1234 Anystreet Road
Nowhere, WI 54000
5678 Anyotherstreet Road
Next to Nowhere, WI 54000
To Whom It May Concern:
We received a piece of certified mail from you, postmarked March 11, 2015. We are returning it to you, unopened. We have very little interest in hearing what you may have to say in such a letter, that you could not preface with a demonstration of evangelical concern, or even basic courtesy, by making a simple phone call or sending an email. But, to be honest, it would have been difficult for us to imagine that you would have done otherwise.
At one point in time we were considered by the members of Faith Church to be Christian brothers. At least, we are pretty sure that we were. Feeling welcomed when we first joined, we were immediately drawn by them into the ministry of the congregation and put to work, and labouring closely with them, had established what we had considered to be close and meaningful relationships. This all came to an end after nearly seven years, when, in mid-2007, without explanation, we were shunned by the congregation. It was difficult to discern precisely, at first, as Mr. Lxxxxx was heavily involved with Church leadership, and was in constant communication with many of those who are now counted as our former friends. But by the end of 2007, his final year in any leadership capacity at Faith Church, it had become clear that the only communication being initiated by those “friends” was strictly related to church business. Beginning in 2008, the reality was unmistakable. Not just a few people, but everyone, including the Pastor, remained mysteriously aloof. He waited week after week for his friends to initiate with him some form of personal conversation. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years. Nothing. All the while, the women of the congregation pretended to carry on as normal with Mrs. Lxxxxx, but she saw very clearly what was going on, and refusing to be socially separated by them from her husband, remained by his side. She was quickly disfavored, as well. By the time Pastor Sxxxxxxxx passed away in 2009, those former friendships were regarded by us as completely severed. As the years continued to pass, however, we once again began to enjoy some social involvement in the congregation, as other marginalized members of Faith Church recognized our situation and reached out to us in various ways. We also enjoyed conversation with new members, who had not yet been fully received into the labours of the congregation.
Accordingly, Mr. Lxxxxx’s last face-to-face meeting with the Rev. Wxxxx was unfortunate, but predictable. Having had to travel for work, he was unable to attend the October 2013 Voters’ Meeting, but discovered some weeks afterward – quite by accident – that there was some concern regarding the issue of Bible translations, and that the Board of Elders had been asked by the congregation to look into it. There was no hint that this was intended as any kind of formal investigation. Nevertheless, having himself been rather notoriously engaged in research and writing on the topic, he forwarded to the Rev. Wxxxx a number of articles and resources for the Board to consider. When, at the following Voters’ Meeting in January 2014, Mr. Lxxxxx was surprised to see that the issue of Bible translations was on the agenda, he enquired of the Rev. Wxxxx regarding the nature of the Elders’ report – as he was again unable to to attend due to business travel. He was stunned to learn that the Elders would not only be reporting their findings, but would move to officially adopt the NIV 2011. “Did the Board study any of the documents I forwarded to you, for them to consider?” he asked the Reverend.
“What documents?” was the reply.
Mr. Lxxxxx, realizing that he had been marginalized yet again, then clarified, “The documents and links I sent to you in an email not long ago.”
“Oh,” then after a long pause, “No. We only considered the documentation provided by Synod.”
“But that documentation was biased in favor of a single conclusion!”
“Yes, I know it was biased. It was biased on its face. But I don’t know why it was biased...”
Nevertheless, Faith Church proceeded to officially adopt the NIV 2011 as the congregation’s translation.
This was not the reason we left Faith Church and the WELS, however; it was merely the straw that broke the camels back.
A few months prior, we were warned by the Rev. Wxxxx to “prepare” our sixth grade boy, who had just entered Catechism, for a discussion of the Sixth Commandment. Finding it a bit ridiculous to rush him through “sex-ed” just to prepare him for Catechism class, we refused to go to such lengths, insisting that such matters need to be handled delicately with children his age, that discussion of sexual activity in any direct terms would be entirely out of bounds, and that there is very little basis for understanding the Sixth Commandment anyway, without a thorough positive grounding in biblical courtship and marriage – deviation from which would itself serve as a glaring example of something that is sinful.
