Friday, December 16, 2011

WELS Synod President Mark Schroeder issues scorching rebuke of Church Growth Movement

In an official Synod address, though in a most even mannered and gentlemanly way, Rev. Mark Schroeder, President of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, excoriates the Church Growth Movement (CGM) and Sectarian Worship within our midst, and in their place emphasizes fidelity to Scripture and the Confessions in doctrine and practice, and uplifts a deliberate, unified and unique Lutheran identity under them. The first 42 minutes of this address is well worth a congregational study.

[As an aside, notice Schroeder's use of Power Point (PP). Black lettering on white background. Nothing to look at. Nothing to distract his hearers from what he had to say. According to the latest in leadership studies (and statistical research regarding the helpfulness of PP), if an organizational leader is forced to do PP to his audience, Schroeder's method is the way to do it: no color, no animations, no diagrams, no silly pictures; only black lettering on white background (which has been proven to maximize PP retention). Anything else, while increasing audience approval (i.e., they enjoyed it more because it was more entertaining, giving them the impression that they "got more out of it"), results in much lower retention of what was actually said. Preferably, it is increasingly being advised, if the actual words of the speaker are important enough to be retained and considered by his hearers, studies and theory are beginning to show that doing PP to one's audience ought to be avoided. It is only useful for summary of detail, and only when the speaker and his words don't really matter.]

NOTE that this video is no longer available. Perhaps there is a desire that it no longer be seen by anyone... More than likely, however, access to video simply lapsed. Someone should look into that. In the meantime, here is a link to the report itself: 2009 WELS Convention Presidents Report (beginning on pg. 98). I doubt very much that WELS will ever see CGM referred to so directly, in the negative, at a Synod Convention, again.

Rick Techlin — the excommunicated-communicant-member of the WELS who still doesn't know what his doctrinal error was (which doesn't seem to be of great consequence after all, since, as I understand it, he is communing at a different WELS congregation now... perhaps his DP can help straighten that out?) — has offered summary excerpts from this address on his blog, Light from Light, some of which is included below:
    "WELS describes itself as a confessional Lutheran synod. That means that we subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions as contained in the Book of Concord of 1580 not insofar as (quatenus) they are a correct exposition of biblical teaching but because (quia) they are. It means that our synod boldly, and without qualification or hesitation, upholds the doctrine (what we believe and teach) as articulated in the Confessions and is committed to reflecting those doctrinal beliefs in our practice (how we express our faith and carry out our mission). Our unity in faith is created by the power of God’s revealed Word and shaped by the doctrines of Scripture; it is expressed in our common commitment to the Lutheran Confessions as correct expositions and explanations of biblical truth. Since the time of the Reformation, Lutherans have recognized the importance of articulating not only what we believe as Christians, but what distinguishes Lutheran belief and practice from that of other Christian churches that have departed from scriptural truth."

    "There is no doubt that the early fathers of our synod were filled with a fervent zeal for mission work, but not all of them were fully committed to Lutheran doctrine and practice. They were sent to America by mission societies in Germany in which the distinction between Lutheran and Reformed teachings was blurred at best and virtually non-existent at worst. Their roots in pietism also resulted in a lack of commitment to sound Lutheran theology. True to those roots, they preferred to emphasize the importance of subjective feelings over the objective truth of God’s Word, sanctified living over justification, and the power of prayer over the efficacy of the means of grace. They emphasized the priesthood of all believers to the point where they downplayed the importance of the public ministry. John Muehlhaeuser, the first president of what would become the Wisconsin Synod, gave evidence of this doctrinal laxity when he said, 'I am in a position to offer every child of God and servant of Christ the hand of fellowship over the denominational fence.'"

    "By God’s grace that orientation soon changed. In 1861 John Bading was elected as the second president of the synod. In contrast to Muehlhaeuser, Bading regarded the Lutheran Confessions as a proclamation of God’s truth for every age and was committed to sound Lutheran doctrine and practice. In his first address as president, he encouraged the young synod to sacrifice 'blood, life, and limb and suffer all rather than depart one hair’s breadth from the truth we have learned.' In the years that followed, we are grateful that through his leadership and through the beneficial influence of the Missouri Synod, God transformed our synod into one that was truly committed to the doctrines of Scripture and to the Lutheran Confessions.

    "Striving to remain faithful to the Scriptures — and to maintain our confessional identity — does not involve a single battle fought and won. It is an ongoing struggle for the church militant. When the battle ends on one front today, Satan opens another front tomorrow. That’s why each generation needs to recognize this struggle as its own and engage in it zealously. Each generation, including ours, needs to resist the temptation to be led astray by false teachings, both blatant and subtle... When orthodoxy is assumed or taken for granted, it is likely soon to be lost.

