Oct 26 2013

What’s up with the Lutherans? Part 2

This is an addendum to my prior “What’s up…” post. I’m not trying to pick on the Lutherans, but since I was raised Lutheran and still hold to a very Lutheran-ish theology, I just can’t help going “What??” as I encounter various Lutherans online.

I’ve already discussed that for many Lutherans, the key Lutheran writings, aka The Book of Concord, takes the place of the Bible as the foundation for Christianity. I get that the whole idea is that Lutheranism is the accurate interpretation of Scripture, but just assume for once that Luther or Melancthon may have been wrong. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of those who followed Martin made a few errors, especially in the whole 3rd use of the Law thing (no, I won’t discuss that again).  If you don’t always go back to Scripture, you’ll never know if the Confessions are wrong about something. And if they’re right, Scripture will back up your position.

The thing is…

The thing is, in my mind Lutherans are supposed to be the “grace people,” not the “follow our rules or be cast out into outer darkness” people.  Trust me, we have enough fundamentalist wackos in our country without adding those calling themselves Lutheran into the mix.  This whole “Lutheran Fundy” attitude is new to me… there’s probably a good reason why certain branches of the Lutheran Church were never spoken of when I was growing up.  Granted, my grandfather came from the Swedish/Augustana Lutherans and had been influenced by pietism. When my father was growing up, playing cards were forbidden, for example.  But by the 60’s, we were part of the Lutheran Church in America, which had lost much of the pietistic influences.

Pietistic errors aside, Luther is widely recognized as the person who rediscovered the Gospel in the Western church. The word “evangelical” was first used by Martin Luther to identify those holding to a theology of salvation by grace.  However, it would seem that for some who call themselves Lutheran, grace takes a back burner once you are baptized, and it’s right theology and rules from there on out.  At least that’s the way it reads.

This week’s stupid Lutheran discussion

I belong to a Facebook group called “Confessional Lutheran Fellowship.” It seemed like a good way to learn what’s gong in in Lutheranism, and discuss theology on occasion. I’ve seen some stupid things posted on occasion, but this past week someone asked, “Is a female pastor a pastor?”  It started out a bit surprising when the 2nd person, a female, responded, “No. She’s a sinner in rebellion to the Word of God.”  Female pastors were then referred to as false prophets, and “preistitutes.”  Seriously.  So I did what I normally do, and replied “yes.”  Some people appreciated my honesty and bravery, someone else told me that I couldn’t be a Confessional Lutheran and hold that position.

About 150 comments into the discussion, it turned to the issue of whether Communion was really Communion if “administered” by a female pastor.  Then it just got weird.  I then jumped in to point out that these rules they were discussing were not Scriptural, but based on church tradition.  While one person “liked” my comment, I also got this response:

Alden, our Lord Jesus Himself establishes the Office of the Holy Ministry as the essential public office of His Church in Matthew 28. Making disciples by means of Word and Sacrament is precisely what Jesus gives there. And we see this very thing playing out in Acts 2.42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” which explicitly locates the Sacrament in the Apostolic Office. This is precisely how the matter is treated in the Symbols of the Church, so if you would be a Lutheran and Christian, you would agree.

Contrary to my impulsive, combative nature, I did not respond, and for the most part abandoned the discussion. I probably could have explained that Acts 2:42 says that the Apostles taught. Period.  Since no one believes teaching is a purely apostolic function, his argument disintegrates completely.  Not to mention his presumption of “Office” in Matt. 28.

The benefits of being a Lutheran expatriate

One of the benefits of being a Lutheran expatriate is that I’ve had 35 or so years of non-Lutheran context.  In that evangelical milieu, I have retained the essence of Lutheranism. But I came back to a Lutheran theology after sitting under a variety of more contemporary theological teaching, and don’t look at Scripture through merely one filter.

I don’t have a problem with church structure.  For example, I’m very comfortable in Anglican churches, and respect those in Eastern Orthodox traditions. However, I also recognize that the New Testament does not set a “head pastor” model for churches.  Elders are discussed, as are those who serve in various functions. I am aware that while Paul makes statements about women no being over a man, I also see women being named as prophets, and being “counted among the Apostles.”  You can have a pastor, but you can’t claim it’s the Biblical model.

