Holy Word Lutheran Church and WELS has broken Fellowship With Us
Friday, May 27, 2011Holy Word Lutheran Church and WELS has broken Fellowship With Us
Last fall Pastor Patterson again approached me about becoming an Elder for Holy Word. I had mixed emotions about accepting a nomination. So much study about worship and practice had been done and it became clear to me that Christ the Rock and Holy Word to a lesser extent did not have "quia" subscriptions to the Lutheran Confessions and the Book of Concord. From my perspective through these two churches, I wondered if WELS still had one.(Pastors and Teachers swear an oath to uphold them both in light of the Scriptures.) After prayerful considerations and discussions with my wife I accepted.
In mid-November I had an orientation lunch with Pastor. I remember him stressing that if I had any hidden agendas that I should reconsider my nomination. Since I thought what I would be bringing to the table would be scriptural...how would one construe this as 'hidden'? I also initiated a conversation about justification and brought up Becker's paper regarding Kokomo and my desire to have a meaningful discussion about it. He stressed that he came from the Wauwatosa Theology camp and that we would reciprocate papers; me sending the Becker Paper and him sending me a recent paper by Pastor Rautenberg reviewing an essay by JP Koehler regarding legalism and bravado of orthodoxy. A discussion about justification did not take place prior to election of church officers in December; though I did send a reminder.
After I became an Elder I again tried to initiate a discussion regarding justification. I had a need to know where he stood on Objective Justification. I got my answer the last Sunday of January. You can hear it at approximately 22:22 of this sermon audio (click on the second sermon for January 30th, 2011 & play it from 21:00 - 24:00+ for context):
There are many flavors of this doctrine of Objective Justification being preached. It is confusing. I took exception that Pastor Patterson was preaching that my sins were forgiven before I was born. What good was my baptism? What good are the Means of Grace? What good is the Ministry of the Keys? How does this work with Old Testament believers...where they forgiven too before they were born?
Discussions ensued until last Saturday (May 21st) when we received this email from the leadership at Holy Word:
Dear Joe and Lisa,
We received your latest email and read through all of your concerns. We honestly disagree on all of your points and conclusions. All of your concerns are about practical matters over which God's people have freedom to disagree without the charge of sin - except for one. Your unbelief in objective justification is doctrinal and is not acceptable. In short, it is the deal breaker. I have talked to you about this in person on two occasions. On one of those Pastor Gurgel and Brad Johnston were also present. Pastor Gurgel has talked to both of you in person on two different occasions and elders have engaged you in emails about the very same subject. We are all convinced that your doctrine is unscriptural or unconfessional. Therefore we cannot be in fellowship with you until you repent of this. Your fellowship at the Lord's Table is therefore suspended until you recant your teachings and your writings regarding objective justification.
In addition, your ways of attacking me and the many recent decisions of our congregation are not appropriate. So, even if you repent of your false doctrine regarding objective justification, we have so much more to talk about regarding your critical spirit.
If you wish to pursue this any further, we will meet with you both. In that meeting, we will have two elders and me present. We will not discuss objective justification as if it is a debatable doctrine. We will not entertain changing our decision regarding the use of Cornerstone, we will not change Jocelyn's title from deaconess to anything else, and we will not change our plans to help lay people teach God's Word to God's people. We are convinced that all of these things are good and right in our fellowship and since you have been heard and we have decided not to follow you - you have to accept them. In short, the debate is over. No more discussion! The mission of making disciples must go on!
Our stance is firm but so is our love for you in Christ. Our highest goal is to see you in heaven some day.
To God be the Glory,
Pastor Patterson and the Board of Elders
Holy Word Lutheran Church
We responded May 22nd:
Dear Leadership of Holy Word,
Thank you for your email.
For those who may be scratching their heads as to why we are discussing all of this, it originated from a message preached by Pastor Patterson the last Sunday in January. I have attached a clip of the comment in context. It occurs at approximately 1:14.
Firstly, you falsely accuse us of unbelief in Objective Justification. (OJ) Nowhere have we denied OJ! We have rejected how Pastor Patterson teaches it along with many in the WELS. It is wrong to preach that one's sins are forgiven before they were born. It is not true for me as a New Testament believer in Christ anymore than it was for Old Testament believers or anyone for that matter. When Pr. Patterson in his email of 4-20-2011 says, “Truly, so much that we proclaim about the work of Christ cannot be said in the exact same words about the OT saints and their faith.” He is teaching a kind of dispensationalism. We sing on Easter ‘I know that my Redeemer Lives just as Job proclaimed in Job 19:25. St. Paul goes to great lengths in the 4th chapter of Romans to show us that the NT believers are the offspring of Abraham just as the OT believers are. The end of the chapter dovetails perfectly into chapter 5 to drive the point home the sinner is justified by grace for Christ’s sake through faith.
