October 20, 2017

Miguel Ruiz: First Church of Authenticity and Trends

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Note from CM: Our friend Miguel Ruiz will now be blogging at The Brothers of John the Steadfast. This article, “First Church of Authenticity and Trends,” was recently published there, and Miguel gave us permission to run it as well.

• • •

First Church of Authenticity and Trends
By Miguel Ruiz

…is it just me, or is this title hopelessly contradictory? And yet, this is the message that countless congregations endeavor to send to our culture. “We’re the genuine article, bona-fide disciples of Jesus, and we’re just like you, so you’ll fit right in!” Mercy.

So my wife and I recently visited a local festival associated with the harvest of some plant that makes delicious pies (and they were!). It was hosted by a local congregation associated with a (non-LCMS) historic Protestant tradition who, though the denominational acronym had not been completely removed from their signage, had transitioned to the “Community Church” name and image. As a part of a nation-wide initiative, they were aggressively advertising “National Back to Church Sunday,” which I thought sounded just plain lovely, almost like “back to school,” but without all the corresponding sales. I said to my wife, “I didn’t know the Methodists took off Christianity for the summer!”

All snark aside, a few of the promotional materials, pamphlets, and fliers wound up in our hands, and as we read through them, a few paragraphs jumped out at me.

“You’re invited to church this Sunday at ______ Community Church! At ___CC, you will find friendly people striving for a better life, varying music styles, upbeat worship, relevant messages, and a focus on living life with a purpose. Come see what church has to offer for your life.”

If I were an unbeliever and the least bit skeptical, I think my initial response to that last sentence might be something along the lines of “Apparently, absolutely nothing.”

“Special coffee hour to follow. Casual Atmosphere, Real People, Active Mission, Mid-week Bible Studies, Fun Children’s Program, New Youth Programs.”

Now, if that isn’t cheesy or cliche, is it at least missing something rather critical that ought to have some prominence in a church advertising campaign? There is no Jesus in the equation. Does He have anything to offer my life? Or more importantly, does He have any life to offer me? From the pamphlets we received, you might indeed assume He was anything but high up on their list of priorities, most of which reflected the first world desire of consumer culture for historically unprecedented comfortability.

But the crass concept of church advertising aside, as if we were entrepreneurial businessmen trying to attract a clientele to our new product, consider the potential negative implications of such marketing phrases. Whatever you advertise yourself as will say something significant about what you wish to be seen as not. For example, when you advertise yourself as a church of “friendly people,” there is an implicit suggestion that other churches may be somewhat less than friendly. Otherwise, why would you advertise it if, in your mind, everybody expects every church to be full of friendliness?

Well of course, there are unfriendly churches. I don’t think they are a majority, or that being friendly makes you stand out. But the message seems to clearly imply, “We’re not like those indifferent congregations that you wouldn’t like to be a part of.” So maybe your people are friendly. You may even rightly consider that an asset. And by no means is it over the line to include that fact on your promotional materials. But let’s take a closer look at some of the other claims: Striving for a better life, varying music styles, upbeat worship, relevant messages, a focus on living life with a Purpose (TM), casual atmosphere, etc….

Hype-168It kind of sounds like many other churches are probably irrelevant and purposeless. I’m reminded of Matt Chandler’s adage that trying to make the Gospel relevant is like trying to make water wet. So… do these other churches not preach the Gospel, or is this saving proclamation not enough? Is the purpose of church really to provide a relaxed, peppy environment for the pursuit of self-improvement? I don’t see that anywhere in the teaching of, you know, Jesus. Further, if your church is full of “real people,” do the rest of ours contain imaginary parishioners? No, this is a subtle, inverse way of playing the pharisee card: We’re real, which is different, because elsewhere you will probably find phony.

When a church says “you should join us because we’re friendly, upwardly mobile, creative, upbeat, relevant, purposeful, casual, real, active, fun, and new,” at what point have they crossed the line of being pretentious? They might as well just come out and say “We’re totally awesome in every way you could possibly dream of, and you really want to hang out with us so it can rub off on you!” I didn’t realize I was missing so many of these things from my life. It’s all quite intimidating, really, I’d want to ask if they have more of an introductory step or recovery group for my purpose-less excuse for an irrelevant life.

At the end of the day, it appeared to base a marketing image 100% on knocking over a straw man caricature of their own creation. These blurbs so attempted to define the congregation by how much it is not like the religious boogeyman that they failed to define themselves by that which actually makes one a Christian! Campaigns like this do not seem designed with the religious skeptic or uninformed in mind. Rather, it appears to target the comfortable Evangelical religious consumer; those who have lost interest in another congregation they either quit attending or are frustrated with its inabilities to meet their “felt needs.” Like it or not, shuffling the deck chairs and inflating conversion statistics is big business. Or at least, it used to be. It will be MySpace by the time the LCMS learns the ropes.

Where is Christ and His Gospel? I’m near positive that somewhere in the doctrinal statements of this particular congregation they are acknowledged, among the many false beliefs Methodists also have. But in the day to day operations, it would appear that they are more assumed than actively confessed. It’s as if once they are in the doctrinal statement, they can safely be ignored most of the time.

What if a congregation defined its “brand image” solely on belief the Gospel? How would this function in terms of negative implication? To put ourselves forward as “Christ-centered, cross focused,” or “Gospel driven” simply implies that our Christianity is about being Christian, and not about what isn’t Christianity (finding purpose etc…). What if it were clear from our advertising that our message is about Jesus from start to finish, and our methods are formed around that which keeps our eyes on Him, in what the late Michael Spencer described as a “Jesus shaped spirituality?”

God bless the people of this congregation for their sincerity and strategic intentionality in reaching out to their community. From the bustle of activity occupying their facilities, you might even conclude that their efforts are successful. But I can’t help but wonder: What are they being reached with? What is being advertised and sold to them? Is it Jesus, or is it the congregation, with her leaders, methods, and new, more relevant message?

If you can indulge me a moment of satire, what if the impression we sought to give our communities for the reason our church exists looked more like this:

“Grumpy people, bored or frustrated with life, mundane diet of dirges, dull worship, droning sermons, focused on just surviving, burnt coffee, constricting atmosphere, hiding behind a mask of formalism, and little activity outside of Sunday morning. What kind of a God would want us? Join us on Sunday to hear all about the wonderful love of a crucified Savior. We might bore you to death, but you’ll be in good company!”

If we’re going to advertise what we’re selling, let it be Jesus. Not ourselves, not a wonderful life, not a purpose-driven all ages 24/7 community activity center. Nothing more than Christ crucified, for the forgiveness of sins. Is Jesus enough if He is all we have to offer?

….so what if I told you that the church we visited was an LCMS congregation? Would you be surprised? Should you?

Comments

  1. Not surprised one bit.

    Many churches want “what works”.

    It’s a theology of glory (“what works”)…and since we are all basically theologians of glory ‘at heart’…the temptation is often too great for many to resist.

    The theology of the Cross states that ‘nothing works’. Not in the long run, anyway.

  2. Faulty O-Ring says:

    Finally got around to looking up what “LCMS” was–I had assumed it was the London Christian Missionary Society or Church Missionary Society or something like that. No, it’s the most right-wing among the US Lutheran groups. No wonder they have to do a bait-and-switch like this.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Heh. LCMS is far far from being the the most right-wing US Lutheran group. Look up WELS. And that is just the most right-wing of the Lutheran groups large enough to be noticeable. You can keep going from there to find the tiny factions that think that WELS are a bunch of dirty hippies.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

        Wow. Cool.

        I had no idea.

        I lived across the street from a WELS parish in Florida. I used to duck in from time to time. Very bracing atmosphere. I notice they do closed communion, which takes real yarbles in this day and age.

        Are the WELS-despising Lutherans like a Bröderbund group or something?

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          They are many and tiny and generally best ignored. But what the heck… One of the larger groups, with some 85 congregations, is the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Simplifying things a bit, the CLC formed from congregations that split off from WELS in the 1950s. The issue was that WELS was at that time in communion with LCMS, whom these congregations considered a bunch of Bolsheviks. (In fairness, LMCS was less conservative than it is today, not yet having purged its hippie element.) The thing is, WELS subsequently had the scales fall from its eyes and broke off communion with LCMS. Problem solved, right? The sheep that was lost has now been found. We can all join hands and sing Kumbaya, right? Heck, no! I have no idea what ax they found to grind, but they found something. This is how these groups work. I assume there is some group of half a dozen or so parishes somewhere in the upper Midwest that sits around telling each other what a bunch of commies those CLC people are, but life is much to short to worry about this.

          • You should really write a snarky history of American Lutheranism sometime. I’m sure it would be quite the entertaining read for those of us on the inside!

            As far as I know, LCMS, WELS, CLC, and ELS have absolutely no legitimate reason to remain separated, other than prejudice. WELS is no more consistent than we are on doxological conservatism. I think we could really benefit from one another if we would work together.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            I, on the other hand, would like to see LCMS work more closely with ELCA.

          • On the ground level we already do. My professor who taught most of my colloquy program at a Concordia University directs an ELCA church choir. I personally make regular use of ELCA publishing, especially doxological materials. But we already know from the past that in some areas this works out very poorly, such as when Thrivent began supporting Planned Parenthood. It was the proverbial turd in our punch bowl.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            I agree, Miguel (although the LCMS parishes in my neck of the woods don’t particularly care about the Thrivent thing). LCMS definitely cooperates more, and more regularly, with ELCA. Mind you, there are still significant differences which must not be ignored. The one thing I can’t stand about some parts of the LCMS is the way in which the entire paradigm of sacramental theology is turned on its head by a contradictory theology of the Word.

