welcome. why "weak on sanctification"?

this accusation is often made about lutheran christians. because we focus so strongly on god's justifying grace in christ, and our continual need, as "sinner-saints," to receive god's gifts of grace through word and sacrament, people say we are "weak on sanctification." i prefer to say we are strong on jesus, whose sanctifying work in our lives is the fruit of the gospel all along our lifelong journey. i would much rather focus on what he has done than on anything i might do.

the weekly discussion

each week I set forth a topic to promote discourse about some aspect of Christianity, the church, or the spiritual life. i would love to hear your perspective and thoughts on each week's subject. these discussions are usually posted on mondays, so if you missed this week's post and would like to catch up on the conversation, just scroll down and join us.

September 21, 2009

the weekly discussion—sept 20

each week I will set forth a topic to promote discussion about some aspect of Christianity, the church, or the spiritual life. please join the conversation!

this week's discussion:

"do we need another 'cool' church?"

two postcards came in the mail the other day, advertising the "grand opening" of a new church in town. on the front of one was the word "religion," and it was crossed out, and on the other was a picture of a guy in jeans and sneakers along with the words, "these are my church clothes." the church has a cool, spiritual name—"the journey church," and here is the list of what they say they offer:
  • casual, relaxed atmosphere
  • a community of authentic, caring people
  • great live music (singing is optional)
  • practical, meaningful teaching from the bible
  • a safe, FUN environment for kids
  • church that lasts an hour or less
  • free [local establishment] coffee & doughnuts
along with their contact information, they make this claim about our town: "franklin will never be the same!"

now, i have several questions about this, and i would love to get your feedback. my questions are:
  • do we really need another church like this? in our town of franklin alone, there are at least 9-10 similar small church start-ups or groups, most of which have this same vibe—cool, casual, non-religious christianity. why another?
  • is this list of offerings really what people are looking for in a church and in their faith? and even if they like some of these characteristics, do these things truly represent what a church should be offering? what kind of christianity is being presented here?
  • what does this advertisement say about what the leaders of this church think of the established, more "traditional" churches in town? isn't their self-description a pretty explicit condemnation of the traditional church? where's the christian love and belief in the "catholic" faith with an approach like that?
  • doesn't the very method of marketing imply a "competition" model of church growth that pits them against the other ministries in the area? and isn't their style and aggressive advertising more likely to draw unhappy church people looking for something fresh rather than non-churched people?
  • is it really possible that people won't see through the hype here? "franklin will never be the same!"—really? "authentic, caring people"—really? (have you ever been in a church?). faith without religion—really? isn't this all a bit triumphalistic? can they truly deliver?
come on, folks, have at it. i'm very interested in what you have to say.

today's van gogh
the sower, 1888


  1. I'm a bit of two minds (is that another way to say "fence-straddler"?)

    I can see how some people might see a need for churches like this, in general. People who haven't grown up in church can be intimidated by traditional churches. They can seem like museums, places you are supposed to keep quiet, look but don't touch. And truthfully, even as someone who DID grow up going to church, I have been to traditional churches that, if I was a non-believing visitor, I would not go back to because of how stuffy and unfriendly they seemed.

    But I get what you are saying too. There are indeed already a number of churches like that in Franklin. Traditional churches have wonderful, well, *traditions* that are important in the history of our Christian faith. (I love the two churches I've been a member of over the last 20 years, but I do long for a bit more liturgy at times!).

    I guess the truth is, I think both kinds of churches have things they can learn from each other. I believe I've read that traditional churches are losing membership. That doesn't necessarily mean that fewer people are becoming Christians, or that people are losing their faith, but I think it means more people are being attracted to this other kind of church. That leads me to think there is some need people have that is not getting met in traditional churches.

    On the other hand, I think I've perceived a lot more "church-hopping" in this contemporary kind of church. Maybe it's the lack of roots to keep people there, maybe it's the lack of common liturgy or something else that would make people remember that we are all part of the same body.

    Hope some of this makes sense.

