Elmer Furtick

Looks like Steven Furtick took a page out of Elmer Gantry’s playbook (and I can’t get over how much he looks like Boyd Crowder):

In Scranton, they had unusually exasperating patients.  Scranton had been saved by a number of other evangelists before their arrival, and had become almost anesthetic.  Ten nights they sweated over the audience without a single sinner coming forward, and Elmer had to go out and hire half a dozen convincing converts.

He found them in a mission near the river, and explained that by giving a good example to the slothful, they would be doing the work of God, and that if the example was good enough, he would give them five dollars apiece.  The missioner himself came in during the conference and offered to get converted for ten, but he was so well known that Elmer had to give him the ten to stay away.

His gang of converts was very impressive, but thereafter no member of the evangelistic troupe was safe.  The professional Christians besieged the tent night and day.  They wanted to be saved again.  When they were refused, they offered to produce new converts at five dollars apiece–three dollars apiece–fifty cents and a square meal.  By this time enough authentic and free enthusiasts were appearing, and though they were fervent, they did not relish being saved in company with hoboes who smelled.  When the half dozen cappers were thrown out, bodily, by Elmer and Art Nichols, they took to coming to the meetings and catcalling, so that for the rest of the series they had to be paid a dollar a night each to stay away.


Actions and Words, Again

[See here for the first part]

So it seems that many people do not care that the treasures of the liturgy and the hymns are lost, and along with them any sustained relevance in the lives of sinners who, essentially, are exactly the same as sinners, say, 1700 years ago.

(Aside: It seems to me, in fact, that our current cultural situation is very near the situation of people like Ambrose and Augustine, following the legalization and then the State sponsorship of Christianity: i.e., very soon–if not already–there will be an influx of people into the Church or the sphere of those who belong to the Church, who have been pagans their entire lives.  They will not have been baptized and they will be approaching the Church from a position of nearly complete ignorance.  What will we do with them?  Will we pretend we can dumb down the Gospel to the level of unbelief, and that this will somehow appeal to them enough that they will gladly join Christian congregations?  Or will we be secure enough in our liturgical and apostolic heritage to assimilate them into the life of the Church, with the fullness of its ancient doctrine and practices (see Acts 2:42)?  This will obviously require much more work than what we’re currently doing, and a complete reworking of our present process of catechesis.  We will be starting at the ground floor, hoping to make life-long Christians.  That cannot happen in six weeks, or even two years.  Perhaps the early catechumenate, mutatis mutandis, can help us here if we are willing.)

But for those who do think the liturgy has something to offer, if only as a vestigial memory from childhood, what can we do?  I do not pretend to have the answers to a problem that has been in the making for probably 300+ years.  However, I will offer some tentative ideas, to begin or continue a discussion, especially in the LCMS (since that is my context).

