Tag Archives: Tullian Tchividjan

If you’re not “missional”… (Revised with apology)

***This post has been revised as of 11/30/12. The original post included some language towards my District that was not consistent with the collegial tone that I desire to maintain. Though the theological evaluation and call for dialogue remains the same, I have done my best to remove uncharacteristic inflammatory language, with my apologies to those I have offended by not first speaking to them in person. Be assured I am in the process of personally speaking with individuals regarding this transgression, while also aiming to continue an in-person dialogue on this topic.     

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This world is full of unbelievers. We need simply look around and we’ll find someone who does not know that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Like you, they are in desperate need of the truth of the Gospel—that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). It’s a powerful truth. God’s love is so intense that He sent Jesus to be “crucified, dead, and buried” for their sin, my sin, and your sin.

I like the way Paul put it to young Pastor Timothy: “[God our savior] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:4-5). In other words, God does not discriminate. His love is clear. He wants all to receive it, rest in it, and share it. His ultimate desire is for “all” people to have faith and receive, as the creed says, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. The Lutheran church (LCMS) has long stood upon this truth (AC IV) and the desire to make sure the Gospel gets delivered. As our confessions simply state:

So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel, that is to say, in those who hear that God, not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace on account of Christ. Augsburg Confession, Article V.

However, as of late, many in the Holy Christian Church, and notably in my own Lutheran church, feel that the church has lost her way, that the mission of the church has somehow been displaced. As a result, a new movement has emerged. It’s called the Missional Movement. I’ve already written about it at some length. But it needs continued dialogue. Many are still confused about it. Many are frustrated it’s not being embraced. There’s even much discussion about using the word “missional” itself. It’s a new word. Some like it. Others don’t. Does it describe a behavior or imply a particular theology? Not everyone is sure. In short, we need to talk.

Thus, I propose that we engage in some forthright, collegial, and honest conversation about what it means to be missional, and how for better or for worse, the movement is impacting our Lutheran church body. So, once again, here we go. I apologize for the length of this post in advance. But since I’ve been away for a while, perhaps you won’t mind.

In short, the Missional Movement has the desire to “reclaim” the mission of the church—to take back what some say has been high jacked by a “maintenance mentality” that only seeks to serve “their own,” ignore the lost, and remain insulated from the invading and changing culture. Consequently, a passionate “missional” paradigm shift is being thrust upon the church. It’s crossed denominational lines. But as we’ll see, its origination has a distinct identity.

At its core, the desire is to get the Gospel out. This is, of course, an awesome thing to do! However, as we will also find out, the understanding of the Gospel does not have uniform agreement or understanding within the Missional Movement. (Just consider Matt Chandler’s recent book, The Explicit Gospel, as well as J.D. Greear’s recent book, Gospel: Recovering the Power that made Christianity Revolutionary. Both are written as reactions to the movement’s inability to maintain a clear confession of the Gospel.)

In short, the paradigm being offered attempts to organize the ecclesiology of congregations (i.e. church governances, organizational structure, and their defining purpose) in a way that is entirely focused on getting the message out to the lost. Part of this includes the emphasis on “making disciples who make disciples” though what those “disciples” actually look like is also not always agreed upon.

One book in particular attempts to establish this paradigm in great clarity. It is titled, Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. Simply put, it’s a guide to developing missional leaders and missional communities: “Missional leaders, along with their leadership teams, have a clear vision for creating authentic missional communities. Everything they do is designed to facilitate development of Christians as missionaries sent by God to live and proclaim His kingdom in their world. Ultimately, the leadership team desires every member of the community to function in a missional lifestyle, equipped and empowered for effective ministry” p.168.

Shaped by God’s Heart?

The book is a favorite among missional advocates, and is a Leadership Network Publication written by the experienced Baptist Pastor, Milfred Minatrea. It is perhaps the best articulation of the movement’s missional paradigm and ecclesiastical desire. As such, it also provides a distinct opportunity for insight into the paradigm’s inherent theology and some of the resulting friction it creates with our Lutheran theology and practice.

The book is divided into three parts: Part One—The Church in a New and Changing World, establishes the belief that most churches in North America are “maintenance” churches that are only focused on “survival” and thus are failing God’s mission and therefore need to move to becoming “missional.”