Then we read the catechism that would be used by the Reverend to instruct our young boy, which was written by one Rev. David Kuske. In comparison with the catechism resources we afterward recommended he use instead for the Sixth Commandment lesson (Gausewitz or Koehler), Kuske goes into excessively lurid detail of sexual intercourse, including what kind of sex to have, when to have it, and how enjoyable it should be. The Rev. Wxxxx forcefully rejected use of the alternative resources we suggested (which were, in our opinion, better by orders of magnitude, without all of the direct sex-talk and associated imagery), and when we opted to keep our son home rather than attend his lesson, were indirectly criticized by him for our parenting decisions. In retrospect, given all of the sexual scandals in WELS that have been made public over the past year, and the many more that are roiling just under the surface, we wonder now whether Kuske’s catechism might have something to do with it – whether, in our over-sexed day and age, introducing direct sex-talk with sixth-grade boys and girls is a bit premature for these youngsters, and puts images in their minds that they might otherwise be inclined to struggle against, had their pastor not been the one who put them there using Synod materials that carry the approval of the Church. Given this, it is no wonder the current generation of WELS theologians prefers the NIV 2011’s use of the phrases “make love” (Ge. 4:1,17,25; 29:21,23,30; 38:2; Ru. 4:13; 1 Sa. 1:19; 2 Sa. 11:11; 12:24; 1 Ch. 2:21; 7:23; Is. 8:3; etc.) and “have sex” (Ge. 19:5; Jud. 19:22; 1 Co. 6:9) – phrases and imagery thought in previous generations to be far too indelicate to implant in the minds of pious Christians, who were probably also averse to using such terms for fear that they would indirectly reinforce immoral standards cherished by the world and ignite fleshly desires, against which Christians already struggle.
About a month after Mr. Lxxxxx’s final face-to-face conversation with the Rev. Wxxxx, he was called by the Reverend on the telephone. Mr. Lxxxxx made clear that he meant what he had said in January, and that we were looking for another congregation. He told him that we were, at that time, investigating other WELS congregations, along with LCMS congregations. The Reverend assured him that we remained members in good standing, that if we found a suitable WELS congregation he would be glad to transfer us, and if not, then we would be simply released from membership. We never heard from him again. In all of this time, we were contacted by no one from the congregation out of evangelical concern, or even curiosity, over our extended absence, save one person. We received from the congregation what we had come to expect since 2008: near deafening silence.
We quickly found that there were no suitable WELS congregations within reasonable traveling distance. In the end, we found that among those WELS congregations which seemed intent upon demonstrating their Confession through a wholesome liturgical practice, seemed uncorrupted by ambitions of glory, seemed unwilling to give place to worldly entertainment standards in their worship chambers, seemed confident in the Holy Spirit’s work through the Means of Grace to Call, Gather and Enlighten His Elect, and seemed content to allow Him to work in His way, through His Means, in His time, unaugmented by their own innovations, Faith Church was to be most commended in regard to its NIV 2011 deliberations: where Faith Church actually had the courage to at least publicly identify “Bible translation” as an issue, and to go through the motions of publicly addressing that issue (although, with a predetermined outcome, given that a single source of admittedly biased materials was all that they consulted), all of the other WELS congregations we visited simply started using the NIV 2011 without discussion, without the people even knowing it – when we asked, we learned that the new Bibles just showed up in the pews one Sunday, and no one knew the difference. We could not abide such cowardice.
Of all the other options in our area, there was one ELS congregation and two LCMS congregations that were in many ways very suitable. But we ultimately decided that we were unwilling to dance around the issue of Universal Justification, merely for the convenience of attending those congregations.
