Church and Chicanery Sweet-heart.
The Present Future / Reggie McNeal
ELCA event: "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy: Let the River Flow is a "connecting event" event for pastors, staff, and other leaders of large ELCA congregations and "anyone who feels they can benefit from this opportunity". The event will be June 18-21 at Prince of Peace Lutheran in Burnsville, Minnesota. Featured speakers include Martin E. Marty, Barbara Rossing, Reggie McNeal, Wyvetta Bullock, Len Sweet, Ken Medema, and Peter Eide. Registration is $150 (or $100 for registrations before April 13)." [GJ - All the reds are C and C heroes.]
Many church leaders are trying to figure out how best to "do church" in today's changing culture. We're searching for answers. But maybe we're asking the wrong questions. Maybe we're avoiding the tough (right) questions. To help identify and answer those questions, pick up The Present Future - Six Tough Questions for the Church by Reggie McNeal. [2003, The Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series]
Selected from the front and back flap:
"McNeal contends that by changing the questions church leaders ask themselves about their congregations and their plans, they can frame the core issues and approach the future with new eyes, new purpose, and new ideas. The Present Future captures the urgency of a future that is literally now upon us, in a thoughtful, vigorous way." (End of Quote)
a.. New Reality Number One: The Collapse of the Church Culture
b.. New Reality Number Two: The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth
c.. New Reality Number Three: A New Reformation - Releasing God's People
d.. New Reality Number Four: The Return to Spiritual Formation
e.. New Reality Number Five: The Shift from Planning to Preparation
f.. New Reality Number Six: The Rise of Apostolic Leadership
g.. Things I Didn't Say
Reggie McNeal is an insightful and entertaining public speaker, and he writes well too! He is the director of leadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention (so keep that context in mind), but don't let that stop you from purchasing, reading, and discussing The Present Future with others.
Possible Purchase Options:
Your Local Christian Bookstore???
Compare Internet Prices: http://www.allbookstores.com/book/compare/0787965685
Pastor Elton C. Stroh
WELS Parish Assistance
251 Luther Drive
Sun Prairie, WI 53590
"I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God." (Rom. 15:17)
Re: [church_and_change] The Present Future / Reggie McNeal
Thanks for sharing this info with Church & Change. I read the book earlier this month and agree with your comments. I've been recommending the book to anyone who wants to have their (sic) perspectives challenged.
Bruce Becker, Administrator
WELS Board For Parish Services
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1).
2005 Church and Change Conference
Brothers and Sisters:
Your steering committee has been actively working on the next Church and Change Conference. We're excited about it...there are a number of plans in the > works (including a vendor area). We have engaged one of the best communicators in the nation right now as the featured speaker...writer of numerous books and journal columns, etc. We have much more to share with you as things get put together.
We're letting you know all this now so you can plan to attend. We think you may want to bring as many members of the leadership group from your congregation as possible. We do plan to make this conference known to all in the WELS, but are giving you the first "heads up". If you know of others outside the C & C community who would appreciate this chance to hear, learn, and network with those who are often at the forefront of ministry innovations and are passionately pursuing lost people as well as growing in their discipling efforts, please pass this announcement on to them. Further updates will be forthcoming.
We are in the process of determining how large a venue to use because of the quality of the speaker. We are also working out the details as to cost, etc. But this we do know:
Dates: November 9-11, 2005 (Wed.-Fri)
Place: Madison, Wisconsin
C &C convention committee
So who is the speaker? Please don't tease us!!! Is it a secret????!!!??
Joe Krohn [aka The Bass Player, Rock and Roll Church, Round Rock, Texas; previously a member at another stealth WELS church - CrossWalk, Phoenix. Joe is a buddy of VP Don Patterson.]
We are trying to build a sense of anticipation because there are so many more things coming (venue, settings, innovations, music, etc.) ....can give you this information (below) from his website. If you can't wait, of course, we will share it with you, Joe, or with the whole group.
Author of more than one hundred articles, over five hundred published sermons, and dozens of books....
comments from others:
One of the church’s most important and provocative thinkers.
No church leader understands better how to navigate the seas of the 21st century.
A writer of vast imagination, poise and charm.
I can’t imagine a Christian leader in America who hasn’t read one or more of _______ _______'s books.
Some statistician-types will drown you in doom and gloom. _______’s message is uplifting, hopeful and relevant.
For those of you who are curious like me & don't have the patience to wait for the public revealing of the name of the guest speaker:
Go to your search engine, like Google, or whatever you use. Type in a quote from John Huebner's announcement. e.g., "church's most important and provocative thinkers" & your search engine will give you the website of the mysterious speaker.
Jon Mahnke [GJ - These Church and Chicanery people are sneaky - even with their ovine members!]
2005 Church and Change Conference
The 2005 Church and Change Conference will challenge, inspire, and encourage you as a Christian and as a leader of Christians. But then, when several hundred creative WELS pacesetters gather around God's Word and share their ideas, that's what we expect would happen.
We are excited to announce that world-class Christian researcher and communicator Dr. Leonard Sweet will be the keynote speaker for this year's conference. He will address the general session all day on Thursday, November 10. More information about Dr. Sweet can be found at http://www.leonardsweet.com/biocv.asp (you may have to copy then paste the
address into your browser).
In addition to Dr. Sweet, we are putting together 15-18 workshops that will cover subjects such as:
* New approaches to children's and youth ministry.
* Starting a contemporary worship service.
