Saturday, February 4, 2012

Worship as Work

Former LC-MS president Gerald Kieschnick recently wrote* again about how unfriendly our churches are to visitors and encouraged, once again, that we make deliberate efforts at being ever more friendly and welcoming. Indeed, he chastised those, including himself, who love to visit with their friends and loved ones at Church instead of doing the hard work of greeting and visiting with strangers. He closed his remarks thus:

“A comfortable, friendly church atmosphere happens when members and regular worshipers in that church go out of their way to extend a warm word of welcome to people they don’t know. The presence of such an atmosphere is one reason people come to church. Its absence is one reason they leave.”

Rev. Kieschnick is not disputing that the reason Christians comes to Church is to hear the Word of God, to confess and be absolved, to pray, and to receive the Holy Supper. When he says “one reason” people come to church is the friendly atmosphere they expect and hope to find there, he means, of course, one reason, indeed, for him the main reason, that non-Christians come to Church is for social interaction.

I suspect that even though he isn’t writing about Christians, he is completely wrong. But his entire movement has been based upon this assumption for so long that I doubt we could convince him otherwise. I think that the visitors who come to Church are usually seeking not human interaction and friendliness but are seeking God. Of course, if they aren’t baptized, believing Christians, they might well be confused about why they are coming. But I still think most of them would say they were coming to encounter God and had the idea that He was present, somehow, in the worship service. In this, it seems, they are more Theologically astute than many of our mission execs and possible than Rev. Kieschnick himself.

But there is another problem with Rev. Kieschnick’s assumptions. He turns worship into a chore and a burden for the “members and regular worshippers.” I am not without sympathy for what he writes. We certainly do what people who visit to recognize the love of God in us. We want them to be welcome. But at the same time, I recognize that the “members and regular worshippers” who attend come to the Service weary and hurting. Nor is everyone capable of comfortably talking to strangers. To force people into this upon threat that if they don’t they will be responsible for some soul’s damnation is not only spiritual abuse but also creates a phoney friendliness like unto used car salesmen that visitors pick up on very quickly. The Service isn’t a place for the members to work but to rest. They, too, like the heathen and apostate that slip in our doors from time to time, aren’t seeking mainly a human interaction, but the forgiveness and grace that God pours out in the Divine Service, yet, unlike the heathen and apostate, they actually know the other people who are there and deeply love them. They enjoy coming to Church because of the interaction. I wouldn’t say it is the reason they keep coming back, but I do think it makes coming back easier and more pleasant. In fact, every week is a little family reunion. I wouldn’t want to beat them up over that or further burden them. I want them to enjoy being here.

Rev. Kieschnick’s theology, initiatives, and desires for the synod, which is mainly that it get bigger somehow, are based upon his theology of worship, even as ours are also. The difficulty for us, of course, is that his theology is so different than ours. Worship, for him, is a place for the faithful to perform the good work of evangelism. That isn’t the only place they are to do that good work, but it is probably the most important place they are to do it. Of course, since it is, for him, the good work that really matters, it is what they are to be constantly doing, without rest, and under serious threat of judgment. For us, however, worship is the place where God serves His people, and God takes care of the elect. No wonder, then, that his presidency was so uncomfortable.

*It seems that Rev. Kieschnick puts little law messages on Facebook every Thursday. I am not “friends” with him on Facebook and so I don’t see them. On occasion, as they are encouraged to do so by Rev. Kieschnick, people forward them to me. This message was dated Thursday, February 2, 2012.


  1. When I gave the election schpiel in Indiana one pastor actually stated that everyone was supposed to be an extrovert. This is the apogee of the problem you note. You're not a good Christian unless you are outgoing and draw other people to Christ.

    Just like you are not a good Christian unless you speak in tongues, or make a pilgrimage, or have read Law & Gospel. . .


  2. This idea is actually one of the reasons I ended up at the seminary. I was an introvert (and still am in most situations), but as an introvert, in that kind of climate you really do get the idea that it is sinful to not be outgoing. Recognizing this about myself, clearly one way to force your own hand is to put yourself in a position where you have to speak. Thus, I found myself taking Pre-Sem classes.

    While in college, one prof also noticed that I wasn't that outgoing, and asked if I would write a paper on being a quiet Christian. I never took him up on the offer, as I wasn't sure that being quiet was a good thing -- how was I going to justify my introversion? It took quite a while to get out of that trap. Turns out Lutheranism has an answer -- and it's not that everyone must be an extrovert.