          • Yes, and I keep saying this, but I do mean to address this in an upcoming essay. Lutherans have such a beautiful theology of the word that far too often goes neglected.

          • In Berwyn, the is a Lutheran church, Unity Lutheran. There mission statement is:

            “Unity Lutheran is proud to be a reconciling in Christ congregation, welcoming persons of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, races, creeds, ethnic backgrounds and languages to participate fully in our ministry.”

            So I had just assumed they broke off ELCA due to the treatment of gay folks before ELCA changed its policies. So my question is…why not rejoin now. Is schism impossible to heal in Lutheran polity?

          • Cermak, “Reconciling in Christ” congregations are registered with Reconciling Works. Many are in the ELCA.

            If the church you have in mind is Unity Lutheran in Berwyn, IL, it is listed as an ELCA church with Reconciling Works. (That said, I couldn’t tell from the website what they state the affiliation to be, within the two minutes I spent poking around.)

          • Ah, found the correct website page. Yes, ELCA, Chicago Synod.

          • cermak_rd says:

            Danielle,

            Thanks. That one mystified me. They’re not real apparent in their signage etc. being part of ELCA. Glad they are. It’s a nice synod and this congregation works in PADS alongside my shul (and the Catholics, and the other shul and…) so, they’re good people.

          • It’s always a pleasure to drive around the more rural areas and see the denomination’s entire doctrine posted on the sign out front, or even incorporated into the church’s name.

            The Freewill, Non-conforming, Bible-believing,Old-Fashioned Baptist Methodist Episcopal Church of Soggy Bottom.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      The LCMS is “right-wing”? I think your definition of the center is much too narrow.

      Christianity is a very fat bird with lots of room between the wings.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Perhaps “right of center,” leaving open just how far to the right, and at what point this moves into the wing. But on a lot of stuff like evolution or, well, any of the culture war issues, google “lcms on [issue]” and you will reliably find them coming down on the right-hand side of the issue. That is the organizational norm. How this plays out in the trenches is a different matter. There is a lot of variation on the parish level, often by people who don’t care, or even know, what the head office says about evolution.

    • Actually, on the spectrum, the LCMS is probably the closest to dead center, with the ELCA being the far left, as far as I know. There are many groups to the right of the LCMS, but I know of none left of ELCA.

      Of course, the irony is that I’ve read survey statistics that show a mere 10% political drift amongst the laity of these two denominations, even on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and women’s ordination. I believe the drift is a bit wider among the clergy, though.

      • “Actually, on the spectrum, the LCMS is probably the closest to dead center ..”

        This doesn’t match my observation….

        Your first problem is characterizing the entire ELCA is “far left” because there is no denomination to the left of it. It would be more accurate to say that the ELCA is a really big amalgamation that happens to contain, and tolerate, the more liberal bodies in American Lutheranism. (It is probably a bit more liberal now, than it was a few years ago, since some of the moderates did leave following the wrangling over homosexuality.)

        Your second problem is mistaking Missouri for “dead-center”, because there is something to the left of it (ELCA) and something to the right of it (WELS, etc). It would more accurate to say that Missouri is fiercely confessionalist and self-consciously conservative, but that it takes a moderate and inclusive stance compared to other, smaller conservative Lutheran bodies.

        “Of course, the irony is that I’ve read survey statistics that show a mere 10% political drift amongst the laity of these two denominations, even on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and women’s ordination. I believe the drift is a bit wider among the clergy, though.”

        I don’t think this is an irony: I think it is a reflection of the actual stances of people within the two denominations.

        It seems to me that there are a fair number of moderate Lutheran lay people in both the ELCA and Missouri. The leadership of the ELCA probably contrasts with these spread, by leaning somewhat “left,” while the leadership of Missouri likely leans somewhat “right” of its base. Consequently, I’d map it this way:

        ELCA….. (dead center)…..Missouri..WELS(etc)

        Thoughts? If your perception is otherwise, I’m curious to hear it.

        • Danielle – very much agreed, and not just because I grew up in a synod that is now part of the ELCA.

        • I would guess that the theological drift of the people in the pews of the two Lutheran denominations is about the same width as the political drift, which would mean that the extremists on either side are most likely to be found in pulpits, and not in the pews where, after all, most of the people of God are to found. Does this really surprise anyone?

          • I would also guess that you’d get about the same degree of drift if you compared people in the pews of LCMS churches with those in the Roman Catholic or ELCA or UMC or UCC or PCUSA or RCA or etc., etc.

        • Your first problem is characterizing the entire ELCA is “far left” because there is no denomination to the left of it.

          happens to contain, and tolerate, the more liberal bodies in American Lutheranism.

          I rest my case. 😛
          I’m not saying that everybody in the ELCA is a mindless liberal. But if you ARE a mindlessly liberal Lutheran, it would probably be the best denomination for you. They are not so “tolerant” of more conservative extremes, even if they have a sizable portion of moderates among them yet.

          Your second problem is mistaking Missouri for “dead-center”, because there is something to the left of it (ELCA) and something to the right of it (WELS, etc). It would more accurate to say that Missouri is fiercely confessionalist and self-consciously conservative, but that it takes a moderate and inclusive stance compared to other, smaller conservative Lutheran bodies.

          Well, yes, except that Missouri is NOT “fiercely confessionalist and self-consciously conservative.” It contains many persons who are, but that is not the homogeny of the entire synod.
          😛 See? That sword cuts both ways. Honestly, I am one of those “rabid and ravenous confessionals,” but our influence on the denomination is hardly pervasive, even if our view are largely reflected on official statements. The denom is too large and Americanized to be authentically and consistently “confessional,” but there are many good signs yet.

          So if you lined up the denoms in order from ELCA to ELS, the LCMS would be right about in the middle. Yes, it would be a rather conservative “center,” but I was using the term relatively, comparing to other church bodies, rather than to the current theo-political balance of America today. Honestly, if you include the last 2000 years of church history in the mix, I believe the LCMS would come out rather progressive.

          I’d say your chart at the end is relatively fair, only I’d add that your “dead center” is mostly occupied by LCMS and ELCA congregations, even if nobody can ultimately agree exactly where it is.

          • -> “They are not so ‘tolerant’ of more conservative extremes…”

            Bingo! Great illumination of the “tolerant” liberal hypocrisy. “Tolerant…as long as your views fit mine.”

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            “They are not so “tolerant” of more conservative extremes, even if they have a sizable portion of moderates among them yet.”

            Twelve or so years back I lived in Philadelphia and was a member of an extremely conservative ELCA congregation. The church dates back to Muhlenberg’s day, and the pastor liked to say that if Muhlenberg were to walk in the door, he would find no changes. The pastor was as conservative as you could ask for on cultural, theological, and liturgical matters. In many ways he and I were a terrible fit. So why was I there? I was initially attracted to it because I am pretty reactionary myself when it comes to liturgy. I stayed partly because the pastor and I really hit it off: we were as compatible as two people who disagreed on so much could be. I also stayed in reaction to too many bad sermons, of the sort where twenty minutes of my life disappeared and I had no idea what happened to them. I would rather be engaged and disagree with a sermon than put in a stupor by it. So it was an odd fit, but it worked for us.

            At some point after I moved away and he retired, the congregation left the ELCA. I don’t know the details, but they are easy enough to guess, given the timing. I have no doubt that it was the gay issue.

            The thing is, the ELCA and the local synod were demanding nothing of that congregation with regard to gays. The individual congregation still chose its own clergy, and could choose someone they found like minded. The congregation still owned its own real property and bank account. It still controlled its own lay membership. No one was being purged by the synod. No one’s livelihood was being threatened if they didn’t toe the line. And so on.

            The congregation chose to leave the ELCA, as was their right. But it wasn’t because the ELCA would not tolerate them.

          • Good story, Richard! The Episcopal church would do well to learn from this example. However, does it always proceed thus in the ELCA? Methinks I have heard stories to the contrary. “The gay issue” is one where multiple viewpoints can worship together on Sunday until a gay pastor is called. Some friends of mine are going through this with an Episcopal congregation, and it is causing no end of havoc. Not that I have much sympathy for the conservatives, but where before their views were tolerated as a minority, they suddenly find themselves forced to accommodate otherwise. These things never play out quite so simple as they do in theory.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            There is a set procedure for a congregation to leave the ELCA. I am not intimately conversant with the details, but I know that the congregation has to go to another established Lutheran body, construed pretty broadly. The membership has to put the question to two votes, separated by (I think) six months as a cooling off period, and requiring a supermajority (probably two thirds, but don’t quote me) in each. I think this is a pretty good balance: certainly doable, but hard enough that it isn’t done frivolously or in the heat of the moment. One might wonder what would happen if a congregation got a majority but not a supermajority, and that majority pressed the issue in the civil courts. Heck if I know. I haven’t heard of this happening. People seem to accept the procedure as legitimate.

            With regard to the Episcopalians, there are several things going on absent with the Lutherans. First off their ecclesiology is that the parish is a creature of the diocese. Talk of a parish deciding to leave its diocese and strike out on its own, or to join another diocese, is to the Episcopalians like your hand deciding to leave your body and strike out on its own, or join another body. They also profess a horror of schism. In practice this means a ritual declaration by the people leaving that the other guys are the true schismatics, so this doesn’t make much practical difference, but it does affect how they react.

            On a more concrete level, the diocese usually holds title to the real property. How this plays out is that these arguments are really about real estate. If some portion of a parish–even a very large portion–chooses to leave the Episcopal Church and go do their own thing, they can. It is a free country. The difficulty is that they frequently have proprietary feelings about the building. Sometimes this is justified. If your six-greats grandfather helped build the place, and your family has been a bulwark of the parish ever since, then you have a point. If you blew into town last month, then not so much. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to which is right, but the fact of the matter is that these have been the rules all along.

