The letter below was sent to me for discussion...
[Dear Friend in Christ],
[A number of folks] and I have been corresponding for some time regarding pressing issues of Church Practice in the WELS, issues which are potentially revealing doctrinal disunity, and which with all certainty, are going to surface during the 2009 WELS Synod Convention. Although I doubt these issues will be agenda items, they will undoubtedly surface in conversation among laymen, in committee discussion, and possibly in floor discussion resulting from committee reports, motions or even Memorials. I have been in contact with many individuals across Synod. I know that these topics will be raised, whether on the agenda proper, or not. Indeed, one internet source has proclaimed, "This 2009 convention will be the great divide. The laity will have to do their share -- and more than their share -- to move toward sound doctrine."
[Someone] informed me that he had briefly spoken to you regarding these issues, and he has asked me to share these issues with you by having me to forward to you pertinent information. There is a lot of it. I hope you don't mind reading. I will list the internet and attached document sources below, in order, providing a developing picture of the issues. My intent is to provide you with a reading of source material so that you can come to your own understanding of the gravity of these issues, can develop your own opinions, and be prepared for what may well be one of the most important Conventions since the amalgamation debate. I will provide an overview, and then only brief summaries for each source I link to.
Briefly stated, there seems to be a growing rift in our Synod's unity resulting from decades of tolerating the aberrations of the "Church Growth Movement" (CGM). While those who have imported these teachings from sources in greater American evangelicalism, and have promoted them among us, claim to have "cleaned them up" and "made them Lutheran," the damage created by these teachings is now surfacing in the form of divergent and sectarian practices within our congregations, especially worship practices, which are in turn not only exposing possibly divergent theological convictions of those in WELS who engage in these practices, but are most certainly exposing our people to heterodox perspectives as the practices themselves teach them, are watering down our public confession as our distinctiveness from the sectarians becomes less acute, and are eroding the consistency of our Fellowship standards, and thus also the firm testimony against doctrinal error that Fellowship is intended to communicate. This trend has not gone unnoticed by Synod. As a result of growing, and vocal concern, the WELS Council of Presidents (CoP) has recognized such influences among us, declaring under the "Doctrine" heading of its January meeting minutes:
5.D.03 Establishment of "non-traditional" ("new style") congregations We feel that the underpinnings of this "non-traditional" type of worship cannot be ignored. We also feel that the issue is extremely complex and will take great care to be careful to walk the "narrow Lutheran road" between legalism and ignoring and failing to admonish where practices are contrary to or a danger to the principles of gospel proclamation and the efficacy of the means of grace. We move that an ad hoc committee be convened that can study and address this issue and produce a study document that can be shared with circuits and also congregations for study and careful evaluation of practices in worship, sacraments, outreach, organization, music selection, etc. Motion carried.
5.D.05 C & C and outside speakers We recommend that our Synod President and District President(s) continue to work with the representatives of Church and Change to come to an understanding of our desire for them to withdraw their invitation to the speaker proposed for their next conference.
