1. What initially prompted you to write this book?
It is a documentation and clarification of a theological and ecclesiological journey as well as an attempt to cast a vision for a much-needed church reformation. After many years as a leading voice in the camp of church innovation, trying to make church relevant to attract the masses, I found myself questioning what we were doing. Albeit a good measure of success and growth, in our frantic attempts to get the world evangelized, we found ourselves more and more secularized. We were lacking solid ground and had lost, or at least obscured the gospel. God had become a means to an end; church growth was the goal and center of the agenda. When success and numbers become the main thing which everything else revolves around, you end up with a deformed vision of church and start to abuse everything and everyone to reach it. It is a righteousness by works, numbers and size. In this paradigm it seems like success atones for a multitude of sins and is the remedy for your insecurity. You try to find your identity and security in what you do for God, instead of what God has done for you in Christ.
The solution was not innovation or revolution but reformation.
In my chase after answers and freedom from the tyranny of self-realization and self-righteousness, I ended up captured and comforted by the gospel vision of the Reformation. Through Reformational dogma, I was set free by the scandalous message of grace, with no ifs, ands, or buts. I saw the centrality of the gospel in everything as well as the greater vision of Christ’s Church. The solution was not innovation or revolution but reformation. Not pushing forward in the fast-paced lane of constant church-development into something new and fresh, but repenting and returning, going back and reclaiming the gospel riches which have been lost, restoring that which has fallen, and reviving that which has faded. This is a theological account of my journey from a pentecostal preacher to an evangelical-lutheran pastor where readers can dig into the core convictions regarding Christ’s Church that drove my reorientation from relevant to Reformational.
2. In the prelude, you talk about how it’s important to first look at the ‘Deformation’ of the Church before considering the need for reforming it. Why is this a necessary first step, and how can we think about this in our modern-day context?
If we use the map on our smartphones to find our way around in a new city context when you travel and want to find a restaurant, there are two dots that show up on the map on your screen. One is where you want to go and the other one is your current position. To get where we need to go it is of first importance to orient where we are. If you don’t know where you’re at, you have no clue where to go or turn and why. We need to see our wayward rebellion, our backslidden state of deformation, and repent instead of trying to reinvent our way out of the mess we’re in.
3. You discuss the seven ‘marks’ that Martin Luther identified as the marks of the Church of Christ. Are there only seven marks? And have those marks remained the same throughout time?
The point is not the number of marks but to formulate the bare minimum and absolute centrality of what actually constitutes Christ’s Church. Martin Luther writes this from the perspective of an ordinary and disillusioned Christian that asks himself, “where and how can I find and recognize the true church?” – which actually is the prolonged version of the question that fueled the reformation: “Where can I find a gracious God”?
4. You say that the Divine Service is one of the marks, and it is, “at the center of the Christian’s Life.” Can you further explain the centrality of worship for Christians?
Luther writes that wherever you see people coming together to pray and worship the triune God in spirit and in truth, gather together around the preaching of the Word of the gospel, confess the apostolic creed, praying the Lord’s prayer and gather around the altar where the sacraments are handed out – there is the true church. Basically, the divine service is where all the other marks come together in unity and Christ’s Church is manifested.
The Lutheran Augsburg Confession states it plain and simple in article 5: “That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel”, and in article 7: “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.”
The divine service is where all the other marks come together in unity and Christ’s Church is manifested.
Liturgy is theology in action. If you really want to know what a church believes it is not enough to only look at their confessional documents - you really have to see how they worship. What is expressed and emphasized? What is proclaimed and promised? What is handed out and delivered? The Divine Service is where the gospel is proclaimed, absolution is given and the body and blood of Christ is handed out for us. It is the place where we learn to pray and worship. Here we are taught the ways of the Lord, to remain and live in our baptism. Here we come together with the body of Christ to be shaped and formed into his likeness. You can’t have Christ without church or church without Christ. It’s an oxymoron to put them up against each other. Christ is present wherever people come together around the pure preaching of the gospel and the right delivery of the sacraments. The answer to the question of where can I find a gracious God is in the divine service.
5. In the final portion of your book, titled, “The Church I See,” you say that you are, “not in need of information but absolution.” How has today’s church neglected absolution from your perspective?
A large portion of the church today has replaced the good news with good advice. We have been deformed by the spirit of our day and age, and very often offer moralistic therapeutic deism rather than the scandalous grace of God, and with confidence proclaim that your sins are forgiven. Good advice sets our eyes on ourselves and all that is left to be done and dealt with. The good news of the gospel lifts your eyes from the endless examination of yourself to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The thing is that in and through Christ crucified for us, we are already reconciled with God. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2-3). Your sins are already atoned for in full. It is finished! If you are condemned it is not because of your sins, it’s because you don’t believe and receive the gift given to you. Absolution is way different than information. It is not an offer or a kind of message that sounds like marketing for something that possibly could happen. It is an executive proclamation that actually does what it says and says what it does. To give absolution is to do the gospel to people.
6. Is there any advice or thoughts you want to share with potential readers?
This book is for people who want to get serious about the church. It’s for pastors who are sick and tired of surfing the latest wave or jumping from one program to the other. We are not called to be inventors, we are stewards of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. The book is all about the rediscovery of Christ’s Church and how we can return to, reclaim, and restore the real stuff. There are zero motivational riffs in this book about how you can be yourself, develop yourself, or maximize yourself as a pastor. The message is not about how you can find yourself, but actually a blueprint of how to get over yourself and be found in Christ and his righteousness, instead of trusting your own creative brilliance and the myriad quick fixes and growth schemes.
This is not a book about church growth, in fact, I am afraid that if you follow the teaching in the book there is a chance that you will see your church shrink, at least to begin with. But what I can promise is that you will find rest and joy for your weary soul in trusting the finished work of Christ for you and for your ministry. For what does it help a church if she wins the whole world but loses her soul? I’ve been there, done that, and I have the scars to show you.