Friday, June 27, 2008

The Polka Mass

Some years ago I slipped into the back pew of a local Catholic church to see it for myself. And yes, there it was - a local polka band prominently perched on the high altar, ready to 'lead' the worship in a rousing 'oompa' to inspire the faithful. I was aghast at what I saw, observing one denim-clad young mother swaying to the music as if she was at the summer fair. But I was equally disappointed when this 'event' showed up shortly afterwards in a local Lutheran church as well. Now I open my paper and see the advertisement once more: "Church plans polka Mass." And yes, they even call it an "event." Of course it was an article in the paper, and the word may not have been provided by the pastor or the church. But they got it right. Polka and polka bands are musical "events" and not to be mistaken for reverent worship, no matter how one attempts to dress it up. I am embarrassed for these poor people. It must take every ounce of strength for someone not to suddenly erupt into "Roll out the barrel" in the middle of the liturgy.

The logo above is from the site which calls itself the "Home of the Polka Mass." Here Father Perkovich states that his polka masses are "presented in a manner of dignity that enhances the solemnity of the mass." Raised in a German-Lutheran-Catholic community where polka bands were the regular staple at beer gardens and wedding receptions, I'm struggling to see it his way.... An interesting counter-argument from the EWTN site can be found here.

Distrubing, but Not Surprising Survey

In a recent AP article Eric Gorski writes:
"America remains a nation of believers, but a new survey finds most Americans don't feel their religion is the only way to eternal life - even if their faith tradition teaches otherwise.

The findings, revealed this week in a survey of 35,000 adults, can either be taken as a positive sign of growing religious tolerance, or disturbing evidence that American dismiss or don't known fundamental teachings of their own faiths.

Among the more startling numbers in the survey, conducted last year by the the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: 57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life, in conflict with traditional evangelical teaching.

In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion."

While this is disturbing news, it is not shocking. Many a pastor has discovered this thinking even in the hallowed halls of otherwise conservative Lutheran churches. Obviously we need to be aware of this in our preaching and teaching and address it accordingly.

Stop the March?

In the June 23 issue of Christian News, under the article "Stop the March in the LCMS to Rome and Istambul," Editor Otten states that "Far too little has been said in the LCMS about the significant number of seminarians and recent graduates who have marched to Istambul and Rome" (page 21.) His point was tied to the report of the recent departure of Dan Woodring to the Roman Catholic Church, hardly a "recent graduate." Besides Woodring he mentions a few other celebrated and not-so-celebrated examples of LCMS pastors who have left for either the Catholic church or the Easter Orthodox. Yet beyond this no other names are sited. Still, he states that significant numbers of seminarians and recent graduates have left for these two communions. What constitutes "significant"? But what is this sensationalized charge based upon? Until some solid stats and names are produced, I will consider this statement as one more attempt to drum up fear in a perceived trend that simply isn't there. Just like the fear that "significant" numbers of pastors are trying to turn ordination into the third or fourth sacrament of the Lutheran church, or that there is a "significant" attempt to abolish the governance of voters' assemblies within the LCMS. Sorry, I just can't get all worked up about this....

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sites to Visit to Keep Abreast of Current Discussions in Synod

To keep abreast of where certain discussions are at with regard to synodical politics and events, I have found the internet invaluable in the last few years. It has been a window on both sides of the issue, liberal and conservative. For those so interested, here are a couple of public discussion boards with very active conversations on current events and topics that concern the LCMS, but also reference the ELCA as well):

ALPB Forum Online (American Lutheran Publicity Bureau):

Luther Quest Discussion Group:

As noted before in this blog, there are also websites that showcase the thinking and theology of where the left side of Missouri is current at. Of the three listed below, one is not really that active, but gives an insight nonetheless:

[Not very active, yet a real window on an unapologetic pro-women's ordination group - note the close connection with Day Star]

Day Star Network:
[The thinking of the left in Missouri and referenced many times in my own blog: currently on a seemingly "anti-clerical-missions" thread...]

Jesus First:
[Seemingly moderate, yet obviously supportive of the Day Star folks; quite inclusive.]