Besides, in the New Testament, leaders are those who serve. No one has a problem with women serving men. And when it comes to Communion, there are no requirements at all, except for Paul’s short teaching as to how it should be presented.  It was a meal, after all.  It only became a token ritual later on.  (No one could have become drunk sipping wine from a common cup.)

All this talk of “Offices” and rules are completely foreign to the NT.

The Gospel Uncensored

When I wrote The Gospel Uncensored from Ken Blue’s sermons, I never anticipating having to deal with a Lutheran legalism.  But presenting any sort of church rules—especially those that are used to disparage someone else—is not unlike requiring circumcision or dietary rules.  In the discussion thread I mentioned above, it was actually stated that women who become pastors are unrepentant sinners and are destined to hell.

Seriously?  In Galatians, the only people Paul suggested should go to hell were those imposing rules on the Galatian Christians.

It’s okay to believe that women should not be pastors. Traditionally, this has been accepted, and it’s difficult for people to change their perceptions. And, there are arguments on both sides. But, holding people to man-made rules is clearly condemned by Paul, as is judging others.  These attitudes are just plain evil.

I should mention that not everyone in the Facebook discussion were condemning, and many stood up to those who were clearly out of line. But, there seemed to be an unfortunate number of people who were so entrenched in their legalism that there was no room left for grace.

An interesting twist

I have had to deal myself with my thinking about women pastors, peeling away various filters that have been in place for years. However, I occasionally attend an Episcopal church with a female priest, and I like her. She is there to serve, and does it well.  I’ve also met a female Lutheran pastor who I think has the same heart. However, I have a greater problem with some female pastors in more contemporary churches, as the servant leadership mentality is often notoriously missing, with pastors often occupying a separate class than others. There, pastors are assumed to be “over” the church. In that case, I would firmly be against women in that role. However, I’m also against men in that role…

Bottom line, I’m thinking I should probably just leave that Facebook group, as it’s clearly a much narrower group than it claims to be.  And, I don’t need that kind of irritation.

 

 

 

 


Aug 11 2013

What’s up with the Lutherans?

As I’ve said before, I was raised Lutheran, in a good, moderately conservative church (LCA) in a good, moderately conservative community in Minnesota (though they tended to vote Democrat for some unknown reason).  While it was strongly Lutheran,  I knew very little of the differences between synods, and don’t know that I’d ever seen much less read the Book of Concord. However, I’d gone through Confirmation, memorized the Small Catechism, and seen “Here I Stand” numerous times.  I knew enough to be soundly Lutheran.  For years I referred to myself as a Lutheran expatriate. After nearly 40-some years away from the Lutheran church, I remain fairly Lutheran in my theology, however I would not describe myself as “confessional.” To be honest, I’m not even really sure what that means.

What’s up with the Lutherans?

Over the past few years, I’ve started getting back in touch with the liturgical side of the Church, and have connected with a number of Lutherans online. For one thing, I am soundly committed to the concept of salvation by grace, and to me Luther stands as the 2nd greatest champion of that doctrine (Paul being the first).

But, I have to say that I am quite bothered by a lot of what I read online from those calling themselves Lutherans, especially, it seems, those referring to themselves as “Confessional Lutherans.”  For a group whose namesake is so closely identified with the doctrine of grace, it seems that grace is now sorely lacking.

What’s in a name?

The label “Lutheran” is quite broad and unspecific.  The largest American group is the very liberal ELCA, who, among other things, recently voted to ordain practicing homosexual pastors. Then there are a number of other groups, ranging from more moderate groups like the AALC, Lutheran Brethren, and the relatively young LCMC to the fundamentalist Missouri Synod and the smaller anti-Papist Wisconsin Synod. Then, of course, there are dozens of international Lutheran groups, connected through various umbrella organizations. All Lutheran groups look back, of course, to Luther and the Augsburg Confession as “square one;” from there, its a complex genealogy.

Bottom line, the Lutherans are quite a diverse bunch, held together by a commitment to the doctrine of salvation by grace and practices like infant baptism.

