Monday, August 10, 2009

VBS Crock

It seems that Lutherans have largely forgotten who they are. It seems that Lutherans have forgotten why they are Lutherans. This is demonstrated quite clearly in the crock of Vacation Bible Study programs that Lutherans are using these days. The congregation in which I was raised is a prime example. My “home” congregation is known as Trinity Downtown , formerly known as Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. The shift from Evangelical Lutheran has taken many years, but now seems to be complete.

The following is the web site’s summary “update” stating the completed activities and fulfilled objectives of the VBS program for 2009:

Vacation Bible School
Crocodile Dock - UPDATE
Vacation Bible School 2009 ended July 24, but the memories and experiences of seeing God everywhere will continue. Approximately 100 children everyday learned how to be fearless kids shining the love of God. We collected well over a hundred canned goods for the food pantries; dozens of bottles of bug spray for Compassion Corner to distribute; children’s vitamins for Hands of Mercy mission in Sudan; and diapers for BETA house. The children made 200 stuffed turtles for Operation Kid-to-Kid, a mission of care and love for children suffering natural disasters. What a great week!

The VBS theme of the Group Ministries materials is restated in this update:

“Approximately 100 children everyday learned how to be fearless kids shining the love of God.”

Is anything missing from this theme?

Is the Gospel in anyway whatsoever even mentioned? Is the name of salvation mentioned as being taught to the children as even a sub-theme? Were the blessings of Baptism in any way a part of what the children were taught? How exactly are the children to be “fearless?” Is this fearlessness the gift of God that accompanies the good conscience of 1 Peter 3:21? What is the source of this fearlessness, since no mention is made of Jesus or the Holy Spirit or the Father or even of God, how did the children see God everywhere? Since the means of grace by which God makes Himself known are not mentioned, how were the children taught to see God? Since the means by which God promises to come to His children with His love are not mentioned, since the means by which God’s love shines in the world are not mentioned, how were the children taught to shine with God’s love? What does this notion mean apart from the means of grace declared in the Holy Scriptures?

Is this what the congregation professes to be? Is this what the congregation has bound itself to teach and practice?

From the constitution of the congregation:

In the church and public services of this congregation purely Lutheran hymns, and in all ministerial acts purely Lutheran forms only shall be used. Thus, also, in the parochial school, besides the Holy Scriptures and Luther's Small Catechism, such books only as are purely Lutheran shall be introduced and used for instruction in Christian doctrine, and all other books used in the school shall be free from everything which is in variance with Lutheran doctrine.


Of this constitution, paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15,16, 17, and 19 shall be unalterable and irrepealable.

Is there a conflict between what Paragraph 12 states regarding the doctrinal literature used in the congregation and school and the materials purchased and utilized in this VBS program?

These materials are produced by Group Publishing. Group’s Statement of Faith says:

Statement of Faith

What we believe:

We believe the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God.

We believe there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, in his virgin birth, in his sinless life, in his death on the cross, in his bodily resurrection, in his ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in his personal return.

We believe people receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus.

Group’s mission:
We equip churches to help children, youth
and adults grow in their relationship with Jesus.

Does this sound like what is stated in Paragraph 12 of the congregation’s constitution? Does this sound like literature that is purely Lutheran? Where are the means of grace? Where is the need for the proclamation of the Gospel? Where is the Holy Spirit’s work of calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying and preserving in the one true faith? Where is any declaration of how the salvation that is through Jesus is imputed to those who would receive His forgiveness and eternal life?

According to Group, faith grows through serving others:

Group's Faith In Action

We don’t just say it. We do it!

At Group, hammering nails, painting porches and meeting
practical needs have just as much to do with serving churches as creating books, magazines and curriculum. Each year, more than 20,000 youth and their leaders venture across the U.S. and beyond to grow in their faith by serving others. Whether it’s building wheelchair ramps, insulating drafty trailer homes, working at a homeless shelter, or running a VBS, participants shine the love of Jesus in every dark corner they can find.