Part Two—The Nine Essential Practices of Missional Churches, explore what “missional” churches do on a regular basis: 1) Have a High Threshold for membership, 2) Be Real, Not Religious, 3) Teach to Obey Rather than to Know, 4) Rewrite Worship every Week, 5) Live Apostolically, 6) Expect to Change the World, 7) Order actions according to Purpose, 8) Measure Growth by Capacity to Release, Not Retain, 9) Place Kingdom Concerns First.

And Part Three—Structures and Strategies for Becoming Missional provides some specific details of the organizational change the congregation must go through to become “authentic disciples” and “truly missional.”

What becomes apparent from the very beginning of the book is the context from which the author is speaking. His regular comparing and contrasting of “missional” to “maintenance” churches reveals that he is operating with a distinct theological and ecclesiastical context that is unmistakably Baptist in nature (including nondenominational or evangelical expressions of this theology).

He is quick to criticize (rightly I might add) how many congregations “have adopted and adapted to consumer culture” where “just as they count on Wal-Mart meeting their material needs, they expect their churches to provide religious goods and services” (p.7). But then he also asserts that maintenance mentality churches merely focus on “preserving the ‘savedness’ of the members, and the church’s function to manage that salvation” where in such churches, “both clergy and laity lose sight of their obligation to make disciples” (p. 9).

However, with this assertion he offers no consideration of the ongoing spiritual needs of church members (i.e. the forgiveness of sins, despairing souls etc.), or any recognition of how sin can continually wreak havoc on the faithful and the peculiarities of each afflicted sinner, nor about the God pleasing nature of vocation. To be sure, he does note how each person has a “sphere of influence” where they can share the Gospel, which includes their place of work (which I completely agree with). However, that is portrayed as a divinely mandated obligation and issue of obedience rather than an outworking of the Gospel, to say nothing of the God pleasing nature of their other various family or work vocations.

His attempt to theologically back up this assertion reveals a distinct difference in how his “missional” mind understands the desire of God and how Lutherans understand the desire of God: “God desires His church to relish in His glory, share His glory among the nations, and reflect His glory in word and deed. The church is a Body made in His image, sent on His mission, to be His glory!” (p.9). The glory of God is not explained in terms of the forgiveness of sins through Christ (central for Lutheran theology), but rather in people coming to worship God.

In other words, it appears that according to this paradigm, missional churches do not emphasize the forgiveness of sins, but rather that people are to praise God, worship God, and give God glory. “Their passion is to see the people of all nations worship God” (p.122). To be sure, worship of our Creator and Redeemer is indeed a salutary and proper activity. But Lutherans recognize worship consists of things far greater than our human endeavors of praise and adoration, and can only occur because of God’s gracious activity toward us.

This approach should not be surprising. It would only be consistent with the non-sacramental nature of Baptist and nondenominational theology, (i.e. that worship is all about the human action of giving praise and glory to God, not about God serving the forgiveness of sins and the gifts of His grace—Word and sacrament worship in Lutheran parlance.) This would also help us understand why he emphasizes the importance of his missional practice number four: Rewrite Worship Every Week (p.65-75). Though he says “worship is about content, not form” he still emphasizes that missional churches are to “make sure worship stays fresh” so that a “relevant” connection can be made with worshipers (p.66). Thus, by theological default, the emphasis of this missional paradigm is repeatedly on the law—what we are to do. As such, if we are being honest, this creates friction for Lutherans.

Law and Gospel or Just Law?

By-in-large, this is the reoccurring theological emphasis of the book. Though he attempts to portray this paradigm as simple “practices” of missional churches, the reality is no practice is theologically neutral, nor is any ecclesiology theologically neutral. They have inherent to them the theological disposition of those creating any such “practice” or “church structure.”

Consider what he says are the four “dimensions of missional churches.” These are what establish the heart and soul of being a missional church—what it is and what it does: Dimension one: Love God—worship and obey. Dimension two: Live His mission—serve and share. Dimension three: Love people—embrace and invite. Dimension Four: Lead them to follow—equip and empower (p. 16-26). Nowhere is the Gospel clearly declared, at least not as Lutherans understand it.

Again, the emphasis is all on the human action rather than on what God in Christ has done and is doing. In fact, from a Lutheran perspective, the Gospel is made into a law—do this, do that—love, live, lead. To be sure, those are sanctified activities and even part of the works that God has in advanced prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). But that is not the Gospel. The saving work of Jesus Christ is the Gospel.

