Last fall your pastor and/or church office began receiving colorful flyers announcing “the newest 50-Day Spiritual Adventure (which) will help you and your congregation!” Pastors were invited to attend one of 128 nationwide Training Conferences between October 1, 1996 and January 9, 1997 to help implement the Adventure in their local church.
The topic was “The Church You’ve Always Longed For: What You Can Do To Make It Happen.” A brochure tells us what we supposedly have always longed for in a church — being a caring family, capturing the heart of the community, welcoming all people, empowering each individual, modeling integrity, serving a broken world, encountering the living God, and anticipating a great future. To “make these things happen” the program was to encourage people to “practice five action steps designed to enhance your church family”: learn to listen with the ears of Jesus; attract others by saying good things about the church; connect with individuals outside your circle; help each other become all God wants us to be; get rid of personal garbage that pollutes God’s church.
Conspicuous for its absence is any mention of Jesus Christ (other than “listening with His ears”), His cross, sin and grace, or the Means of Grace. Church Growth propaganda extraordinaire.
We have our own “spiritual adventures” at our pastoral and delegate conferences and synodical conventions. The scripturally-based essays and discussions help us “be all that Christ intends.”
For example, at last summer’s synod Convention Pastor John Ude (Messiah, Hales Corners, Wis.) delivered an essay on The Means Of Grace And Mission Work. Here is a portion of the essayist’s description of the Church operative in the book of Acts — a Church we truly long for!
The Church created at Pentecost had one formula, plan, and goal for mission work: “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). It is through that Word alone that the successive Pentecosts of Acts come to men. “My Word shall accomplish what I please and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11). Any plan or sign that becomes a substitute for relying on Christ’s grace revealed alone in the Word and Sacraments is from the devil (Jn. 15:26, 16:14). Christ’s Kingdom is coming to us when God gives us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life here in time and hereafter in eternity. The one vision which is to sustain and guide us is of the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY upon His throne dispensing forgiveness (Isaiah 6). The Spirit’s foremost mission goal is that the Word is taught “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24, 8:31, Mt. 28:20)….
Most helpful in Pastor Ude’s essay was a footnote in which he itemized 12 points where the Church Growth Movement errs. In capsulized form the points were:
1. It is virtually silent about God’s forgiveness. 2. It never proclaims objective, universal justification in Christ. 3. It makes faith a decision man makes to identify with a social
group….It measures discipleship by obedience, and responsible church
membership is not simply faith in Christ. 4. It is all about growing a church rather than the Word growing the
Church. 5. It separates conversion from the Means Of Grace….It makes
entertainment, crowd psychology, and pagan frenzy its means of grace. 6. It sets goals for conversions and other divine matters. Scripture
says the Spirit blows where He wills. 7. It determines its message by society’s “felt needs” and so cuts the
heart out of God’s Word…. 8. It sets up levels of Christianity. This mixes justification and
sanctification. 9. It confuses the priesthood of all believers with the public
ministry. 10. It looks to man’s abilities, spiritual gifts, to energize the
church rather than the Word and Sacraments. 11. It accommodates cultural idolatry and prejudice instead of
promoting the transcultural, transcendent Word of God’s salvation. 12. It is completely unionistic, maintaining that creeds are to be
discarded, all denominations are equal, theology only matters if it
encourages or prevents church growth….
One of those 50-Day Adventure brochures stated: “Increasingly, we live in a post-Christian era. Churches, once the hubs of our communities, are being forced to the edges of society. Attendance is waning….”
What to do? Let all would-be Christian churches (and synods) return to reliance upon the Means of Grace, the Gospel in the Word and Sacrament. Such means are God’s instrument to defend, extend, and revitalize His Church.
–Pastor Paul Fleischer