15 March 2009

Pathways of Growth

My friend Doug and I were talking today about pathways of growth in the faith. Does the Church have a way to help folks mature in the faith? We acknowledge that the Sunday Divine Service is vital - the Table of the Lord's Word and His Supper are at the very heart - but they cannot do the whole job, nor were they ever intended to.

Yet they are a good beginning. I remember reading in Neuhaus once that he insisted on this as the starting point: No Sunday without the Divine Service. You may not feel like going. It may be too rainy, too sunny, too cold, too hot. Doesn't matter: let this be the start of discipleship, a habit of weekly hearing of the Word and receiving the Holy Eucharist with no excuses for not being there save for serious illness or death.

Another place where I believe our people need to grow is in giving. First, the tithe (the 10%) which is not ours to manage, but which is the Lord's (given over to the Church and to charity). But beyond that, the grace of giving. We need to learn such a loose hold on money that we constantly give it over to bless others. It returns to us a hundredfold and in countless ways. But it's not enough to know about it: our lives need to become lives of giving. And not just giving the money - though that is always a part - but giving of ourselves to others, especially in serving them in need.

Yet another place that needs attention is our growth in prayer. Here I think our Catechism helps us. To begin with, make yourself say the Morning and Evening Prayers in the Catechism. Never open or close a day without them. Once they are habit, we turn for more help to a wonderful resource like the Treasury to grow in daily prayer - its introduction provides so much help on this that I need only refer to it. It's a blessing indeed.

Control of our body is yet another place for growth. I think of fasting (in whatever capacity you are able), bodily exercise that helps you to rule the body by the mind, and reserving sexual activity solely to the marriage bed.

Learning to seize the opportunities God presents us to "give an account of the hope that is in us" is certainly an area where we can daily grow. God brings us people every day. Can we love them in Him? Serve them in Him? Witness to them of the hope and life that is ours in Christ? Invite them to join us in the Divine Service and let God richly serve up to us His gifts?

Can a Christian grow in such areas? Unquestionably we can. Our growth does not mean that God loves us more or is somehow more pleased with us than before - His love is whole and entire and cannot grow since it is full always. But we can grow in the apprehension of His love, we can grow in allowing His life to be evermore ours. For is not this the life of Christ Himself? To devote ourselves to hearing God's Word, to giving to others, to praying more and more, to controlling our flesh and constantly seeking ways to draw others into God's Family? What is this but growing in Christ Himself?


Rev. Paul Beisel said...

No growth without water, that's for sure.

I'm thinking back to my experience in the Church. My growth into maturity happened not so much because a church or a pastor did anything deliberate to this end, but it just happened. I can't explain it. It wasn't that I had any really great pastors growing up, or in college. I had really good friends and that certainly helped.

I guess my question is, must we do something deliberate for this to happen, or is this really up to the Holy Spirit to bring about growth and maturity, made possible of course by our preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments.

Another source of growth for me was reading. Reading the Book of Concord, reading Walther's Law and Gospel, reading articles and such. Until I began doing this I would say that my faith was very immature.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

As I reflect on your post, which I enjoyed very much, it strikes me that what you are talking about it simply doing what the Apostle enjoins us to do:

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16

I believe all that you describe is a result of this: the Word of God having its way with us.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

True growth involves self-denial - involves making yourself decrease so that Christ may increase. And this never makes sense to sinful flesh, which believes growth only comes through greed and gorging itself upon anything and everything.

All of the good habits we develop as Christians are nothing less than beating down our sinful nature, drowning the Old Adam once again.

Anonymous said...

Good post. I have definitely noticed a marked growth the past couple years. Most noticeable is when a stressful or potentially bad moment happens and instead of fear and dread I am filled with hope and peace.

This is the first year I have fasted in my life and I am amazed just how much I rely on food for emotional reasons. Just thought I share.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post to begin my Monday morning. Very encouraging. Divine Service, Works that respond to the gifts of God, Prayer... All the necessary things. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

You wrote, "no excuses for not being there save for . . . death." And yet, all the company of heaven is there. Death is no excuse!

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

I made quite a few Lutherans, even Lutheran pastors, grumpy recently when I relayed what our pastor told us before the start of a service recently, he was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but making a point.