Ironically, the book is titled Shaped by God’s Heart, but seems to have missed the mark of what makes God’s heart beat, (not to mention the marks of the church)—namely, the justification of the ungodly in the cross of Jesus Christ; the forgiveness of sins regularly doled out through Word and sacrament.

Instead, the Gospel is depicted as activities that must be done by those who are “authentic” disciples of Jesus. (By the way, does this mean that non-missional folks are not authentic or real disciples? He is fond of backhandedly indicting those who are not missional: “Missional churches are communities of authentic disciples. These churches take discipleship seriously.” p.45. Does this mean that the rest of us don’t?

Also consider this quote by Erwin McManus: “I think that in the traditional church what you oftentimes have is the affirmation of beliefs, and that’s how people get fed. In a missional church it’s the implementation of the actions of beliefs and the fleshing out of beliefs. We actually hold ourselves more fundamentally to the scripture. Honestly, I think most traditional churches don’t really obey the scriptures” p.56. (Seriously?!)

Unfortunately (and perhaps ironically) sin and repentance are dealt with very little in this paradigm. At one point, Minatrea depicts repentance as a past act with no apparent continued need, where it is portrayed more as a part of a past church culture, rather than as a vital part of “authentic” faith:

Leroy Eims is a marvelous disciple builder, author, and master storyteller who called for authentic discipleship in the twentieth century as a representative of the Navigators. Some years ago, as he tells the story, he was listening to the radio while driving toward his Colorado Springs home, It was Saturday evening, and he was listening to sounds of the Big Band era. While enjoying one of his favorites, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” the song was suddenly drowned out by a higher-powered station broadcasting a “fire and brimstone” preacher who shouted, “Repent. Repent, now!” In response to this appeal, Eims replied, “Now my problem is I’ve already done that. I did that years ago. I have repented. Right now, I am trying to listen to ‘Chattanooga Choo-Choo! But he won’t let me listen to ‘Chatanooga Choo-Choo’; instead he insists that I repent!” Living apostolically can be like that. Our connection to the church can be so strong that it repeatedly interrupts our attempts to move beyond the church and into the culture of the world. While we try to hear what is being said in the world, the sounds of our religious traditions continue to overpower us.” (p.78).

I believe his aim is to challenge the prescriptions of a particular church culture (which can be a fair approach), but in so doing he reveals that the forgiveness of sins is not necessarily central to “missional” congregations (which would not be a healthy approach). Rather, being missional seems to mean that a person is someone who gets others to know who Jesus is; know his love (whatever that might mean) and what he did a long time ago on the cross, but not necessarily know the ongoing effects of sin and the need for the forgiveness of sins today and tomorrow. In other words, the life of evangelism, not the life of repentance, is the core of the “authentic” disciple’s life.

Measures of Success

What is more, the “success” of missional congregations is not measured by the presence of the forgiveness of sins, but rather by a numerical evaluation: “Concerning measures of success… ‘The measure of church success may need to be reevaluated. One day, a church may evaluate its fulfillment of Christ’s commission not only on the basis of attendance, its strength of fellowship, budget and cash flow, but by the number of congregation it begets.’ Indeed, missional churches are redefining what it means to be a church” (p.122-123).

In the end, this is what concerns me about this movement. Confessional Lutherans maintain the nature of the church does not change. This missional paradigm says it does. If we are being honest, we would have to acknowledge that, at a minimum, this poses some very significant concerns.

Ultimately, this is what makes the book, along with many elements of the movement itself, so disenfranchising for me as a Lutheran. Minatrea claims the missional church wants to work with all churches, and not compete with other churches since they are “members of the same team” (p.135). However, I find it troublesome when he notes that “moving to missional is a deep change that is inherently difficult because it requires leaving established ways of doing things” (p.173). Sometimes there are things that are not up for debate. There is not the option to leave them.

Thus, I occasionally wonder if we are really on the same team when there are such disparities of understanding the Gospel. Is the Gospel Jesus’ work for me or my work for Jesus? Lutherans say it’s the former, this missional paradigm says it’s the latter. Leaving the way of Jesus “for me” is to leave the way of the forgiveness of sins. That’s not an option for Lutherans.

