Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dear Pastors Jeske and Ski: You are clearly in the wrong - 38 signers

(Both Pastor Mark Jeske and Pastor James Skorzewski have been sent the link to this letter. It is not intended to be gossip about them, but a loving, public rebuke to them, according to the pattern of Paul’s rebuke to Peter in Galatians 2:11-21.)

Dear Pastors Jeske and Skorzewski,

Having seen the brochure advertising the “Change or Die” conference publicly displayed at the Siebert Lutheran Foundation website, we are compelled out of love for the Lord Jesus, for you, for our Wisconsin Synod and for the world, to offer this admonishment.

First, let it be said that we do not question your motives. We assume that you sincerely wish to see churches grow, and that you think this conference will help to achieve that goal. We further assume that you think you are acting in line with confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice, and that you do not intend to lead the Church astray. We question neither your motives nor your intentions. But we do consider your participation in this conference to be wrong.

1) The premise of this conference – and therefore your involvement in it – is wrong.

“Change or die” is not a Scriptural concept. It is certainly not a Scriptural mandate or counsel either to the Church as a whole or to a particular visible gathering of confessing believers.

The Lord Jesus does say, “Repent or perish!” (“Unless you repent, you too will all perish” – Luke 13:3). Likewise, he says in his Revelation to St. John, “Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:5). Also, Jesus says in Matthew 18:3, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” If the admonition to “change” or face the consequence of “death” were a reference to repentance for rebellion against the Lord, then we could accept it.


Indeed, we readily concede that if a body of believers strays from the truth of God’s Word even a hair’s breadth, or if a body of believers tolerates impenitent behavior in its midst, it is most surely in danger of “dying,” that is, being removed by the Lord Jesus, either by temporal judgment before the Last Day, or by eternal judgment at the Last Day. The Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation make this very clear. If a church has strayed from the truth of God’s Word, either in doctrine or practice, then we sincerely echo the call of Jesus to “change (i.e., repent) or die!”

But we do not understand the conference admonition to “Change or Die” to be a call to repentance and a return to sound Lutheran (and therefore Scriptural) doctrine and practice. Instead, the brochure makes the meaning of “Change or Die” plain:

    Anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to Lutheran church life in American cities will note with sadness that there are serious numerical declines. Once-thriving congregations and schools are now small or gone. Why is this happening? Is this decline inevitable?

    The “Change or Die” conference, hosted by the Siebert Lutheran Foundation and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, strenuously believes that Lutheran ministries can indeed flourish and grow in the 21st Century. You are invited to come and meet six change agents and entrepreneurs who have exciting stories to tell.

The stated premise of the “Change or Die” conference is that, if a congregation properly “changes” its methodologies and image, then it will “live” in the sense of having enough members and financial resources to continue to function and grow. If a congregation fails to “change” its methodologies and image, then it will “die” in the sense of the congregation being forced to close its doors for lack of members and money.

This teaching does not come from the Lord Jesus. He says, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). It is Christ alone who builds His Church, not by man’s changes, but through the power of his Gospel alone, by means of the Keys given to His Church.

Sometimes, God will bless the use of the Means of Grace with outward numerical growth, as he did in many instances in the Book of Acts. At other times, God will bless the faithful use of the Means of Grace with terrible persecution and shrinking numbers (cf. Revelation 3:7-13). The message of Jesus to his Church is not “Change or die!” but rather, “Preach the Gospel, and you will surely die! You will be persecuted, killed, and caused to flee!” (cf. Matthew 10). This is precisely what Jesus has prophesied for the last days (Matthew 24:9-14, 2 Timothy 4:3). What God calls “flourishing,” man calls “failing.” And what man hails as “flourishing,” God calls “wretched, pitiful and poor” (Revelation 3:17).

“Change or die” stems from what Luther calls a “theology of glory.” The concept comes, not from the Scriptures, but from deceivers – false teachers and Church Growth promoters like Baptist minister Rick Warren, who writes,

    Hebrews 8:13, in the Phillips paraphrase, says, “When a thing grows weak and out of date, it is obviously soon going to disappear.” That's also true of churches. If a church cannot change, it will eventually die. (FIRST-PERSON: Stifled by Structure, Rick Warren.)

Since the premise of the “Change or Die” conference is false and promotes a false theology, you are wrong to be participating in it. By doing so, you are leading the Church astray into a theology of glory, and we fear that many souls will be misled.

