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Church Between Gospel and Culture


Lewis and Clark's. Corps of ... Lewis and Clark did not discover a waterway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, ... goes in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, or paddles in their wake.[1] ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Church Between Gospel and Culture

  • Church Between Gospel and Culture
  • A Historical look at the Church in North America

There is a crisis in the life of the churches in
North America. The crisis, most simply put, is
that the social function the churches once
fulfilled in American life is gone.
The distress caused by this radical change in
social role and cultural value manifest itself in
various ways a lack of focus in the midst of a
proliferation of church programs, a loss of
meaning in the work of clergy and laity alike,
and uneasiness that our faith does not really fit
in the world where we live. Church Between
Gospel and Culture, xiii
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We are faced with the choice between straining
to hold on to what can be maintained only as an
illusion and admitting that things have changed,
willingly following God into new, uncharted
waters. Church Between Gospel and Culture, xiv
  • Every church everywhere will embody a local,
    particular expression of the gospel. God intends
    this to be so to give variegated witness to the
    salvation given in Christ. But each local
    expression is valid as an incarnation of the
    gospel only as it is faithful to the gospels
    version of what is good, true, and beautiful

  • If there is too little identification with the
    culture, the church becomes a subcultural ghetto.

If it assumes too much of the cultures
perspectives and values, it domesticates and
tames the gospel. Church Between Gospel and
Culture, xvi
  • Today most people in North America take
    denominations and denominationalism, along with
    the unique congregational structures they have
    formed, for granted.
  • These organizational arrangements are so familiar
    to us that most of us assume they are prescribed
    somewhere in Scripture.
  • While the concept of local congregations is
    certainly biblical, the particular organizational
    forms that we have developed in North America are
    in need of some substantial critique.
  • Missional Church, 67

  • The basic problem - a lack of theological depth
    regarding how churches think about their identity
    and how they relate to the cultural context.
  • Whats needed - a dialogue between Gospel, church
    and culture.

What can we learn from history?
  • How has the church gotten to this point?
  • How has the church engaged the culture before?

Sidney Mead in The Lively Experiment professes
that the Church is both a continuation of the
European church and a new experiment.1 The
freedom the Founding Fathers exercised was not
only political it was also religious. While, at
first, colonists tried to establish religious
uniformity enforced by the state it was clear
that this approach was not going to work
1Mead, The Lively Experiment The Shaping of
Christianity in America (New York Harper and Row
Publishers) x.
Religious freedom and the separation of church
and state prevailed. Suddenly choice was a word
connected with religion. The form of church
life that resulted depended on the voluntary
support of a committed laity.2 2Sydney E.
Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American
People (New Haven Yale University Press, 1972)
As a result of this new voluntary state of
affairs denominations were created. While
denominations have Europeans roots, i.e. with the
Glorious Revolution and the Toleration Act in
England, the separation of church and state
provided a way for them to fully blossom in the
United States.
Denominations are the result of a free religious
society in which many churches co-exist, formed
when clans of like-minded churches organize into
groups. This backdrop led to the evolution of
the first stage of denominations, ethnic
voluntarism, which took place in the middle
colonies of the eighteenth century and was
essentially a continuation of the Toleration Act.