* New and effective approaches to apologetics (defending what we
* Insightful interviews with former WELS members.
* Women's ministries.
* Small groups.
* Preaching in today's world.
* And much more..
The conference steering committee is interested in hearing about workshop topics you feel are beneficial for this year's conference. Please share your suggestions with Barry Spencer at spebar@....
New to this year's conference will be a Church and Change Exhibit Hall. This room will feature the latest in ministry resources!
This conference is for innovative Christian leaders like yourself. Please keep it in your prayers! Mark your calendar now! Invite your friends. And stay tuned to our Church and Change listserv for information updates in the coming weeks and months.
Serving with you,
Barry SpencerChurch and Change Steering Committee
Dear Church and Change Group,
A couple of months ago, it was officially announced here that the keynote speaker for the November conference would be Leonard Sweet, and a link was given to his website. On that website, he has a book available for download, Quantum Spirituality.
In reading that book, a few things began to jump out at me, and I started to put together quotes from the book. I shared it with my pastor and a few others. However, I have really hesitated about sharing it here. I started to, more than once. I finally began to wonder if it was fair to withhold it from you, so here it is:
If you read it, please, also go back to his original book (I've got the link there for you) and make sure for yourself that I took nothing out of context. I've included page numbers for you to find the quotes, but I also encourage you to attempt to wade through at least some of the Quantum Spirituality book. If Leonard Sweet comes this fall, and you hear him speak, you need to know that this is the filter through which he sees the world.
A WELS woman who thinks it's better to have a map of unknown terrain
P.S. The page is a private page. You can't get to it without being given the
address. I'm not out to publish this. I just didn't know how else to share it.
Leonard Sweet is scheduled as the keynote speaker for the (sort of WELS) Church
& Change 2005 conference to be held in November.
Sort of WELS...I have always wondered why we allow non-WELS people to be involved in this. I think it has some WELS people upset. I have not read the book that is mentioned below but the title is questionable to me to say the least. I'm not saying that we should shield ourselves off from the outside world but why allow our members to hear stuff that might possibly lead them down a road of questionable thinking?? I just hope these non-WELS speakers have been throughly looked at and have been given the stamp of approval by Synod. I know we are trying to broaden our views, but aren't there enough WELS views out there on the sessions being held so we are not tempted to go outside our circles in order to broaden them?
I don't think you give any credit to our WELS members for being well grounded in Biblical and spiritual matters. The Lord has given us a discerning heart that he wants us to use in all areas of our lives. Just because a presenter is not WELS does not mean that we, as a church body, cannot learn some interesting facts and possibly broaden our scope of outreach. I believe it is healthy for our members to go "outside of our circles" and learn what other church bodies are doing and
professing. Then, trust that the Holy Spirit will guide our hearts and thoughts in making God-pleasing decisions and conclusions about what was presented. Burying our heads in the sand as a Synod by disregarding any presenter who is not WELS is ludicrous.
Bloomington Living Hope Lutheran Church and School
While I agree that it is healthy for our people to go outside of our circles and learn what others are teaching and saying, that is quite different from bringing others from outside of our circles into our circles. We do not - for good reasons of fellowship - bring others into our churches to preach to our people. In the same way, do we really want to bring in others to teach? My point was not to say that others don't have anything worthwhile to say, but rather to point out that we have plenty of resources within our synod & church fellowship than to actively bring in those who may hold heterodox views. Making them a part of "our" event (WELS sponsored) essentially puts our stamp of approval on them. It seems like this could be misleading to our people. Our people are not stupid - but there are those who trust that "if it is allowed in our midst, it must be all OK." Not everyone is a theologian.
I guess from my perspective while there are no hard and fast rules, the issue in this area generally boils down to a question as to the subject of the presentation. One generally would not invite a Roman Catholic priest in to make a presentation to a WELS group on the Biblical doctrine of justification (at least without a presenter who could present the correct doctrine). Conversely, one could invite a Roman Catholic priest in to speak to a group of parents of school children regarding his experiences in working with children who are involved in drugs - since his expertise and the subject generally of the presentation would not be impacted by the
fallacies of Roman Catholic theology.
So this then raises a couple of questions...
First, what expertise or teaching are we looking to obtain from Sweet?
Second, is this expertise and teaching such that his obviously problematic
views regarding Christianity would be a key part of his presentation (and if
not a key part would they be a part of the presentation in any way)?
Anyone care to comment?
With best regards,
One could say that since this is *not* a worship
situation, per se, but a gathering of individuals
seeking input and ideas, that Leonard Sweet *could* be
welcomed. I remember President Preuss from
Concordia-Fort Wayne speaking at the Reformation
lectures at Bethany College/Seminary when I was a
student there. (Preuss was the first graduate of
Bethany Seminary, so there was some nostalgia there).
The seminarians were able to have lunch with President
Preuss and his views were engaging (especially when
asked why he didn't leave LC-MS).
In a forum such as is proposed, there is plenty of
room for grounded Biblical teaching to be repeated as
opposed to one speaker's beliefs. Also, will there be
break-out groups? The more discerning can help any
weaker brethren by pointing out error *as well as* any
valid points the speaker makes.
Sometimes we need to look at out fellowship
*principles* and also note they are not *laws.* There
is a reason we *do not* have someone not of our
fellowship deliver a sermon in our pulpits or
administer the sacraments. Yet we can include others
in forums where there is a chance for give-and-take
and questions can be asked and we can learn from the
experiences of those who have been *successful* in an
area of ministry.
