Sermons and Papers


The Theology of the Church Growth Movement:


An Evaluation of Kent Hunter's Confessions


by Klemet Preus

originally published in Logia, Epiphany 2001, Vol. X, Number 1
reproduced here by permission


Review Essay

THE THEOLOGY OF THE CHURCH GROWTH MOVEMENT

An Evaluation of Kent Hunter's Confessions

Confessions of a Church Growth Enthusiast: An Evangelical,
Confessional Lutheran Takes a Hard Look at the Church Growth
Movement. By Kent Hunter. Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing
Company, 1997. Paper. $14.95.

      Kent Hunter is a prolific author, speaker, and advocate for the Church Growth Movement, especially among Lutherans. His most recent book, Confessions of a Church Growth Enthusiast: An Evangelical, Confessional Lutheran Takes a Hard Look at the Church Growth Movement, is an apology for the Church Growth Movement in the face of the many criticisms the movement has received of late. It purports to expose these criticisms as "biased," "uninformed," "morally and ethically fraudulent" (262), and "ridiculous" (151). Hunter wants to show that the theology of the Lutheran Confessions is not only compatible with church-growth methodology, but also that true Lutheran confessionalism actually promotes the Church Growth Movement. So he uses Martin Luther, the Lutheran Confessions, C. F. W. Walther, and Francis Pieper, among others, to promote his view of missiology. The idea is worthy. It would be nice for both church-growth advocates and confessional Lutherans if they could find common theological ground.

      Advocacy of church-growthism, or attempts to defend the movement from a Lutheran perspective, are nothing new. Hunter's defense is noteworthy on two accounts. First, Confessions presents the clear and consistent theology of the Church Growth Movement. For this we owe Hunter a debt of thanks. Rarely has the theology of the movement been so clearly presented by one of its advocates. Second, Hunter's theology is not merely his own. Twenty-seven pastors and administrators within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod endorse the book. They call it a "must read" (John Heins), "the answer" (Robert Scuderi), "a breakthrough and challenge to return to our Reformation roots" (Dale Olson), "a textbook to train pastors" (Dave Anderson), "the expression of my own feelings regarding Church Growth" (Bill Thompson), "solid theology" (Phil Bickel), "a fine job" (David Luecke), "a marvelous service to the church" (Stephen Carter), "a high quality book" (Elmer Matthias), "a milestone in Lutheran evangelical writing" (Erwin Kolb), "worth its cost several times over just for the definition of Church Growth principles from a confessional viewpoint" (Norbert Oesch), and "one of the most significant writings of these latter days of the twentieth century" (Gerald Keischnick). This list contains mission executives at the highest level of the church, district presidents, candidates for synodical president, the head of the Pastoral Leadership Institute, professors, and "successful" pastors.

      Hunter's theology is the theology of the entire Church Growth Movement within the Lutheran churches today. His theology is a major force within Lutheranism. This theology requires deep and critical analysis, and it requires vigilant response.

      Hunter's theological effort fails. Rather than dressing the Church Growth Movement in Lutheran apparel, Hunter presents a theology that is thoroughly un-Lutheran. It is a theology that begins with a two-tiered understanding of the church and then invades every article of faith with this ecclesiology.

Two Types of Church: The Pentecostal Connection

      To Hunter there are two types of churches. The first church is that which gathers. It is a weak church. it needs to be changed. The second church is that which scatters (173). this church, to Hunter, is defined in active terms. The church must be doing in order to be the church. The first type is the "traditional" church. The second type of church is the church that has accepted the "mission paradigm" advocated by Hunter and the Church Growth Movement. The traditional church is passive and sees itself as "receiving." It is a "spectator" church where "the word and sacrament are ritualized." It is a church "turned inward on itself" (77). The "mission" church, on the other hand, is active, involving the "priesthood of all believers" in its ministry (201). "The traditionalists are gospel-reductionists -- limiting where and how the Gospel can be utilized to reach all peoples" (174). But "in spite of all the rhetoric of those who claim 'confessional purity' the truth is that Church Growth represents the authentic Reformation evangelical movement of focused Christianity" (144).

