Wednesday, April 30, 2008

This Must Not Be Your Grandfather’s Pope

Reporter Online, the online version of the official newspaper of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, has a glowing review of Pope Benedict’s visit with LCMS leaders.

Apparently, the LCMS lacks the political savvy of a seasoned politician. I doubt you’ll see Hillary hobnobbing with George Bush Sr., or John McCain golfing with Fidel, yet the LCMS seems positively elated with it’s consort with the Pope, whose office Luther rightfully labeled the anti-Christ. Ecumenical dialogue is one thing, but this was nothing more than a photo-op in which the body of Christ had nothing to gain, and much to lose.

Have we fallen so far that we can’t see the satanic lie that the Pope represents? This is the man who calls himself God’s vicar on earth, thus taking Jesus Christ’s rightful throne, attempting to make himself our mediator (the Pope's office, not necessarily any particular Pope). This is the man who believes that communion is a sacrifice, thus earning merit for a human work and rejecting Christ’s all-atoning sacrifice. This is the man who would have us all assimilated into the Catholic Church. This is the man who calls justification by grace through faith anathema. What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? What fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

LCMS attendees included President Gerald Kieschnick, Executive Director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, and Atlantic District President David Benke. The article goes on to list members of the ELCA who attended as well, as though their presence justified the LCMS presence. The article also carefully points out that it was an "ecumenical meeting," as though that justified the LCMS presence.

The article quotes Dr. Nafzger:
"Especially meaningful," he added, "was the inclusion in the worship program of the following quotation from the pope's 2005 address at the World Youth Day: 'Among Christians, fraternity is not just a vague sentiment ... it is grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism which makes us all members of the one Body of Christ."
It is often stated that satan’s lies contain a majority of truth, with just enough falsehood mixed in to deceive the elect. I can think of no better example than the Pope’s rhetoric. Luther would shake his head in embarrassment, and then he would speak up in protest.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lest We Forget

From Luther's Lectures on Galatians:

"I am saying this in order that we may learn the doctrine of justification with the greatest diligence and distinguish most clearly between the Law and the Gospel. On this issue we must not do anything out of insincerity or yield submission to anyone if we want to keep the truth of the Gospel and the faith sound and inviolate; for, as I have said, these are easily bruised. Here let reason be far away, that enemy of faith, which, in the temptations of sin and death, relies not on the righteousness of faith or Christian righteousness, of which it is completely ignorant, but on its own righteousness or, at most, on the righteousness of the Law. As soon as reason and the Law are joined, faith immediately loses its virginity. For nothing is more hostile to faith than the Law and reason; nor can these two enemies be overcome without great effort and work, and you must overcome them if you are to be saved."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Where Were the District Presidents?

There seems to be a disconnect here. To date, five dauntless LCMS districts have come out with official resolutions voicing their displeasure over the cancellation of Issues, Etc., and requesting the show’s reinstatement. They are the Central Illinois District, Iowa District East, South Dakota District, the South Wisconsin District, and the Southern Illinois District. All five of these resolutions are worded strongly enough that it’s reasonable to conclude that they are in opposition to the statement adopted by the Council of Presidents (The COP, which is composed of the President of each of the Synod’s districts) on April 22 “without dissenting vote.”

So where were the District Presidents when their districts formulated their resolutions, and when the COP statement was formulated? Note that the COP response was signed “without dissenting vote.” Was that a disingenuous statement? If my football team finishes 13-0-1, I can claim it’s undefeated, but it’s still a disingenuous statement, because there was one game I didn’t win. Did all the District Presidents sign the COP statement? If so, some of them must be sulking in a corner somewhere, because their district went over their head, either before or after the fact.

The COP statement said “We must regard with Christian charity and trust the judgment of our duly elected brothers and sisters in Christ on the BCS [Board of Communication Services], along with its Executive Director, Mr. David Strand.” That trust hasn’t panned out so well for all five of the dissenting districts, since they all requested that Issues, Etc. be reinstated. Both Southern Illinois and South Dakota stated “official explanations for the show’s cancellation have not satisfied or answered the concerns of many.” Southern Illinois said brothers Wilken and Schwarz were dismissed for “undocumented reasons,” and Iowa District East claims “for widely-disputed reasons.” Where’s the trust? They also had this to say:
Resolved, That the Board of Directors of Iowa District East of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod requests, for the sake of trust and unity, that Mr. David Strand and the Board for Communication Services make public all internal documents and memos concerning this cancellation, and, in addition, allow for a complete, independent, and publicly documented audit of KFUO finances, including directly comparable financial performance of all of the station's programs.
The COP also stated that they didn’t agree that “the manner in which this decision was implemented lacked Christian compassion.” The South Wisconsin District doesn’t seem to share the COP’s view, saying things like “This could have been done by giving the Rev. Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz two month notification of the cancellation of their employment,” and “express with a united voice their displeasure with both the cancellation of the program and the way it was handled.”

The COP statement ends with a pious sounding plea for unity. Their closing sounds a little different than the closing of the Southern Illinois District:
RESOLVED, that Pastoral Conference of the Southern Illinois District officially petition the Board of Communications Services to revisit the decision by its Executive Director, David Strand, to cancel Issues, Etc. and also petition the Board to reinstate both Pastor Wilken and Mr. Schwarz to their positions, restore the ministry of Issues, Etc., and make a public apology for the offense this cancellation has caused.
While you may not be able to point to any one spot in the COP statement and say it’s wrong, taken as a whole, it seems to be a carefully crafted document designed to squelch dissent, not one of pastoral wisdom.

I assume that the majority of the District Presidents of the five districts above were in favor of those resolutions, and were likely instrumental in their execution, and I commend them for those resolutions. But the question remains, if they were, why did they sign the COP statement, assuming they did? The two seem mutually exclusive to me. If they believe that the truth was somehow maligned, whether they signed the COP statement or not, I hope they and other Presidents like them will personally speak up for the truth. Of course that’s easier said than done. It’s not easy speaking out when your job may be threatened, but as Christians, we’re called to defend the Truth at all times and in all places. Unity is only achieved by real agreement, not by covering up the truth.

Doctrine Influences Practice

"This is only the beginning of what this church is willing to do to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

The above quote was posted by "Teaching Pastor" Ben Gonzales on his blog. (Isn't "Teaching Pastor" redundant?) Pastor Gonzales is one of the pastors at Jefferson Hills Church in Imperial, Missouri, the LCMS church that brought us those swell billboards like the one above.

I guess he's not kidding.

At first glance, my thought was that their practice will influence their doctrine. But I'd have to say that their doctrine is driving their practice, a doctrine that has apparently been heavily influenced by something other than that contained in the The Book of Concord. What next?

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Praise the Lord for RSS feed aggregators. I was reading through the posts of various people's blogs this morning when I came across my own blog, which I include in the aggregator to double-check my own work, or for narcissistic reasons - reader's choice here. The last line of my "The Transformation Process" post read "I hope you'll take the time to read Chris Rosebrough's short post, and education yourself on the transformation process." Now that's writing with a flare! My fourth grade education level really shines don't it? I've subsequently corrected it, but if you read the RSS feeds, you can praise the Lord too for a little extra giddy laughter in your day.

