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Tuesday, January 27, 2009 

A Tangible And Significant Faith… Or Something Else?

How do we receive faith and how is that faith sustained? An easy question to answer ain’t it? Before you answer that let me tell ya why I’m asking in the first place.

Yesterday in my inbox I received two emails that heralded a new “program” available from CPH; the publishing house of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The email starts off:

January 22, 2009 .................... LCMSNews -- No. 8

Journey program involves senses in Passion account

How much more would the events of the week leading up to Christ's death and resurrection mean to you if you could actually taste the vinegar Christ was given on the cross or hear the crack of the whip that scourged his back?

That is the premise of a new product from Concordia Publishing House (CPH) titled Journey to the Cross, a sensory-based program that presents the biblical account of Passion Week and Easter morning through experience-focused activities appropriate for ages 3 to adult.

Kelly Bailey McCray, creator of the Journey to the Cross program and director of Christian education at Trinity Lutheran Church, Bend, Ore., originally developed the program in 2003 for a special Maundy Thursday worship event for the church's grade school.

Participants in the program begin at a Customs Station, where they receive a passport to record what they see and hear. They then walk in small groups through 13 stations and experience the Bible accounts of Holy Week at each stop.

"People remember more of what they experience than what they hear, so Journey to the Cross was made to use the senses as much as possible," McCray said. "As participants walk from site to site, they meet individuals dressed as Bible characters who tell the stories of Jesus' death and resurrection as if they had been witnesses. Every stop also has an activity that involves the senses. For example, they smell perfume, taste Passover foods, wash their hands, and pet a donkey. And the participants collect stickers in their passports at every stop, so they have a tangible record of their Journey experience."

While the program was designed for children in the school, McCray found that the parents who acted as chaperones simply walking the children between stations "came away with a renewed appreciation for all that Christ had done for them." About 275 people took part in the first journey.

The email goes on to state that it was developed in a Lutheran congregation and those who participated in Journey to the Cross share that it is one of the most meaningful Easter experiences they've ever had. The email concluded:

"And it doesn't need to be done at your church," she (McCray) added. "The whole event could be done in a public setting such as a park or parking lot or empty warehouse. The key to using the Journey as outreach is to publicize it well in your community and have a plan for connecting with visitors after the event."

McCray feels the best part of Journey to the Cross "is the chance for the events of Holy Week to come alive and not just be words in a story. Children and adults alike think they know the whole story because they hear it every spring. But when you actively participate in something that is similar to what Jesus experienced, by tasting vinegar or hearing a whip crack, then the events of Easter become more significant and less likely to be taken for granted."

So, I’ll ask you again, how do we receive faith and how is that faith sustained? It’s an important question that needs to be answered and properly understood before we move forward in any discussion concerning the email.

The old Lutheran confessors at Augsburg, defending the one catholic Christian faith against the papists way back in 1530, knew that it was the ministry that was instituted for saving faith when they proclaimed in AC article V;

So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. 2 Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. 3 This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.

4 Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.

I know what some are already thinking, “See Frank, the Lord can work when and where He pleases so He can work faith in a parking lot petting zoo just like in a church!” I do not dispute that the Lord of heaven and earth can work faith in a parking lot but the fifth article of our confession ends with a condemnatory statement that bookends what we believe and confess with what we reject because of what Scripture speaks against.

What needs to be looked at closely is the condemnatory clause that rejects the Anabaptist’s wrong teaching that we experience the Holy Spirit; as the editors of Concordia write in the introduction to AC V; "through their own reflections, by enjoying nature, or by ecstatic religious experiences." The editors continue; "The comforting truth is that the Holy Spirit works through objective, external, sure, and certain means of grace, through which we receive justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone"

At the time of the reformation (and still today) those who believed that faith was something to be obtained through fasting, contemplation, music, and rituals were called Schwärmerei, enthusiasts who were condemned in SD II 4, 80:

4 Both the ancient and modern enthusiasts have taught that God converts people and leads them to the saving knowledge of Christ through His Spirit, without any created means and instrument; in other words, without the outward preaching and hearing of God’s Word.