One of the current discussions naturally has been the departure of Dan Woodring to the Roman Catholic Church, which I addressed in a previous article. The discussion boards at the beginning have interesting discussions and insights worth reading. However, there are some blogs you may also want to check out as well to gain further insight if this interests you (as regards both the East and the West):

Beatus Vir (Dan Woodring’s blog)

Pillar and Ground of Truth (Fr. Gregory Hogg’s blog; Hogg left the LCMS to go to the EO)

One Lately Come (Former LCMS pastor who went East as well):

Conversi Ad Domium (Fr. Fenton’s blog; Fenton was also an LCMS pastor to go East; Fenton links some articles worth reading which were written back in 2004 and give insight into the thinking even thenl.):

This Side of the Pulpit (LCMS pastor Christopher Hall):

Finally, one more site for those who might want an insight into some ELCA thinking from a former LCMS professor and now retired in the ELCA:

Crossings (this link is to his "Thursday Theology" articles)

JesusFirst Changing Its Tune?

Don't be misled by the title. It's kind of a rhetorical question anticipating a negative answer. In their latest June issue, the LCMS political group JesusFirst leads off with an article entitled "Participate Fully in the Next Round of Elections." What they are referring to is the round of district elections, the schedule of which is posted on their website. I find it interesting to read their latest advice, especially in light of what I have observed over the years, especially the 2004 Synodical convention. They write: "External - and even internal - efforts to shape the elective process don't fare well." Really? Does this mean they learned from their decisive victories in 2004 and 2007 and their extremely overt efforts to "shape the elective process" in the past, and now want to just let things take their course? You mean the posted schedule of district conventions is purely to keep people informed and they feel no vested political interest in the outcome? Right. Note carefully this line in the District Convention Schedule:

"Districts with an (*) are those districts that will be electing either a professional church worker or a lay person to the LCMS Committee on Convention Nominations. The Committee on Convention Nominations is an extremely important one. If your district will be electing someone to this important committee, we encourage you to work for the election of someone who will work to nominate 'Gospel-centered, mission-driven, and future oriented' leaders for our Synod. "

Funny how that line is left out of the article in the printed newsletter sent to the synod. Maybe just an oversight? Note well: The JF operatives are to "work for the election" of the people they want. Yet remember, they don't want any "external - or internal - efforts to shape the elective process." And try this one: "we want to remind us all that it's best when 'the office seeks the man/woman' and not the reverse." Right. And I'm going to be elected to the office of District President this year......

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Justification and Rome

Did the Lutheran church misrepresent and falsely present the Roman Catholic's view on justification? According to Dan Woodring, who recently left the LCMS for Rome, they did. He writes:

“As I continued my research, I began to realize that what I had thought Catholic Church taught on Justification, was not what they really taught. I came to understand that the Scholastic Occamist view of justification, which was semi-pelagian, the view criticized most extensively in the Confessions was not what the Catholic Church teaches, now or then. The view presented in the Roman Confutation and at Trent was pure Augustinianism, and was the doctrine that every major Church Fathers maintained. “

Finally, I began to doubt whether the Lutheran teaching was the most faithful to the Word of God. Both sides appealed to Scripture, and although Lutherans are reluctant to admit it, both sides interpret Scripture according to their own tradition. Lutherans start with the believe that we are saved by faith alone, and our works have nothing to do with justification.

Roman Catholics do not teach that we are saved because of Christ's Atonement PLUS their works. It is simply not true. Roman Catholic Theology is Augustinian. He is our "Doctor of Grace." We reject all forms of semi-pelagianism."

Admittedly it has always been easy to misrepresent the theology of any church by simply repeating cliches and easy generalizations. However, many Lutheran theologians have examined and studied the theology of Rome since the 16th century, and their work could hardly be characterized as careless misrepresentation.

Mr. Woodring rightly indicates that the Lutheran doctrine of justification, which we believe is the biblical doctrine, is that "we are saved by faith alone, and our works have nothing to do with justification." As Romans 3:28 states: "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." The difference between Rome and the Lutherans on justification is indeed centered on the issue of works. Are good works part of the justification of the believer, or are they the fruit of faith, and thus rightly discussed as part of the sanctification of the believer? Is the believer declared righteous in God's sight in light of his own deeds, even if these are supposedly carried out in faith? Now having asked that question we must also realize that Rome and the Lutherans understand these terms in different ways, thus yielding very different answers from the beginning. When we use the term "justification," for example, we get different approaches. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it states that "Justification includes the remission of sins, sanctification, and renewal of the inner man" (Par. 2019). Lutherans see the biblical term justification as forensic - a declaration of absolution in light of Christ's work; Rome as more of an event within the believer.

