Tuesday, February 25, 2014

‘Church Growth’ Inroads in the WELS: An Analysis of the Website Home Pages of Ninety WELS Congregations – Part 3

Five weeks ago, we published Part 1 of this analysis, and three weeks ago we published Part 2. Today, we publish the third and final Part of this series.

“Our history is the sum of all our stories.

What’s your story?

It is human nature to give the glory that belongs to God to someone or something else. God is glorified by His Word, the Gospel, and the Sacraments. In the absence of these things, the void that results is often filled with things that glorify men. The “What’s your story?” quote above was the central message of one WELS church website home page, with the font of the last three words dominating the screen, similar to the way it is displayed above.1 The secular world has no place for the glory of God, so it is natural for the world to focus on the glory of man. But Confessional Lutheran churches have a God-given message to bring to the lost:
    Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.Matthew 28:19-20
More examples of content found on WELS website home pages in the absence of the Gospel, the Word, and the Sacraments included invitations for root beer floats, cookouts and volleyball after the worship service, stock photos of flowers and scenery, photos of school sports teams, videos of remodeling projects, biographies of the pastor, and human centered statements such as, “a place to belong,” “we want to be your church home,” and “worship services offer life-related messages.”

A church website home page provides the opportunity to reach people who may or may not enter the doors of a particular (or any) church. God’s Word is the only means by which faith is created or strengthened:
    So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.Isaiah 55:11
The survey of 90 WELS congregations found evidence of Confessional Lutheran standards prominently displayed on the home pages of a number of church websites. Examples are provided below where WELS churches displayed Confessional Lutheran standards of the Gospel, the Sacraments, God’s Word, the name “Lutheran,” the Lutheran Confessions, and the liturgy.

The Gospel
When we were still sinners, Christ died for us!Romans 5:8

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16

...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God ... the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” from Romans 3

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.1 John 4:9-11

...and more.

The Sacraments
“...God uses the Word of God and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion to strengthen the life and faith of our members...”

“We assemble around God’s Word and Sacraments for spiritual growth.”

Our Communion Practice It is taught in scripture that through communion we build our intimate relationship with our Lord and God. God also makes known to us that our relationship with one another as believers is strengthened and that we become as one in our confession...”

A photo of the altar with the elements of the Lord’s Supper displayed

God’s Word2
Show me your ways O Lord, teach me your paths...Psalm 25:4a

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.Hebrews 12:2

Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’Matthew 28:19-20

Our hope in Jesus is an anchor for the soul.Hebrews 6:19

...and more.

The Name Lutheran
The word “Lutheran” existed with the same font size as the rest of the church name, and as part of the church name.

“Our church identifies itself with the name of Martin Luther, the great Christian pastor and teacher of the sixteenth century who worked to reform the church according to the teachings of the Bible. Martin Luther pointed Christians to the Bible alone as God's inspired Word from which all the church's beliefs and practices are to be drawn.”

“The name "Lutheran" comes from the great reformer Martin Luther. In a period in history when the Church had lost sight of its Savior and the truth of his Word, Martin Luther boldly challenged these errors and preached Jesus Christ as Savior. We are proud to remember his work in bringing to light the truth of God’s Word by using his name to identify ourselves.”

The Lutheran Confessions
The Apostles Creed

“Confessing the Christian teachings of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. We stand on Grace alone, through Faith alone, revealed in Scripture alone.”

The words “The Lutheran Confessions” with Luther’s Seal of the three sola’s.

The Liturgy
“What is liturgical worship?” (Those words were positioned next to a small wooden cross, and hyperlinked to a more detailed explanation of liturgical worship on another page of the website.)

Consider this:
    It takes two to three lines to communicate a Gospel message.
    It takes a photo or a short paragraph to identify the Sacraments.
    It takes a line or two to include a verse from Scripture.
    The name Lutheran can be included with the rest of the church name.
    A paragraph, a few words, or a picture can identify the Lutheran Confessions.
    A liturgical service can be identified with four words.
“Church Growth” methodology uses “things of men” to attract people to a church with the hope that they will attend church and hear the Gospel. As Confessional Lutherans, WELS churches can offer something better. We have the “things of God”, specifically the Gospel, the Sacraments and the Word of God. And we have the Lutheran name and Confessions and the liturgy. These six criteria together are not “required”, but are simple, straightforward ways that a church can communicate its identity as a Confessional Lutheran church. As shown above, they can all be easily communicated on the home page of a website. Their absence on the home page leads to “things of men” and “Church Growth inroads” in the WELS. Using the “things of God” to communicate God and His message gives glory to whom it belongs – to God.

May God guide and bless you as you identify with the standards of a true Confessional Lutheran Church through the home page of your church website.


  1. With some additional research, it was learned that the “What’s your story?” theme can be found, exactly as it was portrayed on this WELS church website home page, down to the font style and graphics, at other Evangelical church home pages. One of these was the New Apostolic Church USA.
  2. In those cases where God’s Word was used as the Gospel message, it was credited in both cases.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Heralding the Gospel: The Evangelical Function of the Church Steeple

NOTE: The following article was originally published in May 2010 on the blog, The Finkelsteinery. It is reproduced here by permission, with only minor revision.

