches that “certain styles of music/worship” (Lutherans might try to Lutheranize that by saying “certain forms of Gospel presentation”) are necessary to reach certain kinds of people.

The practice that flows from this theology, therefore, is to provide various flavors of worship, depending on who the people are whom the worship leaders feel God is leading them to reach in their community (note the Pentecostalism inherent even in that assumption). Sectarian worship targets certain groups of people based on preference (or perceived preference).

In an interview with Mike Harland, Church Growth guru Ed Stetzer insists that a church go about deciding on its flavor(s) of worship by asking the question, “How can we create a setting (in our place and in our community) where people can worship God in spirit and in truth?” His understanding of “in spirit and in truth” revolves around the type of atmosphere that touches a person’s spirit (read “emotions”) so that the person’s worship may be “in truth” (read “sincere”). Harland answers Stetzer’s question with a typical prayer-as-a-means-of-grace response, “You have to inquire of the Lord, like David did in 1 Chronicles 14...You have to talk to God about where your church is going.”

It seems that, in sectarian thinking, God "tells" them what kind of worship to offer based largely on what kind of music the target people in the community have in their personal CD collections. For those who prefer classical music or organ music, a liturgical service is seen as a fine option – "nothing wrong with it, since it’s all a matter of personal preference." For those who prefer Pop music, there may be a Pop music option. The same is true for virtually any genre. Evangelical radio stations offer song choices to fit a broad range of personal preference – "nothing wrong with it, since music/style is all a matter of personal preference."

Likewise, if a “target audience” is perceived to prefer a more formal service, a more formal service may be offered. If a “target audience” is perceived to prefer a more casual atmosphere, a more casual atmosphere may be offered. Worship becomes like a buffet line, with a server on the other side of the table who asks, “How would you like to worship God today?”

I hope the “man-centered” nature of sectarian worship is becoming increasingly clear.

Of course, the effect of all this is that God’s people are divided into age groups, ethnic groups, and cultural groups, under the assumption that each group will have different preferences, and therefore ought to have a worship service that they can “relate to.” So instead of gathering together as the people of God, people are encouraged to split apart to find the style of worship that is “right for them.” In a single congregation, this may mean choosing which service they like better. In an area with various congregations, this may mean choosing which church offers the worship style they like better.

If we return to the Scriptures, none of these groupings based on personal preferences are honored, but rather rebuked. What are the divisions mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1 but factions formed on the basis of personal preference – in that case, a preference for one minister over another, even though the doctrine and content of their message was the same? Instead, God’s people are instructed to see themselves as a single body – the body of Christ, gathered out of the nations of this world to form a new nation, with our minds set on things above, not on earthly things. Human culture is not ignored, but it is intentionally minimized in favor of the common spiritual culture of faith. Personal preferences are not removed from an individual’s life, but are made irrelevant in the corporate gatherings of the Church. The same malady is proclaimed to all. The same promise is proclaimed to all. The same Means of Grace is administered to all. The same Biblical story is told to all, and relevant to all, and efficacious to all.

The one dividing factor among peoples found in Scripture and recognized by the Church of all ages is not musical or even cultural. It is the language factor. People are still divided, to some extent, by language. The Holy Spirit himself overcame that barrier miraculously on the Day of Pentecost. He has overcome it at various points in human history by governing the nations in such a way that there has always been a more or less commonly understood language (Aramaic, Greek, Latin, French, English). And he has overcome it by gifting his people with the ability to learn foreign languages and proclaim the gospel in other tongues.

The goal of Lutheran worship is certainly not to be unlikeable, but neither is the goal of Lutheran worship to be likeable. Historic, liturgical, Lutheran worship has always emphasized the sameness among human beings rather than their differences, and the sameness of how God deals with sinners, no matter what their culture, no matter what their background or preferences. Even when Christians have been divided by a language barrier, they have found the liturgy to be just as relevant in any language and on every continent, because the liturgy does not seek to satisfy the preference of anyone, but merely to convey the Means of Grace that transcends both culture and preference, using art forms that are intended to serve the message rather than art forms that are intended to please the people.

Sectarian worship starts with a false premise – that the presentation of the Gospel can or must be molded to personal taste in order for the Holy Spirit to attract a person or get through to a person. In effect, this divides the people of God into sects. In essence, this is nothing but the idolatry of self.