  2. There's a flyer I see the bulletin boards around IU. Its headline: "Not Your Grandma's Church."

    1) What's wrong with my grandma's church?
    2) The body of Christ is not made up exclusively of people ages 18-25. Acting as though it is will only bury you deeper in the pseudo-adult life of college.
    3) I understand if people have a hard time worshipping God with some of those old, difficult hymns. But old isn't necessarily bad. The solipsism in so many modern hymns always is.

  3. I find it interesting the difference between myself and my coworkers. I am actually a Christian, whereas I don't think any of them would own the title. Yet, they still go to church sometimes.

    For example, when one of the guys at my work had a kid, he was talking about getting the kid baptized and finding a church to attend. He wasn't really interested in it for himself, but he felt like it was something that needed to be done. Maybe it was for the sake of his parents or his wife's parents, maybe just tradition.

    Others of the people I work with remember fondly the VBS and church youth group activities they attended when they were growing up, even though they don't want anything to do with it now. So they're fine with sending their kids to a church camp or other church activity (and they'll attend themselves if needed). They're fine with their kid being at church, especially since they assume the church will teach their kids right from wrong and how to be a good person, just like all the other religions do.

    One of the guys I work with will go to church occasionally (friends kid being baptized or something), but is always very cynical about it since they have holier-than-thou attitudes and always try to guilt you into giving money (so he says).

    So, given all that, I think that maybe those people are the people they have in mind when they're trying to reach out with those fliers. People who aren't quite Christians, but still have the church memory in their heads, or at least might darken the door of a church. "A casual, relaxed atmosphere" instead of a stuffy church. "A community of authentic, caring people" instead of holier-than-thou hypocrites. "Great live music" so you won't get bored when you come like when you go to other churches or like the churches you grew up in. "Practical, meaningful teaching from the bible" -- well, I don't think that would mean anything to any of my coworkers, unless they hear that as teaching basic ethics and morality. (Be good. Don't steal.) "A safe, FUN environment for the kids" to recall any good church memories the person might have had from when they were a kid, plus the possible promise of kid activities to get the kids out of the house. "Church that lasts an hour or less" instead of what other churches they grew up in or attended that went on forever. "Free [local establishment] coffee & doughnuts" is, well, free food, and that's always a winner. Local establishment so you get to be holier-than-thou. :)

    The flaw in the plan is that a) these people aren't really interested in going to church, they just have some niggling feeling of obligation from family or their past or something; b) these people have a strong association with certain denominations ("When I go to church, it's a Methodist church"); and c) as mentioned above, their cynicism alert is on overdrive when they see things like "real, authentic people," etc.

  4. Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where [is] the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk [therein]. Jeremiah 6:16

  5. People, unfortunately, think its more relevant than traditional churches. But it soon becomes just a hangout or concert. Most people in those churches don't know what they believe or what Christianity believes.
    Then pretty soon you can't tell the difference between real life and church. I'm wearing the same jeans, after all.

  6. Anonymous, quoting Scripture can be helpful, but by itself, it can also raise more questions than it answers. For example, you quote the King James Version of the Bible. Some would interpret your quote to say that the "old paths" were when our church used the KJV exclusively. But the KJV has only been used for about 400 years. what about the "old paths" during the 1600+ years before the KJV? Jeremiah was calling Israel to remember the Law and recommit themselves to the Mosaic covenant. Is that what you mean by quoting this scripture? Are you calling us to become Law-abiding Jews? For some, the "old paths" mean returning to Roman Catholicism. For others, the confessions of the Reformation. For others, the revivalist traditions of the 1800s that most Baptist churches developed out of.

    While I appreciate your call to "the old paths," we simply can't know what you mean without more explanation.