This is by no means to disavow all non-Lutheran Christians. Rather, it is to simply affirm the clarity of the Gospel—the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ—for the sake of God’s kingdom and the sake of those sinners called into it. In fact, I love how Reformed Presbyterian Pastor Tullian Tchividjian puts it in his just released book: Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free:

Listen carefully: Christianity is not first and foremost about our behavior, our obedience, our response, and our daily victory over sin—as important as all these are. It is not first and foremost about us at all–it is first and foremost about Jesus! It is about His person; His substitutionary work; His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. We are justified—and sanctified—by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. Even now, the banner under which Christians live reads, “It is finished.” Everything we need, and everything we look for in things smaller than Jesus, is already ours in Christ (p.83).

Thus, it should be clear that I’m not trying to be elitist, snobbish, or a preservationist. I simply desire to affirm the Lutheran principle that doctrine and practice go together; that doctrine is not negotiable, that Christ is central, that sinners need to be forgiven, and that life is very often much more messy than what this missional paradigm seems to acknowledge.

I like how Luther puts it in his 1535 commentary to the Galatians: “Therefore, as I often warn you, doctrine must be carefully distinguished from life. Doctrine is heaven; life is earth. In life there is sin, error, uncleanness, and misery, mixed, as the saying goes, ‘with vinegar.’ Here love should condone, tolerate, be deceived, trust, hope, and endure all things (1 Cor. 13:7); here the forgiveness of sins should have complete sway, provided that sin and error are not defended… But by the grace of God our doctrine is pure; we have all the articles of faith solidly established in sacred scripture. The devil would dearly love to corrupt and overthrow these; that is why he attacks us so cleverly with this specious argument about not offending against love and the harmony among the churches” (p.41-42).

Doctrine and Danger

Yes, as with all books, there are some helpful things that can be learned from this one. Congregational structures can be tenuous and difficult, and there are some helpful pointers that could be gleaned from Minatrea. But the inadequacies of this paradigm as its presented here prevents me from being able to recommend this book.

Curiously, one of the dangers Minatrea notes about the movement is one that I have observed with some frequency. Minatrea offers this warning: “The Missional community must shun the pretense of viewing themselves as ‘more spiritual’ than members of the church who do not pursue the missional vision” (p.177).

It has been my observation that there is a significant amount of pressure to be “missional” even though not everyone agrees or understands on what it actually means to be missional. Nonetheless, congregations and pastors are being evaluated and assessed (implicitly and explicitly) on how “missional” they are. This book itself has multiple missional assessment tools after each chapter that can be used to measure pastors’ and congregations’ missional effectiveness.

I will acknowledge that tools can be helpful to take stock of a congregation’s situation, however this particular mode of measurement would seem to be foreign to Lutheran theology and practice. It does not lend itself to creating a unified atmosphere of Lutheran ministry, but would rather seem to divide and label by way of a new emerging (and yet uncertain) movement.

As a result, those that are not be deemed to be “missional” (either by choice or by circumstance) end up getting looked down upon. Very often they are then viewed or labeled as inferior. They’re seen as upholding a “maintenance” congregation. They get a mark against them and, for some, are seen as a hindrance to “real” ministry. The intent of such measurements may indeed be sincere. But such resulting labels are unfortunate, particularly in view of Minatrea’s own warnings.

In the end, if measurement tools are going to be used, at least from a Lutheran theological and practical perspective, I wonder how pastors and congregations would feel if they were to be evaluated by similar tools on whether they are being truly Lutheran? I know, its a touchy statement. But it draws out the accusatory slippery slope we risk when utilizing such assessment tools.

I believe the Missional Movement desires to get congregations headed in the right direction. I just think Lutheran theology has been pointing us there long before this movement came along.

As always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments as we seek to dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

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A Gospel-centered Church

J. D Greear’s book Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary is an evangelical perspective on recovering the Gospel in the midst of a very confused church. My previous post began a look at the book. This post picks up where I left off.

What’s fascinating about his presentation is that it tends to highlight the Gospel by distinguishing it from the law, something Lutherans do as the bedrock of teaching and preaching the faith.