      How does a church move from level one to level two? Hunter offers a simple formula: "(D+Rx)HW + PG = Changed church." This means diagnosis plus prescription times hard work plus the power of God will lead to change in the church. So when the church-growth principles are added to the traditional passive church, it is able to move to the next level of congregational life. Hunter provides the analogy of "the Holy Cross Home Run." First base is a "Relationship with Jesus." Second is "Fellowship with other Believers." Third is "Discipleship in the Local church." A home run is "Empowered Ministry in Jesus' Name" (223-224). Many churches are stuck somewhere between second and third and do not reach the highest level of congregation.

      A strong resemblance exists between Pentecostalism in its classic form and the Church Growth Movement. Church growth has simply applied to the church that which Pentecostalism applied to the individual. Pentecostalism also postulates a two-tiered Christianity. Some are justified and forgiven but have not experienced the second-level Christianity proposed by Pentecostalism. They are saved but still in the enemy's war-camp. With the necessary prodding these carnal Christians can be brought to the second level of Christianity. They can experience the baptism of the Spirit and be filled with the Spirit. At this point they become vibrant witnesses for God, their prayer life explodes, and they are able to read the word and receive the sacraments with more focus and power.

      Not surprisingly then, Hunter dedicates his book to C. Peter Wagner, pioneer of the Church Growth Movement. Wagner's 1973 Look out, the Pentecostals are Coming is an unabashed endorsement of Pentecostal strategies in creating new churches. Hunter's and Wagner's contribution to the developing two-tiered theology of Pentecostalism is its application to congregations. Without the "mission paradigm," says Hunter, churches are traditionalistic and ritualized. In these churches the word and sacraments have not created a "great commission church." But when these dying churches move to the second level they explode with the power of God. Every criticism that the Lutherans over the centuries have applied to Pentecostalism and to enthusiasm can also be applied to the Church Growth Movement. The only difference is that the application has moved from the individual to the congregation and the church.

      Lutherans have no such doctrine of the church. The classical Lutheran definition of the church sees no gradations of churches, just as it sees no gradation of individuals within the church. Lutherans, like Luther, define the church as those who gather around the word and sacraments. In Lutheranism the church is always defined in passive terms. "The church is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in it purity and the holy sacraments are administered" (AC VII). "Thank God a child of seven years knows what the Church is, namely the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of the their shepherd. Holiness . . . consists in the Word of God and true faith" (SA III, XII). "I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints under one head, Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, . . . I am brought into it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God which is the beginning of entering it" (LC II, 51). Notice the passive concepts. The church, upon assembling, is preached to and receives. The church listens to the voice of the shepherd. The church is headed by Christ and incorporated by his word. Because the church exists by grace alone its essence is passive. The essence of the church is the word of the gospel, the voice of the Lamb. Now, obviously, Christians also do something. "Faith is a living busy active powerfril thing so that it is impossible for it not to do good without ceasing" (FC SD IV, 10). The essence of the church, however, is not in its doing but in its receiving what God has done. We are purely passive in the article of justification. This article defines the church passively.

The Central Article of the Faith

      Lutherans, of course, believe the great commission. Hunter shows that the earliest Lutherans had an urgent sense of mission. But Lutherans do not make Christ's commission their central article. Lutherans consider the doctrine of the justification of the sinner before God by grace for Christ's sake through faith as the central article of the faith, the article by which the church stands or falls. Justification "is the chief article in the entire Christian doctrine" (FC SD III, 6). The article of justification is central because it alone can give true consolation to the sinner. It is also central because it is against this doctrine that all other doctrines must be evaluated (Ap IV, 3). If any other article of faith replaces justification by grace as the chief article, then the entire system of theology will ultimately be corrupted.