The Steeple and the Cross

The church steeple is that part of the Romanesque and Gothic church architectures which include the tower – often housing bells for announcing
Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg
Strasbourg, France
Strasbourg Cathedral
Located at the center of European commerce, from 1647-1874 the Strasbourg Cathedral was the tallest structure in the world (466 feet). Lutheran during the Reformation, it alternated between Roman and Lutheran control as the Alsace was exchanged by successive military conquest between France and Germany. One can see how high the steeple rose above the city-scape in the this 19th Century color image: 19th Century Strasbourg city-sccape
Liturgical Hours, the Divine Service, and various other aspects of church life to the countryside – atop of which was often mounted the spire. In congregations not suffering from the poison of iconoclasm, the spire would support a large Cross, visible from the ground and all over the countryside. Here is a technical description from one of my favorite authors, Dr. P.E. Kretzmann:
    A tower should never be omitted in building a Lutheran church. And if this is crowned with a spire, the symbolism of which has always been recognized, the effect will be all the greater. There is a certain factor of incompleteness about a mere tower, even if surmounted by slender turrets, which somehow renders it incongruous. The battlemented towers of many churches with Norman characteristics remind one more strongly of a castle or of a fortress than of a church. A graceful spire rising from a strongly-built tower is always a pleasing, and often an inspiring sight. The tower will, of course, be an integral part of the church, although it will not be built flush with the facade, but stand out one-fourth to one-half its width. "The tower, as a sign and summons, stands properly over the chief entrance, at the west..." (Mothes, quoted in Horn, 112). ...In larger churches, two towers of equal height and identical construction are erected at the two western corners. If the work is properly done, the effect is most imposing. The cost, however, is an item which is apt to discourage many congregations, for towers and spires are very expensive. The entire tower must be buttressed very firmly, since in most cases it is intended to include the belfry and must bear the weight of the bells as well as that of the spire. The careful anchoring of the spire in the walls of the tower is an essential point, since the stress to which it is exposed, even in a mild wind, is one whose force is generally underestimated. The belfry of the tower, if it is to serve the purpose well, should be situated above the roof, in order that the sound of the pealing bell or bells may travel without hindrance in every direction. It is hardly necessary to add that the architecture of the tower must harmonize perfectly with that of the rest of the building. It will usually be a strong test of the architect's ability to plan the tower in such a way as to give it the appearance of an integral part of the church and also preserve its solidity and beauty.

The Cross of Christ and the Harvest of Souls

Who is it that Christ has sent us to harvest? Answer: those whom the Holy Spirit has prepared for harvest.
    Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour; other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours (Jn. 4:35b-38).
Those who have laboured before us, making public use of God’s Word to communicate the Gospel’s message to “gather fruit unto life eternal,” have employed the Means through which the Holy Spirit has also begun the work of drawing the unregenerate unto Himself and into fellowship with other Christians in the Body of Christ – that is, in the Church.
Spring Creek Lutheran Church
Clarkfield, MN
Spring Creek Lutheran Church, Clarkfield, MN
This old Norwegian Lutheran church, like many others on the Minnesota prarie, stood tall against the barren landscape for over a century, announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire countryside. Symbolic of the times we live in, the building was demolished a few years ago.
“He that reapeth” is merely “entering into the labours” of many Christians who have gone before, some whose use of Law & Gospel has served to plant, others whose use of Scripture has served to tend budding faith, until the soul has been fully prepared by the Holy Spirit for harvest. This does not mean that, in the evangelical task, some go planting, some go tending, and some go harvesting. No one knows, after all, where any given person is at in the Holy Spirit's calling and gathering process. Rather, all go harvesting, as these are the tools with which God has equipped us, but such use of the Means of Grace serves to plant and tend as well.

The Cross is the single perfect heraldic icon for the purpose of evangelism, for in the Cross is simultaneously the message of the Law – symbolizing the punishment of death and separation from God that we deserve on account of our sin – and the message of the Gospel – symbolizing Christ’s innocent suffering and death on our behalf and on behalf of all sinners. Mounted high atop the steeple spire for every eye to see and for every soul to consider – upon the highest point in the local landscape – the Cross is seen to cover all. Such a location is the perfect place from which to herald the cross of Christ. Just as the life and work of Jesus Christ was done on behalf of all, the Cross and its full meaning is for all. The repentant sinner, including the soul ready for harvest, is drawn to the Cross and entrance to the Church of Christ. Those who come to the cross, have been compelled to do so, drawn to it by the work of the Holy Spirit who has worked in them by Means of the Message of Good News. They are His work, through the simple message of Law & Gospel.

Over the years, the steeple and Cross has fallen out of favour, ridiculed for being passe, and it seems to me that the decline of Christianity in America has accompanied these opinions. Perhaps truly evangelical churches should once again consider returning the Cross of Christ to a place of prominence in America’s landscape? Using the building as a herald of the Gospel is good evangelical stewardship.

“Programs” in Place of the Cross: Harvesting Green Tomatoes?

Yet, these days, many people fret that the simple heraldic preaching of the Cross fails to produce a harvest of souls, fails to adequately “build the Church,” in their opinion. Assuming faithful and rightly divided preaching of the pure Word, why would this be the case?
Hohe Domkirche St. Petrus
Cologne, Germany
Cologne Cathedral
The dual spires of the Cathedral in Cologne rise to 515 feet.
The answer has already been provided above, but is worth repeating: the souls to whom the message is preached in these cases are simply not ready for harvest. We are equipped with tools of harvest, to reap that which has been prepared by the working of the Holy Spirit. But, if such preaching fails to reap, then, is this preaching in vain? Hardly! Similar to Christ, in the words of John 3, above, Paul explains in his first letter to the Corinthians:
    Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon (1 Co. 3:5-10).
At first glance, it may seem that St. Paul is using essentially the same analogy as Jesus, who was talking about the harvest of souls into the Church. But this is not so. Rather than the harvest of souls, rather than the Holy Spirit's work through the Means of Grace to bring the unregenerate into new life in Christ, St. Paul is here, speaking of the Church and her ministers. He does so using two figures: one, a field, and the other, a building. When St. Paul speaks of planting in this reference, he is referring to planting the Church at Corinth; such planting can be considered roughly equivalent to both sowing and reaping in the analogy used by Jesus in John 3, above. When St. Paul speaks of watering, it is referring to keeping the fruit after the harvest Christ spoke of in His analogy. One man plants, another waters, and God uses this labour to grant the increase. Jesus indicates likewise: one man sows, another reaps. The one who realizes numeric increase has no basis for pointing to something he has done – he has entered into the labour of many labourers who have preceded him, and together they rejoice in God’s work of increasing his Church, Who uses such labour merely as an instrument of the Means of Grace, through which God works to give, and keep, increase. The tools for planting and watering in the example of Paul are the same as they are for sowing and reaping in the analogy used by Jesus: faithful and rightly divided preaching of the pure Word. Indeed, recognition is deserved NOT for “success,” but for the “labour:” every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour

In this reference, however, it is interesting to note that St. Paul transitions from the picture of the minister as gardener, to the minister as builder.
Église Saint-Paul de Strasbourg
Strasbourg, France
Church of St. Paul, Strasbourg, France
Originally Lutheran, the Church of St. Paul, was built as a Prussian military church during their last occupation of France. It was finished in 1897. The dual spires rise to 249 feet, and can be seen for quite some distance in the city Strasbourg.
Emphasizing in the first picture that those who come to faith and stay in faith are God’s work not man’s, he shifts in the second picture to give dire warning: how the minister participates in the work of God is no trivial matter. Paul continues:
    For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is in Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. (1 Co. 3:11-13)
When Christians get impatient with the Holy Spirit, lose trust in the Means of Grace, and begin to doubt the efficacy of the Word, they resort to laying a foundation other than that which is laid in the simple preaching of the Cross, other than the foundation laid in Jesus Christ. In their impatience for the Lord to prepare His harvest, and “grant them their wages,” they exclaim:
    – Merely preaching the pure Word does not work!
    – Merely telling the message of Law & Gospel to our neighbors does not work!
    – Articulating and holding dogmatically to true Scripture teaching does not work!
    – Maintaining an orderly, reverent, christocentric liturgy which shows forth the Marks of the Church and elevates the Means of Grace, doesn’t work!
    – We must do something different!
    – We must do something more!
    – We must do something more exciting!
    – We must do something more meaningful!
    – We must do something more real, more relevant, and more relational!
And so these impetuous Christians busy themselves with laying a foundation other than Jesus Christ, as He is found in the faithful preaching of the pure Word in Law and Gospel. They really have no choice: those not prepared by the Holy Spirit for harvest will not be harvested by these reaper’s tools. To harvest souls not yet prepared for harvest, the reaper must use tools not given him by God for this purpose. He must use his own tools. He must lay a foundation other than Jesus Christ, alone. He must rely, not on the “foolishness of God,” but on the “wisdom of Man.” In doing so, he pick’s fruit otherwise not intended for harvest. He’s intent upon plucking Green Tomatoes. These unripened fruit don’t care about the preaching of the Cross or pure doctrine, nor would they respond to it; they respond to programs for the family and children. They are not drawn as a matter of conscience, by the Holy Spirit’s working, to the Church of Christ; they are drawn by titullating Sunday morning entertainment. The foundation laid by such approaches makes use of man’s tools: popular and common devices used by commercial enterprise to stimulate consumer patronage. But the structure built on this foundation does not look like the Church.1

The Place of the Cross in Western Society

In a recent lecture I attended, the Rev. Dr. Frederic Baue (LCMS) commented rather poignantly (and I summarize from memory):
    The monuments erected by man are an indication of his culture’s priorities.
Lecturing from aspects of his book2, The Spiritual Society: What Lurks Beyond Postmodernism?, he was drawing from the recently “rediscovered” writings of Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin and highlighting the nature of cultural transition as they oscillate from Ideational to Sensate to Ideational modalities.
St. John Lutheran Church
Popple Creek, WI
St. John Lutheran Church, Popple Creek, WI
St. John Lutheran Church (WELS), Popple Creek, WI. Still heralding the Cross of Christ.
According to Sorokin, transitional periods between these modalities are marked by cultural upheaval of various sorts. For example, the First Advent of Christ occurred deep in the sensate Roman Era. As happens in Sensate cultures, over time, they become more sensate as they progress toward their demise, making way for Ideational change. With the fall of Rome, the Roman Era gave way to the Mediaeval Era – the most previous era of Ideational modality, an era dominated by Christian thought. Following this, the Renaissance – a “rebirth” of ancient cultural priorities – was a transitional period back to an era of Sensate modality, an era known as the Modern Era.3

The Rise and Fall of Modernism
Christian influence from the previous era dominating this transition and leaving the distinct mark of Christian thought upon the foundations of Modernism, the Visible church largely oversaw and was an influential participant and contributor to this cultural change; and in nearly every quarter her theology followed suit – with one peculiar exception: the Lutheran Reformation in Germany. While the Roman Church was the primary sponsor of the Renaissance transition, and the forward looking Swiss Reformation under Zwingli, Calvin, Beza and others was responsible for developing distinctly Modern theological systems, the Lutheran Church looked back4. The Lutheran Church preserved the teaching of the apostles, which teaching preceded and prepared for the rise of the Mediaeval Era. Resting in conscience, standing on Confession, embracing the mysteries of the Sacraments, the hypostatic union of natures in Christ, and the Holy Spirit’s work through the Means of Grace, the Lutheran Church, in her theology, remained distinctly Mediaeval, distinctly “Ideational,” and preserved this character over following generations, though in ever diminishing influence as the withering onslaught of heterodoxy and pragmatic political machinations worked against her. By the time of the Prussian Union and Evangelical mergers of the early 19th Century, true confessional Lutheranism, and the mediaeval theological perspectives she preserved, had nearly been extinguished.

