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Monday, May 24, 2010 

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6

I said at the end of my last post I would address some questions that popped up since I wrote my first post on the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop so here we go…

One thing that came up a lot more often than I expected was whether or not I was even qualified to critique the material in the workshop. More than one commenter suggested that since I had never gone to a seminary that any criticism, which I may offer, should be considered invalid. If that is the logic with which we are to live by then wouldn’t it be fair to say that a surgeon who amputates a leg instead of removing his patient’s tonsils as had been scheduled is also above critique from either the patient of his family? Certainly not! The wronged patient’s phone would be ringing off the hook because lawyers, who don’t usually have a degree in medicine and love an easy paycheck just like the rest of us, would love the opportunity to critique the doctor in front of a jury. Just because I don’t have a degree in theology from one of the Concordia seminaries does not mean I’m excluded from asking questions of a theological nature.

I have never claimed to be well read or even smarter than the average Joe pewsitter. And since I view myself as just a slack jawed yokel all I ever try to bring to the table to test what is said or promoted in the name of God by people that have been through seminary is the Bible and our Lutheran Confessions. If someone, even if they have been to a seminary, makes a claim that can’t be verified or corroborated by the Bible or our confessions, the burden of proof is on them to justify these new doctrines or practices and not me or anyone else sitting in a class where subjective truths trump that which is Scriptural, Confessional, and historical.

One of the questions I keep getting asked since posting what happened at the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop is where are such teachings coming from. I’ve also been asked why would anyone from the LCMS promote practices and doctrines that seem to contradict both Scripture as well as the Lutheran Confession in that “spirituality” seems to be turned inward to our subjective imagination or our feelings.

I’m not sure it can be pinpointed where, when or who exactly thought that reintroducing the very things that led to the abuses of the medieval Roman church was a smart endeavor for growing the kingdom (Remember, the presenter said we should be all about growing kingdom but not necessarily the church and he didn’t care if people we talked to went down the street to XYZ church. Thank you post-modernity!). I do know that what was promoted in the workshop mirrors pretty close the practices and the epistemology promoted by those who follow the emergent or emerging church movement in their desire to return to a more ancient form of Christianity.

While it’s difficult to nail down specifics of the emergent theology (although not impossible as more of them write books detailing their heresies!) I think it’s fair to say that most emergent folks, in rejecting what tries to pass itself off as Americanized Christianity (think the purpose driven church movement or church growth by looking less like church and looking more like Stewart Smalley motivational seminars so that the “unchurched” can go away thinking they’re good enough, smart enough and gosh…. you know the drill.), have decided to go backwards in time in search of a genuine Christianity and who can blame them! With the state of Americanized Christianity the way it is why would anyone get up early on a Sunday morning to hear some clown in a polo shirt walk through a vapid PowerPoint presentation on how the Bible can make your life better if you’d just give a try and follow the seven easy steps. Admit it, wouldn’t you look for an authentic Christianity if you had to listen to watered-down life application speeches by Oprah wannabes week after week? Sure you would and I would too! (If you have a quibble with me on this point chances are you probable wouldn’t recognize the historic Christian church anyways and you should just skip down to the next section ‘cause this is going to be lost on you.)

Still, to jump back in time and completely skip over the Reformation and go back Roman Catholic monastic practices and desert mysticism in an effort to achieve an authentic church experience or spirituality while completely ignoring the teachings of the apostles is wrong whether you are following the emergent movement or you are a member of a congregation in the Southeastern District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It is silly and naïve to think that it is possible to introduce the practices and theologies of mystics in such a way that they can be transformed into anything recognizable to a confessional Lutheran or a first century Christian. Ain’t gonna happen! An amalgamation of deconstructed Christianity and navel gazing mysticism is never going to be Christianity, ever!

Someone on message board asked me why in the world would people gravitate towards what was promoted at the workshop. This is just supposition on my part but I think that those who are the most receptive to such practices are basically sick and tired of going to churches that no longer bear any resemblances to the church that their grandparents went to. What’s funny, in a sick and perverse kind of way, is that in the last five years there have been two presentations in my own congregations (under the auspices of the Ablaze! banner) that encouraged us to look more seeker sensitive and not too much like our grandfather’s church so that we might have a chance at capturing the “unchurched” seeker demographic. One district official even told our congregation that if it came down to saving souls and being Lutheran that he would much rather be concerned with saving souls as if being Lutheran (and I would argue Christian!) is a detriment to reaching the lost.

Does anyone at the district office understand that in striving to become so seeker sensitive and not look at all like grandpa’s church just might be the very reason why so many can excited over a class teaching and promoting ancient practices even if those practices and theology is in direct conflict with Scripture, the history of the church catholic, and our Lutheran Confessions? Talk about falling off both sides of the horse…sheesh!