The speaker referred to by the CoP, in 5.D.05 above, is Baptist "Church Growth" expert, Ed Stetzer -- and this specific issue has been a lightning-rod of controversy in the WELS for almost a year. But this is nothing new for the group Church and Change (C&C) -- an external group of WELS laymen, pastors, and theologians who seem to thrive on such controversy. In 2005, they invited the Methodist "Emergent Church" expert, Dr. Leonard Sweet, to instruct them, in order to disseminate his advice directly to WELS congregations through their organization. C&C was asked at that time by Synod to cancel their Conference because of their invitation, but C&C ignored this request. Because of the political positions in Synod occupied by those associated with this organization, C&C seems to have had free reign to "largely ignore them" (a quote from one of the papers I source, below). This year, it seems, they have finally been effectively pressured to "uninvite" the heterodox teacher, Ed Stetzer, but it remains to be seen whether the inclination to invite similar experts has also been reversed. In addition, many of our wealthy members seem to have gravitated to C&C leaders, perhaps because of their celebrity status, perhaps because of the “success” that their meticulously researched marketing plans seem to guarantee. As a result, several individuals have set up large endowment funds to finance the efforts of C&C -- perhaps without realizing the theological compromises and dangers of the Church Growth Movement that they are supporting. The fact is, C&C and its constituency have been active doing this sort of thing for decades, exposing laymen to "Church Growth" theology/methodology by sponsoring trips to evangelical Mission events, like the Exponential Conference and the Drive Conference, by holding their own Conferences celebrating heterodox keynote speakers, by encouraging our pastors and professors to attend grossly heterodox institutions (like Fuller in Pasadena, CA) to learn and import these practices into our Synod, by erecting supporting power structures within Synod (the Board for Parish Services, for instance), and by ultimately implementing these -- often very expensive -- CGM practices in their own congregations and by encouraging others to do the same. The sad fact is, even the statistical measures by which CGM promises “numeric growth,” CGM has instead proven to be an utter failure in those church bodies that have believed in its statistical promises and practiced its methods over the past generation. No evidence of growth in the Church can be found as a result of the methods promoted by CGM. Even Barna Research -- a Christian research firm founded many years ago with the purpose of providing congregations with marketing data and various other forms of research as they seek to implement the methods of CGM -- has declared CGM a statistical failure, showing that over the past generation of its use in greater American Christianity, despite over $500 billion invested in CGM methods over the past 30 years, no evidence of growth is discernible. At most, all that can be seen is denominational shift. Barna, almost five years ago, publicly has given up on CGM. If you think that the decline in numbers we face in WELS today is bad, the fact is, American Evangelicalism is in precipitous decline, the youth are leaving in droves for either liturgical churches, for the open apostasy of the Emergent Church (which seems to be overtaking Evangelicalism), or for nothing at all, and the ineffective Church Growth missions and mega-churches are closing down. CGM, far from helping, has ruined Evangelicalism in America. It has ruined most of Lutheranism in America, and threatens us, now.
Many are tempted to say, "Since false teaching is not tolerated among us, the 'Church Growth Movement' must be orthodox." The first problem is that CGM falsehoods are subtle yet insidious, and when cloaked in otherwise wholesome evangelical zeal, these subtleties (which expose horribly false foundations when they are closely examined, such as the decentralization of the Marks of the Church and the replacement of the Means of Grace with the means of man) are easily overlooked. The second problem is that CGM, in order to bring about the results it promises, requires an organizational power structure, and creates this power structure for itself as its "programs" are carried out. Thus the vaunted role of Parish Services. The Church Growth Movement has transformed WELS into a political institution (this is shown in one of the papers sourced, below). The fact is, several of our pastors and theologians have reportedly come out against the errors of CGM, and as a result have been forced out of their positions and parishes through political pressure. Others have left for reasons of conscience. Reportedly, many pastors are reluctant to say anything as a result. But the struggle continues. One of the papers sourced, below, is a paper received by the 2008 Michigan District Convention -- a sweeping condemnation of CGM, and a call to repentance issued to those who have been deceived by it.
What follows is a listing of the sources I have found compelling, and which I invite you to read in order to be up to date on the issues as they are being considered today, and in order to understand how the "Church Growth Movement" has negatively impacted not only doctrine and practice and created division in our Synod, but is in large part responsible for our current financial situation (outside of ambient economic conditions that effect everyone equally, that is).
What is the "Church Growth Movement?"
Read the attached paper, Tendrils of the Church Growth Movement. (also reproduced online, here)
The Plague of "Contemporary Worship" and the Role of the Lutheran Confessions
So-called "Contemporary Worship" is one of the hallmarks of CGM theology/methodology. In order for man to "grow the church," he must make it inviting for the unregenerate, by presenting worship in a way that is entertaining. It is easy to promote among us, since the prevailing thought is that "worship practice is adiaphora without qualification." The fact is, there are bounds to worship practice -- Scriptural bounds which are elucidated in our Confessions. The Lutheran church, as our Confessions inform us, is not only evangelical, it is also catholic, apostolic, and orthodox, and these facts underly the use of traditional hymnody and liturgical forms. Worship practice is not merely and entirely a matter of personal choice. Among the leading voices against the "Church Growth Movement" in WELS is a layman who writes under the name of "Freddy Finkelstein." He has contributed mainly to the blog, Bailing Water, a blog created and maintained by another WELS layman that is dedicated to discussing issues in Confessional Lutheranism, particularly in the WELS.
