I have friends that tell me that they don’t like the church that I go to because it is too “religious”.

It does not suprise me in the least that they would be 
lieve that.

They see a church building that actually looks like it is set apart for something of ‘the other’. It appears, in some respects, ‘other worldly’.

There is an altar, stained glass windows, church pews with kneelers,hymnals, candles, vestments on the pastor, a bulletin with a  liturgy, a pulpit, a pipe organ, a cross (they don’t think that is too bad). It looks, in many respects, Roman Catholic.

They have been taught that Roman Catholic is bad. Usually, where they worship, many, if not all of the things mentioned above have been replaced by an auditorium, with folding chairs, band instruments, Polo or Hawaiian shirts, big screens and stage lighting. The sermon has been replaced with a ‘how to’ class in Christian obedience.

While some of those modern methods aren’t necessarily bad, in and of themselves,  they can and often do tend to place the focus and emphasis of the message back onto ‘the self’. (which I believe fosters religiosity)

As Lutheran Christians, we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We recognize the importance of the symbolism in the things passed down to us from saints that have gone before us. As Lutheran Christians, we recognize that because of our Christian freedom, we do not have to keep any of those things. We want to. Meaningless symbols can just be expressions of religiosity. But when those symbols are tied to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, they become life giving lines of hope that are anchored to our Lord Jesus. They help keep us in Him… and Him alone.

Often, what appears to be “religious” is not at all…and what appears to not be “religious”,  is really quite so.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am certain you will find very religious people in the congregation where I worship. And I believe that in the contemporary expressions of  Evangelicalism, you can certainly find faithful Christians that have no room for religiosity.

But for the most part, when the focus is upon the Word of God, the law and gospel and the administering of the sacraments, the direction of the congregation is away from the self and towards our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus…and the wonderful things that He has accomplished for us, is accomplishing for us, and will yet accomplish… for us.

You can’t tell a book by it’s cover…or can you?

27 Responses

  1. If you can attend somewhere where Christ and the Gospel are the focus of what draws you in fellowship around His word and His sacraments, then that’s certainly all to the good. The tragedy for many is we that we have to search hard to find fellowship of any value or merit, which truly holds something of worth. Thanks be to God, that as with the sons of Korah, He makes the wilderness a place of refreshment – “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord”.
    Blessings in the eve of His day.

  2. “The tragedy for many is we that we have to search hard to find fellowship of any value or merit, which truly holds something of worth.”

    So true , Howard. It is a tragedy. There is definitely a famine of the Word and that goes for the churches as well.

    And His blessings upon you as well, Howard.

  3. “But for the most part, when the focus is upon the Word of God, the law and gospel and the administering of the sacraments, the direction of the congregation is away from the self and towards our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus…and the wonderful things that He has accomplished for us, is accomplishing for us, and will yet accomplish… for us.” (Steve)

    Isn’t that being religious? And at that – a focus solely on God and very little to do with the teachings being lived out in everyday situations – that’s church you are talking about there. Sacraments, bible, and worship – some people are seeking the deeper spiritual connection in that and not finding it…and those same people might consider that statement simply ‘religious’. That’s not a bad thing – aren’t we all religious?

  4. Jason,

    Actually, we believe it to be the opposite.

    We believe that religion is ‘what we do’ to get closer to God. We believe that God is not interested in what we do (to get closer to Him) since by His cross and His forgiveness for us, and in our baptism, He is already close to us, on our lips and in our hearts. And this closeness is not by anything at all which ‘we have done’.

  5. I ran across an excellent definition of Christian worship a while back that you may find meaningful: “Christian worship is the response of God’s redeemed people to His self-revelation that exalts God’s glory in Christ in our minds,affections and wills,in the power of the Holy Spirit”.

  6. Too religious. Can one be too religious? Too pious perhaps, too obseqiously humble possibly, but too religious?

  7. I far prefer C S Lewis’ analogy that a (good) church is somewhat akin to a hospital – a place we enter in need, sorely bruised by the world, to find aid and genuine binding for our wounds. The vision of God as reconciler, as the giver of mercy, is the one that must be central to our gathering – then and only then, at the throne of grace, can we truly begin to see and honor the majesty of His nature and work.