80 On the other hand, the enthusiasts should be rebuked with great seriousness and zeal. They should not be tolerated in any way in God’s Church. They imagine that God, without any means, without the hearing of the divine Word, and without the use of the holy Sacraments, draws people to Himself, enlightens, justifies, and saves them.

Do you see where this going?

This whole means of grace thingy become crucial for the proper understanding of what might be wrong with a program that sets itself up to create an experiential event. If we are believe the apostle Paul when he writes to the church in Rome; “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” then the Journey to the Cross should raise all sorts of red flags! By starting with the premise that “People remember more of what they experience than what they hear” the creator and promoters of the program are proceeding from a false dichotomy that pits what we experience against what we hear when it comes to the God’s Word. In taking this approach, objective faith becomes subjective based on feelings during small group meditative stations.

Now, truth be told I have no problems with an experiential event per se but only in so far as it is a means that our Lord has promised when it comes to churchly things. I would even argue that we do have real and tangible, that is to say real and physical, things that our Lord has given to sustain our faith. In the Lord’s Supper we taste our Lord’s body and blood hidden under the elements of bread and wine. In Baptism we see a child’s old self (or adult for that matter) drowned and then see a new Christian raised up. We hear our Lord’s Word in the reading of the lessons, epistles, and Gospel as well as in the words of the pastor who has been called to proclaim God’s Holy Word. Our Lord does indeed use real and tangible things to give and sustain our faith. Do we really need a program that shifts our focus away from promised means and instead has us (and our children for that matter) looking inward for the meaning of Easter?

What our Lord does not promise in Scripture is to come to us through the smelling of a container of perfume or the tasting of glass of vinegar. Jesus does not promise to be with us until the end of the age through the means of a petting zoo or hand washing demonstrations. Can anyone cite a single verse of Scripture that states if we meditate on the cracking of a whip our faith will be built up or sustained?

What is missing from many a church these days is proper preaching that points to the Means of Grace. With so many churches doing everything that they can to become seeker sensitive they frequently miss the mark and forget to preach the we DO deserve to experience everything that Jesus experienced through proper preaching of God’s Law. This is happening not only in the nondenominational mega-church down the street but all too often in our own beloved synod.

If we are smart we are thankful that we don’t get to experience anything the Jesus had to endure in our place. We should be thankful that we don’t have a God who deals with us as we deserve. We should be thankful that it isn’t us who have the flesh ripped off our backs. We should be thankful that it isn’t us that are stripped naked and having nails pounded into our hands and feet for somebody else’s continually committed sins. We should be thankful that it isn’t us gasping for breath on the account of others transgressions. We should be thankful that it isn’t us experiencing any of the things that Jesus had to endure because of our miserable and sinful nature.

I would suggest that instead of this theological navel gazing, those who wish to meditate and brood over things incomprehensible, get their hands out of the kiddies’ touch tank and find a church that can stay away from subjective experiential emotionalism as a means.

And in the for what it’s worth department, don’t think for a moment that I haven’t caught that this “program” has the theological fingerprints of the emergent church leaders like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, and Dan Kimbell all over it. Our beloved synod has for a while now has been looking to emergent leaders as a way to reach out to the unchurched and still be hip and relevant and cool with youth and people who don’t like church to begin with though these very methods. I would also argue here that these methods are monastic in nature and are the very same techniques that drove Dr. Luther to the point of despair. Do we really want to lead people down that dark road? I would hope not but…

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Next stop...big screens and a rock band.

While they are at it...get rid of that clunky altar thing and open up the "stage" for some real cool experiential stuff. You know, light shows and fog machines and stuff.

Hey, at this rate we will really pack 'em in!

What for? What have you given up to fill the "seats"?

The gospel maybe? No maybe's. You will lose the gospel.

Word and sacrament (Jesus Himself) is just never enough.

Lord, help us!

We really are in another pietistic age, aren't we?

(But I think the "program" would be educational for crumb-cruncher set, all the same. It sounds like it might be a decent VBS program!)