Words Are Important

Pastor Larry Beane, in his Father Hollywood post titled "Bad Language", discusses the linguistic evolution of the word church, and how we now have come to the use of the words churched and unchurched. He discusses the importance of words, and how their careless misuse can water down our confession. Here are a few of the highlights:
However, I'm seeing quite a lot of uses of the word "churched" coming from Protestant sources, which has spilled over into our own Lutheran vocabulary. In fact, with the Ablaze!(tm) program, nearly every correspondence from synod or district includes the word "unchurched" describing the intended target of our mission endeavors. The words "churched" and "unchurched" are adjectival variations of the word "church" used as a verb. In this case, "church" is not being used as it is in the creeds, as a noun, a thing we confess as an article of faith, but rather it has become an verbal adjective to describe something one does. In fact, we often run into a strained related expression: "to do church."

I don't believe this is a natural evolutionary shift in language to accommodate changing realities, rather I think this is symptomatic of a shift in confession. If "church" is a verb that we can "do," than it is no longer a mystery to confess, but rather an activity, like swimming or throwing a baseball. And a "churched" or "unchurched" person is not defined by membership in the church (the noun), but rather by what he does (i.e. "going to church" as an activity, a verb).

So, the word "church" used as a verb has been around for six centuries, but there has still been a recent subtle shift in meaning. For in 14th century England, everyone (with very few exceptions, such as Jews) were members of the Church. There simply were no "unchurched" people in the way the term is used today. A woman who was "churched" was not a person who didn't go to church, or who had never heard of Jesus. Rather to be "churched" was literally to be brought to the building to receive a rite. This rite is today called the "Blessing of a Mother After Childbirth" (LSB Pastoral Care Companion, p. 59).

This bringing of believers into the building to receive a rite is not how our synod uses the term in speaking of reaching "unchurched" people (meaning unbelievers). The word "unchurched" is not biblical, nor is it traditional in this context (just as "doing church" is neither biblical, creedal, nor traditional).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Transformation Process

Chris Rosebrough at Extreme Theology has a post in which he states "...I am going on the record by saying that I am 99.9% convinced that LCMS President Gerry Kieschnick is engaged in a full scale, strategic campaign to radically overhaul and change the LCMS."

He goes on:

I've taken the time to read through his actions, writings, statements and the suggestions of his Blue Ribbon Task Force and am convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is following a well scripted, well planned Change Initiative, the goal of which is to insure that the LCMS becomes and will forever remain a purpose-driven / church-growth denomination.

...The Change Management process that Kieschnick and the consultants that are advising him are using is straight out of John Kotter's book "Leading Change". This book is considered to be the BIBLE for change management and in my professional opinion, Kieschnick and his consultants are following Kotter's approach STRAIGHT DOWN THE LINE.
Chris then reproduces a portion of Kotter's book showing "The Eight-Stage Process of Creating Major Change," a process which I definitely do not remember reading about in the book I prefer to turn to for transformation tips, the Bible.

If you're at all familiar with the business world, or have been in a church that has been "hijacked" by Church Growth Movement proponents, you will immediately recognize these steps. There are many variations from author to author on the exact steps to achieve transformation, but they generally follow the pattern set out in Mr. Kotter's book.

It is important to be able to recognize these transformation process steps so that 1) You will be able to recognize and address any unbiblical steps set forth within your particular synod, and 2) You will be able to recognize and address any unbiblical steps within your own congregation. I hope you'll take the time to read Chris Rosebrough's short post, and educate yourself on the transformation process.

Rescue From Abbreviation "Hell"

Question markIf you’re hopelessly stumped like I am by abbreviations used in blog posts, websites, and forums, the cavalry has arrived. I’ve compiled a list of the more common, and some of the more arcane, churchly abbreviations. If you’re up for it, take the test and see how you fare. If not, click on "Read More..." for your rescue from abbreviation "hell." Feigned apologies in advance for the name of any pastor whose name happens to appear in the answers. I already know he’ll laugh.

Take the Test:

Instructions: Read through the list. Write down the abbreviations you know on a piece of paper. Then compare your answers with the correct answers by clicking on "Read More... ." Add up the number of correct answers, and see how you rank. When finished with the test, post answers on refrigerator door for future reference. For extra credit, leave me a list of your abbreviations.

Your score indicates:

If you got less than 10 right: Ignorance is bliss
10-23: A seasoned layperson
24-36: Church worker
37-43: What have you been readin’?
Above 43: You’re a synodocrat


Monday, April 21, 2008

Pastor Harju (again)

Pastor Benjamin Harju has a wonderfully pastoral post entitled Unity Ablaze! In it he discusses union versus unity in the LCMS. Pastor Weedon already pointed out Pastor Harju's post, but it was too good to pass up. Here are several quotes:

"If we in the LCMS no longer have unity, then it is because we have not turned away from everything in us, everything in the world, everything we know and hold dear, and turned to Christ empty, sinful, pathetic, weak, and needy. The path to unity in the LCMS must begin with each one of us. I don't mean to say that we start with ourselves and work to Christ, but that in the face of Christ's reaching out to us we come to the total abandonment of everything we are and have so that Christ may be our Head and Leader, rather than start with dialogues, small group meetings, and convocations. If we begin with these latter things we will only push headlong into the frightful things St. Paul warns St. Timothy about in 1 Timothy 6:4."

"Where we abandon everything in us to the waters of our Baptism, which is Christ's death, and wait in empty silence for God to raise, feed, and guide us, there we will pass over from the lonely individualism of sin and death into the unity of the communion of saints that abides in righteousness and life. This self-abandonment is impossible, unless Christ Himself is present to step in and become all in all."

"If this repentance truly describes us, then we will not find ourselves proposing things to God, but only receiving from Him, for one who has abandoned everything in himself and the world has nothing left to propose. If this is our condition, then we will not propose new worship to ignite the emotions or to be more relevant to man's world (for this turns the "self" into a contender for co-Shepherd and co-Counselor). Instead we will receive from God what the Scriptures say and do (which means that is what we will say and do), and thus God would bring us into His new world. If we were to abide in this self-abandonment, then we would not constantly ask, "Does Scripture force me to do this or that?", but rather we would say, "How much of what God shows and gives in the Scriptures can we keep and live and abide in?". Remember, the law requires against our nature, the gospel resurrects our nature into that which follows along willingly. (In regards to worship, I have some thoughts on that here.) We all are at different places, subjectively speaking, when it comes to humility and faith before God (repentance). We should be gentle with one another in all this, even as God is gentle with us in Christ. This is the way of unity. Unity must first be received from God and in God before it can be given or "achieved" between Christians, much less in the LCMS as a whole."

"The cross is not locked up in the sacraments in order to transform our lives in the world into glory. Rather the cross is imparted through the sacramental life of the Church so that we may take up our cross and follow where our Good Shepherd leads."

Faulty Predestinarianism

Is the LCMS guilty of faulty Predestinarianism? Pastor Harju thinks so. I'd have to agree with him, as far as it used in the context of his post LCMS Ablaze! Here's a portion of what he has to say:

It seems that in the LCMS a different model of Predestination is at work. The salvation of the elect is not dependant on God's secret decision from before the foundation of the world. Otherwise, why does our leadership illustrate the Ablaze! missions agenda by rapid finger snapping (snap, snap, snap, snap, etc.) and then say something to the effect of, 'This is people dying without knowing Jesus, and we need to do something about it.'?

Now for Dr. Mattes' Uzzah analogy: what happened when Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark? He died. Why? Because of his lack of faith. The Ark was not his to steady. It belonged to God, and it was the sacramental vessal [sic] of God's presence among His people. God had provided means for its care. Uzzah looked up and saw how the Ark was unsteady, and he attempted to rescue God. His faith was not in God's word, command, and promise, but like St. Peter who sank in the water when he experienced the wind and waves, Uzzah's faith became distorted and misplaced. And what happened to Uzzah? He died.