The “laws” of God (i.e., commands like, “J.D., don’t lie, be depressed, worry, or get angry”) tell me what to do, but don’t really give me the power to do them—at least to obey them from the heart… The gospel shows me that God’s presence and approval are the greatest treasure in the universe. The gospel reveals God’s mercy toward me, and that makes me more merciful with others—not because I have to be so to gain God’s acceptance, but because I am so overwhelmed by His mercy that I can’t help but extend that to others. We must saturate ourselves, therefore, in the truths of the gospel. (Chapter 1, Kindle Edition).

Even more fascinating is that as of late he isn’t the only evangelical approaching faith through these theological lenses. Evangelical Matt Chandler also uses this approach in his book The Explicit Gospel (see my previous posts on his book.) Tullian Tchividjian does as well in his book Jesus + Nothing = Everything. He’s also has been running a series of posts on the law and Gospel over at his Gospel Coalition blog http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/.

Nonetheless, Greear becomes especially helpful in addressing some of the more regular confusing Gospel presentations being made in the Church today:

Have you ever heard that statement (attributed to Francis of Assisi), “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words”? How do you explain the gospel without using words? That’s like saying, “Tell me your phone number. If necessary, use digits.” Your phone number is digits. The gospel is the words announcing what Christ has done. People can’t look at our lives and know the story of Christ. They may see glimpses of the kindness of Christ, but expecting them to get the gospel just by watching us would be like trying to gather information from a newscast with the sound turned off. (Chapter 14, Kindle Edition)

His constant goal is to keep the Gospel central and to keep it absolutely clear. And to make sure it stays clear, he’s not shy about offering a sharp critique about the various movements within the church today.

Contemporary churches often just change the list and take off the tie. The new list includes volunteering at one of the weekend services, going to small group, and, above all, tithing. The elements on the list might have changed, but it is still a list of to-do’s, and the expectation is still that outward behavior modifications are God’s primary way of changing our hearts. A lot of the new, cool, emerging Christianity has turned out simply to be “old legalism” in grunge clothing.

If we only command people to be generous, we will produce merely desperate people who run out to do something extravagantly generous to prove they are saved. That is a type of works-righteousness, in which we try to add a work to our lives to prove we are children of God. A heart of generosity will only be produced in us as we embrace and believe the gospel.

At many “emergent” churches, the emphasis is on the wholistic nature of salvation, particularly social justice and racial reconciliation issues. Amen. We need to be paying attention to those issues, and gospel-centered Christians will care about them. But you cannot confuse the effects of the gospel with the gospel itself. (Conclusion, Kindle Edition).

Here he hits the nail on the head. Seeing the effects of the Gospel is truly amazing. But when those effects replace the Gospel we have a problem. Namely, the Gospel gets distorted, or worse, it gets lost.

I think many in the church today are simply having trouble trusting the Gospel to do what the Lord says it will do. When things don’t happen fast enough or in the manner we think it should occur, the inevitable trend is to resort to using the law (demands) to get the results they think need to happen. And then they declare that to be the Gospel of the Lord. But according to Greear, Gospel-centered churches stand on the Gospel and let it be the Gospel.

A gospel-centered church prioritizes the message of the gospel in its ministries; focuses that message on what Christ has done rather than anything we are to be doing, and then demonstrates the gospel in the community around them. A gospel-centered church is always about the gospel. It preaches the gospel in all places, at all times, to all people. The gospel is the defining element in every part of their ministry.

Nonbelievers need to hear the gospel to believe it and be saved. Believers need to be reminded of the gospel so they can grow deeper in Christ. There is really no distinction, you see, between what believers need to hear and what unbelievers need to hear. Both believers and unbelievers need to get a glimpse of God’s majestic glory, a taste of His surpassing beauty, and a sense of how much grace God has shown toward them in Christ. Both believers and unbelievers need to be rebuked for their pride and self-sufficiency, to be reminded of the all-surpassing beauty of God. They both need to be stirred up to faith. The gospel is the center of the message no matter who you are talking to. It is everything. Christ is all.   So make the gospel central in everything you do. Preach it everywhere. Always. To everyone. (Conclusion, Kindle Edition).

All in all, it’s another intriguing read that will remind Lutherans of the treasures inherent in our theology.

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

That I May Be His Own

Much debate in the church today centers on what it actually means to believe in Jesus Christ. Two non-Lutheran sermons I recently listened to help provide a contrast that characterizes the divide in the church.