(Originally posted as Let's call it what it is - "Sectarian Worship" - Part 1, Let's call it what it is - "Sectarian Worship" - Part 2, Sectarian Worship - in their own words, and Let's call it what it is - "Sectarian Worship" - Part 3.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Public Ministry and the Divine Call

No one should publicly teach or preach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called (AC:XIV)

Some public comments and private emails in response to my previous post, C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry, made plain that there may be a need to simply state what the Lutheran Confessions and basic catechesis have to say on the matter of the Ministry and of the Office of the Keys. And this is important for all Lutherans to know, or at least be reminded of, as many of the situations which rightly concern us are instances where so-called Confessional Lutherans borrow liberally and directly from sectarian sources (a) having direct historic connections to Pietism, (b) which continue to officially confess and openly advocate the distinctives of Pietism, (c) whose practice and advice debase the Office of the Public Ministry, and (d) confuse it with the Universal Priesthood of all Believers. The open and unapologetic practice of plagiarism, often (though not necessarily) coincident with the practice of laymen regularly performing the teaching or preaching functions of the pastor, both in situations resembling "conventicles" as well as in the context of the Divine Service, is foreign to Confessional Lutheran practice and a hallmark of heterodox influence and Pietism. It is good for us to remember sound doctrine in order to spot practice which is inconsistent with it.

Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession was stated above. It is rather direct and easy to understand. However, some may appreciate a bit more detail. In 1946, Rev. Edward W.A. Koehler published an annotated version of Martin Luther's Small Catechism, which has served Confessional Lutherans for decades since. In fact, one edition is still in print and available from Northwestern Publishing House (see bibliographical reference, below). Here is how he briefly explains these doctrines for students of the Catechism:
    How does the local congregation publicly administer the Office of the Keys?
    According to God’s will the Christian congregation chooses and calls men as ministers, who in the name of Christ and in the name of the congregation publicly perform the functions of the Office of the Keys1.

    The word “publicly” here does not mean openly, before the eyes of the public, but it means in the name of the public, which, in this case, is the local congregation. While each true believer in Christ is a royal priest in his own right, and should, therefore, by word and deed “show forth the praises of God” [1 Pt. 2:9], he will not remain aloof from other believers, but rather seek the fellowship of those that hold the same faith as he [Acts 2:42], and join a Christian congregation in order that together with others he may do what the Lord commanded them to do. – Since all members of a congregation have the same right and duty, no one may take it upon himself to act in the name of all others, but he must by them be called or commissioned to preach, etc. (Ro. 10:15). In our day, God does not call these men directly [the immediate call2], as he called the Apostles and the Prophets of old [and enabled them to verify this call through signs and wonders3], but the Christians, the local congregation, to whom the Office of the Keys was given, choose and call the man who in their name, publicly, is to perform the duties of the office in their midst [the mediate call4]. And when such a person has accepted this call, he is to be regarded as “the minister of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God” [1 Co. 4:1], whom God Himself has made “overseer” or bishop over that flock [Acts 20:28], and who, under God “in the person of Christ” [2 Co. 2:10] and in the name of the congregation that called him, performs the functions of the Office of the Keys. It is the call and the acceptance of this call that makes a man the minister of a congregation, not ordination and installation, which are not divinely commanded. – A congregation may not call into this office any one whom it pleases, no false teacher, no manifest sinner, but only such as are able and fit for this office. Neither are women to be called into this office [1 Ti. 2:11-12].

    Koehler, E. (1946). A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. River Forest, IL: Koehler Publishing. pp. 275-278
We will have more to say in coming days and weeks regarding the sources we see repeatedly surfacing among congregations implementing practices of the Church Growth Movement.

  1. That the reader may understand:

      The Office of the Keys is the power, or authority, to preach the Word of God, to administer the Sacraments, and especially the power to forgive and to retain sins (Koehler, E. 1946. pg. 275).

      This power is called the "Office of the Keys" because it opens heaven by forgiving sins, or closes heaven by retaining sins (Koehler, E. pg. 276).

      See 1 Pt. 2:9; Mk. 16:15; Mt. 28:18-20; Mt. 16:19; Mt. 18:17-18,20; Jn. 20:22-23.

  2. Lange, L. (2005). For God So Loved the World: A Study of Christian Doctrine. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. pg. 584.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Devotions on the Lectionary: Pentecost 13, Gospel

by Michael Schottey

Luke 12:51 Do you think I came to bring peace on Earth? No, I tell you, but division.(NIV)

Love, what is it?

In our postmodern world, love--both worldly love and the love of God--are under attack from a lot of different definitions.

God tells us, in his word, what love is. True love is something that radiates first from God and then is reflected off of his children. True love is something that binds us together under one Lord, one creed. True love faithfully clings to God and his promises and seeks out its brothers and sisters.