    "As Confessional Lutherans we are committed to holding on to the truth of God’s Word and to defending against all error. We do that, however, not merely to keep that Word for ourselves, but rather to share that message with the world now and for generations to come. It is a false antithesis to say that faithfulness to doctrine is somehow opposed to, or detracts from, a commitment to sharing the gospel. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The truth of Scripture, entrusted to us by God, is what gives us a message to proclaim. A truly correct understanding of biblical doctrine always produces a correct understanding of the mission of the church and recognizes the compelling need to share God’s truth with the world."

    "As Confessional Lutherans we will look for every opportunity to proclaim God’s law in all its harshness, and we will be zealous to share the sweet message of the gospel to every sinner convicted by God’s law. But we will never adjust or hide or downplay a single word of God’s truth in order to make it somehow more attractive. To do that is to empty the gospel of its power and to lose the gospel itself."

    "Doctrine and practice are intimately related to each other. Therefore, it’s essential that we be wary of methods and practices that have their roots in evangelical and reformed theology and that may inherently reflect that theology. For example, these 'theological underpinnings' can show themselves in worship and outreach methods that emphasizes subjective feelings over the proclamation of God’s objective gospel truth; or that gives the impression that prayer is a means of grace; or that emphasizes the role of praise over against the centrality of the Word proclaimed and the sacraments administered."

Those of us who remain publicly supportive of Synod President Schroeder's leadership recall this address with fondness. It remains evidence of his intention to lead in the direction of confessional Lutheran unity, of his fidelity to Scripture and the Confessions, and of his trust in the efficacy of God's Word. May such continue among us.


Anonymous said...

OK, Mr. Lindee, you've touched a nerve.

Re: Pres. Schroeder's warning against the Church Growth Movement (CGM). I wonder if it's falling on deaf ears? From my point of view, in the past 10-15 years there has been an increase in CGM approaches to ministry and especially worship forms in WELS, while efforts to enhance liturgical worship with time-tested and even official WELS-approved ceremonies are cautioned against as being too "Roman Catholic."

Re: Power Point (PP). I couldn't agree more. Please, please, please, use PP sparingly and then only in a Bible class setting. To project PP on the big screen set up front in the chancel changes the entire tone and mood of the Divine Service. Let the spoken and preached Word draw the picture in the mind's eye, not Microsoft Word.

- Rev. James Schulz

Anonymous said...

I appreciate Pres. Schroeder's comments. Does anyone know the date of this speech? Is it recent? Do you see any action being taken against those who persist in perverting the faith through their use of reformed/revivalistic worship and teaching/preaching? We in LCMS are regularly classified on the WELS website as heterodox largely because of the synod's refusal to take disciplinary action against errorists in our communion, so I feel this is a fair question to present to the WELS crowd. I also understand that Mark Jeske's Time of Grace caused grief in WELS because of inappropriate cooperation with the LCMS, but it appeared that his doctrine and practice were overwhelmingly approved by WELS. Please correct me if I have wrongly interpreted what I have read about this matter. Will the average WELS pastor even recognize their "seeker sensitive" worship tendencies as having their roots in the revivalists?
Alan Lubeck

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Mr. Lubeck,

Great questions. First, this was part of Pres. Schroeder's address to the WELS synod convention in 2009, so it's a couple of years old by now. Still, we trust that he stands by his words to the synod and still condemns the errors of the CGM and still desires to promote a solid confessional Lutheranism within the WELS.

I think the WELS as a whole is in no position to label the LCMS as a whole as a heterodox church body. I am disappointed when I hear that characterization. I do not agree with it.

The fact is that in WELS, reformed/revivalistic worship and teaching/practice is condemned by some, praised by others and ignored by most, just as it is in Missouri.

Your example about Time of Grace fits this pretty well, in my opinion. I think you're right that the majority opinion in WELS is that Time of Grace's ministry and message are fully in line with confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice, either because they actually approve of the practices or because they simply assume that a WELS pastor (especially one who has a large following!) couldn't possibly be doing anything wrong. But there are others who refuse to promote ToG in their congregations and who warn their members about the content put out by ToG.

As for the average WELS pastor recognizing the revivalist roots in some of the worship practices floating around, I would say that most probably don't think that deeply about it. If it works, it must be OK. "Everything is permissible."

There is much good (cf. the latest Lutheran Witness)and much bad (cf. "Ordain Women Now")in Missouri. There is much good and much bad in WELS. I think it's time for these two kettles to stop calling each other "black" and start helping each other actually to identify and resolve the non-Lutheran practices among us all.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Time of Grace featured in a WELS Connection within the last two or three years? Wouldn't this imply official approval?