      His two-tiered view of the church forces upon Hunter a different material principle of theology. The article that gives definition to all others is "The Great Commission." "I believe that God has raised up the modern Church Growth Movement to restore the church to the biblical priorities which He intended" (184). "The Great Commission is . . . the primary purpose of the church" (32). Hunter relates a brief anecdote in which a couple felt they were failing in their ministry until they "allowed themselves to be the tools in the hands of the Lord who wants to build the church. It was then they began to practice genuine Church Growth. This is the essence of grace" (215).

      This central article has other names. Earlier church-growth practitioners called it "Church Growth eyes." Hunter speaks of "thinking like a missionary" (127, 150). Elsewhere and throughout he speaks of a "paradigm shift" or a "mission paradigm" in which the church learns to think in new ways in order to "let God take control of his church" (214). To Hunter, the primary purpose of the church is to grow. It is no wonder that Hunter can offer his book "In memory of Martin Luther and Donald McGavran, heroes of the Christian Reformation in theology and practice" (13). Hunter believes that the emergence of the Church Growth Movement in these latter days is as important as the Reformation. This is a small wonder. He has replaced justification by grace with the great commission as the central article.

      This replacement is clearly evident from Hunter's polemics. The exclusive target of Hunter's frequent invective is "traditionalists."

Church Growth has helped me and many others rediscover the genius of the Lutheran protestant Reformation. The power of the Reformation was expressed by our forefathers in the commitment to say, in so many words, "Up with grace, down with tradition." Their attitude was, "If it is useful and helpful, keep it; if it is not, change it" (29).

      The church-growth paradigm shift, claims Hunter, "is a major change for people trained in systematic theology, especially traditionalists who come from a world perspective of the Reformation" (127). Hunter's novel historical revisionism views the Reformation not as a response to the works-righteous Roman Catholic theology of Luther's day, but to outdated traditions.

See how easy it is to practice salvation by works? To make traditional forms more important than a commitment to grace-driven communication is to depart from the evangelical heritage of the Reformation. Church Growth is not the enemy but the advocate for the essence of what it means to believe in God's grace. (124, emphasis Hunter's)

      The difference between Lutheranism and the Church Growth Movement is clear. The Lutheran reformation was based on the doctrine of justification, not on the "great commission." For example, Melanchthon condemns the use of the rosary because the Roman church taught that merit was earned through it. His evaluation was based on the surpassing value of the merits of Christ (AC XX, 4). In contrast, Hunter cautions against pointing "a finger at the Roman Catholics, who say the Rosary or Hail Mary in repetitious fashion, without recognizing that any worship ritual can become rote and meaningless" (96). Both Lutherans and the Church Growth Movement oppose rosaries and the Hail Mary, but for different reasons. These reasons reflect the central teaching of each. To Lutherans all changes in worship forms were intended to serve the gospel of justification by grace alone. Forms were rejected if they violated the doctrine of justification (AC XXVI, 20); otherwise they should not be the occasion for controversy and were retained by the Lutherans (AC XXVI, 40). Not so with Hunter; to him traditions are measured differently. "The litmus test for whether or not the local congregation should keep a tradition or not is this: Does it help or hinder the church in fulfilling its mission?" (139, emphasis Hunter's).

Christology

      Corruption falls upon Hunter's system of theology in virtually every article. His new paradigm forces a Reformed, almost Gnostic view of Christ upon his theology. According to Hunter the cross of Christ has two sides, "the suffering side and the mission side of the cross" (69). How do these "two sides of the cross explain the person of Christ?

Jesus, through His death on the cross, moves from the limitation (self-imposed) of being in human form. As God in man (the incarnation), Jesus was limited in His presence. He could only be in one place at one time and impact only those few around Him at that particular moment. However, through the cross event, God's plan of salvation moves to the Spirit at Pentecost (75).