“Universal Justification” is the teaching espoused by name in the WELS, and with one name or another by ELS and LCMS, as the centerpiece of Christian teaching – the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls. It asserts that all mankind, including every individual, is righteous before God, and forgiven of his sins, whether he has faith or not. The natural, and fully accepted and confessed, consequence of this teaching is that those who die without faith, though they are righteous and forgiven by God, nevertheless spend an eternity barking in hell – not as punishment for their sins (since no one bears sin before God under the teaching of Universal Justification), but merely for their lack of faith. Thus they are willing to accept the teaching that righteous and forgiven saints spend an eternity in hell. The doctrine of Universal Justification, however, is nowhere named, described, or articulated in the Scriptures. It is a purely derived doctrine, without a single word of direct positive attestation in the entirety of Holy Writ.
In all, however, according to the Rev. Dr. Siegbert Becker in his essay Universal Justification, there are a total of three distinct doctrines of Justification taught by WELS. The first is Universal Justification. The second distinct doctrine of Justification, which is merely a corollary of Universal Justification, is “Objective Justification.” It teaches that God, and not man, is entirely responsible for man’s Justification. Such a teaching is not peculiar to WELS, or to Lutherans for that matter; for even the Calvinists do not deny that Justification is objective in this sense. However, WELS, ELS and LCMS seem to assert that Objective Justification also defines “faith” as “man’s work”, and therefore insist that claiming Justification comes by faith is thus to assert a doctrine of synergism. Normally, Universal and Objective Justification are conflated by them, and referred to as “Universal Objective Justification,” but, Becker makes clear, they are, in fact, distinct doctrines, with Objective Justification merely a happy consequence of Universal Justification.
The third distinct doctrine of Justification espoused by the old Synodical Conference Lutherans is so-called “Subjective Justification” – the only doctrine of Justification spoken of and articulated in the Scriptures, and the doctrine identified in the Lutheran Confessions as the main doctrine of Christianity. Except, the Scriptures don’t name it “Subjective Justification”; the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions refer to this doctrine interchangeably as “Justification” and “Justification by Faith Alone.” According to WELS, “Subjective Justification” is entirely superfluous. All of mankind is already righteous and forgiven before God (they say); Justification does NOT come though faith, since that is man’s work, and to suggest that faith is in any way the cause of Justification (even an “instrumental cause”, as it was defined by Leyser and Gerhard) only robs God of the glory He is due for the work He has already accomplished. Subjective Justification (they say), isn’t “Justification” at all, properly speaking – it’s merely “the reception of faith,” and with it merely “receiving the benefit” of the righteous and forgiven standing they, and all men, have had in the eyes of God since the time of Christ’s death and resurrection. Prior to faith (they say), all of mankind is already Justified – fully righteous and forgiven before God – but individuals are denied “enjoyment” of this Justification until God gives them faith.
According to the Bible and the Confessions, however, “Justification by Faith Alone” is the only doctrine of Justification that is taught; mankind (including every individual) is NOT already Justified before God, he is already Condemned; the unbeliever is NOT already righteous and forgiven before God, but stands before God in the filth of his own sin, in need of righteousness and forgiveness; this Justification was earned by Christ in His Passion, and is now offered to mankind in the Message of the Gospel, via which the Holy Spirit works to produce faith; and a person is said to be Justified when the promise of Salvation has been appropriated to himself through the faith God gives him, and not before.