True love also divides.

True love wants nothing to do with sin but, like God, desperately wants all men to be saved. So, true love does not shudder at the thought of correcting an erring brother or sister. True love makes the statement, continually, that God comes first--then family, vocation, and friends. True love wants nothing to do with worldly wisdom or priorities.

The world confuses love with acceptance. But, true love does not accept sin, it rebukes it.

Thanks be to God, for loving us with a true love--correcting our wrongs and valuing our eternal salvation over our selfish worldly pride. Thanks be to God that he has taught his people this love--so much more valuable than mere acceptance, which confirms the sinner in unbelief.

Thanks be to God that Jesus came to bring peace between man and God, and not just between men. A peace which lasts forever.

Prayer: Lord God, teach me to love as you have loved me. Grant me patience to love my brothers and sisters unconditionally but courage to love them enough to correct their wrongs. Keep me humble, so that I do not crush those weaker in the faith. Help me lift up, sustain, and support my fellow Christians. Amen.

"As surely as I live," God said,
"I would not have the sinner dead
But that he turn from error's ways,
Repent and live through endless days."

To us therefore Christ gave command:
"Go forth and preach in every land;
Bestow on all my pard'ning grace
who will repent of sinful ways."
CW 308:1,2

Thursday, August 19, 2010

C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry

C.F.W. WaltherYesterday's blog post, Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism, began with the sentence, "Pietism was a raging problem among Lutherans in mid-19th Century America," and closed by pointing out that in Norway, "[p]olitically and culturally, religious liberty [had become] synonymous with lay participation in the functions of the Office of the Ministry within the congregation, such that, by the time of the first wave of Norwegian emigration to the United States in the middle of the 19th Century, not only was the practice of laymen carrying out the functions of the Pastoral Office culturally accepted, it was considered a political right." This was the result of Haugean Pietism which had coursed through Norwegian religious and political culture not more than a generation prior, and which was still at work reforming Norway's cultural institutions, as dramatic political and economic changes continued to occur there.1

Hans Nielsen Hauge died in 1824 a folk hero. In 1825, the first of several major migrations from Norway to America occurred, landing mostly in northern Illinois along the Fox River. By the third large migration, around 1840, Norwegians were settling in southeastern Wisconsin, and it is about this time that Norwegian Lutheran congregations began forming.2 The Norwegian settlers during the 1840's and 1850's were very closely "connected with the Church in the homeland, and they brought with them greater respect and love for the rites and usages of the Church of their fathers."3 Yet, prior to 1843, there were no pastors to serve them -- only Haugean lay preachers. Two Norwegian pastors, Dietrichson and Clausen, finally arrived, and did much work during these days in the Koshkonong and Muskego settlements, correcting the confusion wrought by Pietism, diligently securing deliberate and specific confessions of faith and intent from new members of a growing number of congregations, and working for greater unity among them. Rev. Stub joined them in 1848, and in 1850, with a great deal of groundwork completed under the leadership of Rev. Dietrichson, three pastors -- Clausen, Stub, and Preus -- along with eighteen congregations between Muskego and Koshkonong, Wisconsin, formed the Norwegian Synod.4

The situation was slightly different among the Germans. Pietism was nearly a century-and-a-half in the past for them, and time had carried them through Enlightenment Rationalism and ecumenical mergers. Elements of Pietism and Rationalism abounded among them, and, intermingled, were a great danger -- often being more subtle and insidious. German Lutherans had been in America since the early Colonial days, and this was largely the case among those in the East.Charles_Porterfield_Krauth When the Stephanites landed in Perry County, MO, having emigrated from Saxony to escape various forms of religious persecution which resulted from the Prussian Union, they found that the seed of Lutheran orthodoxy existed in America and was already at work in the eastern States to purify doctrine and practice -- the Henkel clan in the Tenessee Synod and Charles Porterfield Krauth having begun the work of addressing error, and grown experienced in spotting its subtleties. C.F.W. Walther, after ascending to leadership of the Saxon Lutherans in Missouri, sought them out, resonating with their doctrine and their task (having himself been a Pietist at one time). On the other hand, in the Norwegian Church, Rationalism hadn't yet made any real inroads, nor had indifferentism generally grown into open ecumenism with the Reformed or with the Methodists (although it had among the Haugean lay preachers, at least in this latter case). The only real inroad made by Rationalism was a mild form borrowed from an early 19th Century Danish theologian named Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig -- "Grundtvigianism," or the error of elevating the Creed to authority equal with Scripture, and Baptism of the deceased to procure their Salvation. In fact, this issue was brought against Reverends Clausen and Stub in the mid-1850's, and they were found to have been teaching this error with Dietrichson all along. Stub confessed and retracted his errors, Clausen retired.5 As one can imagine, other issues abounded and were resolved, the constitution was reworded and improved, and as the Norwegian Synod grew, they grew more aware of their similarities with the Missourians and formed a positive opinion of them and their theology.6

