Friday, June 02, 2006

Baptized, Confirmed, But...Absent

For those of you who are not Lutherans, this theological controversy amongst Lutherans may be a little odd to you. But, it might not be. Perhaps their are similar debates occurring in your communities as well.

The controversy goes like this: Group A says that Christians do not need to get involved in Church to be considered more mature Christians. They are holy and are serving God in their vocations as mothers, fathers, bankers, etc. Not everyone is a minister. The Pastor leads worship, preaches, administers the sacraments, teaches bible study, visits the sick, and does funerals and weddings. This is his vocation. Not all have been called to this vocation, so Christians should not presume to begin new “ministries” or “programs” or “small group bible studies.” There is only One Office of the Holy Ministry, not many ministries. The Pastor is called to teach, so lay people should not lead or teach bible studies, because that is not their vocation.

Group B says that every Christian is a minister in the sense that they are a servant. This group recognizes that not all are called to formal Word and Sacrament ministry (i.e. Pastoral Ministry), but all are called to exercise their spiritual gifts for the edification of the body of Christ. This group loves the idea of small group bible studies, because they foster fellowship, discipleship, edification of the body of Christ, and can serve as informal outlets for evangelism. This group realizes that some lay people do have the spiritual gifts of teaching, leading, and knowledge. Equipping such people with Biblical commentaries with discussion questions and answers could be quite effective. Having a ministry to the married, or a ministry to college students are also need oriented examples of ministries that aim at a particular group of people. Ministering to college age people will probably be different then ministering to senior citizens. Why? Because they are facing different challenges, and wrestling with different issues. In conclusion, Group B believes in empowering leadership, and equipping the saints for service in the church, while Group A thinks that their service is primarily outside in society.

I am unequivocally in agreement with group B. I believe that if the position of Group A prevails in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod it will continue to decline in membership. Congregations will shut down and sell their properties. Right now, we have a record high number of congregations that cannot afford a full time Pastor. When a congregation as such calls a man in their midst to preach and administer the sacraments and seek ordination via an online route through the seminaries, Group A often charges congregations as such with false doctrine. Why? Because Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession says that “no one shall publicly preach or administer the sacraments unless he is rightly called.” So why don’t we agree that a congregation can call such a man in those circumstances so that congregations are fed with the Word of God and can survive and not have to sell their property?

In the LCMS we baptize a lot of infants, and confirm a lot of middle school students. But by the time these people get to be in their 20s, we lose 70% of them! Wow! And our solution to this is to disengage them, not utilize their spiritual gifts, and expect them to all show up at a 9 AM Sunday Morning bible study? We are not teaching what discipleship is, nor are we equipping them for service. Further, we don’t even equip the parents to have home bible studies. What are we doing? The reason these people fall away is because they are not plugged in or connected. The devil is crafty, and only expecting Sunday attendance is not enough! There are seven days in the week, and 1 hour of Church on Sundays is showing itself to not effectively sustain or mature disciples of Jesus Christ. We need to engage people during the week by fostering fellowship in small groups, and equip leaders to lead these groups. We ought to equip parents to lead home devotionals so that the bapztized will grow up in Christian homes. We need to foster a culture of Scripture reading and prayer, where people are in the Word and seeking God’s will. Simply expecting church attendance on Sundays is not effectively sustaining or maturing disciples of Jesus Christ!

So, why does Group A insist that their doctrine is right? It all goes back to Luther’s doctrine of vocation which I think they have misunderstood and misapplied. Luther lived in a day and age where the Roman Catholic Church considered Bishops, Priests, Monks, and Nuns of the spiritual estate and called the common civilian of the temporal estate. They considered the celibate and the clergy holier then the average lay person. They did not have an understanding of how the common Christian civilian could serve Christ in their vocation. Luther wrote:

“It has been devised, that the Pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the Spiritual Estate; princes, lords, artificers and peasants, are the Temporal Estate; which is a very fine, hypocritical device. But let no one be made afraid by it; and that for this reason: That all Christians are truly of the Spiritual Estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone.”

Luther was elevating the priesthood of all believers in the midst of spiritual tyranny committed by the Roman Catholic Church. Group A who thinks they are being faithful to Luther’s doctrine of vocation are de-elevating the priesthood of all believers, and are not sustaining disciples of Christ after they have been baptized and confirmed.