“Next stop...big screens and a rock band. While they are at it...get rid of that clunky altar thing and open up the "stage" for some real cool experiential stuff. You know, light shows and fog machines and stuff.”
Steve, that’s not what’s going on here. What is going on is an emergent church template that focuses on meditative, contemplative techniques to find oneself within a biblical narrative apart from the Means of Grace. This program wouldn’t promote what is going on in a mega-church setting but rather it is more likely to embrace these monastic techniques as a way of tying the ancient to the modern. This is modern mysticism and enthusiasm in the theological sense.

EC, I use physical objects when I teach Sunday school all the time. I’ve recreated papal bulls, indulgences and scrolls to give my students an idea of what some of these objects looked like. There’s nothing wrong with that. What I have a problem with is using an object to try to create an experiential event so they (adults and children alike) feel their faith apart from the Means of Grace where our Lord has promised to be. Our confessions and Scripture condemn this kind of enthusiasm and so should we.

Oy, veh, file this post under: "Over-reaction."

Given the premise of this post, we should throw out the liturgy, the hymns we sing, the altar paintings we have, crucifixes, the children's Christmas service, creches, etc. etc. etc. After all, "Jesus is just enough" we don't need any visuals, anything like that. Let's just sit in a bare room and read from our Bibles.

You see, this is the logical extension of the arguments you are putting forward here.

It's a shame we have the situation where people do a knee-jerk reaction, jump to the worst possible conclusions about something and then condemn it without bothering even to take a look at it.

Frank, I think you are going more than a bit overboard here.

Rev. McCain, to be honest I’d would be more than happy to get rid of children's Christmas services that are nothing more than talent shows for the kiddies to be cute ;^).
I think you, and the other readers here as well, know me well enough to say that I’m no iconoclast. I love my hymnody, my crucifixes, the Cranach reproductions and icons (gasp) hanging in my office, and my ecclesiastical usages that the confessors defended in AC XV.
This is in no way an attack on CPH for promoting it either. CPH has been putting out incredible materials in the last few years and I do believe you had a hand in this. The scholarly material of CPH is second to none and material like Concordia and TDP are good aids to assist the laity in their devotional life. I know that this is the aim of Journey to the Cross but from the email the goal or outcome is the experiential.
The experiential aspect is the most disturbing thing that I keep seeing in matters related to youth. If you know, and I think I’ve shared it with you (?), my history with quasilutheran enthusiasm, then you know why this is something that raises so many red flags.

Frank,

I appreciater your explanation.

I wonder, though, where this type of longing for 'more' ends. When it comes to feelings, senses, emotions, the human creature seems to always want to curve in on the self and what is pleasing to it.

I hope they never go down the mega-church road.

I think you're overreacting, too, Frank. And I'm speaking as the resident non-Lutheran.

Certainly, you should always be on guard and sensitive with regards to emergent theology or philosophy of ministry and post-modern thinking. But I don't see anything wrong with a program that gives a glimpse of the sights, sounds, smells and experiences of the resurrection if done properly--even in a parking lot or petting zoo.

Can anyone cite a single verse of Scripture that states if we meditate on the cracking of a whip our faith will be built up or sustained?

Well, maybe not specifically, but I think that I can, in general. God made his salvation known to all mankind through his creation and we can look at it and meditate on God.

Psalm 98
Psalm 104
Psalm 121
Isaiah 44
Isaiah 49
Isaiah 52
Isaiah 55

"The LORD has bared His holy arm
in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God."
(Isaiah 52:10)

There is enough truth written on the majesty of creation that we are all without excuse when it comes to bowing down before him.

The church is not limited to walls. Therefore, it can and SHOULD go out into the world to reach the lost. The confusion that we have today is that many churches have lost sight of reasons for the believers get together for worship (i.e. church services, whatever you want to call it). We don't do a better job of "having church" when we program our services to be "seeker sensitive." Should non-believers show up to these services, God can show them His majesty in these gatherings of believers, too. We should make no apologies for getting together to worship and there are certain things that should be done (e.g. commununion, baptism) as we are commanded.

And don't always link "megachurch" with "nondenominational" as that's not always the case. Many a megachurch is a member of a denomination.