From the influence of pietism, from both pastors within the Norwegian Synod and its laity, the question of "laymen's activity" arose in the late 1850's, stirred for a few years, and finally broke into open controversy in 1860. The party in favor of "laymen's activity" asserted the following:
    Laymen should have the right to teach and pray publicly, (1) because they belonged to the universal priesthood of believers; (2) because Christian brotherly love demanded it; and (3), because it was the practice of the early Christian Church.7
The opposing party within the Norwegian Synod "conceded everything except the point on which the whole thing hinged: How and when can a laymen teach and preach?"8

At loggerheads over this question for two years, finally at the 1862 Convention of the Norwegian Synod, C.F.W. Walther was invited to address the question, in hopes of helping them to find a resolution. He did so by dividing the question into three parts:
    (1) the spiritual priesthood of all believers [Universal Priesthood]; (2) the special office of the ministry in the congregation established by God [Office of the Ministry]; and (3) how necessity knows no laws, hence supersedes the regular order in this matter [emergency situations].

    In regard to the first... Paul, in Ro. 3:2, declared of the Old Testament Church, or believers at that time, that "unto them were committed the oracles of God." They were, therefore, the possessors and the stewards of God's Word, or the ministry. When factionalism arose in Corinth between the followers of Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, and each faction gloried in its leader, the apostle said to them: "Therefore let no man glory in men, For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's and Christ's is God's" (1 Co 3:21-23)... The Office of the Ministry is therefore not to be regarded as a private privilege, which alone belongs to the minister of the Gospel, but is a common privilege belonging to all the members of the Church... [From further lengthy proofs from scripture], it is apparent that every Christian not only has the office of the ministry, but that he also, if he at all wishes to be a Christian, must perform its duties, so that he also confesses the Word, teaches, admonishes, confesses, reproves, and in every way has a care for his neighbor's salvation; that is, for his conversion as well as his preservation in the faith....

    But the Lord sees, secondly, how Christians are beset by the frailties of flesh and blood, and on account of this frailty and weakness of the average Christian, God has instituted a special Office of the Ministry of the Word. According to God's Word, certain persons who are prepared, gifted, equipped and tried for this office should be elected, called and set aside from the Christians in general, to perform these offices publicly among them, and in their name thus preach the Word and administer the Sacraments, lead their meeting for mutual edification through God's Word, and are, in fine, the mouth of the Christians.

    Wherever the holy apostles established Christian congregations, they, at their departure, did not entrust the office of mutual edification to the converted congregations, so that anyone could publicly teach and lead the others, but they placed certain persons, called elders or bishops, as leaders or overseers. Paul says to his companion and co-worker Titus: "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee. If any be blameless... for a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God... holding fast to the faithful words as he has bee taught" (Ti. 1:5-11). These elders or bishops did not only have the call, like other Christians, to use God's Word over against their neighbors as spiritual priests, but they had definite congregations, whose spiritual service was entrusted to them alone. Peter therefore writes: "the elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder... Feed the flock of God which is among you" (1 Pe. 5:1,2). This is not only a good human ordinance, but it is an ordinance instituted by God Himself... [After much explanation from Scripture, concludes], the Public Ministry is therefore a gracious institution of the merciful God, whereby God's Word can henceforth be richly and purely preached and false prophets be warded off, and the Sacraments be properly administered. Thus God's whole dispensation, whether in the Church or the local congregation, is carried out in a good, blessed, and God-pleasing manner.

    Although all believing Christians in virtue of their faith have the office of priests, yet they should not perform those duties in such a way that they disturb or abolish the divinely instituted public ministry of the Word in their local congregation. As urgently as the Bible exhorts Christians to be faithful and zealous in the fulfillment of their duties, it nevertheless says: "My brethren, be not many masters" (Ja. 3:1), and Paul, after saying, "God hath set some in the church, first apostles, etc.," asks: "Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?" (1 Co. 12:28-29). [After further adducing Scripture concludes,] In public assemblies arranged for edification, the lay Christians should not teach, admonish, console, correct, lead in prayer or publicly administer the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord's Supper, as these are functions reserved for the Christians properly called and ordained by God for this purpose.

