Monday, September 27, 2010

Response to Dave's Post on Hipster Christianity

My great friend Dave wrote a post reacting to the statement by Pastor David Fitch of Life On The Vine Church in Chicago, where Fitch said:

"Youth groups destroy children's lives."

Fitch and others are part of what they call the "Emerging Church" or the "Emergent Church." The Emerging Churches are the descendants of the Zwickau Prophets, Thomas Muntzer and other Anabaptist movements.

Reading through their theological statements I don't find Fitch's claim surprising. I'm going to list their claims and teaching to show that they actually do not offer the youth or their elders any actual grace from God. Rather, they are focused on self-righteous social action and mutual self-approval. Fitch's church is part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

While they confess salvation through faith alone in Christ they deny the Means of Grace and turn faith into a work done by man:

The Emergent Church On the Means of Grace:

From the "Statement of Faith" which Fitch subscribes to at Northern Seminary:

"The ordinances are two in number. Baptism is the immersion of the believer in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, following his confession of faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior; baptism symbolizes the death of the old life and the rising of the new. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial instituted by Christ to be kept by believers as a symbol of his atoning death, and of himself as the Bread of Life, the one through whom we have spiritual life and vitality."

So, according to Fitch and his associates: Baptism and the Lord's Supper are outward acts commanded by God where a Christian shows his or her sincerity and dedication to God and the Church. These "ordinances" are merely symbols, and do not convey God's grace, the Holy Spirit, and the forgiveness of sins. This is the standard Anabaptist position as it was taught by Thomas Muntzer during the Reformation.

The Emergent Church On Faith:
Also, from Northern Seminary's Statement of Faith:
"Humans are reconciled unto God only as they by faith appropriate for themselves the salvation provided in Christ."
This statement implies that faith is a work done by the human as he or she uses "faith" to "appropriate" salvation. This kind of statement embraces decision theology and the notion of free will in spiritual matters. It is, however, vaguely enough stated that there will be members of this group on both sides of the issue. That is: those who believe God gave them faith by grace, and those who believe that they had to choose for themselves by their own reason before God would forgive them. This latter expression is Arminianism and (no matter how much Arminians might object--free will is still) Semipelagiansim.

The Emergent Church On Where God's Word Is Found:

Several statements of faith among the Emergent/ing Churches say similarly to this (from Life on the Vine):
4. The Old and New Testaments, inerrant as originally given, were verbally inspired by God and are a complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men. They constitute the divine and only rule of Christian faith and practice.
....2 Peter 1:20–21, 2 Tim 3:15–16 

However, in addition to this, the Emerging/ent Churches have no problem with following Thomas Muntzer's views on finding God's word outside of Scripture. David Finch wrote at his blog:

ONE SIMPLE ORIENTING QUESTION “What is God saying? How will I respond?”: Missional Discipleship

"As we have learned over and over again, this kind of “listening for God’ is often prone to sin and deception, and therefore requires the dynamic of the body of Christ for the truth to be discerned. The question itself “what is God saying?” is always addressed to the individual and the community at the same time. Never one without the other. It is necessary therefore to have in place the communal practices of worship, teaching, leadership, and discipleship as the context from within which we can discern some of life’s most confusing times. The communal processes of Matt 18 must be firmly ensconced in such a culture for this single orienting question not to into an individualistic “orgy” of ecstatic experiences.  We must have a missional enScripturated culture to breed discernment. Together we have/learn the mind of Christ! (1 Cor 2.16)."
 So, for Finch, God's Word and the "Mind of Christ" are the Bible And......

Yes, this is inconsistent with the statement he made on the Scripture as "the divine and only rule of Christian faith and practice."
(Well, actually, readers might have had a hard time following what Finch said. The Emergent Church and its teachers are so full of postmodernist philosophical expressions and arguments, vocabulary and neologisms that very often one cannot tell what they are really trying to say. Consider Romans 16:17-18: "17Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.")
So, not only are the youth and their elders taught that faith is what they do, that the Means of Grace are what they do to demonstrate their faith and sincerity (as shown above), they are also directed to other sources than Scripture for God's truth.

The Purpose of Church in the Emerging Church:

Youthgroups are a sub-group and extension of the congregation. Why does the congregation get together?

Life on the Vine's website states the church's mission in gathering :
"Our goal is not to be a mega-body but an authentic body of Christ, through which God can work his wonders in the world. We hope that, by our living as the Spirit-filled Body of Christ, those who don’t know Jesus will find him in our midst."
From another page at Life on the Vine:
, our liturgy honors the last 2,000 years of Christianity while adapting to the language and arts of our culture. As participants in the living story of God, we try not to be passive observers during worship but provide ample room to speak aloud and move our bodies as a response to the message. More than emotional arousal or intellectual critique, we seek spiritual formation, a life of submission to the Lordship of Christ.
 These statements describe the gathering and worship as the work of God's people for God and community. There is a strong emphasis on mission and social justice.