The Church is the Ark of God. The Church fulfills the OT Ark of the Covenant (as does the BVM, but we won't go into that correlation here right now). The Church is the bearer of His presence, but it is God who is at the helm, God who is driving everything, and God who has arranged for His elect to come on board and receive safe passage. What will happen to the LCMS if, by taking our eyes off of God's promises and worrying over the "wind and the waves" and the "stumbling oxen", we insist on reaching out our hand to steady things? The answer is obvious. (Great analogy, Dr. Mattes.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Confessional Lutherans Need Not Apply

Reprinted below is the story of one group of Lutherans whose request has been repeatedly rejected. Their unreasonable request? To start a Confessional Lutheran church. They call themselves Christ Lutheran Mission, and are located in Princeton, MN, which is in the Minnesota North District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. According to the Minnesota North District, the District's mission is "to further the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and to assist congregations as Great Commission churches." I thought Minnesota was a conservative part of the country. It appears that the Gospel in Minnesota will only be allowed to be preached under a very specific set of circumstances. Apparently, the "Historic Lutheran Liturgy" doesn't qualify. Judge for yourself.

This post was first published at Laughing Martin. Republished by permission of the author.

The Story of Christ Lutheran Mission

Two years ago two families began talking about forming a new church in Princeton. It was agreed this would be a confessional/orthodox congregation using the Historic Lutheran Liturgy. The LCMS churches in the circuit were all moving away from this practice and we felt there was a need.

We approached the pastor of the congregation both of us belonged to at the time Faith Community Lutheran in Zimmerman, MN and Rev. Jim Walburg about Faith Community Lutheran becoming a mother church. We were told that the time was not right. In our discussions with Pastor Walburg it became clear to us that the time would never be right, especially for a congregation that was to reject the Church Growth Methods and be Lutheran to the core.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Latest Newspaper Article On the Cancellation of "Issues, Etc."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Tim Townsend has written a new article titled "Lutheran radio program's demise is a symptom of larger ills," available at It is a balanced article which focuses on the continuing fallout from the cancellation of Issues, Etc. and the "split" within the LCMS. Thanks to Pastor Walter Snyder for pointing this article out. Here's a quote of the first three paragraphs of the article:

When about 75 people gathered outside the international headquarters of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod this week, it was a rare display of public dissension among the members of a relatively quiet Christian denomination.

Catholics, Episcopalians and evangelicals have grabbed the headlines lately. Lutherans, even those of the more conservative Missouri-Synod stripe, have largely dealt with their differences internally. (The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, a separate Lutheran body, is considered more liberal.)

But that changed last month when church officials silenced one of its own public voices. When the church pulled the plug on its KFUO-AM program, "Issues, Etc.," and fired its host and producer, the show's fans turned up the volume.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Book Review of "Testing the Claims of Church Growth," by Rev. Rodney E. Zwonitzer

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you may have noticed a shift over the last couple of decades in the way church is “done.” Hymns have been replaced by praise songs, organs have been replaced by worship teams, and “creeds” have been replaced by “deeds.” This particular “shift” has a name, the Church Growth Movement. This movement is in response to the shrinking church membership of denominations across America – an attempt to change the way church is presented in order to retain members and attract new members.

There are those who think this shift is long overdue, and those who rail against it. The Lutheran Church, which has historically been a more conservative denomination, has been somewhat slow to embrace the Church Growth (CG) concept, and its introduction has been a source of debate and division. CG has elevated a handful of pastors to national prominence and spawned countless seminary classes, seminars, websites, and books. One such book is Pastor Rodney Zwoniter’s book, Testing the Claims of Church Growth (Concordia Publishing House), first published in 2002.

Rev. Zwonitzer is Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dearborn, Michigan, and a graduate from Concordia Seminary, a seminary of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS). Because the book is no longer in print, and because of the continued involvement of the LCMS and other synods and denominations with the Church Growth Movement, I thought now would be a great time to review the book. I’ve attempted to include numerous quotes for those people who haven’t been able to secure a copy of their own.

Testing the Claims of Church Growth is easy to read, written with a layman in mind. There are no difficult terms or other complicated theological discussions that would make the book hard to understand for the average reader. He presents a wide variety of quotes while exploring the writings of both sides of the “dispute,” frequently quoting Church Growth Movement advocates such as Rev. David Luecke, and Rev. Kent Hunter, and those who take exception, whom he calls Confessionalists, such as Rev. Kurt Marquart and sainted LCMS President Rev. A. L. Barry.

As the book begins, Pastor Zwonitzer sets out to
...present and test the claims written by both sides of the Church Growth controversy in The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The goal is to reveal which side is pleasing God and which is pleasing people.
Basic to such a testing is this question: is the church a business? Were Jesus, Paul, Martin Luther, and even C. F. W. Walther [the first President of the LCMS] marketing men, as the Church Growth Movement claims (9)?
He wastes no time formulating an answer, and letting the reader know where the book will take them. In the next sentence he states
...NO! Marketing is an overarching approach that seeks to please the customer, proclaiming the customer king. True theology can have no customer sovereignty.
The precious Gospel must be sovereign.
Marketing has never helped to grow Christ’s true kingdom and never will. His kingdom is not of the business world (9).
You might think that beginning the book with such an emphatic “NO!” belies a certain bias that skews his findings towards a more Confessional stance. And he may have been biased, but biased, if anything, towards a distinctive Church Growth perspective. Pastor Zwonitzer’s previous career was that of marketing executive. On entering the ministry, he hoped that his previous experience would dovetail nicely into the marketing of the Gospel,
But eventually, as I entered the intense study of Holy Scripture, I began to question just how much of this marketing experience should transfer over to Christ’s church. I must admit that for a long period I hoped it would, since I could truly contribute the fruits of 13 years of labor out there in the business arena competing for market share. I felt this gift of talents and time would be used by God, and I was ready to share it if He wanted.
Now, on the basis of my study of Scripture, I do not believe that God wants or needs much of what I did as a marketing executive to carry over into His church (8).
With this previous marketing background in mind, it is safe to say that Pastor Zwonitzer had no previous anti-CG leanings.

In the introduction, Pastor Zwonitzer describes the philosophy and strategy that underlies the Church Growth Movement, which is essentially a modern business strategy of marketing technique applied to God’s Church. This is the “seeker-sensitive model” that we see in churches today, in which “marketing seeks to not sell or promote anything that a potential group of customers does not want or need” (13). In this case, the “customer” is believed to be the “seeker,” who in a previous generation was known as an unbeliever. A significant change in emphasis must occur in order to switch to a Church Growth paradigm. The emphasis must change from a “product orientation” in which the focus is on the product itself, in this case the Gospel, to a “market orientation,” which “begins and ends with the focus on the market, the customer, the consumer of products and services” (12).
For the marketing paradigm shift to be given any chance of succeeding, the entire business must take on this orientation. Thus, beginning with upper management through all levels of the organization, indoctrination and education to this new way of doing business must be implemented.
All resistance to this shift must be overcome and a synergistic commitment to a marketing orientation must be established (14).
This paradigm shift is the goal of many current LCMS Synodical leaders. From the perspective of this shift, the Gospel is now referred to as “substance,” and everything else, such as the liturgy, is “style.”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A New 95 Theses

Save the LCMS! has written a new 95 theses in the spirit of the reformation. Their theses point out the grave threats to the Church and a proper response. I hope you'll read all 95 theses. Here are a few highlights:

Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, the public bulletin board of his day. In like manner, we, Athanasius and Chrysostom, post these 95 theses on the door of the internet. Like the original theses, these are debatable, for we believe that it is through vigorous debate that the spirits are tested and truth is revealed.