    But, thirdly, necessity knows no law. In case of need, as,for instance, if the Christians have no publicly appointed pastor, or if he be a false prophet, or if he serves them so seldom that they are in danger of spiritual starvation in case nothing more were done among them, then it is not wrong if also laymen in such cases of need preach the Word and pray in public assemblies or publicly administer Baptism... But they do not function according to the ordinance of God, but as emergency pastors lest needy souls be lost. The Lutheran Symbols, therefore say: Just as in a case of necessity even a layman absolves, and becomes a minister and pastor of another; as Augustine narrates the story of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the catechumen, who after baptism then absolved the baptizer." (TR:67)
Walther here is quite clear. In fact, his theses to the Norwegian Synod were the basis for their resolution to settle the matter of "layman's activity," using it henceforward as their official doctrine, as follows:
  1. God has instituted the office of the public ministry for the public edification of Christians to salvation through God's Word. Unanimously accepted.
  2. For the public edification of Christians, God has not instituted any other order which should be placed by the side of this. Unanimously accepted.
  3. When one undertakes to lead the public edification of Christians by the Word, he undertakes and exercises the office of the public ministry. Unanimously accepted.
  4. It is sin when anyone without call or in the absence of need undertakes this. Unanimously accepted.
  5. It is both a right and a duty in case of real need for anyone who can to exercise in proper Christian order the office of the public ministry. Unanimously accepted.
  6. The only correct conception of need is that actual need exists, either where there is no pastor or one cannot be gotten; or if there is a pastor who does not rightly serve them, but teaches falsely; or who cannot serve them sufficiently, but so insufficiently that they cannot be brought to faith or be preserved in faith and guarded against error, and that Christians would succumb from lack of oversight. Two voted against.
  7. When such need is at hand, it ought to be relieved by a definite and proper order, according to the circumstances. Unanimously accepted.10

WELS has publicly made plain in their discussions with Missouri on the subject, that we hold to Walther's teaching on Public Ministry. The above is the teaching of Walther, as plainly and simply stated as this author has ever read it. Notice that "the public ministry" described above is one ministry that includes "teaching, admonishing, consoling, correcting, leading in prayer, and public administration of the Sacraments" in public assemblies within the congregation, and is understood as synonymous with the Office of the pastor. Is this the teaching we observe practiced in our WELS congregations? Do laymen publicly teach, preach, and offer prayers in our churches, or Publicly execute other functions of this Office? If it is claimed that such laymen possess a Divine Call, then what constitutes a valid Call and how is possession of a valid Call communicated to the assembly? For that matter, what constitutes valid Approval criteria -- are such criteria arbitrary? And of course, we must ask this with respect to the Office of the Ministry itself, asking what it is? Do we agree with Walther, or not?


  1. Petterson, W. (1926). The Light in the Prison Window: Life and Work of H. N. Hauge. (2nd ed.).Minneapolis: The Christian Literature Company. pp. 73, 173-179.
  2. Ylvisaker, S (Ed.). (1943). Grace for Grace: A Brief History of the Norwegian Synod. Mankato, MN: Lutheran Synod Book Company. pp. 9-15.
  3. Ibid. pg. 15.
  4. Ibid. pp. 16-34.
  5. Rohne, J. M. (1926). Norwegian American Lutheranism up to 1872. New York: Macmillan. pg. 144-145.
  6. Ibid. pp. 162-163.
  7. Ibid. pg. 168.
  8. Ibid. pg. 168.
  9. Ibid. pp. 174-178.
  10. Ibid. pg. 178.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism

Philipp_Jakob_SpenerPietism was a raging problem among Lutherans in mid-19th Century America. It was a movement begun in mid-17th Century Germany by Lutheran theologian Philipp Jakob Spener (d. 1705), with the 1675 publication of Johann Arndt's postils containing a preface written by Spener entitled Pia Desideria, or "Pious Desires." In this preface, Spener called for six seemingly modest Lutheran reforms that he thought would bring about spiritual renewal among Lutherans, extending Luther's doctrinal Reformation into the life and works of the Church and individual believers:
  1. a greater study of Scripture among Christians, assembled in small groups called "conventicles",
  2. the practicing of the Universal Priesthood of all Believers through lay participation in congregational ministry,
  3. encouraging Christians to live out their faith, rather than mere intellectual assent to Biblical teaching,
  4. a more brotherly treatment of heterodox teachers,
  5. ministerial training that cultivated personal piety as well as academic prowess, and
  6. preaching which dwelled on Sanctification1,2
Never desiring to be outside of Lutheran orthodoxy, Spener insisted that his teaching should not be construed as outside the bounds permitted by clear Scriptural teaching, and that if it did, it was due to his own inadequacy as a teacher. Indeed, through 1689, he enjoyed the endorsement of orthodox leaders in Germany, who themselves noticed and were eager to correct the problems wrought by recent history (devastation of the Thirty-Years' War and the impact of theological attacks from Jesuit Scholasticism resulting from the Catholic Counter Reformation, among other things), even if that meant they had to tolerate his aberrations.