      So who is Jesus? He is God in man who is not capable of omnipresence, a singularly Reformed view that makes the bodily presence in the sacrament an impossibility, as every good Calvinist would assert. Jesus also, it seems, is either still limited or no longer a man. A ministry or mission of Christ can be a mission about Christ according to the church-growth paradigm. But it could never be a ministry in which the man Christ Jesus acts today. Yet, according to Hunter, this is all right, because the Holy Spirit compensates by taking over and applying the "mission side of the cross." So the crucified Jesus is far away from the ministry of the church, except as the content of the message. He is no longer speaking the message. It is not the incarnate God who still feeds us, washes us, and speaks to us today. "The Spirit is the bridge between the suffering side of the cross and the mission side of the Cross" (76). This is more than a mere confusion of the incarnation and the humiliation. This statement is a radical redefinition of the cross.

      Hunter calls himself a confessional Lutheran, thus implying that he subscribes to the Lutheran Confessions. What do these Confessions say about the two natures in Christ?

We believe, teach, and confess that the Son of Man is realiter, that is in deed and truth, exalted according to His human nature to right hand of the almighty majesty . . . because He was assumed into God when He was conceived of the Holy Ghost in His mother's womb . . .. This Majesty He always had (FC SD VIII, 15-16).

"We reject. . . That because of the property of the human nature it is impossible for Christ to be able to be at the same time in more than one place, much less everywhere, with His body (FC SD VIII, 32)

      Why does Hunter so clearly and easily contradict the very Confessions that he purports to defend? Because his central teaching forces him to do so. His radical redefinition of the cross is necessitated by his two-tiered concept of the church. As there are two types of church so even the cross has to have two sides. He is forced to define the cross in terms of the great commission rather than the great commission in terms of the cross. No longer does the cross inform us that disciples are made by baptizing into the death of Christ and teaching the doctrine of the blood atonement. Rather, the great commission informs us that we are in partnership with God" (70), because of "the multiplication that comes about through His death and resurrection. It moves the mission of God from the one (Jesus) to the many (His disciples)" (76). The suffering and death of Jesus serve the great commission. And that is the essence of the Church Growth Movement.

      What is incarnational ministry to Hunter? "The desire to let the Gospel get through to the target audience with the least amount of resistance is nothing other than the desire for incarnational ministry" (166). What is the humiliation of Christ?

Jesus emptied Himself. He stripped away all of His heavenly culture in order to meet human beings where they are. He did away with all the things that were comfortable for Him, putting His target audience at such an important priority that He literally emptied Himself of those things that were comfortable for Him. Of course He didn't empty Himself in the sense of denying His values or the essentials of the theological issues connected with the mission of God. But He emptied Himself of everything else because he had a purpose in mind (169).

      Observe how the atonement language of Scripture is transformed into the church-growth language of Hunter. Hunter is not merely offering a transliteration of Philippians 2 that will inspire people to make sacrifices for the sake of the gospel. He is articulating the reason for the death of Christ. The great commission has replaced justification as the central article.

The Means Of Grace

      The faulty theology trickles down into other articles of the faith. Hunter's understanding of the means of grace is creative if flawed. He, happily, acknowledges that the Word and Sacraments are the means of grace. Yet Hunter also makes a subtle but telling distinction between the Word and the Sacrament on the one hand and the great commission on the other. "Church Growth advocates are concerned with the purity of the Gospel and, from the Lutheran perspective, the means of grace, but these are not an end in themselves. They are a means to a greater end, sharing the Gospel" (185). The notion seems to be that there is a difference between "word and sacrament" and "sharing the Gospel." Hunter is not just sloppy in his talk. Again he writes: "There are those, however, who will emphasize the power of God at work through Word and Sacrament, to the exclusion of the human element" (99).

It is unfortunate that some would describe the mission of the church as proclaiming the Word and administering the Sacraments. While there is nothing intrinsically in error about this statement, the implication is that the church holds the means of salvation and that people ought to come to the church (174).

      Hunter, apparently, does not see the word and sacraments as themselves containing the "human element." To him, the means are the divine element to which the human is added, forming a partnership (99).

