The Master Builder

There is a notion out there that we the people, citizens of the Kingdom of God, are in the business of kingdom building.  Being Christian, it is said, means we have received a task, a purpose.  We cannot pass this job on to someone else.  And, the thought goes, Jesus is praying for us, that we would continue His mission by the power of the Holy Spirit, pleading that we would just get up and go.  So get out there and do your job!

It is true that we do participate in the extension of the Kingdom of God, but not in the sense of building it and establishing it on this earth.  It has already come in Christ and we find it on this earth in His church, where Word and Sacrament are delivered to us.  But it is only a foretaste of the feast to come in His Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God, however, is not of this world and will NOT be established on this earth which is passing away.  Christ and Christ alone establishes this otherworldly Kingdom in the hearts of men.  And He works through means — Word and Sacrament.

Think about it.  Any thing that we do is tainted by sin, it is imperfect, corrupted and sinful.  How then can we who are sinful and corrupt build a holy, perfect Kingdom?   It would never be completed!!  The thought that Jesus is just praying for us to be infused with the power of the Holy Spirit to take up the mantle of Kingdom Building is off target as well.  He who pleads for us before the Father to spare our lives for the sake of His bloody sacrifice has to pray that God would give us power to build the Kingdom?!?  Jesus has to rely on us to build His Kingdom?  No!

Christ uses sinful men to proclaim the Gospel and to carry His Word to the lost in this world every day in the things we do in our lives.  We do not have a super special extra job to do just because we are Christians.  We are ordinary  people doing ordinary things.  It is Christ who does the extraordinary.  It is He who builds the Kingdom, He who creates faith and gathers His flock together.  We are citizens of this Kingdom of God, perfectly free princes and princesses, bound to no one.  And we are also the most dutiful servants caring for our brothers and sisters in this Kingdom of God AND in the kingdom of the world because of His great love for us.  There is no compulsion, no obligation.  There is only the new creation we are made to be in Christ, living our lives when and where we are, just as He has called us to be.

Lest we think we are tasked with Kingdom building, we would do well to heed the warning of Dieterich Bonhoeffer:

It is not we who build.  [Christ] builds the church.  No man builds the church but Christ alone.  Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.  We must confess–he builds.  We must proclaim–he builds.  We must pray to him–that he may build.

We do not know his plan.  We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down.  It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction.  It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.

It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me.  Do not meddle in what is my province.  Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough.  But do it well.  Pay no heed to views and opinions.  Don’t ask for judgments.  Don’t always be calculating what will happen.  Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge!  Church, stay a church!  But church, confess, confess, confess!  Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are.  Christ builds.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reading for October 23, Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH, pages 840-841.


Why Plant Churches? For Market Share or to Proclaim the Gospel?

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  Romans 1:16.

 In short, enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammedanism.  Accordingly, we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil.  Smalcald Articles, III, VIII, par 9-10.

(This article was originally published on January 28, 2012.  It has been updated and cleaned up a bit)

Earlier this week a church planting team from our LCMS District came to our congregation to talk about entering into a partnership with our congregation in Nashville, Tennessee.  Situated smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt, home to the Christian music industry, our congregation is centrally located along what many have termed “church row.”  We are one of the smaller churches along this stretch of road in Nashville, but we are growing.  Nashville and Davidson County boast a population of approximately 620,000 people, 600,000 12 years earlier.  In 2000, there were approximately 591 congregations with 297,312 members.  When the statistics are adjusted for children, the figure jumps to just over 400,000 (Source: Association of Religious Data Archives).  In 2007, the estimated population was 620,000.  The number of churches climbed to 853 and church membership saw a slight increase to 304,238 (Source:  Social Explorer using ARDA numbers).  You can throw a rock and hit a large, mega, or brand new church in Nashville and its surrounding counties.  I may be a little color blind when it comes to distinguishing the colors on the demographic map, but the numbers show pretty close to 50% of the adult population claims membership in a church in Davidson County, the geographic home of the Music City, and more than 60% when children are factored into the equation.  So why plant churches when 262 new churches yielded only a slight increase in claimed membership over a 7 year period in Nashville?   The answer may surprise you. Continue reading “Why Plant Churches? For Market Share or to Proclaim the Gospel?”