Pietism in Germany
Spener’s Pia Desideria spread like wildfire, spawning the movement known as Pietism, which quickly grew beyond his ability to influence it. Before long, Pietism no longer resembled orthodoxy in the slightest, resulting in increasing criticism from orthodox leaders, particularly from Wittenberg. Unable to cope with their criticism, Spener broke with them to form the University of Halle in 1694, along with August Francke (d. 1727) and others, where he hoped to give some form to Pietism and influence it’s practice in wider Christianity.August-Hermann-FranckeWhat the movement came to represent, however, was the replacement of religious objectivism (the fact that man finds outside of himself in the Gospel and Sacraments the assurance that he is a child of God and heir of eternal salvation) with religious subjectivism (the idea that man finds affirmation of his status before God through the experience of certain emotions, and the ability to display certain works), reducing the objective promises of God's Word to secondary stature, and elevating subjective "conversion experiences" (ictic conversion) and displays of pious works in their place; the rejection of orthodoxy altogether, and its replacement with unionistic theological indifferentism; the denigration of the Means of Grace (God coming to man to give him blessings) to opus operatum, a crutch for the complacent Christian, and replacement of these Means with the fervent prayers of the Christian (man going to God in hope of blessings); and use of the Law to make sweeping accusations against society in order to stir the hearts of Christians and to motivate pious works (Law rather than Gospel motivated works), while use of the Gospel was made to raise questions regarding whether one could really lay claim to a living faith (Gospel used as Law).3

Professor John Brenner of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, in a lecture entitled The Spirit of Pietism,4 characterized the most potent and critical influences of Pietism in the following way:
  1. Pietism’s emphasis on Sanctification over Justification resulted in Legalism, by shifting the emphasis in the use of Law from the Second Use (as a mirror) to the Third Use (as a guide) and by prescribing laws of behavior in areas of Christian freedom, leading further to Perfectionism; and
  2. Pietism’s elevation of religious subjectivism, in addition to what has already been mentioned, also “separated God’s Word from the working of the Holy Spirit” (breaking down the Biblical teaching of the Means of Grace), “changed the Marks of the Church from ‘the gospel rightly proclaimed and the sacrament rightly administered’ to ‘where people are living correctly,’” and “divided the church into groups according to subjective standards of outward behavior.”
Valentin Ernst Loescher (d. 1749), an orthodox Lutheran theologian and eyewitness to German Pietism -- who was also one of the most effective opponents of it -- uses the following words to describe the characteristics of Pietism in his work, Timotheus Verinus, and devotes an entire chapter of analysis to each word as it is applied to Spener's movement:
    indifferentism, contempt for the Means of Grace, the invalidation of the ministry, the confusing of righteousness by faith with works, millennialism, precisionism, mysticism, the abolition of the spiritual supports, crypto-enthusiasm, reformatism, and making divisions...5
Valentin-Ernst-L%C3%B6scherThe first wave of Pietism eviscerated orthodox Lutheranism in continental Europe, leaving Christianity unprepared for the next spiritual scourge. Because Pietism viewed the role of intellect in spiritual matters with suspicion and displayed strong preference for emotion and intuition, the Church largely became an unwelcome place for the intellectually capable. So, instead of applying their gifts in service toward God in the Church, such individuals learned to ignore the Church and sought instead to apply their gifts in the realm of secular academia. And so the Enlightenment was born. From the death of Loescher forward, the voice of Lutheran orthodoxy in Germany was rendered silent. The dwindling remnant persevered through remaining pietistic influence and Enlightenment rationalism, until, finally, the Prussian Union -- forced ecumenical mergers between Reformed and Lutheran churches -- rousted what was left of the old, orthodox Lutherans out of Germany. Many of those coming to America landed mostly in Perry County, Missouri and Buffalo, New York.