  1. Parents, as I said in the first part of this, must be committed to what happens on the Lord’s Day.  Not only those who are parents of those particular children, but other members of the congregation who also have a vested interest in whether children grow up in the fear and instruction of the Lord.  Sunday School teachers cannot teach a class, and then absent themselves from the Divine Service without a very compelling reason.  Even if you think people don’t notice, it sends a strong message to children not to see their Sunday School teachers in the Divine Service.  It says you’re only putting in your time, and no more.  The other members of the congregation, surrounding the children, cannot sing and say everything half-heartedly or no-heartedly.
  2. When you are present in the Divine Service, and when you are at home, you must be willing to teach your children about the various parts of the liturgy (e.g., show them where things are in the hymnal), and connect the liturgy to the various concerns that arise in day to day life.  The Nunc Dimittis, for example, is especially appropriate for night time singing before bed.  (If you don’t know how it connects, ask your pastor!  He, if he’s anything like me, would love to tell you, almost more than anything.)  In the Service itself, you have to participate yourself and help your children to do so according to their ages.  Children will memorize the words if they hear the people around them singing them.  They do it with everything else you say; why not with the Divine Service?  Participate and sing the hymns, even if you don’t like that particular one!
  3. Related to that, realizing that the words are pure Gospel, sing them like you mean them.  If your children see you mumbling the words, or sitting there without your hymnal open, or glazedly looking out the window, they will quickly realize that these things are not important.  Guess where they won’t want to be next week?
  4. This presence and this participation will not only impact your children.  Here, we’ve come back around to unbelievers.  Imagine, first, this scenario: someone who is not a member of a congregation, who maybe has no connection with a congregation, who finds the Divine Service foreign, visits your congregation.  This person sits in a pew, sees people socializing right up until the beginning of the second stanza of the opening hymn, and singing the liturgy and reading the responses as if they were reading a manual on how to correctly install the flush mechanism of a modern toilet.  The hymns sound how Lutherans are always accused of sounding: like funeral dirges, not necessarily musically, but in the manner and appearance of the people singing them.  Death cometh, hopefully sooner rather than later.   At least, that’s what I’d be thinking.  Now, ask yourself this question: why in the world would that person ever want to return to your congregation for a Divine Service?  The fact is, we are the cause of the things we complain about.  The pastor can only do so much to speak and sing his parts with passion (especially if he’s an introvert like me); the people have to do a little work.  And if they do: if they sing with joy, if they appear to actually believe what they are singing and saying, might that not cause someone to take a second look at what appears at first to be an hour completely removed from the twenty-first century?  Maybe there’s something more here than meets my first glance.  Maybe still waters run deep.  Maybe…

Now, obviously none of these things, or anyone else’s ideas, will guarantee that churches will stop shrinking, that kids will start to love and treasure the liturgy more than their parents, that we can reverse a decades-long trend of apathy toward the liturgy that the Christian Church has developed over 2000 years.  Proverbs 22:6 is a proverb–the way things generally go–not a promise.  But the guarantee of continued falling away from God’s promises in baptism is much more likely if parents do not carry out their God-given responsibilities and bring their children to the services of the Lord’s House, teach them the stories of God’s salvation in Christ, and sing to them the songs that the Church has sanctified by long use.

On the other hand, if you want your children to keep looking for a church that will “fit their needs” and give them what they think they want, eventually they will just do what they always wanted anyway, and treat the Lord’s Day as just another day in the weekend.  If that’s what you want, I’d suggest we all just keep doing what we’re doing and kill off the liturgy, and with it the Faith that it instills.  I’m not willing to give up just yet.


Irrelevance, Pietism, Confessionalism, and an Election Year

I have recommended this book before, but I have just re-read it, and I’m going to post quotes and comments in an attempt to convince you to read it. D.G. Hart strikes at the heart of the difficulties in American Protestantism, and, from my perspective, the difficulties in the Missouri Synod. (BTW, it’s not very often that you hear positive comments–indeed, an entire positive section!–about the LCMS from someone outside the LCMS.)

The basic point of the book is that the usual conservative/liberal or fundamentalist/progressive divisions of Protestantism in America simply neglect an entire group of churches and people: “confessionalists” Hart calls them. This is why, if you are an informed member of the LCMS or another confessional Lutheran church body, you can’t quite reconcile what you believe with the two categories into which you are forced to fit yourself, either liberal or conservative, fundamentalist or progressive. You’re uncomfortable with the political aspirations and ambitions of both the Religious Right and Jim Wallis. But you don’t have anywhere else to go. That’s because, as Hart narrates, both sociologists and historians of religion have ignored you: the confessionalist. You might be conservative in your politics, or not, but you don’t like how either the Religious Right or the Religious Left do things.

Hart calls the religious activism of both the Right and the Left (the former concerned with making America a “Christian nation,” the latter with the justice of the Kingdom of God come on earth) “pietism,” in recognition that both sides think that Christianity should make better citizens, however they think that citizenship should play out. On the contrary: “Confessional Protestantism invites a different form of analysis, one that asks not whether faith makes good Americans but whether it nurtures good Christians” (183). This is why confessional Protestantism has been largely ignored and why it seems so irrelevant–because it is irrelevant. Hart devotes an entire chapter to the “Irrelevance of Lutheran Liturgy”!