He said, "The only reason you should not be in church on Sunday is if you are 'providentially prevented' from being there. And that means you are either sick, or dead."

Wow, did that ruffle some feathers, and particularly several pastors who took umbrage at the thought that we would ever suggest such a thing to our people, and then I heard a litany of excuses.


Jim said...


Regarding the Word: I came to the LCMS from the PCA in 1990. The one thing I miss is conversation among the laity about the Word. The PCA has a tradition (even though young) of having at least somewhat Biblically literate laymen in most churches. The LCMS has folk of that sort, but many fewer (in my experience).

Also, while giving money is absolutely necessary, I think that face-to-face involvement with the hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned is absolutely necessary as well. Jesus suggests in Mt 25 that we meet him when we meet them, and that can't help but shake you up (in a good way).

Further, this type of service -- service a la Mt 25 -- seems often to send a credibility signal to younger folk, at least in my experience (a la James 1.27).

The lessons I draw?

If you want giving at your church to grow, then have your church give more money away. (And I'm not talking about spending it on a new basketball court for the youth.)

If you want your membership to grow, then serve people without resources, and those who are confined in hospitals and prisons.

That's my theory of church growth.

Weekend Fisher said...

What Jim said about living it. Amen.

Unknown said...

If you want giving at your church to grow, then have your church give more money away. (And I'm not talking about spending it on a new basketball court for the youth.)

If you want your membership to grow, then serve people without resources, and those who are confined in hospitals and prisons.

That's my theory of church growth.

I remember reading somewhere that during the reign of Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate he deplored the growth of the early Chruch by saying that not the Christian served not only their own but others as well -- and better so than the good Roman religionists.

One reason for the growth of the early Church were the ways in which it embodied Christ in very concrete ways -- among its members and among others.

We sometimes don't dig deep enough into the best of our tradition.


Anonymous said...

Hey - can I borrow the gist of this with due credit given? Bang on, my friend!

William Weedon said...

Thanks, all, for the comments. Yes, anyone may cite my postings as desired.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't growth take place through hearing law and gospel preached? Being reminded of one's baptism?
Through receiving God's gifts in Word and Sacrament?

Tithe? Why stop at 10% indeed? God wants it all. Perhaps I should give it ALL away to the poor and follow Christ. Perhaps, I could live a really holy life in poverty to demonstrate my growth.

I just feel like more a sinner most of the time. I feel guilt of sin. I repent through returning to my baptism, hearing the absolution, and receiving the Lord's Supper.

Rev. McCain, why limit attendance at the services of God's house to Sunday? Wouldn't the law demand that I gladly hear and learn God's word at every opportunity. I mean we have chapel 4 times a week and Wednesday evening at my congregation. Why would I not be under the same "obligation"? I agree with your pastor's sentiment, but do we have holy days of obligation?

I know you all know this but lex semper accusat. There are no exceptions. It was given to expose sin.

I am not antinomian. Sinners need the law, but it will not lead to growth unless it points humbles me and brings me back to the gospel of grace. I do not want to excuse my sin in thought, word, and deed. Perhaps, I am writing out of my own wretched experience under the tyranny of false teaching of American evangelical "sanctificationism."

My pastor did two very good bible studies on sanctification and vocation. Perhaps, I should go to absolution and discuss it with him again.

Pr Weedon and Rev. McCain, these are my honest thoughts. I don't intend to be a argumentative. I certainly believe we are generally of one spirit.

William Weedon said...

Dear Dr. Phillips,

Semper, but not sola.

The tithe is worthy of further discussion. I believe that Scripture teaches that all we are given belongs to God, but that 10% of what we are given is not ours to manage but is to be given away to the poor and the mission of the Church. I'd argue that the tithe arises not from Mosaic law, but is natural law as evidenced by Jacob's words in Gen 28 and the action of Abram in Gen 14. Malachi treats of failure to pay the tithe as violation of the seventh commandment - stealing from God. So ALL is God's and we are to be accountable to him for the management of it; but 10% of what we receive is NOT under our management but to be passed on. FWIW.

Anonymous said...