            But the situation you bring up is a different one. What I have been describing is disagreements between a congregation and the synod, which is another way of saying disagreements between congregations. Disagreements within a congregation are a different matter entirely.

            I noted in my story about my old church that the ELCA was not demanding anything of the congregation. There was nothing that the congregation might want to do that they now couldn’t, and nothing they would not want to do that was now required. In the scenario you describe, of calling a pastor, there are genuinely incompatible desires.

            From the majority’s point of view, they are going through the standard unpleasant call process. They find the person they want to call, but a minority faction doesn’t like him. What to do? Take the high principles out of the discussion: suppose the disagreement were over something like his homiletics. In a functional church family, the majority would defer to a large minority for the sake of harmony, but not necessarily to a small minority, since you can’t hope to please everybody. How large the minority must be to block the decision is a moving target depending on various factors such how long the call process has already been dragged out. Now add the high principles–which apply to both sides–back in, and everything about this process–high stress under the best of circumstances–becomes even higher stress. Wackiness ensues.

            The issue isn’t tolerance: it is compatibility. Some concrete action is necessary, and the two factions want incompatible results. One side or the other is going to lose the argument. Whichever side this is can cry “intolerance!” but this is neither helpful nor necessarily accurate. Intolerance is not having your faction win an argument. The winning faction purging the members of the losing faction from the group is intolerance.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            These explanations are very helpful, I honestly had no idea.

            Miguel: ““The gay issue” is one where multiple viewpoints can worship together on Sunday until a gay pastor is called. […] Not that I have much sympathy for the conservatives, but where before their views were tolerated as a minority, they suddenly find themselves forced to accommodate otherwise.”

            Or to look at it from another POV, the gays were tolerated as a minority until they ask to be treated equally in terms of marriage and/or ordination, when they are suddenly asked to accomodate the bigots.

            Richard Hershberger: “The issue isn’t tolerance: it is compatibility. […] The winning faction purging the members of the losing faction from the group is intolerance.”

            You would presumably sing a different tune if the issue were racism.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            “You would presumably sing a different tune if the issue were racism.”

            I didn’t go the gay-marriage-as-civil-rights road because it can be distracting, and my comment was already over-long. It is distracting because conservatives respond to it with an eye roll. They are wrong about that, but this reaction has to be taken into account. Instead I went down a different road in the hope of avoiding the distraction while reaching something within shouting distance of the same place.

        • Nuance. Nice.

          Thank you.

  3. This ties to what I just read on Heather King’s blog:

    The goal of the follower of Christ is not to force other people to change; the goal of the follower of Christ is to change himself. But the Cross has never had a lot of followers. The Cross is not susceptible to being spread by viral youtubes. The Cross takes place invisibly, silently, in the minute-by-minute workings of the human conscience. And in today’s marketing atmosphere, in and out of the Church, the Cross is less “popular” than ever. Christ is ever more silent, ever more unseen, ever more off camera.

  4. Nicely stated, Miguel!!! I like your questions regarding the “brand image” of Jesus Christ.

  5. Richard Hershberger says:

    “It kind of sounds like many other churches are probably irrelevant and purposeless.”

    This is true of most church plants. Not all: there are limited circumstances where some specific segment of the population is not having its needs met by the existing churches in the area. But more often, this plant using all the standard church growth techniques is moving into an area already populated with similar churches using similar techniques. This looks not so much like spreading the Gospel and grabbing some market share.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I am becoming fatigued at even trying to figure out what “relevant” and “irrelevant” mean.

      But “purposeless” and “purposeful” seem clear. You are purposeful if you can state one or more purposes; simple really. But that explains the prevalence of purposeless organizations [churches and every other type of organization]. Having a, a few, or many, purposes requires getting a bunch of people to agree on some course of action… NO SMALL TASK. Purpose is nakedly bogus if there is no Action, people will go find something else to do. Churches especially seem to adopt the notion that Purpose is inherent to their existence, which is false.

      Last Saturday I sat in on a meeting where people argued if organization A should pay a $250 membership fee to organization B which organization A had helped to found in the first place and had subsequently supported organization A with over $10,000 in support. That went on for 30 minutes and was eventually tabled for further discussion at the next meeting. Sigh. The next motion on something similarly tedious was also tabled – that one for the sixth meeting in a row. This is a good picture of the reality of human-kind.

      Purpose, even once declared, very easily becomes tangled up in her own legs.

      Given what we are Purpose requires patience and charity – virtues which are insufficiently esteemed. Their low esteem makes Purpose doubly difficult Heaven knows it took me a l-o-n-g time to learn this truth. Still requires an occasional smack.

      “This looks not so much like spreading the Gospel and grabbing some market share”

      More importantly grabbing some market share in order to do…………

      Even “Let’s have the most beautiful lawn in the neighborhood” would seem a more ambitious Purpose than, it at least appears, most churches have.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I am becoming fatigued at even trying to figure out what “relevant” and “irrelevant” mean.

        “Relevant” means it’ll be old-fashioned by this time next week. “GROOVY, MAN!”

        Nothing gets stale faster than Over-Relevance.
        Except maybe PRETENTIOUS Over-Relevance.

        Pretentious Over-Relevance: Imagine Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In branding itself as the Dead Serious Answer to Life’, The Universe, and Everything for all Eternity.

  6. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “Campaigns like this do not seem designed with the religious skeptic or uninformed in mind. Rather, it appears to target the comfortable Evangelical religious consumer;”

    I remember these campaigns well. I participated in many of them.

    I feel the author slightly misses the mark. I recall clearly who the target ‘demographic’ was. We did not then have the term SBNR [Spiritual But Not Religious] yet. But that describes the target demo. The PTBs believed they were abundant fruit ready to be harvested if you could just show them True-And-Authentic Religion (TM) [which, oddly, just looked alot like Nice People – because they believed the world was populated almost exclusively by Mean People(*1)].

    The two flaws were:
    (a) the SBNR is a mythical creature, they are actually very rare – most souls identified as SBNRs are actually JNIs [Just Not Interested] but who happen to speak with a quasi-religious dialect.
    (a.1.) there was often an unspoken assumption that these SBNRs were former “Christians” who had become apathetic in their faith. That the upbringing of these so-called SBNRs had been essentially areligious was rarely considered seriously.
    (b) the True-And-Authentic Religion (TM) being sold was really bland and unclear with what to do with people once they entered the fold; as crossing the threshold was its focus.

    In terms of what the marketers believe – the message is entirely rational. The marketers are wrong.

    (*1) There is some evidence to that belief. I believed this was true for a long time; I accepted that premise in a nearly axiomatic way.

    • “..the SBNR is a mythical creature, they are actually very rare – most souls identified as SBNRs are actually JNIs [Just Not Interested] but who happen to speak with a quasi-religious dialect.”

      This is totally not based on anything but guessing, but it seems like the SBNRs are either A) Christians trying to be cute about the whole “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” thing, or B) People who can’t accept atheism, think calling themselves agnostic is too pretentious, or are some other belief that wouldn’t be terribly compatible.

      I’m sure there are good intentions, but “National Back to Church Sunday” sounds too much like Dogma’s Buddy Christ and “Catholicism – WOW!” to be a coincidence.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Just like Dogma’s Buddy Christ, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > but it seems like the SBNRs are either

        I believe the SBNR classification represents the cultural sentiment that Spiritual is a personal virtue. So people describe themselves as Spiritual. Simple as that. It represents essentially nothing else.

        And it would be considered extremely rude to respond to someone “No, I don’t think you are Spiritual”. That would be a major cultural no-no; so this classification can just get tossed around whilly nilly.

        > Christians trying to be cute about the whole “It’s not a religion, …

        Certainly true, but a segment I suspect is fading out.

        > “People who can’t accept atheism…

        Yep. This group and the JNIs can be hard to distinguish from each other. A JNI may technically be an Agnostic, but just feels no motivation to assert a position. This is more and more true as religious affiliation becomes less and less relevant to nearly everything.

    • In New England, Just Not Interested is the dominant dialect, but they will often put on the SBNR accent. To my mind, it is actually an attempt at some sort of hospitality — they are trying to make you (the Obviously Religious One) feel a bit more at ease. Or perhaps, to make themselves feel a little more at ease with you.

      An areligious upbringing is the standard in this part of the country.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      I suspect that the majority are disaffected Christians, who continue to believe in God / Jesus / angels / astrology / whatever in some vague way, but either dislike church for whatever reason, or are just not interested in it enough to go (i.e., the same reason they stay away from Masonic lodges). A minority would be second-generation non-affiliateds (on both sides) with zero religious upbringing. But these are guesses–I would love to see actual numbers. (Does the SSSR have a bat-signal?)

  7. What Bill Kinnon wrote several years ago still applies;

    What you win them with is what you win them to.

  8. Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

    This post depresses me profoundly.

    I drive 45 minutes one way to the closest Orthodox church. Most of the people in our parish do the same. Our parish pulls from a circle of this radius. It is a small parish. We had maybe 200 people at Pascha, the biggest drawer of the Church year. Nobody marketed us.

    If the dreck that Miguel’s postulated church is spewing out was crafted to hook “people like me”, thendespite earning a median income, living in a house of median value for my metropolitan area, being a member of the highly-targeted undecided swing bloc of voters, having the median number of consumer electronic devices in my home, and having 2.3 children of median educational attainment, I am already so different in the architecture of my motivations from my fellow citizens that I might as well STTAD and unencumber the Earth of my presence.

    I’m sorry. I’m feeling more contrarian than usual this morning.

    • “I drive 45 minutes one way to the closest Orthodox church. Most of the people in our parish do the same. Our parish pulls from a circle of this radius.”