There are questions that Hart leaves mostly unanswered, such as to what degree Christians should be engaged with the culture and the political sphere–but I believe he tackles that issue in his latest book–and he misconstrues (twice) the Lutheran understanding of the “Two Kingdoms” (better: the Two Realms), but it’s hard for something like this to not ring true: “In sum, the application of religion to practical affairs sacralizes things that are common (e.g., exercise, eating, and politics) and trivializes things that are sacred (e.g., creed, sacraments, and pastoral ministry)” (xxi).

It is so easy to recognize the trends in American Lutheranism which Hart identifies, that it requires little more than an “Aha!” For example:

Like its European antecedents, American pietism dismissed church creeds, structures, and ceremonies as merely formal or external manifestations of religion that went only skin deep. In contrast, pietists have insisted that genuine faith was one that transformed individuals, starting with their heart and seeping into all walks of life (xxiii).

And then this:

Confessionalism is the lost soul of American Protestantism, then, in the sense that pietism, through revivalism, has largely routed it over the course of two and a half centuries. One way to measure this defeat is to ask any American Protestant if the Apostles’ Creed, the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper or the ministry of the local pastor is as important as personal times of prayer and Bible study, meeting with other Christians in small groups, witnessing to non-Christians, or volunteering at the local shelter for the homeless (xxiv).

Ask the question even of a member of what Hart calls the confessional Lutheran party, the LCMS, and you will easily see how deeply pietism has infected Lutheranism.

More from Hart: “…the standard approaches to American protestantism miss what may in fact be a more significant division in United States religion–namely, between believers who distinguish the essence of Christianity from the external practices and observances of it (i.e., pietists) and those who refuse to make such a distinction (i.e., confessionalists)” (xxviii). Whether or not you can get and keep members determines the success of your congregation and pastor, and it is obvious to anyone who can make elementary connections that this fits entirely with the marketplace mentality of the U.S. in general.

The result of religious disestablishment was a free-market approach to questions of faith and the consequences were far-reaching. Churches that had previously been assigned parishioners in a particular locale were now forced to compete for adherents. In other words, the separation of church and state put an end to the welfare state for religious bodies and in turn made churches dependent on the people for support.

Thus: fewer people, less money, smaller congregation=unsuccessful. But how is a congregation supposed to attract new and more people, except by giving them what they want and evoking a definable and observable response (a critical event?)? As Hart quotes Roger Finke, “The religion of the unregulated market is of the people, by the people and for the people” (13).

And how many pastors have experienced this attitude on the part of the people: “Like a vitamin, the institutional church was merely supplemental” (21)? According to the pietist, “Going to church and participating in public worship, to be sure, were fine activities and should not be neglected. But these acts of devotion had no real bearing on one’s personal salvation” (ibid.).

In his discussion of “Old-World Lutherans,” Hart writes, “In sum, confessionalist piety was essentially churchly; participation in the forms and rites of the church, as opposed to the convert’s solitary question to lead an earnest moral life, was the way to be a Christian” (47). It sounds so absurd! The pietist mindset has not only beat out the confessionalist, it has nearly erased every indication that the confessionalist ever existed at all. (In this section, dealing with S.S. Schmucker, I am surprised that Hart does not even mention Charles Krauth, who probably did more than anyone to fight Schmucker’s Americanized Lutheranism.)

Hart also hits another struggle of confessional pastors in the LCMS when he notes that “the churchly ways of confessionalists were becoming harder and harder to distinguish from Catholicism in the eyes of many Americans, thanks to the influence of revivalism[!]” (49). Who, among LCMS lay people, is able to see beyond the forms to the theology underlying the ceremonies? Forget the laity, what pastor can say why the Lutheran ceremony means something other than the Roman?

Anyone recognize a trend in LCMS church plants in these words: “What evangelicals needed was a minimalist creed, a well-oiled machine, some funding, and lots of zeal” (74)? That is because, whether “there were two parties (fundamentalist and liberal) or three (fundamentalist, liberal, and evangelical, all were committed to the pietist vision of making faith relevant to everyday life” (ibid., emphasis added). Faith has to be relevant to everyday life, right? Forget all the irrelevant discussions about, say, the Lord’s Supper. We need to be relevant. Yep, never heard that before.