Both preachers are relatively young, well known leaders of large congregations. One is evangelical preacher David Platt. He has become well known for his book Radical, which explores the radical demands made by the Gospel upon the believer. The other is Reformed Presbyterian Tullian Tchivdjian. He has become well known for his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, which explores the radical sufficiency of Christ for the believer. Both have many thoughtful things to say (books and preaching alike), but they do draw out some distinct differences that various segments of the church are emphasizing.

I recognize that preaching a sermon always has a context, and taking a few sentences out of a sermon runs the risk of misrepresenting what a preacher might actually be saying. Thus, I tried to select quotes from the sermons (which you can listen to at the associated links) that sought to be representative of the entire sermon theme.

The first is a quote from Platt’s 2010 sermon titled “The Gospel Demands Radical Sacrifice:”http://www.vergenetwork.org/2012/01/30/david-platt-the-gospel-demands-radical-sacrifice/

“Jesus requires superior love. Luke 14:26 is the first “If… then he cannot be my disciple” [of Jesus.] “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life– he cannot be my disciple.”…I want to be very careful with all the verses that we study because there is a danger that we try to soften the words of Jesus to fit the way that we live… Love for each other springs from who? From our love for God. Loving Him is supreme. It’s superior love… Biblical Christianity sees the supremacy of Christ and is so infatuated with Him, so drawn toward Him, that our love for Him drives everything that we do! It’s a superior love. So the question before you, in light of this verse is, do you love Christ?”

The second is from Tchivdjian’s sermon titled “Free at Last” and was preached at Coral Ridge Presbyterian church this past Sunday, (Feb. 5, 2012). http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/:

In all of Paul’s letters that he wrote, he gives the bottom line of the Gospel right away in two words: grace and peace… Grace being the root of the Gospel, and peace being the fruit of the Gospel. Grace involves the remission of sins; and peace involves, as Martin Luther said, “a happy conscience.” The peace of God which transcends all understanding comes only as we increasingly believe that by grace alone Christ has made peace with God, for us! In other words, we never experience the peace of God that transcends all understanding by looking in! We can only experience the peace of God that transcends all understanding by looking out, and up, at the very fact that Christ made peace with God, for us!

Again, I realize that each sermon has a context. However, I think they sum up the divided emphases within the church.

One feels that Christians are failing to properly love Jesus and therefore their unbelieving neighbor. As a result, countless calls are being made for intensely increased witnessing and superior love for our unbelieving neighbor, because that is what they feel the Gospel demands and true love for Christ requires.

The other emphasis feels that such intense demands and requirements confuse the fullness of the Gospel. It’s not that Christians shouldn’t do these things. Absolutely, they should! Rather, it’s just that they feel such demands cause people to look to themselves rather than to Christ for the meaning of the Gospel. As a result, they feel the Gospel is turned into a law to be obeyed rather than a gift to be received. That is, the 10 commandments already require Christians to intensely love God and neighbor. So the primary message of the Gospel then is not another law to be obeyed, but that it proclaims grace and peace for our miserable failures to do so.

What do you think? What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? A pastor friend of mine recently reminded me of how Luther had a knack for making it so simple. In the explanation of the Second Article in his Small Catechism, Luther beautifully summarizes what it is to believe in Jesus—“that I may be His own.” (See the full explanation below).

It’s not first about what I must do. Rather it is first about what Jesus has done. It’s not about my superior love, but His. And as my dear friend put it, “This is much happy news!” For, sinners by definition cannot meet the demands of superior love. Our wretchedness is so complete that we need the supreme and superior love of our Savior Jesus Christ. It’s how we become His. And when we are His, then there is much living and serving to do. But that comes as the fruit of this happy news. Not because it has been demanded from us, but because it has been given to us—because we have been made His own!

[Explanation of the Second Article: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.]    

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

Obedience has no end…

If you’re a Christian, will you overflow with love for everyone, all the time? If you’re a Christian, will you obey God all the time? If you’re a Christian, do you sin less than other people in the world?

What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be the church? Right now these are the questions being debated in the North American church. I’m fascinated by the multitude of answers.

Many say the church is at a crossroads. (When isn’t it?) Many claim it’s ceased to be what it was meant to be. However, what it has stopped being, and what it has become, depends on who is talking. The emergent church movement says we need “A new kind of Christianity” (Brian McLaren, 2009). The missional movement says “we have a master who demands radical obedience” (David Platt, 2010). Both say we must have a “Transformational Church” (Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer, 2010). Obedience is crucial.

