Like all the Evangelical churches I have attended, it began with a 7-piece band doing a 3-song set. And the entire service could be summarized in the LCMS’ 1990’s giving campaign: His Love, Our Response. Evangelicalism to some degree is about God’s Love, but it’s ALL about OUR response. When someone indicates to you that they want church or sermon or Bible Class to be more practical, to be more about what they are to do, they are saying they want Evangelicalism. Once Evangelism infected Lutheranism in the 80s, we’ve been forced to deal with the oxymoron Lutheran substance – Evangelical style. Sorry, when these two get into bed, an Evangelical church is spawned.
But back to Brazos Fellowship: The band was great. The three solo singers were tremendous. The woman sounded like Stevie Nicks but looked better. The lead pastor, at least from what I could find on their web site brazosfellowship.com, is self-called: “Brazos Fellowship was born in a living room as Will and Leslie Lewis shared their vision around a small circle: God was calling them to create a church community in the Brazos Valley…” The Senior Pastor obviously has theological training, but I couldn’t find the who, what, where, when on the website. But look at christland.org, the website of the other church I considered attending in College Station, Texas. The Lead Pastor has degrees in ceramic art and industrial design. The first Staff Pastor listed has a bachelor’s in zoology and a master’s in natural science. Staff Pastor number two has a degree in civil engineering. In these two Evangelical churches you have two of the most dangerous theological things: the self-called and the ill-trained.
Some notable differences from other Evangelical churches I’ve attended. This congregation did actually sing two of the songs rather than only spectate. One young women, in addition to raising her hands, was incorporating the liturgical gesture of bowing and the Hasidic prayer practice of nodding her head rapidly. Also the offering was prominent, only two-songs in, and done by the Senior Pastor. Here is a truthful summary: God’s joy is to give; you share His joy by giving to Brazos Fellowship or elsewhere. I chose the latter. No joy for the Senior Pastor.
Now here’s where you’re going to think I’m lying. The sermon series they started today (10-17-21) was on the Trinity! Imagine if I had been at Christland? What sort of sermon series would the ceramic artist, the zoologist, and the civil engineer do on the Trinity? But this guy’s wasn’t bad. It was Reformed apologetics mixed with Evangelical personality. It could be summed up in what I presume every confessional Lutheran pastor says: Natural knowledge of God can tell you important things about God, but not the most important. He said that all other world views can speak of the Creator, Ruler God and that’s it. That God saves can only be found in the Triune God in the Person of Christ. This was his point but he made it sound more appealing.
He also made the very deep, significant, theological point that I’m betting any of the 90-day -Wonder pastors the LCMS produces in their Specific Ministry Program (Look up 90 day Wonder; you’ll get the point.) and all institutionally driven “churches” are producing, won’t get. There can be no necessity in the true God. If God needs to create or needs to rule, that makes Him in some way dependent on His creation and people.
He does brush, graze, nick the Gospel. He does call on us to, “trust your Father with your sin and guilt” and references the saving nature of Christ for us, but no mention of the active righteousness of Christ or that Christ’s passive righteousness was necessary to appease a wrathful God.
There was absolutely no sacramental theology. That is not surprising you should not expect it from the Evangelicals. They are clear on their website: “We believe baptism is an act of obedience shared in the context of the church to symbolize the change Jesus Christ has made in the new believer’s life.” “We believe the church is to share a meal of remembrance of Christ as a community. The meal is a symbol of the body and blood of Christ…” No, surprise here either. The surprise is that those once confirmed in sacramental theology can embrace Evangelicalism and not miss the Sacraments.
The message concluded with pointing out the only connecting point to the God of Joy that is revealed in the Person of Christ (I would’ve added “and work”) is your decision; your inviting Him into your heart. He claimed to be ending in prayer, but I dispute that. If you got mood music going on in the background while asking anyone who is feels like offering up themselves, their sins, their guilts, to the Father, to raise their hands, you got yourself an Altar Call. And you got one more non-denominal church that is really a Baptist church.
Regardless of the name, whenever you hear the emphasis on your response rather than on God’s action (not just one but His ongoing activity in Word and Sacrament), you are in Reformed Christianity not Lutheran. This theology is so popular today because it connects to every fallen heart. It’s called the opinio legis. It’s endemic to the Old Adam, so it always strikes a cord but not a Gospel note.