Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Synod Propaganda or Pyramid Scheme

Ok, here’s another game we’ve developed after wading through the junk mail. There’s an odd familiar ring to some of the propaganda that is sent out from Lutheran synods. With the constant drumbeat of missions behind darn near everything that is written, the synods end up sounding mighty similar to multi-level marketing organizations (pyramid schemes).

You start with a product and a leader who gathers around him/herself a small group of “believers”, gets them all fired up to go tell others about the wonders of Amway, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, Tupperware, Lia Sophia, Herbalife, Shaklee, Creative Memories, or Jesus, then sends out those from the small group to form their own small groups and get new people fired up. Hopefully, some from these small groups will also see the benefits of being part of the organization and make a formal commitment. Then they can go form their own small groups and the conversion continues. Just as there is no need for a Mary Kay salesperson to ever set foot in the door of the corporate headquarters, there also seems to be no need for Lutheran pyramid scheme operators to get themselves to their assumed source, the Church. No, the impression is given that the small groups are the answer. They will self-perpetuate divorced from the preached Word and the administered Sacraments. The big show on Sunday becomes the rally to get more new people to sign up for the small groups, with hopes that they will then eventually form and lead their own small groups.

This approach of marketing the Gospel may explain some of the backdoor losses the Lutheran church experiences. If you come into the church because of the inspirational high of emotionally charged music and worship or because of a Lutheran testimonial to what wonderful things have happened in the life of another since joining a church, how difficult is it to leave when things start to go badly in your life or if the emotional high doesn’t come as readily as it once did? This same burnout is seen in MLM salespeople who come in excited and assured that all will now be well with them, but then fall away when the promises of exorbitant wealth, free time, and happiness aren’t kept. Reminds one of Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed.

This pyramid scheme evangelism ignores the cross Christ promised to His followers and makes unrealistic promises and unScriptural demands on new members. No, your life might not get outwardly happier or easier if you join a Lutheran church. No, you don’t HAVE TO join a social group in a congregation to BE INVOLVED. No, it isn’t necessary to membership in Christ’s Church to receive phone calls from other, more established members inviting you, the new sucker, to every potluck, coffee hour, kids’ concert, meeting, fundraiser, or picnic under the sun.

Church isn’t primarily about us; it’s about Christ. Only after it’s about Christ is it about us. Never underestimate your own insignificance.

So, at long last, which of the quotations below is from a Lutheran church leader? Bonus points* if you can guess** the source of any of the others, too.

  1. “This invitation to dream, however, is not one that asks you to dream with your eyes closed and simply to imagine what can be. Rather, this invitation asks you to dream with your eyes wide open.”
  2. “The rewards of lending a helping hand to others or being the recipient of an act of kindness leads to an atmosphere of trust, caring and relationship building.”
  3. “_________ meetings are full of shared energy, enthusiasm, and excitement.”
  4. “It’s so simple, yet makes such a difference. Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important’.”

*If you send us real money, we will send out real prizes
**”Guess” means no internet searches


Polly said...

I made myself read The Reporter yesterday and noticed the not one, but two features on groups called The Alley and Mosaic. We can't even call them a church, cause that might offend somebody. Is this the wave of the future?

rlschultz said...

You have really hit the nail on the head with this one. My wife used to be involved with several different MLM schemes many years ago. The pattern as you described is deadly accurate and incredibly predictable. What is interesting to note is that sometimes the small groups are not described as that but appear under the guise as a committee - worship, evangelism and stewardship committee. When you adopt the paradigm that "everyone is a church worker", the tactics become eerily similar to that of the MLM schemes. One example of this is getting members to constantly be on the lookout for evangelism opportunities. This is like what happens when every contact with anyone becomes a chance to make an Amway sales pitch. Likewise, when a congregation engages in activities that really don't involve the Means of Grace, even in the broad sense of the term, the focus on the Gospel is lost. The focus is then shifted to activities that the congregation offers and the Sunday Worship is no longer the central activity, but just one in a multitude that is available. Some members will become burned out as the time required becomes much for those who must work and care for their families.