  3. You can find him on the twitter here:

    N.B. - His twitter feed is nothing more than a broadcasting outlet for his weekly message.

  4. I should say "little more than" instead of "nothing more than."

  5. When he says “one reason” people come to church is the friendly atmosphere they expect and hope to find there, he means, of course, one reason, indeed, for him the main reason, that non-Christians come to Church is for social interaction.


    This is like saying, one of the reasons I get married is for physical interaction with my spouse.

    While accurate, it is not exactly expressing the truth.

    I think the fact of the matter is that while people are not seeking God when they come to a service they also are seeking community.

    The church is a community, people drawn out and drawn together by Christ.

    And if a person sense that they are unwelcome by the community, would they really desire to return and be a part of it?

    I'm glad that you are siding with the priest and the levite who were obviously not extroverts and were focused on serving the elect—they didn't know and love the beaten man! — I'm sure they need their defenders.

    But if the Samaritan is the one commended by Jesus, maybe people can smile and welcome strangers when they come into church.

    Not go out of their way and to care for them. Just say hello. And introduce yourself. Too much to ask? Too much law? Too much burden?

    I visited my brother who doesn't really go to church and I dragged him to the local Lutheran church and not one person said hello. Great.

    It is all very well to pretend as thought the elect are being take care of — but the fact is that maybe you should be welcoming the elect who come into your presence as well.

    "Worship, for him, is a place for the faithful to perform the good work of evangelism." Indeed. If you are not going to do it in the comfort of your own church home, then are you really going to do it at all? sorta the point, isn't it?

  6. The church is a community, people drawn out and drawn together by Christ.

    Hmm. I do wish the Rev. Louderback and the Kieschnick would express Lutheran things accurately, although it is quite true: they are expressing their theology ... which, as Fr. Petersen observes in his essay ... is perceptibly different from our own. At last! The rogue elephant, smugly sitting on the living room couch, has been sighted.

    The Church actually an entity incorporated into Christ, which is something quite different from that perception of Christ as the Great Recruiter, molding kids into a formidable bowl team, so as to win one for the Triune Gipper.

    The Church is where comes the Presence who serves. Outside that Divine Service, the revivified Church is indeed to work while there is yet day. Be all things to all men, there. But the mandate to be a cheery coach or gushing guidance counselor, when God is in His temple, is not from God but something from the spirit of Uzzah. Uzzah wanted to set right, something wobbly. His motivation was good, but short-sighted and theologically unorthodox. Setting the Ark of the Promise/Presence on top of a "new" (not my word, but that of the Authorized Version translation; cf. 2 Sam 6:3) ox-cart can lead to difficulties (call the cart "extroversion," if you will; it is the "new" burden assigned to Christian Church by the ex-Prez of the LCMS ... but all done with a toothy smile, no doubt, thank you!).

    The off-the-track, "Friendliness is Key," "Odd Fellows Lodge, But With Offering Baskets" perceptions of those like the Revs. Kieschnick and Louderback will only lead, inevitably, to further divisions and a behavioral laxity ... including the eating and drinking of Holy Things, to the destruction of those who do not recognize what is Holy.

    "But Lord, we were only trying to be adorable, with the hugs and back-slapping and the loud checkered sport-coats ..."

  7. Oops. My bad. It was never, ever my intent to refer to the Rev. President-Emeritus Kieschnick after the manner in which that quintessential used-car salesman, Mr. Trump, is referred to by mere millions. The Donald is, well, he is “the Donald.” The Rev. Kieschnick is very much “the Rev. Kieschnick” ... not "the Kieschnick."

    Unfortunately, it appears as though my fumbling fingers should be fired from assuming editing skills. Unpredictable things invariably happen, seemingly at random.

    I’d attempt to find out if the behavior is more guided, but the couch is currently occupied by an elephant. For all I know, it’s a therapist wanting to be friendly and establish a "therapeutic alliance," after the theory of Carl Rogers ... and a cleric or two. And who knows what sort of fees will be charged by the elephant, in consequence, if the TARP stimulus of 2008 is any evidence?

    By the way, I have no idea if the Donald has ever heard the stinging words, “You’re fired!,” addressed to his person. But I should hope that we, as a collective nation, will never be faced with the task of voting him from the presidency.


Comments are moderated. Neither spam, vulgarity, comments that are insulting, slanderous or otherwise unbefitting of Christian dignity nor anonymous posts will be published.