BD,
As I’ve said before, you are always welcome here, and yes, even if you disagree with me;^) (and I’ll go so far as to say especially if you disagree with me)
I’m not saying that the Lord isn’t known by His creation and I agree with you 100% when you write “There is enough truth written on the majesty of creation that we are all without excuse when it comes to bowing down before him.”. What I will say is that none of us can know anything about who God is through meditation on his creation because He has reveal who He is and what He does through the person of Jesus and His cross.
My post, while it may appear to be so, isn’t about outreach in any other respect than email making a case that it can be done off site, which is odd in it’s own way. I believe that this is for the church goers and them alone as an unbeliever wouldn’t benefit from anything proposed, and I guess that’s my point. If the experience is the experience than how does that benefit anyone?
You are dead on right in saying that I shouldn’t link "megachurch" with "nondenominational" all the time. Sometimes my “frankisms” get in the way of decent discussion.

If the experience is the experience than how does that benefit anyone?

Because the creator of everything gave us eyes, ears, noses, skin, etc. He gave us senses and a brain. He made us personal because He, too, is personal.

But everything needs to turn back to the truth and the truth we have is the Word of God. So, anything that we experience which seems contrary to that truth should be suspect.

BD
“Because the creator of everything gave us eyes, ears, noses, skin, etc. He gave us senses and a brain. He made us personal because He, too, is personal.” And to top it off He has come to us in human flesh, yes, God likes to get his hands dirty as it were. I don’t argue that we do NOT use our senses. What I am saying is that looking inward for an emotional experience is very dangerous. Our Lord has promised to use very physical elements and those are what we should point folks to.
Corporately we do use hymns and art and many other things as well to focus us on Christ and His gifts. But, having an event that is designed and promoted to solicit emotion smacks of enthusiasm, finding god within oneself.
“But everything needs to turn back to the truth and the truth we have is the Word of God” I agree 100%.

I've planned an "experiential" event before for the women of our congregations. It happened to involve sampling a variety of fragrances from the Bible, probably including the one used in this CPH program. We started our event with a Responsive Prayer service in the sanctuary (this would be on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon), and then we went to different Bible study stations where we looked at accounts that involved things like frankincense, myrrh, hyssop, and nard, and how these accounts from the Old and New Testaments pointed us to Jesus's saving work for us. I guess you'd disapprove...?

I'd be more worried if the particular congregation using it is full of people who complain every week about how boring the liturgy is.

I guess the thing that sounded strangest to me from the description you gave is doing things that would try to reflect what Jesus himself experienced during his Passion (like tasting the vinegar). That does strike me as a little weird.

Kelly, would I disapprove? No, and the reason is that you started with the responsive prayer service. You clearly know where to began. I’ve got no problem at all with doing what you suggest as I’ve used “props” to teach myself as I’ve stated in one of the comments. Does that mean every teaching event needs to start with a worship service, no.
What you find weird is really the crux of my problem with Journey.

It's interesting to me, that I also find the vinegar tasting to be a red flag. Why this specific thing?

If this proposal is for children, in general the whole schpeel is OK, but whenever it falls into the "feel what Jesus went through" pattern, I question things.

And I have to confess, childrens programs are pretty much for the parents and their cameras. Never found anything worthwhile there myself. Either as a child, or an adult.

LL,
“If this proposal is for children, in general the whole schpeel is OK, but whenever it falls into the "feel what Jesus went through" pattern, I question things.”Exactly! But, there are other things on the periphery, outside of the email, that that cause me great concern like leaders in the LCMS who wish change the way we do outreach so as to become seeker sensitive for church growth purposes, like inviting emergent leaders who deny substitutionary atonement and original sin to talk to people who work with youth to get their take on how we need to reach youth and young adults, and like praising churches in the Reporter for thinking outside the box when they rent space down town to do outreach so people don’t have to put off and uncomfortable by going to a church. There are a lot of things bubbling under the surface here…
Maybe I’m wrong as some have said but I’m looking at more pieces of the puzzle than one email.
“And I have to confess, childrens programs are pretty much for the parents and their cameras. Never found anything worthwhile there myself. Either as a child, or an adult.” At the risk of losing my non-bombastic status with Dan@NR, I hate Christmas programs that are nothing more than children’s talent shows with minimal talent.

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