Angry Lutherans said...


Wave of the future? Sure hope not.

I'm not sure if it's an attempt to avoid offense or just trickery to get someone in the door, as in, "Gee, I thought Mosaic was an art gallery, turns out it's some weird religious sect."

I applaud your efforts in reading The Reporter. I don't currently have enough alcohol in the house to adequately prepare myself for that or the Lutheran Witness, Forward in Christ, or Mission Connection.


Angry Lutherans said...


Exactly. An upcoming post will deal with superfluous church committees. It's kind of a new monasticism. Our God-given vocations are too mundane, so we invent unnecessary new ways to "serve the Church" that result in wasting time and causing frustration and really not much good other than an inflated sense of self-importance among some of the committee members, and that really isn't helpful to anyone.


Anonymous said...

May I take a stand that is in disagreement? My brother is a pastor--in many congregations the attitude is "let the pastor do it, that's what he is paid for"or "let the pastor organize it." Can you imagine trying to run any organization that way ? Hence the need to split up responsibilities into worship, evangelism, stewardship, etc. The most overriding principle is that everyone is there to serve one another, not there to bitch or look for personal glory. The work of the church needs to go on--spreading the good news of Jesus' salvation to the world. The avenues to do that are many.

rlschultz said...

"Let all things be done decently and in order". It would be safe to say that all congregations need more than just the pastor to take care of business. I understand the attitude of "let the pastor do it". I have witnessed this also. Borrowing from economics, there should be a division of labor within a congregation. The pastor's work should mostly have to deal with the Means of Grace. I also understand that some of the laity can shirk their responsibility when they are volunteering. However, I believe that at times the various small groups get obsessed with process and folks can get burned out doing busy work. Anonymous, your points are well taken.

Angry Lutherans said...


What are the people letting the pastor do or organize? He SHOULD be the one preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments, which is what the Church exists to do. This makes the Church unique and sets her apart from human organizations. This is not an "organization" that we need to run. It's Christ's Church. Christ is in charge. In His mercy, He did not leave us as orphans but sends his undershepherds to give out His gifts.

If, as it seems is the case in your brother's situation and does happen far too often, the pastor is given responsibilities for extraneous duties that have nothing to do with the ministry of Word and Sacrament it may be time for that congregation to be patiently catechized as to the reason for its existence.

You wrote, "The most overriding principle is that everyone is there to serve one another". We disagree. Primarily we are there in the Church to receive from God. Then, in our vocations in the world we serve one another.

While it is necessary to have some assistance for the pastor in the worldly side of a congregation (money management, building upkeep, helping the poor, maybe stewardship), the other two topics you named, worship and evangelism, are the pastor's responsibility. In worship, the pastor serves the people in Christ's stead with His Word and His Body and Blood. While in their vocations in the world the laypeople are little Christs to others and share their faith with those around them, the formal evangelizing takes place in the Divine Service and is done by the Holy Spirit working where and when He wills to create and sustain faith. A committee coming up with a cheesy campaign to get new people in the door is more from the realm of secular marketing than from the Christian Church.

You also wrote, "The work of the church needs to go on--spreading the good news of Jesus' salvation to the world." We agree. And it will by teaching, preaching, and baptizing as it always has.

Then you wrote, "The avenues to do that are many." No. Our Lord gave one way-

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20


Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Anonymous May 15 12:35AM:

In Acts 6, the disciples delegated their labors. They did so not into "worship", "evangelism", and "stewardship", but into preaching the word of God and serving the bodily needs of others. The Pastor should be in charge of preaching and teaching the word, while others should be in charge of the temporal matters, such as bookkeeping, acquiring material to serve others, and so forth.

kerner said...

Guys, Maybe I'm being a little contrary here, but aren't some of the arguments on this post semantic? I mean, Anonymous said of the work of the Church ("speading the good news of Jesus' salvation to the world"):

"The avenues to do that are many."