And while I’m on the subject of the Southeastern District, I’ve also been asked if district officials knew that such a class was being taught. The answer is yes, everybody all the way up to district president Dr. Jon Diefenthaler knows about the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop. The class notes, as I’ve found out, have been on the SED website for as long as the class has been taught and that has been for some time now. In addition, DP Diefenthaler after getting numerous calls concerning the posts I put up here at POTF called individuals in my circuit personally to make inquiries as to what was going on with my blog. However, DP Diefenthaler failed to call either my pastor (who if I understand things correctly is directly under his ecclesiastical supervision) nor did he bother to call me to inquire if I could corroborate anything or everything that I reported in my posts. One would suppose that DP Diefenthaler would at least want to clarify a point or two that caused him so much concern to start calling people in the circuit to begin with, wouldn’t ya think?

Now some might say that DP Diefenthaler simply didn’t know how to get in touch with me and this might be the reason for calling around to people other than myself. Well, that’s sorta a red herring because DP Diefenthaler does know my pastor’s phone number and my pastor could certainly could have pointed him to at least a phone book if he didn’t want to give out my digits. But it wasn’t even that difficult because all of my contact information is already on file at the district office as I sit on several mission committees as well as serving as my congregation’s Ablaze! educator. All DP Diefenthaler had to do is turn to the letter “G” in his Rolodex if he didn’t want to crack open a phone book.

The question that really needs to be asked is why hasn’t DP Diefenthaler called me to investigate what I’ve written relating to the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop?

Well, that’s just one of the many, many questions that somebody should be asking…

When I started these reports I said that I was even more concerned than ever before with the direction of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and my district. If everything that I’ve written concerning the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop is accurate and be verified (as I’ve stated on more than one occasion) doesn't such a report raise serious concerns and what does this mean concerning the state of our beloved synod? The answer is yes and that the LC-MS as an institution and as a church body is in very serious trouble.

quod erat demonstrandum

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 2
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 4
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 5
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7

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Hey Frank, remind me of a couple random details, for curiosity's sake. How did you manage to make your way to this particular workshop to start with? Do churches send representatives? Could anyone in the district sign up and attend? Do churches or individuals normally pay to attend this workshop? If so, how much? Had you said before that this particular workshop had been held at various locations across the country (I can't remember)?

Kelly,

I first saw an advertisement when I visited the congregation one Sunday morning about a month before the workshop was held. The congregation had sent out an invitation to all the congregations in the circuit but I hadn’t read my own congregations newsletter advertising it.

If I remember correctly, there were members from four of the churches in our circuit attending the workshop.

We were asked to donate a free will offering to cover the cost of a really good lunch but we were not charged for the workshop. This class is taught all over the country and it’s my understanding that the cost is $220 per person. I came by this price from someone who has seen the workshop being promoted for his area (somewhere in Minnesota?) and was inquiring about some particulars of the workshop that I didn’t make public but that seem to be public knowledge.

This whole blog is an example of exaggeration, misrepresentation and general fear mongering. Prayer and spiritual formation practices are here to stay in the LCMS. If you don't like it, than you really ought to consider leaving the Lutheran Church, and joining up with the Fundamentalists; they would be more aligned to your way of seeing things.

Anonymous, if I have put something in quotes, then the quote is word for word accurate. As I’ve said before, I took extraordinary measures to insure what I was quoting would be accurate. There has been NO exaggeration or misrepresentation in my report. If I have given my opinion on a matter I believe that I’ve stated such.

You suggest that maybe I should leave the Lutheran Church. If I’m guilty of fear mongering by exaggeration and a misrepresentation of that which is actually Lutheran doctrines and practices then why would you suggest I join up with the Fundamentalists? Shouldn’t I just return to the historic practices of the church catholic that where taught in the workshop if what I reported is fabricated or misleading and not to go to fundamentalism?

Something tells me that you know darned well that I didn’t exagerate anything. If I was exagerating you should be calling me to return to the historic practices that Lutheran reformers fought so hard to preserve… but you didn’t did you. Instead you suggest that I leave because I “don’t like it.”

Now let me ask you something, do you believe that our doctrine and practices should be framed by the Scripture and Lutheran Confessions or do you believe that what we do and why we do it can be guided by folks like Ignatius Loyola who fought against the reformers or Julian of Norwich who “believed that sin was necessary in life because it brings one to self-knowledge”, “believed that it was inaccurate to speak of God granting forgiveness for sins because forgiving would mean that committing the sin was wrong” and that God was a mother and not Father? Can you please explain what epistemology we should be using to determine what is normative within the LCMS?

It's hardly worth debating with someone who isn't even interested in defending their ideas, Frank. And it's not the postmodern way, anyway. The postmodern way, being generally devoid of objective standards, is to greet all disagreement with character assassination and to make amateurish comments like children on the playground. ("You don't like it? Go 'way!") It deserves an immature response like, "If all the emergent wanna-bes screwing up the LCMS jumped off a cliff, would you?"

All you've done in your previous posts, Frank, is to present direct quotes, link to the actual material so we could see it for ourselves, and let your readers draw their conclusions. It's been a remarkably neutral report you've given, when discussing the content of the workshop. If anyone has any ACTUAL, intelligent rebuttal to offer as to specifics on what Frank has said, then let them offer it already. Otherwise no one will even begin to take you seriously.

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Frank,

What anonymous doesn't realize is that those who practice "Spiritual Formation/Contemplative prayer" have joined the ranks of mystics and traded scriptural Lutheran doctrine for enthusiasm. Indeed, they have already left the "Lutheran Church."

There's not much left of "the Fundamentalists" for Frank to join, dear Anonymous.

So many churches formerly considered of fundamentalist bent have eagerly sought the seeker path, traveled off of it, and landed squarely in the muck of the emergent post-modern swamp, where the "spiritual formation" described in this series is more than welcomed.

Besides, I disagree that "Prayer and spiritual formation practices are here to stay in the LCMS" since my district here in the armpit-scratching Midwest would have none of this nonsense.

Anonymous #1, I’ve thought this through and I think I’ve gots me a solution. Since you and I live so close, why don’t we get together for a little debate on the matter? That way you will be able to have shot to correct me publicly where you think I have exaggerated and misinformed folks. Heck, you can even invite sonny from post number 4 if you wish. In fact we should make it a public event where everybody can join in. The more the merrier is what I’ve heard.

You say that the forms of prayer and spiritual formation as taught in workshop are in the LCMS to stay. Since you feel so strongly that such practices are in fact truly in keeping with historic and confessional Christianity then let’s debate the issue. The task of defending such positions next to an uneducated layperson with no formal theological training should be straightforward and require only the most basic of efforts. I’m willing to let you set the format, the location, and even the parameters of the event. So, why don’t you man up and debate me publicly instead hiding behind the cowardice of anonymity (even though I know exactly who you are: IP addresses mean that anonymity is somewhat exaggerated in today’s digital world). If you believe that my debating skills aren’t up to the task (I’m certainly not the most effective communicator as you well know) then I would be more than happy to enlist another layperson to fill in so as to make certain that the debate will at least be entertaining.

Frank: I refer you back to my original post on this thread. ;o)

Whenever you're dealing with someone who defends their ideas with little more than a "I can't explain it but I feel the Holy Spirit is telling me XYZ in my dream journals," the situation has moved into irrationality. There is no debate possible with such people. In such a mindset, any strong disagreement or debate is "hateful" and "fundy-esque" by definition.

You can pray and hope that those influenced by the latest Novelty of the Month would realize that their new fad is "here to stay" just like Prayer of Jabez and touching each pew as you pray for people is also "here to stay," but sometimes only time will bear this out for them. Sometimes it won't, and they'll be stuck clinging to their pet ideas forever, still demanding that they are cutting edge and even suggesting that those who don't like their fanaticism can just opt out of Lutheranism altogether. It's a silly, but sad, situation.

Whenever someone starts with, "The Holy Spirit told me..." I simply say, "Yeah? Well, the Holy Spirit told me you're wrong. Now, how do you know which of us is right?"

This is why we need something objective and external that is common to both parties -- like Scripture.

Kelly and Der Bettler,
I agree with you both wholeheartedly.
I like Der Bettler's response to those that say, the Holy Spirit told me ...... I think I will use your response the next time I hear that comment.
Thanks, Claudia Kuiper

“This whole blog is an example of exaggeration, misrepresentation and general fear mongering” Anonymous, have you attended the class that Frank did? How has he exagerated exactly? It seems that he has supplied numerous quotes that would concern just about anyone who claims to be Lutheran. In fact, his quotations are so extensive that it’s hard to imagine how he could have exagerated.

Also, you recommended that he leave the Lutheran Church (if he does not like following what seems like charasmatic or mystic practices) and join the Fundamentalists. Could you define what exactly you mean by that? Do you think that any new teaching can or should be allowed into the church without first testing it against the Scriptures or the symbols of the Lutheran church?

PG

Yes anonymous, please do answer PJ’s question and tell everybody how exactly it is that you are familiar with the material… I’m one hundred percent certain that folks would get a kick out of your answer.

Frank,

I'm only one paragraph into this post and I've already had a visceral reaction.

Charles Spurgeon never went to college for goodness sake and, if he were still alive, he would put our modern "professors" to shame.

After reading the posts before this one, I think you should be in the pulpit ahead of the majority of what's coming out of the seminaries these days.

God's blessings...

"...the LC-MS as an institution and as a church body is in very serious trouble."

Just finished reading this post, Frank.

The LCMS has been in trouble for some time. I know I'm not telling you something you don't know.

I left 20 years ago when the Lutheran Church where I was teaching voted, in a congregational meeting, that "they didn't care what the Bible said."

It was in one of the more liberal districts and I won't go into detail. I will say the district president knew of the situation in that congregation and, when my wife (also a teacher) and I approached him about the problem, we were told, "I guess you'd better leave."

So, we did.

I think we are seeing this in all of the Protestant churches because God's Word is no longer revered by the majority of people who call themselves "Christian."

I've appreciated that you have quoted scripture throughout this series.

I do think this subject is one of many indicators that we are nearing the last days spoken of in 2 Tim. 3.

"For men will be lovers of self..."

Thanks again for this series. I am sad that this is going on, but I'm glad that someone is honest enough to admit it.

And you knew you'd get some flack.

God's blessings...

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