In publishing these theses, we do not intend to foment division, but to expose those who are creating division within the body of Christ. We are not addressing any particular church body or person, but invite all who love the Gospel of Jesus Christ to engage in this debate. We do so in the spirit of the great Reformer, Martin Luther, as we implore the mercies of God upon His Church, for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church and Bishop of our souls.

1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” He willed that the whole life of believers should be one of repentance.

2. To “repent” means to be contrite for one’s sins and to trust Jesus Christ and solely in His completed work for one’s forgiveness, life, and salvation.

3. Those who describe the Christian life as purpose-driven deny true repentance, confuse the Law and the Gospel, and obscure the merits of Christ.

4. Impious and wicked are the methods of those who substitute self-help and pop-psychology for the Gospel in the name of relevance.

5. This impious disregard for the Gospel wickedly transforms sacred Scripture into a guidebook for living, a pharisaic sourcebook of principles, and sows tares among the wheat.

6. Relevance, self-help and pop-psychology have no power to work true contrition over sins and faith in Jesus Christ.

7. Like clouds without rain, purpose-driven preachers withhold the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins won by Christ on the cross and enslave men’s consciences to the law which they cleverly disguise as so-called 'Biblical Principles'.

15. The truly “seeker-sensitive” church proclaims God’s wrath against our sin and His mercy for Jesus’ sake.

16. The preaching of Christ crucified is a stumbling block to purpose-driven pragmatists and foolishness to church growth consultants.

25. Purveyors of relevance claim that self-help, life-applications and biblical principles are the means to reach the unchurched because they meet people’s felt needs.

26. Yet a person’s greatest need is one he does not by nature feel, namely the need for the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ.

33. Scripture clearly teaches that the means by which God grants faith are the the hearing of the Word of Christ (the Gospel) and the water of Holy Baptism.

34.Therefore, even if a congregation, through their own marketing methods and business prowess were able to draw 100,000 people every Sunday, if the Gospel is not heard and the sacraments are not administered according to the Gospel there is no church and the true Church of Jesus Christ has not grown by a single soul.

35. If numerical growth is a measure of God’s approval, then we must conclude that God approves of Islam and the Mormons.

36. If financial success is a measure of God’s approval, then we must conclude that God approves of pornography and gambling.

38. The purveying of purpose-driven relevance is the theology of glory; the preaching of Christ crucified for sinners is the theology of the cross.

39. The theologian of glory says that the kingdom of God is visible now in buildings, people, and dollars; the theologian of the cross says that the kingdom of God is an article of faith.

40. The theologian of glory asks “How much?” and “How many?”; the theologian of the cross preaches Christ regardless of how much or how many.

69. A synod that is concerned for the true unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace does not excuse unionism and syncretism.

72. Worship is doctrine put into practice.

73. As one worships, so one believes.

74. As one believes, so one worships.

80. In matters neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God (adiaphora), the churches of God are free to change ceremonies according to circumstances, as may be most beneficial and edifying to the churches of God. (Epitome, Art X.4)

81. Such changes must avoid all frivolity and offenses, particularly with regard to those who are weak in faith (Epitome, Art X.5).

82. Where the Gospel is at stake, concessions in ceremony must not be made so as to suggest unity with those who deny the Gospel (Epitome, Art X.6)

83. Therefore, it is contrary to the doctrine of adiaphora to hide the substance of Lutheran doctrine behind a non-Lutheran style of worship.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Protecting My Family from False Doctrine and Bad Pastors

This post comes courtesy of Rob Olson at TUEBOR: Honoring the Office of Holy Ministry. Republished with permission.

I want to protect my family from false doctrine and bad pastors.

I know that this blog deals with honoring the Office of Holy Ministry, so it seems odd to be talking about bad pastors. But I have already acknowledged in a previous post ("The Spiritually Abused and the OHM", 7/2/07) that there are Lutheran pastors today, called and ordained servants of the Word, who are simply bad.

My family has been spiritually abused in the past by clergy who have, in the name of evangelism or 'compassion' for the lost, brushed aside the need for sound doctrine. So it was with great sadness, disappointment, and more than a few hairs standing up on the back of my neck that I read a disturbing series of contrasting quotations in an e-mail that I received this morning.

The following quotations contain language that I heard all of the time during our years in manipulative, abusive charismatic/Evangelical churches, and I thank Rev. Charles Hendrickson for pointing out the sharp contrast between them and those (further below) of C.F.W. Walther:

President Kieschnick:

"The church cannot afford to waste time on incessant internal purification at the expense of the lost in the world."
--Jerry Kieschnick, synodical president

"We have not the luxury of time and energy spent on incessant internal purification at the expense of the eternal destiny of the souls of men and women for whom Christ died, but who know not His name and have accepted not His saving grace."
--Jerry Kieschnick, synodical president

"My concern is that we can spend so much time in incessant internal purification that we do so at the expense of the eternal destiny of people who are dying every minute."
--Jerry Kieschnick, synodical president

"People, this is NOT a game. Our incessant internal purification at the expense of the eternal destiny of the souls of men and women for whom Christ died must stop!"
--Jerry Kieschnick, synodical president

President Walther:

"Many say, 'Instead of disputing over doctrine so much, we should much rather be concerned with souls and with leading them to Christ.' But all who speak in this way do not really know what they are saying or what they are doing. As foolish as it would be to scold a farmer for being concerned about sowing good seed and to demand of him simply to be concerned about a good harvest, so foolish it is to scold those who are concerned first and foremost with the doctrine, and to demand of them that they should rather seek to rescue souls. For just as the farmer who wants a good crop must first of all be concerned about good seed, so the church must above all be concerned about right doctrine if it would save souls."
--C. F. W. Walther, synodical president
"Our Common Task--The Saving of Souls," 1872

Whether our Synod gains friends or makes enemies, wins honor or invites disgrace, grows or declines in numbers, brings peace or incites enmity, all this must be unimportant to us--just so our Synod may keep the jewel of purity of doctrine and knowledge. However, should our Synod ever grow indifferent toward purity of doctrine, through ingratitude forget this prize, or betray or barter it away to the false church, then let our church body perish and the name "Missourian" decay in disgrace.
--C.F.W. Walther, synodical president
First Sermon Delivered at the Opening of Synod,
1 Corinthians 1:4, 5

Oh my dear friends of the Lutheran faith, confession, and conflict, do not be misled when today those are everywhere accused of lovelessness who still do not give up the battle for pure doctrine in our Church. . . . Oh my dear friends, let us indeed sorrow and lament over this: that false teachers constantly assail the pure doctrine in our Church and thus are at fault for the conflict and strife in the Church. However, let us never lament but rather extol and praise God that he always awakens men who fight against those false teachers, for, I repeat, this pertains to "the common salvation." . . . This conflict is one commanded us by God and is therefore certainly one blessed in time and in eternity. . . . Oh, therefore, let us never listen to those who praise and extol the conflict of the Reformation for the pure Gospel but want to know nothing of a similar conflict in our days.
--C. F. W. Walther, synodical president
"Why Dare and Can We Never Give Up the Church's Struggle for the Pure Doctrine?" 1876

Pastors who brush aside the critical importance of sound doctrine in the name of 'compassion' for the lost have brushed aside God's Word and do not, in spite of all their pious platitudes, give a rat's behind for the unsaved. Show me a pastor who does not care about doctrine or apologetics, and I will show you a man who does not care about the lost. When they complain about others who are concerned about sound biblical teaching, they really are saying that they do not want to stand under the authority of God's Word. They do not want their doctrine or practice to be questioned.