      “I am already so different in the architecture of my motivations from my fellow citizens…”

      Not so different, really: Like many of them, you use your car to attend the church of your choice, and that’s a very significant similarity, because it means that you, like them, went shopping far and wide for the church that fit your needs and desires best ; the minor difference is that, while many of them have chosen to attend mega-churches, you’ve chosen to attend a mini-church. That is, you, like the people that the “postulated church” in Miguel’s post is targeting, before anything else behave like a consumer, (as do I). So the similarity between you and them, or me for that matter, is far more constitutive, than the dissimilarity. It’s inescapable, though discomfiting.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

        I don’t think we have any more freedom NOT to be boutique-religionists than the Byzantines had to be Bogomils.

        • On that we can agree.

          And just to be clear: I have no interest in being associated with the kind of church that Miguel describes, but I have no idea how I can unlink this disinclination from personal preference as a primary determinative factor, though I might wish it were otherwise.

          • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

            I have dozens of ideas, all of them extremely unpalatable.

          • Do these ideas involve Grand Inquisitors, thumb screws and the rack?

          • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

            Nah.

            More along the lines of African dictator Mobutu did when he got tired of dealing with a multiplicity of churches in Zaire in 1972 – unified the Protestant churches in Zaire by ukase and gave them six months to come up with a common confession.

            Kind of like what Alexander did with the Gordian knot.

          • Resolution by Dictatorial Supremacy?

            I much prefer what God did with the Tower of Babel.

            If your other “dozens of ideas” are like this one, then I’m glad, and thankful, that you lack the power to implement them. Your tongue may be in cheek now, but I could easily imagine it issuing such ukase if given the chance.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      In this you are more similar to a Western Buddhist than a member of any of the mainstream churches.

  9. Was it or was it not LCMS?

    If it was, it makes the post slightly more intriguing. But either way, it’s a “churches can be shallow, consumeristic, and cater to perceived felt needs” post.

    Critique. Yawn. Next.

    • Yes and no. It’s kind of complicated, see my response to Richard below.

      I sincerely hope you are blessed enough to participate in church life that is not crowded by such “shallow consumerism” around every corner. Here in the LCMS, we seldom have that luxury, so while the critique may seem well worn and obvious to yourself, it is still sadly needed in many areas of our church body. LCMS was the target, even if not the subject.

  10. This post brought to mind a perplexing conversation I had with an evangelical friend last week. She goes to the kind of church that advertises like the one Miguel visited. She loves Jesus and is a wonderful christian, but christian culture-wise, we are always speaking to each other across a huge gap.

    “Tok, do you guys ever do a special service for Christmas?” she asked.

    “Yes!” I responded enthusiastically, “The Nativity Vigil is very special indeed.” I went on to describe the way that the musical arrangement was related to the arrangement for our Paschal (Easter) canon, so that when we sing it we rejoice in the birth of Christ with our mouths but our ears constantly pull us to see it in the light of the Resurrection.

    After I spoke of some other parts of it that were unique, she asked, “But isn’t that the service you do every year?” When I nodded, she looked almost disappointed.

    For her, the fact that we did the service annually made it not special. I still haven’t wrapped my head around that concept. It was like if there wasn’t a particular scarcity, it was devalued. I suppose it wouldn’t make for very good marketing. “Come join us for our Nativity Vigil. It is pretty rad! If you miss it, come next year, it will be rad again! We’ll still be here and we’ll see you then.”

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      This is the cult of spontaneity. Non-liturgical churches are prone to this, especially those of a Charismatic bent. The idea is that the worship service consists of one or more persons channeling the Holy Spirit. In extreme forms they, in theory at least, don’t plan the service at all, as that would be presumptuous. In weaker forms they plan what they are going to do and say, channeling the Holy Spirit in the planning phase, and certainly not constraining the Spirit by insisting on doing the same old same old: the very definition of spiritually dead vain repetition! The result is some combination of de facto, often ill-considered, liturgy while denying that it is any such thing, and a perpetual quest for novelty. If this sounds both exhausting and unlikely to produce good results (and even if it does, you have to do something else next week), then I agree.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Planned and conformist Spontaneity.

        Like “Spontaneous People’s Demonstrations” in the old USSR and Third World countries.

  11. David Cornwell says:

    ” among the many false beliefs Methodists also have””

    It seems to me that you are busy knocking over a few straw men of your own. Why don’t you just come out and say that LCMS is the place to go and that all the rest of us are headed to hell?

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I think he was aiming for misdirection, setting up the zinger that it was an LCSM parish he was describing all along. Or at least it might have been. He is being coy about this.

      • I’m sure it comes across this way, but it’s actually a bit of insider politics. The original post was for an LCMS group blog. So for the context: The actual congregation was not LCMS. It was UMC. However, it turns out that it is actually a relatively progressive congregation, which means it isn’t the middle-of-the-road generic Evangelicalism you might assume from the ads. I discovered this after writing the article, but went ahead with it anyways for two reasons: First, I don’t name the congregation, and I don’t care to. If what they are doing works for them, I’m more than happy to live and let live. But most importantly, the actual congregation is NOT the target of this article. This was written in response to a very specific situation in the LCMS where “sacramental entrepreneurs” are pushing the same thing under a different brand. My little jab about “entrepreneurial businessmen” may be lost on non-LCMS’ers here, but I assure you, it was much more clear to the original audience.

        So yes, it was not an LCMS church, but the actual congregation just served as a foil for some self-critique of the LCMS generally. I hope this helps make some sense out of those last three questions!

        • ” However, it turns out that it is actually a relatively progressive congregation, which means it isn’t the middle-of-the-road generic Evangelicalism you might assume from the ads.”

          The interesting thing about this strain of advertising is that I’ve heard it from mainline churches and evangelicals alike. The pitch, coming from either audience, is almost indistinguishable.

          “This was written in response to a very specific situation in the LCMS where “sacramental entrepreneurs” are pushing the same thing under a different brand.”

          Do you mind elaborating on what you mean by a “sacramental entrepreneur”? Does this relate to innovation the way services are run? A marketing scheme?

          • Believe it or not, it’s actually their term, a self-designation. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the blatant juxtaposition of those two mutually exclusive terms, but it turns out to be entirely the latter without any real link to the former. There is a church planting “movement” in the LCMS that seeks to leverage the trendy methodology of the Evangelical circus while remaining faithful to the teaching of the Lutheran confessions. It only serves to show us that in their mindless pursuit of the former that they have no understanding of the latter. Their latest conference had Southern Baptists as the guest speakers, and modeled trendy sloganeering and corporate leadership gimmicks mimicked in a church setting at their worst. But please, don’t get me started. 😛

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            The general trend is nothing new. I was on my church’s council in, oh, let’s say 1990. We were given copies of a book on how to grow your church. The Evangelicals by that time had a decade or so of very visible growth, and the thinking among many in the mainlines is that they had to adopt the same techniques to keep up. The main thing I remember from the book was that it told us how absolutely imperative it was that we hide any signs of denominational affiliation, or indeed of any ecclesiastical history. Someone walking by the church should be given no clue that we were Lutheran, and neither should anyone who walked in the door on Sunday morning. My reaction at the time was that there were many not-Lutheran churches available to those who wanted not-Lutheran worship. I didn’t see the point of converting a Lutheran church into a not-Lutheran (de facto, if not de jure) church. I still don’t.

          • There is a church planting “movement” in the LCMS that seeks to leverage the trendy methodology of the Evangelical circus while remaining faithful to the teaching of the Lutheran confessions. It only serves to show us that in their mindless pursuit of the former that they have no understanding of the latter.

            We’ve got the same thing going on in the Anglican Realignment. Church plants where no one has ever cracked open a Book of Common Prayer don’t make sense to me, but we’ve got ’em, and not a small amount either.

          • Coincidentally, Fr. Isaac, this exact “movement” had several ACNA people in attendance at their latest convention, and currently has a derogatory meme of the BCP on their FB page. May I apologize on behalf of my synod for spreading this malarky to your tribe?

            I know those churches you refer to exist. For the life of me I don’t understand why the couldn’t just be Presbyterians, Methodists, or Congregationalists. If they do not make regular use of the BCP, they’re no more Anglican than a church without a Pope is a Roman Catholic, or without a General Assembly is Presbyterian. It’s just ridiculous, and I often suspect that the denominational association is for little other than startup funding. That’s one of the problems with so many of the “planting” movements. They often get sidetracked seeking generic “success” so that they fail to prioritize replicating the DNA of the seeding tradition.

          • Fr. Isaac says:

            The cool thing (from my POV, anyway) is that in the greater San Antonio area (my stomping grounds) five of the eight ACNA-affiliated parishes and missions use a old-school traditional BCP, even if some of them of them are more low church with the music, ritual, and ceremonial. One uses an modern African prayer book, and I’m not really sure about the other two. That’s pretty good for ACNA.

    • Oh please. That is hardly fair. The Methodists likewise hold many of our beliefs to be false. I can’t vouch for their teaching in all matters, else I’d be one. I’ve CLEARLY credited them in the article with holding to the saving Gospel, so I don’t know why you insist on this caricature that everybody who disagrees with me on any teaching whatsoever shall be tortured eternally for their theological imprecision.

      • I’m not sure what beliefs you’re referring to that Methodists would say are false, but in general, Methodists are Arminian and don’t believe in transubstantiation. As for false beliefs in the UMC, sure there are groups and some congregations within the UMC that have some questionable beliefs, but core Methodist teachings as stated in the Book of Discipline are 100% orthodox.