Ecclesiolae in ecclesia
Throughout the period of German Pietism (~1675-1749), some European governments, acting under the advice of the State churches being decimated by Pietism, sought to restore order by passing anti-conventicle laws, as these conventicles had been identified as the hallmark of pietistic activity. Conventicles, under the encouragement of Spener, Francke, and other pietists, were gatherings of Christians within the congregation, sometimes with, most often without pastoral oversight, where individuals were encouraged to study the Scriptures together, express their own thoughts concerning the meaning of a given text, while taking the expression of others within the group as spiritually edifying. As happens in any assembly of humans, an authority structure naturally developed within these conventicles, a structure that was largely dependent upon displays of external piety among the members, in word and/or deed. Such activity elevated the role of the Universal Priesthood of all Believers, as Spener intended, while subverting the authority of the Office of the Holy Ministry, perhaps not as Spener intended. Nevertheless, conventicles became the seat of division and source of false teaching in the Church, and became known as ecclesiolae in ecclesia, or "little churches within the church." Such were disorderly and contrary to the Doctrine of the Call since ministerial authority within the congregation was established outside the appointed order by which individuals were Called to fill the needs of such an Office. In addition, contrary to the Doctrine of the Church, conventicles established "little churches" within the congregation, not only with lay leaders carrying out the roles of the Public Ministry, but often with the inclusion of individuals outside of the congregation and/or outside the Lutheran Confession. As such, small groups were the source of separatism within congregations and from the church body they were part of: the "little churches," without the Marks, without legitimate exercise of the Divine Call, without a Confession and a basis for true biblical Fellowship, became the essence of church life for their members.

The State also had political interest in controlling or eliminating these conventicles, as a result of another peculiarity of Pietism taught by Spener -- a form of millennialism in which the Christian is to hopefully wait for the "better times" of the one-thousand-year reign of Christ on Earth, with a perfect earthly Church being his seat of government.6 This teaching was known to cause various groups to take it upon themselves to work toward such "better times" rather than wait for them, creating political unrest by considering themselves above both the State and the imperfect visible Church, in some places reminiscent of Thomas Muentzer's peasant uprising.7 In other words, conventicles also became hotbeds of subversive political activity.

Haugean Pietism in Norway
In Norway, such a Conventicle Act was passed in 1741. Under the reign of the pietistic state of Denmark, this Act was intended to institute a healthy Pietism in all of its lands, while avoiding its excesses. Its chief purpose was twofold: "To protect those who evinced true solicitude of the edification of themselves and others from persecution, and secondly, to prevent the disorder arising from those who under the cloak of greater religiousness left their natural calling and wandered about from place to place as preachers without having either a divine or human call to do so."8 The specific provisions of this Act are an interesting commentary on what was regarded as problematic with conventicles and lay leadership, even among the moderating pietistic Danes.

According to popular accounts, this Act did very little to promote Pietism at all, however. It is reported that by the close of the 18th Century, the laity had grown entirely complacent and the clergy was increasingly accused of various forms of corruption, not due to a line of corrupt leadership, but through a state-church system that nurtured an unhealthy political separation of clergy from laity.9 Enter the layman, Hans Nielsen Hauge (d. 1824). Raised a farmer, his upbringing consisted in regular reading of Scripture and devotional works (including those of Johann Arndt), the singing and memorization of Lutheran hymnody, and other generally healthy Christian practices. His family being regular church-goers, his upbringing taught him to take his faith seriously, so much so that he was considered odd by his friends and acquaintances, and was a regular object of their ridicule. He was granted perseverance in his faith. At the age of 25, in 1796, singing a hymn while working his father's fields, he was overwhelmed by spiritual experience, prompting him to pray, "Lord, what wilt thou that I should do," whereupon he was reminded of the prophet's words, "Here am I, Lord. Send me."10 And so he went, to the people of his own nation, in whom he saw so much vice and need for faith and repentance, as a lay evangelist intent upon preaching the Way of Salvation through "repentance and conversion," and to do so reverently as a servant of the Church. Yet, Hauge had no Call to preach. At first, he did so haltingly with reticence, but as time progressed and he discovered the approval of those who heard him, as he saw them repent of their sin and embrace their Saviour, he grew more bold and confident. He wrote many devotional books, preached both publicly and privately on many occasions, traveling from one end of Norway to the other in the process. He was a national sensation. One could say that many good things resulted. Many people were turned to Christ. Hauge, being a very bright man, keen on recent developments in farming and gifted with business acumen, also freely assisted his countrymen in their temporal needs, publishing books and offering business and farming advice, even taking part in the creation of several industries. Many people were lifted out of poverty as a result. Yet, having no regular Call to do so, he continued to carry out the functions of the Pastoral Office. Moreover, he abandonded his own Vocational calling to do so. The Church took notice. So did the State. Hauge, despite all the good it may be said that he had done and was doing, did not have in his possession a Divine Call to carry out the functions of the Pastoral Office. He was in violation of the Conventicle Act of 1741, and he was in violation of Scripture, both of which required such a Call.