Of course, this *could* beg the question, "What is a
successful ministry? And are we getting too caught up
in raw numbers?" This, too, needs to be explored and
dealt with. We can get so caught up in growing numbers
that we don't nurture (grow) those already in our
Your response again leads me to wonder, "Why are so many WELS members so
afraid of bringing those outside our denomination in for a
presentation?" I attended a Church and Change conference where one of
the guest speakers was outside of our denomination. I don't believe
there was anything in his presentation that anyone in attendance could
dispute or find errors. What he had to say was enlightening and thought
provoking. Too often, the same WELS speakers are asked to give a
workshop on a topic in which they may not be well versed. While I
appreciate the time and effort that is put into a specific topic by
these men, why not ask an expert in that area to give the workshop? If
the presenter raises questions or ideas that are contrary to our
beliefs, what better time is there to witness or discuss these questions
with your pastor or others in your congregation? You don't need to be a
theologian to question things that you are unsure of.
Bloomington Living Hope Lutheran Church and School
A couple (actually more than a couple) of additional thoughts regarding the
appearance of Dr. Sweet....
Whether we are dealing with fellowship principles or with who is scheduled
to appear at a conference or with what color of the walls in the narthex
should be painted, the ultimate guiding principle for a Christian should be
to deal with those around us with love. This is especially true regarding
our fellow WELS members. Similarly, as we live our lives as Christians, out
of love, we should strive not to do anything that falls in the category of
adiaphora that would cause any of our fellow Christians to stumble - even if
what we would be doing was in and of itself "permissible."
Thus, I suppose an additional set of questions (beyond those outlined below
in my first message) should be asked and answered by those putting on the
Is the fact that a conference heralds its affiliation with WELS and touts
"world-class Christian researcher and communicator Dr. Leonard Sweet" as its
keynote speaker something that could cause a WELS member to stumble?
If we get past the questions below, i.e., it is concluded that Dr. Sweet's
expertise and the presentation that the conference expects to receive from
him are such that his obviously problematic views regarding Christianity
would not be substantively proclaimed (or better yet that such would not be
in any way presented as a part of his presentation), then I guess I would
also expect them to have considered the impact that Dr. Sweet as the keynote
presenter at a WELS-associated conference would have on others in the Synod.
(Is it possible that some could conclude that because of Dr. Sweet's
association with WELS that WELS now endorses or teaches and holds to views
comparable to his and as a result thereby be led astray or have their faith
in the truth of God's Word be impacted?
I guess I am wondering now if these questions were asked as a part of the
planning process for the conference? Did someone look at what Dr. Sweet
proclaims regarding Christianity before he was invited as the keynote
speaker? Did they then conclude that his views on Christianity would not be
in any way proclaimed as a part of his presentation? I hope so.
Let me pose another question: Would we be acting in love and in the best
interests of other members of the WELS if we were to invite (were she still
alive) Madelyn Murray O'Hair to speak to one of our conferences -- let's say
on the subject of how one should effectively appeal those in secular
Yes, I know that seems a bit of an unfair comparison. But, on the other
hand, in my opinion it is easier to deal with the false doctrine of an
atheist than it is to deal with the false doctrine of someone like Dr. Sweet
who says he is a Christian. Is this a case where we for good intentions got
caught up in the exercising of our Christian freedom and forgot about the
need to consider how others in WELS might view the decision?
Any one involved in the planning of the conference care to comment?
With best regards,
Full disclosure - this is Joel Kluender speaking - not Jennifer, my
wife. I've been following the thread on Leonard Sweet and his being
invited by some WELS congregations to the Church and Change
conference. I have taken a look at his book online and I must say
that what I have found is extremely disturbing.
****Here is a direct quote from his book Quantum Spirituality.
"What tradition supposes Wesley to have discovered at Aldersgate is
that Logos is an energy-releasing event. Energy flows are absolutely
indispensable to the emergence of life, whether biological or
spiritual.ý Just as farmers are said to provide only 5 percent of the
energy necessary to produce crops--the energy of nature provides the
other 95 percent--so general reason or logos provides only the
energy of receptivity in the divine-human encounter that leads to
Logos . God provides the rest by other means." (p. 68)
***And here is another quote:
"But the energy of divine love was assembled in matter in
the human form of the Logos-Christ. Jesus is God's most sublime
manifestation of energy matter" (p.64)
And here is my (Joel's) response:
THESE ARE NOT JUST THE INERT, BENIGN MUSINGS ABOUT GOD BY A
PHILOSOPHER FASCINATED WITH PHYSICS. THESE ARE FALSE DOCTRINE!
IN THESE QUOTES SWEET HAS TAKEN THE CLEAR AND CONCRETE TEACHING OF
THE INCARNATE CHRIST, AND COUCHED IT IN NEW-AGE THEOLOGY
MASQUERADING AS "NEW LIGHT".
TO TEACH THAT WE HAV ANY PART IN OUR CONVERSION GOES AGAINST THE
CLEAR TEACHING OF SCRIPTURE. THAT IS WHAT THE FIRST QUOTE DOES -
SUGGESTING THAT OUR logos OR REASON PROVIDES 5% AND THE OTHER 95%
COMES FROM GOD. BLASPHEMY!