      This is a type of word-and-sacrament Nestorianism in which the human and divine sides of the means are separated. It is as though the means of grace were purely divine. Then they are placed into the hands of people who have accepted the "Church Growth paradigm" and who "think like missionaries." Once this human element has been added to the gospel, the means have become incarnational. "The means of grace are given to a dynamic group of people who are sent to the world . . . . The church is only gathered to he scattered" (173). The use of the word "dynamic" gives the Lutheran theologian pause. Does God need "dynamic" people to spread his forgiveness? Can he use ordinary, hapless, unimaginative, sinful people like me? Or must I be dynamic? Can he work through "clay vessels?" Can he work through "things that are not?" Can the word do it all while Luther drinks Wittenberg beer with Philip and Amsdorf? Hunter apparently says, "No!"

      Admittedly Hunter is concerned that "The Word is the power unto salvation, but the Word must be preached. It must he shared. The Sacrament, in all its power, is powerless for the salvation of human beings without distribution" (100). He deplores those who limit the power of the gospel to the "worship service setting" (174). These are praiseworthy concerns, although it is difficult to understand how one could refer to the sacrament "without distribution." The sacrament is no sacrament without distribution. Still, Hunter's theology is flawed. The Calvinistic dualism so apparent in Hunter's Christology appears again. Why? Because he has lost the corrective of the cross. The article of justification no longer dominates. His two-tiered ecclesiology coupled with his notion of the great commission have defined the word and sacrament rather than letting these divine-human means of grace stand as vehicles of the salvation of Christ.

      Even when the means are spoken as having a salvific force there is still a nasty dualism present. For example, Hunter extols baptism.

Baptism, then, is not only a sacrament of salvation, but it is the Church's entrance into Christ's body, the living organism of the church. Jesus' baptism was the inaugural event for His public ministry. Likewise, then, for the Christian, baptism is the commissioning of one's place in God's Great commission (81).

      To Hunter there seems to be a difference between salvation and entrance into Christ's body. This difference is explained when we apply his two-level understanding of church life. The one level of baptism is salvation. The second level is the great commission level. Just as the cross "has two sides," so baptism has two sides.

      What really are the means of grace for Hunter? How can the church make sure that it is adding the proper power to the word and sacraments? According to Hunter, Luther defined the church by the word and sacrament because he was searching for the essentials. It was a time in which the Protestants [sic] were told they were not the church. They were defending themselves (174). Now we must go forward. Beyond what the church is by definition, Hunter tells us what the Church Growth Movement would have the church do.

The primary purpose of the church is to make disciples according to the great commission. It is to share the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name. To be witnesses to the ends of the earth. There are many means toward accomplishing that end. One is to maintain a clear confession of faith. Another 15 to help people discover their spiritual gifts. Another is to equip people for the work of the ministry. Another is to provide worship services in the heart language of the people you are trying to reach. Another is meeting the felt needs of people in your community. All of these and many more are means to the greater end, which reflects the primary purpose of the church (188).

      What really is the primary means of grace? It is the Church Growth Movement itself. That is why Hunter can warn that "a congregation that does not take on a mission posture within the next 10 years will be nonexistent in . . . 50 years" (247). What are the means of grace? The answer is "a mission posture."

      One of Luther's most significant contributions to theology, built upon his doctrine of justification, is his understanding of the inherent power of the gospel. The gospel does not become powerful when and if something is added. It is powerful always because Jesus is both its content and its administrator Every false teaching can be evaluated and described in terms of what that false teaching tries to add to the gospel to make it work. The word becomes powerful when it is preached by a spirit-filled preacher or when the message is "anointed" by the spirit (Wesleyanism, Holiness Movements, Pentecostalism). The word becomes powerful when the sovereign God wills it or when preached to the elect (Calvinism). The word becomes powerful when placed into the teaching office (Romanism.) The word becomes powerful when combined with the willing heart (Arminianism). The word becomes powerful when the "meaning of the words," combines with the "power with which these words are spoken," and the "existential reception of the content" and the "correlation of these" into a "constellation in which the words become the Word" (Paul Tillich). The word becomes powerful in an "I/thou encounter" (Barth). The word becomes powerful "when we get out of God's way," or when placed into the hands of a church that has accepted the "mission paradigm" or "thinks like a missionary," or that has become a "great commission church" (Hunter and the Church Growth Movement). To Luther, and we might add, to the Holy Spirit, the word is powerful because in it Jesus speaks and forgives. "At whatever hour, then, God's word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day and work are sanctified thereby, . . . because of the Word which makes saints of us all" (LC I, 91).

