Monday, March 1, 2010

" . . . but it certainly wasn't Lutheran."

Here is a clip of Rev. Matthew Harrison sharing a funny Wyneken anecdote during a presentation he made this past weekend in Columbus, Indiana (HT:  Mollie Hemingway at BJS):

A group of us from our congregation had the privilege of listening to Rev. Harrison speak a few months back at a neighboring congregation, St. John-Amelith, during which he shared this same Wyneken anecdote.  Wyneken thought he was at a Prayer Service among German Lutherans, but after witnessing the moaning and groaning of the congregation, supposedly evidencing their "being slain in the Spirit," he knew he was not at home.  So, when asked for his thoughts after the Service, he concludes, "I don't know if it was from God or the devil, but it certainly wasn't Lutheran."

Sadly, I am quite certain that Wyneken, and the rest of our Lutheran forebears, would reach the same conclusion after visiting many congregations in the LCMS today.  During the Second Great Awakening, the "Holiness Bodies," which originated in Methodism, introduced "new measures" which were meant to work the crowd into a frenzy in order that some might "feel" the Spirit and make a decision to "accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior."  They held revivals and camp meetings and employed powerful speakers and emotional songs and prayers that resulted in many people behaving in rather strange ways - barking, groaning, moaning, running, climbing walls (or trees), screaming, falling down, singing, etc. - which were said to be evidences of these people being "slain in the Spirit."  They introduced the "anxious bench," which was a seat near the preacher (or, preachers - often, multiple preachers were employed at the same time) in which those who were troubled in conscience and sought salvation would sit and be further enticed to "experience" the salvation they sought (an early form of today's popular "altar call" in many places).  In short, the "new measures" introduced at that time sought to convince people that they could "experience" God's presence immediately and that the proof of such experiences was to be found in the "evidences" of their emotional reactions/behaviors.  They worked the crowd into a frenzy, getting them to respond emotionally, and then told them that their emotional responses were proof that they were experiencing the work of the Spirit.   

Many congregations in the LCMS have adopted the theology behind the "new measures" of old.  They may not have people barking or running around during their Services, and they may not have an "anxious bench" set up, but they employ the same false theology:  They attempt to create an atmosphere for worship in which people can "experience" God's work among them.  They turn the Divine Service into a "worship experience," during which they seek to entertain people and move them emotionally through CCM songs performed by the "praise band," motivational messages delivered by the pastor (er, worship leader), skits performed by the "drama team," videos played on the big screens, testimonies by people in the crowd, and so on, all with the goal of leading people to "experience" God in a relevant and relational way.

As someone who witnessed an LCMS congregation morph into full-blown Pentecostalism back in the late 80s-early 90s, I know for a fact that the goal was to produce a "worship experience" that would move people emotionally so that they could "feel" the presence of God at work among them.  "How can we get the people to feel the Spirit today?" was the question asked by members of the "worship team."  Others were, "What songs can we employ this week to move the people?" or "How can the drama team assist in helping people to truly experience the Spirit this week?" and so on.  One woman, who was appointed by the pastor to be the chief "Prayer Warrior" of the congregation, and who did the vast majority of his pastoral visits in his place (after all, he couldn't be bothered with that stuff - he was the Administrative Pastor and his job was to "equip the saints to do the ministry" in his place), was often heard saying, "Isn't it great that we no longer have to go to a Pentecostal worship service to feel the Spirit?!"  While there were a few of us that didn't think that was great at all, most agreed with her and fell completely in love with the "new measures" being employed in that congregation.  To this day, that congregation continues to employ their "new measures."  If Wyneken was alive today and visited that congregation, I'm sure he would say, "I don't know if it was from God or the devil, but it certainly wasn't Lutheran."