In recent years some declared that the two churches had now come to agreement on this important doctrine, yet such declaration was quite premature. In fact, missing from the rhetoric of the time was the simple observation that justification served an entirely different focus in each church. For the Lutherans it was central and key to understanding all other doctrines. For Rome it was peripheral.

It might also be helpful to note that the Lutheran view of justification was condemned by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, and the canons that condemns them are still part of the teaching of Rome. A reading of these canons reveals a very wide divide on this issue of justification. Mr. Woodring's assessments above would seem to be in the spirit of these condemnations. Thus we read:

CANON 9: "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema."

CANON 12: "If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ's sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified ... let him be accursed."

Canon 14: "If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema."

Canon 23: "lf any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial,- except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema."

Canon 24: "If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema."

Canon 30: "If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema."

Canon 33:
"If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.

Thus, I would agree with Mr. Woodring is so far as to admit we have two very different views of this doctrine. Reconciling them into one would not seem to be an option. The question, then, is which reflects the biblical truth? Only by answering that should we then move on to the witness of others.

For those interested in reading a good examination of the doctrine of justification as seen by both Lutherans and Catholics, and a helpful study of the various doctrines involved, I would recommend Dr. Robert Preus' book Justification and Rome (Concordia Publishing House, 1997). It can be ordered from here. The cover presented above is of this book.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Another Lutheran Pastor Leaves

The departures of a few should not characterize the whole. Nor should it be given undo attention, I suppose. Nevertheless, it's disconcerting to me personally to see yet another so-called "confessional Lutheran pastor" leave the Lutheran church. Recently I heard that former Pastor Dan Woodring had left the Lutheran Church and joined the Roman Catholic communion. After searching the web for some indication, I was finally directed to a new blog that confirmed it. At Beatus Vir you may read Mr. Woodring's story under "How I Became the Catholic I Wasn't" in four parts. Only a few offered comments to his "conversion story," and they may be viewed here. One of those who commented, albeit briefly, was Fr. John Fenton, another former confessional to leave the fold. His own story of how he left the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod for the Easter Orthodox communion can be reviewed at his website Conversi Ad Dominum under the heading "Chronicling a Journey" (see right sidebar of site.)

Mr. Woodring, unlike Fenton, has not appeared at this point to have joined the ministerium of the Roman communion. Perhaps he is working in that direction; he did not say.

I am not sure even where to begin in commenting on Mr. Woodring's theological rationale for his "conversion." Naturally he attacks the very confessions he once swore to uphold, calling into question the chief articles and teachings of the Lutheran church with such characterizations as "disingenuous," "misleading," and "untruthful." While this is consistent with one who would leave his church and join one from which his mother church once broke, it seems odd for a man to go from staunch defender of one theology to become one of its harsher critics.

A search of the name Dan Woodring on the web will reveal that he was once a founding member of "Higher Things," a confessional Lutheran youth organization. Further searches will turn up material he wrote in defense of the theology he now denounces. The dates attached to all this are less than 10 years old, and in some cases probably no more than three or four. Was he having serious doubts all along? Or did he have some rather sudden "epiphany"? While I respect his decision to leave and realize it was the only honest thing he could do, I also struggle to think that he was harboring these theological misgivings long before he relinquished his Lutheran pulpit.

In a paper (undated) on the life and work of Karl Georg Stoekhardt he once wrote (emphasis added):

"The works of this teacher and preacher of God's Word have followed him, as Holy Scripture has promised us (Revelation 14:13). After Stoeckhardt's death, his exegetical lectures on the three letters of St. John, Titus, I Corinthians, Philippians, II Peter, the prophecy of Micah, and the Revelation of St. John were published. Through these and all of Dr. Stoeckhardt's writings God has given a wonderful gift to the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. It is the gift of the pure everlasting Gospel, the same that was spoken through Martin Luther in the Reformation, and established in this nation through C. F. W. Walther and the founders of our synod. May this gift be ever as precious to us, as to those who have labored that we might have it!

This is the gift which God in past years and decades has shared with us and which we now possess. And what matters for now and for the future is that we preserve what we have. We have profited in every which way, in all doctrine and in all knowledge, so that we are not lacking in a single gift. Now we must be careful not to lose anything that we have received. Ah, of course, it is the hearts desire and fervent prayer of every Lutheran, who has recognized God's gift, who discerns and understands the time and the signs of the times, who loves his church: "In these last days of sore distress grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness that pure we keep till life is spent, Thy holy Word and Sacrament." And not just till life is spent, O dear Lord God, grant that our church may never lose this its treasure, and that this beauteous light may shine upon us and our children and descendants until the Day of Judgment!"

In another article entitled "Mr. P. Longs for Christian Unity," he also writes:

" The point must be made that our doctrine, our "Lutheran-ness" is not something which we must "shed" in order to bring unity to the Church. But in fact, confessing and teaching our doctrine will bring unity in God's way. We must speak the same thing: The Word of God. That is why, btw, that the Lutheran Confessions are called the "Book of *Concord*" They do not divide, but unite, bring concord, under Jesus' word."

How did such conviction change? I'm not sure his story tells it all.....

P.S. For those who are wondering what the Latin titles of the blogs mentioned above mean, "Beatus vir," the the old Latin inscription for Psalm 1, meaning "Blessed is," and interestingly was the title givien in the old Lutheran Hymnal. "Conversi ad donimum," means "turn to the Lord," and as Fenton once described it on his blog: "The ancient call to prayer, Conversi ad Dominum (Turn to the Lord), is synonymous with ad orientem (face East)."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Roland Allen Republished: A Response

Robert Schmidt, a regular contributor to the online DayStar Journal, has written a paper reflecting on the Anglican missiologist Roland Allen (1868-1947), and the recent republishing of his works. Mr. Allen, who became disillusioned with the missionary methods of his day, proposed missionary work that would be far more independent of western influence. Although considered 'radical' in his own time, his views came into their own beginning around 1960. A brief Wikipedia article can be linked to here which will give you some brief initial background.

Although I actually used Mr. Allen's books at seminary (Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church), my ability to critically examine them was lessened by my lack of mature theological understanding. Reading Dr. Schmidt's article and his recommendation of the application of Allen's methods raises in my mind serious questions and concerns. What follows is my response to his article. My comments are interspersed in italics throughout his text.
Robert Schmidt (
The endnotes are omitted, but may be seen at the link above.

In 2001 this writer had the opportunity to visit with Hubert Allen, the grandson of Roland Allen and biographer of the famed missiologist. Together at Oxford’s Bodleian Library we re-examined Roland Allen’s unpublished manuscript, ”The Ministry of Expansion: The Priesthood of the Laity,” in anticipation of its possible publication. Thereafter we learned that nearly all of Allen’s works were to be republished by Lutterworth.

Why now publish five books written by a missiologist who has been dead for over fifty years? Why, because now the crisis is coming home. Before, in missionary lands there were simply too few ordained ministers for too many parishes and small groups of Christians seeking to worship their Lord. Now in America and Europe there are too many small parishes that cannot afford to pay a pastor.

As a young missionary to Nigeria in the 1960s I was assigned ten churches in addition to teaching at a seminary. Most of the missionaries served thirty churches, and one was responsible for sixty. A quick survey at that time showed that throughout the world there was one ordained pastor for every fourteen congregations. With the rapid expansion of the faith in China and among the Christ Bhaktas in India and the desperate shortage of Roman Catholic priests in the West, there are probably even more Christian groups without the regular services of an ordained pastor.
Roland Allen addressed this crisis in his own time with numerous books and articles. Several of his most famous works were Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?2 and The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes which Hinder it.3 In his writings he argued that church authorities should recognize and enable local elders of congregations to conduct a full ministry of word and sacrament. Not least because of his writings, there have been moves in many denominations and across the world to bless the ministry of the laity and authorize lay people to baptize and preside at the Eucharist.
Roland Allen came out of the “high church” tradition of the Anglican Communion with its great respect for the office of the ministry. As a student he had been inspired by his mentor, Charles Gore, the then principal of Pusey House, later to become the bishop of Oxford. In 1919 Allen asked Bishop Gore to write the introduction to the book Educational Principles and Missionary Methods. Although Gore penned the introduction, it was already clear that there were some tensions between his perspective, formed in the settled, organized church, and the insights of the missionary who had been forced to see things differently. Possibly referring to the position advocated in the book, Gore wondered about the modern lack of the “dogmatic” element in education.
Late in his life Allen penned an unpublished work, The Ministry of Expansion, the Priesthood of the Laity.4 In this book the stress between Allen’s position and the argument of Gore is brought to the breaking point. Yet Allen is careful not to make a radical split with the entire tradition with which he had been raised. In each chapter Allen is careful not to deny the basic points made by Gore. Rather, he argues time and again, those arguments are not applicable in a situation without ordained clergy.

Partly inspired by the insights of Allen and by the sheer magnitude of ministering to isolated groups in Alaska, a group of Lutheran congregations in the 1990s, affiliated with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, began training lay people to lead worship, baptize and preside at Communion services. At the same time some former missionaries sought to legitimize that practice through a resolution to the Northwest District, creating a lay ministry program. When it was clearly seen by the district that in that region it was a choice between lay ministry and no ministry at all, the lay program received the blessing of the district.

DE: This lay ministry program, which is widespread in Synod now, has presented a problem for many in regards to Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession, which states that "Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church , or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call." The "call" referenced here is obviously the call to the Public Office of the Pastoral Ministry. Although breaking with Rome, our Lutheran forefathers understood the 'ministry' of the church as ordered around the pastoral office, which the saw as clearly established in the New Testament and mandated by our Lord Jesus. Having lay people lead worship and preside at the Lord's Supper is irregular in the historic practice of the church and clearly not in keeping without our Lutheran understanding of church and ministry.

As much as Allen carefully wished to build his case for lay people to preside at the Eucharist where no priest is available, his opponents then and now argue that if the lay presidency is permitted where no priests are available, what is to prevent a lay presidency at the Eucharist even when ordained clergy are available? And if that is permitted, will it not call into question the whole identity, prerogatives and even financial support of the clergy also in the organized church?

DE: These questions are still valid. Why would a parish want to call a full-time pastor when it could settle for a far cheaper lay minister? In a time of rising costs I can well see how churches will now turn to this option.

This has become still more of an issue in the years since Allen wrote his books. At that time there were huge areas of Africa, Asia, North America and Australia where there were no ordained clergy. Despite the continuing lack of clergy in places like Alaska, opponents might argue that there are fewer of those geographical areas now than there were at his time of writing. Since then, however, a number of other crises have challenged the traditional views of church and ministry.

The Cultural Crisis
The first is the cultural crisis. Christian leaders from many traditions have been those ministering to people of widely different cultures. In Tanzania the Roman Catholic priest Vincent Donovan, inspired by Allen, helped the Masai people come to their own understanding of baptism and the Eucharist. In Columbia Bruce Olson, named “Bruchko” by the Moltilone people, enabled them to understand in their own culture the nature of the Christian faith. In India Swami Dayanand Bharati, a serious student of Roland Allen, found the freedom to make baptism and Holy Communion family rites in a Hindu context. Faced with such huge cultural divides, these visionaries helped the leadership of Christian communities to arise from within the group. In similar situations this may be the only way to provide a relevant ministry.

DE: While I am not opposed to indigenous ministry, I openly wonder if these examples are the most comforting he could give. Holy Communion "in a Hindu context"? If this is the method we are in serious trouble....

This is true not only of far off places. A ministry to African immigrants in the United States within Lutheranism revealed that only eight ordained pastors are serving ninety-two different congregations. In my own experience working with an Oromo-speaking (from central and southern Ethiopia) congregation in the Pacific Northwest, the church thrives with five lay leaders who take turns preaching and leading in worship. Services are in the Oromo language; Oromo choirs introduce new music for Sunday morning services. Were the congregation to have waited for an ordained Oromo-speaking pastor, they may never have begun, nor would they have grown as fast numerically or spiritually.

DE: First, the speed of numeric growth is not the proper motivation for neglecting the establishment and training of the proper ministry. By neglecting the adequate training of pastors we risk also neglecting the theological foundation of this church. Even Jesus and Paul indicated that the foundation is critical. In no other field or profession would we use this excuse. Why are we so much more willing to take chances with the Gospel?

The Financial Crisis
A second crisis challenging the traditional conception of the church and ministry is financial. Many small congregations simply cannot afford a paid ordained pastor. This includes many rural congregations in Europe and the United States. Several years ago while I was in Baden-W├╝rttemberg in Germany, the notice came that the government there could no longer afford to support the number of theological students about to graduate. This would mean that many smaller parishes would no longer be served by their own pastor, and pastors in larger parishes would have to work alone in blessing marriages, performing confirmations and burying people.
In Allen’s own Church of England numerous magnificent medieval churches have had to be declared ‘redundant’ and their parishioners invited to travel long distances to reach one of several other churches in the charge of an overburdened ‘team ministry.’ Not surprisingly, many people lack pastoral care and sadly often cease attending church services altogether.

In the United States the crisis is so bad in rural areas that many congregations which cannot obtain the services of a retired pastor or share a pastor with several other parishes will have to close. Even those congregations that do obtain the services of a seminary graduate know that the young cleric will leave for greener pastures after a year or two. In urban areas the situation is not much better. In many urban congregations the membership has eroded with flight to the suburbs and the aging of its most committed members. Now a small group meets in a cavernous sanctuary seeking to reach out to their community while supporting a pastor and keeping the building in repair. However, in both rural and urban areas outreach and social concern for their communities are sapped by the financial burden in supporting an ordained pastor.

DE: It is true that the financial crisis in rural churches is great. However, this is not new, and the solutions to providing pastoral leadership in these churches does not have to rest on simply substituting these men with local laymen to "save a dime." One area that I believe has been largely untapped and unexplored in our Lutheran church is the concept of bi-vocational pastors. The Baptists have been using such a system for many years. We have also not exhausted the older model of multiple parishes, so widely used in the early history of our synod. But to use finances as an excuse to say we can't afford properly trained and theologically trained pastors is to put the dollar before the Gospel. What is our priority?

Churchless Christians
A third crisis is less visible to churches but more profound. This is the mass exodus of Christians from the institutional churches. This phenomenon has long been recognized in the United Kingdom and on the European continent. It is also shaping the religious landscape of the United States. In a study of the religious preferences of people in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, those replying that they had no religious affiliation were in the clear majority. At the same time most of those same people clearly identified themselves with a Christian faith tradition. Such “churchless Christians” are the fastest growing religious group in the Pacific Northwest and may soon rival other faiths across the nation.

While Roland Allen’s books do not speak directly to this crisis, they open the door for a variety of creative approaches in ministry to this growing, disaffected group. One such pattern is that of a house-church ministry carried out in conjunction with a larger “megachurch.” Already many evangelical churches are using this methodology with great success. However, an even more far-reaching house-church movement is underway across the world which sees the church in small gatherings as the primary form of the church. This may have the potential to reach those who have pursued their spiritual quest through greater sensitivities to the environment as well as those seeking greater economic justice and non-violent solutions to conflicts in the world.

DE: Small "house churches" in our modern context are really not churches at all. Even the Early Church understood the church as the body of believers gathered around the Eucharist in common worship led by a validly called pastor. These house churches only encourage such groups to divert from the Gospel in ways that suit their personal fancy. Take the environmentalists Schmidt mentions, or the social gospel proponents he alludes to. Do we really want this kind of "diversity" in the church?

Near the end of his life Allen wrote The Family Rite. In this essay Allen advocates that the family again becomes the center of the Christian church and its ministry. Church-going families have long realized that church activities often have had the effect of dividing families as the church sought to minister to various age and interest groups. Allen’s insights as well as the ancient Hebrew custom of a home-based Sabbath rite might interest those who continue in the faith without a church affiliation. Centered about the Eucharist at a special family meal, discussions about the purpose of life, the meaning of death and many ethical issues faced by various members of the family might encourage both a vibrant family life and a meaningful faith.

DE: Here one might carefully note the last line of the Wikipedia article referenced above: "His views became increasingly influential, though Allen himself became disillusioned with the established churches. He spent the last years of his life in Kenya, establishing a reclusive church of his own devising, centered on an idiosyncratic family rite. Allen died in Nairobi."

The Ecclesiastical Crisis
The republication of Allen’s works also addresses a fourth crisis. This might be called the “ecclesiastical” crisis. Though lay people easily move between denominations and among congregations, their clergy are usually locked into structures from which there is no escape. Clergy find that their salaries, their retirement, their hopes for promotion or a call to another congregation depend on how they respond to the next denominational crisis. When there is an honest debate about worship, church involvement in national politics, clergy’s sexual preferences or questions of Biblical interpretation, the issues often become political as various sides fight to gain control of the denomination and force others to accept their position.

Now nearly every denomination is wracked by divisions and threats of schism. Few lay people are involved in such conflicts because they have long enjoyed the freedom to accept or reject the teaching of church authorities especially on controversial matters. Because their income and future do not depend on the outcome of these quarrels they may be inclined to be more objective in the debates and more loving to their opponents.
Should some of these same lay people be called upon to preach, teach and preside at the Eucharist, one might see many of these denominational conflicts subside. Since their position is not dependent on a denominational party or seminary, they are most likely to represent the convictions of their congregation. Since few if any would aspire to leadership positions within the church body, personal ambition would not likely be a motivation for continuing conflict.

DE: Schmidt's argument here assumes that trained professional clergy are driven by political ambition and personal security. That may be true for some, but I feel that he sells most pastors short. Lay people may appear more 'objective' because they are more removed and are less interested in the debate at hand. They do not always understand the issues at hand and so they do not engage in the discussion. The institutional structures of modern denominations certainly pose any number of complications to church and ministry, but that in itself is not the reason to abandon them. Schmidt's model would allow local groups to accept or reject matters of theology as they determine, which does absolutely nothing for the overall unity of the church and the consistency of its message.

Such lay leadership within congregations might also serve to heal some of the divisions of Christ’s church. Despite the ecumenical progress made in the last century with the World Missionary Conference, the World Council of Churches, the World Conference on Evangelism and many inter-denominational discussions, many congregations from different denominations at the local level are still badly divided. When warned by denominational officials to watch out for the false teachings of another church, a lay minister recently said to me, “If they only let us alone, I think we could solve the differences between these two churches.” Were the leadership of more congregations made up of such lay people, we might find that congregations might better share the richness of their own traditions and receive the blessings of others.

DE: I beg to differ on how the World Council of Churches can in any way be considered "progress." Schmidt seems to see any difference in the church on theological matters as an inconvenience and an affront to the church, rather than a good faith effort to keep the message of the pure Gospel clear for the sake of the salvation of the lost and strength of the faithful.

There was a revival of interest in the insights of Roland Allen in the early 1960s. The new nations of the world were reclaiming their own heritage and independence. Like the sun, colonialism was setting in the west. Allen had long claimed that many native people in missionary lands had resisted the Christian message not because of its content but because of the imperial practices of the Western churches exercised through seminary-trained clergy. If Allen’s proposals were adopted, perhaps there might be another “spontaneous expansion of the church” across the world.

In Africa, China, India and Latin America this is indeed what has happened, not because of a change in mission policies but because the new wine of the Gospel could not be contained in the old wine skins. Independent native Christian leaders, referred to by Allen in chapter three in The Ministry of Expansion, simply carried out the mission. Using a wide variety of worship forms suited to their cultures, they sang their faith into the hearts of their neighbors. In the West, however, the home of the settled churches, Allen’s proposals were largely ignored. Perhaps the reason was best given by Sir Kenneth Grubb when he wrote that while Allen spoke of how to start from the beginning, he was less clear on how to start halfway down the course. For Grubb and most mission thinkers, change was possible in missionary lands but not at home, where the church and her policies were long established.

