Faithfulness to Christ's Mission

Jul/Aug 2001

Part One: The Theological Issues

The following statements spell out Biblical principles for genuine evangelism, in which God Himself grows His church by bringing sinners to faith. Therefore, they are a means of assessing the theology and the various practices advocated by the Church Growth Movement.

I. The saving presence of God the Holy Trinity through the means of grace (Word and Sacrament) is the heart and center of the church's life, worship and growth.

It follows that spiritual growth does not happen entirely or in part through man-made devices and methodologies.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

II. The mission of the church is God's mission.

It follows that the church's mission is to be viewed theologically rather than sociologically.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

III. Pastors are shepherds of Christ's sheep called to feed them with His Word and Sacraments and thus to lead them in the mission of the church.

God's people are a glorious priesthood (priesthood of all believers), which is far greater than and different from the new idea of "everyone a minister." The public Gospel ministry, in turn, serves this priesthood of all God's people.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

IV. Worship is the center of the church's life both in this world and in the next.

It follows that not all humanly devised ceremonies faithfully confess the presence of Christ in worship.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

VI. The "theology of the cross" defines the mission and ministry of the church.

It follows that the "theology of glory" (the wisdom of the world) misleads the church.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

Part Two: The Cultural Issues

The Church Growth Movement is an attempt to address the contemporary culture, which has become increasingly secularized and in need of evangelization. The question then becomes, to what extent should the church change its practices to accommodate the culture? Clearly, Christians exist in a particular culture, as do the non-Christians we hope to reach with the Gospel. The church must communicate in a language and in a way that the surrounding culture can understand. On the other hand, following the lead of a secularized culture can only lead to a secularized church.

Further complicating the matter is the fact of cultural pluralism. America today embraces many different cultures, so that attempts to appeal to one (for example, affluent white baby-boomers who live in the suburbs) may not appeal to others (African-Americans, Hispanics, rural midwesterners, Generation-Xers). These pluralistic cultures are themselves under assault from the commercial "pop culture" which reduces all cultural expressions to a homogenized commodity to buy and sell.

The Lutheran Church is blessed with a theology that offers a specific, comprehensive framework for addressing the relationship between the church and culture. The doctrine of the Two Kingdoms can help us address the cultural issues raised by the Church Growth Movement in a positive way.

The Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions state that the world in essence is essentially good but accidentally evil. (The Confessions utilize Aristotelian terms to describe both "essence" and "accident"). Original sin is not of the nature or essence of man (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article I, & 55-58. Theodore Tappert, The Book of Concord, p. 518). Therefore, the earth is the Lord's. In Luther's two-kingdom paradigm, the kingdom of power is where God operates as the Creator. It is not the world of Satan. Both Christians and non-Christians co-exist in the kingdom of power.

I. The Lutheran Theology of the Two Kingdoms teaches that God reigns in all cultures, but that the church is to be ruled by the Word of God alone, and not by the culture.

It follows that the culture is not to set the agenda for the Church.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

II. American culture offers many blessings, but it currently includes features that can undermine the faith.

It follows that adjusting the church's practice to appeal to today's American culture, as advocated by the Church Growth Movement, will be particularly problematic.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

III. Cultural pluralism does not mean cultural relativism; rather, it means that the church has the opportunity to reach out to human beings in all of their God-given diversity.

It follows that, in a climate of cultural diversity, the church must recover its universality.

Therefore, it is spiritually harmful:

1 [ Back ] By permission of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), this article has been excerpted from "For the Sake of Christ's Commission," the Report of the LCMS Church Growth Study Committee. The entire document can be found at
Tuesday, June 12th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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