Is the Ancient the New Modern? New converts flocking to ancient church in Houston

Is the ancient is the new modern?  Can what is old be new?  The cult of fad teaches us to chase after the wind for the newest, latest, and greatest trends in leadership, missional discipleship, and so called incarnational communities.  And yet this wind chasing is driving people from the emptiness of the ever changing landscape that seems to be our post modern church into the arms of the ancient church.   An article in the Houston Chronicle highlights this “trend:”  New converts flocking to ancient church in Houston – Houston Chronicle.

So what gives?  Why are new converts flocking to the stuffy old church of the past?  Why the church of the Eastern traditions of christendom?  Two words:  Stability and Tradition.  The Chronicle observes:

“Most people come for the stability,” he (Father Richard Petranek) said. “The same thing that is taught today in the Orthodox church was taught 500 years ago, was taught 1,000 years ago, was taught 1,500 years ago.”

At a time when most mainline Christian churches are losing members, Eastern Orthodox churches — which trace their beliefs to the church described in the New Testament – are growing, both in Houston and across the United States.

The numbers are still small: the 2010 U.S. Orthodox census estimates there are about 32,000 active Orthodox churchgoers in Texas and just more than 1 million nationally, although other estimates are higher. But the number of U.S. Orthodox parishes grew 16 percent over the past decade.


To outsiders, the first hint of what lies within is often the architecture; many of the churches are built in a neo-Byzantine style, capped by gold domes and other flourishes, standing out in a city of sleek skyscrapers, strip shopping centers and ranch houses.

Traditions vary from church to church, but in many congregations, members stand for much of the service. The priest faces the altar for long stretches of time, with his back to the congregation. (All Orthodox priests are male.)

Members make the sign of the cross throughout the service, they kiss icons of Jesus and the saints and, sometimes, the Communion chalice and the priest’s robes.

“It’s pretty freaky for people from the nontraditional churches,” said Father John Salem, pastor of St. George Antiochian Christian Church in West University. “If you come from a non-liturgical background, it can be pretty overwhelming.”

But to many converts, the traditions are the main attraction.

“People are tired of the mixture of worship and celebrity culture,” said Frank Schaeffer, a writer and novelist who converted to Orthodoxy 20 years ago from the evangelical faith of his childhood.

“People are tired of these worship services that look closer to MTV or the Disney channel than something that goes back into the past,” said Schaeffer, son of Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer and the author of books includingDancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False ReligionandPatience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism).“In the Orthodox church, people are not there for the priest, but for the liturgy.”

(Recent convert to orthodoxy, Lana) Jobe points to something else:

“You see churches today splitting over doctrinal issues,” she said. “In the Baptist church, there’s the Southern Baptists. There’s the Texas Baptists. There are controversies over Biblical truths or inerrancy or homosexuality; all kinds of issues come up, and the church wants to vote on it. We don’t have to vote on anything, because it was settled from the very beginning.”

Someone once said, if you want to plant a mega church, build a huge cathedral and follow the ancient liturgies of the church.   Continue reading “Is the Ancient the New Modern? New converts flocking to ancient church in Houston”

Jesus Said It, and I Believe It

As a member of a traditional LCMS church — traditional as in having been around for a while and not a new plant — I believe that Christ’s Word is true.  Period.  When He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes unto the Father unless He comes through me,” He means what He says — He is the way to eternal life, He is the truth of God made flesh for us, and He is eternal life.  Apart from Him, we cannot know God or be restored to a right relationship with Him.  The implication of Jesus’ statement is that there is no other way by which a man may be saved.  If the Son sets you free, you are free.  To receive salvation, you must receive Christ Himself.  If you abide in my Word you are truly my disciples.  Christ’s way is the way of the Cross.  You want salvation on your own?  Keep all of the commandments.  Perfectly.  Impossible?  Sin gets worse when you try?  Then you must die.  To sin, self, the world.  To be a disciple of Christ, one must deny himself, take up His Cross, and follow Christ.  To death.  The death of this flesh, the death of this life.