        • By “false beliefs” what I mainly mean is, considering this is posted on an LCMS group blog, doctrinal areas in which they disagree with us. Grape juice, prevenient grace, etc… Hardly damnable errs, Methodist are not heretics. I would be very disappointed to not see many of my good Methodist friends in heaven. But Lutherans do believe they are wrong about some issues, just as Methodists do not accept single predestination or baptismal regeneration (I’m pretty sure, at least). The article is not about Methodists: It’s about “best practices.” They just so happened to be doing the “Back to Church Sunday” campaign, but it is trans-denominational and used by churches of nearly every stripe.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            ” Grape juice, ”

            Testify, brother!

          • Right? If I’m dragging my sorry carcass out of bed at 7 in the morning, I expect to deep drink of the blood from the common cup, and come back for seconds.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            I had no idea the mainlines were such a jungle.

          • The common cup is the most disgusting thing I can imagine. The bacteria, the viruses, the lipstick oils that keep said bacteria and viruses from being adequately wiped off by the cloth. ICK! And I used to be Catholic and drink from it!

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            “The common cup is the most disgusting thing I can imagine.”

            The trick is to seat yourself such that the ushers will send you up first. The problem is that at an unfamiliar church you can’t know ahead of time where in the nave they start from. Or if Catholic, you can take only the one element and they won’t think you are weird.

      • David Cornwell says:

        One thing I’ve never in my life heard is a Methodist spending time attacking the belief system of another denomination, even Lutherans. You have made known more than once your disdain for Methodism. If I spent my time on this blog attacking other denominations, my time would be totally wasted. It seems to me that we have more to agree with one another on, then to disagree. However attacking others is part of different kinds of fundamentalisms. It’s a bad direction in which to head.

        Also I’ve never seen a Methodist blog which attacks the belief systems of other denominations. There may be such a thing, but I’m unaware.

        Errors are your definition of error, and seem to me to be error in practice (your opinion) than in actual orthodoxy.

        I have plenty of problem with modern Methodism. I think, in my arrogance, that I can pinpoint many of the reasons for the the perpetual decline of the denomination over a period of many years, but the bishops will hardly listen. In fact I have huge problems with a church acting in the way you describe up above for the purpose of attracting people. Whoever they end up attracting will be hollow.

        • I’m sorry, Dave, I really don’t mean to harp on your church body, honest. I do not have disdain for Methodists, I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again: I’ve learned a great deal from them on the topic of worship, and continue to do so! See the link to Jonathan Aigner’s article on the sidebar: He’s a Methodist writer I’d commend to anybody (and who has expressed his appreciation for this article specifically, see my FB page).

          I think the whole sanctification/perfection thingy is silly, but not disdainful. I have also not “attacked” the Methodist system of belief at all: I simply stated that some of their beliefs are, according to my belief system, false. Faithful Methodists must also hold some of my Lutheran beliefs to be false. It’s ok to disagree about some of these things, and even better to be honest and up front about it. Keep in mind, the “false beliefs” statement I wrote to LCMS readers, in order that when I say that the Methodists believe the Gospel, it was clear that I was not wholeheartedly endorsing their doctrinal system, which I can’t, even if I do accept them as brothers.

          Most importantly, that this church was Methodist was purely incidental. If they were Presbyterian, it would only change the article that word. The err I critique is neither unique to Methodism nor a product of it, and the church itself was completely downplaying its denomination heritage. Would that more Methodists would be more Methodist! They have a beautiful tradition with many treasures to pull from, and many of Wesley & co’s hymns hold a place of distinction among the tools of my daily vocation.

          • Miguel, Having spent 5 years with the United Methodists, I appreciate that you like my homeboys Charles and John.

            As an aside, though, I’d like to note how strangely this statement plays to outside ears:

            “Keep in mind, the ‘false beliefs’ statement I wrote to LCMS readers, in order that when I say that the Methodists believe the Gospel, it was clear that I was not wholeheartedly endorsing their doctrinal system, which I can’t, even if I do accept them as brothers.”

            I’m sure this sounds careful parsed, and also charitable, to an insider who is suspicious of outside groups and watchful over idealogical purity.

            To others, however, it sounds a like hedging.

            I’ll second David’s point that on the topic of theological differences, that there’s a huge difference in orientation and rhetoric between LCMS and Methodists. A Methodist doesn’t typically have to demonstrate to his co-religionists that he’s still ideologically kosher, just because he showed up to another tradition’s church bake sale, and thinks their preaching contains “the gospel.” Ask a random UMC guy if he thinks Lutherans preach the gospel. His probable response: “Is water wet?” And then: “Why, do you have some kind of problem with Lutherans?”

            The UMC disposition toward outsiders, and their probable questions or differences, tends to be something like this: “Come and participate, we’ll work the rest out later.” There just isn’t much in the air telling people that they have to debunk all contrary propositions and groups, in order to affirm the Book of Discipline.

            I’m not trying to pick on you. I am pointing out that Lutherans seem to play a lot of inside baseball, without quite realizing how it sounds to those who overhear. Lutherans would be wise to remember this fact. The habitual stance of Lutherans is facing inward and talking to the other Lutherans. It’s a handicapp, if you can’t tell you are doing it.

          • David Cornwell says:

            Miguel, I suppose you just touched a live wire for me in those comments. I hope I did not put too much of a damper on your day. I really do like the way you write. You have a unique style and I would not want you to change it. I accept your explanations totally.

            Actually I’m not a member of a local Methodist Church at the present time. But this was after a lifetime of membership and ministry and indoctrination. It still runs somewhat deeply inside of me. I have big differences with how Methodists have approached growth and have failed to modernize the itinerant system for this century. Plus a few other things. So it’s not as if I accept everything lock, stock, and barrell. I think Methodism is a sleeping giant with a few ailments that only God can cure. But in some ways that applies to most of the Church.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            “I am pointing out that Lutherans seem to play a lot of inside baseball, without quite realizing how it sounds to those who overhear.”

            There are some pretty good historical reasons for this, going back to the Lutheran/Reformed split of the 16th century and then jumping ahead to 19th century America where Lutherans found themselves vastly outnumbered. Even when not self-consciously isolationist, we often have a different vocabulary that the (often very distant) descendants of the Reformed tradition. And often the isolationism is entirely self-conscious, coming from a history of being a minority trying to preserve its distinctiveness.

            One can made a decent argument that the difference between the ELCA and the LCMS is our self-conscious response to this: the ELCA sees distinctively Lutheran positions as our starting point in discussions with other traditions: what we have to contribute. The LCMS sees distinctively Lutheran positions as fortresses (one might even say “mighty” fortresses) to be defended.

          • Danielle, believe me, I don’t feel picked on. I fully expected that comment, and I though I can’t speak for all Lutherans, some of us are quite aware of the rhetorical differences. If that post were originally written for this audience, it would have been put differently. I considered adjusting it somewhat, but then decided that this audience would be able to understand the difference.

            UMC congregations, along with most mainlines generally, are just not that interested in making a bunch of theological distinctions. The forward movement of progressive theology has served, for better or worse, to erode the differences between traditions. In a push for greater inclusivity, drawing lines in the sand has become somewhat of a social taboo.

            In the LCMS, we believe Jesus drew lines in the sand, and he had no trouble calling people out for their err, EVEN his closest friends. He managed to do this while remaining radically inclusive and inviting, to the poor in spirit at least. This is our target. We don’t require every person to believe or understand the total weight of the confessions before joining up (so many of our pastors don’t).

            As far as “hedging” is concerned, non-sacramental churches generally do not think the difference between them and us is very significant at all. The strange thing is that I’d simultaneously affirm David Cornwell’s statement that what Lutherans and Methodists hold in common is greater than that which divides them, AND Luther’s statement that Zwingli, in his rejection of the real presence, is “of a different spirit.” We cannot understate how significant this doctrinal difference is, even if it is a difference between brothers. Methodists won’t see it as significant because the sacraments aren’t the locus of their understanding of the Gospel.

            Brief anecdote: A former Calvary Chapel’er joined our congregation, and he remained a diehard proponent of orthodox Calvary Chapel doctrine and tradition. To this day I have no idea why he came to us, and while we were glad to have him while we could, I knew it would not last.

            In a Sunday school exchange, it came up that some congregation had ordained a gay pastor. He was going off on how that was heresy and a complete repudiation of the clear teaching of scripture. The crossing of such line, to him, proclaims a false doctrine that is a barrier to fellowship. He will not worship there. I casually pointed out to him that his doctrinal differences with our congregation, especially re: infant baptism, didn’t seem to present much of a barrier. His response? Well, yes, but that’s not the really important stuff.

            So to this Evangelical, sexual morality was the more important doctrinal concern. For Lutherans, its the sacraments, because they are the Gospel, and they give us the Gospel.

          • Miguel, good points.

            I’m not sure I would classify Methodism as “non-sacramental.” It is true that there is less concern about exact definitions on how sacraments ‘work.’ Of course, this observation–that Methodists are less concerned with pinning down certain doctrinal details, and are willing instead to invoke the idea of “mystery”–supports some of the observations you are trying to make.

            A quick aside –
            “…though I can’t speak for all Lutherans, some of us are quite aware of the rhetorical differences.”

            Just to clarify, I didn’t meant to imply you or others don’t perceive the rhetorical differences. (Although what I wrote may have sounded that way.) I just have a habit of trying to figure out where people may misread each other in conversations. As you point out, use of stronger terms is more habitual when LCMS folks are talking to each other, and somewhat more taboo–and therefore it carries additional force–in other contexts.

            That, in turn, dovetails strongly with Richard’s observations: in many respects the differences between Missouri and the ELCA are not specific stances (although that is to some extent true), but in some respects differences in tone and orientation, when trying to relate Lutheranism to other bodies of thought.