Hart has an intriguing side-note where he calls the conservative pietists “neo-Protestants” and the conservative confessionalists “paleo-Protestants,” and then writes that “just as political neoconservatives are, as the adage has it, liberals who got mugged by the 1960s, so neo-Protestants were the pietists of the nineteenth century who got mugged in the 1920s by the excesses of trying to make an otherworldly faith relevant” (80).

A few more salient quotes:

[I]nserting religious observances into public spaces hurt religion. “What could be more terrible,” [J.Gresham] Machen wrote, “from the Christian point of view, than the reading of the Lord’s Prayer to non-Christian children, as though they could use it without becoming Christians, as though persons who have never been purchased by the blood of Christ could possibly say to God, ‘Our Father, which art in Heaven’?” (93)

[More from Machen, who sounds very Lutheran at this point:] You cannot expect from a true Christian Church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force…[The Church’s] weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the Church is turning aside from its proper mission (94).

Machen was kicked out of his Presbyterian church, as Hart puts it, after “a series of episodes in which Presbyterian officials denied the existence of liberalism in the church and blamed conservatives like Machen for the controversy in the denomination”! (98 ) Hmm, denial of a problem and blame placed on those who identify the problem…now where have I heard something like that…?

The Dutch Calvinists were also appropriately critical of their Evangelical neighbors: “Instead [of having a love for theory, dogmatic truth, and clarity of principle], ‘everything was judged by its fruits or results,’ thus making American Protestantism ‘more broad than deep.'” (125). Further, Protestant worship was “oriented by an ‘indiscriminate looking for something new'” and “Evangelicalism sacrificed principle (read: doctrine) for application (read: self interest)” (ibid.).

And all of this stems from the revivalism of the American Frontier. Hart quotes James F. White: “in line with the Frontier Tradition, music is half the service….The musical idiom is carefully selected to relate to that homogeneous unit being targeted” (157) [e.g., twenty-somethings, Baby Boomers, “the youth,” etc.]. “Services use a variety of means that are designed to make an impression on would-be converts that elicits a dramatic, emotional, and, it is assumed, heartfelt response. … [The charismatic movement] has made emotional participation an indication of genuine faith. As such, churches under the influence of the charismatic movement have reconfigured worship services to give worshipers an experience of divine encounter. … Attendance, [David Luecke!] asserts, ‘is not the point.’ Instead, the issue is whether worship is ‘spiritually moving'” (ibid.).

Luecke’s book (Evangelical Style and Lutheran Substance), Hart suggests, “showed that even the liturgically minded and emotionally staid confessional Lutherans who struggled to produce a hymnal faithful to their theological heritage were not immune from charismatic Protestants whom Martin Luther himself might have accused of having swallowed the Holy Ghost, ‘feathers and all'” (158).

On the other hand, David Truemper (what strange bed-fellows are made!) argued for the traditional Lutheran way: “The fundamental expression of the church’s existence, [Truemper] argued, is ‘the liturgical assembly around gospel and sacrament.’ In other words, ‘our confessional tradition is…at bottom, liturgical.’ The reason was straightforward. Unlike the Church Growth Movement that worships in order to gain converts, confessional Lutherans ‘evangelize in order to gain worshipers'” (159).

What does all this have to do with an election year? Simply this, as Hart puts it:

…where confessionalists have regarded human history as a cosmic drama that awaits consummation according to the will of God, pietists have swung between optimism and despair in assessing the relative proximity of history’s conclusion (172).