Among the spiritual gifts given to Christians are prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, leadership, wisdom, knowledge, and evangelism (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4). Are these all to be exercised in a context of mother, father, or engineer? Would it not be more beneficial to equip the saints for ministry where they can exercise these spiritual gifts? The Apostle Peter says:

“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).

Group A says: “As each has received a gift, exercise it in your vocation.” Well guess what? This is bad stewardship, and is producing horrible results! Dr. Robert Kolb writes:

“This conversation and consolation can be structured within a congregation as it organizes small groups for Bible study, prayer, and the sharing of the forgiveness of sins…..Such conversation demands the preparation of the believers normal engagement with Scripture” (The Christian Faith, XII, 212).

Dr. Kolb also writes:

“Many of their [The Reformers] modern followers regard the chief significance of their priesthood as their privilege to go to God as individuals directly and not have to rely on anyone else to perform the services of priest, or intermediary, for them. But Peter defines the chief significance of being priests of the King and members of His nation and people as their calling to declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). The Latin word for priest, pontifex, literally means ‘bridge-builder.’ God has made us His people so that we might build a bridge between the revelation of His saving will for us, His re-creating word, and the people of our day and our society. Word to us, as He gives it in the Scriptures in which He breathed and in which He has set the authoritative form of His Word, so that we might proclaim it and apply it to the people of our culture in terms which effectively translate that Word for them” (Speaking the Gospel Today, St. Louis: 1995, 15).

For Dr. Robert Kolb, the priesthood of all believers has a commission. And when congregations do not equip them for service in the church because of an untenable doctrine of the ministry, disciples are not sustained nor matured. If the priesthood of all believers is simply a theological concept which means that Christians now have direct access to God through Jesus Christ their High Priest, then we miss out on utilizing and mobilizing the priests of God for service and discipleship in the church. When a Christian is discipled, they learn how to serve by exercising their gifts. And this exercising of spiritual gifts can occur within the context of a small group as it gathers around the Scriptures for the mutual conversation and edification of the brethren.

28 Comments:

Blogger kalbasa said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you, Andrew. And . . . while I am a strong believer in the importance of serving God through our individual vocation, it is still imperative for a believer to continue to feed himself and subsequently others through constant study and meditation on the word of God. As you said, simply going to church one hour a week is not enough. I think your conclusion (one of them, anyway) was right on. Pastors and all believers need to strongly encourage fathers, who are the spiritual head of the household, and mothers as the nurturers to build strong relationships with their children through evening or morning devotions. Making God a regular part of the day is the only way children will develop a strong faith. I thank God that this is exactly what my parent did every day. I think that a little (maybe a lot) of law needs to be applied here to warn parents that they are at least partly accountable for their children salvation especially if they neglected and wasted every opportunity to teach their children about Christ. Ultimately, our adult lives and our values and ethics and faith are seriously shaped by our parents and the way in which they raise us. Coincidentally (actually, providentially), this is vocation working side by side with the use of spiritual gifts for the edification of the body of Christ—group A working with group B.

Fri Jun 02, 05:53:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Augustine said...

Group A working with Group B. That is exactly what we need. In other words, we need Christians to be effective witnesses and servants of Christ in their vocation as well as their role in the ministry of the church.

The most important small group of them all is just as you say, Aaron - the family. Our ratio of baptized membership/church attendance does not reflect well on parents. However, it also does not reflect well on our Pastors and their visions for ministry.

Sat Jun 03, 11:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Elijah the Tishbite said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sat Jun 10, 01:03:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Elijah the Tishbite said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sat Jun 10, 01:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger περιμήκετος said...

May I suggest taking European Lutheranism or Continental Theology with Dr. Feuerhahn. You bring up some issues that he clarifies very well.

Sun Jun 11, 09:47:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Augustine said...

How are you doing brother Tutal? I think we have met before.

I am excited to take the classes you mention. However, I thought that Dr. Feuerhahn moved away from the Seminary.

Sun Jun 11, 07:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Elijah the Tishbite said...

I've made some comments here. (Hope that hyperlink works.)

Sun Jun 11, 10:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Augustine said...

Hi Elijah the Tishbite,

I wrote you an email on Saturday. I was just curious if you received it. Have we met before?

-Andrew

Mon Jun 12, 10:15:00 AM EDT  
Blogger James said...