The late 19th Century, however marked the beginning of a transition to a New Ideational Era – and the beginning of the end of Modernism. We see this in the dramatic changes that occurred in the arts, and in political ideology beginning at about this time.
St. John Lutheran Church
Hermansfort, WI
St. John Lutheran Church, Hermansfort, WI
The Golden Steeple of St. John Lutheran Church (LCMS), Hermansfort, WI. Drawing all eyes to the Cross of Christ.
We see this in the political and social upheaval that resulted and intensified into the 20th Century, and in the increasing diffusion of academic focus through this time. The Holocost, while horrifying solely for the sake of the peoples involved, was particularly galvanizing for a larger reason, also: it permanently extinguished any optimism for Modernism, and marked the end of the Modern Era.

We see the result of this upheaval in greater Christianity today. As Christian perspectives based on Modernistic, “sensate-oriented” cultural modalities slink into irrelevancy, we witness among them the marks of flailing confusion. Modern Evangelicalism is one example. The pragmatic clarion call of the pop-church Evangelical, “We must be Real, Relevant, and Relational,” is incoherent nonsense when placed next to the clear teachings of Scripture, and is itself a recipe for failure. And fail it has. Barna Research – a Christian research firm formerly dedicated to the theories of the Church Growth Movement (CGM), whose mission it was to provide Evangelicals with marketing data and analysis to assist congregations in their implementation of CGM – declared in 2005, after a string of very shrill warnings regarding the demise of the American Church over previous years, that the theories of the Church Growth Movement are a statistical failure. Having invested over $500 billion dollars implementing the methods of CGM over the course of 30 years, no evidence of growth was discernible in American Christianity. None. Denominational shift is all that can be observed or attributed to these methods. In an effort to understand and pragmatically react to cultural change, Modernistic Christians, still stuck in the previous cultural era, reveal that they are oblivious to the real and monumental changes that have occurred in the past century, and are continuing to occur right now.

Confessional Lutheranism, Liturgical Expression, and the Rise of the New Cultural Era
We see the beginning of the end of Modernism in the late 19th Century in two other respects. One is the collection and emergence of organized efforts among Christian remnants of the previous Ideational Era – that is, the return of a forceful and learned articulation of confessional Lutheranism. The Confessional and Liturgical movements we observe today, which, more and more, we Christians are attaching ourselves to, didn’t just begin a few years ago.
St. Nikolai Kirche
Hamburg, Germany
Church of St. Nikolas, Hamburg, Germany
A 19th Century church of Gothic Revival5 architecture, The Church of St. Nikolas in Hamburg, Germany was destroyed in the bombings of WWII. Yet, the steeple remains as a monument, elevating the Cross of Christ 483 feet above the landscape.
They are an extension of what was renewed by the Henkel’s (Tennessee Synod), Walther’s (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod), Preuses (Norwegian Synod), Krauth’s (General Council), Bading’s and Hoenecke’s (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) and the Pieper’s (WELS & LCMS) of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. In point of fact, “relevant” Christianity in our new Ideational cultural era will be informed by and take its direction from the perspectives of the previous such era, of Mediaeval Christianity, while Modernist systems, outside of the most resilient and tenacious of the Reformed confessions, will mostly just go away6. Adopting and incorporating increasingly irrelevant Modernist perspectives into Lutheran teaching and practice is, more than it ever was before, theological suicide.

Cultural Change marked in the Monuments of Man
A second respect in which we can see the beginning of the end of Modernism, is revealed in the increasingly “sensate” nature of the most prominent monuments of Modernism. From the late Mediaeval Era forward until the beginning of the close of the Modern Era, the largest, tallest and most impressive structures built by man were monuments to God: Christian Churches, with steeples reaching as high as 525 ft, atop of which were mounted the Cross of Christ, as a herald of Law & Gospel to the entire countryside, and an announcement that the Word of Peace and Reconciliation with God could be received, along with all of its eternal benefits, in His Church.

But what happened in the late 19th Century? The most impressive of man’s monuments, far from being reserved for the special honor of God, were instead directed to man himself, boasting of his achievements, and proclaiming that his priorities were no longer his faith in God and his acknowledgment of gratitude toward God, but of accumulating wealth and honor for himself.
St. John Lutheran Church
Emerald, WI
St. John Lutheran Church, Emerald, WI
Located along a well traveled highway, the building of St. John Lutheran Church (LCMS), Emerald, WI, though sparsely attended on Sundays, continues to remind sinners of their need for forgiveness, and to point them to Christ.
From A.D. 1311 to 1884, the tallest, most adorned, and most impressive structures in the Western world were churches. In 1884, the Washington Monument became the tallest structure, and then in 1889 the Eiffel Tower was built to kick-off the World’s Fair in Paris, completely dwarfing all other structures in the Western world. From 1930 onward, the worlds tallest and most impressive structures have been office buildings – monuments of man to the priority of commercial enterprise and the accumulation of wealth and power7. Accompanying the dramatic decline of Modernism in the 20th Century, we see that man’s priorities became dramatically more “sensate.”

Today, throwback modernistic Christians consider the church steeple to be passe, impractical, and more expense than it is worth – and then boast of their stewardship. Yet these same Christians will line up to throw away $500 billion dollars over thirty years on worthless entertainments and other human inventions, to build anthropocentric organizations on a foundation of hedonism. They call it “church” but what is it really? Emptied of Scripture teaching, shunting aside the Marks of the Church, rejecting the straightforward preaching of Law & Gospel and reliance on the Means of Grace, removing Christ from His central position and replacing him with the priorities of man, these organizations look and sound nothing like “the Church.” Their work is being tried, and revealed for what sort it is: after a generation of trying to pluck “Green Tomatoes” using tools contrived by man, and succeeding mostly in just robbing “harvest fruit” from other church bodies, while little by little depriving it of preservative preaching of Law & Gospel, Christians find they have indigestion. Thus, these church-like organizations are now in dramatic decline – precipitous decline – as spoiled fruit oozes out from the organizational structures they have built.