  7. "All scripture is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit." When discussing "church", I am inclined only to think of the first church that Jesus Christ Himself built. He called out his assembly (ecclesia) when he called his apostles to be in His first body of believers. She (the church) sent out 70 elders at one time, before the Lord was crucified. The first church had the Lord's supper together, when the Lord's supper was instituted, before He was crucified. She is the only Church that was given authority to "go into all the world and preach the gospel, baptize believers, and teach them all things whatsoever I have commanded you." She had 3000 souls added unto her on the day of Pentecost. Obviously, she was here before the Roman Catholic Church and, of course, the Reformation. (The Catholic Church's daughters) Does it sound old fashioned to say a church must have authority to start another church? Absolutely....hense, ask for the "old paths". The Bible says, "I am the Lord and I change not." He has one way of establishing churches. Like begets like. And Jesus received Baptist baptism...walked 30 miles to get it, because He honored God's authority, that which was given to John. And the Lord's Church's are still established this way even today. The gates of Hell have not prevailed against Her, even as her Lord had promised. She is His Bride, and He is coming for Her to take Her unto Himself.
    The Lord's church is not here to entertain, to give out coffee and donuts, or even to make people feel comfortable in their sins. Her responsibility is stated in the Great Commission. And yes, there are churches still established the old fashioned way. The Lord always created the first of everything. A body comes from another body. So is the church.
    There is a book that is a good read...Its title is, "The Church That Jesus Built." The author is Roy Mason. I beleive you can down load it, if interested. It goes into much more detail than I am able to do in a short space. I guess my point was that not only is God's way the best way...it's the only way.

  8. The views expressed by Anonymous are those of the "Landmark" Baptists, who believe in "baptist perpetuity," or "baptist succession." This is not the place to debate that position on ecclesiology. Those who are Landmark Baptists see themselves as the only true church and believe that they exist in direct continuity with the church that Jesus himself founded during his ministry, beginning with Jesus' own baptism by John.

    One who holds this position will quickly and decisively reject any claim by ANY other group that they are planting a "church." Needless to say, that's all we need to hear from the Landmark Baptist perspective.

    However, I'm still eager to hear from others who would like to weigh in!

  9. Churches like the one Anonymous espouses are the reason why a lot of people don't go to church. Many people have been seriously hurt by judgmental, legalistic churches, and they do it all in the name of Christ. In the Gospels, the only harsh words and name-calling coming from Jesus were for these religious fools who were getting it all wrong. Not much has changed in 2000 years.

  10. Do we really need another church like this?

    I don't know about Franklin, but out west of Indy where I live the balance has certainly tipped. The meetings that consider themselves new or experimental have displaced traditional Christian church.

    Many people at these meetings feel that they are "trying something new." They seem unaware that what they are doing is no longer new, but has become ordinary.

  11. Personally, I'll be there. I've been badly hurt by a church and if these people will welcome me with open arms, then it's where God wants me to be.

  12. That's a good and helpful comment, Anonymous. In my personal experience, I have found that these types of congregations are best at attracting folks with your kind of testimony. I question whether they have enough depth to form mature believers over the long haul. And I still question why we need another of this type when there are so many others from which to choose.

  13. I feel that the "lure" of these type of churches are trying to appeal to those who are wanting to possibly make church a more relaxing atmosphere and nondemanding or even noncommital. It is important that even if we have concerns about our faith and how we are to worship to always make sure these churches are focusing on what the Bible teaches about faith and worship. Jesus went to people to teach in their own environment and it was casual didn't he? Respect and trust in our Lord is important and traditional ways honor these values. Although traditional churches may be changing, if the church doesn't focus on salvation or obedience and so forth... I tend to stay away as well.

  14. "Jesus went to people to teach in their own environment and it was casual didn't he?"

    Jesus abided by the traditional temple ceremonies. What he did that was casual was in people's homes, or on the road, or in the courtyard outside the temple.

    Seems to me there's a clear lesson that we ought to do more in the workplace and the community to serve and to testify. But I don't
    see any justification from Jesus' life to make church casual or contemporary. Am I missing something?

  15. Right on, AZ. The church is not a "temple" around which all Christian activity, especially outreach, is to occur. We gather to worship, we scatter to engage in God's mission IN THE WORLD.

  16. Well as a "future pastor" of one of those up and coming plants, and as a former small church planter (both in Franklin) let me throw in my thoughts. There are what, roughly 26k people in Franklin, probably a church seating capacity of well less than quarter of that, with 40 or so churches in Franklin. As a growing community I think we can all agree that we could use more churches to reach the lost.
    I spoke in an evangelism class at FCC Sunday and I too remarked about all the "signs" all over our town. Marketing is not evangelism.