Thus, Group teaches that doing good works is the means by which a person’s faith grows.

How do Lutherans teach that faith grows? Lutherans teach in accord with what the Scriptures declare, and as the one holy catholic Church has confessed in the Ecumenical Creeds, that faith grows not through one’s own works, but through the works that the Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Gospel and through the Sacraments. The Third Article of the Creed directs us to this for our comfort and assurance. Luther beautifully expounds upon this in his explanation to the Third Article, saying:

The Third Article declares:

I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

Luther explains:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

What a marvelous contrast! One way is pure grace, the other way is completely dependent upon the works and efforts of the individual.

Does it really matter whether pure Lutheran literature is used? Without a doubt!

The literature published by Group always directs away from depending upon the grace of God in Christ. It always directs to little programs and projects of service as the means by which a person convinces oneself that faith is alive and growing. Pure Lutheran literature always directs away from one’s own works and efforts so as to direct us to the pure grace of God in Christ as our only source of hope and comfort. Then we see God being present in the means by which He has ordained. Therefore we do not need to look for Him everywhere, because we actually receive Him through the means of grace. Then, rather than working to become fearless kids who shine the love of God, rather, we take comfort in the promises of God in our baptism and in the Holy Communion and in the pure preaching of the Gospel. Then we rest in His peace rather than working to become certain of our faith. When God is the one who works our faith for us, all that we need to do is what St. Paul writes to the Philippians, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. What this means is to be certain that we truly are receiving our understanding only through pure Lutheran literature, which always teaches us to trust in God’s grace in Christ. Then we truly are fearless because we realize that in Christ we have no cause to be afraid. (Rom. 8)

So then, why do congregations like the one in which I was raised, Trinity Downtown in Orlando (LC-MS), and Risen Savior in Orlando (WELS), as well as congregations in many places and denominations, use materials from Group, materials that they have promised not to use? Is it because of laziness? Perhaps, but more likely it is simply because they trust in cutesy gimmicks rather than in the Word. If they trusted in the Word they would actually use the Word. But they choose these cutesy cartoons and silly little projects rather than the Word. They hold onto the name of Lutheran for the sake of their tradition and heritage, but they use the methods and doctrine and practice of the preachers of faith by works. Lutherans teach as the Scriptures do, that works are the result of faith, not that faith is the result of works.

So, what is VBS today anyway? The letters stand for Vacation Bible School. This seems to be appropriate, for what is taught does seem to be a vacation from the doctrine of the Bible. But what sort of vacation is that? After all, it is the clear doctrine of the Bible that assures us of God’s love. It is the clear and unadulterated doctrine of the Scriptures that comforts us with the merits of Jesus as the cause of our forgiveness and salvation and new life of peace and hope and joy.

The Holy Spirit continually calls us to congregate to enter into the vacation that God provides, also called the Sabbath. He calls us regularly to take a vacation from the cutesy things that have no substance and have no power to give hope and peace. He calls us regularly to take a vacation from our own self-delusions and our own corrupt and frail efforts at holiness and goodness. He calls us to take a vacation from the lies and the disappointments of the world. He calls us to take a vacation from our own failures. He calls us to receive the holiness offered in Holy Baptism. He calls us to partake of the meal of life. He calls us to step out of the struggles and stresses of daily living in this world of sin and sorrow to rest in the mercy of Almighty God.

Why would anyone choose gimmicks over what the Lord provides? Why would anyone choose works over the freely bestowed gifts that God provides through the means of grace? Why would anyone choose anything other than what is taught and given in the pure Lutheran literature?

As for me and my house, we will continue in the vacation that the Lord provides.

(All images are from Group’s free downloads in connection with the CrocodileDock VBS page. The noticeable absence of anything relating to God, Christ, or the Gospel is not by choice but according to what was provided at the site at the time of downloading.)

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