            I’m glad you don’t perceive me as picking on you. Your comments are interesting, which is why I often respond. Occasionally I worry that it might sound like I’m sending shot across your bow.

          • Danielle, I would worry if you did send a shot across my bow. If I can dish it out, I can take it. I’ll go to the mattresses for sound doctrine, but I make every effort to focus my attacks on ideas, not people. See, in conservative church bodies (like the LCMS), we value that distinction. More progressive church bodies (like the ELCA) tend to foster an environment that denies that distinction, to the point that genuine exchange becomes impossible because it’s apparently divisively argumentative. More conservative denominations are simply more prone to value drawing doctrinal lines, while progressive denoms are more prone to blur these lines for the sake of relational inclusivity. We have two well intentioned ideas that conflict here, reflective of liberalism and conservatism in philosophy generally. For me, however, I must land on the right (politically speaking) side because to blur the lines that the Biblical text draws is to either assert the self as authority, or to hopelessly relativize interpretation to the point of meaninglessness. But I also seek to live in the tension, to draw fences in a way that clearly communicates a desire for all to be inside.

            If I’m genuinely wrong, I WANT you to demonstrate it to me. I’ve changed my mind on so many issues already just because somebody took the time to call out an err I was believing, and I am very grateful for these prophetic people.

            Methodists do have a valid practice of the sacraments, like most Anglicans and Presbyterians. Lutherans (referring to those who believe the original Lutheran doctrine of 1580) view these groups as “sacramentarian,” or having the rituals but denying their power, because they tend to deny the physical presence of Christ in the elements on the basis of reason. We hold the text over reason, because it is magical, a “means of grace” itself. We make it a point to start from a position of trusting what Jesus says, even if it sounds ridiculous. After all, “given for you” is a far more incredulous claim than “this is my body,” yet both are gloriously true and eternally comforting.

            But Methodists do have a deep practice and understanding of the sacraments in their tradition, even if I don’t find it fair to the Biblical text. Would that more Evangelicals would take the sacraments as seriously as traditional Methodism does.

          • Yikes! Would *NOT* worry. Fire at will! Do not waste time sugar coating with disclaimers.

    • OldProphet says:

      And we are heretics, apostates, and false prophets (but with great donuts!) LOL!

  12. “For her, the fact that we did the service annually made it not special.”

    An interesting turn in the conversation; I would think that being able to attend a really amazing service that has predecessors going back many generations, that only occurs once per year, would both play the epic card and the scarcity card at the same time.

    I mean how do you top this? This year, our tiny Baptist church will have pantomimes? This year, our mega will spend even more money on strobe lights? The new gets old fast. I can write that, I am not very old.

    But I am a nerd.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I mean how do you top this?

      Pole Dancers and Strippers.

      This year, our tiny Baptist church will have pantomimes? This year, our mega will spend even more money on strobe lights? The new gets old fast.

      And you have to keep topping this as your over-the-top becomes Ho-Hum. Until you’re jumping around screaming and cutting yourselves with knives like the Priests of Baal.

      Or Pinhead and the Cenobites in the Labyrinth of Hellraiser, cutting the boredom of Hell with ever-increasing levels of “Sensation”.

      • “Pole Dancers and Strippers.”

        I believe something akin to this was done in a California Episcopal parish shortly after Matthew Fox left the RCC and became Episcopalian some years ago; it was part of a “creation-centered” liturgy that he devised, which supposedly emphasized affirming sensuality and “original blessing” instead of repentance and original sin. I’m embarrassed to acknowledge that such nonsense is sometimes countenanced in my denomination.

      • Faulty O-Ring says:

        Did somebody say Pole Dancers?

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwWTT6_aMFs

    • Seems right at home in a culture that is always looking for the next big thing…..whether it be a new celebrity, a new car, or a bright, shining new and exciting bed-partner. Isn’t being B-O-R-E-D the very WORST thing that could happen to us 21st century westerners?? Lord forbid we stay where we are and try to grow deeper roots…

    • Christiane says:

      and yet what our weary and bored Christian young people may long for is to step foot into a time two millenia ago . . .

      the Jewish people today have a celebration called ‘Passover’, and in it, their children are taught that it is as though they were THERE in Egypt WITH their people, going through what their ancestors before them had experienced . . . not ‘pretend’, but present WITH them in spirit

      The early Christians didn’t have ‘entertainment’ and coffee bars . . . they WERE the entertainment
      . . . in the Colisseums as their bodies were torn apart by lions and wild beasts . . . and they were persecuted because it was said that they drank blood, ( was this likely from their oral recounting of the Words of Christ concerning the Eucharist ?) . . .

      and still, if you ask a young Christian person, what would they give to be ‘present’ with those brothers and sisters of the early Church for an hour, or would they rather be attending the local mega-Church’s battle of the worship bands,
      we might be surprised by what they would say . . . 🙂

      some thoughts

      • Passover is an interesting example. While there are community (as in shul) commemorations, the real meat of the commemoration is in the family. It’s having the youngest present read the Haggadah, and the blessings, cups, breaking of bread and the washing of hands. All that done in the family. It’s why life can be so hard for a Jewish convert! Fortunately I have Jewish family. My atheist partner is becoming fairly conversant with aspects of the faith, too; sometimes he even accompanies me to shul. I think he’s heartened by the fact that he knows he’s not the only atheist in the crowd.

        Actually speaking of hand washing, the first time Mike sat through a Seder with us, he commented, I used to be an altar boy, a lot of this looks like stuff that goes on at Mass.

  13. Well, in the end I decided this was an in-house LCMS piece aimed at their own, as Miguel confirms, but it still left me puzzled as to why it appeared here. Never saw David Cornwell riled up before, and I was a bit riled myself. And any time the Good Humor Ice Cream Truck shows up here ringing its Church Bashing bell, the kids pour out onto the street, waving dollar bills in hand. I don’t like church bashing.

    I have no quarrel with church marketing tactics for those who respond to such. I have no problem with birds of a feather hanging out together. If my egg lady with small children told me she was thinking about taking them to church, I would advise her to do what I did on moving here. Visit around and go where you’re most comfortable. You have to start somewhere. The Evangelical church in town might suit her best. She could already be going there for all I know. There are no kids going to the ELCA church I attend, tho not by plan or choice. It’s a church for older people, as it turns out, and struggling, but she would be welcomed and her kids. I have always suspected that Miguel and Steve Martin were switched at birth.

    • ” I don’t like church bashing.”

      Ditto.

    • “If my egg lady with small children told me she was thinking about taking them to church, I would advise her to do what I did on moving here. Visit around and go where you’re most comfortable. You have to start somewhere.”

      Ditto.

    • Really, comfortability is the most important thing to consider when looking for a church? I don’t understand how any pew could possibly compete with St. Mattress on that one.

      I don’t like church bashing.

      Neither do I. Which is why I went out of my way to compliment their pies, their good intentions, and the validity of their tradition as an expression of Christian faith.

      I did come down fairly critical on their advertising, though. Are you saying it isn’t pretentious to say “we’re friendly, upwardly mobile, creative, upbeat, relevant, purposeful, casual, real, active, fun, and new?” Or that “purpose-driven” is not cliche? I don’t think it is “bashing” to call a thing what it is. They were wonderful, nice, and lovely people. I can disagree with their ideas without being a heartless meanie-pants, can’t I? After all, my main point was that Jesus should be our central focus.

    • ” Never saw David Cornwell riled up before…”

      Ditto.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “David Cornwell riled up before,”

      I try not to get riled, and when I do it usually does not end well (for me). But Marge, my wife, may disagree. She’s heard and seen it more than once. That’s the problem with being close to someone else.

      Miguel is a very gifted writer, who has a way with words. I’m sure he is also a talented musician with a deep love for the Church.

  14. Miguel, I love what you have written here–mostly because I agree with it. (“We tend to esteem the most those with whom we agree,” Thomas a Kempis). But I’m going to gently push back against an inconsistency in it.

    You say toward the beginning, “Whatever you advertise yourself as will say something significant about what you wish to be seen as not. For example, when you advertise yourself as a church of ‘friendly people,’ there is an implicit suggestion that other churches may be somewhat less than friendly.” You flesh that out, basically saying that when a church presents itself as X, that implicitly rebukes other churches as not being X.

    Then in your prescriptive section, you say, “What if a congregation defined its ‘brand image’ solely on belief the Gospel? How would this function in terms of negative implication? To put ourselves forward as ‘Christ-centered, cross focused,’ or ‘Gospel driven’ simply implies that our Christianity is about being Christian, and not about what isn’t Christianity (finding purpose etc…).”

    Wouldn’t that fit the same paradigm of implicit rebuke of other churches? To say, “We are Christ-centered…,” implies “…unlike some other churches which shall remain nameless.”

    I guess my question is, what’s the point of that first section in your discussion? Because your conclusion has nothing to do with the rebuke implicit in positive advertising. It really only relates to whether what you’re promoting is what you want to be known for, whether it’s worth being known for. To put it a different way, what you draw them with is what you draw them to. And a Christianity that is nothing more than casualness, relevance and life improvement isn’t a Christianity worth giving up everything for. But that (as I read it) is a completely separate issue from what you begin the post with. You’re raising problem A and solving problem B.

    I could be wrong on that. And sorry if I am.

    • The problem isn’t with advertising, but with substance. Are we selling Jesus, our ourselves? I’m also not saying that negative implication is bad, but rather, insisting that we consider what is being proclaimed by it. I think that churches that are not Christ centered are worthy of implicit rebuke, at the very least. We have no better, or other, business to be about, as far as I’m concerned. Christianity is the worship of Christ.

      The point of my first section is that we shouldn’t be so focused on saying “we’re not the religious boogeyman” that we fail to proclaim Christ.