As a lay person who almost rejected the Christian faith due to spiritual abuse at the hands of such men 'ablaze' with such a supposed 'compassion' for the lost, I became a Lutheran because of the explosively liberating doctrine of the Reformation. So now when I hear that pastors in the Missouri Synod are using the very same rationale to avoid standing under the authority of Holy Scripture, I realize that honoring the holy ministry is one thing, whereas honoring the specious, manipulative, and damnable teachings of truly bad pastors is another. The Office of Holy Ministry ends where pastors step out from underneath the authority of God's Word, even in the name of Evangelism.

Such teaching is a public, deadly evil, and I will, by God's grace, keep my wife and children far from such men.

"Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." Acts 17:11


Monday, April 14, 2008

A Christ-Centered Gospel?

The co-pilot I flew with today was a fellow brother in Christ whom I'd flown with before. Though he isn't Lutheran, he doesn't have a work-righteousness orientation, and has a good Scriptural foundation.

We were discussing the differences between Evangelicalism and Lutheranism. I mentioned the frequent emphasis in Evangelicalism on what you have to do, combined with a lack of emphasis on how that relates to what Christ has done - a man-centered Gospel rather than a Christ-centered Gospel. This type of man-centered Gospel seems to be creeping into the practice of Lutherans as well. When I came home, I checked my inbox and found an email from Pastor Paul T. McCain describing a recent post on his Cyberbrethren blog. It coincidentally discusses a similar topic. A portion of Pastor McCain's blog post follows:

Anyone who spends much time examining popular Protestant literature and listening to popular so-called "Evangelical" preaching, quickly realizes that, apparently, in much of Protestantism, the Name above every Name, Jesus, is optional: the specific articulation of the Gospel appears to be optional in much Protestant church culture, unless it is some kind of evangelistic rally. I know that generalizations always fail, but, it is something I continue to notice across all sorts of media: books, magazines, videos, blog sites: Jesus optional. Christ should be the main point of Christianity. Is He?

And lest we Lutherans begin to pat ourselves on the back, let us instead confess our own sins of omission and commission on this point: is Christ the center and focus of all that we say and do? Let us take warning from this and strive all the more to proclaim the Gospel and to preach and teach and confess, in all our vocations in life, the Name above every Name: Christ.

I hope you'll check out what Pastor McCain has to say. He's a Confessional Lutheran whom I always enjoy reading.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

When the Gospel Isn't "Working"

This post comes courtesy of Pastor Joel A. Brondos at Kyrie Eleison.
Reproduced with permission.

Attendance at congregational board meetings is falling off. It is becoming more and more difficult to find volunteers to serve as congregational officers and Sunday school teachers. Stewardship wanes despite all the really neat programs and pledge drives that have been tried. Evangelism “cold calls” don’t seem to be turning up many potential new members. Congregational life seems to be in a slump, despite the fact that the same precious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is being purely preached in the word and rightly administered in the sacraments.

Then you receive information about a dynamic new program that promises to be vibrant, sure-fire, and a guaranteed success. It comes professionally printed in bold colors and attractive handouts. You think that it might be used effectively, especially if the program promises results no matter what doctrinal belief system your church may hold. One size fits all. It purports to be purely practical so that you can pour in whatever doctrine you like along the way. Under the circumstances, you may feel that you are ready to try anything if it will just coax a few members out of the starting blocks, if it will just stir up a modicum of enthusiasm to get things “on fire for the Lord.”

At that moment, however, what are you in danger of doing to the gospel? Are you not in effect thinking that the gospel needs a little boost because it doesn’t seem to be accomplishing very much at the moment? Are you not trying to add something to the gospel to make it look more desirable to those whom you hope will receive it with greater joy and heartfelt response?

What you are being tempted to do is doll up the gospel into a painted lady. Its true beauty will be obscured and people will end up loving your new creation not for what the gospel is of itself but for what you have made of it. “Darling! I just love what you’ve done with the gospel! It looks simply marvelous and so appealing! How could droves of people not flock to your pews every Sunday?”

When the gospel does not seem to be working, the problem is not with the gospel. It is not because you have failed to make the gospel look sufficiently sweet, desirable, or appealing with things that attract the attention of the human nature. The problem is with the preaching that leads to repentance.

Perhaps too often we have heard a law preached that threatens instead of the law that kills. Such law will never be appealing for increasing membership, but it is the only thing that prepares one for the gospel. Programs often miss that. The law that would kill the old Adam doesn’t sell as well as a law that merely threatens the old Adam or laments the slip of society into moral degradation.

The law isn't to be domesticated like a house cat. When the Gospel doesn't seem to be working, one doesn't call upon the Law to motivate people, to challenge them, or to manipulate guilt in a way analogous to "Here, kitty, kitty!" The letter kills before the Spirit gives life (which is not to say that the "letter" or law is bad and the Spirit is good. BOTH are necessary: Law and Gospel.)

Many methods want to offer an attractive, friendly, winsome gospel -- and if it is not sufficiently desirable they would dress it up to look appealing to the world. This is roughly equivalent to painting over the natural beauty of a young girl with a whore’s make-up kit. When “experts” are promoting programs that promise the latest sociological designs, market testing, snappy multimedia presentations, and “irrefutable” statistical analyses, they are painting a grace, mercy, peace, and love apart from repentance.

The grass is always greener on the other side: the magazine model or movie starlet may often seem more attractive than what one knows in daily life. The danger comes when people start pursuing their fantasies as if true happiness might be found somewhere along the way. Ever on the rebound, they imagine that the next love will be the real thing, but instead they get one disappointment after another until they become so disillusioned that they are incapable of recognizing or returning to true love.

Luther wrote: “The mad mob, however, is not so much interested in how things can be improved, but only that things be changed. Then, if things are worse, they will want something still different. Thus they get bumblebees instead of flies and in the end they get hornets instead of bumblebees.” (AE 46:112).

Many pastors and congregations are today flitting from program to program when they think the gospel isn’t working, wandering farther and farther from what has marked the church founded on Christ through the pure preaching of the word and the right use of the sacraments. There is no shortage of leadership consultants waiting to coax the offering money out of their treasuries with sure-fire methods that look so alluring. They forsake the proper distinction between law and gospel in hopes of promoting something more effective, which results in stirring up lust instead of faith.

When the gospel doesn’t seem to be working, do not consider what kinds of hymns, worship, or social programs might make the gospel more appealing to the flesh. Rather, consider what is appalling to the flesh. Only where the letter has killed can the Spirit give life—not in lock-step conjunction with our self-approved methods, but when and where He wills.

"Save the LCMS" Stands Firm

The blogsite Save the LCMS today made a strong statement answering the questions "Why go through the trouble of saving the LCMS?" and "Why not simply depart in peace, as some are suggesting?" They provide four reasons for their belief that the LCMS is worth saving as a church body. The number one reason: "The Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake." That, in itself, is reason enough.

I agree with their contention that the material principle of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, justification by grace alone through faith alone for Christ’s sake alone, is at serious risk. Why is it at risk? They provide an honest answer, because of "an aggressive form of bureaucracy that is hell-bent on transforming Christ's Church into a seeker-sensitive, emergent "church" under the pretense of making it more competitive in the American religious marketplace.

Please pray for our Synodical leaders, that they would stand on the bedrock on which the Church of the Reformation was founded, justification by grace through faith.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Where There Is No Vision, The People Perish

This post comes courtesy of Pastor William M. Cwirla, from his blog Blogosphere Underground. Reproduced with permission.