THE SECOND QUOTE THAT JESUS IS "GOD'S MOST SUBLIME MANIFESTATION OF
ENERGY MATTER" IS TANTAMOUNT TO DENYING THE ETERNAL DIVINITY OF
CHRIST. JESUS IS NOT A "MANIFESTATION" OF GOD. JESUS IS GOD.
IN SUMMARY, IF A SPEAKER WHO ESPOUSES THESE VIEWS IS BEING WELCOMED
INTO WELS CIRCLES, THERE IS A MAJOR PROBLEM IN THE WELS.
FOR THE RECORD, I AM AN ELECTRICAL ENGINEER, WITH A MASTERS DEGREE
IN MICROELECTRONICS, AND I HAVE TAKEN GRADUATE COURSES IN QUANTUM
PHYSICS. WHAT THIS GUY IS TEACHING IS NOT QUANTUM PHYSICS, IT IS
ROMANS 6:23 AND JOHN 3:16 SAY MORE OF WORTH TO US AS CHRISTIANS THAN
ALL OF THE QUANTUM PSYCHO-BABBLE IN THE WORLD. WE IN WELS SHOULD
WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.
This is Mark Paustian, currently teaching up at MLC. I applied to join the
Church & Change forum merely because I learned that some materials I had put
out many years ago, a long list of sermons series I had preached as an
outreach exploratory missionary, were posted somewhere on the website.
(That's a whole 'nother story; in my freedom, I've changed my views on
sermon series and am no longer completely comfortable being seen as an
advocate of that homiletical method. I digress.)
Anyway, I confess to being one who has watched "Church & Change" with a
little skepticism and concern. There's no need to react to that statement,
since I'll admit it's largely based on perception. In fact, I teach
communications at MLC (also Hebrew) and I both know the destructive power of
perception and am an energetic proponent of ethical dialogue. So, I say
from the heart, more power to you!
My whole point is that, from what I've learned so far about Leonard Sweet,
the people involved in "church and change" may be shooting themselves in the
foot, unnecessarily polarizing the people of the WELS. That would sadden
me. I can only think there are many, many people who are like me, hoping to
hear good things come out of "church and change" to dispel our skepticism,
chiefly by providing new models of energetic Lutheranism that manage to
penetrate this pathetically lost culture. I was in church planting and home
mission work for over 12 years, and I do understand the pain and passion
that clearly makes the people in "church and change," and all of you, tick.
I fear Leonard Sweet will become the issue. To put it crassly, he's a PR
[GJ - And not a doctrinal nightmare? How Church and Changish to say that.]
He threatens to be the thing people will point to as telling evidence of
what "church and change" is all about, how well rooted and grounded this
rising organization is in appropriate theological exploration and
expression, even how Lutheran you really want to be. And I'm afraid people
will falsely read the minds and hearts of the organizers, as if they only
turn to a man of Sweet's theology after concluding the answers they need
most are not contained in their own,as if mining the depths of God's heart
in his Word has plainly not worked.so we turn with eager ears to a brilliant
unregenerate mind. I'm not saying that's a fair assessment. I'm positive
it's NOT a fair assessment. And I'm not saying Sweet's talk won't be
fascinating, or even helpful to gospel ministry in some way the speaker
himself doesn't have the heart to intend. (At the same time, if you've ever
been broken, truly broken, the only indispensable word was absolution.and to
listen too long to a speaker who doesn't know of such things finally does
little but break your heart. I know how pious and simplistic that sounds.)
Anyway, what I am saying is that Sweet will polarize, damage the credibility
of your movement and create needless controversy. I have a hard time
believing this speaker is worth it, from what little I know about him. I
could be wrong. Someone in our camp is obviously impressed with him for
reasons I'm just not privy to. That's an honest confession of ignorance,
not a thinly veiled jab.
So much of your dialogue in this chat room heartens me and causes me to
reconsider my poorly substantiated concerns about "church and change." In
the deepest place, we are the same in Christ, and we all want essentially
the same thing for our dear, dear WELS, though our visions may differ
greatly. Having Sweet as a keynote speaker (please tell me I'm wrong about
that) tugs hard in the opposite direction. (By the way, I was captivated
and edified by a speech by Edward Veiths, author of "Loving God With All
Your Mind" at a WELS college symposium not too long ago. He's not WELS, but
he is a brilliant, regenerate, theologically conservative, Christ-centered
thinker who has much to say about communicating Christ even in a secular
postmodern academic setting. I'd endorse him for a setting like the one we
have in mind in a heartbeat. I'm not framing this in terms of fellowship.)
Now, what if we were looking for a keynote speaker and asked, "Who in our
midst do we think has the very strongest grasp of the intended meaning of
God's own Word to the WELS by virtue of their scholarship in the original
languages of Scripture?" What if we said, "Isn't that who we want to set
the tone for our event.someone who can speak to us from the very heart and
mind of God!?" And what if we let come to mind the names of, for example,
my colleagues at MLC, scholars like Joel Frederick (Greek) and Tom Nass
(Hebrew).now that would be change.
Sorry this was so long. If it turns out I've only managed to offend, this
will be the last you'll ever hear from me, I promise.
I've read with interest the comments about having Dr. Leonard Sweet speak at the Church and Change Conference. I also received a number of letters in response to my decision to have Dr. Reggie McNeal speak at the Church Door Symposium sponsored by The CHARIS Institute at WLC this past February 28. As many of you may know, WLC has had many speakers from a wide variety of religious backgrounds speak on campus. Because we have from time to time received letters of concern, I have developed a fairly generic response. I am attaching a copy of this response letter for your consideration. It is also published in the upcoming issue of CHARIS and I've even given permission to have it posted on the "Issues in the WELS" web site that has been created by the "Union Grove" folks.