Russell Richey states it this way
Denominationalism presents the denomination as
a voluntaristic ecclesial body. It presupposes
a condition of legal or de facto toleration and
religious freedom It is a movement or body
understanding itself to be legitimate and
self-sufficient, a proper church
a body that concedes the authenticity of other
churches even as it claims its own with
intentions and the capacity for
self-perpetuation, with a sense of itself as
located within time and with awareness of its
relation to the longer Christian tradition. It
knows itself as denominated, as named, as
recognized as recognizable, and as having
boundaries, as possessing adherents, as having a
history. Mullin, Reimaging Denominationalism,
Phase 1 Ethnic-Voluntarism 1600-1800
Coalition of ethnic immigration churches of
European parentage Basic structure
Associations, mostly formed out of
struggles. Authority under some home country
judicatory. Yet, due to distance,
quasi-independent. Work resolve problems,
adjudicate moral and theological disputes, and
train and authenticate leadership.
Most Influential Outside force Enlightenment Res
ults Faith in God a private thing Theology
science Gods kingdom aligned with culture of the
West manifest destiny
Although religion played a profound role in
motivating settlement in the middle of the
eighteenth century many observers were beginning
to detect a sever deterioration in the quality of
spiritual life. But all that changed in the
middle of the eighteenth century when a wave of
religious revivalism swept through the British
colonies in North America. John Findling and
Frank Thackeray, eds., Events that Changed
America in the Eighteenth Century, 6-7.
The Awakenings played an important role in
forming a national consciousness. This movement
embedded within the church a renewed spiritual
life and mission spirit, a spirit that would
become the catalyst for interdenominational and
intercolonial activities. People got on board,
enthusiasm spread, a movement was created, and
the unifying factor of denominations was born.
Winthrop Hudson, Religion in America, 75.
Many Lutherans had pietistic roots, so the
spirituality of the Awakening implanted itself
into the fabric of Lutherans in America. Yet,
In 1700 Lutherans were still relatively few in
number (2,000 of the total 300,000 population)
representing fewer than 1 of Americans.1 But
as Germans found their way to the United States
in the eighteenth century, the number of
Lutherans would increase to 120,000 by 1790
accounting for more than 4 of the total
Since most of the immigrants were lay people,
many congregations began as a simple assembly of
public worshipers gathered without the benefit of
clergy. Over time this would change and more
structure would be given both to congregations
and to the larger ecclesiastical bodies that came
to oversee them.3 Training leadership on
this side of the ocean became a need.4
Ministeriums, formed by gathering representatives
from congregations together, attended to this
work, as well as the preparation and oversight of
new congregations.5 Over time ministeriums
would develop formal policies and constitutions.
E. Clifford Nelson, ed., The Lutherans in North
America, rev. ed. 40, 40, 53, 46, 50
Phase 2 Purposive-Missionary 1800-1850
formed as national organizational structure
responsible to introduce new churches into
expanding frontier Basic structure stayed
loose with new institutions created in the form
of voluntary mission societies. Authority
growing authority in America, accountable to
mission. Work building a Christian nation
Most Influential Outside Influence Lewis and
Clarks Corps of Discovery On May 14th, 1804,
the Corps of Discovery set sail up the Missouri
River with forty-seven men. The object of their
mission was to find a Northwest passage to the
Pacific Ocean. Result The opening up of the
American Frontier
On September 23rd, 1806, twenty-eight months
after setting sail, the corps returned having
crossed over 8,000 miles of frontier only to
report they had not accomplished their mission.
True, Lewis and Clark did not discover a waterway
from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but, Lewis and
Clark crossed the continent, something no United
States citizen had ever done before. They blazed
the path. Every American living or traveling
west of the Mississippi River today goes in the
footsteps of Lewis and Clark, or paddles in their
wake.1 1IAmbrose, Lewis and Clark,
231. 2Ibid., 26.
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As a result of their adventure, the focal point
of the United States shifted from the East
toward the West A new course was set that
redirected the future of a people.
One of the strategic enterprises during this
century of missions was the mission society.
William Carey (1792) being sent from England to
India not by a church body, but by a group of
individuals ban together for the purpose of
missions gave birth to the first mission