Pr Weedon,

At this point we will agree to disagree on the tithe. I read and listened (on Issues Etc) to quite a bit about it in the past. I am convinced that the tithe does not apply to Christians anymore than the Jewish Sabbath or dietary laws. Perhaps we can discuss it at another time. However, Christians are certainly under no obligation to give LESS than 10% of their income to the church and other worthy causes. If you start preaching a prosperity gospel (ala Copeland and Osteen) I will get worried.

Semper est semper. I may not understand correctly, but that means that every time the law is preached it will accuse. For instance, God commands me to pray, but did I pray enough? At what point have I followed the law enough. It will accuse. It will ultimately lead me to repentance, that is Jesus, and His gift of faith.

However, thank you, for your reminder that it can also guide us as redeemed saints. Perhaps, that is what you intended with your original post and I reacted in "knee-jerk" reaction.

Pray for me. My new man certainly wants to grow in Christ's love for my neighbor.

I want to reiterate that it is not my desire to be needlessly argumentative.

Anonymous said...

For the past several years we've been using the term "balance" whenever discussing growing as a Christian. I think St. Paul summed it up best and we've modified it for our mission statement; "Growing in Faith, Hope, and Love."

Balance suggests paying attention to all three, at least as we've defined them: Faith - our relationship with God, Love - our relationships with one another in the Body and Hope - being the Body in the world.

Mike Breen. an evangelical Anglican, has refined this dynamic as a triangle and that's where we're moving next: Up - In - Out. Paying attention to a three dimensional lifestyle, making sure all are present. If you've not seen his Life Shapes models, I highly recommend them.

Practical implications suggests sermons need to lean into one corner purposefully and make sure all three are regularly covered. Our ministries are also structured under these three aspects of faith growth to insure organizational balance. You can see how we did it on our webpage.

Anyway, haven't visited here before and already I'm drawn into the place.

Thanks for opportunity!


Brian Hughes

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

To repeat what Pr. Weedon said:

The Confessions say lex semper accusat, but not lex sola accusat.

A world of important truth in that fact.

We have, sadly, a couple generations of grads from seminary who were taught to eschew any preaching about the life of Christian holiness. They effectively were encouraged to rip the second half of Romans out of their Bible.

I know. I was one of them.

I was told, flatly, that Luther was a bad preacher, so was every other Lutheran until we got to the great age of enlightenment about the real meaning and purpose of the third use of the law.

It's a mess and it is flatly NOT Lutheran.

We leave our people spiritual infants when all we can ever tell them is: You are horrible sinners. Don't worry. You are forgiven. Take communion. Your good works won't save you.


Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Oh, yes, one more point. Anytime any of us dared to ask "But don't the Pauline epistles have exhortations to works, precisely after Paul has declared the Law to convict of sin?" We were told, "The epistles are not sermons, therefore you should not preach like Paul wrote his Epistles."

I'm not making this up.

William Weedon said...


Welcome, brother! Thanks for the thoughts; I'll have to investigate it.

Anonymous said...


Take a look at 3dministries.com. Breen is currently in the US. He led the largest anglican congregation in northern UK. You're probably aware the UK is significantly more unchurched and secular than ours. He did it without flash and "purpose," but through simple geometric shapes that convey biblical truths. Yes, I'm impressed with the man's work.


Past Elder said...

Pastor McCain points to something quite real, and if we wonder why we lose numbers to the emergent, feel-good, prosperity or whatever else churches, I suggest it has more to do with this than snappy praise services.

Most definitely we need the message of " You are horrible sinners. Don't worry. You are forgiven. Take communion. Your good works won't save you."

Then if they leave church with no idea whatever of how to deal with a marriage they don't know how to deal with, children they don't know what to do with, jobs that drive them nuts or from which they've been let go, in these and many other ways a life that is driving them nuts and they don't know what to do -- and we wonder why they leave for places where that gets addressed.

Not well, not rightly, and at the expense of things essential to the Christian faith therefore doomed to fail -- but, when addressed at all versus not even addressed, you've lost them. Spiritual infants, exactly. And they go on to mistake spoiled milk for solid food. And we wonder why and look for better praise bands.

Pastor Sharp said...

I think that when solus -a -um is used as an adverb, it should be the neuter accusative, solum. I don't think it forms the adverb regularly.

lex sola accusat would mean "only the law accuses" which, I guess, is true, but not what you're trying to say.