(See attached file: Response RE McNeal.doc)
Dr. John E. Bauer
Executive Director, CHARIS
Wisconsin Lutheran College
Thank you for your letter expressing concern about Dr. Reggie McNeal's
speaking at the upcoming Church Door Symposium. I understand your concern,
but must respectfully disagree with your conclusion that his speaking
somehow represents a violation of Romans 16:17 and our Synod's Doctrine of
Church Fellowship. With this letter I hope to explain why I disagree with
you and, in submission to God and His Word, seek to arrive at a shared
understanding of the Scriptures with you on this matter.
I first of all want to assure you that careful thought was given to
inviting Dr. McNeal. In planning the symposium, I sought the advice of a
number of our Synod leaders regarding who they would most want to hear
speak on the general topic of leading the church into a new century. In
fact, it was their encouragement that prompted me to contact Dr. McNeal.
Since inviting him, I have had numerous other pastors and lay leaders
express their excitement about his coming. His books, particularly his most
recent volume, The Present Future, appear to be widely read by our WELS
The issue of having non-WELS speakers has been greatly studied and argued
about in recent years. Admittedly, WLC has been something of a lightening
rod in this area. But I can assure you that it is because we believe that
in Christian freedom we not only can support such guest speakers, but also
believe that it is the right thing to do in order to accomplish our
Christian education objectives. However, to help put your mind at ease,
permit me to share the thoughts of some of our respected church leaders on
On April 6, 1999, the Conference of Presidents of the WELS passed the
"Presentations and discussions about secular and/or religious matters
which take place in schools, churches, conferences, commissions and
parasynodical organizations of our fellowship, or similar events, can
take place outside the framework of fellowship. When speakers and
presenters are not of our fellowship they MUST be conducted outside the
framework of fellowship."
This statement reflects the theses on Church Fellowship in the Doctrinal
Statements of 1970, which I regard as a correct explanation and application
of the biblical passages that address church fellowship. The opening thesis
describes church fellowship as "every joint expression, manifestation, and
demonstration of the common faith in which Christians on the basis of their
confession find themselves to be united with one another." It is possible,
however, and in some contexts it may be necessary to listen to or speak
with a person or persons not united with us in doctrine “ to hear and
evaluate their viewpoint more fully, to debate that viewpoint, or to
witness to them of our own beliefs.
The book by Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Professor John Brug, Church
Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth, grants this possibility:
"Various WELS organizations or schools may invite lecturers from outside
our fellowship to present information to their group. This does not
involve fellowship if no worship or religious instruction are involved,
but only the giving of information. In situations that might create
unclarity, such as a series of public lectures presented at a seminary
or college of our fellowship, it is wise to make a specific announcement
that these lectures are being presented outside the framework of
fellowship. The same principles apply to academic associations, such as
church history or archaeological societies." (pp. 155-156).
The practice of inviting guest speakers has a long history at WLC and a
policy governing such activities was carefully and thoughtfully developed.
At least one past Seminary president was on the WLC Board of Regents when
it approved the College's policy and he played an active role in its
Guest artists and scholars from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and
perspectives shall be sought by Wisconsin Lutheran College each year to
offer vantages and viewpoints in various forums and formats to challenge
and provoke intellectual and spiritual growth among faculty and
students. Consistent with its philosophy and mission as a liberal arts
college, WLC promotes such experiences to help its student mature in
Christian discernment, to demonstrate how the Word of God speaks to
life's issues, to appreciate truth and beauty, and to grow in their
capacity to make informed value judgments.
With the guidance and spiritual advice of its pastor and Seminary president
members, the WLC Board of Regents signed and approved the chartering
documents for The CHARIS Institute, the purpose of which includes hosting
symposia at which non-WELS speakers could speak.
The practice of inviting non-WELS speakers has also been commonplace among
other organizations and agencies of the WELS. A few examples will make the
- Christian Life Resources, supported by its current and past board
members has invited such non-WELS speakers as C. Everett Koop, Charleton
Heston, Cal Thomas, and others to be keynote speakers for WELS Lutherans
for Life conventions.
- The WELS Commission on Worship planned and hosted the WELS National
Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts, and invited the likes of LCMS
Professor Wayne Schmidt (1995), LCMS Pastor Harold Senkbeil (1997), and
numerous non-WELS speakers and sectional leaders at the 1999, 2001, and
- Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary has for many years invited non-WELS,
non-Lutheran, and even non-Christian speakers. These include Anson Rainey,
Menachen Mansoor, Robert Kolb, Gleason Archer, Basil Jackson, and many
I should also mention that the audience of the Church Door Symposium is
primarily pastors, professors, teachers, and lay leaders. In other words,
the audience is comprised of those who are more likely to be deeply
involved in congregational ministries. These are not the weak in faith. To
be sure, WLC students and faculty will also be in attendance. However,
evaluating what Dr. McNeal has to say along side their professors promotes
exactly the kind of outcomes for our students that are described in our
â€œGuest Artist and Scholars policy. Furthermore, the context of Dr.
McNeal's presentations will be established before and after he speaks. You will
notice that the presentations will be followed by a panel discussion led by
a number of our WELS leaders.