Lee Liermann

Unknown said...

Our congregation has shown the last three years of WELS Connections and "Time of Grace" has NOT been part of the presentations that I remember. It may well have been mentioned as part of the WELS Biannual Convention proceedings. While I am not sure, I believe most of the WELS Connection videos show synod funded missions and ministerial education endeavors and not privately funded efforts like "Time of Grace". I am pretty sure synod would not "walk together" in many of the privately funded efforts in WELS.

Joe Krohn said...

"Do you see any action being taken against those who persist in perverting the faith through their use of reformed/revivalistic worship and teaching/preaching?"

Rock on...

Joe Krohn

AP said...

No, I for one don't see much action being taken. Not when confessional WELS members are persecuted and abandoned and the popcorn cathedral in Appleton is allowed free reign and we are on the verge of adopting the NNIV. Maybe it is time to ask, are we really better off as confessional Lutherans in the WELS now than we were in 2009? Maybe I'm missing something, but I for one don't feel much better off.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Hard to take any action on revivalistic/sectarian worship practices when so many leaders in our synod lump it all together under the label "adiaphora" and then think the discussion is somehow over. Even if a DP wanted to deal with it in his own district, he will have lots of 'splaining to do when asked, "Why is it wrong in your district but not wrong in these other districts?" So I guess the solution, in order to maintain "unity" throughout the synod, is for no one to call any of it "wrong." Sounds more and more like the ELCA, doesn't it?

Unknown said...

I feel it continues to be necessary, for myself anyway, to go to my circuit pastor's monthly Bible study and meeting and discuss issues of poor practice. I believe the discussion is beneficial for all of us to be up-to-date and to escalate issues to others in our district's conference. Awareness is pretty key to our group, because not ever pastor has the time to know what is going on outside our own conference or district. After all, they are called to their own local congregation.

I find it somehow incomprehensible that the COP does not discuss some of this among themselves and come to some unity or consensus on the issues of poor practice in WELS. Since we never hear anything, what assumptions can we make? I can only guess and none of those guess are too positive. So Rev. Rydecki's idea of maintaining unity is more important than holding pastors and DPs accountable. If synod means walking together, even items of "adiaphora" must be tested to see if they give offense and are orderly. Surely the COP could issue a statement to that affect.

OK, I will now take my foot out of my mouth and be taught by those of you who are better trained in these matters.

Anonymous said...

Let me add my support to the Lund Family's comment. Maybe I am naive but I still think it is important to continue talking to our Pastors, teachers and fellow laymen. Raise the issues and keep the discussion going. Start asking individuals and called workers to sign on in support of Intrepid Lutherans and add their names. Continue working until there is no longer hope of reform. In all of this let us not forget the most important task of all, let us continue to daily put this matter before God in prayer that if it be His will our purpose will be blessed.

Lee Liermann

Joe Krohn said...

"Maybe I am naive but I still think it is important to continue talking to our Pastors, teachers and fellow laymen."

Sorry to burst your bubble...but as it has been well documented on the Luther Rocks blog, this did not work in our case and unfortunately countless cases of others over the years. It depends on how much fraternal admonishment the pastor (and district) is willing to take...from a layman.

I know there are many who do not approve of the way we went about things. What choice were we left with?

Joe Krohn

Anonymous said...

Joe, generally speaking, my experience is that leadership seems more interested in keeping the peace than in keeping the truth. I suspect part of the reason for that is because few feel well enough prepared to speak to the issues of Biblical truth. So those who know Biblical truth well enough to raise issues when they come up, are strangers among the rest.


Anonymous said...

Joe - No bubble here to be burst. The adoption of the NIV back in the early 80's was a pretty good indication of how Synod works. If that wasn't enough, I have a sister and brother-in-law who went round and round with their Pastor over various issues such as the Council President recommending Rick Warren books to the congregation and the Pastor in the midst of discussions regarding a building/renovation project advising the congregation in the church newsletter (and I paraphrase since I don't have the newsletter in front of me) "If we wish to continue to enjoy God's blessings we need to move forward with the building project." They are now attending a Confessional LCMS congregation and their Pastor is now a Professor at Seminary. If change is going to happen within WELS, it will be the result of laymen and Pastors such as we find here on IL, speaking the truth earnestly, diligently, sincerly and consistently to their Called Workers and fellow laymen. In the end where we end up and what the results of our labors will be is in God's hands, He will bless it according to His good purposes.

Lee Liermann

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