Consider also the statement of Dr. Ryan Bolge:
"What we've seen is that these Christ Followers who really want to make their faith real are doing it in a way that makes sense to the culture as well. And so, for those in the culture who have a favorable impression of Jesus, then this is a viable way for them to express their faith. Without necessarily the adoption of church practices that have accumulated over the past 2,000 years, that may or may not express faith in meaningful ways today. So these are faith communities that are very organic, very simple-- looking for ways to follow Jesus' example in this culture now."

Now, listen carefully in his video to the description of the Karaoke church following what I transcribed above. According to him, in the Emergent Church the "church" is what the people want it to be. There is no consideration for what Christ has said.

Christ gave us the Lord's Supper, Baptism, the Absolution, the Preaching and Reading of the Scriptures. These He told us to continue in until He returns. Note how this contrasts with the Emergent Churches' model of social contextualization and personal relevance.

So, the ultimate reason for a person to gather in the Emergent Churches is that the individual gets to shape what worship and faith ought to be.

What is there to offer the youth? All that the Emergent Churches are teaching them is to be selfish.

The Emergent Church on Prayer:

Scripture teaches that prayer is commanded by God and that He promises to hear our prayers. He hears our prayers because we have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ. But prayer does not motivate or make God do anything.

The Emergent Churches use prayer as a replacement for the Means of Grace.

From Life on the Vine's website:
"God works his wonders through prayer. Basic as it is, prayer is often a hard habit to form. That’s why the Vine provides ample room for making our requests known to God."
 And so the youth (and their elders) are directed away from the Means of Grace and toward their own struggles with God in prayer to find a way, that they might hear some answer from somewhere outside of Scripture that will satisfy them.

Finch's Church on Youth:

The LIfe on the Vine's website states:
YOUTH DISCIPLESHIP is a community of youth and adults imitating Jesus and being the Church. The goal is not to keep our youth merely safe, nice, and happy, but to be alive in Christ--to walk with Christ, to listen to Christ, and to look for and share Christ in the world. 
But they have thrown out grace, the means of grace, and the real reason for gathering as church.  What is left to teach the youth? 
  • Worship must suit your tastes or it is not "genuine" or "real."
  • Your faith must be active and doing things in the community and you have to feel it to make your faith "real."
  • You can't believe God's written Word when He says that the Lord's Supper is "given for you for the forgiveness of sins." You can't even believe Jesus when He says: "This is my body...This is my blood."
  • You have to find your own way to God by the time you reach maturity before you can be Baptized. And God didn't really mean it when His apostle Peter wrote "Baptism does also now save us."
  • Sermons should have some relevance to your own personal life and to society if they are to be of any value. Whether or not they are expositions of Scripture is not so important.
There are more rules that can be derived from their teachings. They also believe in the pre-millenial return of Christ. And unless their version of pre-millenialism is significantly different from others, that means they believe there is a second chance for people base on works righteousness. 
11. The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is imminent and will be personal, visible, and premillennial. This is the believer's blessed hope and is a vital truth which is an incentive to holy living and faithful service. 
So, honestly, without the Means of Grace, what do they have to offer the youth? How can they " be alive in Christ--to walk with Christ, to listen to Christ, and to look for and share Christ in the world" when the very things Christ has given to his church in the Word through which He comes to us and grants us the Holy Spirit are stripped from their youth? Indeed, even their congregations are stripped of these gifts. In this they are "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Tim 3)

They fit the shape of the Church of Sardis:
"These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you." (Rev 3)
Last Comments:

No congregation or denomination will be perfect. Humanity is corrupted by its inheretance of original sin. But any individual or group that looks outside Scripture for life, salvation, justification, sanctification, or the will of God is doing exactly what Eve and Adam did with Satan's temptation: They wanted to please God by going outside His Word and command, outside His promise--which are found only in the Scriptures.

There is a similar problem in the ELS, WELS, LCMS and other small groups of conservative Lutherans. The temptation to become hip. Our congregations are bleeding youth mainly because the youth cannot tell the difference between the denomination they grew up in and any modern E-Free or non-denominational church. Becoming hip means removing instructional and useful distinctions in liturgy, presentation, and teaching itself.

I want my kids to feel strange when they have to go into one of these hip services. I want them to feel that it is wrong. This is so that they can automatically be on guard to listen to the teaching that takes place.