The Lutheran Church is a Liturgical Church, according to the Lutheran Confessions...
What is "catholicity"?
What is "lex orandi, lex credendi"?
"Contemporary Worship" teaches that Worship is a Means of Grace
Read the attached paper, Proclaiming the Gospel in Worship. (accessible online, here)
"Church Growth" is not Lutheran evangelism
The Political Nature of "Church Growth" in WELS
Read the attached paper, Fifteen Years Under the MOV. (also reproduced online, here)
The Great Financial Cost of "Church Growth" Spending
Read the attached paper, The Kuske Report. (also reproduced online, here)
...Our desire to proclaim the gospel to more and more people has led us to adopt ambitious plans across the synod. That is a noble goal, but we have often looked to support those plans on anticipated gifts from foundations, individuals, and other sources. We are now in a situation where some of those large gifts have been suddenly reduced. As commendable as our plans may have been, we simply do not have the financial means to continue at the same level as before.
...the Synodical Council will not simply be wrestling with the short-term reduction in the budget. It will also be looking to the need for providing long-term stability to our finances. The Synodical Council will be considering at least one proposal to achieve this goal. This proposal for long-term stability will not enable us to avoid difficult cuts now, but it will seek to provide a new approach to budgeting and planning that will greatly reduce the likelihood of a similar situation occurring in the future. One main element of the proposal is a commitment to planning our ongoing ministry based primarily on our most stable source of funding (Congregation Mission Offerings) and using large donations from other sources for one-time or limited-time programs.
The first paragraph I cite, above, is a straightforward high-level explanation of the reality. However, the second paragraph I cite admits that the funding priorities and methods of Church Growth have gotten us to our current situation (as the The Kuske Report obviates), and the final paragraph I cite indicates the currently favored solution as one which restructures budgeting and planning -- from one dictated by centralized Church Growth priorities to one reflecting our congregational polity. Elsewhere in Schroeder's article, he admits that sweeping Administration cuts and changes will need to be made, reminiscent of the concerns expressed in Manthey's Fifteen Years Under the MOV.
There are other, more salacious, internet sources detailing the massive costs of CGM methods, the extent to which many congregations in WELS have given themselves over to such ideas, and the willingness of our Synod's wealthy to underwrite these efforts through the establishment of external Trusts and Foundations devoted to the issuing grants for these purposes. It is too bad that this money, given in good faith, is used to support efforts founded on such ill-conceived financial notions as those expressed in The Kuske Report. Just because you build it, doesn't at all mean that they will come...
It is amazing that, in a church body such as WELS, which upholds purity in doctrine and true confessional unity, CGM has gained such a foothold among us, and now poses such a threat. After years of failed action in some cases, and of inaction in most other cases, Confessional Lutherans in the WELS stand exposed, organizationally, financially, ecumenically, and doctrinally. Today, there is a suggestive lack of unity in Practice among us as a result of "Church Growth" teachings/methodologies, a lack of unity that is, more-and-more, exposing a growing divergence of opinion among us regarding Scripture teaching. Left unaddressed and uncorrected, the result can only be a rank disunity of the sort tolerated in LCMS -- even celebrated among them in some quarters. Yet, it is tempting for our pastors, in an effort to emphasize our unity, to downplay the reality of these threats. After all, to admit the reality would only prove disturbing for lay members who may not have the capacity to fully understand or appreciate the issues, and would only erode confidence in their leadership and in the Synod's guidance. Regardless, these issues are real, they are serious, and they are going to surface one way or the other. I would encourage you to read the documentation above. Do so without interference from others, and draw your own independent conclusions. I would also encourage you to send this information, along with the attachments, to your fellow laymen, whether delegates to the 2009 Convention or not, that they, too, may be prepared for the 2009 WELS Synod Convention and will be prepared to respond to these issues as they may arise in their own congregations.