society.1 This model would soon emerge as a
new way of thinking about missions. With an
attitude that humans can do anything mission
societies were being formed throughout Europe and
North America and would become the Protestant
archetype. 1Bevans, Constants in Context,
In order to use means to effectively
accomplish the missionary goal, Carey looked
outside the ecclesiastical structures and drew
upon an analogy from commerce With time, the
theology underlying this new mission model would
develop.2 2 Ibid., 212.
Voluntary mission societies and the ideology of
manifest destiny not only fueled missions in
North America, but also would be a force behind
sending missionaries around the world.
Phase 3 Churchly Denomination 1850-1900
built extensive institutional systems to serve
the needs of their members.
Basic structure Associations, mostly formed out
of struggles. Authority calling back to the
hallmarks of tradition - appreciate the
richness of tradition, confession and
catechism. Work Creating their own ecclesial
identity, issues of polity, improved governance
and structures for mission.
Most Influential Outside force Civil War A
nation on the brink of splitting in two and the
Issue of slavery Result Struggle for freedom
and embedding the Founding Fathers principles in
a new generation.
As the country struggled to stay united, the
issue of slavery found its way into the Church.
While slavery was not the cause for the divisions
between denominations, the already present
differences were exposed as the issue of slavery
played out within various denominations. In
fact, slavery exposed important ecclesiastical
issues and that after the divisions, if not
before, each of the sectional churches found it
important to construe its purposes in theological
and ecclesiastical terms.1 1IAhlstrom,
American People, 83.
In America the immigrants had to begin anew,
individually and in groups, to achieve their
aspirations for culture and well-being. Religious
institutions, therefore, often became a more
vital factor than they had ever been before.1
Immigration both influenced the landscape of the
United States and shaped the church. During the
colonial period three ecclesial bodies
(Congregationalists, Anglicans, and
Presbyterians, all with British backgrounds)2
made up 80 percent of Americans claiming any
church affiliation. However, all would change as
a result of immigration. By 1926, only 59
percent of the Americans were Protestant (and the
top denominations were Baptists - 8,011,000,
Methodists - 7,764,000, and Lutherans -
3,226,000, and the largest denominational group
was Roman Catholics - 18,605,000).3 1Ahlstrom,
American People, 517. 2Ibid. 3Ibid.
Prime era for Lutherans. As immigrants came in
large numbers, Lutheran churches expanded in
force. Immigrants from Scandinavia and Germany
were all present in the three big waves of
immigration between 1820 and World War I.1 So,
naturally, Scandinavian and German immigrants
were attracted to a Lutheran church in which
their native tongue was used, for nationalistic
and cultural reasons as well as for religious
ones.2 As a result, several new Lutheran
church bodies were organized on the basis of
national backgrounds.3 And even within
nationalities, there were various groups that
were formed.4 1Nelson, Lutherans in North
America, 255. 2Ibid., 258. 3Ibid., 267. 4In
the 1800s there were over 20 Lutheran
denominations. Dr. Todd Nichol, Church History
Class, Luther Seminary, November 1990.
In 1900 the identification of Lutheran with
foreign would not have pleased all Lutherans
but it was close to the truth.80 percent of all
Lutherans still used one or another of
twenty-nine different foreign languages in
worship.5 The Lutheran Church in the nineteenth
century was really many churches, but they had
two things in common a similar doctrine and all
were immigrants. 5The strength of the mother
tongue ties is indicated by the percentage of
congregations which used a foreign language to
some degree in 1900 5 United Synod of the
South, 20 General Synod, 87 Joint Synod of
Ohio, 92 General Council, 97 Synodical
Conference, 99 Norwegian Synod, and 99.5
United Norwegian Lutheran Church. Nelson,
Lutherans in North America, 365-66.
Phase 4 Corporate Denominations 1900 - 1965
created multiple agencies within an extensive
bureaucratic hierarchy to manage the ministry of
member churches.
Basic structure Formal Structures. Authori
ty Policies and defined roles. Work Adapting
techniques from the corporate world into the
church. The mission of the church was now
embedded in structure.
  • In the late nineteenth and early twentieth
    centuries, denominations added to their polity
    organizational structures influenced by business.
  • This stage began with a deepened, internal focus
    on structure, moving denominations more toward an
    instrumental view.1 Bureaucracy, organizational
    grammar, and professionalism were some of the
    byproducts of this stage.
  • 1Mullin, Reimaging, 85.

