What I love about Lutheranism

As much as I struggle with whether or not I resonate more with Lutheran or Reformed theology, there is at least one area where I identify with Lutherans wholeheartedly and unashamedly…a clearly Christ and cross-centered approach to everything.  Reformed folks are great at pondering the invisible, hidden, sovereign majesty of God, which certainly leads us to worship, but the Lutheran focus on the suffering Christ at the cross never fails to stir my heart, especially in times of adversity, hopelessness, or despair.

One such Luther theologian is Johannes Quenstedt, who is buried in an unknown location on the grounds of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  I read a brief comment by Quenstedt recently, as he wrote on 1 John 3.16 (“This is how we know love: that Christ laid down His life for us.”)  Hear his thoroughly Christocentric understanding of God’s love and drink it in deeply, for this is pure truth.

This is the love of God; rather than banish men eternally from heaven He removed Himself from heaven, clothed Himself with flesh, became the Creature of a creature, enclosed Himself in the womb of the virgin, was wrapped in rags, laid in hay and housed in a barn. Nor does His love stop here; but after a life spent in poverty and adversities this love drives Christ to the ground on Olivet, binds Him in chains, delivers Him to jailers, cuts Him with the lash, crowns Him with thorns, fastens Him with nails to the Cross, and gives Him to drink the cup of bitterness. And finally this love compels Him to dies, to die for adversaries and enemies (Rom. 5:6). Continuously and in these sundry ways Christ, who thirsts so greatly for our salvation, declares His love and mercy toward the human race.

Praise be to our great Savior Jesus Christ and his amazing love for us!  Amen.

Thoughts on Two Services: Part 2-Unity

Just about everyone gets emotionally charged up about ‘style’ in our discussions of worship, especially when discussing the possibility of going to multiple services, each with a different style.  After almost ten years of having these discussions, I really can’t get too fired up about questions of style…I freely admit that style is a matter of preference, and so long as a congregation’s worship is biblical in its content, reverent in its approach, and excellent in its praxis, I have no patent objections to any particular style.  But I’m not surprised that people get so excited about style…

What surprises and saddens me, present context included, is that no one ever seems to seriously discuss unity and the implications a move to multiple services will have on unity.  One of Jesus’ major emphases in the days immediately preceding his crucifixion was unity among believers, especially in the Gospel of John.  Unity is a big deal to Christ, but why not for us?  Oh sure, we give some lip service to the subject, but beyond saying something clever about showing intentionality in scheduling church-wide events we pay it little attention.  All this talk of ‘intentionality’ quickly fades after the split is made, and folks typically resort to disparaging remarks questioning the absence of the ‘contemporary service folks.’ A better use of our discussion time would be how we can get sincere commitment from the younger folks that leads them to serve Christ and others instead of merely seeking a ‘worship fix’ in a hip Sunday morning service and not returning or participating in anything for another seven days.

We talk about the congregation as ‘family,’ but what family deliberately schedules its major activities so that its members are always scattered to the four winds?  It sounds silly, doesn’t it, but splitting services is essentially the same thing as intentionally splitting up a family and determining to pretend that they won’t end up dysfunctional.  We’ll put on our Evangelical veneer, pretend that “Every Day With Jesus is Sweeter than the Day Before,” and politely ignore the two separate congregations that merely cohabitate under the same roof but share little else in common.

Our Savior prayed, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (Jn 17.11 ESV).  We would do well to seriously petition our Holy Father to create unity within our congregations before haphazardly splitting our family into pieces for the sake of church growth.

Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison.
Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον.
Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.

Thoughts on Two Services: Part 1-Style

Well, I suppose it was inevitable…our church is having discussions on worship style and the feasibility of splitting into “two services, one church.” As one who has seen firsthand what this move yields, regardless of the motivation, I’m totally against it for a number of reasons. The bottom line is simply this, no matter how much talk there may be of intentional whole-church gatherings, once the church splits into two services we will not have “two services, one church” but “two churches, one roof.” If we cannot even muster enough Christian maturity to submit mutually to one another with respect to music, why in the world should anyone think that we will demonstrate the same spirit in order to fellowship together? In short, we will not. Once the split is made, the two shall never again meet together…period. (This shall be the subject of Part 2)

A bigger and more alarming concern behind these discussions is the unmentioned church-growth idea that for churches to be faithfully carrying out the ‘Great Commission’ (Mt 28.16-20) they must be large churches. In other words, God desires big churches, and small churches simply cannot be faithful ones. Bigger means more faithful, more obedient, more able to meet people’s needs, more missional, etc.  In fact, in a lot of cases (visit Brother Joel’s church here in Houston, for example), that bigger is less faithful, less biblical, less able to provide adequate pastoral care, less able to truly impact lives, etc.  I’m not sure where this diabolical mindset came from, but it stinks and doesn’t pass an ‘idiot check’ on many levels. Oh, how the leaven of ‘church growth’ has infected contemporary American Evangelicalism!

The reason given for this push, of course, is the desire to reach 20 and 30-somethings. As has been said explicitly, “Though our church has had steady growth the past several years, very little has come from this age group…We are not effectively speaking the language of those that we most need to reach. One of the languages of this group is contemporary music.” A fatal flaw in the logic of this whole proposition is apparent here. Without too much effort, one can find statistics to show that 20 and 30-somethings have had enough of the mind-numbing drivel of contemporary worship and are flocking to Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and other high church worship styles. This age group has experienced the insanity and anthro-/egocentrism of much of contemporary worship at the hands of their parents and wants to return to a much more historical Christianity that doesn’t deliberately jettison 2000 years of continuity and tradition. In most places, contemporary worship is little more than the logical me-centered conclusion of the Baby Boomer generation (has nobody really recognized this before?)…and people are starting to reject it in favor of worship with true substance. In other words, these younger people want a real traditional service, going far back beyond the typical shallow 1800’s revivalistic stuff of many ‘traditional services’ (i.e., Fanny Crosby, Gaither, etc.) to Watts, Wesley, Luther and even older hymns sung by Christians for over 1000 years. We have been starved and parched for too long in church, and people are hungry and thirsty for an encounter with God through the Word and Sacraments!

If we really want to reach the demographic we claim to want to reach, this is a move in exactly the opposite direction…but that opinion is in direct contradiction to that of the highly overpaid state ‘consultant’ who has the ear of our long-range planning folks.