I don't know why Fitch made his claim about youthgroups. But his theology and religious philosopy could end nowhere else than the destruction of the faith of the youth and the other members of his congregation and their associations.


theMom said...

My two cents, too, Joe.

I don't mean at all to detract from or disagree with your very informative post. But I'd like to address a slightly different angle.

You addressed Dave's closing comment regarding understanding where Fitch is coming from. I'm going to address the issue of youth groups themselves.

Yes, as you said, the purpose of church (and therefore, it's subsets) is to teach the Word and administer the Sacraments. But an additional bonus of youth group is to encourage our children to appreciate the gift of Christian friendship. In my life, I have been blessed with many strong Christian people who have helped and supported me in my Christian life.

We want our kids to understand that blessing. That starts with encouraging them to participate in things that will celebrate and sow the seeds of such Christian bonds.

Some parents/kids may want from youth groups only social things; others may want only devotional or Bible study type things. But the mix is good and wholesome.

A Bible study or devotion sets the tone for the business meetings or social event. A business meeting will give the kids an opportunity to practice Biblical interaction skills; sometimes these meetings can even become somewhat frustrating or heated. The umbrella under which such meetings are transacted gives the kids a taste of Biblical love and security. They know that all present love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, even if they may not particularly "like" each other.

Similarly, a purely social event will give opportunity to practice Biblical friendship. The kids support each other throughout their various social joys and frustrations; and they engage in activities without the pressures of succumbing to foul language or inappropriate conversation content that might sometimes be part of their non-church related friendships.

The participants at these social events develop bonds with each other that can last a lifetime; but even when such bonds are not be strong enough to last a lifetime, they set the foundation for the importance of Christian friendship.

madhenmom said...


Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply to Dave’s post. I sent him a few excerpts via email, but he’s had long days this week and hasn’t had any time to devote to a thorough reading. He’s hoping to get to it this weekend.

For the past few days, I’ve been mulling over what you wrote and wanted to post a few of my thoughts.

As you know, youth ministry has been a major discussion point in our household for the past 9 months. I’m not exaggerating to say that Dave and I have had at least one talk on the topic each day during that time period. What is the most effective way to ignite a fire for Christ in our youth in a meaningful way?

You made excellent points about how many churches today are watering down the Scriptures and focusing on how the members choose to worship, rather than how God instructs us to worship (I apologize for the oversimplification, and if I’ve misstated what you meant). I can’t dispute that those tendencies are eroding the faith of our youth.

But, I’m not sure that your statement that Our congregations are bleeding youth mainly because the youth cannot tell the difference between the denomination they grew up in and any modern E-Free or non-denominational church tells the entire story. While I’m sure the watering down of our own churches’ doctrines has contributed to their departure, I don’t think that’s the main factor. According to Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It, 2/3 of our youth, who attend church through high school, will have left the church within a few years. (The poll used over 1,000 young adults across all Christian denominations)

Within our own smallish, traditional WELS congregation, 7 young adults who had attended our day school, were recently self-excluded. (Some of them after a number of years of attempts by our pastor and elders to bring them back) Whatever caused them to abandon their faith, it wasn’t that they couldn’t tell the difference between our denomination and others.

Satan uses so many methods to get at our kids. Kids want to feel smart, cool, etc., and Christians certainly aren’t portrayed as smart or cool by the world around them. It’s much easier for them to ‘outgrow’ their faith, and embrace the beliefs of the world.

So, as adults and parents, how do we impress upon our children and the young people of our congregations that it is worth the struggle to not let their faith be eroded by the temptations of the world around them? Is there a way to make their worship experiences more meaningful to them, without abandoning the necessary elements of the liturgy? Is there a point when our traditional style of worship just doesn’t work any more for our ADD, short-attention spanned, techno-savvy youth? When the style of worship we’re comfortable with becomes a barrier to others? Are we reaching a similar point our ancestors did when they had to abandon their German or Norwegian services for English ones? Yes, the Holy Spirit still works faith through a foreign language service, but how many people are going to return to a service they don’t understand?

Please understand that I’m posing those questions not because I know the answers, but because I think they need to be honestly discussed.

But, ultimately, I think Mary’s comment gets to what people, young and old, are really looking for – a sense of community. Families are too busy and have too many options to invest their energies into making the church the most important community in their families’ lives. If kids rely on their sports teams or school to be their community while they’re growing up, that’s going to be gone when they leave home. What will they replace it with? If parents don’t teach their children to invest themselves into their faith communities, the young adults will find a more attractive community to become a part of.

I need to wrap this up for now, but I wanted to make sure I got these thoughts out there.

Take care, and thanks again for your great post.

theMom said...

