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.