Missional guru Francis Chan is also adamant: “We can’t just have thousands of people in a room and we’re not showing that intense love where people walk in and say, ‘Wow, there’s something different about your love for one another!’ That’s just not right when we’re not living like a body, like a family… How can we have rooms of people who claim to have the Holy Spirit of God Almighty inside their bodies? God Almighty inside of you? And your life looks just like everyone else? No wonder they’re shutting down the churches.” http://www.vergenetwork.org/2011/12/28/francis-chan-what-is-wrong-with-the-american-church-video/

Each offers a critique. Each provides a perspective on what Christians have to do to make the church (and themselves) right. At times they do have some thoughtful things to consider. However, I think they’re missing the mark.

With each of them there is a constant return to the demands of what Christians must do, what the church must do, if we are to take the Gospel seriously. But the problem, at least for me, is that all of these demands for a “new kind of Christian,” a “radical obedience,” and a “transformational church,” place impossible and unrealistic demands on fallen and wretched sinners.

No, I’m not looking for an excuse to ignore the lost. No, I’m not looking for an excuse to hang onto my sinfulness. Rather, my point is that the focus of all these demands is on us and not on Christ. Yes, I believe in sanctified living. Yes, I believe in witnessing to the lost. But I think there is a failure by some to be realistic about our sinful condition. And therefore, ironically, there is the failure to understand the fullness and role of the Gospel.

Tullian Tchividjian sums it up well in his book Jesus + Nothing = Everything. (The book title alone is a profound formula for the church to consider.) He writes: “Since the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart, rules and regulations are never the solution. Jesus is. Behavior modification cannot change the human heart. You and I need this reminder all the time. And that’s why we turn to the gospel.” (p.119).

So indulge me for a moment. Has there ever been, in all of history, a congregation where all of its members simply swooned over one another “showing that intense love?” How about the first century Christians at Corinth? Nope. They were full of divisions (1 Cor. 11:18) How about the Galatians? Ah-uh. They were too busy biting and devouring one another (Galatians 5:15). The Philippians? Close. But they had to watch out for the “evil doers” among them who “mutilate the flesh” (Phil. 3:2). How about Philemon? Sorry. He was at odds with Onesimus. Can’t we find even one person full of intense love for everyone? Yes. His name is Jesus.

So how about we let Him be the Lord of the church? How about we let Him fulfill every demand? How about we let Jesus be the leader of doing all things impossible? After all, He obeyed the law perfectly. He resisted all temptation. He died as a sacrifice for the whole world. He even rose from the dead! So why not let Him be the solution to all our woes?

Demands for transformation, imperatives for radical obedience, requiring one become a new kind of Christian; they’re all rooted in the law. But the law offers no peace. It provides no solace. It transforms nothing. It simply tethers us to a relentless oppression of impossible demands. The solution to the church’s (and the world’s) woes is nothing new. It can be found in Jesus and only Jesus.

Bo Giertz, in his must read classic novel, The Hammer of God, writes it beautifully:

“The conscience, our own anxiety, and all slaves of the law bid us go the way of obedience to the very end in order to find peace with God. But the way of obedience has no end. It lies endlessly before you, bringing continually severer demands and constantly growing indebtedness. If you seek peace on that road, you will not find peace, but the debt of ten thousands talents instead. But now Christ is the end of the law; the road ends at His feet, and here His righteousness is offered to everyone who believes. It is to that place, to Jesus only, that God has wanted to drive you with all your unrest and anguish of soul.” (p.204).

When Jesus, and only Jesus, is put at the center, the mission of the church becomes clear.

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Two nights ago I started reading a new book which so enthralled me that I read all 209 pages of it that night. It’s not that it was necessarily anything new. In fact, what it says is really quite ancient. However, it was who was saying it and how he was saying it that absolutely captivated me.

The book was titled Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Wheaton: Crossways, 2011) and was written by Tullian Tchividjan (cha-vi-jin), the grandson of Billy Graham, and also the Senior Pastor of the renowned Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

The book has been garnering some significant attention. It was forged out of his tumultuous reception as the new Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge in 2009, (following in the very big footsteps of the late Dr. D. James Kennedy) and offers an absolutely refreshing message about the centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is one that is particularly helpful amid all of the recent missional madness that has been receiving so much attention by the North American Church.