However, at the beginning of a new century the chief challenges to the church are not in missionary lands; they are within the churches in the West. Many denominations are aging and losing members; they also are rent by controversy. Rather than representing the ideal of a single apostolic ministry groomed by Christ, professionally-trained and paid clergy are most often responsible for continuing divisions. The most rancorous debates in the church are about such clergy, their education, their upkeep, their gender, their sexual preferences and even their sexual activities. With the vigorous debates about these professional clergy now paralyzing the very life of most denominations, will Christ’s people be able to meet the various crises they face at the beginning of a new century?

DE: Now he lays his cards down: "professionally-trained and paid clergy are most often responsible for continuing divisions." The problem is with the clergy. That's the issue. How sad that he must dismiss the whole ministerium because of his own Allen-like disillusions with current debates and disagreements. Apparently he has not considered how such issues have long been with us, going back centuries even to the earliest church. The problem is not the clergy, it is Satan, the father of lies, who infuses the church with heresy and sells it as modern thinking.

Allen was not sure that the established church as he knew it would be able to make the necessary changes. Near the end of his life he became discouraged. He saw quite clearly that the leaders of most established denominations were uncompromising in their adherence to their traditions of church and clergy. Furthermore, his own conscience forbade him to continue to accept appointments to serve as an interim clergyman because it would just continue to encourage the people’s dependence on the professionally trained and paid priests. If the regular church was not open to the lay celebration of the Eucharist, might Christians return to a more Biblical pattern and celebrate communion in their homes?
While the lay celebration of the Eucharist is practiced by some in house churches and in a few congregations without clergy, it is evident that the great majority of church people are bound in the traditions they have inherited. While many may believe, as they did in the days of Allen, that the people of God can choose their own leaders to communicate the word of God and administer the sacraments according to the Biblical example, few will break with their traditions. The institutions are simply too strong, and the ruts in the road are too deep to make any radical turns. Is there any hope then for a new and reinvigorated faith and life in the church?

Schmidt pits "tradition" against "Biblical example" because he misunderstands the latter. It is clear that he does not agree with the Lutheran church's traditional understanding of church and ministry and considers them contrary to true biblical practice.

Allen would reply, “Only in the Holy Spirit.” For Allen, it was the Spirit who was the motivation for mission; the Spirit could be trusted to lead people into the truth. The Spirit lifted up leaders and invigorated their witness. The Spirit opened doors in the hearts of strangers and provided courage in the face of adversity. Allen believed that his best book was Pentecost and the World, in which he spelled out in detail how the church should trust the working of the Spirit through the Gospel rather than through their ecclesiastical rules.

Some thoughtful Christians, tired of institutional Christianity, are leaving denominations for house churches and their more intimate fellowship. Others remain in the established churches hoping for renewal and reform. Allen’s confidence in the work of the Spirit is likely to be far more important than any form of the church. He would observe that the Spirit’s work can be observed in any shape of the church. In his openness to the leading of the Spirit he celebrated both native prophets and sympathetic bishops. Above all he suggested that the unity of God’s people does not rest in the structure of their church life but rather in the working of the Spirit.

DE: I fear that the "leading of the Spirit" here is a leading not too closely aligned with Word and Sacrament ministry. This is Enthusiasm at its worst, a plague the church has weathered through too often....

Allen argues that lay people be encouraged to celebrate the sacraments so that any small group of Christian can be completely supplied with all it needs to survive and grow as the church. Here he is careful to stress that he is speaking chiefly for those without benefit of clergy. Yet, once Christians realize that God has given the sacraments to the whole church and that each group of Christians can choose who should preside at the Eucharist and Baptism, a marvelous transformation is in the offing. Now a lack of funds need not limit the church from expansion; the ministry of peers can make the church more relevant in a time of cultural diversity. Old wounds between Christians can be healed, that together they can aid the world’s unfortunate. Though long viewed as a radical voice in missionary circles, Roland Allen’s chief contribution to the 21st century may be that he speaks a word of hope. If any group of Christians can be fully the church, no power on earth can prevail against it. Instead such a church can become the leaven in every society, and all of Christ’s people can be empowered to serve.

DE: Well, there you have it: This is an argument for doing church without pastors, period. And I suspect that this will be the continued rhetoric coming from certain quarters of the church for years to come as dollars become tighter and the availability of traditionally trained clergy also is more challenging. I think we need to carefully watch this debate and guard against a continued drift from the rightly established and trained ministry.