AL1 responded:

"No. Our Lord gave only one way."
(and quotes Matthew 28:19-20, i.e. the great commission)

OK, I agree that the great commission is what Our Lord commanded the Church to do. But, is it not also true that there are many different ways to "go" and many different ways (by which I mean teaching methods, not different content) to "teach", and even more than one way to "baptize" (e.g. immersion, sprinkling, pouring, etc.)?

It seems to me that a great deal of the controversy in Lutheran circles today devolves into a dispute over method and tactics. So, I ask thie following question (not because I am arguing for a particular answer, but because I am interested in what all here have to say):

What are the perameters of acceptable and unacceptable "going" and "teaching"? And why?

Angry Lutherans said...

It's important to know what terms mean. The "teaching" in Matthew 28 is not classroom teaching, it is preaching. That's not my claim, it's the understanding of the Lutheran Church, as I will show later.

Methods and tactics are not neutral though some in Church Growth styled "Lutheranism" claim that they are. Even the secular world has long acknowledged that styles or methods carry the baggage of their source. For example, the term "Great Commission" is thrown around a lot in Lutheran circles, but it is not Lutheran and really shouldn't be used by Lutherans because it does not reflect Lutheran theology. There is more than semantics at work here; there is an underlying theology.

To discuss Lutheran theology, it helps greatly to be familiar with the Lutheran Confessions. I am not saying this to be arrogant; it is simply the truth. I grew up under the spiritual care of Lutheran pastors who were very sincere nice guys but who wouldn't have recognized Lutheran theology if it had jumped up and smacked them in the face. It was not until later in life that I learned what the Lutheran Church actually confesses, and some of it came as a surprise.

Asking for acceptable parameters is looking to the Law. I think I understand what you are getting at, but this type of argument has been used by some in Lutheranism to see just how much we can technically get away with before we step over the line of breaking some law. This also puts an undue burden on US as we try to figure out new and better methods to grow the Church and forgets that it is not us but God who grants growth. No, this does not excuse sloppiness and laziness, but remember that we are stewards and are called to be faithful whether in suffering or outward success.

Back to the term "teaching" from Matthew 28: From The Power and Primacy of the Pope, paragraphs 30-31, "As for what is said in John 21:15-19, 'Feed My lambs,' and 'Do you love Me more than these?' it does not follow from this passage that a peculiar superiority was given Peter. Christ tells him 'feed' (i.e., teach (preach) the Word (the Gospel)), which task Peter has in common with the other apostles. The second article is even clearer. Christ gave the apostles only spiritual power (i.e., the command to teach the Gospel, to announce the forgiveness of sins, to administer the Sacraments, to excommunicate the godless without bodily force (by the Word)). He did not give them the power of the sword (the right to establish, occupy, or bestow kingdoms of the world; (Romans 13:4)). For Christ says, 'Go...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you' (Matthew 28:19-20). Also, 'As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you'(John 20:21)."

And to make clear who is doing the going and teaching, from The Power and Primacy of the Pope, paragraph 60, "The Gospel assigns those who preside over Churches the command to teach the Gospel (Matthew 28:19), to forgive sins (John 20:23), to administer the Sacraments,"

This "going" is in the context of the Divine Service of the Church, preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments. All the way back to Paul's day, missionaries were going out and planting churches where the people were served by the preaching and teaching of the pastor standing in the place of Christ in the Divine Service.


Anonymous said...

Since no one has ventured a guess to the mysterious "Lutheran" statement yet, I will take the first stab at it.
Something tells me that the blank in number 3 is not filled with the word "Voters," so not that one.
While I could envision #2 or #4 being used in certain places, I will make my guess #2. Something about relationship building that makes it sound like the best guess.

Angry Lutherans said...

Thanks, Anonymous! We have wandered a bit far afield here. An excellent guess, but 2 is not correct.


Another Kerner said...


Thank you for the succinct Confessional explanation.

It is right and most certainly true.

Agreed that "the medium is the message" oft times.

I also deplore the "Church Growth" movement,the "selling of Jesus" to the consumer and sundry activities which beset many congregations apart from the work of the church.