The word “vision” made its reentry into the church from its sojourn in the business world via the Church Growth Movement in the 1980’s. Until then, “vision” was a poetic parallel for “prophetic utterance” or “oracle,” a direct revelation from God to a prophet. The Church Growth Movement, which took business and marketing methods and baptized them with Bible passages, found this gem in their gilt-edged leatherette King James Bible: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he (Proverbs 29:18). You can’t beat the book of Proverbs for catchy proof texts. Church leaders have been having visions ever since.

At first hearing, the idea seems to have legs, if not stand on them. People without a vision, presumably in the form of a "vision statement" crafted by "visionary leadership," will be without purpose and fail to achieve their goals. But that’s not what this proverb means or ever meant. Hebrew poetry rhymes with meaning in addition to sound. The parallel thought in this proverb is “but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” “Vision” is in parallel with “law” or better “Torah,” the teaching of God. This, of course, is never quoted, but hey, when you're proof texting, who cares about context?

The proverbial thought is this: A people with no prophetic vision do not keep Torah and so perish miserably. This has nothing to do with vision statements or visionary leaders; it has to do with repentance, faith, and the Word of God. The passage can only be co-opted from the King James. The other translations all agree that “vision” means “prophetic vision,” i.e. a Word of God given to by inspiration to a prophet to speak to the people, calling them to keep Torah.

Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (RSV)

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (ESV)

Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. (NIV)
And for those of you who didn’t fall asleep in Hebrew class, here it is straight up:

Any pastor or church leader with a “vision” had better be speaking the Word of God and calling people to repentance and faith, or else he is a false prophet and should be ignored. We’ll leave the stoning to death part to the old covenant.

What’s Wrong With ‘The Box?’

This post was written by Vicar Matt Lorfeld, and originally published in Around the Tower, the student newspaper at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Matt also posted his work on his page on The Wittenberg Trail. He is presently on vicarage in East Moline, IL. Reproduced with permission.

Dear Seminarians,

My name is Alexander Kastenmacher, I am a simple box maker. I have read the recent April edition of Around the Tower and was deeply concerned by the following statement, “We have to think outside the box more than we do as LCMS Lutherans.” Now I know that phrases such as “think outside the box,” or “get outside the box” are common in our day to day speech. But I must ask, what exactly is wrong with boxes, or being inside boxes?

Now you may not find boxes to be of much importance in your day to day life, but as box-making is my livelihood, I must extol the good qualities that a well made box has. Many of you will be headed out on vicarages or your first calls, certainly you would not want your collection of books, CDs, or dinner plates to decide that it would be better to be outside the box as you move them. Nor would you want your box to fail in doing what it promises to do, namely, keep those books, CDs, and dinner plates inside the box. These much neglected boxes maintain order, ease your workload, and help you deliver your goods from point A to point B.

I’m certainly no professional theologian, as you are learning to be, but I would like to warn you of this anti-box speech when you are talking about what you do as seminarians and in the future as pastors. I should add before I continue that my motivation for writing this does not come from my vocation as box-maker, though I think boxes are the greatest thing since toasted bread. You, dear seminarians, are going to be entrusted with the privilege of proclaiming the Word of God, absolving sins, baptizing, and administering the Lord’s Supper. Now this sounds much like box language to me, and I should know, I’m a box-maker. Your message to me isn’t “Jesus is my homeboy” but rather that “Jesus Christ was crucified for the forgiveness of my sins.” You don’t tell me when I am penitent, “oh that’s ok, it doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong, just that you try hard enough and have faith in something.” No, instead you will proclaim to me, “Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You don’t tell my children that Baptism is a symbolic act of obedience and therefore they must wait until they can decide for Jesus. No, instead you tell them that Baptism does something, in fact you proclaim from the box that was given to you to say “Baptism now saves you.” Finally, you don’t say that coming to the Lord’s Supper is another symbolic act of obedience and therefore it does not matter if we kneel at the table with those who do not discern what it is they are receiving and who do not have unity with us. No, instead you proclaim that Christ gives his Body and Blood for me for the forgiveness of my sins, and that church fellowship is communion fellowship. This you say because you proclaim from inside the box that God has given to you in His Word.

Lastly I would like to encourage you to use another wonderful box that has been given to you, the liturgy. For in all the ways mentioned above, the Lord gives us His gifts and the liturgy is the way He has given the Church to administer them. This liturgy itself is a wonderful gift that has taught generations of the baptized how Jesus comes to us. In it, God gives us His words to say back to Him, and these Words are wonderful gifts that the very young all the way through the very old can share. This is why we do not ask questions like, “Do we really need one more evening prayer service?” No, you instead teach me, “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.”

All this I say to you, dear seminarians, because you will soon serve me, and many more like me who have been faithfully served by Pastors who have come before you.


Alexander Kastenmacher

Alexander Kastenmacher is a fictitious character created by Around the Tower writer, Matt Lorfeld, for purposes of rhetoric and not to hide the identity of the author. The name Alexander means “defender” and Kastenmacher means “Box-Maker.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

President Benke, Round 2

PRNewswire-USNewswire recently reported on the Pope’s upcoming visit to the United States. The Pope will lead an ecumenical prayer service on April 18th in Manhattan. “Participants at the service will include 250 national and local Protestant and Orthodox Church leaders.” At the end of the service the Pope will greet ten national and five local ecumenical leaders. Guess who one of the five leaders is? Good guess. President David Benke, although the article calls him “Bishop David H. Benke.”

Pastor Benke is President of the Atlantic District of the LCMS. He was embroiled in controversy after praying publicly at an interfaith prayer gathering in Yankee Stadium in remembrance of the 9/11 victims. He was subsequently accused of unionism and syncretism by conservative Pastors in the LCMS. President Benke’s actions still divide the synod, if the conversations carried on at Luther Quest are any indicator.

If I happened to be driving by I might stand outside the door and listen to what the Pope had to say, but I wouldn’t be showing up with official Papal stationary in hand, and I wouldn’t want to be there in any official Lutheran capacity. To this day, the official doctrine of the Catholic Church still anathemizes those who believe in justification by grace through faith apart from works.

President Benke has no business being there as a representative of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. What fellowship can light have with darkness?

Southern Illinois District Stands Firm

The Pastoral Conference of the Southern Illinois District resolved on April the 8th to petition the LCMS Board of Communications Services to revisit its decision to cancel Issues, Etc., and to reinstate Pastor Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz to their previous positions. They also petitioned the Board to "make a public apology for the offense this cancellation has caused."

The heat is being turned up. If other Districts pursue this same type of resolution, Mr. David Strand, the Executive Director of the Board, will soon need a fire resistant suit.

If you haven't signed the protest petition to have Issues, Etc. reinstated, you're not too late. The petition can be found here.

The full text of the Southern Illinois District's resolution can be viewed at Augsburg1530.

Monday, April 7, 2008

What This Blog Isn’t

Just so you know, this blog isn’t about throwing stones at others or running down our synod. It isn’t about wrangling over issues for which the Bible has no advice (adiaphora). While there may be times when individual names are mentioned, it is not my desire to belittle people. Ephesians 6:12 states:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

This blog is about the defense of the Gospel, and I will canoe down whatever theological, Christological, or any other "ological" river, rapids, or backwater it takes to get there.

While this blog started in the midst of turmoil, I pray that turmoil will be washed away through the forgiveness and reconciliation that can only be found through the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Not everything I post will be about synodical, or even Lutheran-specific issues. There are plenty of cults, heretics and heresies to go around. My hope is that this blog will be helpful in some way to those who want to be further educated on events and ideas that threaten our common Confession, so that, together, we may stand firm.

