A dying church

A pejorative term directed against some congregations is that they are “a dying church.”  Either because most of their members are elderly or because they don’t get a lot of new members or because they don’t seem exciting enough.  I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians, however elderly or not-growing or unexciting they may be.  Then our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, preached this sermon on Palm Sunday:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. And we also prayed: Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience.

What does this mean? Do you know what this is saying? With these words we are really saying: Lord, help us to die. Help us be dying Christians. Help us be a dying church.

Ah, no. That doesn’t sound right! We don’t want to be a dying church! We don’t want to be dying Christians, do we? That sounds like failure. We want to be successful, we want to be admired, we want to be big, we want to be glorious. A dying church sounds . . . like . . . a story gone horribly wrong.

But this is exactly what it means to have the mind of Christ. We are to be a dying church, because we have a dying Saviour. For only by dying can we live. . . .

But what has Jesus done? What is this story we are hearing again today and will remember all this week? This story is not a story gone horribly wrong, but of our Saviour using suffering and death for life, for good. That what looks like defeat is really victory.And so we are a dying church because we have a dying Saviour. This is not our doing – our Saviour pulls us into His dying; for to die with Jesus is to live.

And so in baptism we are pulled into His death and resurrection.

We hear the preaching of Christ crucified and are pulled into the story of the cross.

We die in repentance and are raised in absolution.

The dying and rising body and blood of Jesus are put into your mouth, to pull you into that same dying and rising.

You see, that is what set the Apostles free to face death when they went out into all the world – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.

That is what set the early martyrs and the Reformers free to face death – they had already died with Christ! They had nothing to fear.

And this is what sets you free to face whatever this world and its evil prince may throw at you – you have already died with Christ! You have nothing to fear.

And so it is only by dying with Christ that can we then live. For dying with Christ, we live a life that suffering cannot take away, that the sins of others cannot take away, that the struggles of this world cannot take away, that disasters and tragedies cannot take away, that laying down our lives for others cannot take away, that not even death can take away.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Tom Hering

    “I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians …” – Dr. Veith.

    I invited a Pentecostal friend to my Lutheran church. After the service, she commented that while the pastor said some good things in his sermon, she didn’t think the congregation “got it” – they seemed “spiritually dead” to her. Which started me thinking. If God hides Himself under common things like water, bread, and wine (and He does), then maybe “Christ living in us” and “the Spirit dwelling in us” are hidden under ordinary people. And only those who actually know these people as individuals know the difference Christ has made in their lives. (No one can guess the difference they, in turn, have made in many other lives.)

  • Tom Hering

    “I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians …” – Dr. Veith.

    I invited a Pentecostal friend to my Lutheran church. After the service, she commented that while the pastor said some good things in his sermon, she didn’t think the congregation “got it” – they seemed “spiritually dead” to her. Which started me thinking. If God hides Himself under common things like water, bread, and wine (and He does), then maybe “Christ living in us” and “the Spirit dwelling in us” are hidden under ordinary people. And only those who actually know these people as individuals know the difference Christ has made in their lives. (No one can guess the difference they, in turn, have made in many other lives.)

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    “And so in baptism we are pulled into His death and resurrection.”

    Emphasis mine.

    Reason, veiled by the Veil of Moses, is of the opinion that we can live if only we can use the nobler qualities of reason and love to subdue our baser more animal natural appetites driven by emotions and what feels good. This is what Aristotle teaches. Even pagans know this.

    This is the task Reason sets before us. It is right to do this because Reason is the natural Law of God written in our minds.

    But there is no Christ in any of this. And so there is n0 life here. Not even when it is driven by the Holy Spirit. There is only the death of Old Adam. And then our death. There can be no Propitiation here. And this Old Adam death is what Baptism signifies (see the small catechism ), but it is not what Holy Baptism does!

    What does Holy Baptism do? It works the forgiveness of sins, it delivers from death and the power of the devil, and it gives eternal salvation to all who believe in Christ. Baptism is a grace-ious water of Life!

    Holy Baptism does all this by joining us to that one Death that death can have no power over.

    So we need to rest in that one Very Good Friday Death that we now have fully in our Baptism. And …. we go about the business of “deathing” (mortifying) our Old Adam with the Law .

    “Life is death” Says Luther. Life is about the killing of Old Adam.

    It is all we can see and do.

    This means precisely that the just shall live by faith alone, in Christ alone, and not by what they can see and do.

    All we can see and do, even and especially in Church, is all about the death of us. And “in, with, and under” all that we close our eyes and listen. Only then, in invisible faith, can we see that Baptismal Christ.

    Only then do we have those baptismal “good emotions” (Ap art IV Justification) and “new movements of the heart” that are about the creation of a clean heart that alone those words that declare that the works of Christ are “for me” can create in us.

    Even after our Baptism, God judges our Old Adam and condemns him to death. He will punish us when we do not keep his commandments.

    But now in our baptismal new man, we can now love God and not flee his judgements but rather agree with them, and we can accept suffering when he sends it.

    Why?

    God cannot become an Object of Love as long as he is only accusing us.

    And the Law always accuses.

    But now, in those “new heart movements” created in our baptismal new man we know that the Law no longer has that power over us. We died to the Law! In Christ! In our Baptism!

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    “And so in baptism we are pulled into His death and resurrection.”

    Emphasis mine.

    Reason, veiled by the Veil of Moses, is of the opinion that we can live if only we can use the nobler qualities of reason and love to subdue our baser more animal natural appetites driven by emotions and what feels good. This is what Aristotle teaches. Even pagans know this.

    This is the task Reason sets before us. It is right to do this because Reason is the natural Law of God written in our minds.

    But there is no Christ in any of this. And so there is n0 life here. Not even when it is driven by the Holy Spirit. There is only the death of Old Adam. And then our death. There can be no Propitiation here. And this Old Adam death is what Baptism signifies (see the small catechism ), but it is not what Holy Baptism does!

    What does Holy Baptism do? It works the forgiveness of sins, it delivers from death and the power of the devil, and it gives eternal salvation to all who believe in Christ. Baptism is a grace-ious water of Life!

    Holy Baptism does all this by joining us to that one Death that death can have no power over.

    So we need to rest in that one Very Good Friday Death that we now have fully in our Baptism. And …. we go about the business of “deathing” (mortifying) our Old Adam with the Law .

    “Life is death” Says Luther. Life is about the killing of Old Adam.

    It is all we can see and do.

    This means precisely that the just shall live by faith alone, in Christ alone, and not by what they can see and do.

    All we can see and do, even and especially in Church, is all about the death of us. And “in, with, and under” all that we close our eyes and listen. Only then, in invisible faith, can we see that Baptismal Christ.

    Only then do we have those baptismal “good emotions” (Ap art IV Justification) and “new movements of the heart” that are about the creation of a clean heart that alone those words that declare that the works of Christ are “for me” can create in us.

    Even after our Baptism, God judges our Old Adam and condemns him to death. He will punish us when we do not keep his commandments.

    But now in our baptismal new man, we can now love God and not flee his judgements but rather agree with them, and we can accept suffering when he sends it.

    Why?

    God cannot become an Object of Love as long as he is only accusing us.

    And the Law always accuses.

    But now, in those “new heart movements” created in our baptismal new man we know that the Law no longer has that power over us. We died to the Law! In Christ! In our Baptism!

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    IV. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

    As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.

    First.

    What is Baptism?–Answer.

    Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

    Which is that word of God?–Answer.

    Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

    Secondly.

    What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer.

    It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

    Which are such words and promises of God? Answer.

    Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

    Thirdly.

    How can water do such great things?–Answer.

    It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

    Fourthly.
    What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.

    It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

    Where is this written?–Answer.

    St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    IV. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

    As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.

    First.

    What is Baptism?–Answer.

    Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

    Which is that word of God?–Answer.

    Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

    Secondly.

    What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer.

    It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

    Which are such words and promises of God? Answer.

    Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

    Thirdly.

    How can water do such great things?–Answer.

    It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

    Fourthly.
    What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.

    It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

    Where is this written?–Answer.

    St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

  • larry

    Dr. Vieth that oddly parallels the sermon we heard this Sunday too. It was one of the best sermons I’ve heard. I don’t have a transcript of it but I can paraphrase the central theme if you will:

    Pastor was pointing us to our baptisms and pairing that up with the OT readings of Israel about to cross the divided Red Sea (a baptism) with the enemies of the Cross/faith pursuing (looking bleak) and all that the eye can see and reason determine nothing but an empty dying desert ahead (across the Red Sea, again baptism). He said THAT is the state the Christian never leaves in this life, his/her baptism. First, the world pursuing with false things after us that would destroy and kill us, both in body and soul by attacking the hope we have. Second, as we are IN our baptism all we see before us, what eye and reason can put together ‘together’, is what appears to be nothing but desert before us. Thus we literally hang on the Word, BE IN our baptisms in what appears to be peril behind us and nothing before us. Yet we are being DELIVERED in this baptism, the Word of promise, etc… That was the synopsis of the sermon and man its been worth contemplating and encouraging faith ever since!

    On the way home I told my wife, “that is a wonderful picture of the Cross theology…think about it…all articles of faith are Word given and driven, the world, false teachings, etc…pursue us, will not leave us alone, always try to drag us back and away from the Word calling and delivering us, leading us away from Word, from Baptism, from the Supper. And all we see in history is really what appears to be to the senses and reason “putting 2 and 2 together” what the senses sense is by all appearances just a desert of nothing. Thus, Egypt (the world, false teachings) attempt to pull us back to what appears to be things happening, tempting by offer or threats, and away from the hauntingly apparently empty desert that God’s Word calls us too. On the precipice of our baptism always. Thus the laughter and persecution from behind pursuing us, and the apparent nothingness of the haunting desert (looks utterly foolish to pursue such a Word!). Tempted away from the Word, creation, baptism, the supper, have you ever actually seen a Christian yet resurrected, the church seems to be falling apart, not growing, our own failures in our sin nature, etc…etc… none of it looks like its successful at all and all, thus, = the (look of the) desert in this way.”

    But therein lays the encouragement, the Word says it, predicts it and thus baptism is the way in spite of Egypt pursuing us behind us and the apparently empty desert in front of us. It does not LOOK or SENSE or REASON to be salvation, redemption, eternal life, Paradise return, yet the Word calls us away from those that pursue on the one hand and into that vacuous desert on the other and through baptism. Baptism saves!

    This sermon you posted, just like it, paints that picture of faith. That is so good to ponder!!!

  • larry

    Dr. Vieth that oddly parallels the sermon we heard this Sunday too. It was one of the best sermons I’ve heard. I don’t have a transcript of it but I can paraphrase the central theme if you will:

    Pastor was pointing us to our baptisms and pairing that up with the OT readings of Israel about to cross the divided Red Sea (a baptism) with the enemies of the Cross/faith pursuing (looking bleak) and all that the eye can see and reason determine nothing but an empty dying desert ahead (across the Red Sea, again baptism). He said THAT is the state the Christian never leaves in this life, his/her baptism. First, the world pursuing with false things after us that would destroy and kill us, both in body and soul by attacking the hope we have. Second, as we are IN our baptism all we see before us, what eye and reason can put together ‘together’, is what appears to be nothing but desert before us. Thus we literally hang on the Word, BE IN our baptisms in what appears to be peril behind us and nothing before us. Yet we are being DELIVERED in this baptism, the Word of promise, etc… That was the synopsis of the sermon and man its been worth contemplating and encouraging faith ever since!