And yet the old stone church buildings remain. Even though some are emptied of people, and others are emptied of sound teaching, these monuments to God continue to herald the Cross of Christ, to focus the eyes of all on Him and His Gospel message, and to draw people to Christ and His Church. The people may be mute, but the stones still conspicuously cry out, publicly assigning worth to God.

St. John Lutheran Church
Milwaukee, WI
St. John Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI
An historical landmark listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, Evangelische Luth. St. Johanneskirche in Milwaukee, WI, was a congregation formed in 1848 and led by Rev. Johannes Bading – the second President of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and the leader responsbile for bringing WELS out of doctrinally ambivilant pietistic ecumenism, into a strong Confessional stance. Symbolic of the times we live in, St. John's now lies dormant, as intrigue and corruption seem to have conspired to dispossess the congregation of its building. Nevertheless, the building itself continues to witness to the city of Milwaukee, lifting the cross of Christ for all to see at almost 200 feet.

Built on the Rock the Church doth stand,
Even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in every land,
Bells still are chiming and calling
Calling the old and young to rest,
But above all the soul distressed
Longing for rest everlasting.

Grant then, O God, wher’er men roam,
That, when the church bells are ringing
Many in Jesus’ faith may come
Where He His message is bringing
“I know mine own, mine own know me,
Ye, not the world, my face shall see:
My peace I leave with you, Amen”

Built on the Rock, v1&7
TLH 467, ELH 211, CW 529, LSB 645


  1. Indeed, see the following Intrepid Lutheran posts for vivid examples of this: The Catechesis of the Lutheran Worshiper: An antidote to the “itching ears” and “happy feat” of CGM enthusiasts? and Real? Relational?? Relevant??? O THE HORROR OF IT ALL!!!
  2. This book is necessary reading for any Christian who would be a student of culture.
  3. This is, of course, Sociological theory, which, in the end, probably holds about as much water as Psychological theories. There are so many different theories because of the difficulty in testing hypothesis, each theory is found wanting by observation. Nevertheless, the recent “rediscovery” of Sorokin’s writings has generated much interest in his ideas, and given a boost to Social Dynamic theories, which for the most part have been based on demographic rather than cultural/ideological criteria. He is considered a “giant” of 20th Century sociological research.
  4. See the following Intrepid Lutheran posts and resources, for more details on the Differences between Reformed and Lutheran theological systems, and how the past functions as a very real and necessary foundation of Lutheranism
  5. All of the structures featured on this page were constructed either in the late Mediaeval Era, or are structures built in the late 19th Century during the later Gothic Revival, coinciding with “Ideational” influences as they are thought to have been showing their influence.
  6. Once again, indeed. As one example, New Life Church, a Colorado megachurch formerly led by Ted Haggard, recently began their return to historical, Christocentric practice. Read New Life After the Fall of Ted Haggard in Christianity Today, and A New Era in American Evangelicalism? by Martin Noland on Steadfast Lutherans.
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World's_tallest_structures#History_of_record_holders_in_each_CTBUH_category

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Health of the Church has more than just religious significance

State of the ChurchIn 1945, Easter fell on April 1. Walking backwards through the Lenten calendar – Holy Week, Judica, Week, Laetare Week, Oculi Week, Reminiscere Week, and Invocavit Week – we see that Ash Wednesday of 1945 fell on February 14 – Valentine's Day.

At the end of World War II, in a series of raids on an essentially undefended city, targeting primarily civilians and cultural artifacts, British and American bombers dropped over 3,900 tonnes of explosives on Dresden, Germany, including many thousand incendiary and phosphorous bombs, with such precision and timing as to create swirling drafts of superheated air that would engulf the city in a literal firestorm, leaving it in a heap of ashes. The double symbolism of February 14, 1945, being both Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday is significant, and it is probably more than just a coincidence that the days surrounding this date were chosen for this attack.

American and British government figures, continuing to defend the Dresden firebombing and to minimize the casualties, place the number of dead at around 25,000 to 35,000. Critics of the raid, however, including survivors of the Dresden bombing, have maintained a number nearly ten times higher. The 1945 firebombing of Dresden remains controversial to this day. The following video tells the story from the perspective of those sympathetic to the cause of the civilian victims:

The Dresdner Altmarkt, the central city square of Dresden and focal point of cultural life, was also the center of the Allied attack. After the the War, being under Soviet occupation, most of the Altmarkt continued to lay in various states of disrepair, the most iconic pile of rubble being that of the Frauenkirche, which lay in a heap for half a century until after the fall of the Berlin Wall (pictured at the top-left of this page). Under funding from a private effort which collected donations from all over the world, rebuilding of the Frauenkirche finally began in 1993. We briefly blogged about the Frauenkirche in April of 2011.

Dresdner Requiem
I thought about this last night as I was listening to Rudolph Mauersberger's Dresdner Requiem. We haven't blogged about Mauersberger on Intrepid Lutherans before, though many recordings under his direction have been recommended on our pages. In 1930, the Kreutzkirche1, which is located just a few blocks from the Altmarkt, appointed Rudolf Mauersberger as “Kreutzkantor” of the Dresdner Kreutzchor – a boys choir initially “founded as a Latin school at the 'capella sanctae crucis'”2 over 700 years ago, which continues “the medieval tradition of liturgical singing by a boy's choir”3 even to this day, specializing in choral works of the sacred genre (and especially, it seems, of Lutheran composers).