2) It is wrong to explore and promote “Lutheran ministry” methods together with pastors of the ELCA.


Equally troubling is that some of the “change agents” passing on their ministerial insights at the “Change or Die” conference are apostates who hate Jesus, and therefore you are wrong to participate in this conference together with them.

It is bad enough that you are joining together to promote the “Change or die” concept with two LCMS pastors who appear to espouse some of the tenets of Church Growth theology. Your joint involvement as an extension of the ministry of the LCMS, Pastor Jeske, is already a matter of record, given the official Recognized Service Organization status of your Time of Grace Ministry and your multiple appearances at LCMS churches, conventions and events.

But, ignoring all bounds of propriety and synodical affiliation, you have now joined yourselves in this conference with two ELCA pastors in order that attendees may learn “Lutheran” ministry methods from them.

Lest anyone should assume that these ELCA pastors are staunch confessional Lutherans trapped in the apostate ELCA, the website from Rev. Wheeler’s church removes any doubt regarding his confession:
    Cross Lutheran Church is a diverse community of believers. We welcome and celebrate all people of every age, race, economic background, sexual orientation, and gender. Our mission is to share the Good News of God's Love in Jesus Christ. Our goal is to represent Christ by serving our community and the world, and by advocating for justice. We are a Reconciled in Christ Lutheran Church.

(“Reconciled in Christ” is an ELCA movement that openly welcomes practicing gays and lesbians into the full community of the church.)

We do not hesitate to call these ELCA pastors “apostates who hate Jesus.” This is not a judgment on the inner attitudes of their hearts, but rather on their public confession. By their own confession, they have abandoned God’s Word as the Truth. It is not possible for them to have a ministry that is in any way, shape or form “Lutheran” while denying the Word of Christ and embracing the doctrines of demons.

What exactly shall we learn from Rev. Wheeler? How should we in the WELS “change” to be more like this apostate ELCA congregation? What trendy Lutheran ministry techniques or theology shall we glean from these apostates? How do you dare participate in a conference on Lutheran ministry side by side with those who hate Jesus? God has only one message for these men: “Change or die!” That is, “Repent or perish eternally in your sins!” How can God’s servants have any other message for them?

But instead of this clear witness to God’s Law, you are selling yourselves as fellow “change agents” together with them. You have gone too far. It doesn’t matter whether or not you pray together with them or kneel together with them at the Lord’s Altar. You are promoting the ministry of the Gospel together with those who deny the Gospel. You are pursuing methods to keep the Church alive together with those who have forsaken Him who is the Life. You are wrong to be doing this. And you are leading souls astray by being thus unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For “what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

You, Pastors Jeske and Ski, are clearly in the wrong. Your involvement in promoting “Lutheran” ministry with apostates who hate Jesus is wrong. And your involvement in promoting the “change or die” deception in the Church is wrong. We bring this admonishment to you, not as your superiors in the Church, but as fellow called servants of Christ and as laymen who are deeply concerned by your involvement in this conference. We trust that those who are entrusted with supervising the doctrine and practice in your respective districts will give you similar godly counsel. But as brothers in the WELS, we cannot remain silent as we watch you going down this path.

Trusting that you will take our words to heart, we are your brothers in Christ,

Rev. Thomas Bernthal
Rev. John F. Boehringer
Rev. Luke Boehringer
Rev. Edward Frey
Rev. Ken Frey
Rev. Rik Krahn
Rev. Paul Lidtke
Rev. Carl Otto
Rev. David G. Peters
Rev. Paul Rydecki
Rev. Paul Schulz
Rev. Steven Spencer
Rev. Jim Strand
Mr. Daniel Baker
Mr. Mark Bannan
Mr. Mark Beitz
Mr. Harry Bladow
Mr. Jerod Butt
Mr. Brian Heyer
Mr. Karl Hochmuth
Mr. Kenneth Jamka
Mr. Scott Jungen
Mr. Vernon Knepprath
Mr. Kurt Knurr
Mr. and Mrs. Tony Kubek
Mr. Douglas Lindee
Mrs. Rhonda Martinez
Mr. and Mrs. Howard Munson
Mr. Kevin Needham
Mr. David Paulsen
Mr. Kurt Peters
Mrs. Rebecca Quam
Mr. Richard Rocheleau
Mr. Joseph Schmidt
Mr. Kenneth J. Schmidt
Mr. Christian Schulz

* Signers listed in alphabetical order, grouping pastors and non-pastors. Some of the above asked that their signatures be added after the original posting.