      • Miguel I agree with your conclusions. Being raised Methodist I of course had to try and find out what the differences were. In the end I just set that aside. I am not attending a Methodist church at this time but I am thinking about going back. The ads were okay but I like your take that it is Christ the good news and the calling. I would like to see you incorporate this in this kind of outreach and how it could look. Of course the Holy Spirit is at work, I would think that getting people in the church doors is a start but as you I would like to see the whole picture because in the end when we are alone with God there are no others around to fill that void. At this time I myself could not feel anymore disconnect with the religious community but not so with God. I am being pulled closer than at any other time in my life. You have the right idea come across the lines and help us all.

        Religious has to stop being a bad word. I religiously go to the gym. I religiously take my vitamins and supplements. I religiously run to God every morning the very best part of the day. i religiously ask for His help. I religiously try and capitalize the letters when talking about Him because to me it is a sign of my respect. I would religiously tell other people it isn’t necessary for them to do it. LOL I don’t know why we can’t just say it when we religiously love our God. The fact that we religiously say it is a relationship does not fall short on me…..

        • I would like to see you incorporate this in this kind of outreach and how it could look.

          Me too. This idea has been recently eating away at me, but I simply have not had the time to pursue it.

          I religiously go to the gym.

          …another religion I’ve been meaning to take up. 🙂

  15. Robin Russell says:

    I love how my church describes itself: http://www.lakehighlandschurch.org/about-us/

    The Lake Highlands Church is an interdenominational family of imperfect believers, trusting only Christ as Savior and Lord. Rooted in the ancient, authoritative scriptures, we are saved by God’s surprising grace, alive in the power of the Spirit and expectant of a coming Christ.

    We don’t exist to tell you how good we are, for we have often collectively and individually made a mess of our lives. We exist to share with our neighborhoods the good news of God’s amazing rescue of his rebel children. We also exist to help people grow out of the maddening immaturity that is tearing apart our families and neighborhoods and grow into God’s common sense-mature relationships-where accountability, respect, prayer, simplicity and forgiveness are a way of life.

    • Well that’s refreshing! A little simul justus et peccator in there as well. I find that to be honest and upfront, with a healthy focus.

  16. I came home one evening to a flyer on my door for what looked like a new restaurant that was going to have a pancake breakfast special. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and I was so excited that a new breakfast restaurant was opening up just down the road! I googled the name and was surprised to find that it was a local church that was hosting the event. The church’s name in no way indicated that it was Christian, or even a church. I had passed by that building thousands of times and I never would have guessed that it was a church. It blended in so perfectly with all of the other buildings.

    The pancakes were good and I look forward to the next breakfast event.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I adore church breakfasts, and will happily go to one at nearly any church. Bait and switch tactics charm me rather less. A few years ago one of the local churches sponsored what was clearly billed as a Gospel music performance one evening. I enjoy some varieties of Gospel music very much, so I gave it a shot. What I found was not a concert, but a worship service that included Gospel music. I stuck it out for a while, but then they got to the part of having strangers in the pews stand up and talk about themselves. At that point I walked out. Partly it was because I am a German Lutheran: get to know me, and a few years down the road I will have that conversation. Accost me in a crowd and I won’t be so forthcoming. But really it was the shameless bait and switch, trying to get Glengarry Glen Ross leads, that sent me out the door.

      • I’m a child on the 90’s and was a teen at the turn of the millennium. I grew up in the Evangelical culture being taught that bait and switch tactics are the primary (if not the only) way to evangelize. The church has to take on the culture so that souls will inadvertently stumble upon the awesome message of the gospel.

        Every summer camp I went to was promoted as being a cool and hip summer get away from your parents. Many kids were in for a shock when they found out they had to hear about Jesus on a daily basis, but hearing about Jesus became fun and was the thing to do if you wanted to be in the “in” crowd.

      • @Richard, I’m trying to picture Alec Baldwin doing his “coffee is for closers!” speech on the church soul-winning committee.

    • And here we are again, back to the ultimate question…Did someone bring donuts this morning?

      • This is precisely why food should be a ministry all of its own. That way you’ll always have someone to blame and punish for the missing donuts or weak coffee.

        • I’m still waiting for the “Marijuana Ministries” to pop up in states that have now legalized Mary Jane.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            Rastafarianism, anyone? But they were smoking even without the permission of Babylon.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “Any religion whose core sacrament is marijuana is going to get very weird very fast.”
            — some Christian cult-watch type on a radio phone-in show

  17. OldProphet says:

    Gee, I don’t even know what all those 4 letter words mean. ELCA? Is that YMCA? ITS GOOD TO BE AT THE ELCA! And I thought we charismatic non denim types have identity problems. As far as the church advertising issue. A lot of churches I know use outreaches to their local areas with pure and loving motives. Yeah I know that some of their stuff appears crass and exploitive but their is a heart underneath that really seeks to reach the lost and hurting. Of course, some churches do it for lots of selfish or money reasons, but you have that across the whole body of Christ. If you have your church name on a building, you ARE advertising. If your fellowship has business cards, you are advertising We all advertise somewhere. Your church name here……..Prayer cloths dipped in the Jordan River!

    • Of course, some churches do it for lots of selfish or money reasons

      Right, some do, and we are not able to see into people’s hearts and judge which is which. However, we can tell the difference between “Join us because we’re awesome!” And “Join us to meet an awesome Savior!”

      Nothing wrong with a listing in the yellow pages either! Let’s just be reflective on how we represent ourselves.

  18. Excellent post, Miguel. I am encouraged when I read about younger men like you who see things which so many others across all generations fail to see, namely that the Church is neither a service nor a social organization with a therapeutic focus but the body of Christ, and that Scripture is neither an instructional manual nor motivational literature for being a better whatever, but the very word of God, Christ being the Word Incarnate.

    And what’s with church names these days? In my town we have some new Evangelical churches with names like “Catalyst Church,” “Paragon Church,” “Rock Church,” and the newest, scheduled to start in January, “Atomic Church”; honestly I’m not making any of this up. All these churches have good, orthodox statements of faith and the pastors are great guys who love God and want to serve Him and people.

    But “Atomic Church”? What’s next, “Quark Community Church”? I guess my question is, whatever happened to names like “First ‘X’ Church” or “Church of the Redeemer” or “Christ the Savior Church” or such?

    • My parents live by a church whose name is, no joke, “Cool Church.” Subtle, ain’t it?

      • There’s a Mennonite church in my neighborhood that was recently re-Christened (anabaptized?) to “Alive Church.”

        • On our way to our parish, we drive by “Friendship Church.” My wife always gets a kick out of that.

          • Could be they’re Quakers; they usually refer to themselves as “Friends.”

            Or perhaps they’re just friendly folks. I can see that.

          • Fr. Isaac says:

            Heh, I never considered the possibility that they could be Quakers. They used to be a non-denom with a trendy (for the 90’s) kind of name. I know the pastor got in trouble for some sort of financial scandal. Don’t know if they’re the same church with a new pastor and a new name or if they’re a new church in the old building.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But “Atomic Church”? What’s next, “Quark Community Church”?

      Higgs Boson Church?
      Strangelet Church?
      Quantum Zero Point Church?

      • The First Church of Christ, Astrophysicist?

        • Faulty O-Ring says:

          Are its congregants saved or not? There is no way to know.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            They are neither saved nor unsaved – or maybe they are both waved and unsaved. Until you measure them. But when you do, you can either tell where they are going when they die, or how fast they will get there, but not both 😉

      • I personally would promote, “Heisenberg Community: Narrowing Uncertainty from Your Life,” or “Positron: Eliminate all Negativity”

        “ICXC” is also appropriate and hip because foreign letters are used and it’s an abbreviation for Jesus Christ.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Calvin, I’m wondering how your daughter is doing with all the changes at her church. I’ve been waiting for you to comment (indicating you may have some time during your day) to ask you. She’s on my mind.

      Dana

      • Thank you for asking, Dana. The Mars Hill Church in Albuquerque, NM didn’t experience near as much of a negative impact from the fallout of Mark Driscoll’s demise near as much as other Mars Hill churches (some of which shut their doors, I understand). My opinion all along was that this matter should be handled internally and w/o outside interference, which in the end, it was. I also understand that outside pressures affect these things albeit seldom in a good way. And of course, Mars Hill Church being dis-fellowshipped from the Acts 29 network was a major factor in Driscoll’s departure.

        So, back to the ABQ church and my daughter… From what my daughter tells me, the congregation in ABQ was more dismayed at being dropped from the Acts 29 network than they were from Driscoll’s departure. They understand that there were issues with him and that he needed to go. However, from what she hears Acts 29 should not have dropped Mars Hill Church just because of Driscoll but should have taken into account the congregation as a whole, which were not accused of any wrong doing.

        So, the pastors at the ABQ church debated whether to go independent, as they were initially, or to stay with Mars Hill. In the end they decided on the latter. My daughter tells me that Mars Hill has a new lead pastor (can’t remember his name right off the bat) whose sermons will be piped in on Sundays as Driscoll’s sermons had been in the past.

        She is hopeful that Mars Hill Church in ABQ will do well–better, even–and so am I. We’re both glad that this episode is over.

    • Seriously, we could have a whole thread of posts devoted to silly church names. Or even one that’s “Is it a real church name or a made-up name?”

      If I ever started a church, I’d call it “Loserville Church.” Or maybe “Ragamuffin Church” (with a nod to Brennan Manning). We might not have many members, but at least we’d be honest about who we were.

  19. Miguel, this is another gem of well considered, well expressed writing from you. I enjoy following your work and always learn something important. “Let no man despise you because of your youth.” In your case, youth is not wasted on the young.