Rudolph Mauersberger was in Dresden during the 1945 Ash Wednesday firebombing. “The destruction... gave rise to a strong creative impulse,”4 within him. Not really known as a composer, most of his creations follow from the destruction of Dresden, beginning with the piece he is probably most well-known for as a composer, Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst (the first piece of the four-part choral cycle, Dresden), which was performed with the surviving members of the Kreutzchor in the ruins of the Kreutzkirche that following August. His Dresdner Requiem was composed a couple years later, and revised through 1961.
    Apart from the Latin introit, Requiem aeternum, the entire work consists of German texts taken from passages of the Old and New Testaments in Luther's translation, and from versus in the German Evangelical Hymn Book... The work is divided into the following sections:

      Transitoriness/Death/Dies irae and Comfort through the Gospel
      Agnus Dei

    In its liturgical character it is, in the words of Mauersberger, an “Evangelical Mass for the dead, such as the Protestant Church does not yet possess.5
Mauersberger's statement remains true. His compositions remain largely ignored and unknown. Yet, in my opinion, they make the distinct sound of the Church. They are a prime example of fine “Contemporary Worship.” Edifying artistic creations, in form and composition they properly display a prima facie catholicity, and call for wholesome and reverent execution. They are proper vessels for carrying the weighty and eternal truths of Holy Scripture. Here is an excerpt from Mauersberger's Dresden Requiem – the Agnus Dei:

Becoming One's Enemy
But as I listened to Mauersberger's Dresdner Requiem last night, I thought about more than just the firebombing of Dresden, the loss of innocent life and important cultural artifacts, and the music that such circumstances inspired. The Ash Wednesday firebombing of Dresden became a living representation of what happens when important distinctions between one and his enemy disappear – when he, by all appearances, becomes his enemy. By all accounts, the people of Dresden put their faith in the good-nature of America and Great Britain, “Christian nations” with a shared Western heritage that valued the cultural significance of Dresden, a relatively unimportant military target that by that late stage of World War II, no longer had any significant defense system. The Germans wouldn't trust Russia, of course, and the rest of the world wouldn't trust Germany, but America and Great Britain were recognized by the Germans as different from them – as distinct, separate from them. By all accounts, under the rules of the Geneva Convention, which both America and Great Britain were known to fastidiously observe and hold in high esteem, Dresden was a very unlikely target. Yet, by all accounts, Winston Churchill and military leaders working with him, betrayed what those characteristics called for. By all accounts, he repeatedly sought advice on how he could “roast and baste German civilians,” and operational orders for the Dresden raids laid out a plan that carefully explained how they would deliberately inflict maximum civilian casualties. In this way, in taking on the methods of his enemy, Churchill, became indistinguishable from his enemy, dragging the reputations of America and Great Britain into shame along with him. Adolph Hitler was known to be active implementing his “Final Solution”, a wanton extermination of Jewish people – a “megalomaniacal anti-semite.” Churchill, showing himself in this incident to be a “megalomaniacal germano-phobe,” made himself indistinguishable from his hated enemy. And with him, Great Britain and America.

So who is the enemy of the Christian? Of the Church on Earth? I have been taught that the Christian's Great Enemies are three: the Sinful Flesh, the Devil, and the World. The Christian, along with the Church, is called to separate himself and remain distinct from all three. But what happens when a Christian unites himself with Worldliness? What happens when the Church “becomes the culture?” We, at Intrepid Lutherans, addressed this question over three years ago, in a blog post entitled, Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (When the Church "Becomes the Culture"), from which the following lengthy quotes are excerpted:
    It was stated above, that the Church “has struggled mightily and in various ways against the withering onslaught of man's great enemy – the World – yet has been forced into retreat.” Following this, a litany of false teaching, in which some truth and great struggle is evident, was produced to show how the Church has conducted its struggle: from within the context of having “become the culture.” In point of fact, the recent history of the Christian Church is littered with the theological ruins of Christian movements which have, in a flailing desperation for the “survival of the church,” become the culture, either not realizing, forgetting or rejecting the fact that the World is one of the Christian's Great Enemies. In the modern West, doing so has meant adopting one of two perspectives: that of rationalistic Empiricism or of mystical Existentialism. In reality, neither perspective is acceptable; both place mankind at the center of truth, and argue their way to God and for man's relationship with Him from (a) the intellectual (objective), or (b) experiential (subjective) attributes of man's existence – the historical record of God's Special Revelation of Himself to mankind no longer being relevant for this purpose, by the World's standards.

    In response, one option has been the route taken by American Christian Fundamentalism. Recognizing that the church was “becoming the culture” by absorbing or importing its false ideas and anthropocentric priorities, and concerned that the Bible's teaching would be lost as a result, Fundamentalism began developing among Presbyterian theologians at Princeton in the late 19th Century; and into the early 20th Century its influence spread to include Baptists and other Christians. In an attempt to articulate and draw attention to the doctrines of Christianity which were under attack by liberal theology, and to secure continued adherence to Biblical teaching among Christians, a public confession to the “fundamentals of the faith” was secured by those desiring to stand on these teachings and be identified with the fundamentalist movement. Those fundamentals were:

    1. Biblical Inerrancy,
    2. the Virgin Birth
    3. the Vicarious Atonement and bodily Resurrection of Christ, and
    4. the authenticity of the miracles recorded in Scripture.

    Because of the stark contrast between these “fundamentals” and the liberal consensus in greater Christianity, Christian Fundamentalists in America also began to take on a “separatist” platform over time, which called for not only theological, but, increasingly, social separation from those outside the fundamentalist movement, including separation from non-Christians in society...