At the heart of the issue seems to be an assumption on your part that
interacting with individuals on matters of mutual concern to Christ's
Church on earth (i.e., common to all the various tribes of Christianity),
is a violation of church fellowship. I hope I have shown that such is not
the case. As today's church, and the WELS in particular, seeks to find ways
to share the Gospel with a lost generation, the enemy is Satan, the world,
and our own flesh “ not other Christians from whom we might learn
We also need to be reminded that the physical manifestation of the Church
that we call the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is a man-made and
imperfect organization of human beings. How it conducts its business,
carries out its ministries, organizes and funds itself â€“ these are all
human endeavors. They are not God-ordained. Instead, we have great freedom
in the Gospel to utilize our human reason to plan, organize, manage, build,
develop programs, compose music, experiment with outreach strategies, and a
host of other human activities “ all humanly conceived in response to the
This Synod has been phenomenally blessed for more than 150 years. It is a
very special group of people. But its congregations have shown in many ways
to lack the leadership, the zeal, the passion, and â€“ in many cases â€“ the
expertise and wherewithal, to extend themselves to an unbelieving world. We
were very successful at providing a home for 19th Century German
immigrants. We've been very good at perpetuating that white Western
European religious culture with the descendents of those immigrants. But we
have been pretty poor at sharing the Gospel with those from culturally,
ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds. We have not been very
successful at integrating ourselves into metropolitan communities. We
havenâ€™t been very successful in reaching a younger generation that, while
spiritual, is not religious. And many of our long cherished institutions
(e.g., Lutheran elementary schools, Sunday schools) are showing their
inability to adapt to a changing culture that affects even our own members.
If Reggie McNeal or others of different denominational stripes can share
some insights and perspectives on how the human association of Christians
called the WELS can better heed Christ's command, then we should welcome
them. If we can learn how to overcome some of the obvious limitations we
face as a synod by seeking the advice of others with the expertise we lack,
then we should take from them whatever is useful and edifying for the
No, I don't agree with your assertion that having Dr. McNeal is a violation
of Romans 16 or our synod's Doctrine of Church Fellowship. That doesn't
mean that your concerns are without merit. Please believe me when I say
that I weigh them very seriously. Any time a brother or sister in faith
raises a question of doctrine or practice with me, it is a matter of
concern. But I hope also that in giving voice to your concern, you can also
accept some instruction on the matter. And while I may not have completely
erased your concerns, I hope and pray that I have at least given you
something to reflect on, and perhaps pursue further in your own study of
God's Word or in your conversations with your pastor.
Thank you again for sharing your concerns. I greatly appreciate the fact
that you took the time to write to me.
Dr. John E. BauerExecutive Director, CHARIS
Wisconsin Lutheran College [Our Valpo, or, The Waffle House]
Greetings, I have always enjoyed the Reformation lectures that our sister synod
has held at Bethany college. There we hear experts from LCMS, ELS and WELS
write and react to topics. I have enjoyed what sainte Dr. Becker presented,
Eugene Bunkowske of Fort Wayne, Dr. Klug, Raymond Surburg, Armin Schuetze and
others have presented. I think we can learn from the ELS on how to bring
outside speakers in and gain insight from their studies.
Marcus Birkholz [Minnesota DP. But Marcus - the Bethany speakers are Lutheran.]
John, appreciate having this response, well-worded and well thought out, for
this often unsettling debate. By keeping the boundaries clear we strengthen
our doctrine of fellowship instead of weakening it.
I had the privilege of learning directly from Gleason Archer and Basil
Jackson during this kind of convocation at Sem and from others like John
Warwick Montgomery at free conferences. The exposure to others with such
incredible gifts reminds us to hone our own skills of investigation and
scholarship, without compromising any truth. It is in fact the kind of
dialogue which tests our own understanding and application of truth, and
allows for witness.
Thanks for sharing this.
Mark C. Wagner
Sisters and brothers,
In the discussion about non-WELS speakers, and Leonard Sweet in particular, I'm
seeing a dangerous combining of two inter-related but distinct issues.
1) Whether non-WELS speakers are ever appropriate at WELS-sponsored events
(official or not), and
2) Whether SPECIFIC non-WELS speakers--Sweet, in this case--are appropriate.
It has been demonstrated here already that we can be open to the possiblity of
non-WELS speakers, while at the same time questioning whether a PARTICULAR
non-WELS speaker is appropriate. These must be kept distinct.
The original post included a link to a lengthy website entry laying out specific, important issues with Sweet's writing. The writer took the issue seriously and the evidence seems to indicate that he or she tried to be as accurate and fair as possible. The case was stated in a responsible, thoughtful way, and I thank the writer for that.
To simply write off any challenge to Sweet's appropriateness as a head-in-the-sand rejection of any non-WELS insight (as some seem inclined to do) is to refuse to engage the issues that have been raised about Sweet's perspective and appropriateness.
Thanks, Tim, for bringing us back to the real concern
here. I don't think the question before us is so much
*can* we, but rather *should* we. ("everything is
permissible, but not everything is beneficial...")
I guess before judging this for myself I'd want to
know more about the content of the presentation. If
its simply to help us understand the post-modern
mindset, that's probably OK. If its theology - I
think we're in trouble. If its tactics to witness to
post-moderns, given what I've seen so far, I'm nervous
(in as much as tactics typically derive from one's
- Mark Salzwedel
I would imagine a line of questioning would include:
1. What is the conference about? (I admit, I haven't
read up on the conference itself, so this is my fault
for not doing "due diligence.")
2. What are the aims and goals of the conference?
3. Have the speakers been vetted? If so, can a
statement be made regarding the beliefs that differ
4. Will there be a time for discussion either with the
speaker or in small groups? There is a time and place
to hear another viewpoint and then study that
viewpoint in light of Scripture. We should always be
"Berean" in this sense (by "Berean" I speak of the
people Luke praised in Acts, not the modern day group
using that name).
The Bethany series at Reformation does invite
non-WELS/ELS/CELC speakers. But there is always a
rebuttal following the primary speaker and a chance at
And in a sense, the fact the Leonard Sweet was
proposed made many on this list take the time and
effort to look into his writings and beliefs and raise
questions. That is not a bad thing. Had it been
accepted as "well, if it's OK with synod, it must be
okay," then we have a problem with apathy or spiritual
laziness. Questions are good; that's how we learn (and
something I need to remember as my 4-year-old son asks
me numerous questions every day. 4-year-old boys are a
God's blessings to all.
JOHN L. HOH, JR.
Thank you very much for posting the letter which you wrote in response to
concerns regarding Dr. Reggie McNeal's speaking at that Church Door
Symposium. It is very well written and deals very well with an issue/event
that is similar to the one that we have been discussing regarding the Church
and Change conference and Dr. Sweet. If nothing else, one thing that I think that your letter very effectively does is to point out the fact that
whether the discussion is about Dr. McNeal speaking at a CHARIS event or Dr. Sweet speaking at a Church and Change event, the issue is not really one of fellowship or the application of fellowship principles.
In reviewing your letter, I also think it is important to note the thought
process (and review) through which it was determined that the appearance by
Dr. McNeal was proper. In the analysis in the letter you emphasized several factors in making the determination that inviting Dr. McNeal to the Church
Door Symposium was appropriate, e.g., (i) the nature of the audience (who
was going to be present at the event), (ii) the nature of the venue (where
the discussion was going to take place), (iii) the identity of the sponsor
(the nature, purpose and composition of the entity who was putting on the
event) and (iv) the purpose of the event (why it was deemed desirable to
bring in someone whose theological views were problematic) and (v) the
purpose for the presentation.
In the letter you review each of those factors and explain why those factors
as applied to that particular situation supported the inviting Dr. McNeal to
speak at the Church Door Symposium. While I would have liked your letter to
deal a bit more with the issue as to whether the publicity of having Dr.
McNeal speak at a "WELS event" could (or would) detrimentally affect the
faith of any WELS members (either as a result of a WELS member thinking that
Dr. McNeal's appearance at the event was a validation of Dr. McNeal's false
doctrinal views or as a result of a WELS member concluding that because of
Dr. McNeal's appearance at the event WELS held to the same views as Dr.
McNeal), I do agree with your ultimate conclusion that his appearance at a
CHARIS event, when all of the factors were balanced, was proper.
My concern, however, is that many (perhaps even virtually all) of the points
that you use to support the appearance of Dr. McNeal at the CHARIS Church
Door Symposium are not necessarily applicable to and do not necessarily
support an appearance by Dr. Sweet at a Church and Change event, e.g., (i)
the nature, purpose and composition of Church and Change are different from
the nature, purpose and composition of CHARIS, (ii) the audience at a Church
and Change conference is likely different from the audience at the Church
Door Symposium, (iii) the sponsoring entity for the Church and Change event
is not an institution of higher education, (iv) while it is clear from your
letter that Dr. McNeal's presentation would not be focused on a proclamation
of his particular doctrinal views, as yet such is not clear regarding the
planned presentation of Dr. Sweet, and (v) while the theological views of
Dr. Sweet and Dr. McNeal are both aberrational, the degree of the aberration
would appear to be markedly different.
In addition, I also have questions as to whether the same thought and
consideration that you clearly gave in issuing the invitation to Dr. McNeal
was given prior to the issuance of the invitation to Dr. Sweet. If it was
not, then that is of concern. (Frankly, I'd love to see some evidence that
the same level of analysis and consideration in fact was given.) The bottom
line as far as I am concerned is that we need to be very cognizant of the
fact that as leaders in WELS when we deal with this sort of "touchy" issue
we focus beyond what is merely permissible and instead focus on what in love
under the circumstances would fully meet, right and salutary.
Thanks again for posting your letter.
With best regards,
Thanks, Tim for your reply which closely follows my thinking and
Namely, I was not intending to suggest that outside speakers are
always inappropriate, always a violation of our fellowship doctrine,
and always to be rejected. Mr. Bauer's letter had many excellent
points, and I am not one to want to extinguish learning & academic
freedom when fellowship principles are not at stake.
It also was not my intent to bind the conscience of others who feel
that there are good things to learn from Mr. Sweet. As Prof.
Paustian aptly pointed out, there might be reasons that I am not
aware of for bringing him in.
Having said that...
Just because our Christian freedom allows us to listen to and yes -
even sponsor - talks by those who are not of our fellowship, so long
as it is outside the framework of fellowship - it doesn't mean that
it is a good thing to bring in Mr. Sweet.
Specifically, Mr. Sweet's theology in his book is my concern, not
debating fellowship issues (though it is a worthy debate, in and of
itself). What I found in his book "Quantum Spirituality" is so of-
base, so unbiblical, and so dangerous to the pure Gospel, so as to
give me serious pause for concern over him being a keynote speaker.