The amazing thing for these eyes to witness is to see how quickly and to what extent these "new measures" have spread within our synod.  Back when my former congregation was morphing into full-blown Pentecostalism, it really was seen as cutting edge.  There were not a whole lot of LCMS congregations that had jumped on the bandwagon of these "new measures" (which, really, are a strange combination of the "new measures" of old mixed with the principles of the "Church Growth Movement").  Indeed, as members of that congregation, we were told to keep things "hush-hush" (I think I've written about this before on this blog somewhere), since we were doing things not exactly in line with the doctrine and practice believed, taught, and confessed by our Synod.  But, look at things now, just twenty or so years later.  Wow!  The "new measures" are everywhere.  They are even endorsed and promoted by our synodical leaders.  Far from having to keep hush-hush about employing these "new measures," congregations and pastors who adopt them are put before us as "perfect examples" to follow.  In fact, in the eyes of our current synodical leadership, pastors and congregations who refuse to adopt these "new measures" are seen in a derogatory light, as dead and dying, "maintenance" congregations, the idea being that if we want to avoid closing our doors, we had better get on board and accept these "new measures."  They'll even give us Ablaze!(tm) money if we'll agree to adopt these "new measures" and morph into this "new and improved" Lutherpentecostalism, which is really nothing but full-blown Pentecostalism (or, at least, Methobapticostalism).  While congregations in our synod were just beginning to dabble with these "new measures" twenty or so years ago (granted, some began to dabble long before that), today these "new measures" have become a staple within our synod.  I don't know if it is from God or the devil, but it certainly isn't Lutheran.

The only way to right the ship of our synod, if that's even possible now, is to deliberately and decisively put these "new measures" to the test against Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.  Rather than organizing worship convocations which seek to work "toward a theology of worship," we need to analyze the "new measures" against the theology of worship we already claim to believe, teach, and confess.  And the only possibility of having such occur is to elect leaders in our synod who will do their best to see to it that we have the kind of deliberate and decisive discussions we need to have, recognizing the deep division among us, and analyzing the practices within our synod against Scripture and our Confessions.  The man in the video above has developed a plan to do just that.  "It's Time!"

And if the delegates to this year's National Convention decide to follow the advice of the new slogan adopted by "Jesus First" to "Keep the Mission Moving" in the same direction, under the same leadership, which embraces the "new measures" and unflinchingly uses terms like "worship experience," "blessed diversity," "leading congregations," "critical events," and "worship contacts," while developing "programs" (or, "movements") which are replete with un-Lutheran theology, such as "Ablaze!(tm)" and "Transforming Churches Network," and puts before us as "perfect examples" congregations such as the one depicted in the video below, well, then, maybe it'll be time to admit that the ship has been damaged beyond repair and the best thing to do is get off before it sinks completely.  'Cause if these "new measures" continue to flourish within our synod, what Wyneken said of the German Methodist Prayer Service he attended will be true of the LCMS:  "I don't know if it is from God or the devil, but it certainly isn't Lutheran."       


sag said...

Well, those are wonderful statistics. How about something that says, "We have Divine Service every Sunday and people can hear the Word and receive the Sacrament." Oh, wait, that might too boring, but it certainly would be Lutheran.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...


Exactly! It is tempting to look at the "statistics" revealed by a church like LakePointe and conclude that they must be doing something right, and that God must be blessing their efforts. 200 baptisms in a year? Wow! Great stuff. Except that it's all done by bait and switch, and by sacrificing the Truth for worldly success. I mean, let's be honest: We could stop what we're doing at Peace, get rid of the altar, find some rock-n-roll musicians, and turn worship into a get-down-with-Jesus rockfest, and I bet we'd get people to come. We could do "spontaneous baptisms" and give away big screen TVs, and come up with relevant sermon series titled, "The Real 'F' Word," and so forth, and I could get up front on the stage and with great enthusiasm go out of my way to motivate people to be the "Jesus Followers" they can be, and it wouldn't be long before we'd have a packed house. Of course, in doing all these things, it would mean that we certainly would not be Lutheran. And, so, we'll just have to continue to abide in Christ's Word and gather around His Holy Word and Sacraments in His Holy House of Prayer and allow Him to Feed us with His Heavenly Food, 'cause, well, I kinda like Lutheranism, and all. :)

meggers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
meggers said...

Awful lot of "we" in that video and not much "He."