    As a result of sequestering themselves from society in this way, Fundamentalists almost entirely lost their influence among liberal theologians – their separatism being cause for suspicion among liberals on the one hand, while causing a growing ignorance among Fundamentalists regarding relevant categories of thought and modes of expression on the other. Yet, their Christian piety was still a highly potent witness in society. Nevertheless, by the late 1930's, discontent with separatism had grown sufficiently among Fundamentalists that a counter-movement began to develop from within it: Evangelicalism. This movement initially stressed a healthy involvement in the World – in the context of evangelism and ecumenical dialog. By the close of the 1950's, however, it was clear that Evangelicals had begun to absorb Worldly perspectives from the liberal Christians they had, in evangelical zeal, endeavored to associate with, Dan Fuller and other leading elements of the Evangelical Movement at Fuller Theological Seminary having introduced neo-orthodox controversies over the inerrancy of the Scriptures (the institution eventually rejected inerrancy in the early 1970’s), while that institution had begun to develop philosophies and techniques for evangelism that were engineered to bring about mass conversion – which was the basis of today's “Church Growth Movement” (see our blog post dedicated to this topic, as well, The Church Growth Movement: A brief synopsis of its history and influences in American Christianity. See also various articles on Intrepid Lutherans dedicated to the topic of The Church Growth Movement). Once again, the Church in America set itself on the road of “becoming the Culture,” eventually insisting that, for the survival of Christianity, the church must become the culture.

    That the Church must “become the culture” is a lie. That it has increasingly “become the culture” is the manifest reason Western Christianity has slowly disintegrated over the past three centuries. Taking on the culture of the World has produced a vacillating imbalance between emphasis on intellect and emotion in the Church, between reason and experience, objectivity and subjectivity – and not just an imbalance, but a thrashing between these emphases that has drawn the attention of the Church away from the saving events and message of the Gospel, away from the centrality of Christ, and instead upon man and the dual fundamental characteristics of his existence. No, Christianity must not “become the culture” any more than it should it cut itself off from society. No, the Church must not abdicate in the face of its great enemy, the World, either by joining it or by running from it. Rather, as an historical institution, with an historical and saving message, it must stand and face the World on the basis of its confession, it must earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3), by (a) holding on to the specific and historic truths of Scripture in its doctrine, and (b) defending and proclaiming this truth in its practice.
It has been said that a good summary of Christianity and its influence in Western Civilization can be stated simply:
    “In the 18th Century, the Bible died, in the 19th Century, God died; and in the 20th Century, man died.”
This is really just the recent history of secular Natural Law, from the Enlightenment to our current, post-Modern era. We detailed this progress a little more fully on Intrepid Lutherans, as well, in a blog post entitled, Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 2, The Teaching of the Law, as follows:
    Though acknowledging natural law, Enlightenment philosophers and scientists did so primarily as an enemy of the Church, in an attempt to sweep away any need for, or recognition of, Special Revelation and the divine law it contains. Enlightenment “Natural Theology” represented the notion that all there is to be known of God can be determined from a study of nature. A recognition of God and His law in the created order, while rejecting specific knowledge of Him or of His will from Special Revelation, is the foundation of modernistic deism. Following from this foundation, very sophisticated and intellectually honest attempts to systematize nature produced clear evidence of design and of a nameless “Intelligent Designer” that was admitted with little question.

    Yet, the discoveries of science did not yield a tranquility and peaceful harmony as, perhaps, some may have thought that neutering revealed religion, by depriving it of Special Revelation and of a voice in society on that basis, would achieve. Instead, the same observations of the primitives manifested themselves: natural systems are inherently corrupt, they deteriorate and decay; cells, like animals, attack and devour one another; there is struggle, exploitation, and miserable death at every level of nature; over time, entropy is the dominant reality of the universe. Escaping the moral consequences of such observations, it seems, by the end of the 19th Century, even the deity was eliminated from natural law (some of the final blows being struck by the philosophical contributions of Immanuel Kant), making “natural law” entirely anthropocentric.
The philosophy of Materialistic Rationalism, with which Western man was equipped as he entered the 20th Century, was a very optimistic philosophy – the pinnacle of Modernistic thought. Declaring the future equivalent to progress, and limiting reality to the scientifically observable, it confidently identified man's capacity for scientific achievement as the source of that progress, and with this as foundation for the ordering of society, held high-expectations for cultural advancement. Yet, the 20th Century is on record as the bloodiest in history. Indeed, it took less than two decades for serious doubt to develop, as the destruction and human suffering of World War I simply galvanized the sensibilities of modern Westerners. Man was indeed powerful, yet demonstrated that he was not powerful enough to restrain his own inbred evil. The horrors of World War II sealed the fate of Modernism, and the West has increasingly advanced beyond it, into post-Modernism – an essentially experiential philosophy questioning the adequacy of formal language as a vessel sufficient to carry the message of Truth, which is thus utterly dismissive of objective truth-claims and ambivalent toward the future.

The caption under the image at the head of this post reads, “The state of the Church on Earth, today.” And in my opinion, this is an accurate picture. It is nearly everywhere in utter ruin. Though the message of the Gospel continues to stand on its own, it by definition stands as a remedy for man's sinfulness and the certainty of his eternal separation from God apart from the promises offered through it. Post-Modernism rejects certainty. It is ambivalent toward the future. And most of the Church has united itself with the thought patterns and priorities of post-Modernism. Neither certainty nor the future can be experienced in the present. The only message that can be known with any certainty by a post-Modernist is one that can be verified by experience. And the one experience with any genuine religious significance that seems to endure is fundamental to the message of the Law, a message which is increasingly rare in Lutheran circles and misused nearly everywhere else: a realization that the world is full of evil, that people act selfishly and often with evil intentions toward others – they are not “basically good,” they are “basically bad,” and the smart person today acts in ways that will preserve himself from the thoughtlessness of others, and will place him in a position of advantage should he need to defend himself. This is a world set against itself, individual by individual. It is a world absent the wholesome cultural impact of Christian teaching, which, for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, impels the Christian to daily put down the old man, to restrain the evil that inheres and to put the welfare of others before his own, and which, by Christian example, inspires others to do the same. If the image of Luther, still pointing to the Word, but standing alone in a pile of rubble that used to be one of the most awe inspiring churches on the planet, is representative of the state of the Church today, then the ashen landscape of Dresden is a suitable representation of the World without the influence of a healthy, robust Christianity. The evidence is all around us.