    I don't have any problems with traditional churches, but I do feel like they have lost some of their punch in this post-Christian society that we live in. I think something is totally missing though with a churches desire to align itself with the world's values. I do value Christian Community and relationships. I truly love to see it when churches and congregations reach across the barriers to connect with each othe. None of us should be islands unto ourselves.
    Why is it something socks me in the gut when see those signs everywhere? Am I jealous? Am I envious that they "got out of the gate" sooner than our plant? Or am I saddened by the idea that they appear to have such a watered down approach. I don't think the seeker friendly model (not all bad) is really all that effective over time. When we "thin down the soup" too much what's left? What is to become of the next generation?
    Casual? Contemporary? So what? When it is over emphasized then dosn't it become a value? I could care less if someone is wearing a suit or jeans, most people have moved on past that and it clearly is just un-important.
    Relationships are important, Relationship to Christ is primary, good theology is something to be valued and not scorned.

    When we plant next Easter, I hope we reflect deep held Christian values, a passion for the lost, a love for true seekers, and a place of depth and contemplation for the saint. Yes, jeans will be just fine, and there will be hot coffee, and yes (sigh) contemporary music. But we will be cracking open those Bibles and opening up the minds and the hearts to recieving and applying God's Words to our overworked and shipwrecked lives.
    It is our prayer that we bring something different to the mix, reaching out cross-culturally to a more diverse international crowd.
    Along with the usual crowd of misfit toys and broken peoples.
    To the defense of some of those little plants out there. I have dropped in on "The Current Church" on an occassional Sunday, though I am not from "their tribe" I have felt loved when I visited, welcomed as a fellow pastor and shepherd.
    I worshipped (very loudly)with a group of welcoming teens and twenty somethings, I saw the Gospel being preached, hearts being healed, and fourteen young people coming to make a decision for Christ that evening in that church full of tattooed, spiky haired, goth-looking youths. I saw no watering down of the Word of God, and more passion and devotion to God than I see in many older congregations. I think it would do us all good not to take inventories of other bodies of Christ, and be careful not to dirty the Bride of Christ (the Church) by having any negative presuppositions about those other churches. Let us all try to encourage each other, become friends, and link arms for God's greater plans.

    Pastor Tim

  17. Thanks for an eloquent testimony, Pastor Tim, and we certainly pray for God to lead and bless your efforts in gathering God's people into a vibrant faith community.

  18. Well I don't know if it was so much eloquent as it was rambling, maybe a better way to sum it all up is to say: "Yeah I feel like you do, I'm just not sure if that means we are right." My prayer is that we capture the heart of God with our efforts....all of us. :)

  19. Pastor Tim, I am coming from an entirely new perspective on all of this since leaving free-church, non-denominational Christianity and joined a Lutheran church. My questions about all these church plants is not just a matter of style (why another casual church?), but rather a matter of ecclesiology.

    Every Sunday I repeat the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in the holy catholic church..." I do believe we are one, but when I see groups basically abandoning the wisdom and practices of 2000 years, celebrating their freedom from tradition, and downplaying serious worship, theology and service rooted in a community, I fear we have gutted the fullness of the gospel in an effort to be as non-offensive and "relevant" as possible. I also fear the lack of authority and accountability, the absence of organizational support for pastors, the proliferation of options that makes it easy for people to be "consumers" rather than disciples, the lack of intergenerational involvement, and so on. And I wonder if we really are playing the same game.