    On the way home I told my wife, “that is a wonderful picture of the Cross theology…think about it…all articles of faith are Word given and driven, the world, false teachings, etc…pursue us, will not leave us alone, always try to drag us back and away from the Word calling and delivering us, leading us away from Word, from Baptism, from the Supper. And all we see in history is really what appears to be to the senses and reason “putting 2 and 2 together” what the senses sense is by all appearances just a desert of nothing. Thus, Egypt (the world, false teachings) attempt to pull us back to what appears to be things happening, tempting by offer or threats, and away from the hauntingly apparently empty desert that God’s Word calls us too. On the precipice of our baptism always. Thus the laughter and persecution from behind pursuing us, and the apparent nothingness of the haunting desert (looks utterly foolish to pursue such a Word!). Tempted away from the Word, creation, baptism, the supper, have you ever actually seen a Christian yet resurrected, the church seems to be falling apart, not growing, our own failures in our sin nature, etc…etc… none of it looks like its successful at all and all, thus, = the (look of the) desert in this way.”

    But therein lays the encouragement, the Word says it, predicts it and thus baptism is the way in spite of Egypt pursuing us behind us and the apparently empty desert in front of us. It does not LOOK or SENSE or REASON to be salvation, redemption, eternal life, Paradise return, yet the Word calls us away from those that pursue on the one hand and into that vacuous desert on the other and through baptism. Baptism saves!

    This sermon you posted, just like it, paints that picture of faith. That is so good to ponder!!!

  • larry

    “I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians …”

    That’s a great side point. Just two Sundays ago we were in SS and the pastor had invited me and my wife to tell our journey to confessional Lutheranism. Long story short; within that frame work I had mentioned that one of the first things that was absolutely WONDERFUL that I had experienced upon my first visit was the absolution at the beginning. I said, “You could just ‘feel’ the guilt and weight of sin wash off of you, makes you want to kick up your heals like calf!” Well, I’m not one given to outer expression of what I feel, looking at me you’d think, “dead as a door knell”. But inside “tears of joy I can’t control”. I didn’t reveal that part. But, after I mentioned the absolution and the joy it gives, that you don’t ever have that in other confessions, a sad thing, this lady, older, in the church just said almost out of the blue, “Is it not simply wonderful…”.

    Now the significance of that is what you said above, I’ve been there for a while and we have older congregation as an average. And external appearances rather subdued, you’d never know, externally, the tremendous effect of the Word and Sacraments. It IS judgmental to say, “they look stoic, dead orthodoxy”. Because here was a dear lady who didn’t externally express any more than I do, yet at a moment she revealed the treasure to her heart this was. You’d never “get that” viewing, but the effect of the Word is there “in, with and under” (as Frank says well). And everyone in the room concurred.

  • larry

    “I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians …”

    That’s a great side point. Just two Sundays ago we were in SS and the pastor had invited me and my wife to tell our journey to confessional Lutheranism. Long story short; within that frame work I had mentioned that one of the first things that was absolutely WONDERFUL that I had experienced upon my first visit was the absolution at the beginning. I said, “You could just ‘feel’ the guilt and weight of sin wash off of you, makes you want to kick up your heals like calf!” Well, I’m not one given to outer expression of what I feel, looking at me you’d think, “dead as a door knell”. But inside “tears of joy I can’t control”. I didn’t reveal that part. But, after I mentioned the absolution and the joy it gives, that you don’t ever have that in other confessions, a sad thing, this lady, older, in the church just said almost out of the blue, “Is it not simply wonderful…”.

    Now the significance of that is what you said above, I’ve been there for a while and we have older congregation as an average. And external appearances rather subdued, you’d never know, externally, the tremendous effect of the Word and Sacraments. It IS judgmental to say, “they look stoic, dead orthodoxy”. Because here was a dear lady who didn’t externally express any more than I do, yet at a moment she revealed the treasure to her heart this was. You’d never “get that” viewing, but the effect of the Word is there “in, with and under” (as Frank says well). And everyone in the room concurred.

  • Booklover

    I like this post. This quote has truth:

    “I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians, however elderly or not-growing or unexciting they may be.”

    I believe that the Lord does not disdain the elderly congregant who weekly hears the Word (Jesus is the Word) through liturgy and hymns, in the way the foamy Christians disdain them. Weird thing is, the foamy Christians like to build their “happenin’” churches with those from a “dead” church, rather than from the ranks of pagans/unbelievers.

  • Booklover

    I like this post. This quote has truth:

    “I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say, since we have no idea about the true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians, however elderly or not-growing or unexciting they may be.”

    I believe that the Lord does not disdain the elderly congregant who weekly hears the Word (Jesus is the Word) through liturgy and hymns, in the way the foamy Christians disdain them. Weird thing is, the foamy Christians like to build their “happenin’” churches with those from a “dead” church, rather than from the ranks of pagans/unbelievers.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Some people confuse “lively” with Alive.

    On the rare occasion that I get to attend the divine service at the local LCMS, it always seems very alive to me, even if not very lively.

    Dead faith is that kind which demands constant experiential validation of the presence of God. This kind of “faith” is very lively in many congregations.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Some people confuse “lively” with Alive.

    On the rare occasion that I get to attend the divine service at the local LCMS, it always seems very alive to me, even if not very lively.

    Dead faith is that kind which demands constant experiential validation of the presence of God. This kind of “faith” is very lively in many congregations.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Tom Hering @ 1,

    As a former attendee of pentecostal churches, I’m not surprised one bit by your friend’s comment. The Pentecostal and Pentecostal-influenced churches (particularly ones adapting to modern praise bands and concert-like music in the service) tend to confuse “emotional/experiential” with “spiritual” and often think that if a Christian is not reacting in a visible and extroverted way that he/she is not “in the Spirit.” Unfortunately, while this is not the attitude of all “Spirit-led” Christians, it is the attitude of many of them.

    I’ll use myself as an example here: when in the pentecostal church, if you weren’t raising your hands or exploding with gibberish (aka speaking in tongues, and I do feel justified in calling it “gibberish,” as it’s not performed according to Scriptural guidelines), then you weren’t “in the Spirit” or were just “going through the motions” of Christianity. It was very frustrating, because I didn’t “feel” the need to wear my response and feelings on my sleeve, but always felt an implicit pressure to do so based on the people around me.

    Nowadays, I tend to get pretty negative about expressive emotion in church, in part because I’ve seen where it can lead, which is substituting true sprituality with external emotionalism. Emotion in and of itself is not bad, but being emotional does not make you any more spiritually “alive” than do feelings of attraction mean you have a true and deep love.

    The more I read of the Scriptures and meditate upon them, the more I realize that Christianity is more about faith in God shaped by sound doctrine, rather than my experience or response to God. Emotion may come, but it’s the icing on the cake at best, and a terrible distraction at worst, if not properly handled.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Tom Hering @ 1,

    As a former attendee of pentecostal churches, I’m not surprised one bit by your friend’s comment. The Pentecostal and Pentecostal-influenced churches (particularly ones adapting to modern praise bands and concert-like music in the service) tend to confuse “emotional/experiential” with “spiritual” and often think that if a Christian is not reacting in a visible and extroverted way that he/she is not “in the Spirit.” Unfortunately, while this is not the attitude of all “Spirit-led” Christians, it is the attitude of many of them.

    I’ll use myself as an example here: when in the pentecostal church, if you weren’t raising your hands or exploding with gibberish (aka speaking in tongues, and I do feel justified in calling it “gibberish,” as it’s not performed according to Scriptural guidelines), then you weren’t “in the Spirit” or were just “going through the motions” of Christianity. It was very frustrating, because I didn’t “feel” the need to wear my response and feelings on my sleeve, but always felt an implicit pressure to do so based on the people around me.

    Nowadays, I tend to get pretty negative about expressive emotion in church, in part because I’ve seen where it can lead, which is substituting true sprituality with external emotionalism. Emotion in and of itself is not bad, but being emotional does not make you any more spiritually “alive” than do feelings of attraction mean you have a true and deep love.

    The more I read of the Scriptures and meditate upon them, the more I realize that Christianity is more about faith in God shaped by sound doctrine, rather than my experience or response to God. Emotion may come, but it’s the icing on the cake at best, and a terrible distraction at worst, if not properly handled.

  • Craig

    @ Tom #1

    Brilliant insight! Thanks for helping me realize that my “ordinary” Sunday experience is so deeply spiritual.

  • Craig

    @ Tom #1

    Brilliant insight! Thanks for helping me realize that my “ordinary” Sunday experience is so deeply spiritual.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Thanks for sharing the sermon by Pastor Douthwaite.

    It was perfect.

    No dying, no new life. This is the problem in so many Evangelical churches. There is no dying going on there. In fact, the opposite is going on. They are doing everything they can possibly do to improve the Old Man/Woman, when instead the patient needs to be killed off.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Thanks for sharing the sermon by Pastor Douthwaite.

    It was perfect.

    No dying, no new life. This is the problem in so many Evangelical churches. There is no dying going on there. In fact, the opposite is going on. They are doing everything they can possibly do to improve the Old Man/Woman, when instead the patient needs to be killed off.

  • Tim

    Lutheran bravado (“it’s-the-Evangelicals-not-us”) aside, there are such things as dying parishes. See Revelation 2 and 3 for examples.

  • Tim

    Lutheran bravado (“it’s-the-Evangelicals-not-us”) aside, there are such things as dying parishes. See Revelation 2 and 3 for examples.

  • Tom Hering

    “Emotion may come, but it’s the icing on the cake at best …” – @ 8.

    J. Dean, I was Pentecostal myself once, and left for the same reason you did. In the matter of feelings, you recognize the difference between emotions and emotionalism, and that’s good. But please be careful not to go too far, and dismiss feelings as something nice but unnecessary. Feelings are as much a part of the New Creation as they are of the Old Adam. Walther addresses this in his Nineteenth Evening Lecture:

    But before taking up the discussion of their view, we shall have to warn against a misunderstanding of the doctrine that a person must not base his salvation and his state of grace on his feeling. For this doctrine is abused by many.

    There are people who regard themselves as good Christians although they are spiritually dead. They have never felt a real anguish on account of their sins; they have never been filled with terror on account of them, have never been appalled by the thought of the hell which they have deserved, have never been on their knees before God, bewailing with bitter tears their awful, damnable condition under sin. Much less have they wept sweet tears of joy and glorified God for His mercy. They read and hear the Word of God without being specially impressed by it. They go to church and receive absolution without feeling refreshed; they attend Holy Communion without any inward sensation and remain as cold as ice. Occasionally, when they become inwardly agitated because of their Indifference in matters concerning their salvation and because of their lack of appreciation of God’s Word, they try to quiet their heart with the reflection that the Lutheran Church teaches that the lack of spiritual feeling is of no moment. They reason that this lack cannot harm them and that they can be good Christians notwithstanding, because they consider themselves believers.

    However, they labor under a grievous self-delusion. People in that condition have nothing but the dead faith of the intellect, a specious faith, or, to express it still more drastically, a lip faith. They may say with their mouths, “I believe,” but their heart is not conscious of it. No, indeed; a person who cannot say, in accordance with Ps. 34, 8, that he has tasted and seen that the Lord is good must not regard himself as being in a state of true faith. More over, the Apostle Paul says, Rom. 8, 16, “The Spirit indeed beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” Can the Holy Spirit bear this witness in us without our feeling it? The witness in court must speak loud enough for the judge to hear. The same is necessary in this case. According to God’s Word any person who has never felt the testimony of the Spirit that he is the child of God is spiritually dead. He can offer no testimony in his favor and does wrong by considering himself a Christian nevertheless.

    The Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel

  • Tom Hering

    “Emotion may come, but it’s the icing on the cake at best …” – @ 8.

    J. Dean, I was Pentecostal myself once, and left for the same reason you did. In the matter of feelings, you recognize the difference between emotions and emotionalism, and that’s good. But please be careful not to go too far, and dismiss feelings as something nice but unnecessary. Feelings are as much a part of the New Creation as they are of the Old Adam. Walther addresses this in his Nineteenth Evening Lecture:

    But before taking up the discussion of their view, we shall have to warn against a misunderstanding of the doctrine that a person must not base his salvation and his state of grace on his feeling. For this doctrine is abused by many.

    There are people who regard themselves as good Christians although they are spiritually dead. They have never felt a real anguish on account of their sins; they have never been filled with terror on account of them, have never been appalled by the thought of the hell which they have deserved, have never been on their knees before God, bewailing with bitter tears their awful, damnable condition under sin. Much less have they wept sweet tears of joy and glorified God for His mercy. They read and hear the Word of God without being specially impressed by it. They go to church and receive absolution without feeling refreshed; they attend Holy Communion without any inward sensation and remain as cold as ice. Occasionally, when they become inwardly agitated because of their Indifference in matters concerning their salvation and because of their lack of appreciation of God’s Word, they try to quiet their heart with the reflection that the Lutheran Church teaches that the lack of spiritual feeling is of no moment. They reason that this lack cannot harm them and that they can be good Christians notwithstanding, because they consider themselves believers.

    However, they labor under a grievous self-delusion. People in that condition have nothing but the dead faith of the intellect, a specious faith, or, to express it still more drastically, a lip faith. They may say with their mouths, “I believe,” but their heart is not conscious of it. No, indeed; a person who cannot say, in accordance with Ps. 34, 8, that he has tasted and seen that the Lord is good must not regard himself as being in a state of true faith. More over, the Apostle Paul says, Rom. 8, 16, “The Spirit indeed beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” Can the Holy Spirit bear this witness in us without our feeling it? The witness in court must speak loud enough for the judge to hear. The same is necessary in this case. According to God’s Word any person who has never felt the testimony of the Spirit that he is the child of God is spiritually dead. He can offer no testimony in his favor and does wrong by considering himself a Christian nevertheless.

    The Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel

  • Porcell

    “Dying” churches, whether Lutheran, Catholic or Reformed, contain older and younger members who are part of what Paul and
    Augustine referred to as the invisible elect of God whom He lead and leads through the Holy Spirit from Christ to Himself. Christ Himself made it clear that he was the Savior of only those whom God had sent to Him.

    Christianity has from the beginning contained a small group of largely invisible- and on earth unknown by anyone- saints. True Christianity and Judaism have always involved small numbers of people. Both Luther and Calvin quite understood this. Christianity has from the beginning understood that few faithful really understand the overwhelming gift of the Cross.

    One has to distinguish between the benefits of political equality and those of true religion.

  • Porcell

    “Dying” churches, whether Lutheran, Catholic or Reformed, contain older and younger members who are part of what Paul and
    Augustine referred to as the invisible elect of God whom He lead and leads through the Holy Spirit from Christ to Himself. Christ Himself made it clear that he was the Savior of only those whom God had sent to Him.

    Christianity has from the beginning contained a small group of largely invisible- and on earth unknown by anyone- saints. True Christianity and Judaism have always involved small numbers of people. Both Luther and Calvin quite understood this. Christianity has from the beginning understood that few faithful really understand the overwhelming gift of the Cross.

    One has to distinguish between the benefits of political equality and those of true religion.

  • Porcell

    Pardon me, in the above last sentence of the second paragraph, I ought to have said few externally faithful…

  • Porcell

    Pardon me, in the above last sentence of the second paragraph, I ought to have said few externally faithful…

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    Dr. Alvin Schmidt wrote in a book titled “Under the Influence”, subtitled “How Christianity Transformed Civilization”:
    “They (the disciples) took this stance (a stand for the Gospel) because they knew that Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, did in fact physically and empirically rise from the dead. They knew that it was not their faith that validated Christ’s resurrection, as many of today’s modern theologians teach and preach, but that it was his physical resurrection that validated their faith.” Parentheses mine.
    It doesn’t take very much creativity to see what implications there are for a life of faith when it all depends on whether you are ‘wearing your faith on your sleeve’ is what it’s all about, with all due respect to the Hokey Pokey.

  • http://www.caryschwarz.com saddler

    Dr. Alvin Schmidt wrote in a book titled “Under the Influence”, subtitled “How Christianity Transformed Civilization”:
    “They (the disciples) took this stance (a stand for the Gospel) because they knew that Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, did in fact physically and empirically rise from the dead. They knew that it was not their faith that validated Christ’s resurrection, as many of today’s modern theologians teach and preach, but that it was his physical resurrection that validated their faith.” Parentheses mine.
    It doesn’t take very much creativity to see what implications there are for a life of faith when it all depends on whether you are ‘wearing your faith on your sleeve’ is what it’s all about, with all due respect to the Hokey Pokey.

  • Digital

    I think the term dying church is appropriate. People often hide behind the phrases mentioned above:
    “true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians”
    While there is nothing wrong with the above statement, as it is very much true. We Lutherans need to remember “Faith without works is dead”, and the church of Laodicea; “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” And so many Churches stop trying to reach out, but rather turn inward, put their heads down and study the word. While they have great faith, what good is it?
    This has always been my biggest problem with being a Lutheran in the LCMS, it is like being in a college full of bookworms, everyone learning and bickering over syntax, with so much to share. But for some reason, be it pride or fear, they avoid the world, keep apart from the very people that the Christ came to save. Rarely do I see a Lutheran Church reach out to the lost.
    Why don’t Lutherans reach out? Because they never have had to. LCMS churches used to have very committed families (and still do) and used to be comprised of an entire town. Now they are in a larger setting and with broken families. With this turn of society we have a church that doesn’t know how to reach out to the new generations.
    Whereas we are competing with churches who have largely grown due to charisma, with flashy sermons and catchy tunes. Their doctrine is not sound and their practices less reverent and often quite obscene. They will win the day because they are out there trying to teach people, bring them in, because that is the way they have always survived, and will continue to flourish. But where is the word and sacrament? Where is God in their services? Many times he is present and alive, and many others he is absent.
    In our LCMS churches God may be alive and in our Sacrament, but are we inviting others in?

  • Digital

    I think the term dying church is appropriate. People often hide behind the phrases mentioned above:
    “true spiritual life that may be pulsing inside of these Christians”
    While there is nothing wrong with the above statement, as it is very much true. We Lutherans need to remember “Faith without works is dead”, and the church of Laodicea; “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” And so many Churches stop trying to reach out, but rather turn inward, put their heads down and study the word. While they have great faith, what good is it?
    This has always been my biggest problem with being a Lutheran in the LCMS, it is like being in a college full of bookworms, everyone learning and bickering over syntax, with so much to share. But for some reason, be it pride or fear, they avoid the world, keep apart from the very people that the Christ came to save. Rarely do I see a Lutheran Church reach out to the lost.
    Why don’t Lutherans reach out? Because they never have had to. LCMS churches used to have very committed families (and still do) and used to be comprised of an entire town. Now they are in a larger setting and with broken families. With this turn of society we have a church that doesn’t know how to reach out to the new generations.
    Whereas we are competing with churches who have largely grown due to charisma, with flashy sermons and catchy tunes. Their doctrine is not sound and their practices less reverent and often quite obscene. They will win the day because they are out there trying to teach people, bring them in, because that is the way they have always survived, and will continue to flourish. But where is the word and sacrament? Where is God in their services? Many times he is present and alive, and many others he is absent.
    In our LCMS churches God may be alive and in our Sacrament, but are we inviting others in?

  • Digital

    I apologize for not closing my tag above.

  • Digital

    I apologize for not closing my tag above.

  • http://blog.captainthin.net/ Captain Thin

    As much as I agree with Dr. Veith that churches are too often called “dying churches” pejoratively, some churches (or at least members) do need an occasional wake-up call now and again. The Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3 comes to mind.

    A few years back I was attending a congregational voter’s meeting , during which we were discussing the numerous duties of our our sole pastor and asked whether we ought to call a deacon to help with some of the day to day duties. One fellow stood up and said, “It doesn’t really matter when you think about it. Our congregation is getting rather old. Over the coming years, the pastor’s work will decline as there will be less of us to look after.” The remainder of his suggestions seemed to be that we should just begin wrapping up early – to go out “not with a bang, but a whimper,” to borrow T.S. Eliot’s words.

    I was aghast, not only at his defeatist comments but also at the too-large murmur of assent from some of the members present. First off, we’re not exactly a “dying church”. While we have a large number of elderly congregants, we also have a growing number of young families. But even if our church had been solely elderly, that type of mindset would be wrong. The church is called to witness to the world around us; not just call it a day and close up shop early.

  • http://blog.captainthin.net/ Captain Thin

    As much as I agree with Dr. Veith that churches are too often called “dying churches” pejoratively, some churches (or at least members) do need an occasional wake-up call now and again. The Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3 comes to mind.

    A few years back I was attending a congregational voter’s meeting , during which we were discussing the numerous duties of our our sole pastor and asked whether we ought to call a deacon to help with some of the day to day duties. One fellow stood up and said, “It doesn’t really matter when you think about it. Our congregation is getting rather old. Over the coming years, the pastor’s work will decline as there will be less of us to look after.” The remainder of his suggestions seemed to be that we should just begin wrapping up early – to go out “not with a bang, but a whimper,” to borrow T.S. Eliot’s words.

    I was aghast, not only at his defeatist comments but also at the too-large murmur of assent from some of the members present. First off, we’re not exactly a “dying church”. While we have a large number of elderly congregants, we also have a growing number of young families. But even if our church had been solely elderly, that type of mindset would be wrong. The church is called to witness to the world around us; not just call it a day and close up shop early.

  • Tom Hering

    “We Lutherans need to remember ‘Faith without works is dead’, and the church of Laodicea; ‘So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”‘” – @ 16.

    Indeed, where works are absent, so is faith. And where there’s faith, there can’t help but be works. But I fail to understand how these truths are related to an ancient congregation that equated prosperity with righteousness.

  • Tom Hering

    “We Lutherans need to remember ‘Faith without works is dead’, and the church of Laodicea; ‘So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”‘” – @ 16.

    Indeed, where works are absent, so is faith. And where there’s faith, there can’t help but be works. But I fail to understand how these truths are related to an ancient congregation that equated prosperity with righteousness.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Larry@4

    I would like to see the transcript of that sermon if you can get your hands on it. Maybe an audio link if there is one?

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Larry@4

    I would like to see the transcript of that sermon if you can get your hands on it. Maybe an audio link if there is one?

  • Rev. Seth Florentino

    Two or three, in McGavran’s eyes may not be much of anything, least of all a church, and some may even say that a church is truly dying if you can count the number of members on the fingers of your hands, but to the Lord, two or three is a resounding success.

    RevSeth@Grace
    Philippnes

  • Rev. Seth Florentino

    Two or three, in McGavran’s eyes may not be much of anything, least of all a church, and some may even say that a church is truly dying if you can count the number of members on the fingers of your hands, but to the Lord, two or three is a resounding success.

    RevSeth@Grace
    Philippnes

  • Stephen

    Luke 11:29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.

    Interesting that Luke says “as the crowds increased” eh? And the sign given is the one that we just celebrated, the one of dying just as the sermon says – the Crucified One, a stumbling block and foolishness as St. Paul says, the opposite of what or reason, our eyes, and even our “religion” desires.

    Not to be nostalgic about stoic Lutherans as if there is some kind of “greatest generation” that was, but I am reminded of two elderly sisters who sat at the front of my church when I was young person and always showed up early, bulletins at the ready, hymnals marked. You would never see them clap in church or even smile. But they were faithful in that act, Sunday after Sunday, it seems to me now.

    John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

  • Stephen

    Luke 11:29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.

    Interesting that Luke says “as the crowds increased” eh? And the sign given is the one that we just celebrated, the one of dying just as the sermon says – the Crucified One, a stumbling block and foolishness as St. Paul says, the opposite of what or reason, our eyes, and even our “religion” desires.

    Not to be nostalgic about stoic Lutherans as if there is some kind of “greatest generation” that was, but I am reminded of two elderly sisters who sat at the front of my church when I was young person and always showed up early, bulletins at the ready, hymnals marked. You would never see them clap in church or even smile. But they were faithful in that act, Sunday after Sunday, it seems to me now.

    John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Of course there are spiritually dead churches. Those would be where the Word of God is absent, since it’s the Word that is living and active and the source of life in its hearers. There are certainly lots of churches like that, including some very big ones. Consider that church in Laodicea: “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”

    It is lukewarm because it is wealthy and complacent, thinking it doesn’t need anything. This says nothing about emotions or its lack of good works. It feels so good about itself that it doesn’t need anything. On the individual level, that’s the mindset that shuts out the Gospel. On the congregational level, that’s the mindset that shuts out the Gospel.

    Which fits the Laodicean model the most closely, a small struggling congregation with problems but with God’s Word, or a wealthy successful megachurch that tones down God’s Word so as to attract more people?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Of course there are spiritually dead churches. Those would be where the Word of God is absent, since it’s the Word that is living and active and the source of life in its hearers. There are certainly lots of churches like that, including some very big ones. Consider that church in Laodicea: “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”

    It is lukewarm because it is wealthy and complacent, thinking it doesn’t need anything. This says nothing about emotions or its lack of good works. It feels so good about itself that it doesn’t need anything. On the individual level, that’s the mindset that shuts out the Gospel. On the congregational level, that’s the mindset that shuts out the Gospel.

    Which fits the Laodicean model the most closely, a small struggling congregation with problems but with God’s Word, or a wealthy successful megachurch that tones down God’s Word so as to attract more people?

  • Digital

    “Which fits the Laodicean model the most closely, a small struggling congregation with problems but with God’s Word, or a wealthy successful megachurch that tones down God’s Word so as to attract more people?
    In my opinion both can. Is a lot of seed dumped on barren ground l better than a few seeds being scattered on rich soil?
    Christ preached to both, on one hand he spent time with the rich and wise Teachers. On the other he designed parables so that: “Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
    and turn, and I would heal them”

    I posit that a Church can be measured as failing based on being measured up against Acts 2:42-47.
    “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

  • Digital

    “Which fits the Laodicean model the most closely, a small struggling congregation with problems but with God’s Word, or a wealthy successful megachurch that tones down God’s Word so as to attract more people?
    In my opinion both can. Is a lot of seed dumped on barren ground l better than a few seeds being scattered on rich soil?
    Christ preached to both, on one hand he spent time with the rich and wise Teachers. On the other he designed parables so that: “Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
    and turn, and I would heal them”

    I posit that a Church can be measured as failing based on being measured up against Acts 2:42-47.
    “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

  • larry

    Pat K.,

    Well, I’d love to get you one but were pretty low tech due to size and $$ (i.e. no recordings). I’ll check and see if pastor has a transcript of his own sermon.

    Larry

  • larry

    Pat K.,

    Well, I’d love to get you one but were pretty low tech due to size and $$ (i.e. no recordings). I’ll check and see if pastor has a transcript of his own sermon.

    Larry

  • larry

    The revelation churches. Well now that brings up an interesting variation of interpretations. Who are the Revelation churches in connection of “likeness” today.

    Often times there’s distinction made between “other confessions” (i.e. heterodoxy) and those churches such that the Revelation churches immediately compare with various heterodoxies (by confession) and orthodoxy all rolled up into one. E.g. Reformed confessing, Roman confessing, Lutheran confessing, for all intensive comparing Revelation churches in the letter to today’s churches are basically “six one way, half a dozen another”.

    Yet, many, including Sasse, interpret the churches of Revelation as orthodox confessing churches as a matter of fact, and that it does not, the Revelation churches written too, include heterodoxies. The heterodoxies of the time of John, the proto-gnostics such as the Nicolatians, et. al. are outside of the letters already. Thus, the heterodoxies of today (other confessions) would comparatively draw link back to the proto-gnostic churches (e.g. Nicolatians). So that a Laodicean “model” would not compare to a modern heterodox/megachurch, but that such megachurch is already a false church by confessional definition and more closely modeled as one of the false proto-gnostic congregations. Same with other heterodoxies such as Reformed, et. al. So a Laodician church would be more like an orthodox confession going toward “megachurch” approach, but not a true Megachurch already by confession outside of orthodoxy (heterodoxy = false).

    The term “church” presupposes a true confessing church not a false one. The false one’s compare to the false proto-gnostic churches of that time. I.e. the letter in Revelation from John, who was dealing a lot with proto-gnostics, to the churches was not written to and warning to the proto-gnostic or Nicolatian churches. I.e. the letter today would not be written to the heterodoxies of today. The letter praises the orthodoxy that ferreted out false church/confessions, even in one case this is what a church did very well but was in danger of loosing its “first love”. But it was not a negative but positive comment that it ferreted out well the heterodoxies of its time. The danger in being strong in that is one ends up on defending against the negative (false) doctrine too much and forgets the Gospel, per se (i.e. saying and identifying a lot what it is not, but not ever saying what it IS).

    Thus, how one paradigms the “churches” in Revelation affects its understanding and extension to “churches” today.

  • larry

    The revelation churches. Well now that brings up an interesting variation of interpretations. Who are the Revelation churches in connection of “likeness” today.

    Often times there’s distinction made between “other confessions” (i.e. heterodoxy) and those churches such that the Revelation churches immediately compare with various heterodoxies (by confession) and orthodoxy all rolled up into one. E.g. Reformed confessing, Roman confessing, Lutheran confessing, for all intensive comparing Revelation churches in the letter to today’s churches are basically “six one way, half a dozen another”.

    Yet, many, including Sasse, interpret the churches of Revelation as orthodox confessing churches as a matter of fact, and that it does not, the Revelation churches written too, include heterodoxies. The heterodoxies of the time of John, the proto-gnostics such as the Nicolatians, et. al. are outside of the letters already. Thus, the heterodoxies of today (other confessions) would comparatively draw link back to the proto-gnostic churches (e.g. Nicolatians). So that a Laodicean “model” would not compare to a modern heterodox/megachurch, but that such megachurch is already a false church by confessional definition and more closely modeled as one of the false proto-gnostic congregations. Same with other heterodoxies such as Reformed, et. al. So a Laodician church would be more like an orthodox confession going toward “megachurch” approach, but not a true Megachurch already by confession outside of orthodoxy (heterodoxy = false).

    The term “church” presupposes a true confessing church not a false one. The false one’s compare to the false proto-gnostic churches of that time. I.e. the letter in Revelation from John, who was dealing a lot with proto-gnostics, to the churches was not written to and warning to the proto-gnostic or Nicolatian churches. I.e. the letter today would not be written to the heterodoxies of today. The letter praises the orthodoxy that ferreted out false church/confessions, even in one case this is what a church did very well but was in danger of loosing its “first love”. But it was not a negative but positive comment that it ferreted out well the heterodoxies of its time. The danger in being strong in that is one ends up on defending against the negative (false) doctrine too much and forgets the Gospel, per se (i.e. saying and identifying a lot what it is not, but not ever saying what it IS).

    Thus, how one paradigms the “churches” in Revelation affects its understanding and extension to “churches” today.

  • Dan Kempin

    Veith, #23,

    “Which fits the Laodicean model the most closely, a small struggling congregation with problems but with God’s Word, or a wealthy successful megachurch that tones down God’s Word so as to attract more people?”

    Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm. I’d really rather not comment, but I don’t think that came out the way you intended. At least, I hope it didn’t. Who says a small church cannot become spiritually bankrupt? And who says a big church must compromise the Word of God? What about the small churches that tone down God’s Word, and the large churches that struggle? I assure you that Laodicea can be found in either. Or in both. I know you well enough that I do not read this as “lutheran bravado” (see #11), but it sure comes off as a false dichotomy.

  • Dan Kempin

    Veith, #23,

    “Which fits the Laodicean model the most closely, a small struggling congregation with problems but with God’s Word, or a wealthy successful megachurch that tones down God’s Word so as to attract more people?”

    Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm. I’d really rather not comment, but I don’t think that came out the way you intended. At least, I hope it didn’t. Who says a small church cannot become spiritually bankrupt? And who says a big church must compromise the Word of God? What about the small churches that tone down God’s Word, and the large churches that struggle? I assure you that Laodicea can be found in either. Or in both. I know you well enough that I do not read this as “lutheran bravado” (see #11), but it sure comes off as a false dichotomy.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dan (@27), if I may speak in Veith’s defense, I don’t think he’s creating a “dichotomy”, but rather presenting a hypothetical situation — one which, I assume, does not comprise all the possible scenarios.

    As such, he’s not equating “small” with necessarily teaching God’s Word, nor is he saying “a wealthy successful megachurch” necessarily “tones down God’s Word”. However, given those two possibilities, while the world would clearly label the megachurch “successful” and the small one “dying”, their adherence to Scripture would indicate otherwise.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dan (@27), if I may speak in Veith’s defense, I don’t think he’s creating a “dichotomy”, but rather presenting a hypothetical situation — one which, I assume, does not comprise all the possible scenarios.

    As such, he’s not equating “small” with necessarily teaching God’s Word, nor is he saying “a wealthy successful megachurch” necessarily “tones down God’s Word”. However, given those two possibilities, while the world would clearly label the megachurch “successful” and the small one “dying”, their adherence to Scripture would indicate otherwise.

  • Digital

    tODD@28
    Dan@27
    I have a question, not being a lifelong lutheran myself I am struggling to find out where the posture of the Lutheran church started regarding Small vs Big. As a newer (10 years or so) member of an LCMS large congregation (around 2K attending). I have experienced a lot of negativity towards churches who have seen rapid member growth, and a championing of the smaller congregations. This is usually evidenced by comments of the larger Churches selling out and the smaller Churches holding strong.
    Do either of you have any history on this struggle in the LCMS?

  • Digital

    tODD@28
    Dan@27
    I have a question, not being a lifelong lutheran myself I am struggling to find out where the posture of the Lutheran church started regarding Small vs Big. As a newer (10 years or so) member of an LCMS large congregation (around 2K attending). I have experienced a lot of negativity towards churches who have seen rapid member growth, and a championing of the smaller congregations. This is usually evidenced by comments of the larger Churches selling out and the smaller Churches holding strong.
    Do either of you have any history on this struggle in the LCMS?

  • larry

    I think it was Dr. Hein that said “Numbers are just that, numbers”, they are neither here nor there. We see this in the old and new testaments. At times Israel grew but then reduced to 7000 so mixed into the society at large that the prophet had the feeling “he was the only one”. EVERYBODY abandoned Jesus at the apex of the Gospel, the Cross. Some of the churches in the NT, Corinth for example, were quite small by modern standards, (100 or so). The Great Apostasy predicted is a FACT that IS/WILL (hard to see I suppose until after the fact) happen due to the plethora of false/mingled teachings.

    The issue, as usual, is not “large” or “small” but doctrine, that’s the dirty word in our day and age of mingling. The temptation is always to be drawn away from the Word. And that’s a point that cannot be emphasized enough. The temptation is not going to be gross and easy, like “my worst enemy whom I easily don’t like and can steer away from easily because he/she’s my enemy is tempting me”. But rather the greatest temptation is the “closest to home” false doctrines that woe us a way because “they are crassly secular or crassly cultish”.

    Another reason “numbers” are just that “numbers”, at of the end under orthodox confessions the church her self IS an article of faith, not seen or reasoned but believed to be “in, with and under” things that don’t necessarily scream “church” that is the bride of the very Son of God. Many of the Apostles for the most part were “just fishermen”, “a tax collector” (closer to a modern day pimp), nothing real “religious” there. The church consist of “just older folks”; “just not for all intensive purposes ‘on fire for the Lord’”; “just sinners”; etc…

    When we visited our present day confessional church I confessed to my wife, and I knew better intellectually, that I was tempted by the fact that it was mostly upper end age average, very tiny, older building. We had just come not from a Warren Mega Church (that was a few years earlier), but a large Reformed church, brand new, 900 per Sunday (that’s MEGA, numerically speaking, in Reformed circles), two to three services per Sunday, huge choir, well trained choir, money, etc… That’s not “dis” against our former church, just “what we were used to seeing”. There’s a certain earthly and fleshly security in that kind of force. My first thought at our present church was, its so small, older, poor – what will happen to it in the future?

    Then it hit me, “Larry you IDIOT, don’t you see this temptation. Small, older and poor it is, nothing “exciting”, but it is PURE Gospel in Word and Sacrament from head to toe. The answer to this devil’s temptation differs not one Word from Christ’s Word, “Man shall not live by bread alone but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Literally!

    Thus, it’s all about the doctrine. It may be orthodox in 20,000 person church as much as 20 person church. Or it may heterodox in and thus false in 5,000 person church or 30 person church. The church is constructed by the Holy Spirit and that means the (orthodox) Word that is organically connected, not just a mere instrument occasionally picked up.

    When I’m taking communion with my dear brothers and sisters and gander across the altar half-circle and see the pastor pour the blood of the Son of God into that 78, 44, 22, etc…year old’s mouth – there is the LIVING church.

  • larry

    I think it was Dr. Hein that said “Numbers are just that, numbers”, they are neither here nor there. We see this in the old and new testaments. At times Israel grew but then reduced to 7000 so mixed into the society at large that the prophet had the feeling “he was the only one”. EVERYBODY abandoned Jesus at the apex of the Gospel, the Cross. Some of the churches in the NT, Corinth for example, were quite small by modern standards, (100 or so). The Great Apostasy predicted is a FACT that IS/WILL (hard to see I suppose until after the fact) happen due to the plethora of false/mingled teachings.

    The issue, as usual, is not “large” or “small” but doctrine, that’s the dirty word in our day and age of mingling. The temptation is always to be drawn away from the Word. And that’s a point that cannot be emphasized enough. The temptation is not going to be gross and easy, like “my worst enemy whom I easily don’t like and can steer away from easily because he/she’s my enemy is tempting me”. But rather the greatest temptation is the “closest to home” false doctrines that woe us a way because “they are crassly secular or crassly cultish”.

    Another reason “numbers” are just that “numbers”, at of the end under orthodox confessions the church her self IS an article of faith, not seen or reasoned but believed to be “in, with and under” things that don’t necessarily scream “church” that is the bride of the very Son of God. Many of the Apostles for the most part were “just fishermen”, “a tax collector” (closer to a modern day pimp), nothing real “religious” there. The church consist of “just older folks”; “just not for all intensive purposes ‘on fire for the Lord’”; “just sinners”; etc…

    When we visited our present day confessional church I confessed to my wife, and I knew better intellectually, that I was tempted by the fact that it was mostly upper end age average, very tiny, older building. We had just come not from a Warren Mega Church (that was a few years earlier), but a large Reformed church, brand new, 900 per Sunday (that’s MEGA, numerically speaking, in Reformed circles), two to three services per Sunday, huge choir, well trained choir, money, etc… That’s not “dis” against our former church, just “what we were used to seeing”. There’s a certain earthly and fleshly security in that kind of force. My first thought at our present church was, its so small, older, poor – what will happen to it in the future?

    Then it hit me, “Larry you IDIOT, don’t you see this temptation. Small, older and poor it is, nothing “exciting”, but it is PURE Gospel in Word and Sacrament from head to toe. The answer to this devil’s temptation differs not one Word from Christ’s Word, “Man shall not live by bread alone but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Literally!

    Thus, it’s all about the doctrine. It may be orthodox in 20,000 person church as much as 20 person church. Or it may heterodox in and thus false in 5,000 person church or 30 person church. The church is constructed by the Holy Spirit and that means the (orthodox) Word that is organically connected, not just a mere instrument occasionally picked up.

    When I’m taking communion with my dear brothers and sisters and gander across the altar half-circle and see the pastor pour the blood of the Son of God into that 78, 44, 22, etc…year old’s mouth – there is the LIVING church.

  • Dan Kempin

    Dr. Veith, #23,

    Upon further reflection, I think I see what bothered me. You say:

    “Of course there are spiritually dead churches. Those would be where the Word of God is absent, since it’s the Word that is living and active and the source of life in its hearers.”

    That’s not really true. It’s true, of course, that a church which denies the Word is a dying church, if not already an apostate church, but the church in Laodicea HAD that Word, as did all of the seven churches of Revelation. That’s kind of the point. They HAD the Word, but had become complacent.

    tODD, #28,
    I know. It just sounds bad.

    Digital, #29,
    A good question that Larry answers quite well. When it comes to Lutheran doctrine, size doesn’t matter.

    Larry, #30,
    Right on.

  • Dan Kempin

    Dr. Veith, #23,

    Upon further reflection, I think I see what bothered me. You say:

    “Of course there are spiritually dead churches. Those would be where the Word of God is absent, since it’s the Word that is living and active and the source of life in its hearers.”

    That’s not really true. It’s true, of course, that a church which denies the Word is a dying church, if not already an apostate church, but the church in Laodicea HAD that Word, as did all of the seven churches of Revelation. That’s kind of the point. They HAD the Word, but had become complacent.

    tODD, #28,
    I know. It just sounds bad.

    Digital, #29,
    A good question that Larry answers quite well. When it comes to Lutheran doctrine, size doesn’t matter.

    Larry, #30,
    Right on.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Dan (and Digital), what tODD said in my defense. Notice the restrictive clauses and phrases: “A small struggling church with problems but WITH God’s Word.” Compared to “a wealthy successful megachurch THAT tones down God’s Word.” Or, if you prefer, try this: “A small struggling church that tones down God’s Word” vs. “a wealthy successful megachurch with problems but with God’s Word.” As I said, it is the Word that is living and active, so it’s the presence of the Word that determines whether a congregation is living and active, not the bare living and activity of the members.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Dan (and Digital), what tODD said in my defense. Notice the restrictive clauses and phrases: “A small struggling church with problems but WITH God’s Word.” Compared to “a wealthy successful megachurch THAT tones down God’s Word.” Or, if you prefer, try this: “A small struggling church that tones down God’s Word” vs. “a wealthy successful megachurch with problems but with God’s Word.” As I said, it is the Word that is living and active, so it’s the presence of the Word that determines whether a congregation is living and active, not the bare living and activity of the members.

  • Digital

    Dan@31 – Yes but it doesn’t explain the “bias” (I hate using that word) towards the small church. Never have I heard the comparison until today that Dr Veith makes in 32.
    Or, if you prefer, try this: “A small struggling church that tones down God’s Word” vs. “a wealthy successful megachurch with problems but with God’s Word.”
    It is always the small pious Church vs the large milk Church. Almost as if the smaller Church were justifying a lack of outreach rather than responding to the issue at hand. It seems to be a very charged topic in the Lutheran Church. It makes it difficult to have an honest discussion about God’s mission when the issue of membership distracts. I have even heard pastors and layfolk say that a small congregation is a sign that you are doing something right.
    Thoughts?

  • Digital

    Dan@31 – Yes but it doesn’t explain the “bias” (I hate using that word) towards the small church. Never have I heard the comparison until today that Dr Veith makes in 32.
    Or, if you prefer, try this: “A small struggling church that tones down God’s Word” vs. “a wealthy successful megachurch with problems but with God’s Word.”
    It is always the small pious Church vs the large milk Church. Almost as if the smaller Church were justifying a lack of outreach rather than responding to the issue at hand. It seems to be a very charged topic in the Lutheran Church. It makes it difficult to have an honest discussion about God’s mission when the issue of membership distracts. I have even heard pastors and layfolk say that a small congregation is a sign that you are doing something right.
    Thoughts?

  • Dan Kempin

    Digital, #33,

    I, too, have noticed a subtle trend, which is probably what made me a bit too sensitive to the phrasing of Dr. Veith’s comment in the first place. It has become vogue, in some circles, to rip on big churches. (This criticism in no way directed to our host.)

    For my own part, I generally write this off as sloppiness (at best) or more likely the tendency we all have to fudge the 8th commandment. This I can forgive easily, considering I share the same weakness, but it does get to the point at times where it clouds the debate. Such stereotypes, beyond being unkind, are just not useful.

    The historical question you raise is interesting, though. I honestly don’t know whether there was ever a bias of large vs small congregation in our synodical tradition, or vice versa. (Beyond the perpetual wrangling about representation at conventions, that is.)

  • Dan Kempin

    Digital, #33,

    I, too, have noticed a subtle trend, which is probably what made me a bit too sensitive to the phrasing of Dr. Veith’s comment in the first place. It has become vogue, in some circles, to rip on big churches. (This criticism in no way directed to our host.)

    For my own part, I generally write this off as sloppiness (at best) or more likely the tendency we all have to fudge the 8th commandment. This I can forgive easily, considering I share the same weakness, but it does get to the point at times where it clouds the debate. Such stereotypes, beyond being unkind, are just not useful.

    The historical question you raise is interesting, though. I honestly don’t know whether there was ever a bias of large vs small congregation in our synodical tradition, or vice versa. (Beyond the perpetual wrangling about representation at conventions, that is.)