      Hunter's bad theology of the means of grace, not surprisingly, leads him into synergism. Whenever the inherent power of the word is questioned, then people substitute for it "their own preparations and works" (AC V). And what are the preparations and works of the Church Growth Movement? In the speaker it is the development of the "mission paradigm." In the hearer it is "receptivity."

Church growth advocates even identify unchurched people as being in certain stages of receptivity. . . . They clearly adhere to the truth that while the Holy Spirit is the one who brings a person to faith, the receptivity of the person can be stronger or weaker at any particular point (196).

      Contrast this with the words of the Formula of Concord:

in spiritual and divine things the intellect, heart, and will of the unregenerate man are utterly unable by their own natural power to understand, believe, accept, think, will, begin, effect, do, work, or concur in working anything. Before regeneration there is not the least spark of spiritual power remaining, nor present, by which, of himself, he can prepare himself for God's grace (FC SD II, 7).

      It is difficult to find within these words or between these lines any notion of receptivity. Why does Hunter use such synergistic language? Certainly he must know that his position is condemned by the Lutheran Confessions, which he claims to defend. He speaks this way because his system cannot accept the "where and when it pleases God" of Article V of the Augsburg Confession.

      When faced with the unanswerable question "Why some and not others?" the Lutheran has learned to answer, Don't ask." If you do answer, you will become either a Calvinist or a synergist. We simply say that faith is engendered "where and when God wills" (AC V). But Hunter asks and he answers. Some are saved because they are more receptive. Some are saved because they are reached by a church that "has moved to the mission side of the cross." Some are saved because they are brought into a church that does more than preach the word purely and administer the sacraments rightly. Some are saved because "the communication path [has taken] the form of country-western culture, including country-western songs with Christian content" (175). Some are saved because the pastor, recognizing the "blue collar lifestyle" of a group within the community, moved the service to the gym, changed it to a contemporary service, expected casual attire, and stressed the less formal aspects of the worship service (175). Hunter speaks synergistically because if he did not he would have to reject one of the basic principles of the Church Growth Movement, namely, that the gospel needs the Church Growth Movement or churches will die.

The Church's Unity

      As the doctrine of the baptism of the Spirit is the unifying principle of Pentecostalism, so the doctrine of "the mission paradigm" is the central and unifying principle of the Church Growth Movement. This is why Hunter can link Martin Luther and Donald McGavern as if the two share a common theological bond. Hunter also links Luther with Calvin and Wesley. "Anyone who reads the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, or any of the other reformers, quickly sees that they are concerned . . . with the deep theological issues of the Reformation" (49). Wesley lived over two hundred years after Luther and explicitly denied justification by grace through faith. But Hunter is able to link him with Luther. Why? Because, allegedly, they both believed in Church Growth. Disunity is not the result of doctrinal differences to Hunter, but of a denial of his version of the great commission, such as traditionalists are wont to do. Hunter also has a tendency to minimize or disparage any type of unity of doctrine within the church. For example, Hunter praises the work of Robert Schuller, defending his Bible studies: "One is quickly immersed in a thorough, long term learning process which moves into the whole counsel of God." But what of Schuller's doctrine? "While one might not agree with all of the doctrinal content [of Schuller's Bible study], depending on denominational perspective, it is easy to realize that proper attention is given to the depth of God's teaching." So Hunter can disagree with Schuller but also praise him for teaching the "whole counsel of God." Hunter can refer to the Lutheran Church as "my denomination" (121) or a "branch of Christians" (181). By doing so he minimizes all theological differences between the various churches. Nowhere do the Lutheran Confessions refer to the followers of Luther as "a denomination" or a "branch of Christianity." The authors of the Formula of Concord were "willing, by God's grace to stand with intrepid hearts before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ and give and account of [their doctrine] and neither privately nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to it" (FC SD XII, 40). Is it even conceivable that these men would have risked life limb and staked eternal salvation on a "branch of Christianity"?