Char, I have a few thoughts. These are things that jumped out at me upon second perusal. I might have other or better thoughts later, but I wanted to get these down as a starting point.

First off, good comments. Good questions. Good points.

I believe Joe's comment about the youth leaving was based upon the results from a WELS survey.

He may comment upon that more when he has time.

Your point is also valid that there are many and varied reasons people leave the church. Each individual will have his or her own reasons for leaving; and each family, church and community may have issues that contribute to an individual's departure.

My second point is specific to worship, not extra, non-worship youth opportunities. And I don't mean to be nit-picky, here. Not at all. But to help you analyze and to help me understand and analyze...What do you mean by making "worship experiences more meaningful"? In the Biblical Lutheran sense, meaningful is using faithfully the Word and Sacraments. The liturgy is a framework, a tool. As long as the Word and Sacraments are handled faithfully, the church is doing its primary job meaningfully.

I think however, from your context of comparing the German and Norwegian language services, that you mean, is there a way our services can better teach and communicate our faith? Or, is there a way our teaching can be more "tuned in" with the youth?

If that is your question, the answer to that will vary from pastor to pastor. Some pastors are very thorough at teaching the rote Biblical, Lutheran faith. Others lack a gift for making that understandable. Some can use variations and tools and more "pop" stuff within a good Lutheran and Biblical framework. Others are able to keep a more traditional teaching style, but do so in a manner that impresses and "reaches" the youth. Others use traditional stuff and seem to lack that "reach the youth" element. And still others use the "pop" stuff and neglect the Biblical, Lutheran teaching.

But beneath the umbrella of all the above possibilities, we must remember that God's Word does not return to Him void, but accomplishes what He desires. (Is. 55:10-11). We cannot make results happen. We can only faithfully proclaim. We may not see the results. But they do accomplish what God designs.

Joe has had many members return to their baptismal faith in their later years, after a life of seemingly neglect of that faith. Of course that is not ideal. This is just to show that God's Word and Sacraments are indeed powerful.

The third thing I want to address is in your final paragraph. You hit an important nail on the head when you mentioned parents and families. The churches job is to feed the flock with the preaching of the Word and faithful administration of the Sacraments. It is the parents job to "train up a child in the way he should go" so that "when he is old he will not depart from it."

The church cannot be everything to everyone. But within the church we are free to establish such opportunities for "community" as you describe to encourage our youth. But this must not be done at the expense of the above. And it may not tax the shepherd to the point he is unable to do his primary job. Each church community is going to have different energies and interests in this regard. But without familial encouragement, they will always be less than flourishing. A youth whose parents focus on other communities will not have the example of the church communities being a priority.

But again, this is different than faith. That is not seen and sometimes not even easily discernible from lifestyle choices.

A Stafford said...

After wonderful posts by two very intelligent women there isn't much left to comment about.

What I'd like to add is that as a youth, embittered with my confirmation experience at an AFLC church which was in the twin cities about 30 miles from my home, I decided to attend a local church where my classmates went by myself. So, from the time I got my driver's license until I graduated from high school, I attended a CMA church by myself. My parents were church hoppers, so I attended AFLC, Covenant and Alliance churches as a child and the return to a childhood church didn't seem odd to me.

I made it to the "inner circle" of 15 or so out of 50 youth in our youth group to be appointed to the "ministry team" by our youth pastor.

This group had special Bible study meetings at a "deeper" level and was actually preparing the theologically-minded youth for future ministries, such as pastor, leader or missionary. I was questioned several times regarding the fact that I had not been baptized. When I responded that I had been baptized as an infant, the pastor responded that I wasn't a very good example or witness to the other youth (given my leadership role) if they didn't see me give my testimony and be publicly immersed. So, the importance was on the witness, not the riches of baptism.

It was definitely a culture of emphasis on the outward actions and trying to convert others. Our youth group activities were all about inviting friends to various fun events to try to lure them in. Our Bible studies focused on the end of the world, moral Christian behavior, and preparing us for giving public testimony to what had transpired in our hearts--especially any changes that had happened in our life.

Going to college at Bethany reminded me of my Lutheran roots and core beliefs and I remember thinking what a waste of time the youth group had been spiritually. It was fun, sure! But there was nothing comforting about it. I was never reminded that Jesus welcomes sinners, just that I needed to be on my best behavior as witness to others.

As far as why our youth groups are dwindling and the young people are drifting away from the church, I see the biggest issue being parenting. If mom and dad don't make it a priority, why should the child? If they don't witness their parents seeking comfort in the sacraments they'll never think to seek them in their own lives. As long as hockey or snowmobiling or sleeping takes priority over church attendance in the home, our youth will not know where to go to fill the void in their lives and will find other things to attempt to find peace.