  • Digital

    Dan @ 34
    I didn’t want to insinuate that our host was harping on the large churches :) However the direction of the conversation reminded me of how many times the larger Churches are the target of attack. I like to think that the Church I attend falls in that “a wealthy successful megachurch with problems but with God’s Word.” at our most recent congregational meeting there was this deep desire to really dig into God’s Word and make education a priority. being a 1800-2000K a sunday Church we get targeted a lot in the LCMS. But we speak the creeds at every service, have confession, honor the sacraments and stick to the word. God just has blessed us in spite of our sinfulness with a large congregation.
    I would imagine a small church of 100 or so would be on the other side of the coin, they could be preaching the word and reaching out to the community but still be dwindling. However, they would be looked at as failing because of some aspect of their own sin. So perhaps we just have more small congregations due to the Lutheran church being more of a town church so there are more folk in small churches than large ones so the small churches get the benefit of the doubt?
    I don’t know. But would like to know more to help conversations.

  • Digital

    Dan @ 34
    I didn’t want to insinuate that our host was harping on the large churches :) However the direction of the conversation reminded me of how many times the larger Churches are the target of attack. I like to think that the Church I attend falls in that “a wealthy successful megachurch with problems but with God’s Word.” at our most recent congregational meeting there was this deep desire to really dig into God’s Word and make education a priority. being a 1800-2000K a sunday Church we get targeted a lot in the LCMS. But we speak the creeds at every service, have confession, honor the sacraments and stick to the word. God just has blessed us in spite of our sinfulness with a large congregation.
    I would imagine a small church of 100 or so would be on the other side of the coin, they could be preaching the word and reaching out to the community but still be dwindling. However, they would be looked at as failing because of some aspect of their own sin. So perhaps we just have more small congregations due to the Lutheran church being more of a town church so there are more folk in small churches than large ones so the small churches get the benefit of the doubt?
    I don’t know. But would like to know more to help conversations.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I hope that the main point here has not been lost — namely, that the true successfulness of a church is determined by its faithfulness to God’s Word, not by any metric. With that rubric under our belt, we can say that this small “dying” church and that “successful” megachurch are both doing well — or doing poorly — by the only metric that matters.

    I imagine that the predisposition — explicit or inferred — towards small congregations comes from Scripture passages like Matthew 7:13-14, among others. If, goes the thought, only a few find the narrow road, if the world will hate Jesus’ followers, if friendship with the world means enmity against God … then we shouldn’t be surprised at small churches, but large churches might be examined to make sure they’re not catering to the world.

    Of course, the way to examine a church, large or small, remains according to its faithfulness to God’s Word. It’s quite possible that the small church is small because there is no Gospel preached there (there are actually probably a lot of these in the closest large urban center!). And it’s quite possible that the megachurch is large because it preaches the Gospel like few other surrounding churches do (but I’ve seen no examples of this, myself; that said, I’ve never been to a Lutheran megachurch).

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I hope that the main point here has not been lost — namely, that the true successfulness of a church is determined by its faithfulness to God’s Word, not by any metric. With that rubric under our belt, we can say that this small “dying” church and that “successful” megachurch are both doing well — or doing poorly — by the only metric that matters.

    I imagine that the predisposition — explicit or inferred — towards small congregations comes from Scripture passages like Matthew 7:13-14, among others. If, goes the thought, only a few find the narrow road, if the world will hate Jesus’ followers, if friendship with the world means enmity against God … then we shouldn’t be surprised at small churches, but large churches might be examined to make sure they’re not catering to the world.

    Of course, the way to examine a church, large or small, remains according to its faithfulness to God’s Word. It’s quite possible that the small church is small because there is no Gospel preached there (there are actually probably a lot of these in the closest large urban center!). And it’s quite possible that the megachurch is large because it preaches the Gospel like few other surrounding churches do (but I’ve seen no examples of this, myself; that said, I’ve never been to a Lutheran megachurch).

  • Digital

    tODD@36
    Well said. I came from small town Nebraska with our small town family based churches, and now live in Lincoln and attend one of the LCMS “Mega Churches” although I wouldn’t call it a Mega Church but I guess by the standards mentioned above it is. We have our problems like any other Church but we definitely are preaching the Gospel all week long through a variety of ministries. I like to think that we are inspiring people to get deeper into the Word and are reaching people who had strayed log ago. That being said, I do miss the small church many times. The pot lucks, the close knit community (not that there aren’t communities in our church that are very close but you know what I mean).
    But to continue back to the original topic, I think a metric of a church can be it’s growth, but it should not be the litmus test. We should see the growth in spirit and that should multiply in works and sheep in the fold. I think with Matthew 7 in mind we cant just think of 2K member or 800 member churches as the majority, no by far we are still in the minority. We have to look in context of the town/state/country and world. We are outnumbered. We cant compare the small church and the large church and say “well we are the narrow path because we are smaller than that church”. No we have to say we are the narrow path because we hold God’s True word to heart and are steadfast! I think many times as Lutherans we tend not to think outside our own Synod.
    Which is why I would say the Small church with elderly and no growth is a dying Church, the work may being done in each individual heart but are they producing works? Are they sharing the Gospel? are they preaching to the world? Find me a church that is doing all those things and still shrinking and I will be corrected. But if you are not growing/living, then you are dying. A Church with no members and no works is dead. So a Church whose numbers are dwindling with no respite on the horizon, is for all intensive purposes dying.

  • Digital

    tODD@36
    Well said. I came from small town Nebraska with our small town family based churches, and now live in Lincoln and attend one of the LCMS “Mega Churches” although I wouldn’t call it a Mega Church but I guess by the standards mentioned above it is. We have our problems like any other Church but we definitely are preaching the Gospel all week long through a variety of ministries. I like to think that we are inspiring people to get deeper into the Word and are reaching people who had strayed log ago. That being said, I do miss the small church many times. The pot lucks, the close knit community (not that there aren’t communities in our church that are very close but you know what I mean).
    But to continue back to the original topic, I think a metric of a church can be it’s growth, but it should not be the litmus test. We should see the growth in spirit and that should multiply in works and sheep in the fold. I think with Matthew 7 in mind we cant just think of 2K member or 800 member churches as the majority, no by far we are still in the minority. We have to look in context of the town/state/country and world. We are outnumbered. We cant compare the small church and the large church and say “well we are the narrow path because we are smaller than that church”. No we have to say we are the narrow path because we hold God’s True word to heart and are steadfast! I think many times as Lutherans we tend not to think outside our own Synod.
    Which is why I would say the Small church with elderly and no growth is a dying Church, the work may being done in each individual heart but are they producing works? Are they sharing the Gospel? are they preaching to the world? Find me a church that is doing all those things and still shrinking and I will be corrected. But if you are not growing/living, then you are dying. A Church with no members and no works is dead. So a Church whose numbers are dwindling with no respite on the horizon, is for all intensive purposes dying.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Digital (@37), sorry, but I don’t agree with your conclusions, even if you agreed with my earlier comment.

    You said, “We should see the growth in spirit and that should multiply in works and sheep in the fold.” But that’s a human conclusion. Show me where God connects them. Quite frequently, God’s followers found themselves quite alone, even though they appeared to be quite spiritually mature. Think Noah or Elijah after Mt. Carmel. How many “sheep in the fold” did they see?

    Which is why I would say the Small church with elderly and no growth is a dying Church, the work may being done in each individual heart but are they producing works?

    Again, I think the focus is all wrong in this statement. If God has produced faith in these hearts, then he will also necessarily produce works — but that doesn’t mean some external metric that you, personally, can measure. Nor does it guarantee numbers in the congregation, either. You put too much faith in numbers.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Digital (@37), sorry, but I don’t agree with your conclusions, even if you agreed with my earlier comment.

    You said, “We should see the growth in spirit and that should multiply in works and sheep in the fold.” But that’s a human conclusion. Show me where God connects them. Quite frequently, God’s followers found themselves quite alone, even though they appeared to be quite spiritually mature. Think Noah or Elijah after Mt. Carmel. How many “sheep in the fold” did they see?

    Which is why I would say the Small church with elderly and no growth is a dying Church, the work may being done in each individual heart but are they producing works?

    Again, I think the focus is all wrong in this statement. If God has produced faith in these hearts, then he will also necessarily produce works — but that doesn’t mean some external metric that you, personally, can measure. Nor does it guarantee numbers in the congregation, either. You put too much faith in numbers.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Digital @ 37

    I would second Todd exactly where he is uncomfortable with your comments dear brother or sister Digital.

    Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God “comes in a way that cannot be seen”.

    I take this to mean, based on the understanding of Holy Scripture found in the Lutheran Confessions to mean both the Earthly Kingdom of God in which God works his Goodness and Mercy through the Law written in Reason (read more about this Kingdom in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd article of the Creed, Small Catechism), and then also in his Heavenly Kingdom which is ruled alone by invisible Faith alone in Christ (read more about this Kingdom in the 2nd & 3rd article of the Creed, Small Catechism).

    In both Kingdoms God does what?

    He delivers his Goodness and Mercy 1) “without any merit or worthiness on our part” 2) “indeed without our prayer or asking” 3) “even to all the wicked.”

    Indeed the Lord´s Prayer (Our Father) has 7 petitions, 7 representing completeness. God is granting all 7 of those petitions even before we pray, again , even for all the wicked (feel free to insert my Old Adam unbaptized name here).

    Ok. So now I need to praise you dear Digital.

    You correctly point out that faith without works is dead. One of our hymns says the same thing “works provide the proof that faith is living”. The Lutheran Confessions are very cool with that. But how?

    St James says that “works are to breathing as faith is to the body”. This seems to indicate that if the body (faith) is healthy, then works (loving God and others) just simply happens as a consequence. It is not work. Breathing (work) is noticed only when it becomes an effort. And breathing-as-effort happens when there is something wrong with our body. So I will assert that always when we work and make an effort at obeying God´s Law, this is a sign that we are sinners. Why?

    This is the result of the internal dialog between Old-adam-hearts-that-buckle-up-in-faith-to-anything-BUT-faith-alone-in-Christ fighting against the Law of God written in our Reason. Christ did not have this internal dialog. His heart was God´s own heart is why. New man does not have this internal dialog, his heart is now the heart of Christ. New Man´s heart is again perfectly restored to God´s Image and Adamic original righeousness . How? By those new heart movements that Baptism puts into New Man.

    Now for the second observation. This is the observation that Works are the proof that faith is living. This too is correct. But how?

    The Lutheran Confessions tell us that only when we have those new heart movements that baptism brings, that is the restored Image of God and Adamic Righeousness of Faith in Christ alone, what happens?

    We become terrified of our sins. This is the proof, right there in our works, that our faith is living!

    We see then that what the Law of Reason God has revealed was veiled by the veil of Moses. Now we can see, with our new heart, that God demands our whole heart and not just the outward keeping of the Law (which he does also demand). And we see that our Old Adam will not permit this to be done. We see that all the works of our Old Adam are all nothing but idolatry.

    Now here is the part that is interesting: How do we identify our New Man fruits of the Spirit and distinguish them from the fruits of that the Old Adam does that are extorted out of him by the Law of Reason and conscience? Here is how: We can see them being done. We do them. They require work and effort. They require willpower, self-restraint, love, and practice. They look like Reason and Love controlling and channeling our natural appetites (sex, food, desires) as driven by our emotions. This is what Old Adam being good looks like.