      But Hunter goes further. He claims that public debate of doctrinal disagreement is wrong, embarrassing, and harmful. He likens various church leaders to "generals" who "don't all agree on everything." But as long as we can believe of each other that we are all going to heaven, then despite "that different point of view, . . . that different doctrine, . . . that different emphasis, . . . that different style of worship," we should not 'go public' with disagreements before the foot soldiers." This "confuses, divides and hands the victory to the enemy, whose strategy is to divide and conquer" (136, 137). Such extreme doctrinal indifference certainly is not confessional. The first Lutherans condemned, rejected, and warned against every false doctrine that robbed Christ of his glory. Why is Hunter so indifferent to false doctrine? Because his "church-growth paradigm" is more important and more unifying than "agreement in the doctrine and all its articles, and the right use of the holy Sacraments" (FC Ep. X, 7).

The Office of the Ministry

      To Hunter the job of pastors is neither to preach the gospel nor administer the sacraments. While such an understanding of the ministry would further the notion of justification by grace, the great commission requires something more. In the church-growth paradigm, for a congregation to move from the first level to the higher level it must activate the "priesthood of all believers." So, to Hunter, the task of church leaders is nothing more than to activate the people of the church to carry out the "great commission." The job of a pastor is to "cast a vision" (220), or to serve as inspirer" (207), so that the people can be ministers. To Hunter God has established the "office of ministry" for the sake of order. "Someone is provided to be an equipper, trainer and encourager" (205). Hunter contends that God "has a lot to say about the function of ministry, ... and less to say on the office of ministry" (205). The cleavage between office and function is a reflection of the two-tiered understanding of the church. Those churches in which the office of the ministry performs its functions have "an institutionally- centered view of mission [which] is totally contrary" (174) to God's will. Rather, pastors (Hunter usually refers to them as church workers or leaders) are to "liberate the energies of the people, inspire confidence, and arouse enthusiasm" (207). Once that happens the "great commission" is attained. Who then are the ones who actually minister the gospel to Christ's sheep?

The ministry or pastoring is not done by a special person, but is the work of God's people. The word "pastor" is related to the idea of shepherding or caring for another person. The word for "ministry" is similar to the concept of service to other people. Since these are both spiritual gifts they are distributed by the Holy Spirit to all sorts of members of the church, both men and women. There is no biblical argument against anyone who is a Christian being involved in ministry or in acts of pastoral care in the technical sense (206).

      Certainly this idea of the ministry affects the pastor's job description. For example, although Hunter mentions the office of the keys at least eight times, nowhere does he indicate that the pastor has any responsibility in administering the office of the keys. Rather,

the head of the church does not exist without the body. Jesus Christ has chosen to attach Himself to the body and make Himself known through believers in the world. And He has entrusted to them the means of grace and the Office of the Keys (160).

      The keys, then, are not speaking the gospel in the place of Jesus. Rather, they are keeping the head alive by making him known. To Hunter, "equipping soul savers" is far preferable than "saving souls" (202). The church gathers, not for its minister to forgive sins, but "the church in its gathered state is a staging ground, an equipping area to prepare God's people for the real work of ministry" (174).