A few words about the ELCA

What’s interesting is that at least according to their Confession of Faith, the ELCA seems a sound, conservative organization, in that, “This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.” In practice, however, it seems that it is their interpretation of the Scriptures which are the true authoritative source, often relegating Scripture to allegory and “more of a guideline rather than a rule.” In recent years, of course, they’ve crossed the line for many of the more conservative Lutherans. In my opinion, the ELCA has become so open-minded they’ve lost their brains, and with that, their hold on solid doctrine.

Some of my best friends are Lutheran

As I’ve said, in the past few years I’ve tried to reconnect with some of the less liberal Lutherans, as I’ve a regained desire to get back to my theological roots. Not for “roots” sake, but because I think Luther has many advantages over other strains of post-Reformation theologians. I’ve come to believe that the evangelical world is suffering due to the influence of Augustinian errors, passed along by Calvin and others. I consider Calvinism to be more or less heretical, as well as what is typically seen as the only alternative, Arminianism. That split occurred post-Luther, and has little effect on Lutheranism, which goes largely ignored by the evangelical community.

However, I’m considering unsubscribing from some of the Lutheran sites and online groups I belong to, simply because I’m becoming more and more disturbed by a kind of Lutheran imperialism (perhaps even fascism) that seems to be growing among the more conservative groups.

More and more the focus seems to be about seemingly insignificant points of theology, not with the intent of finding truth, but about determining who can be excluded from the “pure” strain of Lutheranism in that group.  While the ELCA may be erring in their attempts to be inclusive (and I believe they are correct in their belief that the gospel is by nature inclusive – read Romans 2), the conservative groups are erring by focusing on exclusion. Certainly we have to preach against the “other” gospels being preached, and I am no stranger to calling out heresy in that regard. However, when the watershed issue is something like the 3rd use of the law (which Luther never taught, by the way), then they are simply sinning in their foolishness (1 Tim 1:4).

I actually saw one discussion online yesterday about whether Lutheran was the “true church.”  Give me a break.

Where I think Lutheranism errs

This is, by the way, merely my current opinion. One of the reasons I blog my thoughts is to invite people to respond and argue with me.  I actually do change my theology from time to time…

I think one of the problems with Lutheranism as a whole is the nature of their being “confessional,” tied to several reformation documents. Personally, I accept and confess the historic creeds.  Anything after that I accept with a grain of salt. I think the Augsburg confession is good, and much of the Book of Concord is helpful. However, it’s not scripture, and never will be. When I discuss an issue, I may cite Luther or others as having good opinions, but I always go back to Scripture. Lutherans often stop at citing Concord or some old Lutheran as if that were Scripture.

I also think that teaching the 3rd use of the law (basically, as a way to take the law back down off the cross…) is mainly to go back to use it to control and exclude others.  It seems to me to be a way to say you believe in grace, but then enforce law.

The “law” and other questions

One of the questions I have about Lutheran doctrine is the concept that preaching must include both law and gospel. I think this provides some problem areas for Lutherans, and explains why the 3rd use teaching exists.  Personally, I never heard the term “law and gospel” while growing up, and first ran into it just a few years ago.  Certainly we need to understand that “all have sinned;” I don’t think many have a problem accepting that. I think, however, that to preach law to those who have been baptized and confirmed in the faith is questionable. Paul taught that we have “died to the law.” Furthermore, as being a non-Jew, the law was never given to me. There is the unwritten law that Paul talks about in Romans 1, but still, we are, as Christians, not under law, but under grace.

No one was ever made righteous by keeping the law; it was not a tool of righteousness, but actually came to cause sin to increase. I don’t see how increasing sin by bringing back the law has any benefit. The truth is, as taught by Paul, that we have been set free from “the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2).  I don’t go to church to be put back under it. To me, the “3rd use” does just that.

If I completely misunderstand the term “law and gospel” then I invite someone to explain it to me.  My own focus has been to distinguish law from gospel (as Paul did), not tie them together.

I have other questions about Lutheran theology, including Luther’s concept of “simultaneously saint and sinner,” that I can’t at this point sign on to, at least without more understanding.  I personally don’t care whether this or universal objective justification is Lutheran or not, or whether any teaching is essential to be a Lutheran. The question is not whether I’m Lutheran, but whether the teaching is Biblically sound.