I'm a Baptist (who considers himself Evangelical, Catholic, Missional and Faithful), so pardon my heterodox interruption....but I wonder, how does 1 John 2:19 fit into this equation? Just curious. My own denomination has a very similiar problem, by the way, in that we have many on our church rolls who are baptized and considered full members, but who never darken the doors of the church. It is a tremendous problem affecting many, if not nearly all, American denominations. I look forward to interacting with you on this topic.

Mon Jun 12, 10:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Augustine said...

Dear James,

Thanks for participating on my blog! 1 John 2:19 describes Christians who abandoned their faith, and were therefore, not true Christians, according to John. And yes, this could be applied to the people of God in our churches who abandon their baptisms, whether infant or adult. However, instead of blaming the recipients of baptism, I as a future Pastor in the Church of God am thinking of ways that we can be more faithful as Pastors. What can we do to improve this horrible ratio? My original post offers one suggestion.

The Southern Baptist Convention faces the same problem as we do in the Lutheran Church. Whether one baptizes infants or baptizes only adults, disciples must be taught, nourished, matured, and equipped subsequent to baptism or they probably will fall away.

Thu Jun 15, 01:01:00 PM EDT  
Blogger James said...

Andrew:

Agreed - That 1 Jn. 2:19 describes those who abandoned the faith and were, therefore, not true Christians.

Agreed - 1 Jn. 2:19 could (can/ should) be applied to those in the Church who abandon their baptisms, whether infant or adult.


Partially Agreed - I agree completely with your sentiment that pastors must labor to disciple, nourish and equip the members of their flocks. No question about that whatsoever. From the human perspective, I would say that this is a HUGE problem within SBC life. There is a great deal of biblical literacy within the SBC, despite claims of being "the people of the Book." Little is known other than John 3:16. This problem begins at the pulpit. Pastors must be faithful to proclaim the whole counsel of God's Word (Acts 20:24-27; 2 Tim. 3:16-4:2).

I disagree in that blame is to be assessed when individuals refuse to submit to the authority of God's Word (2 Tim. 3:3-4). Some of these remain within the walls of the Church, and others simply leave (1 Jn. 2:19).

Regardless of denominational affiliation, ministers of the Gospel must improve the "horrible ratio" of which you speak. So, may we disciple others who will, in turn, disciple others.

Thu Jun 15, 06:19:00 PM EDT  
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Blogger a guy said...

Quote Augustine (above): "Whether one baptizes infants or baptizes only adults, disciples must be taught, nourished, matured, and equipped subsequent to baptism or they probably will fall away."

I would like to point out this has been a grave problem in the understanding of Churches for too long: thinking that by the works of the flesh, one can disciple people into disciples: disciples are made, and added to the Church, by God, however, not men: not even by baptism. Regeneration and conversion is spiritual, not fleshly. Many philosophical attempts to circumlocute around the fact irregardless.

The reference to 1st John 2:19 says they left because they "were not of us", not "because they weren't discipled so that they'd become disciples": they WERE NOT disciples.

That's no small, insignificant, detail. God mercies whom He will, and adds whom He will to His Church; it is a spiritual entity, and works of the flesh are useless to add to it. Not that we should work in such things as evangelism, but it's useless unless God causes the growth...and makes alive beforehand so there can be growth.

Please permit me to modify your words, on this point:

"People who leave from among the catholic (miniscule "c") church were not disciples of Christ. Regarding disciples, however, irregardless of a water baptism, disciples must be taught, nourished, matured, and equipped subsequent to baptism or they will probably be led to pastors who will pasture them with the nourishing food God intended, into fellowships with the apostles' doctrine".

Wed Jan 14, 10:51:00 AM EST  
Blogger Augustine said...

Hi Guy,

You say that baptism is a work of the flesh. Can you show me where in Scripture, baptism is called a work of the flesh? How does Paul use the phrase: work of the flesh? Does he use it to describe our sinful nature? Or does he use it to describe baptism?

Additionally, you say that evangelism should be engaged in, but given your supposed understanding of "works of the flesh," is not "evangelism" a work of the flesh?

Further, if baptism has nothing to do with making disciples, then why does Scripture connect baptism with making disciples (Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38-39)?

And finally, you say that regeneration is a spiritual thing (which it is), but then assume that material things (like water) cannot be combined with spiritual things. Where does this presupposition come from? This is a Neo-Platonist/Greek Philosophical worldview - not a biblical worldview. Since when has God divorced spiritual things from earthly means?

Wed Jan 14, 09:23:00 PM EST  
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