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 accountHow 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…
Labels: Evangelism, LC-MS, Outreach, Youth