Frankly, it was a shock to us to learn that WELS, ELS and (it seems) LCMS all believe, teach and confess a doctrine of Universal Justification. This fact was withheld from us during Bible Information Class (adult catechism). The fact is:
- We reject the doctrine of Universal Justification as without a scintilla of Scriptural or Confessional support;
- We reject as Scripturally unfounded and as entirely fallacious reasoning the assertion that Justification must be Universal in order for it to be objective, or to be accomplished entirely outside of man;
- We, rather, fully embrace and confess the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone;
- We, further, confess and insist that the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is the only doctrine of Justification taught by the Scriptures in direct positive terms, and that it is therefore the only Scripturally defensible doctrine of Justification that Christians may confess;
- We fully reject the assertion that faith is in any way man’s work (the Scriptures directly forbid this notion), and we therefore reject the assertion that Justification by Faith Alone is a doctrine of synergism;
- We reject the assertion that “Objective Justification” is a doctrine of Scripture which is taught in distinction from Justification by Faith Alone, and find it impermissible to define “Objective Justification” as any kind of justification at all;
- We, rather, confess that the objectivity of Justification is a defining attribute of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, and insist that Justification by Faith Alone does, indeed, constitute a fully objective Justification – that is, our Justification is accomplished fully outside of us, without any merit or participation of our own in any sense;
- We confess with confidence and rejoicing that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit;
- We reject as flippant hyperbole the assertion that saving faith, under the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, is reduced to merely “a profound hope that man conjures within himself”;
- We further confess in this regard, that it is fully biblical to speak of faith being active (i.e., receiving, appropriating, trusting, etc.), without it also being considered volitional and thus synergistic;
- We recognize that the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is the only doctrine of Justification confessed in the Lutheran Confessions, and was the only doctrine of Justification directly named and taught by the orthodox Confessors and Concordists;
- We further recognize that a form of Universal Justification was asserted by a heterodox member of the Wittenberg Faculty, a teacher whose doctrine was roundly condemned by his orthodox peers, and who was dismissed in 1595 for clinging to his false doctrine – for denying that Justification is restricted to believers;
- We therefore reject as unfounded fiction and utterly preposterous all claims that Universal Justification is “implicitly taught in the Lutheran Confessions,” that it was understood, embraced and taught by the Confessors and Concordists without ever being named or articulated by them, and that it must therefore bind the consciences of any Christian today who would lay claim to an orthodox confession;
- We recognize the introduction of Universal Justification and its corollary teachings in American Lutheranism, as a biblically indefensible innovation of the old Synodical Conference.
Putting the best construction on our experiences, and despite any appearances that might cause some to conclude otherwise, we assume, Faith Church, that you are, in fact, possessed of great evangelical concern over our plight, and though, over the course of a full year, you exerted no effort to find out from us directly, we also assume that you are nevertheless deeply interested to know how we fare today.
We have found a Lutheran congregation. It is a congregation affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA). Of this congregation, we are happy to say:
- They are confessional – that is, they understand the dire need for a clear Christian confession in a sinful world where otherwise well-meaning believers, as victims of sin’s corruption, everywhere misunderstand and pervert the Scripture’s teaching;
They fully subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions, as articulated in the Christian Book of Concord, not insofar as they are a correct presentation and exposition of the pure doctrine of the Word of God, but boldly confessing before the world and other Christians, that they are so;
- They positively reject the doctrine of Universal Justification, and instead, believe, teach and confess the single Scriptural and Confessional doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone – the very doctrine for which Luther and his fellow confessors struggled so mightily, risking their lives that it would be preserved to the Church for the eternal benefit of mankind;
- They do not confuse laity with clergy – that is, laymen are NOT considered Ministers of the Word, and are NOT tasked with carrying out the functions of the pastoral Office;
- They fully trust the Holy Spirit to work through His appointed Means, and being confident in the efficacy of those Means and content with His timing, do not feel compelled to augment His work with their own innovations;
- Not merely mouthing the words of their confession, they endeavor to make manifest this confession, maintaining in the Divine Service a wholesome liturgical practice that unmistakably demonstrates Lutheran catholicity, rather than supplanting it with the obnoxious sectarian practices of pop-church evangelicalism.