    But this is proof that our faith is living . How? There is a new internal dialog that no longer flees God´s judgement over sin, but fully accepts it. It does not seek to be justified by how well Reason and Love are getting a grip on our baser instincts. It surrenders instead to faith in Christ. And in the middle of that, we learn to seek our death in our Good Works for the earthly betterment of others. We no longer seek our life or even the life of our Church in those works. This is what Holy Baptism “signifies”.

    This is all that is meant by “The Just shall Live by faith”. And that is what Holy Baptism does! It binds us to the Death of Christ and to Life in Him. By faith alone. In Christ alone.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Digital @ 37

    I would second Todd exactly where he is uncomfortable with your comments dear brother or sister Digital.

    Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God “comes in a way that cannot be seen”.

    I take this to mean, based on the understanding of Holy Scripture found in the Lutheran Confessions to mean both the Earthly Kingdom of God in which God works his Goodness and Mercy through the Law written in Reason (read more about this Kingdom in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd article of the Creed, Small Catechism), and then also in his Heavenly Kingdom which is ruled alone by invisible Faith alone in Christ (read more about this Kingdom in the 2nd & 3rd article of the Creed, Small Catechism).

    In both Kingdoms God does what?

    He delivers his Goodness and Mercy 1) “without any merit or worthiness on our part” 2) “indeed without our prayer or asking” 3) “even to all the wicked.”

    Indeed the Lord´s Prayer (Our Father) has 7 petitions, 7 representing completeness. God is granting all 7 of those petitions even before we pray, again , even for all the wicked (feel free to insert my Old Adam unbaptized name here).

    Ok. So now I need to praise you dear Digital.

    You correctly point out that faith without works is dead. One of our hymns says the same thing “works provide the proof that faith is living”. The Lutheran Confessions are very cool with that. But how?

    St James says that “works are to breathing as faith is to the body”. This seems to indicate that if the body (faith) is healthy, then works (loving God and others) just simply happens as a consequence. It is not work. Breathing (work) is noticed only when it becomes an effort. And breathing-as-effort happens when there is something wrong with our body. So I will assert that always when we work and make an effort at obeying God´s Law, this is a sign that we are sinners. Why?

    This is the result of the internal dialog between Old-adam-hearts-that-buckle-up-in-faith-to-anything-BUT-faith-alone-in-Christ fighting against the Law of God written in our Reason. Christ did not have this internal dialog. His heart was God´s own heart is why. New man does not have this internal dialog, his heart is now the heart of Christ. New Man´s heart is again perfectly restored to God´s Image and Adamic original righeousness . How? By those new heart movements that Baptism puts into New Man.

    Now for the second observation. This is the observation that Works are the proof that faith is living. This too is correct. But how?

    The Lutheran Confessions tell us that only when we have those new heart movements that baptism brings, that is the restored Image of God and Adamic Righeousness of Faith in Christ alone, what happens?

    We become terrified of our sins. This is the proof, right there in our works, that our faith is living!

    We see then that what the Law of Reason God has revealed was veiled by the veil of Moses. Now we can see, with our new heart, that God demands our whole heart and not just the outward keeping of the Law (which he does also demand). And we see that our Old Adam will not permit this to be done. We see that all the works of our Old Adam are all nothing but idolatry.

    Now here is the part that is interesting: How do we identify our New Man fruits of the Spirit and distinguish them from the fruits of that the Old Adam does that are extorted out of him by the Law of Reason and conscience? Here is how: We can see them being done. We do them. They require work and effort. They require willpower, self-restraint, love, and practice. They look like Reason and Love controlling and channeling our natural appetites (sex, food, desires) as driven by our emotions. This is what Old Adam being good looks like.

    But this is proof that our faith is living . How? There is a new internal dialog that no longer flees God´s judgement over sin, but fully accepts it. It does not seek to be justified by how well Reason and Love are getting a grip on our baser instincts. It surrenders instead to faith in Christ. And in the middle of that, we learn to seek our death in our Good Works for the earthly betterment of others. We no longer seek our life or even the life of our Church in those works. This is what Holy Baptism “signifies”.

    This is all that is meant by “The Just shall Live by faith”. And that is what Holy Baptism does! It binds us to the Death of Christ and to Life in Him. By faith alone. In Christ alone.

  • Digital

    tODD@38
    I understand your disagreement, and were we having a discussion in the context of faith rather than Church health I think the outcome would be different.
    However, God constantly uses multiplication to show a healthy blessed community:
    Psalm 107- “he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and he did not let their herds diminish. ”
    Acts 2 –
    “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
    Deut 1 – “The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky.”

    Now this all should be taken in context, thus why I reference the chapter not just the verse. However, in context, a dying church could have a greater eternal impact than a church busting at the seams with growth. But in the simple context of a church that is dying, eg the church is no longer growing or maintaining. It is a useful metric to review the ministry. If the people are convicted of God’s will in their congregation then go forth. But we should not simply disregard dwindling numbers as a sign that we are walking the narrow path.
    fws@39 – Brother in Christ :)

  • Digital

    tODD@38
    I understand your disagreement, and were we having a discussion in the context of faith rather than Church health I think the outcome would be different.
    However, God constantly uses multiplication to show a healthy blessed community:
    Psalm 107- “he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and he did not let their herds diminish. ”
    Acts 2 –
    “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
    Deut 1 – “The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky.”

    Now this all should be taken in context, thus why I reference the chapter not just the verse. However, in context, a dying church could have a greater eternal impact than a church busting at the seams with growth. But in the simple context of a church that is dying, eg the church is no longer growing or maintaining. It is a useful metric to review the ministry. If the people are convicted of God’s will in their congregation then go forth. But we should not simply disregard dwindling numbers as a sign that we are walking the narrow path.
    fws@39 – Brother in Christ :)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Digital (@40), it appears to me that you’ve missed the point Dr. Veith was making. You say, “were we having a discussion in the context of faith rather than Church health”, but this appears to create a dichotomy I’m not sure I agree with. So, for my understanding, please define what you mean by “church health”.

    From my perspective, your saying that “God constantly uses multiplication to show a healthy blessed community” is mostly a non sequitur here, and I think the contexts of Psalm 107 and Deuteronomy 1 really do not apply to this discussion.

    And while Acts 2 certainly does show God blessing the church (and, more importantly, the unbelievers added to the church!) by increasing its numbers, you are attempting to hang your argument on the converse of this statement — namely, that an increase in numbers is a sign of being blessed. Which means that Joel Osteen’s church is truly blessed and doing things “the right way”, right? Right?

    You mention “the simple context of a church that is dying, eg the church is no longer growing or maintaining”, but do you not see that this is not something you can actually know? You are using human logic and judgment of externals to assess what will happen to the church in the future, numbers-wise. But again, what would this sort of analysis have told us about Noah as he entered the ark, or Elijah after the Mt. Carmel incident, or the Christian church when nearly all the disciples had abandoned Jesus at the cross? And yet, we must conclude that the Church did grow after all these incidents, not die — by God’s grace, of course, not by man’s metrics.

    “We should not simply disregard dwindling numbers as a sign that we are walking the narrow path”. Agreed. As I have already said, the rubric is faithfulness to God’s Word. Dwindling numbers neither confirm that, nor contradict that.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Digital (@40), it appears to me that you’ve missed the point Dr. Veith was making. You say, “were we having a discussion in the context of faith rather than Church health”, but this appears to create a dichotomy I’m not sure I agree with. So, for my understanding, please define what you mean by “church health”.

    From my perspective, your saying that “God constantly uses multiplication to show a healthy blessed community” is mostly a non sequitur here, and I think the contexts of Psalm 107 and Deuteronomy 1 really do not apply to this discussion.

    And while Acts 2 certainly does show God blessing the church (and, more importantly, the unbelievers added to the church!) by increasing its numbers, you are attempting to hang your argument on the converse of this statement — namely, that an increase in numbers is a sign of being blessed. Which means that Joel Osteen’s church is truly blessed and doing things “the right way”, right? Right?

    You mention “the simple context of a church that is dying, eg the church is no longer growing or maintaining”, but do you not see that this is not something you can actually know? You are using human logic and judgment of externals to assess what will happen to the church in the future, numbers-wise. But again, what would this sort of analysis have told us about Noah as he entered the ark, or Elijah after the Mt. Carmel incident, or the Christian church when nearly all the disciples had abandoned Jesus at the cross? And yet, we must conclude that the Church did grow after all these incidents, not die — by God’s grace, of course, not by man’s metrics.

    “We should not simply disregard dwindling numbers as a sign that we are walking the narrow path”. Agreed. As I have already said, the rubric is faithfulness to God’s Word. Dwindling numbers neither confirm that, nor contradict that.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Digital @ 40

    Try this digital:

    In the Apology to the Lutheran Confessions the confessions suggest this:

    Thus also the Church is defined by the article in the Creed which teaches us to believe that there is a holy Catholic Church. 8] The wicked indeed are not a holy Church.

    And that which follows, namely, the communion of saints, seems to be added in order to explain what the [visible, earthly ] Church signifies, namely, the congregation of saints, who have …the same knowledge of Christ and of the same Holy Ghost, who renews, sanctifies, and governs their hearts.

    9] And this article has been presented for a necessary reason. The article of the Church Catholic or Universal, which is gathered together from every nation under the sun, is very comforting and highly necessary. We see the infinite dangers which threaten the destruction of the Church.

    In the Church itself, infinite is the multitude of the wicked who oppress it , despise, bitterly hate, and most violently persecute the Word, as, e.g., the Turks, Mohammedans, other tyrants, heretics, etc.

    For this reason the true teaching and the Church are often so utterly suppressed and disappear, as if there were no Church, which has happened under the papacy; it often seems that the Church has completely perished.

    Therefore, in order that we may not despair, but may know that the Church will nevertheless remain until the end of the world, likewise that we may know that, however great the multitude of the wicked is, yet the Church which is Christ’s bride exists, and that Christ affords those gifts which He has promised to the Church, to forgive sins, to hear prayer, to give the Holy Ghost, this article in the Creed presents us these consolations.

    10] And it says Church Catholic, in order that we may not understand the Church to be an outward government of certain nations, that the Church is like any other external polity, bound to this or that land, kingdom, or nation, as the Pope of Rome will say, but rather men scattered throughout the whole world here and there in the world, from the rising to the setting of the sun, who agree concerning the Gospel, and have the same Christ, the same Holy Ghost, and the same Sacraments, whether they have the same 11] or different human traditions.

    And the gloss upon the Decrees says that the Church in its wide sense embraces good and evil; likewise, that the wicked are in the Church only in name, not in fact; but that the good are in the Church both in fact and in name.

    12] Although, therefore, hypocrites and wicked men are members of this true Church according to outward rites ,titles and offices, yet when the Church is defined, it is necessary to define that which is the living body of Christ, and which is in name and in fact the Church which is called the body of Christ, and has fellowship not alone in outward signs, but has gifts in the heart, namely, the Holy Ghost and faith .

    13] And for this there are many reasons.

    For it is necessary to understand what it is that principally makes us members, and that, living members, of the Church.