State of Society, apart from the Church

  1. It is worth noting that the Kreutzkirche has not been an insignificant church in Saxony. Through the end of the Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, the rise and fall of Lutheran Pietism, to the birth of the Enlightenment in Germany, the Kreutzkirche served as the seat of the Saxon Bishop, which (as we read in our post, Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Part 3: Johann Sebastian Bach), was held by the “last of the Lutheran theologians from the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy, and vigorous opponent of Pietism, Valentin Ernst Löscher (1673 – 1749).” Among many other things, from his post at the Kreutzkirche, he oversaw the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche as one of the wonders of church architecture for which it is recognized today. “A large Gothic structure since the Middle Ages” (as we read in our post, Music for Holy Week, Part 2 – excerpts from Markus Passion), by 1722 the Frauenkirche “had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it needed to be demolished and rebuilt. The rebuilding began in 1726...” Even as society was sinking into Enlightenment thinking, and the church was dying all around him, Löscher, a champion of Lutheran orthodoxy to the last, spared no expense overseeing the construction of a Masterpiece of Christian Architecture, that has remained a symbol of the Gospel beloved by all who see it.
  2. Direct quote taken from the liner notes of the following album: Dresdner Requiem, by Rudolph Mauersberger
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.

Monday, February 3, 2014

‘Church Growth’ Inroads in the WELS: An Analysis of the Website Home Pages of Ninety WELS Congregations – Part 2

Two weeks ago, we published Part 1 of this analysis as “A First Look”. At that time, we indicated that additional installments would be forthcoming, and, as promised, here is Part 2, “A Deeper Look, ” with additional analysis yet to come.

The Home Page of a Website is Like the Cover of a Book

The sub-title above references an analogy made by one commenter who responded to the “first look” of the WELS website analysis project. It was a good analogy and it rings true. Walk through the aisles of your local book store and look at the book covers. What’s the purpose of the book cover? A book cover communicates information about the book. A well-designed book cover captures, in a simple yet powerful way, much of what the book is about. A book cover communicates the book’s identity.

And so it is with the home page of a website. A home page, intentionally or otherwise, communicates the identity of the church itself, and of the larger church body to which it belongs. It does this, not with voluminous content or detailed theology, but with a simple display of a limited amount of information.

The WELS is a self-proclaimed Confessional Lutheran church body. Does a church within said church body convey a Confessional Lutheran sense of identity on the home page of it’s website? If not, is another identity being substituted for a Confessional Lutheran identity?

The criteria chosen for this analysis were deliberately selected to reflect the Confessional Lutheran identity. Some critics found fault with the criteria, but no alternatives were offered by them. Other criteria were considered, but the ones chosen were considered major criteria, and in many ways, incorporated the lesser criteria. The team of lay people used these criteria to look for evidence of a Confessional Lutheran identity on the home pages of WELS church websites. The analysis was nothing more than finding out whether WELS churches are communicating on the home page of their website what they claim to be. The search for evidence was carefully broken down and organized into six components so that the existence or absence of evidence could be clearly determined and communicated.

Scoring the criteria was not precise, but any standard of measure is always limited by the uncertainty of the measurement. Numerical measurements tend to be most precise, but even those are limited by the accuracy of the gauge. And sometimes, an “illusion of precision” implies that a measurement is more precise than what it really is. The strongest reactions to the “first look” post were related to the scoring, and specifically the existence of “red”, and in some cases, heavy concentrations of “red”. This report will take a closer look at the prevalence of “red” and the significance of the criteria for which the red exists.

Overall, combining the observations of all six criteria for the ninety church home pages, the distribution of scoring looks like this:

WELS Congregational Website Analysis Breakdown of Results - 1

For all observations of the analysis, 50% of the scoring was red, 30% was yellow and 20% was green. Focusing on the positive observations, there was clear evidence (the green) of Confessional Lutheran identity, as defined by the six criteria, in 20% of the observations. The results are reported to the nearest 10%, to avoid the illusion of precision.

There were some comments to the first post questioning the validity of expecting certain criteria to exist on the home page of a church website. The criteria mentioned most were the name “Lutheran”, the Lutheran Confessions and mention of the liturgy. The next chart removes the observations associated with these three criteria. What remains are observations associated with the Gospel, and the Means of Grace - the Word and the Sacraments.

WELS Congregational Website Analysis Breakdown of Results - 2

The results don’t change very much. The percentage of reds actually increases a modest amount, at the expense of yellows. The green percentage is unchanged at 20%.

Limiting the analysis even further, to a single criteria, the Gospel, results in the following:

WELS Congregational Website Analysis Breakdown of Results - 3

Again, the results don’t change much. In this case, red is back down, yellow is up, and green again remains unchanged at 20%.

Limiting the number of criteria from the analysis does not significantly change the results. Clear evidence (the green) of Confessional Lutheranism does not exist on the home pages of these ninety WELS congregations in the majority of cases. An absence of evidence (the red) of Confessional Lutheranism on the home pages of these ninety congregations was observed in roughly half the cases (a range of 40-60% for the three variations of the criteria displayed).

Sequentially removing these criteria is meaningful beyond demonstrating the analysis above. In many cases, removing these standards of Confessional Lutheranism are the very arguments that advocates of Church Growth would likely make. The influence of Church Growth Methodology can and does end up diminishing, and eventually destroying the identity of Confessional Lutheranism. Many church bodies already offer an identity that is free of Confessional Lutheranism. WELS claims to identify as Confessional Lutheran. Evidence of that claim should exist on the home pages of WELS church websites. If and when it doesn’t, it leads to a follow-up question of what information is being used in place of Confessional Lutheran standards? The next report will speak to this question.


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