The reality about Luther and Lutheranism

Christianity is not about being Lutheran. Furthermore, Luther was more than likely wrong about any number of things. There, I’ve said it.  That being said, I still think that basic Lutheran theology (with a few caveats) is superior to the morass of theology floating around the western world. Luther was taught according to Augustinian theology, which as I said, I believe is quite flawed. While Luther came a long way from his RCC/Augustinian roots, he only went so far, and as his theology grew and changed over the years, he possibly would have grown further had he lived longer. That is, Lutheran theology is good, but it’s not the place we should stop.  Some of the later writings in the Book of Concord (which post-dated Luther) are even possibly in conflict which what Luther himself would have said.

I would, however, like to further explore a few points of Lutheran teaching that I simply don’t have a context for (as I said, my church growing up didn’t find many of these issues important). I really appreciated my meeting LCMC pastor Amber Bergeron a month or so ago while visiting my hometown. While our conversation was way too short, it rekindled my desire to look into to some of these things, in spite of my disheartening encounters with the troubling side of Lutheranism. I’m going to invite Amber to comment on any point she wishes, and hope to gain from some of her wisdom and enthusiasm as I occasionally think out loud online…

 


Mar 14 2013

The Evangelical Divide

This is a test: Define the term “evangelical.”

Chances are, you can’t do it.  In fact, I haven’t found anyone yet who can.  Even Wikipedia is completely wrong. In fact, theirs is actually ridiculous.

Despite the fact that you probably can’t clearly define the term, I’m sure you either claim to be one, or know one or more of them.

The correct definition that we won’t use

Historically speaking (ignoring what Wikipedia says), the term was first coined by Martin Luther (in Latin) to refer to his reform movement within (and without) the Roman Catholic Church. It derives from the Latin word for “good news” or gospel. When the Romans began referring to the movement as “Lutheran,” Luther rejected the name, preferring “Evangelical,” which is still the name of the Lutheran church in Germany.

The term refers to those who hold that salvation is by grace alone, apart from works. The Roman Church taught that works (including at the time, buying “indulgences”) could save you.

Considering that many so-called evangelicals today believe that works contribute to our salvation (or at least keeping our salvation), I do not believe Luther’s definition is applicable to many who currently use the term.

The popular but incorrect definitions

Today, in America, evangelical typically refers to churches that believe in the need for a personal relationship with Christ in order to be saved, even if that requires a certain effort on the part of the individual. In a general sense, many would include all Protestants under this umbrella. However, in recent years a more narrow understanding of “evangelical” has developed, referring to a conservative segment of the protestant church that would exclude the original Lutherans (at least the ELCA) and other denominations who practice infant baptism and hold sacramental beliefs.

According to the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton  College, “…the modern term usually describes the religious movements and denominations which sprung forth from a series of revivals that swept the North Atlantic Anglo-American world in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.” This is probably as good a definition as any for the popular use of the term, coming from within the movement. These revivals were led by people like Charles Finney, who rejected the notion of original sin and believed completely in man’s ability to save himself through his choices. While not all of the revivalists were heretics to this extreme, the teachings of grace that were prevalent in the original evangelical movement were often lost, or at least downsized.

Matt Richard, writing about what the original reformers would say about modern evangelicals, says

Mark Noll in his book, America’s God, states that if the Reformers were alive today they would find themselves further removed from modern day Evangelicalism than they were removed from the Catholic Church of the 1500′s.

Is evangelicalism a uniquely American religion?

Scot McKnight, who writes the blog Jesus Creed, recently discussed the thoughts of author Randall Balmer, suggesting that what we know as American evangelicalism is as much American as it is Christian, and is evolving with American ideology and politics. He begins,

American evangelicalism, Randy Balmer observes, is perculiarly American, and emerged out of three P’s: Scots-Irish Presbyterianism, Continental Pietism, and New England Puritanism. But Balmer’s burden is that evangelicalism in America mutates, even if it is connected always to the Bible as inspired, the centrality of a born-again experience, and the impulse to evangelize others.

Balmer believes American revivalism morphed (my word) in the 2nd Great Awakening due to Finney’s anthropology along with the growing American self-deterministic attitude, that “American evangelicalism has a revivalist, self-determined core.” Balmer believes it has continued to evolve, it seems to me that over the past couple of decades has become almost indistinguishable from the political right.  Even many evangelicals who would distance themselves from conservative politics (yes, they do exist) still share that same self-determinist core that qualifies them as being uniquely American.