  20. OldProphet says:

    Miguel, don’t misunderstand my last post, your article is well reasoned, thoughtful, and insightful. Bob Dylan sang, “you gotta serve somebody”. Is it Christ or Self? Hey RickRo, we have Chrispy Creme donuts at my church. And herbal tea for the liberals

  21. Not sure how much I have to add, but I will throw in my 2 cents. First, I hate this kind of advertising, and I hate bait and switch outreaches. But coming from the midwest of California, if I saw your alternative, I’d run the other way. Sounds too much like a bastion of fundamentalism to me.
    Second, I really hate the hide your denomination identity trend. We had a local church here try that (they told my friend it was to attract disaffected Catholics) and instead they went into a steep decline. They have now sold out to a local megachurch, which ironically has part of their former name in their title. Honestly, if you are part of a denomination, you should be proud of it! Often you will get new members just because they look for First Church of their chosen denomination.
    Third, how often will we try, in whatever form of advertising we use, to refute what someone has criticized us for being? I’m thinking of how a friend’s non-attending husband says we are all too holy for him, yet we all feel like we are a collection of misfits, attempting to do our best to live our lives in a way that is worthy of our Lord Jesus. So it may be less of a condemnation of other churches and more of here is how we see ourselves.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Honestly, if you are part of a denomination, you should be proud of it! Often you will get new members just because they look for First Church of their chosen denomination.

      Somebody tell that to Anaheim First Baptist.
      Or PORTAL(TM), as they rebranded themselves.
      Or whatever they changed their brand name to again. I lost track a year or two ago.

    • “I really hate the hide your denomination identity trend.”

      My co-worker, who attends the local Calvary Chapel church, and I were talking about religion. When I asked them what it is about Evangelicalism that attracts them, they looked at me as if I had worms crawling out of my eyes and ears. They then stated in a very serious tone that, they WERE NOT Evangelical. They were non-denominational.

      I wasn’t sure where to begin with a response, so I let it be. I’m guessing they wanted to hide that Evangelical identity. I find that most non-denominational churches are proud not to be associated with a particular denomination, although they like to identify with their sister or satellite churches.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Non-denominational — you know, Fundamental Baptist with the labels painted over?”

        That was from a talk show long ago. And I’m sure you’ve heard the ones about “the Non-Denominational Denomination.”

  22. “Honestly, if you are part of a denomination, you should be proud of it!”

    Yep. Ignoring this, let alone purposefully hiding it, is to lose a good story….

  23. OldProphet says:

    There are 2 guys who have a ministry that goes into churches to address porn addictions It’s called XXX Church

    • They also provide very nifty accountability software that we’ve used in churches I served previously. I appreciate what they’re trying to do. It’s a dirty job, and I would bet quite thankless and well criticized. I believe the director, Craig Gross, spoke recently at the LCMS national youth gathering, in one of the breakout sessions.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      They should name it for St. Andrew.

  24. Miguel, I loved your article.

    A few years ago a church plant with an attractional methodology started in town. They flooded the town with postcards, most like the ad campaign you describe. I recall one of their postcards quite clearly: It talked about a “new kind of church” and the graphic filling up the front was of a dozen or so eggs. They were all white and plain, except for one, which was painted in bright, multi-colored pattern. Point made.

    • Thanks, Daniel. I was bummed to see your blog seems to have been taken down! (Not that I’ve even looked at my own since my son was born.)

      • Yeah, I started teaching a bit (in addition to the pastoral role), so I haven’t had as much time or bandwidth to keep it up. I want to re-start it, but will likely narrow its focus to either exegetical problem passages or to analyzing the arguments of the new atheists.

  25. “Really, comfortability is the most important thing to consider when looking for a church?”

    Miguel, I worked late today and I’m back. I’ve had time to think your post over further and all the responses. It would appear that the good monks here have decided to let you off and smooth things over. Sorry, but I couldn’t go to sleep tonight and leave you with the impression that all is well.

    First off, comfortability is not about padded, theatre-seat pews and state-of-the-art sound systems. Comfortability is an initial survival mechanism that has gotten us here thru millions, billions, of years of evolution. It works. It lets you know whether that critter or person approaching is most likely friend or foe. Not infallible, but it gives you the best chance of surviving, maybe even placing your genes in the pool.

    It is also the initial means of spiritual discernment, a vital skill needed for survival and growth in the spiritual realm. There are other skills beyond this needed, but comfortability is a good first indicator. It varies with people because people vary in the cards we are dealt and our upbringing, but it still the one basic way my egg lady has to keep in touch with her spirit if she decides to in fact seek truth wherever it takes her.

    As important as comfortability is, as much so or more is uncomfortability. If someone is approaching and my dog is suddenly growling and showing his teeth, I am on high alert. If someone ostensibly speaking for God refers to someone else ostensibly speaking for God as holding “false beliefs”, I am on high alert. This is a code red alert phrase. This is not something to be used lightly. This is serious stuff.

    Let me tell you about the most uncomfortable moment in now something like forty years of consciously following Jesus. It was during Lent. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Grants Pass, Oregon, where I attended had joined with the local Lutheran Church Missouri Synod to hold joint services during the week. I went to one at the LCMS church, my first experience with them.

    The service was appropriate and I was able to enter the liturgy as well as at home. Came time for Communion, and to be polite I asked the woman sitting next to me if I could share. She informed me that only members were allowed. The devastation of that exclusion is just as strong with me today as it was maybe thirty years ago. No other organization or person has matched it before or since. Yes, the Romans and the Orthodox and a few others won’t share their table with me either, but you know ahead of time that they are exclusionary contrary to the Spirit of Jesus.

    I told my pastor, and he said that the LCMS pastor would probably have allowed me. The implication was that as a black sheep cousin I would have skated. Fast forward thirty years to this past Sunday. A woman I didn’t know sat down late in my back pew. Seemed a bit distraught, seemed to not be very familiar with the liturgy as printed out in the program. When it came time for Communion she was still trying to follow along and I leaned over and told her she was welcome to share if she wanted. She did. If she had been refused, I would have walked out and never come back.

    We all advertise our beliefs. Advertising has gotten a bad name from its use in the World System, but we cannot help advertising our beliefs, tho we can try to hide them. Miguel, for some time time now you have been advertising the Missouri Synod piece of the pie for me in a positive and uplifting way. Not enough to weaken my vow never to set foot ever again in an LCMS congregation, but making a real difference. Enough to make me think, well, maybe it was a fluke. This guy seems real enough.

    Until today. False beliefs? David Cornell and his cohorts slurping their grape juice and chortling over their latest false beliefs? Give me a break. Apparently David has indeed given you that break, as modeled by Jesus. I’m slow to follow. Was this an injudicious choice of words, an error of the moment, a regrettable lapse of youth and inexperience? If so I have not spotted an abject apology in all the posts. I have spotted some weaseling words of self-justification, and a lot of the self-righteousness and self-promotion and spiritual pride that i see castigated in your article.

    I don’t expect to change your mind. I’m just calling you out here before this post is done. What you did was wrong. You called my friend David a heretic. Deny that as you will, that is what the words “false beliefs” imply. It reflects badly on you and on your denomination. I expect better of you. You should be lifting your denomination out of the fundamentalist depths, not sinking them further. Jesus calls us upward.

    Jesus did not call call us to worship him. He called us to follow him as he worshipped and became One with the Father. We all have a long way to go and many errors to overcome. All of us. That includes you and me. Arrogance and self-righteousness and spiritual pride are not the Way. Please take heed. You have much to offer the Kingdom of God.

    • You called my friend David a heretic.

      No I didn’t. I am perfectly capable of using that word when I want to.

      Deny that as you will, that is what the words “false beliefs” imply.

      No they don’t. It implies that one is simply human. You cannot be a heretic AND believe the Gospel, which I clearly gave this congregation credit for.

      Jesus did not call call us to worship him. He called us to follow him as he worshipped and became One with the Father.

      I’m gonna assume you don’t actually mean what you just wrote, because at face value, that actually IS heresy. Jesus did not “become one” with the Father. There was never a time when they were not One. Basic Trinitarian stuff.

      Let me tell you about the most uncomfortable moment in now something like forty years of consciously following Jesus.

      they are exclusionary contrary to the Spirit of Jesus.

      I’ve no sympathy for you. Cry me a river. You KNEW that some Lutheran churches practice closed communion. If that is the most uncomfortable thing that has happened to you in 40 years, Jesus is taking it easy on you. I’m denied on a regular basis. The last time, I had lunch with the priest afterwards and he gave me a 120 year old book on the liturgy. Some exclusionary jerk, right? I have no problem respecting the beliefs of other churches, even where we disagree. Why do you? I just find it highly ironic that you take this opportunity, as you call me out for saying some Christians hold “false beliefs,” to rake me over the coals for closed communion. Are you saying it is, like, a false belief or something? If not, explain the difference between that and “contrary to the Spirit of Jesus.” It sounds like it is only appropriate to call out somebody “ostensibly speaking for God” for an err when they disagree with your views.

      We disagree with the Methodists on some articles (and Presbyterians and Catholics, etc…). Where we do, we are convinced that we are right and they are wrong. That’s how disagreement works. There is nothing wrong about being up front and honest about our disagreements. That’s where respectful dialogue begins.

  26. Miguel,

    I think the point of your article is spot-on. Thanks.

    • Hi Tom~ Happy to include you as well in my post above. Plenty more where that came from. I can’t speak for David but I’m sure he will send you blessings too. Jesus covers a lot more territory than I can.

  27. Is it possible to be “all about Jesus” and not be about Jesus at whatsoever? The old Adam is so incredibly deceptive – even when one is thinks he or she is being all about the gospel.

  28. Typical Miguel Ruiz. Thoughtful and well thought out.

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