When our Lord interacts with sinners, the unclean, the lame, the mute, the deaf, He deals with the problem of sin, whether directly or indirectly.  He never leaves the sinner to wallow in his or her sin.  He confronts them.  Teaches them about their sin and the One who stands before them with the power to forgive.   Christ confronts us with His Cross at the very beginning of our Christian walk.  He does not wait to make sure that we feel comfortable, connected, or as if we belong.  When the Lion of Judah stands before us, we cannot stand.  We are driven to the ground and unable to move until He raises us.  Christ is Holy.  We are unholy.  He is clean.  We are unclean.  Only when Christ raises us up, when He creates new life in us by His Word, only when He makes us Holy can we stand in His presence.  It is true that God loves us no matter who we are and he desires that all should be saved.  Indeed Jesus comes only for sinners like you and like me.

In the “new” church of today, the most important thing is to make outsiders feel as if they belong, make them feel welcome, and connected, as if they have a home.  Whether they believe, whether they are living a life of sin, they need to know that God loves them as they are and they have a place in our church.  All we have is yours.  God loves you just as you are.  To say that it is more important to feel comfortable or connected to a local congregation, to feel welcome and able to participate fully in the life of the congregation, to say that it does not matter whether one is an unrepentant sinner or not to belong to a local congregation is to deny the atoning, salvific work of Christ on the Cross.  It is as if to say that Jesus died for me, I am forgiven, it matters not what I do.  Worse yet, an unrepentant sinner or an unbeliever sitting in the way of the saints mocks the atoning work of Christ by participating fully in the life of the church.  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that if a Christian has sexual relations with a prostitute the two become one flesh.  What was clean is made unclean.  Because of the unity of the Body of Christ, this union is made part of that Body.  For Christ is one, and we who are many, make up that one body of Christ.  It is not as if we can wait around until we are fully comfortable, checking this Christianity thing out to see if we like it, waiting until we are ready to be introduced to Christ.  No.  He claims us, washes us, and makes us clean.  Your sins are forgiven, says He.  Go, and sin no more.

Jesus said it.  I believe it.  Now, go and read it for yourself.  If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples.

“Who the unchurched really are” via Gene Veith

Gene Veith over at Cranach:  The Blog of Veith draws our attention to the recent blog on CNN – Belief Blog identifying the real demographic that makes up the unchurched.  It is not our middle to upper class youth, or the hip slickster attracted to the Mega-Church-Emerging Church, Evangelical, Relevant,Hipster, Pastor trying to be like everyman in his congregation and peddling best buddy Jesus and re-writing God’s story of salvation.  No, it is not the target audience for the church growth institutions.  Rather it is the less educated, lower income, blue collar folks who are not as hip, intellectual and sophisticated as those who we want to grace the doors of our auditoriums for the super, awesome, entertaining mega rock concert with an amazing light and video show with a bit of teaching thrown in.  But don’t take my word for it.  Read Veith’s blog post below, then click through and check out the comments on the post.  They are quite challenging and thought provoking and should challenge us in our outreach efforts.

You want church growth?  You want to reach the unchurched?  Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals.  The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar.  THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:

If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – Blogs.

Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches?  What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off?  How might they be brought back into the fold?

UPDATE:  Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.

via Cranach: The Blog of Veith.

Missionary from the Mid-South District of the LCMS

Kudos and God’s blessings to Katelyn Hiett from one of our sister congregations in the Mid-South District, Nashville North-South Circuit.  Katelyn is in the deaconess program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, and will be embarking on a mission to serve an orphanage in Ntshogweni, South Africa.  Katelyn works with Hands of Mercy, a recognized service organization of the LCMS, in Yambio, South Sudan, to encourage people with disabilities and “train them in marketable skills to provide for their livelihood.”  Katelyn has started a blog to chronicle her mission that begins in August.  We’ll be following Katelyn on this blog as well.  An excerpt from her first blog post introducing her new mission is below.  You can also find out more about Mid-South Missions here.