  8. Your friend must be a “pietist”. Ironic isn’t it? The Pietists are so turned off by show of formality in church.

    Does he chew gum or drink coffee? I won’t be surprized if he observes these rules.


  9. Oh BTW, yeah, we do look Roman.

    But I can guarantee you we do not speak and mean the words we use as Romans do.

    Our ears do not interpret the words we hear in the way Romans do.


  10. A common factor among many people outside the church looking in is that they dont necessariy like religion but they like Jesus. In the days when Jesus was walking among us he was really the non-religion of the day and quite a threat to the traditions of the pharisees.

    The Church needs to get back to ministering to sinners that find rest and comfort “in Christ” and the cross and what He did. If we rest “in Christ” we will find the strength to overcome and endure many of lifes hardships and to deal with our sin from the inside-out/top down (Gods way) vs outside-in/bottom up (mans way).

    As Gods word says. Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. Romans 1;17 says the Gospel reveals a righteousness that is by faith [in Christ] from first to last.

    Too many churches are sanctuaries for saints. They need to be hospitals for sinners.

    Howard you get the spot on award.

  11. I get frustrated when churches today try to create some sort of marketing scheme to appease non-believers. This usually includes removing hymnals, implementing a rock band, and making an environment that makes them feeling comfortable. While everyone should feel comfortable as far as being welcomed, non-believers should feel a bit uncomfortable due to conviction of their sin.

    I found a definition of the local church and think it is very accurate. Some believe that evangelism is the sole purpose of the church, when it is only one part. Here is a link if anyone is interested:

    I do have a problem when tradition overrides biblical scripture. However, even though my church does not have stained glass windows, I do think they are very nice.

  12. Its not a matter of easy-believism being bad. Its a matter of faith in Christ being the force behind change in the heart of man.

  13. I agree with Craig. It makes no sense to allow people who do not care about the church to define the church.
    Two more comments: “seeker-friendly”, an expression often applied to the market approach to mission, is a misnomer. The Scriptures state the truth. No one seeks for God. The very essence of the Gospel is that God seeks a humanity that does not want Him. Second, the rush to relevancy reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the word. To be relevant is to speak to something that is true in every time and place. What we see going on in the churches, especially since the 1960’s, is the prevailing of what is popular, not necessarily relevant. And since popularity is a product of the culture, and the culture is always wrong when it comes to the things of God, I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

  14. This is an interesting topic for me… so I hope I can be given some latitude of expression.

    I agree with that seeker friendly comments being a misnomer. I believe its the wrong focus of a Church to be or not be seeker friendly in other words.

    Relevancy is similar to the seeker friendly concept in my head as well. Paul adjusted to his audience but he kept proclaiming the Gospel…. the truth about jesus christ. Look at his approach to Corinth to Romans. Likewise, today not many people can adjust to different audiences… especially when different types of audiences live in the same congregation …. but we can keep proclaiming the Gospel…. the truth about Jesus Christ.

    I happen to have a Pastor that has done some record labels but feels led to be a Senior Pastor and not singer/songwriter. He has opened for Mercy Me and other people and been the feature singer and preacher at Bikers for Christ. Quite often he writes a song for each sermon series.

    He grew up in a traditional Christian household in a very conservative prostestant denomination with very traditional values. He and his wife preach and lead worship. Also, he works hard to take the focus off of him and his talents but he also refuses to just quit using what he has been gifted with. Its a difficult assignment and he knows it!!!!!!!

    Does he just completely give up the other gifts he has to preach and do things the traditional way to please the traditionalists?

    You can draw your own conclusions. 🙂

    Anyhow, its not an equation that can be overly simplified. The focus needs to be on God and what he does for us.
    The problem comes in when religion strives to achieve whats its already been granted through what Jesus did on the Cross…. culturally relevant or not, seeker friendly or not.

  15. An interesting thing said by my previous Senior Pastor.

    “I am of the opinion Luther would be turning in his grave over these kinds of discussions” …. paraphrased from my previous Lutheran pastor when I lived in Rochester, MN.

    Sorry if I diverged too far but as usual we become too comfortable in our own skin and I am the worst one!!!!

    Freedom in Christ!!!

  16. Actually, as a preservationist and not a sectarian, Luther would welcome this discussion.

  17. Good point. I actually missed or accidenbtly deleted one paragraph from my last post.

    Luther was the person to change services from Latin to German, interpreted the bible from latin to German, and changed the face of music way back then.