So grab a paddle, hop in the boat, and let’s get going!

What’s It All About?

Up until two weeks ago, I never had a blog. I’ve been to a few, but never had one of my own. Now I’ve got two. (Okay. To be honest, I do have an apologetics website,, but that doesn’t count.) Why do I now have two blogs, when I previously had none? Because they canceled Issues, Etc., which pushed me well past the line of "uncommitted."

This event was so significant for so many people that Megan Brown called it "the Great Cancellation of 2008." For the uninitiated, Issues, Etc. was the synod-sponsored conservative talk radio program on the synod-owned St. Louis radio station KFUO. The show addressed, in a Confessional yet unthreatening manner, the great religious issues of the day with a diverse range of guests. It was a blessing to us all. The show was canceled without warning on Tuesday of Holy Week. The host, Pastor Todd Wilken, and the Producer, Jeff Schwarz, summarily fired.

To give some sense of the genuine sorrow and outrage which this has caused, I offer the following descriptors of the event which people posted on Pastor Wilken’s page at The Wittenberg Trail:

"persecution," "It makes absolutely no sense," "misguided decisions," "completely stunned," "absolute disappointment," "deeply shocked and saddened," "this travesty," "the synod’s unconscionable decision," "illogical termination," "incomprehensible," and the one that hits closest to home for me, "I grieve."

There are also many people who gave witness to the show’s value. Here is but a sampling:
"I will always be thankful for Issues and its uncompromising stand for confessional Lutheranism."

"You have a true gift for proclaiming and defending the truth of Jesus Christ and have inspired me in so many ways. Thank you. I used to dream there would be a program like Issues etc in Australia, I never imagined there would cease to be one at all."

"It was a theological lifeline for me as I have experienced LCMS congregations that, IMHO [in my humble opinion], strayed from the Christ-centered, Cross-focused preaching and teaching that your show had."

"I grew up in the Missouri Synod, but it was only through listening to your show (and reading "The Spirituality of the Cross") that I came to understand the beauty of the Gospel, the centrality of the sacraments, and the comfort of the cross."

"Your show has been a refreshing and sustaining well of Christ-centered, confessional Lutheran broadcasting."

"You tackled issues that I wrestled with and you helped me sort out the difference between what is right and what is easy."
The show’s cancellation has spawned a whole cottage industry of dissenting blogs. But my "issues" go much deeper than the cancellation of Issues, Etc. The obvious question is "Why was the show canceled?" The synod states that it was because the show was losing money. Many people doubt that, and there are those who wonder if financial impropriety has taken place.

Issues, Etc. was one of the few remaining jewels the LCMS had left in it’s crown. The center stone of that crown, the ultimate jewel of infinite value, is the theology on which this synod was founded, our Confession. That stone is loose in its mount, not due to neglect, but due to a continual chipping away by those in our synod who want to preach a different Gospel. This didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen in a corner. It happened in plain sight.

What Threat?

Picture of sinking shipCaptain Smith wasn’t overly concerned about icebergs the night the Titanic sank. I hope the members and Pastors of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod don’t demonstrate that same indifference, because there’s a berg up ahead and we’re rapidly bearing down on it.

I mention this because many people aren’t aware of the threat. Maybe you’re one of them. You go to church, possibly serve on a committee or two, and go home to your various vocations. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But it’s not the whole picture.

The LCMS has been a divided synod for many years. Issues such as how the church should be "grown," worship style, whether we should pray with other religious bodies, the role of women, disagreement over the role of the pastor, synodical governance, and a whole host of others topics have often split the synod into two "camps." Let me impress upon you the graveness of our situation. Pastor Burnell F. Eckardt, Jr. wrote a few years back "I have been hearing not a few rumblings of taking to the lifeboats, to save conscience from fellowship with idols." There are many others who have made the same observation.

Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, our synod’s President, when beginning his first term in 2001 discussed the divide which confronts us. When President Kieschnick was up for reelection in 2004, headlines in the St. Louis Dispatch read "Church leader faces reelection fight," and "Embattled Lutheran president wins vote." These are not the headlines of a unified synod.

Yet President Kieschnick recently claimed in a face-saving letter to the Wall Street Journal that our synod is not divided. Several readers wrote back to the Journal refuting his claim. LCMS Pastor Wayne W. Schwiesow mentioned "the deep divisions that exist in our denomination." Helen Jensen, an LCMS member of 40 years commented that "‘Missouri’ is divided." (Visit Augsburg1530 for further information on Mollie Hemingway’s Wall Street Journal article and the subsequent follow-on letters.)

Augsburg1530 reported that our synod’s Board of Directors and council members recently met to identify areas that were causing discord. The most startling finding on their list was a "Failure to recognize the severity of the division in our Synod." Yet President Kieschnick seems to be squelching any attempt at resolution.

Bring Back Issues quotes President Kieschnick:

You are NOT free to preach or teach publicly that Synod is wrong on ANY given issue.

If there were no division in the LCMS, he certainly wouldn’t have said that. His statement sounds totalitarian. It doesn’t sound like the stance of someone who is interested in resolving differences, but instead eliminating them. What is of greater concern, his stance is not Biblical. We are to be like the Bereans. Even though St. Paul himself taught the Bereans, they didn’t take his word for it. They examined the Scriptures to see if what he said was true, and he commended them for it.

It is an unsavory business bringing up these kinds of issues and airing our "dirty laundry." It is also a job we are commanded by Scripture to do. Paul tells Titus to "...hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9). As the church militant, we must at all times be on guard.

In closing, I’d like to quote from Pastor Eckardt’s outstanding paper, On the Drinking of Wittenberg Beer:

In these troubled times, it turns out that we are left with the Gospel alone, when, as the hymnist puts it, every earthly prop gives way. The frustration among confessional Lutherans with regard to the course of events in the churches of our day is not unlike that of Luther, who wrote in 1520, "Farewell, unhappy, hopeless, blasphemous Rome. The wrath of God has come upon thee as thou deservest. We have cared for Babylon and she is not healed. Let us then leave her that she may become a habitation of dragons, specters, and witches"(WA, vol. 6, p. 329; cf. AE, vol. 41, p. xv). Yet, as is well known, Luther finally wrote Rome off because Rome had first written him off. The pope burned his books so he burned the pope’s books. The pope excommunicated him, and his invective against Rome was largely the result of Rome’s declaration that he was a heretic. In so doing, Rome was forbidding the Gospel. Times were certainly more troubled in Luther’s day than they are in ours. But perhaps there will come a day when some synodical hyena will declare that the official position of the synod is to brand us confessional Lutherans as heretics, in which case we can happily burn their decrees.

In the meantime I woolgatheringly wonder: Why can’t American beer be as good as Wittenberg’s? Maybe the answer is best attempted allegorically: We produce weaker beer much as we practice weaker liturgy than the Wittenberg Reformer and his friends. We drink weaker beer much as we take in weaker theology than we’d get from reading him. And if we drink in too much of the senseless prating of bureaucrats, we’ll be missing out on the better beer. But if, as Luther was eager to exhort, we imbibe in the Word of God more abundantly, if we learn to trust it implicitly in the face of mounting fears—and this implicit trust will be told by the way we worship—perhaps we won’t find ourselves getting so desperate about our state of affairs. So in short, it’s best to be discerning about what you drink. Wittenberg beer is definitely better.

Check Out These Other Relevant Blogs

A grassroots movement to find out WHY? Issues, Etc. was canceled.
Preserving confessional, sacramental and liturgical Lutheranism.