  • For example, national boards would become common
    place, denominations would come to include
    national, regional, and local expressions, and
    clear expectations for clergy were established.
  • In addition, the make up of leadership was
    changing. Leadership was now making room for
    women, blacks, and other minorities.2
  • 2Ibid., 86.

Missional Outside force Creation of World
Councils Result Mission boards and agencies
coming together creating missional
optimism. Most Influential Outside force World
Wars Result Optimism faded and shift to
for Lutherans - convergence. Although churches
still maintained their ethnic roots, they were
beginning to share a common language. A series of
joint events and projects over time created a
spirit of unity.1 In 1918, the United Lutheran
Church in America was created, marking the
beginning of almost seventy years of Lutheran
mergers. During this time, Lutherans became more
optimistic about their churchs role in America
and more aggressive in pursuing their goals.2
1The two Lutheran diets (1877 and 1878), the
cooperation of three synods publishing the Common
Service (1880s), a common hymnal (1917), a Small
Catechism (1899), and a book of ministerial acts
(1918) helped pave the way for the General Synod,
General Council, and the United Synod, South to
work together. These efforts and the Reformation
quadricentennial resulted in the first three
major Lutheran players coming together. Nelson,
Lutherans in North America, 373. 2Ibid., 395.
Doctrine held these churches together, primarily
the doctrine of the European churches from which
they came. The main evangelism tool was to
indoctrinate their children into the faith of
their ancestors, so, in addition to worship,
Sunday School and confirmation were strategic
Phase 5 Regulatory Demomination 1965 - present
increasingly uses rules and policies to secure
compliance from member churches
Basic structure Formal with staff and
bureaucracy. Authority Policies and defined
roles, top down posture. Work As congregations
shifted, exercising more control, the
institutional church pushed back. Losing
loyalty and beginning to loose adherents.
Influential Outside force Civil Rights, Vietnam
War, Sexual Revolution, Ecology
Movement Disestablishment hermeneutic of
suspicion Result Individualization of
Society Distrust of Institutions
Lutheran unity. The Lutheran landscape for the
last third of the twentieth century was consumed
by merger talk.1 The 1950s and 1960s saw a move
toward unity for Lutherans. Not only was a common
worship hymnal published,2 but four
denominational streams merged into the Lutheran
Church in America3 and four more became the
American Lutheran Church.4 In 1973 over 95
percent of American Lutherans were members of
three institutional groupings the Lutheran
Church in America, the American Lutheran Church,
and the Lutheran Church Missouri
Synod.5 1Edgar R. Trexler, High Expectations,
7. 2The Service Book and Hymnal in
1958. 3Lutheran Church in America formed 1962
with primarily German, Danish, Swedish, Finish,
and East Coast roots. Trexler, High Expectations,
6. 4American Lutheran Church formed between
1960-1963 with primarily Norwegian, Danish, some
German, and Midwestern roots. Ibid.,
6-7. 5Nelson, Lutherans in North America, 540.
Toward the end of the century (1988), the
Lutheran Churchs largest and the last-of-five
twentieth century mergers occurred in the
formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA).6 Twenty previous predecessor
bodies had now come together into one Lutheran
church.7 It was a new day. 6Trexler, High
Expectations, 6. 7Ibid.
The cohesive principle of creating a Christian
nation is no longer viable. A new purpose is
needed. The missional strategy of separating
mission from the heart of the church and
ecclesiology (leaving mission to mission
societies) robs the church of a key part of its
identity, namely the imperative of engaging the
culture with the gospel. The current
denominational structure has resulted in a church
based more on organization theory and democratic
principles then framed by theology and mission.
Phase 6 Whats Next?
each style partook of organizational materials
of its day
and each type or style functioned with a
distinctive vision of American society and of
Protestant responsibility therein. It was common
that the typology of previous stages did not die
out as the next stage surfaced, hence in some
denominations many stages are operating
concurrently. Yet, the typology highlights what
held denominational movements together during
that time, as well as reflecting the needs of the
Church at each stage in history.
Currently, denominations are in a state of flux.
The organizational structures created in stage
four and the regulatory agencies of stage five
are no longer affordable and sufficient for the
twenty-first century Church mission. So, what
is the role of denominations for the future? What
will be the influential factors? How will
congregations continue to engage these issues in
the twenty-first century?
What is the role of denominations for the future?
What can we learn from the past? What will be
the influential contextual factors of the future?
How will congregations continue to engage these
issues in the twenty-first century? What is your
role as a leader in the church?