They are conservative – that is, rather than dispose of their Lutheran birthright (which, in order to keep it, requires much honour, trust, patience and a keen awareness of the past) for an immediately satisfying bowl of sectarian and worldly porridge (which, if it satisfies at all, does so merely for the moment, soon afterward requiring the satiation of new and different cravings), they endeavor to carry into the future that great deposit of wisdom wrought of Christian experience over the millenia. Thus they endeavor to conserve the past, rather than discard it as quaint, passé and irrelevant in favor of the wisdom of the day;
- They reject (as far as we can tell) the post-Modern philosophies of contemporary times, which represent a full frontal attack on the very morality of language itself, mightily threatening the Church, not by changing the words She confesses before the world, but by dramatically altering that Confession in place – altering the meaning of Her Confession by altering the structures of language employed to express it;
- They have chosen to use and promote a wholesome translation of the Scriptures which not just theoretically, but manifestly honours the doctrine of inspiration, retaining in English as much as practicable, both the grammatical forms and the vocabulary found in the Greek and Hebrew originals, and which honours the tradition of English ecclesiastical thought and expression by maintaining continuity with the English translation Received by English speaking peoples over 400 years ago as the Bible in English, and that continues to this day as a dominant Bible translation preferred by English speakers;
- They hold that it is wise practice for the Church to maintain a sharp distinction from the world in Her practice, including the use of terminology in their catechesis and during the Divine Service, which maintains a continuity with the past and which reinforces the “other worldly” reality of the believer’s citizenship in the Kingdom of Grace.
- They – like Lutherans across the globe (in our experience) – are just plain nice folks.
If the truth be told, however, we started this practice of home worship years before finally leaving the WELS. We began to notice that there was a consistent dearth of Law in the preaching and teaching, not only of Faith Church, but in every WELS church we visited. The emphasis on the Gospel was so smothering that the Law, if present at all, was virtually indiscernible. While both of us had grown up within pop-church Evanglicalism and among confessing Pietists, were fully acquainted with the Law, and personally found Law-less Gospel preaching a sufficient (and welcome) balance to the smotheringly Gospel-less Law preaching we had been reared with, the impact on our children, who, over a decade had only become familiar with the Gospel, was unmistakably negative. Having literally no acquaintance with the Law, they failed to place any real significance on the Gospel, taking for granted that they were already forgiven and righteous regardless of what they do, as if they were entitled to it. The result was behaviour issues of various kinds, a general disregard for God’s Word, and a failure to respond to correction which was drawn from it. We appealed at various times to our WELS pastors for more Law in their preaching, so that there would be a more discernible balance between Law and Gospel, but when our requests were dismissed – sometimes with ridicule for being “lovers of the Law” – we realized that there would be no changing their nearly Law-less Gospel preaching. Mrs. Lxxxxx had finally grown so fed up with the fact that our children had not imbibed the Law in any significant way from our association with WELS, that she began taking them through the Book of Proverbs every month, and visiting with them other sections of the Bible that emphasize Law – like the Book of James. This had quite an impact. As the the older children would read the Proverbs, they would stop, read it again, gulp, and say things like, “Oh, boy...” They had no idea. At one point, Mrs. Lxxxxx even suggested, somewhat facetiously, that we leave Lutheranism entirely, and go back to Pietism, just so that our children could be acquainted with the Law through the teaching of the Church, and finally come to appreciate the Gospel. Needless to say, that is not what we did. Instead, we started reading Luther’s sermons for semi-regular family worship, in place of attending Faith Church every Sunday. Luther is very direct in his preaching of the Law, and equally so in his preaching of the Gospel, nearly every sermon being very well balanced between the two. It is unlike any preaching we had heard over the past four decades, including the last fifteen years of association with WELS. Acquaintance with the Law has helped with discipline in the home, too, and improved our family’s appreciation for the Gospel.
Finally – you may be interested to know – there is informal, though very serious, discussion of opening a Lutheran mission congregation in our area (River Falls, Hudson, New Richmond, Baldwin, etc.), of confessional and conservative character similar to the congregation in which we currently enjoy membership. The intent would be to use our family, and perhaps other interested individuals, to seed this mission. Efforts are underway, now, to investigate possible meeting places.
Ta Ta for Now,