Post-evangelicalism

Lately various people have began to refer to themselves as “post-evangelicals,” those who have left (or are trying to distance themselves) from this American-evangelical mentality.  Some, unfortunately, have merely left historic Christianity altogether. Others will only think they’re leaving.  Personally, I think it’s useless to label oneself as post-anything, as that only talks about where you’ve been, not where you are.

Old school evangelicalism

I am fortunate, I guess, in that I ever was able to connect with this American evangelicalism. I tried, believe me, I tried. I even switched from the RSV to the NIV (I’ve now switched back), but it just never felt comfortable to me, and for many of those around me.  Being raised Lutheran, I was, and guess I still am, an old-school pre-revivalist, evangelical.

The terms are confusing, especially for us old-schoolers. Labels always create problems. I guess I’ll just have to stick with Paul and choose to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.  I think that’s something most of us can agree on.

 

 

 

 


Mar 12 2013

The Sins of Self-Promotion

    “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.   (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV)

One of the more disheartening things about Facebook, twitter, and the so-called “blogosphere,” is the realization that so much about contemporary evangelicalism is focused on marketing and self-promotion.  As a child, perhaps the most important thing I learned (aside from the incredible truth that “Jesus loves me, this I know”)  was that the Christian life was a life of humility. So much of Jesus’ teachings emphasized this point:

  • Take the lowest seat at the table.
  • Whoever leads must serve.
  • The last will be first, and the first will be last.
  • Pray in your closet, not in public.
  • Do your good deeds in secret.
  • If you do things to be noticed, you’ve received your reward.

All very unpopular teachings today.

 It’s a marketing world

The contemporary evangelical church (I’ll define “evangelical” in an upcoming post, as it really doesn’t mean what they think it means) has adapted to the contemporary culture, which is at its core a marketing culture. Everything in our culture is marketed, from products and services to politics, religion, education and truth. The new word on the street is “branding,” meaning to establish yourself as unique and identifiable. You’ve got to brand yourself because everyone is selling something, even if it’s just themselves. Everyone—whether a business, a personality, or a teenager—needs a facebook page, a blog, and a twitter account to establish yourself and claim your territory.  If you don’t have followers, you are a non-entity. I have fans, therefore I am.

A corresponding assumption in a marketing world is that there are scarce resources, both in what is being marketed as well as the audience being marketed to, giving rise to competition. Those doing the marketing present themselves as offering something that is special and scarce (more scarce than the market), something that you can’t get around the corner or get on your own. The concept is, “We have the best teaching, the best worship, the best pastors, the best Sunday School, and you need us in order to be special.”  Then there are those who offer something new, unique, and out of the ordinary, perhaps a visitation from God or an experience that no one else can offer.  Para-church ministries also market themselves as being special or doing special things that no one else will or can do, so you must support them as opposed to the ministry next door. Often the people who are the focus of the ministry are held out as quasi-hostages with the thought, “if you don’t support my ministry, these people will die or perhaps even go to hell.” Marketing is all about being special, because no one merely wants to be normal or ordinary.

The 2nd part of that assumption is that the market itself is scarce. At the essence of marketing is competition for a target market, because there aren’t enough followers/customers to go around. There are only so many “targets” out there, who have only so much money to contribute. Therefore, the competition’s on to get church members as well as contributor dollars (a church full of needy people can’t support a pastor).  Churches need to convince members to give 1st to the local church, then the crumbs can go to missions, etc. Para-church organizations, then, are left vying for the crumbs. This “scarcity” mentality, obviously, is not consistent with a belief in a God who provides, who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50). Furthermore, this thinking attempts to relocate the “faith burden” from the church/ministry leaders onto the members/contributors, who are told to trust God and give as a sign of that trust. The concept of scarcity is essentially anti-faith.

It’s all about me

Because I think about a lot of things and enjoy writing about them, I write this blog, as well as one business-related blog (which I have more or less suspended), and one related to my book (which is, yes, an attempt at cheap marketing). Because I blog, I have read a lot of articles on “how to blog,” etc.  All such articles focus on how to be special, and how to keep readers coming back and remaining involved. The same kind of thinking appears in any article about being involved in social media. Again, it’s all about branding (establishing yourself as “special”).  I tend to break all of those rules (because I’m simply not good enough to keep them), so I’ll never become rich by selling ad space or selling millions of copies of my book.