What makes the book even more fascinating is the list of names who Tchividjan notes to have so heavily influenced him during this difficult time. In the acknowledgements he writes:

To my Gospel mentors: there are far too many to name them all. But ten in particular have sharpened my understanding of the Gospel significantly over the last two years: Mike Horton, Steve Brown, Rod Rosenbladt, Gerhard Forde, Tim Keller, Paul Tripp, elyse Fitzpatrick, Scotty Smith, Jerry Bridges, and Harold Senkbeil. I am so grateful to God for all of you and the way you have challenged and encouraged me through either your writing or your friendship or, in most cases both (p.12).

There are some notable Lutherans in the bunch, especially in LCMS Lutherans Rod Rosenbladt and Harold Senkbeil. Rosenbladt is said to be a personal friend, while Senkbeil’s work Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 1994) is quoted at length, as is, according to Tchividjin, Senkbeil’s “excellent article in Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification.”

However, there is one more absolutely fascinating Lutheran book whose influence becomes readily noticeable in Tchividjan’s writing. Perhaps you will pick up hints of it in this excerpt from his final remarks:

As I have said before, I once assumed (along with the vast majority of professing Christians) that the Gospel was simply what non-Christians must believe in order to be saved, while afterward we advance to deeper theological waters. But I’ve come to realize that once God rescues sinners, his plan isn’t to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. The Gospel, in other words, isn’t just the power of God to save you; it’s the power of God to grow you once you’re saved.

This idea that the gospel is just as much for Christians as it is for non-Christians may seem like a new idea to many, but in fact, it is really a very old idea.

There are many books (beneath the Bible, of course) that have helped me as I’ve wrestled with how God intends the reality of the gospel to shape and liberate us at every point and in every way. The following list of books is not exhaustive, but if you read them, you will be moving in the right direction toward a better, more biblical understanding of the Gospel and how to preach it to yourself every day (p. 207).

He then provides a list of what he calls Twenty-Six Books on the Gospel. It includes Senkbeil’s above mentioned Dying to Live, but it also includes, and I find this utterly fascinating, C.F.W. Walther’s God’s No and God’s Yes: The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel. (St. Louis: Concordia, 1973).

The fingerprints of these Lutheran treasures can be seen throughout Tchividjan’s writing. Consider the following excerpts:

Absorbing this narcissistic assumption, the modern church is all too often guilty of producing worship services that are little more than motivational, self-help seminars filled with “you can do it” songs and sermons. But what we find in the gospel is just the opposite. The Gospel is good news for losers, not winners. It’s for those who long to be freed from the slavery of believing that all of their significance, meaning, purpose, and security depend on their ability to “become a better you.”

Moralistic preaching is stimulated by a fear of the scandalous freedom that gospel grace promotes and promises. The perceived fear is this: if we think too much and talk too much about grace and the radical freedom it brings, we’ll go off the deep end with it (p.50).

Preachers these days are expected to major in “Christian moral renovation.” They are expected to provide a practical to-do list, rather than announce, “It is finished.” They are expected to do something other than, more than, placarding before their congregation’s eyes Christ’s finished work, preaching a full absolution solely on the basis of the complete righteousness of Another. The irony is, of course, that when preachers cave in to this pressure, moral renovation does not happen. To focus on how I’m doing, more than on what Christ has done, is Christian narcissim (an oxymoron if I ever heard one)… (p.117).  

[W]hile the law guides, it does not give. It has the power to reveal sin but not the power to remove sin. It simply cannot engender what it commands. The law shows us what godliness is, but it cannot make us godly like the gospel can. The law shows us what a sanctified life looks like, but it does not have sanctifying power as the gospel does. So, apart from the Gospel, the law crushes. The law shows us what to do. The Gospel announces what God has done. The law directs us, but only the gospel can drive us. It’s very important to keep these distinctions in mind (p. 188).

When a Reformed Presbyterian grandson of a Southern Baptist evangelist offers a corrective for the church in the way of Lutheran gospel clarity, (sorry, I know that is a mouthful) perhaps there is reason for Lutherans tempted to adopt the ways of evangelicalism to sit up and listen.

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully, honestly, and collegially, talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford