Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tradition vs. Mission...

This is a typical false dichotomy in the contemporary LCMS. And in fact, the speaker (Rev. Dan Kimball, not a Lutheran pastor) was the keynote at a 2008 LCMS synodical youth ministry symposium.

Quick impression:

1) Having a "worship gathering" in a coffeeshop with a black ceiling is also a "tradition." The implication is that new traditions are "missional" and old traditions are not. But often these "hip" churches exclude entire demographic swaths of people.

2) Without using the term "adiaphoron," Kimball argues that not only is worship an adiaphoron, but so is the office of the ministry. He has pushed nearly everything into the realm of adiaphoron in the name of a pragmatic approach to mission. This is where the LCMS is headed with the current understanding of adiaphoron as "anything goes."

3) The church as "one, holy catholic, and apostolic" in Kimball's worldview is "fractured, worldly, individualistic, and ahistorical."

4) There is an anthropocentric emphasis on mission shown by Kimball's never mentioning the of the Holy Spirit nor even citing Holy Scripture (at least as I remember from watching the video once). There was certainly nothing Trinitarian or baptismal going on.

I'm not saying Kimball is not a Christian. But I am saying that his approach to worship, tradition, and soteriology are all completely antithetical to the Lutheran confession, and, to adopt his premises in a Lutheran context cannot be done with a quia subscription.

Tawk amongst yaselves...


  1. You make an excellent point - as long as someone teaches or instructs another, there is fundamentally "tradition". Tradition is a function of time - as time passes traditions form -- we set precedents and the like. The coffee house itself is a tradition (50 years from now there will probably still be people trying to do the hopelessly outdated coffee house thing) - the approach which leads to the coffee house thing is a tradition (and 50 years from now people will be trying to surf the cool wave of the day to bring people in).

    Point 1 is absolutely fantastic.

  2. Hello!

    Thanks for watching the video. Glad it got you thinking!

    A couple comments:

    I didn't say get rid of all tradition. I said multiple times "If tradition gets in the way of mission, then it is sin". In other words, if we choose personal preference of how we do something or have done it in the past that is not prescribed in Scripture - then it is sin as we then put our own preference over people. There are churches who refuse to change and many are dying and aging because they don't connect with people in how they function any longer. I am not talking about theology changing, I am talking about tradition of certain methodology that may need to change.

    I would never, ever suggest "anything goes" without saying as long as it does not compromise Scripture. I made that point that we must guard truth and doctrine and not do anything that would compromise Scripture. So there is a lot of freedom we are given to function as a church, as long as we are not compromsing anything in Scripture.

    3) The church as "one" has nothing to do with what I was suggesting. I believe in "one" church, but it has multiple, beautiful expressions all across the globe. They all don't have to look and act the same. Your family probably decorates your home different than someone else in your church. You probably have different ways you do things as a family that another family. But you can still be "one" church family even though you may have differences between how you do things. I am not talking about theology, but how we do things and how we go about our mission of making disciples.

    I quoted John 10:10, 1 Thessalonians 1 and referenced Revelation 20 when I spoke. This wasn't a "teaching" time, it was sharing thoughts from the heart. But I did include Scripture.

    If we really are "traditional" then we should be serving communion as part of a meal like they did for the first 300 years of the church. We should be greeting each other with a holy kiss every time we meet. And probably be meeting Sunday nights like the most likely did after they worked Sunday since it was a work day. We should meet in homes and the leaders wearing common clothing, not robes. But Scripture doesn't lock us into any format like that, so we can change as culture changes. The church fought to keep the organ out of the church originally because it was a "pagan" instrument. Now we fight to get it out. We sadly fight about things, which are preference, not based out of Scripture. And if we are missionaries wherever we go, then good missionaries look into what are the best ways we can communicate and teach the gospel. It changes depending on who they are reaching. The gospel does not change. but how a missionary goes about ministry changes. That is what I am talking about. And if people put roadblocks and won't change because they like things a certain way instead of caring about people and "becoming all things to all people so the gospel will be proclaimed" - then I believe that becomes sin and consumerism on the part of those who resist change because it is not based out of Scripture but their own preferences.

    Hope that gives more clarity.

  3. "If we really are "traditional" then we should be serving communion as part of a meal like they did for the first 300 years of the church."

    If I might point out, I think this explains where there is a disconnect between how the two folks here think of tradition.