13 comments:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Well said. Also, as a member of the LCMS, I am sorry that some of our theological folly has overflowed towards you. Do remember that not all of us have bowed knee to the false god of Church Growth. Keep us in your prayers and you are in ours.

Rev. Eric J. Brown
Zion Lutheran Church (LCMS) - Lahoma, OK

Jonathan said...

Thanks for sharing this. As a recent WELS member from the LCMS I am alarmed to see this Church Growth cancer creeping in under the door.

Lord have mercy!

jonathan wilkins

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Intrepid Lutherans! This is exactly the sort of public admonition that is necessary (and sorely lacking) in our synod right now. My prayer is that Jeske and Ski (and others) heed your admonition, and, if not, that the leaders of our synod join in your public admonition of their sin. It seems to me that we are coming to a crucial point in our synod's history--will we tolerate false doctrine and practice, or will we take a stand against it? It looks like we're about to find out.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

How has this "Change or Die" conference been advertised? I hadn't heard anything about it, but that doesn't surprise me, as I'm on the East Coast.

Is this the kind of thing that only a select group would have been invited to, or something that was widely advertised among Wisconsin or Midwestern Lutherans?

I'm curious both as to the impact of the advertising/influence of this event in the church at large and, I guess, how IL were made aware of it.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

The conference is advertised for the world to see at the Siebert Foundation website. I don't know how they actively advertise it, but apparently it's not the first such conference, since it says this on their registration form: "This event is intended for church pastors and their leadership. Due to the overwhelming response to last year’s event and limited seating, we are restricting reservations to church pastors (we will accept more than one pastor from a single church) and one member of their leadership team. Seating is limited to 270 people. Registration is on a first-come basis."

The influence on the "church at large" of such a conference should be obvious. 270 pastors and church leaders take "Lutheran" ministry ideas into their congregations and implement them there. Assuming an average of two participants per congregation, and using Pastor Ski's average Sunday attendance of 300, that's roughly 40,000 churchgoers who are directly influenced by this conference. From there, the ideas (and corresponding theology) that are implemented in one place are heralded in neighboring congregations and throughout a synod as "effective," and the influence rapidly spreads. Pastor Ski and Pastor Jeske, for example, have been the keynote speakers and/or presenters at numerous WELS (and LCMS) events in the recent past and are scheduled to be keynote speakers and/or presenters at several WELS (and/or LCMS) events in the near future. Add to that the Time of Grace viewership and listening audience, and the impact is even greater.

And let's not pretend that there isn't a rather popular blog out there called Ichabod that spreads the news about events like this. You can't advertise something on the internet and pretend it's "our little secret."

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

The letter above singles out Rev. Wheeler's anti-Biblical confession, but the same could be said of fellow speaker and "change agent" Pastor Ken Smith.

From Rev. Ken Smith's church website (St. John's, Madison, WI):

St Johns is a Reconciling in Christ Congregation. At the November, 2006 congregational meeting, the congregation overwhelmingly voted to become affiliated with LC/NA, Lutheran Concerned in North America, a group of primarily Lutheran congregations dedicated to openness to all regardless of race, background, gender or sexual orientation. Two years ago, the congregation adopted a resolution on the formation and affirmation of household covenants.

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

I guess what I was most curious about with the advertising for this conference was not the influence on "tuned-in Confessional Lutherans" (of which readers of Ichabod would presumably be a subset) but rather its influence on, well, those who wouldn't necessarily know any better -- both individuals and churches within confessional bodies and those within other Lutheran denominations (like ELCA). In other words, how many people would find out about such a conference and come to the conclusion, "Oh, isn't it nice to see all these different Lutherans united in such a worthy endeavor!"

I'm guessing you wouldn't want to handle it here in the comments section, but it occurred to me that you (IL) might wish to anticipate and answer various questions and counter-arguments by spelling out what makes participation by a WELS pastor in a conference like "Change or Die" different from participation in something like the "Confessional Christian Worldview" Seminars that were held in various WI and MN locations in the last decade (I'm not aware that they're still being held, but they could be); these included both WELS/ELS and non-WELS/ELS speakers and were advertised outside WELS and ELS, as well. (I'm assuming that you would not have found fault with those seminars, as I don't recall hearing any criticism of them from confessional sources.)