Many Lutheran elementary and secondary schools have the words
"Feed My Lambs" etched in the cornerstone of the building.

Lutherans have understood the need for a parochial system to educate the young, given that government schools *do* have a religion... and it is not ours.

Most Lutheran schools speak of an "integrated education" which encompasses all the disciplines studied with Lutheran eyes through the prism of Scripture and the Confessions.

Help me out here.

Is the imperative to "Feed My Lambs" misapplied when used in context with the education of children in all aspects of a rounded education?

Or have I misunderstood?

kerner said...


Thank you for your thoughtful answer. I fully agree that the Lutheran Confessions (and the Word of God, which is their foundation)have to be the foundation of Lutheran theology. I, too, have learned a lot more about the Lutheran Confessions later in life than I did when I was young, and much has surprised me as well. But I would like to clarify a few things if I may.

I guess I do look to the Law when I ask for perameters, yet I think this is an appeal to the third use of the Law (a guide) that is a legitimate use of the Law for believers. I seek more defined perameters, not because I am looking for an excuse to stretch them, but because I am hoping for clear guidance on how not to overstep them. And also I do not wish to unjustly trouble my Christian brothers who are operating within them.

As to who goes and does the preaching and teaching, I generally agree with you, but I suggest that it is not that simple. Reading paragraphs 60-70 of the Treatice on the Power and primacy of the Pope tempers the authority of the clergy, stating, "wherever there is a true church, the right to elect and ordain ministers necessarily exists." p.67, and

"Here belong the statements of Christ which testify that the keys have been given to the Church, not merely to certain persons, Matt. 18, 20: Where two or three are gathered together in My name, etc.", p. 68, and

"Lastly, the statement of Peter also confirms this, 1 Pet. 2, 9: Ye are a royal priesthood. These words pertain to the true Church, which certainly has the right to elect and ordain ministers since it alone has the priesthood." p.69

Having said that, again I am NOT arguing for laymen to usurp the duties to which the clergy are called, but I think laymen are, under Lutheran theological principles, expected to know and be able to teach in simple form the Law and the Gospel. The express purpose of the Small Catachism is for the head of a Christian household to be able to learn the basic message of the Law and the Gospel, and to be able to teach it to his family. Presumably, this might also qualify him to explain the basics to his friends. Of course, the layman also ought to encourage an unbelieving friend to attend Divine Service where he can hear the Gospel preached by one called to that special purpose, and (we pray) eventually receive the sacraments as well.

Next, I am not convinced that Divine Service is the only context in which the Law and Gospel ought to be preached/taught. You refer to the practice of the Church in Paul's day, and you are right. But it is important to remember that the Apostles routinely preached the Gospel outside the context of Divine service as well. It was Paul's routine practice, when he came to a city, to enter into the local synagogue (where most people were not believers) and debate with the people there and teach them about the Gospel. A more stark distinction can be found in Acts 17, in which Paul goes to the marketplace and eventually the Areopagus to reason and dispute with the pagan philosophers and preach the Gospel there.

We also have Philip teaching the Gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch by the side of the Road (Acts 8, 26-39).

And what about Peter in Acts 3? Peter first dramaticly addresses the physical needs of a paralytic beggar, and then preaches to the crowd that inevitably gathers around him at Solomon's Colonnade.

At least occasionally, these were contexts in which the Gospel was preached in the pagan world. In a world that is increasingly pagan again, should we not occasionally do this again?

Angry Lutherans said...

Another Kerner,

Two Kerners on one comment section?

Although "feed my lambs" as Our Lord said to Peter while bringing him back into the fold of the disciples after his denial of Jesus was not specifically referring only to children, I don't see why it couldn't, though if someone thinks otherwise, they'd be free to write in. A Lutheran school would hopefully be teaching the Christian faith in the place of the parents or as assistance to the parents who have the charge to bring up their children in the Christian faith.


Angry Lutherans said...


I wrote a response, but it has disappeared into cyberspace. I'll try to reconstruct it tomorrow. Sorry.


Angry Lutherans said...