    On the one hand, "tradition" can be viewed as an unthinking mimicking of the past, where the practices of the past must be done. This is what Dan's example appeals to - the idea of "tradition" as being simply something old and outmoded.

    On the other hand, behind the idea of tradition as it is posited here by Beane, is the idea that the Church ought to receive from those before the current time practices with care and respect, and not simply dismiss them due to current whim, and certainly not on an individual - I'll do what works here, who cares what the other people down the road are already doing, what is import is my specific ministry.

    There is a push and pull here between a desire to share the Gospel and a desire for unity. It can't be an either or for the Church is to have both. Paul's desire to become all things to all people doesn't make the Church in Corinth look drastically different from the Church in other places.

    Also, do not think that people refuse change simply on the basis of preference - there are those who honestly think that for the sake of the Gospel certain practices ought to be avoided - just as I am sure you will admit that there are people who do things in the Church that are "new and interesting" simply because they themselves are bored, not because of any altruistic goals.

    Thus, let us consult together, act not as independent agents but as part of One Body, when it comes to adapting change (be it to something more "modern" or restoring a practice of the past) - because when the individual members of the body don't work in concert, but rather each does what is right in their own sight - that's a seizure, which isn't good.

  4. Not to beat up on you, Dan, if you're still in the conversation, but I find it interesting that it is important, even to those who fearlessly break free from paradigms of the past, that their message is packaged in just the right image. The coffeehouse counter must be right there in the background of the shot. I don't condemn you for that; rather, I point it out precisely because it shows that built into your nature, and mine, is the awareness that form matters. From there to getting you to become a traditionalist is a significant step, but I will pray for you.

    Now I would propose a statement in answer to the one Dan argued in his video. Namely, if a church's mission is not in line with the genuine evangelical and catholic Tradition of the Church, that 'mission' is sin.

  5. Freakin Dan Kimball posting on Gottesdienst?

    Oh my gosh, you guys are so much cooler that any of our PLI forums!

    I'd make a comment, but anything I said would be anti-climactic...well, that's mostly true anyways...

  6. I have to say, I appreciated Dan's quick and thoughtful response even if I don't entirely agree with it. I thought he raised some worthwhile points though, which I hope Pr. Beane can find time to respond to.

  7. Let the conversation continue, by all means.

    Dan, you are eager to be all things to all people, as you say, for the sake of the Gospel. I am under the assumption that this is more or less a chief point being made by those who, such as you, seek to promote a coffee-shop seeker's service.

    And if I may say so, we Gottesdiensters certainly share your desire. The difference, I would offer, is that we do not believe that the jettison of liturgical worship serves the Gospel at all, but to the contrary cheapens and impoverishes it. And this is precisely why we stand so adamantly opposed to it.

    So, we do not desire to hold onto our traditions just because of some unthinking sentimental attachment to what is comfortable, which would indeed be sin if it stood in the way of the Gospel. Far from it. Rather, we desire to hold onto the traditions of liturgical Christian worship because it is so full of Christ and the Gospel. Do you understand that about us?

  8. The last post is a good summation of what is at work in the "traditions of liturgical Christian worship," and serves as a great response to what the first post accurately calls a "false dichotomy" posed by the speaker. There is so much that could be said here, much of which is already summarized in the "quick impression" in the first post.

    Today, the "all things to all people" has certainly taken on a life of its own and bears little resemblance representing, let alone passing on, the substance of the faith delivered to the saints. The rest of Scripture itself also may easily become a major roadblock to this phrase by which, in practice, many exceptions become the rule.

    The dichotomy, which is clearly a false one, only accentuates the anthropocentric emphasis, means and goal that are sought in the name of "mission" while simultaneously painting "tradition" evil. In short, what the speaker presents is clearly anthropocentric.

    There is truth that "the church as 'one, holy catholic, and apostolic' in Kimball's worldview is 'fractured, worldly, individualistic, and ahistorical.' However, the anthropocentric approach that the speaker proposes only furthers the fracturing as it moves further and further away from the divine tradition (ie, Scripture, Confessions).

    As the good Lutheran :-) prognosticator once said, "The reformer is always right about what is wrong . . . he is generally wrong about what is right."

    The speaker indeed seems to be proposing a different dichotomy altogether - Anthropocentrism vs. the Gospel.


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