“Not by Might” says the Lord

It is quiet and dark outside and the early morning dew has yet to set in. The rest of America is still sleeping, but I am wide awake. I suppose that is what 36 plus hours in transit from the other side of the world will do to a body. I have returned, now for the third time from Yambio, South Sudan where I work as a missionary deaconess for Hands of Mercy. For those of you who maybe are not so familiar with Hands of Mercy, it is an outreach of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sudan to people with disabilities. My involvement began when I was sent to Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN to begin my deaconess training. There I met Deaconess Pat Nuffer, founder of Hands of Mercy. Ever since it began in 2005, she has been going back and forth to Yambio to continue the church’s outreach to people with disabilities and to further strengthen Hands of Mercy as it moves toward self sustainability. It has been that goal which HOM has striven toward since its inception. As one might suspect, achieving it in a cultural context where war, disease, and poverty dominate is a bit of a challenge to say the least. It has taken quite a while and has been an uphill climb for Hands of Mercy to be in such good position to actually make this long time goal a reality.

Self sustainability is a buzz word among NGOs and non-profits working in the third world, and most especially in Africa. If anything is true, the way to self sustainability takes an almost inhuman measure of patience and perseverance. A measure I certainly have not attained to, but am learning well under the direction of Pat. This recent trip to Yambio brought to the fore the message God gave to Zerubbabel through the prophet Zechariah: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts (4:6).”

Read the entire post here:  four degrees north: “Not by Might” says the Lord.

Lutheran Missions in Africa

Here is an update from Reverend Fisk’s blog on the work of Rev. James May in Africa under the auspices of Lutherans in Africa.  African missions need our support as Christians on that continent suffer terrible persecutions including mass killings and genocide simply for being Christians.  Religious chaos runs rampant, and many parts of the country are under siege from proponents of the prosperity Gospel and Left Behind theology.  There are seminaries training pastors in Africa in the Sudan, Togo, and Sierra Leone.  All need our support.  There are also precious few Lutheran resources available to the people, including Bibles and hymnals.  Lutherans in Africa notes the following particular needs for these areas of Africa:

East Africa
ESV English catechisms with questions and answers
There are still many languages into which we have yet to translate the catechism but they do understand a good deal of English (at least among the educated).  LHF does not have permission to print the catechism into English

The Lutheran Study Bible
Few Lutheran pastors in Africa have even one biblical commentary.  It would be a great blessing for then to get a study bible with notes covering all of scripture.  How can they study and prepare good sermons without any resources for study?

Theological books for the mission library and research center.  Because books are so expensive to buy and ship over, most Lutheran pastors have no access to commentaries, dogmatic books, historical books, etc.  If you have new or used books that you could donate or if you would like to support shipping some books over, that would be very helpful.  We would like to offer a place to research and study in addition to our seminars.

West Africa (French speaking)
The new French hymnal published by Concordia
Very few of the Lutheran churches in French speaking West Africa have ever seen a Lutheran hymnal.  As a result most now only know praise songs and are unaware of rich Lutheran hymnody.  Now that a new hymnal has been produced in French we have been distributing these so Lutherans can see the difference between Lutheran hymns and praise songs.  The interest is very large after the recent conference held in Togo.

Togo Seminary
Clergy shirts
There are currently 22 students at the seminary in Togo.  It is not possible to get the clergy shirts in Togo and they would make great graduation gifts.  There will be a graduation class in June 18, 2011.  All sizes are needs.  The seminary students are all different heights.  The average would be around 5’8”.  The average neck size would be 16”.  Nevertheless all sizes are needed.  Please consider donating used or new clergy shirts.

Liturgical Stoles
If there is ladies’ group that could make stoles for them, that would be great. Red on one side green on the other.  They are expensive to buy but can be made for a much more reasonable price.

The Lutheran Heritage Foundation is sponsoring a hymnal for families project in Kenya.  They can produce a hymnal in Kenya for a cost of only $5 ($10 to publish it in the Kisii language)! The cost for producing Luther’s Small Catechism is the same.  A list of the cost for publishing some Lutheran resources in other parts of Africa can be found here:  LHF Missions, Adopt a Project.

Consider supporting these mission projects.  Information on each and where to send donations can be found by clicking on each link.