Visit to A Wisconsin Synod Church
Only it wasn’t; as my April 2015 visit to a Pentecostal church was really a visit to a contemporary one, so was this. They only mentioned WELS once, and I do mean that literally. Their printed welcome says they are “affiliated with the WELS.” I thought these contemporary worship gigs were all about being seeker and user friendly, but they don’t even bother to spell out what WELS stands for let alone tell you what Wisconsin is doing in Texas or what Evangelical is doing right next to Lutheran and what does the strange word “synod” mean. Of course, they have the modern prejudice – postmodern is incapable of having prejudices by definition or lack thereof – against thee’s and thou’s. So gone are they from the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed, but they kept the word “hallowed” in the former. Not 1 in 10 Christians could define “hallowed” if put on the spot. So I would change “hallowed” to “holy” before I would change anything. But lack of definition and pedantry in language wasn’t their biggest problem. Lack of Gospel, of Jesus, of recognizable worship was.
The service begins with a “Video Welcome.” It’s a little kid waving a flag. He speaks about how he loves America, and how he looks forward to his kid one day saying the same pledge as he does. That might happen, but it is a vain hope that he will worship the same way there were doing then since their service is amorphous at best.
The songs were not better than at the Pentecostal church. They were upbeat, up tempo, but only the rock trio sang out. I’m told how deep contemporary worship songs can be, but all I’ve heard so far is repetitious sentiments about what I feel about God’s majesty and power. The pastor referred to “Lead On, O King Eternal” as “a classic hymn.” But is it Biblical let alone Lutheran to say “with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes”?
The closest thing to a hymn was the National Anthem. That was the only song where the congregation sang out, where there was a sense of dignity if not reverence, and where everyone save me participated in a liturgical gesture. Everyone had their hand to heart. Also this was the only place where the pastor acknowledged a “sacred” space. He faced the flag on the screen. There was a cross draped in red – at least it wasn’t red, white, and blue – beneath the big screen. But no reverence or reference was made to it. The offering hymn sang of my devotion to an undefined or ill-defined God, power, might, or majesty. “I will listen and believe the voice of truth” over against what the “giant” says was the refrain in this song.
They had nothing labeled “Confession of Sins” even I know that’s a downer in postmodern society where nothing can be objectively wrong. They did have “Forgiveness of Sins.” They didn’t come close to admitting they were poor miserable sinners deserving temporal and eternal punishment. They repented of “hurting God and others.” There was no really confession and certainly nothing approaching an absolution. The congregation’s portion were direct quotes from the Bible that confused Law and Gospel in a very disorienting way. After this the pastor said another prayer and get this: there was accompanying mood music. Who said the 60’s are dead? Who says the 70’s are passé?
They had an Old Testament reading and a Gospel. The former wasn’t printed out or projected. The latter was both. The pastor read Luke 17: 20-37 and gave a Mishnah on the reading. The sermon was titled “Here is Your King,” and there was no way from anything the pastor said or the band sung that you could know your king is Christ and Him crucified. His sermon was basically the illustration Campus Crusade for Christ taught me 38 years ago. There is a throne in my heart and I’m on it and God is somewhere in me but not on the throne. He wants to be on the throne and once He is things will get better.
The sermon purported to be on the “Your Kingdom Come” petition of the Lord’s Prayer. He didn’t make use of the Small or Large Catechism. He did at least make the point that God brings the kingdom to you. This was his crowning illustration: God is the grandfather who takes you out from where you’re playing behind the wheel. He takes the driver’s seat and then puts you in his lap to hold the wheel. You think you’re driving, but as you steer you feel resistance. That’s God driving you where he really wants you to go. You should give into that resistance. Carrie Underwood preaches more Christocentrically in “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
The pastor did lots of talking, over 20 minutes’ worth, but little preaching. His sermon hinged on the word “within” in the dominical words, “The kingdom of God is within you” as opposed to outer kingdoms. As much as it pains me to point you here, Dr. Just’s commentary on Luke documents how the proper translation is “among you” meaning the kingdom was already there and Jesus’ enemies were missing it.
The prayer at the end of the sermon which I assume is taken from the historic practice of our Baptist brethren made the whole thing feel like an AA meeting. He prayed “Jesus come to the throne of my life” and then being so stunned by those words I missed what followed and only came back in time to hear “I let you be king.” And the pastor went on to say that we know God is king when we keep His laws and do things His way.
I close with a note to real confessional Lutheran pastors everywhere. If all you do is follow a liturgy that has sacramental and sacrificial parts and has real confession and absolution in it, you will preach far more Christ, far more Gospel than this contemporary service or pastor did. There is no way you could have come out of this service with the Christian faith if you came in without it, and if you came in with it, damage was certainly done to it for which this pastor and congregation are accountable.