I know what the ABLAZE (TM) movement is all about. I lived in the church growth movement for many years and am aware that ABLAZE (TM) is a pseudo-Lutheran manifestation of the very same synergistic impulses that the church growth movement bears. Essentially, the real definition is this: the Holy Spirit is hamstrung unless we do things right in our churches. If we’re not friendly enough to visitors, the Holy Spirit is hamstrung–– He can’t do His work. If our pastor is too theologically “deep” in his sermons, if he does not “meet people where they are,” the Holy Spirit is hamstrung. If the music is not relevant or entertaining enough even though the texts set forth the Word of the Gospel in clear and understandable language, the Holy Spirit is flummoxed. So, we are asked to be more relevant, interactive, casual, contemporary and all the rest. The poor Holy Spirit needs our help.
As repugnant as that is to me personally, I will say this. My church is actually an “ablaze” church! We hold the Divine Service every week. We baptized more than 6 young people last month. We are about to begin administering communion to kids that may be 7 or 8 years of age (or younger). The pastor offers private absolution. He provides catechesis for adults and children.
Additionally, we have picnics where the entire community is invited to attend. We’re holding an “Oktoberfest” next month. Local businesses are donating gift certificates for that event to benefit our parish. We have special Sundays with added music where the community is invited. The pastor is engaged with the town administration and other clergy. The parishioners serve the elderly in the apartment complex next door. We welcome visitors. We have a coffee hour where our visitors are welcome to attend. We participate in what is called an “Epiphany Walk” –– a community event where people stroll from one church to another over the course of an evening for little prayer services at each parish. When they come to ours, they hear Lutheran teaching and listen to Lutheran music. For all of these events, I would like to place an ABLAZE (TM) logo on the bulletin or announcement flyer, etc, and send it to my district office. What if I produced a Bach Cantata concert at my church? I could do that. Would this not be considered valid by the Synod as an ABLAZE (TM) initiative? Why should we not get funds to do that? After all, Bach sets forth the Gospel very clearly in all of his cantatas, right? And we would get attendance at such an event. I could slap an ABLAZE (TM) logo on the concert program and send that to the district office. And I could go on and on.
I have said all this and yet, my parish practices closed communion. We sing Divine Service 3 every week. We use LSB and sing substantive hymns from our Lutheran heritage. My pastor wears a chasuble every week. He chants the liturgy everywhere the rubrics suggest. He genuflects at the altar. He elevates the host and chalice. We’re also a small parish. We’re in New York State, where most people would have to look up the word Lutheran in the dictionary to find out what it means–– and they still would not really know.
Is there any valid reason why the LC–MS would consider us anything less than “ablaze” for the Gospel? Since when are all the things I listed not concerned with Gospel proclamation? Do they not serve our neighbor and ingratiate our community? Do we not welcome our visitors? Are we not ministering to our people and our little township? Of course we are! Are not your churches similar to mine? I know what ABLAZE (TM) is really about in the minds of the Synodical bureaucrats. I get that they have drunk the cool aid of the church growth movement. But honestly, if they were honest, our church (and probably yours also) is just as "ablaze" for the gospel as any one of their model churches–– I would argue, even more!