God has three uses of the Law; we don't. From our vantage point, the Law always accuses. For example, a pastor cannot decide to use "third use" in a particular spot in a sermon. While he may intend what he says as a guide, the Holy Spirit could use that Law to crush a sinner hearing it. For us, the Law always accuses.

As I wrote before, yes, all of us in our vocations, parents, friends, employers, employees, children, share Christ with those around us.

There seems to be some theology by exception in your comment. I would sure hope that today, as in the Apostles' time, a pastor or layperson who is asked to give an answer for the hope that he/she has would so whether he/she is in a church building, on the freeway, in the grocery store, or anywhere else.

Yes, the Apostles went into synagogues to preach. These people were the ones who had the promises of the Messiah, even though they may not have recognized Christ. I'm not sure you can say that they were always in the synagogue to debate with others. They were there to preach. Pastors today do much informal teaching outside the Divine Service, but the formal, ordinary teaching/preaching is in the DS. The other examples you cite are exceptions to normal practice. Also, the section of the Treatise you reference is largely dealing with exceptions due to the sad state of the churches due to sin. I'll have the entire section in context coming up.


Angry Lutherans said...

"66] Therefore, when the regular bishops become enemies of the Church, or are unwilling to administer ordination, the churches retain their own right. [Because the regular bishops persecute the Gospel and refuse to ordain suitable persons, every church has in this case full authority to ordain its own ministers.]

67] For wherever the Church is, there is the authority [command] to administer the Gospel. Therefore it is necessary for the Church to retain the authority to call, elect, and ordain ministers. And this authority is a gift which in reality is given to the Church, which no human power can wrest from the Church, as Paul also testifies to the Ephesians when he says, Eph 4, 8: He ascended, He gave gifts to men. And he enumerates among the gifts specially belonging to the Church pastors and teachers, and adds that such are given for the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Hence, wherever there is a true church, the right to elect and ordain ministers necessarily exists. Just as in a case of necessity even a layman absolves, and becomes the minister and pastor of another; as Augustine narrates the story of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the catechumen, who after Baptism then absolved the baptizer.

68] Here belong the statements of Christ which testify that the keys have been given to the Church, and not merely to certain persons, Matt. 18, 20: Where two or three are gathered together in My name, etc.

69] Lastly, the statement of Peter also confirms this, 1 Pet. 2, 9: Ye are a royal priesthood. These words pertain to the true Church, which certainly has the right to elect and ordain ministers since it alone has the priesthood.

70] And this also a most common custom of the Church testifies. For formerly the people elected pastors and bishops. Then came a bishop, either of that church or a neighboring one, who confirmed tho one elected by the laying on of hands; and ordination was nothing else than such a ratification. 71] Afterwards new ceremonies were added, many of which Dionysius describes. But he is a recent and fictitious author, whoever he may be [this book of Dionysius is a new fiction under a false title], just as the writings of Clement also are spurious [have a false title and have been manufactured by a wicked scoundrel long after Clement]. Then more modern writers added [that the bishop said to those whom he was ordaining]: I give thee the power to sacrifice for the living and the dead. But not even this is in Dionysius.

72] From all these things it is clear that the Church retains the right to elect and ordain ministers. And the wickedness and tyranny of bishops afford cause for schism and discord [therefore, if the bishops either are heretics, or will not ordain suitable persons, the churches are in duty bound before God, according to divine law, to ordain for themselves pastors and ministers. Even though this be now called an irregularity or schism, it should be known that the godless doctrine and tyranny of the bishops is chargeable with it], because Paul, Gal. 1, 7f , enjoins that bishops who teach and defend a godless doctrine and godless services should be regarded as accursed. "

Treatise para. 66-72

kerner said...


You know, I haven't commented here before, so permit me to thank you for your hospitality. There are in fact, two kerners on the Lutheran blogosphere, and we are very pleased to meet you.

I hope not to make the mistake of arguing for theology by exception. I think we can all agree that the primary, and vast majority, source of teaching/preaching takes place in divine service, as well it should.