NIV Romans 4:22 – 5:2 “22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
And this from The Apology IV, 57
“57] And throughout the prophets and the psalms this worship, this latreiva, is highly praised, although the Law does not teach the gratuitous remission of sins. But the Fathers knew the promise concerning Christ, that God for Christ's sake wished to remit sins. Therefore, since they understood that Christ would be the price for our sins, they knew that our works are not a price for so great a matter [could not pay so great a debt]. Accordingly, they received gratuitous mercy and remission of sins by faith, just as the saints in the New Testament.”
When Pr. Patterson teaches that a person’s sins were forgiven (and therefore absolved and saved as Pr. Buchholz proclaims) without faith is a type of universalism. The passages used to support these teachings are always in the context of faith. Even Pastor Gurgel in his last visit left assured that our confession was Biblical. He acknowledged the way words are used regarding OJ creates confusion; in fact he opined that 'the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction with regard to Kokomo'. I would add too that the teaching of forgiveness is flawed in the clip as well after 1:14. As the Apology quote shows, God has it in His heart to forgive those who are truly repentant. And He gladly does forgive those in faith for the sake of Christ. But there can be no forgiveness if there is no contrition. So to teach forgiveness without repentance does the offender no good any more than teaching absolution without the Law. Ironically, you are asking me for contrition and yet Patterson preaches I am already forgiven.
Secondly, to break fellowship with us would require you to forbid us at the Lord’s Table. But you say you are suspending our participation in Communion pending a recanting of alleged false doctrine. This is a mixing of processes. Please clarify for us if you are releasing/ex-communicating us pending a repentance of sin or are you retaining our membership and suspending Communion pending contrition?
Finally, there are at least two of you that are not convinced that we are unscriptural and/or unconfessional on all counts. Pastor Gurgel visited and genuinely discussed with us regarding our confession and was assured we were not in error. Brad Johnston who admitted in our meeting that ‘it was all over his head’ regarding OJ should have been disqualified.
Regarding your comment about my critical spirit I will take it as a compliment as Martin Luther would have. However I will let the Lord judge whether your inference of the assuredness of our salvation is a sin.
We will await your reply regarding our membership.
In His Grace and Mercy,
Holy Word replied back to us on May 26th:
Joe and Lisa,
If I understand all of your recent emails correctly, you wish to remain members of Holy Word only if you can convince us of the errors of our ways in regard to my preaching that "we were forgiven by God in Christ before we believed that we are forgiven" and the 8 practical matters you have listed.
Since we do not believe we have erred on any of these issues that you have sited, we cannot acknowledge that we are still in doctrinal agreement with you. Therefore, we should not commune together. In keeping with a consistent practice of the doctrine of fellowship you should mark and avoid us as persistent errorists and we are marking and avoiding you as persistent errorists as well. (Romans 16:17-18). This posture is never pleasant but necessary to protect God's people from divisive teachings.
Jack Parrish and Matt Wordell have agreed to join me in meeting with both of you to offer any clarifications you need regarding our doctrine of fellowship and the issue of your membership at Holy Word and the WELS. We will not meet with you to discuss objective justification or the 8 points you outlined as your plan to change the direction of Holy Word. You have been heard on those issues and we honestly disagree with you.
We are all free next Wednesday night, June 1 at 6:30PM or 7:00 PM, whichever time suits you. We would like to meet at church in the conference room. Are you willing to meet us?
Pastor Don Patterson
We responded later in the day:
Since the agenda would already be set; since there would be no discussion allowed and since we do not care to be subjected in such manner as previous meetings, we respectfully decline. There are many people who do not believe as you do about justification. There are many pastors who do not believe nor preach it as you do. Since you refuse discussion and have made your position clear to us, there is nothing more to say.
I pray that this explanation is satisfactory.
By Grace through faith in Christ,
I will be talking more about the other 7 issues in coming blogs.
Robert Preus in his book "Justification and Rome" talks about the vast arrays of variation on the doctrine of Justification among Lutherans. How have we become so disjointed on this pillar by which the Church stands or falls? The doctrine that our church fathers from the 16th century so eloquently exposed from the heretics of the day? I can only think of one passage that answers this question...Genesis 3:4-5, " 4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." - KJV
To preach a forgiveness of sins apart from faith is a type of universalism that some Reformed preachers are already preaching. WELS has been wistfully gazing towards the Reformed for some time now on 'how to do church'.