Monday, December 10, 2012

What is Church Planting or Establishment?

Most religious organizations, especially those who apply the name of Christian to themselves, have people who are called “Church Planters” or something similar.

This week I noticed this concept stated on a Facebook page regarding that pastor’s and that congregation’s view of their purpose and mission.  The statement reads:
Ongoing work of the establishment of new Confessional Lutheran congregations throughout our region.

As I read this I was amazed regarding how totally foreign this sounded to me.  I was amazed because I was raised with this notion being taught in my home congregation and the church body to which this congregation belonged.  This was the language used at the seminary.  This was the language of my peers, my fellow pastors in that church body.

Until I was confronted with this statement on the Facebook page of one of my former peers, I did not realize how far removed I have become from this way of thinking.  Moreover, the longer that I considered the issue, the more that I realized that I never really held this notion to be the way of Christ’s Church.

Even when as a child and teenager and college student and then as a seminary student I felt a great urgency for and strong pull toward the work of a missionary, I never really embraced the concept of being an establisher of congregations.  I never really spoke against the concept and yet this never was the language of my heart, mind, and soul, either.

As I ponder this concept now, it actually is quite offensive to me.

When a person recognizes idolatry and blasphemy against God, the arrogance of these does injure one’s spirit and is a cause for grief.  When an individual or group of people begins to speak as though they were the ones accomplishing the miracle of Church, this is a very brazen theft of God’s glory, even though most people would perceive this as serving the Lord.

How do the Scriptures teach that a congregation becomes established?  The Scriptures teach that as the saints and especially the called preachers proclaim the Gospel that people are drawn together by the sweet and powerful words of God’s love, mercy, and salvation so that they draw near to hear more.  As the Holy Spirit works to congregate them, the saints lead them to the existing congregation, if one does exist in the area.  If not, they acknowledge that they have need to call/elect/ordain a pastor to administer to them the means of grace.  This then is not the accomplishment of a group or of an individual, but of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace.  This is not the work of a missionary, nor of a church body, nor even of a congregation.  This is the work of God and He works it when and where He has determined.

God is the one who converted those who in their daily lives walk in spirit and display the love of God in their lives.  God is the one who gives homes and neighbors and friends and family, who then observe the mercy of God at work in the lives of His saints.  God is the one who generates interest so that people ask concerning the hope that the saints have and demonstrate in their daily sojourning.  God is the one who gives the answer to the saints to share with those who ask.  God is the one who works conversion in these new believers so that they cry out for more of this blessed Life.  As they gather together and cry out, God grants that they are now a congregation in need of a pastor to rule over the administration of God’s gifts as the called servant of the Word.  The pastor rules God’s household in the same manner as the master of a banquet rules over those gathered, not as their lord, but as the administrator and steward of the feast.

Most who would read what stands written above would like say “Amen” in principle.  Yet this is extremely rarely observed in practice.

This is why people imagine that they must have a church body or denomination in order to be validly counted as a church and as Church.  This is why many pastors who have spoken boldly against the sins and waywardness of their church bodies either did not leave their impenitent church bodies, or continued in them until another church body was organized to which they could bind themselves.

Then, having constructed or organized for themselves a new and improved church body, they and those with them begin to seek to pursue the “Ongoing work of the establishment of new Confessional Lutheran congregations throughout our region.”  When Confessional Lutheran is not the preferred label, others are supplied, such as orthodox, faithful, true, genuine, Bible believing, and Christ centered.

This mindset always leads right back to the failures from which the group tried to escape.  The reason for this is that the same corrupt and fallible approaches for establishment have been utilized.  The new church body has a new group of overlords who carry the same false notions that built that previous crumbling church.

Thanks be to God that the words proclaimed by St. Paul remain true yesterday, today, and forever:
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.   (Ephesians 4:4-6)

When we truly hear this, then we no longer try to be God and we no longer imagine ourselves as church planters or establishers of congregations.  When we truly hear this, we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, eagerly gathering to the preaching of the pure Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments in accord with that pure Gospel.  When this is what is happening, then we are gathered as the Church and all that we receive is purely by grace as God grants it through the faith that He works among us.

Is this really such an important distinction?

The distinction is one of whose works we trust.  Do we trust God’s works or our works?  Do we trust in the things that God has ordained for His Church, or do we trust in the things that we or our leaders have organized and established?

One way continues forever and never fails.

As for the other way, well, one only needs to look around to see the results of the other way.  Who can even count the failed attempts through the other way?

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1 comment:

Mr. Mcgranor said...

It is a horrible scene: The postmodern preaching to the postmodern.