And yet, I don't want to stray into theology by rigid generalization either. This is why I think the Book of Acts is more important for us today than it was, say, 100 years ago. The Book of Acts shows us the behavior of the early Church at a time when Christianity was not the dominant religion. 100 years ago (and many centuries prior to that) western civilization was considered "Christian" civilization. Many of our attitudes toward evangelism are based on the assumption that people have a basicly Christian outlook and belief system. Even those who are fallen away condidered themselves fallen away from Christianity.

By contrast, the ancient world had no underlying Christian belief system. The Apostles were starting from scratch, and their methods of preaching the gospel to the unbelieving world involved practices that traditional Lutherans might reject as gimmicks today.

My point is that this is a much more pagan culture than it once was. There are plenty of 2nd and 3rd generation unchurched people around. To reach these people with the Law and the Gospel, we may have to go where they are to preach it, or come up with some way to get their attention. But when I say "we", I am forced to remember that it is pastoral ministers who primarily have this high calling. This means that our Lutheran clergymen will have to be thinking up ways to do this, while at the same time taking care not to compromise our sound confessional doctrine.

That won't be easy. Human nature being what it is, some of their ideas will almost certainly come off as trite imitations of the mass marketed happy clappy church bodies we reject. When that happens, the offenders should be criticized. But I really worry that some confessional Lutherans want to stop trying to reach to pagans around us, and ONLY preach and administer the sacraments in our churches.

I don't think it's right to stop trying to reach out. Which is why I ask whether there are confessional Lutheran parameters for reaching out.

Angry Lutherans said...


As I have written before, all Christians in their vocations outside of the church building are little Christs to the world and do share Christ. This reaching out happens all the time. It is not contrived or gimmicky. There's a temptation to rely on methods. Remember, not everyone will become Christian regardless of how many new and creative ways to reach out we come up with. An upcoming post will deal with an illustration from real life of this assertion. (More time is needed to change names, details, etc. to protect the agnostic.) Hopefully, I'll have something to the administrator later in the week.

In the meantime, I don't believe confessional Lutherans, pastors included, are against reaching out, as you seem to imply. (there may be exceptions, but there are nutcases everywhere)

And, remember, there is nothing new under the sun. Our time and our sinfulness and the unbelief in our time is not so special.

Thanks for reading,

rlschultz said...

There is an inherent pitfall in relying upon methods. First of all, in order to pacify the minority of ultra-Lutherans, lip service is given to the Law and Gospel approach. Then, the methods are held up front and center as "evangelism". If anyone objects to this, their consciences are bound with statements like - "isn't one soul worth it?" But what it really boils down to is that those who look to methods simply don't believe in the efficacy of the Word.

Another Kerner said...

We are all certainly agreed as regards the unwelcome inroads which Protestant "evangelicalism" has made into some Lutheran congregations under the guise of so called "Church Growth" and "Outreach".
If we mimic and/or ape the "evangelicals" in an attempt to "grow the church", we may just as well leave the Lutheran Confessions and distinctives in our wake.

Craig Parton, the White Horse Inn guys, the publication Gottesdienst, Logia, et al have addressed this challenge which confronts us as Confessional Lutherans.

Further, when the "evangelical" methodology oozes its way into our congregations, their doctrinal nomenclature/vocabulary also may start to appear and sometimes does in fact appear, in both the pulpit and the congregation in general.

I do think, however, that Veith was correct when he addressed the subject of confessisonal Lutheranism being one of the best kept "secrets" in the United States.
As an adult "convert" to the Lutheran church, I can attest to it.

Thank the Lord God, I came, at last to the truth of the Lutheran Church.

I think we will agree that when folks in the United States think of "Christians" generally, (with the help of the media), they think of them/us as someone like either the Pontiff, Pat Robertson, and/or Rick Warren.

Now, how to confront these challenges, pray tell?

In the same old way, of course:
Scripture, Word and Sacrament.

I welcome books like Veith's Spirituality of the Cross and Parton's The Defense Never Rests.

And I am ever thankful for blogs like this one.