    If we will define the Church only as an outward polity of the good and wicked [note that they are saying it IS that too] , men will not understand that the kingdom of Christ is righteousness of heart and the gift of the Holy Ghost [that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, as nevertheless it is; that therein Christ inwardly rules, strengthens, and comforts hearts, and imparts the Holy Ghost and various spiritual gifts], but they will judge that it is only the outward observance of certain forms of worship and rites.

    14] Likewise, what difference will there be between the people of the Law and the Church if the Church is an outward polity?

    But Paul distinguishes the Church from the people of the Law thus, that the Church is a spiritual people, i.e., that it has been distinguished from the heathen not by civil rites not in the polity and civil affairs, but that it is the true people of God, regenerated by the Holy Ghost.

    Among the people of the Law, apart from the promise of Christ, also the carnal seed [all those who by nature were born Jews and Abraham's seed] had promises concerning corporeal things, of government, etc. And because of these even the wicked among them were called the people of God, because God had separated this carnal seed from other nations by certain outward ordinances and promises; and yet, 15] these wicked persons did not please God. But the Gospel [which is preached in the Church] brings not merely the shadow of eternal things, but the eternal things themselves, the Holy Ghost and righteousness, by which we are righteous before God.

    But every true Christian is even here upon earth partaker of eternal blessings, even of eternal comfort, of eternal life, and of the Holy Ghost, and of righteousness which is from God, until he will be completely saved in the world to come. http://www.bookofconcord.org/defense_6_church.php

    16] Therefore, only those are the people, according to the Gospel, who receive this promise of the Spirit. Besides, the Church is the kingdom of Christ, distinguished from the kingdom of the devil. It is certain, however, that the wicked are in the power of the devil, and members of the kingdom of the devil, as Paul teaches, Eph. 2:2, when he says that the devil now worketh in the children of disobedience. And Christ says to the Pharisees, who certainly had outward fellowship with the Church, i.e., with the saints among the people of the Law (for they held office, sacrificed, and taught): Ye are of your father, the devil, John 8:44. Therefore, the Church, which is truly the kingdom of Christ, is properly the congregation of saints. For the wicked are ruled by the devil, and are captives of the devil; they are not ruled by the Spirit of Christ.

    Sommary: There is the church in the “broad sense” that is another form of earthly government called the Church. This church is ordered according to the Law in the form of what we sinful men do by the right administration of Word and Sacrament. This earthly church includes unbelievers. It is ruled by the Law.

    In with and under this visible earthly church is the invisible church that is the sum of all who trust in Christ. This church is about alone faith alone in christ alone.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Digital @ 40

    Try this digital:

    In the Apology to the Lutheran Confessions the confessions suggest this:

    Thus also the Church is defined by the article in the Creed which teaches us to believe that there is a holy Catholic Church. 8] The wicked indeed are not a holy Church.

    And that which follows, namely, the communion of saints, seems to be added in order to explain what the [visible, earthly ] Church signifies, namely, the congregation of saints, who have …the same knowledge of Christ and of the same Holy Ghost, who renews, sanctifies, and governs their hearts.

    9] And this article has been presented for a necessary reason. The article of the Church Catholic or Universal, which is gathered together from every nation under the sun, is very comforting and highly necessary. We see the infinite dangers which threaten the destruction of the Church.

    In the Church itself, infinite is the multitude of the wicked who oppress it , despise, bitterly hate, and most violently persecute the Word, as, e.g., the Turks, Mohammedans, other tyrants, heretics, etc.

    For this reason the true teaching and the Church are often so utterly suppressed and disappear, as if there were no Church, which has happened under the papacy; it often seems that the Church has completely perished.

    Therefore, in order that we may not despair, but may know that the Church will nevertheless remain until the end of the world, likewise that we may know that, however great the multitude of the wicked is, yet the Church which is Christ’s bride exists, and that Christ affords those gifts which He has promised to the Church, to forgive sins, to hear prayer, to give the Holy Ghost, this article in the Creed presents us these consolations.

    10] And it says Church Catholic, in order that we may not understand the Church to be an outward government of certain nations, that the Church is like any other external polity, bound to this or that land, kingdom, or nation, as the Pope of Rome will say, but rather men scattered throughout the whole world here and there in the world, from the rising to the setting of the sun, who agree concerning the Gospel, and have the same Christ, the same Holy Ghost, and the same Sacraments, whether they have the same 11] or different human traditions.

    And the gloss upon the Decrees says that the Church in its wide sense embraces good and evil; likewise, that the wicked are in the Church only in name, not in fact; but that the good are in the Church both in fact and in name.

    12] Although, therefore, hypocrites and wicked men are members of this true Church according to outward rites ,titles and offices, yet when the Church is defined, it is necessary to define that which is the living body of Christ, and which is in name and in fact the Church which is called the body of Christ, and has fellowship not alone in outward signs, but has gifts in the heart, namely, the Holy Ghost and faith .

    13] And for this there are many reasons.

    For it is necessary to understand what it is that principally makes us members, and that, living members, of the Church.

    If we will define the Church only as an outward polity of the good and wicked [note that they are saying it IS that too] , men will not understand that the kingdom of Christ is righteousness of heart and the gift of the Holy Ghost [that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, as nevertheless it is; that therein Christ inwardly rules, strengthens, and comforts hearts, and imparts the Holy Ghost and various spiritual gifts], but they will judge that it is only the outward observance of certain forms of worship and rites.

    14] Likewise, what difference will there be between the people of the Law and the Church if the Church is an outward polity?

    But Paul distinguishes the Church from the people of the Law thus, that the Church is a spiritual people, i.e., that it has been distinguished from the heathen not by civil rites not in the polity and civil affairs, but that it is the true people of God, regenerated by the Holy Ghost.

    Among the people of the Law, apart from the promise of Christ, also the carnal seed [all those who by nature were born Jews and Abraham's seed] had promises concerning corporeal things, of government, etc. And because of these even the wicked among them were called the people of God, because God had separated this carnal seed from other nations by certain outward ordinances and promises; and yet, 15] these wicked persons did not please God. But the Gospel [which is preached in the Church] brings not merely the shadow of eternal things, but the eternal things themselves, the Holy Ghost and righteousness, by which we are righteous before God.

    But every true Christian is even here upon earth partaker of eternal blessings, even of eternal comfort, of eternal life, and of the Holy Ghost, and of righteousness which is from God, until he will be completely saved in the world to come. http://www.bookofconcord.org/defense_6_church.php

    16] Therefore, only those are the people, according to the Gospel, who receive this promise of the Spirit. Besides, the Church is the kingdom of Christ, distinguished from the kingdom of the devil. It is certain, however, that the wicked are in the power of the devil, and members of the kingdom of the devil, as Paul teaches, Eph. 2:2, when he says that the devil now worketh in the children of disobedience. And Christ says to the Pharisees, who certainly had outward fellowship with the Church, i.e., with the saints among the people of the Law (for they held office, sacrificed, and taught): Ye are of your father, the devil, John 8:44. Therefore, the Church, which is truly the kingdom of Christ, is properly the congregation of saints. For the wicked are ruled by the devil, and are captives of the devil; they are not ruled by the Spirit of Christ.

    Sommary: There is the church in the “broad sense” that is another form of earthly government called the Church. This church is ordered according to the Law in the form of what we sinful men do by the right administration of Word and Sacrament. This earthly church includes unbelievers. It is ruled by the Law.

    In with and under this visible earthly church is the invisible church that is the sum of all who trust in Christ. This church is about alone faith alone in christ alone.

  • Digital

    tODD@41
    I think we are agreeing but you have a more eloquent way of writing :)
    and I think the contexts of Psalm 107 and Deuteronomy 1 really do not apply to this discussion.
    However here we disagree a bit. I used those two verses (omitting several others) to show that God has previously used multiplication as a blessing, I could not find multiplying to be a curse or a detriment anywhere (not that it doesn’t exist). However, it isn’t the only evidence of blessing, not by far!
    As well we disagree on useful metrics. Even with the abandonment of Christ we have prophecy to show the necessity, as well with Mt Carmel we have God speaking and explaining the events to the prophets.
    As for Olstein’s Church, we can easily show via scripture the failings. Numbers are a simple metric, one of hundreds that we as wretched sinful beings can use to see God’s purpose.
    However the original article starts off with a premise of church membership dwindling and being termed a dying church, then the sermon is used to show the passion of the Christ. While this is true “And so it is only by dying with Christ that can we then live.” it has nothing to do with the term dying church as used in the first paragraph. But rather gives me personally the feeling that the article as a whole is painting dwindling church membership as a mirror for Christ’s death and resurrection. It does not resolve the original argument of:
    “I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say”
    But rather distracts from the issue that some churches are indeed dying. Whether or not it is God’s will that they do so is a separate argument.
    Eg it appears to me that Veith’s point is regarding the term of a dying church being an unfair one, whereas Rev. Douthwaite’s is one of Justification and Sanctification.

    Here is the crux of the discussion: Dying is defined as “the time when something ends”. If your congregation is in the process of losing membership, it is moving towards a time when the congregation is hitting it’s end. Therefore the term “dying church” is appropriate for the church as described above. Can Christ use death as a launchpad? I think we know the answer to that :)

  • Digital

    tODD@41
    I think we are agreeing but you have a more eloquent way of writing :)
    and I think the contexts of Psalm 107 and Deuteronomy 1 really do not apply to this discussion.
    However here we disagree a bit. I used those two verses (omitting several others) to show that God has previously used multiplication as a blessing, I could not find multiplying to be a curse or a detriment anywhere (not that it doesn’t exist). However, it isn’t the only evidence of blessing, not by far!
    As well we disagree on useful metrics. Even with the abandonment of Christ we have prophecy to show the necessity, as well with Mt Carmel we have God speaking and explaining the events to the prophets.
    As for Olstein’s Church, we can easily show via scripture the failings. Numbers are a simple metric, one of hundreds that we as wretched sinful beings can use to see God’s purpose.
    However the original article starts off with a premise of church membership dwindling and being termed a dying church, then the sermon is used to show the passion of the Christ. While this is true “And so it is only by dying with Christ that can we then live.” it has nothing to do with the term dying church as used in the first paragraph. But rather gives me personally the feeling that the article as a whole is painting dwindling church membership as a mirror for Christ’s death and resurrection. It does not resolve the original argument of:
    “I have always thought that this is rather wicked to say”
    But rather distracts from the issue that some churches are indeed dying. Whether or not it is God’s will that they do so is a separate argument.
    Eg it appears to me that Veith’s point is regarding the term of a dying church being an unfair one, whereas Rev. Douthwaite’s is one of Justification and Sanctification.

    Here is the crux of the discussion: Dying is defined as “the time when something ends”. If your congregation is in the process of losing membership, it is moving towards a time when the congregation is hitting it’s end. Therefore the term “dying church” is appropriate for the church as described above. Can Christ use death as a launchpad? I think we know the answer to that :)

  • Digital

    As I re-read my post, I cannot think of a term that would fit a Church who is fading without romanticizing it.
    Dwindling Church
    Fading Church
    Definitely not Failing Church
    Maybe because we use the term Church, which is a bit unfair because the Church is more than a congregation.

  • Digital

    As I re-read my post, I cannot think of a term that would fit a Church who is fading without romanticizing it.
    Dwindling Church
    Fading Church
    Definitely not Failing Church
    Maybe because we use the term Church, which is a bit unfair because the Church is more than a congregation.

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