The more I read about what I should be doing in order to grow my blog and develop my personal brand, I began to see a trend: most of the folks writing this stuff are mainly writing to promote themselves. They really have nothing new to offer, and so far no one has been able to tell me exactly why I need to “tweet” in the first place. Twitter is mainly about self-promotion, and so is LinkedIn.  Twitter does not exist for you, it exists for Twitter. Every week I get emails from Twitter telling me I haven’t tweeted lately, or here’s someone new I should follow.  Seriously, why should they care?  Besides, most of what is being tweeted is not geared toward helping you, the reader.  It’s all self-promotion, about not forgetting that the tweeter still exists.

And as a target/consumer, I find myself thinking, why should I help you? Why should invest my time to read your crap?  If you’re really going to share something with me, fine. But don’t waste my time with self-promotion.

“Christian” self-promotion

One of the most famous moments of Christian self-promotion is told in Mark:

    And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:35-45 ESV)

The story is also told in Matthew 20, but with Mrs. Zebedee leading the way.  Either way, the boys were participating in this attempt at self-promotion, and the other 10 disciples were “indignant.”  My guess is that they were upset they hadn’t asked first.  Here is perhaps the first instance of Christian self-promotion, asking Jesus to be great in the Kingdom. Jesus’ comments are quite direct, yet still, how many of us still ask Jesus to be promoted, to the exclusion of others?  I have to give them credit for one thing, however: Rather than trying to pass themselves off as something special, they were at least honest about their desire, and went straight to Jesus with their request. For many of us (I include myself, not being immune to temptation), this would be a positive step.

 The “Self” in self-promotion

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the focus in self-promotion is “self.” That’s the point. It’s about promoting my church, my ministry, my needs, me.

What’s wrong with this picture?

From a marketing standpoint, nothing. From a Christian standpoint (“Christian” meaning that which is a Biblical, New Testament teaching), there’s not much right about it. Consider Paul’s comments to the Philippians:

    Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.    (Philippians 2:3-8 ESV)

But how can you become an in-demand conference speaker if you don’t promote yourself?  How can you become a worship star, or have a successful TV ministry? How can you attract thousands of people to your church, or become a best-selling author?

How, indeed.

Is all self-promotion bad?

By now, you’re probably asking, “Is all self-promotion bad?”  The answer, of course, is “no.” For example, I follow several folk musicians on Facebook just so they can tell me when they have new music coming out or when they may be playing near me. If they didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t know. I also “like” a few Christian ministries because I like and care about what they are doing. Their “promotion” is focused on what they like to give away, not to build themselves up. Generally speaking, this type of self-promotion is done from a place of humility; as such, these folks present themselves, rather than attempt to raise themselves up.  In a world dominated by self-aggrandizing, it’s often humility that stands out.

Sometimes I think I’m not as successful as I could be because I am really bad at self-promotion. While a part of me would really like to be well-known and respected, I believe this is contrary to the ideal life of the Christian as taught in the New Testament, as well as contrary to my personality.Whenever I’ve tried self-promotion, I think I come across as a jerk. So for me, humility is not so much spiritual as it is safe.

It’s quite easy to adopt the marketing mentality of the culture and want to start competing for market share and notoriety. It’s natural to want to see your name in lights or your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone (to quote an old song).

It’s something else entirely to occupy the lowest seat and be asked by your host to move up to a place of higher honor.

 Seek Ye First

Matthew chapter 6 is a killer chapter. In a good way, that is. It starts out with Jesus saying, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people…” He teaches the Lord’s Prayer, talks about laying up treasure in Heaven, he considers the lilies of the field, and in v. 33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  When I was a teenager, this was one verse that we all knew, and we sang that little chorus over, and over, and over…  But we knew that verse.

It seems to me (and I’m talking to myself here) that if we took this seriously, we could avoid all of that striving and self-aggrandizing self-promotion. Maybe we’re so preoccupied with trying to figure out complicated theologies and business plans that we have forgotten to simply believe the simple truths.

We need to forget about seeking followers and fans, and just focus on learning how to be followers ourselves. And no, I’m not going to tweet that. #notweets