      Hunter's interpretation of certain biblical passages is especially telling. He refers to Ephesians 4:11-12 often, and understands it to mean that God has given apostles, prophets, and pastors "to equip saints so that they can do the work of the ministry" (199). Second Corinthians 4:1 is applied not to pastors as stewards of God's mysteries, but to all Christians (105). When Paul in Romans 10 asks how people can hear unless someone is sent (116), and when John recounts Christ's sending his ministers in John 20 (142), these, to Hunter, refer to all Christians, and not specifically or in any way to pastors. In fact, to Hunter there seems to be no indication anywhere in the Scripture that God has established an office of the ministry and appointed men to it, nor does Hunter's theology need an office of the ministry.

      The Lutheran Confessions, of course, hold to quite a different view. Clearly the keys are given to the whole Christian church of saints, as Melanchthon asserts strongly in the treatise (Tr 24). Just as clearly, God through the church appoints men to be ministers of these keys to the church. These ministers are not appointed to inspire, energize, or motivate others, much less to cast visions. Rather, "on account of the call of the church, they represent the person of Christ and not their own persons" (Ap VIII, 28). "The Church has the command to appoint ministers" so that she can hear the voice of her Lord. "For we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it. It is good to extol the ministry of the Word with every possible kind of praise" (Ap XIII, 12). The ministry spoken of in the Augsburg Confession is not "every man a minister" (207), as Hunter avers, but the ordained ministry. Further, the purpose of called and ordained ministers according to AC V is "so that we may obtain this faith" by the preaching of the gospel and administering of the sacraments.

      Why does Hunter promote a doctrine of the ministry so different than the view presented by the Augsburg Confession? His two-tiered doctrine of the church demands it. What if a church has a minister of the gospel who feeds the sheep with word and sacrament, and yet church-growth diagnosticians determine that the congregation is not "thinking like a missionary?" A confessional Lutheran would still joyfully praise the Lord for his abundant grace and gifts since these are bestowed through the office of the ministry. But a church-growth diagnostician would have to assert that the church is ill or lacking some fundamental blessing. When the "functions" of the ministry are taken from the called servant of Christ and placed into the hands of all Christians, then the theological system is forced to redefine pastors as cheerleaders or visionaries.

Conclusion

      The Church Growth Movement is a broad and seemingly amorphous thing. Ostensibly, it advocates, among other things, sensitivity to people, an understanding of them and their needs. It challenges the church to reach out for the lost. It pleads that Christians share their faith and their Lord with others. It exhorts the church "to work toward the building of God's kingdom" and "to lift high the cross" (89). What Christian could possibly oppose these things? Who could gainsay a holy repetition of Pentecost with thousands and thousands of sinners being brought into the kingdom through the great commission? In fact, these sincere desires are felt and have been felt by all Christians since the time of Jesus. These sentiments are neither new nor unique. Christ through his church was saving people long before there was a Donald McGavern, a Fuller Theological Seminary, a Kent Hunter, or a Church Growth Movement.

      The Church Growth Movement's unique and identifying feature is not its zeal for the lost, but its theology. Kent Hunter's chief article of faith is "the mission paradigm." For him, those churches that do not use this paradigm are simply not pleasing to God. His ecclesiology is Pentecostalism gone corporate. "Mission paradigm" churches are those that do not limit themselves to the "suffering" side of the cross but that bridge over it to the mission side. In these churches the word and sacraments then lead to the "great commission." Such churches experience "the essence of grace" when they rid themselves of empty traditions and break down cultural barriers of those who are receptive to God. In "missionary-thinking" churches, the clergy inspire and encourage while the ministers, that is, all Christians, take up the vocation of pastor. Unity in the Church Growth Movement is based not on a common confession of the doctrine of the gospel, but on a common acceptance of the church-growth paradigm. All articles of faith are measured against the movement's understanding of the "great commission."

      Hunter's theology is consistent. It is widespread, as witnessed by its many endorsements. It is the theology of the Church Growth Movement and its advocates. But it is a theology that deviates from confessional Lutheranism at virtually every turn.

           KIemet Preus
           Glory of Christ Lutheran Church Plymouth, Minnesota

Back to Sermons and Papers

Confessional Lutheran Main Page | Calendar of Upcoming Events
Sign our Guestbook | Related Links