    Was Luther the culturally relevant “break the mold” guy of his age back in the 1500’s? A question not an answer? 🙂

  18. A quote from Steve here that I remember:

    The problem is not the seeker sensitivity or not or the cultural relevance or not but as Steve once said on my BLOG:

    “The devil is in the details”

  19. Steve,

    The rich irony in this is that those in the baptistic/evangelical churches, my former affiliation, is that EXTERNALLY they look entirely different from Rome, but DOCTRINALLY they yield forth the exact same other gospel which is no Gospel at all. While Lutheran churches look EXTERNALLY more like Rome but internally their doctrine is such that it is another religion entirely, true Cross and Christian. Once people get past the externals and realize that a pig is still a pig whether it is dressed in a popes garb or suite and tie, as opposed to a swan that sings.

    A Baptist pastor friend of mine saw this once and brought it up to the deacons and trustees (the SB Sanhedrin) and they liked to barbqued him on the spot.

    They are so anti Rome they are Rome. That’s why Luther saw in the Anabaptist the same “monk” he saw in Rome. Rome no more trusts their baptism than do Baptist and that’s not hyperbole but simple fact.

    My wife and I struggled with our old SB feel when we first visited a liturgical Lutheran church, but the one thing we saw CLEARLY was no confusion about Christ for you. You left there KNOWING Christ died for you and was righteous for you. That makes ALL the difference in the world.


  20. I would admittedly have issues going back to my LCMS like organ music and lip syncing words to the songs since the songs all seem half a step slow to me…. but I could easily get a different look and feel to “Church” as long as the Gospel and Cross remain central to what God/Christ did FOR us.

    My main issues is with people that proclaim some truths to scripture but it seems completely disconnected to the Cross and what Jesus did. It tends to become man trying to change man and not God working in man. Top-down/inside-out (What God did for us because of our complete sin) vs bottom-up/outside-in (what man is doing to change man).

    Thats the bottom line for me.

  21. “You left there KNOWING Christ died for you and was righteous for you. That makes ALL the difference in the world”.

    When Sunday liturgy, preaching, congregational activity ans sacraments all focus upon this truth, then we are truly done good – then we can know God’s grace in Christ to us. In my thirty plus years of attending churches of all manner of stripe and denomination, I can count (on one hand) and clearly record the few circumstances where this has been so. The mercy is that HE saves us to the uttermost, on many if not most occasions, almost in spite of church!

    Luther spent so many years in an ecclesiastical framework that essentially choked the truth, but God insured He was lead to the scriptures and Christ through those. God leads His children into the paths of righteousness. Once we are there, we must seek to earnestly contend for THE faith, once delivered to the saints, and that contention, more often than not, is against the ‘ravening wolves’ amidst the flock, which would seek to devour it by souring the sweet gift of the Gospel.

  22. Exactly Howard!!!

  23. Happy New Year

    Steve, don’t forget the crosses… Oftentimes, the crosses are gathered and removed as well. How sad. I love the †

  24. Magdalene!

    Hey kiddo! We’ve missed you!

    Happy New Year to you, Magdalene!

    Yes indeed…the crosses are being removed as well and it is living proof as to where the focus is shifting (away from the cross and onto ‘you’ (‘us’) .

    The cross is where the Christian life begins and where it ends. It is all about Christ crucified.

    Great to hear from you, Magdalene. I hope you are well and I pray that the Lord will bless you and keep you!

    Your friend,


    PS – This year I’ll learn to do the crosses on the computer!

  25. Try reinstating ‘traditional’ worship in one of the seeker-friendly barns and you’ll get a good look at the extent of their Christian freedom.

  26. The Church is countercultural unless we ruin it. That’s the best part.

  27. An acquaintance took a mega-church friend with him to an eastern orthodox service. His friend could hardly contain his distaste, even contempt. Afterward he rattled on about being ‘relevant’, etc, etc. After the rant my acquaintance replied by saying,”It seems to me our worship speaks quite relevantly to a simple fact: we are in the world but not of the world.”
    It is precisely the counter-cultural effect of historic liturgy that offends the sectarians. Their populist worship could not be more culturally driven. They are about as anti counter culture as one can be.

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