Confessionalists, as Hart calls us, understand that everything but Christ and His action is penultimate (at best). Politics, elections, voting: it’s all secondary or tertiary or whatever the fourth equivalent is. Whatever happens in November may be good or bad according to your particular political views, but the difference will be seen between the pietists and the confessionalists post-election. The pietists will, depending on the outcome either threaten to move to Canada or declare that the end of the world is upon us. The confessionalists will, whatever the outcome, continue to do the same old liturgy, distribute the same old sacraments, and preach the same old Word of God that does what He sent it to do: save sinners. Everything else is somewhere between non-essential and irrelevant. And that is why what we do is characterized, in Hart’s excellent phrase, by a “wholesome irrelevance” (144).


Muslim-Friendly Worship

I set out to write about Prof. Herb Hoefer‘s ideas for making worship more Muslim-friendly (which, I hesitate to say, I saw first in Something News–can’t quite recall its full title at the moment…), only to find out it had already been done, and probably better than I could have done it. See Father Hollywood’s remarks here.

Prof. Hoefer is a professor at (again, I hesitate to say it) my alma mater, and he has long been involved with the mission work of the Missouri Synod and the Northwest District. I know the man, and I say nothing bad about him as a person. Out of the professors under whom I studied there, he was the least hostile to the traditional tenets of orthodox, Lutheran Christianity–at least, I thought so before I read his article (which can be found at the end of Father Hollywood’s post, but, curiously, no longer on the CU-P website; it can be found here also). Prof. Hoefer’s article is the extreme end of what many LCMS congregations currently do under the guise of missional concern. Be all things to all people, they say. Isn’t that what St. Paul said? Lest anyone be fooled about where such logic leads, simply read Prof. Hoefer’s paper.

Apparently, not only should we dumb down our liturgical heritage to make people “comfortable” and so they can “understand it,” we should also remove anything remotely offensive to a religion antithetical to Christianity, Islam. Should we remove all things that talk about Jesus as Messiah so we do not offend Jews, who might then be “attracted” to Christianity? I understand that Prof. Hoefer is speaking about a particular context, say, in a Muslim country, but his examples come from the U.S. Is the U.S. now a Muslim context? I mean, we’re not Great Britain, for pity’s sake!

But this sort of emphasis, on removing or changing elements of the faith once delivered to the saints, has behind it a false understanding of conversion. What happened to the bound will, unable to come to Jesus or believe in Him without the Holy Spirit working repentance and faith? We do not attract people to the Church so that they will then believe. This is directly opposed to the total depravity of the will worked by sin. More likely, people will be driven away from the Gospel, because that’s what often happens when the Gospel confronts sinners. People will never be saved unless they encounter the full, condemning Law of God and the full, saving comfort of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. Will this offend Muslims and others?

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, andwho it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:60-67, ESV)

Thus stands the question of Jesus to Prof. Hoefer, and to us as well.

[More comments here, here, here, here, and here]


Pres. Kieschnick Responds to Mollie Hemingway

You can read the whole letter here. Why is everything a commercial for Ablaze*&%^!? Why not use some of that money to promote the Gospel of Christ on the radio, as Issues, Etc. had done? Why was (is) its continuation placed solely on the backs of those who listen? It looks neat written in official releases and letters to the editor, but when you think about it, it just doesn’t add up. 1 + 1 does not equal 3, no matter how vigorously the news is spread.

Listeners of “Issues, Etc.” have had nine years and countless invitations and opportunities to support the program financially, and some have, but not nearly enough to offset the show’s deep, ongoing losses.

Admittedly, some of the (as of now) 6150 signatures on the petition (including me) could have done more. But where was the announcement that Issues was in such dire financial straits? And where was the urgent appeal by the President or the Chairman of the Board for Communications for contributions to make sure it didn’t go away? Nearly all public or non-profit radio stations make continuous appeals for support. Since when do those “countless invitations and opportunities” add up to a no-warning lights out?

No, money is an easy answer, but if everyone had known that this was a likely consequence of a shortage of funds, money would have surely come in. And so many people would not have been so shocked.

It makes no sense, and the answers that have been coming forth have not been very forthcoming. Does anyone else have the urge to tell the Synodical officials to put the shovels down and stop digging their hole deeper?

Curiouser and curiouser: Money?  What money?

[More on “peace, peace” when there is no peace here.]