  20. WOW! There is a lot of judging going on here simply based on the promotion efforts of this church. You're using terms like "water it down" and you haven't been to the church to hear what they teach and preach yet? You assume that, just because a church uses marketing to let people know they're coming to town that theyr'e somehow less spiritual or godly, and that's just wrong. It sounds like the Pharisees and other religious elite in Jesus' day. This church is not trying to reach us, so they probably don't care what we think, nor should they. They're obviously trying to reach people who don't go to church and I get that. A lot of people don't go to church because of all the extra junk we've added to the simplicity of worshipping God and teaching the Bible. Dress this way. Do this ritual. There seems to be a lot of angst and confusion about "tradition" and "style". And neither has anything to do with truth, purity of doctrine or orthodoxy of theology. You seem to be assuming that your traditions or styles are the only right ones, and that is a big mistake. Nobody really knows what a first century church service was like. "Traditional" churches more likely reflect the style of churches in the reformation era, when the hymns we have today were beginning to be written. Why do you assume the worst?

    Paul didn't care whether the Gospel was preached because of false motives or true motives. "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." (Phil. 1:18)

    And you "pastors" don't even know what this new church actually preaches. That's really sad.

  21. Pastor Tim,

    You speak of "watering it down." I'm wondering what church you are associated with?

  22. Believer, I think most have been responding to what the church actually said about themselves in their materials, not what we assume that they are like. Furthermore, several of those who have commented have pretty broad experience with churches like this, so it's not like we're coming at the subject as outsiders.

    Still, I accept your warning regarding judgmentalism. That is not my intent, but it certainly can sound that way to someone listening to the conversation.

    Thanks for joining us in the discussion.

  23. Believer says, 'They're obviously trying to reach people who don't go to church.' I courteously dispute that, if I may. The group might have plans to try and reach people who don't go to church, but that is not evident in their advertisement.

    When Jesus purposed to reach people who don't go to church he went out where they were and talked to them in homes and along roads and by wells and on high places and seasides.

    When he was in the temple, he was a strictly observant Jew and all his recorded comments were addressed to strictly observant Jews. I don't know what this says about ecclesiology, but to me it is clear that Jesus saw that the temple had a purpose separate from outreach.

    Perhaps contemporary faith meetings that 'obviously try to reach people who don't go to church' do this by adapting their Sunday morning programs because that method is much easier and more comfortable than doing what Jesus did.

    And perhaps the very idea of adapting a holy service to suit the whims of nonbelievers is a mistake. Neary everything that 'seeker sensitive' groups do is fine and good. The fact that they do them on Sunday morning and reject the necessary elements of Christian worship that ought to happen during the Sunday gathering is not so good.

  24. I was there this past Sunday. The service was geared toward both the new church goer and the more experienced. The kids had an awesome children's church to go to and my kids were excited about being in church!

    And to top it off, there were several hundred people there. There were people standing on the sides of the auditorium because it was so full.

    And to you, AZ, how do you know that the "necessary elements of Christian worship" weren't there? Were you in attendance? Was the message from the Bible? Yes. I think that is the ONLY necessary element of Christian worship, that and the presence of God, which was totally there.

    So those of you who ARE being judgemental, I challenge you to show up this Sunday and "judge" for yourself.

    And for a parting thought, Judge not, lest thee be judged.

  25. Christ Follower: thank you for your report. But please, don't assume someone is being judgmental simply because he/she is trying to think through his understanding of what the church is to be and how it should function.

    I don't need to defend AZ, but I happen to know him, and we have had many discussions about these matters, and I know that his comments grow out of visiting a lot of churches with the same kind of mission and style as the one we're discussing here. So, he (as well as others who are taking part in this discussion) is not talking out of ignorance.

    Furthermore, there are much more established and more ancient, Biblically-sound traditions in Christianity that would disagree wholeheartedly with your assertion that "the Bible" and "the presence of God" are the only necessary elements of worship.

    This is exactly the kind of statement that makes me worry about the ways people are trying to "do church" these days. The sacraments aren't necessary? Confession and absolution aren't necessary? Corporate prayer isn't necessary? With those words you have simply and thoughtlessly thrown out 2000 years of Christian wisdom and practice as well as a host of Biblical admonitions.

    My questions go beyond any individual congregation like the one you attended Sunday. There is an entire ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) that is at stake these days. It's not just about style. I recommend that you go to internetmonk.com and read Michael Spencer's series on "The Evangelical Liturgy." It's time for evangelicals to grow up and stop settling for cultural Christianity.