Save the LCMS!
News & Information from the Christ-Centered Cross-Focused Resistance Movement.

Blogosphere Underground
Pastor Cwirla’s underground blog – all things Cwirlaesque.

Tear Down the High Places
The blog of Matthew Pancake, the Host and Producer of Radical Grace Radio.

How the "Fates" of Pastor Todd Wilken and Leonard Sweet Are Related

Why is the LCMS offering the dais to Emerging Church and New Age advocate Leonard Sweet? Because we are now reaping what we have sown.

For the last several decades we have catered to whatever that particular decade’s name for “unbeliever” was, whether it was “seeker” or “postmodernist,” or some other name. In our zeal to save some, we’ve gradually, inextricably, changed our practice. As the decades slide by, few notice the almost imperceptible movement of the theologic tectonic plates, but they are ever moving, reshaping our doctrine.

In many churches, and in many districts, our practice has changed markedly. Now that change has altered our doctrine. We are seeing the result of that doctrinal shift. While the LCMS was once a confessional light in the world, we can no longer make that claim. We’re going the way of other synods before us. It is now fashionable to consort with undiscerning scholars, including those in the Emerging Church.

Why are we offering the dais to Leonard Sweet? Because we believed him when he said “...the mortar-happy church of the last half of the 20th century is ill-poised to face the promises and perils of the future.” We’ll still proudly toss around phrases like “Word and Sacrament,” but that’s no longer what it’s all about. We’ll do whatever it takes to avoid the “perils of the future.” There’ll be no shrinking membership on our watch!

We’ve forgotten Matthew 7:13-14: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

I believe that it is no coincidence that Issues, Etc. was canceled as our synod prepares to embrace the doctrine of the Emerging Church. The voice of Pastor Todd Wilken could not be allowed to continue proclaiming and defending the pure doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, while we at the same time welcome Leonard Sweet onto the broad palm-strewn avenue of doctrinal indiscretion.

Will we join him? The liberal side of the Emerging Church has abandoned inspiration and inerrancy. They believe in a culturally defined “truth,” and affirm a social gospel, mysticism, and a redefined “gospel” that is devoid of the material principle on which the reformation Church was founded, justification by grace through faith. By allowing Emerging Church leaders to address us, our synod is opening up a Pandora’s box of doctrinal error. We must be familiar with these issues in order to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. (I wrote an eight-part article on the Emerging Church if you’re interested in the details, which can be viewed at

Now is the time to enjoin the battle. If we do not stand up with a united confessional voice, we will not stand at all. Our synod, which was built on the doctrinal high ground of our Confession, will become a house built on sinking sand. Now is the time to let your voice be heard. Let your voice be heard from the pulpit, from the pew, and from the convention floor. Speak up against the cancellation of Issues, Etc. Speak up against the creeping incursion of false doctrine infiltrating our synod from the Emerging Church. As you read this, email it to fellow like-minded LCMS members. We have to act. Don’t wait for the other guy to speak up, because he’s waiting on you! “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

In closing, I quote C.F.W. Walther: “Accordingly, the Church has no choice but to be at war. It is ecclesia militans, the Church Militant, and will remain such until the blessed end. Wherever a Church is seen to be, not ecclesia militans, but ecclesia quiescens, a Church at ease, that – you may rely on it! – is a false Church.”

If you'd like to read more articles of an apologetics nature, check out what I and a few other Lutherans have written at This post was originally published on my blog page at The Wittenberg Trail.

A Theology of Glory and a Theology of the Cross, by Pastor Don Matzat

[The Theology of the Cross is being supplanted by the Theology of Glory in some of our churches. I am posting this article to aid in distinguishing between the two. This article can also be found at the Issues, Etc. Article Archive. Reproduced with permission.]

Everyday in every way we are getting better and better. Really?

Theology is systematic. All the pieces are supposed to fit together. Within Protestantism there are two very distinct systems of theology. One is a Theology of Glory and the other is a Theology of the Cross. I believe that it is very important that we understand the differences between these two ways of thinking. In so doing, I believe we will arrive at the conclusion that these two systems cannot be mixed.

The Place of the Gospel

The Protestant theology of glory begins with a one-time trip to the Cross of Jesus Christ. The preaching of human sin and divine grace is only directed at the unbeliever in order to "get him saved." The person who gets saved can sing, "At the Cross, at the Cross where I first saw the light and the burden of my sin rolled away . . . and now I am happy all the day."

Very often, when discussing on Issues, Etc. the place of the Gospel in preaching and teaching, someone will call-in and say, "I’ve already been to the Cross. I’ve heard the Gospel. I’m saved." In other words, in the thinking of that person, the preaching of the Gospel is directed at unbelievers. Once unbelievers are saved the Gospel in no longer relevant.

The theology of the Cross is quite different. The preaching of sin and grace or Law and Gospel is not only intended to convert the unbelieving sinner but is intended to produce sanctification in the Christian. The preaching of the Law continues to convict the Christian of sin, leading to contrition, and the Gospel continues to produce faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

Holy Week In Mexico City & The Theology of the Cross

Picture of crossThe co-pilot and I arrived in smoggy Mexico City on Maundy Thursday afternoon (the day before Good Friday). We changed out of our uniforms and hopped on the subway, heading for downtown Mexico City. We emerged from the subway into a vast, boiling mass of people; it was like Disneyland at spring break. We stood on the edge of the Zócalo, the second largest public square in the world. Lined on one side by the National Palace, and on another by the Cathedral Metropolitana, it was an impressive sight. As we pushed our way through the throngs of people, I was beginning to realize that Holy Week in Mexico is a much different affair than it is in the U.S. We aimed for the twin Neo-Classical towers of the Cathedral.

Squeezing through the narrow entrance of the guarded gate, we entered the Cathedral during the middle of a church service. The place was carpeted wall-to-wall with people. We fought our way up one of the two lateral aisles towards the altar, trying not to get separated. As we went, I explained Maundy Thursday to my non-Christian flying partner. Maundy, derived from the Latin word for “mandate,” refers to Christ’s command to His disciples at the Passover meal to love one another.

The Mass exuded high church. There were a number of white-clad people standing in front of the altar, a flood of candles, burning incense, a chanter, the people singing their responses, and the priest delivering his homily from a pulpit raised fifteen feet above the floor. My Spanish isn’t that good, so I had a hard time following along, but it was nonetheless an awe-inspiring spectacle. It was obvious, as we returned to the street, that there was going to be some kind of event later on. There were a number of policemen assembling to escort somebody somewhere.

The next morning, Good Friday arrived, warm and sunny. I was able to get in the three “R’s” before heading back to the airport – reading, writing, and running. Running in Mexico City is also a different affair. It’s at an elevation of 7,300' – I’m used to running at sea level, so I slowed my pace slightly. Dodging Mexican perros sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk and negotiating uneven sidewalks and huge curbs, I crossed Jose Stalin Street and Leon Trotsky Street.

While still headed outbound, I came across a procession. It had a surreal, carnival-like atmosphere. Vendors on the side streets sold grilled chicken and ice cream. There were loud “booms” from non-airborne fireworks. At the head of the procession was a man dressed as a robed Jesus, complete with a crown of thorns and blood streaming down his face. He was carrying a cross. Behind him was another man who would strike “Jesus” with a wet cloth. Behind them were other men, each carrying the heavy horizontal member of a cross on their shoulders. Each of them were also being struck on their bare backs by a wet cloth, hard. They sometimes flinched in pain. There was also a dilapidated van in the front that blared sad sounding music from a clunky old speaker when the narrator wasn’t speaking.