Haugean ConventiclesIn 1804, with several short incarcerations already behind him, Hauge was arrested for a tenth, and final time. For ten years he remained in prison, not receiving a finding from the court-commission until 1808, which found him guilty of the following crimes:
  1. He had violated the Conventicle Act of 1741;
  2. He had tried to form a sect and a communistic society;
  3. He had encouraged especially the young people to break the Conventicle Act;
  4. He had in his writings heaped contempt on the official ministry11
This resulted in a trial late in 1813, the verdict of which was rendered a year later, in 1814, finding Hauge "guilty of having preached the Word of God, encouraged others to do the same, and heaped scorn on the ministry,"12 for which he was ordered to pay the equivalent of $1000, plus the cost of the trial, and released from prison.13

Lay Ministry a Cultural Fixture in Norway, Emigrates to America
During his time in prison, other lay preachers followed in Hauge's footsteps. Young pastors in the Church of Norway adopted his practical and relevant sanctification emphasis and common manner of speaking. Coincident with the growth of Haugean Pietism in Norway, between 1796 and 1814, was a growing political predisposition toward independence. These factors coalesced with the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, resulting in political crisis in Denmark-Norway, which had allied itself with France. Delegates from across Norway were selected from the State Church (in which Hauge and his followers had been active for nearly two decades), as representatives to Norway's Constitutional Convention, which resulted in a new Constitution in May of 1814, emancipating them from Denmark. The followers of Hauge, farmers and other common folk, soon realized "the power that was given them in the Constitution of 1814."14 As they swiftly gained positions of influence in the Church and State, the Conventicle Act of 1741, long ignored since 1814, was officially repealed in 1842, consistent with movements within the government and cultural religious sentiment, driving the nation toward greater liberty.

Hans Nielsen Hauge married for the first time in 1815, lost his wife that same year as she bore him a son, was remarried in 1817, and himself died in 1824. By then, he had become a folk hero, the legacy of Pietism continuing in Norwegian religious culture as a result of his influence. Politically and culturally, religious liberty became synonymous with lay participation in the functions of the Office of the Ministry within the congregation, such that, by the time of the first wave of Norwegian emigration to the United States in the middle of the 19th Century, not only was the practice of laymen carrying out the functions of the Pastoral Office culturally accepted, it was considered a political right. It was also a theological problem, which vexed the young "Old" Norwegian Synod in America for years. How the "old orthodox Lutherans" assisted them in resolving this issue will be the topic of tomorrow's essay (C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry).


  1. Spener, P. (2002). Pia Desideria. (T. Tappert, Trans.). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. (Translation originally published 1964, by Augsburg Fortress. Original work published 1675.). pp. 87-122.
  2. Schmid, H. (2007). The History of Pietism. (J. Langebartels, Trans.). Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published 1863). pp. 38-51.
  3. Wendland, E. (1991). Present-day pietism. In L. Lange (Ed.) Our Great Heritage (pp. 168-183). Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. pp. 168-183.
  4. Brenner, J. (2006, October). The Spirit of Pietism. In Rev. Thompson (Chair), Confessional Christian Worldview Conference. Golden Valley, MN.
  5. Loescher, V. (1998). The Complete Timotheus Verinus (J. Langebartels & R. Koester, Trans.). Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published 1718 [Part 1] and 1721 [Part 2]). pg. 249.
  6. Schmid, H. (2007). The History of Pietism. (J. Langebartels, Trans.). Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published 1863). pp. 169-174.
  7. Loescher, V. (1998). The Complete Timotheus Verinus (J. Langebartels & R. Koester, Trans.). Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published 1718 [Part 1] and 1721 [Part 2]). pp. 36-42.
  8. Petterson, W. (1926). The Light in the Prison Window: Life and Work of H. N. Hauge. (2nd ed.).Minneapolis: The Christian Literature Company. pp. 18-19.
  9. ibid. pp. 20-26.
  10. ibid. pp. 47-48.
  11. ibid. pp. 165-166.
  12. ibid. pg. 167.
  13. ibid. pg. 167.
  14. ibid. pg. 173.

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