David Jay Webber said...

Jeff,

Maybe I can chime in. The "Confessional Christian Worldview" Seminars were set up on the model of a free conference, but they also had a specific agenda, namely the promotion and explication of the worldview of Confessional Lutheranism. Speakers were not invited to speak on whatever they wanted, but they were invited to speak in a way that would be in harmony with this purpose of the conference. During the years of these conferences when I personally presented the initial "baseline" lectures on the Confessional Lutheran worldview, I was also asked to be the doctrinal "watchdog," as it were, and to offer public clarification or correction if any other speaker said something doctrinally questionable or erroneous. So, even though all speakers were not ELS, the conferences were sponsored by an ELS-related entity, and measures were taken to make sure that what would be articulated would be the Confessional Christian worldview that is normative in the ELS.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Intrepid Lutherans, for publicizing this information. I am so thankful for faithful men and women of our synod who strive to keep our teaching and practice truly confessional. Those who contribute to this website offer valuable information we can all use in our congregations to make fellow WELS members aware of what is going on in our synod and to encourage them to follow Biblical teachings.

Jami Thomas

Holly said...

In your admonishment you referenced “Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:5). I would caution that you continue on to read the letter to the Church in Laodicea "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 2:15-16)
I also urge you to remember God is in control at all times and He will use all things to His Glory. Gods Blessings to those who read this, I write this out of the love of Jesus Christ.

Respectfully,
Holly Hudy
http://www.google.com/profiles/HollyHudy

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to have missed the opportunity to have added my name to the letter... I did not see it in time. Please consider this as another signature. Linda Sasieta

Rev. David G. Peters said...

Although this Church Growth event has already taken place, I discovered and read this letter for the first time only today. Would that I had read it beforehand! I, too, would have signed the letter to my dear brothers Pastor Mark Jeske and Pastor James Skorzewski. Please also add my name to the list of signers.
The fact that our little WELS/ELS fellowship is so small means that every time troubles raise their ugly heads in our midst we wind up dealing with dear friends. We are more than brothers in Christ; we are a true fraternity of dear brothers, who have all made public confession of our like-mindedness. Ironically, this often makes it very difficult for us to proceed with Christian admonition, when we might reasonably expect the opposite. Wouldn't you expect that such Christian brothers, who have publicly professed 100% unity, be ready and willing to offer fraternal admonition to - and gladly accept brotherly correction from - fellow servants of Jesus Christ? And yet our close relations and friendships seem to make this so difficult.
I count both Pastor Jeske and Pastor Skorzewski as my personal friends whom I have known for many years. Nevertheless, I cannot countenance their participation in, nor anyone's support of, said "Change or Die" conference. I publicly urge both of them, and all who support them in their various callings, to disavow publicly all association with said conference, and with every conferee who was in attendance.
The obvious presupposition behind this conference - and of all Church Growth-ism - is that the things WE do and don't do will either cause Christ's Holy Church either to survive and even thrive OR to fail and die. What Church Growth-ers fail either to understand, accept, or believe, is the efficacy of the Means of Grace. They give man far too much credit for the external, numerical success or failure of the Church, and they fail to give the Holy Spirit the glory he is due. To God alone be all the glory!
Reverend moderator, if it is not too late to do so, please subscribe my name to the list of signers of the letter published above. Thank you!
In Christ's service,
Rev. David G. Peters
Pastor, Trinity WELS, Union Grove, WI

Jason Bond said...

Unless some sort of resolution has taken place since earlier this year, I have to say as nearly 20 year WELS member, this is a serious matter and will indeed divide are synod. Pastor Jeske ought to ponder Romans 16:17 instead of promoting a "feel good let's all get together" concept. Granted, such admonishment must begin at the congregation level first. Obviously the people at St. Marcus have no problem with this and if some do, they must be in the minority. So what is the next step? What is the postion of our synod president on this issue? This is not the Roman Catholic church and Mark Schroeder is not the pope so he can't act unilaterally to remove a pastor but he certainly publically dennounce and urge St. Marcus to take the proper action to correct pastor Jeske's error. Our great synod needs our prayers to continue to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and St. Marcus, Pastor Jeske and St. Marcus especially need our prayers. Our synod is one of the few that preaches the true gospel these days and cannot afford such divsion.

Jason Bond.

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