The attendees at the conference may very well have every spiritual
tool needed to test the spririts, to see whether they be of God. I
don't dispute that.
But based on the theology in "Quantum Spirituality", do we really
want to be known as the synod that has welcomed him and trumpeted
his appearance as being a great and glourius event?
I will make this my last post on the topic. My intent is not to
stifle debate, or make anyone who has been on this list longer than
I have feel as if they are under attack. As a future called worker
of our synod, my concern only is that in our Godly zeal to spread
the true and saving Gospel to a lost and dying world, we do not in
the process also tacitly approve of deceptive, faith destroying
teachings as well.
I share the love for the lost that you all have. But we want to
reach the world for Christ, not for any other "lord" - be it
personal fulfilment of purpose, new age enlightenment, or other
Interesting discussion. Some of you might be wondering what was meant by
the "Union Grove folks" comment by Dr. J.B. It is a conference of concerned
clergy meeting at Trinity Lutheran in Union Grove Wisconsin. The conference
is April 25th and 26th (yup, next Monday and Tuesday). The website for it
At first I was not going to attend this conference, but I kept hearing
subtle remarks by people, which may seem innocent enough, but actually have
the breath of pre-judgment condemning what these guys in Union Grove want to
accomplish. I AM NOT SAYING THAT DR. BRAUN MEANT THIS WITH HIS COMMENT!
Emails are a funny way of communication, because you miss 2/3rds of what a
person is saying by not hearing their tone and seeing their facial
expressions. (I guess we could all add these icons :-/ :-) :-( ;-] :-O but
I digress) I am not saying that Dr. Braun was hinting this, but I have
heard too many do just that. I think what the Union Grove guys are doing is
good. They have set this forum up in a very evangelical manor. They are
also looking for change in the Church - a change to stay faithful to God's
Great Commission. Isn't this what we all are looking for (Church and
Change)? This is why I decided to go, and encourage all of you to attend as
well. Let's be fair to those with different opinions, if we want those with
different opinions to be fair with us. ("Do unto others as . . .")
I've been reading all the e-mails and decided to
throw in my 2 cents. The outside speakers who are
being invited are not coming to share their
theological views. They are being ask to come and
share ideas, strategies, trends, insights, etc. that
they have studied and would be helpful to ministry.
No one is forcing these presenters on anyone. If a
presentation may be something that would be a problem
for someone, they don't have to come. The opposition
of some should not take away what could be of great
benefit to others. There may be things presented that
might challenge our practice, thinking and
perspective. I believe that is a good thing even if
we don't accept what is said!
On August 8-10, the WELS World Mission is
inviting J. O. Terry from Southwestern Baptist
Theological Seminiary to the seminary for a
presentation on storyingtelling the Scripture. Other
non-WELS presenters have also been at the seminary
over the years and those in attendance have been
blessed by what they have learned. Did these non-WELS
presenters teach about justification by faith or other
such doctrines? No! Would a presentation on the
study of the Hebrew language by a Jewish professor be
helpful? I'm sure it would (for those interested in
such a topic)! Should we no longer allow this to
happen and thus keep learning strictly among
ourselves? Wouldn't it be naive to think we can only
learn from those with a WELS sticker on them?
Let's us never be so closed-minded that we think
we know everything and can learn from no one but one
of our own.
Phil Boileau [St. Mark, Depere, which is in fellowship with Willow Creek Community Church]
I really don't think that anyone is suggesting or believes that we in WELS
we know everything and can learn from no one but one of our own. Rather, I
think there is simply a concern over whether we in WELS want to be a
platform for the promotion of someone who seems to have left Christianity
behind in a search for new-age relevance. And a legitimate question as to
whether of necessity his philosophy would taint any practical advice that he
might be presenting. (This reminds me of the old computer term "GIGO" which
stands for "garbage in - garbage out.")
The more we discuss this, the more I believe that there are 3 or 4 different
categories into which one could place potential invitees to conferences such
as that being hosted by Church and Change: (1) members of a WELS or
affiliated congregation; (2) members of other relatively confessional
Lutheran bodies such as the LCMS (this would include Gene Vieth or Harold
Senkbeil); (3) members of other Christian denominations and (4) a catchall
group that would include non-Christians, members of cults, new-agers, etc.
(I could place Dr. Sweet charitably in category 3, but really, based on what
I've read of his book, he properly should go into Category 4.)
Now, presumably when anyone is chosen to speak at a conference (whether they
are in category 1 or category 4 or in between) care should be taken to make
sure that the person was qualified to speak, etc., so even someone in
Category 1 would need be examined to see if they had appropriate expertise,
speaking ability, etc. Those in category 2 would need to be examined a bit
closer and care would have to be taken to avoid any implication of
fellowship. Those in categories 3 and 4 of necessity would need to be would
be examined even more carefully to ensure not only whether or not the
message that they were to be presenting was "kosher" and untainted by their
philosophy or world view, but also to see if the mere fact that they were
being asked to make a presentation would be in and of itself problematic.
Some people in categories 3 and 4 who otherwise might be "ok" from a content
perspective, might be sufficiently controversial or notorious so as to make
their appearance at a WELS-related conference problematic.
With best regards,
You brought into the discussion "garbage in -
garbage out." This analogy does not allow for a
filter. It does not give credit to people's ability
to discern. I've heard many speakers throughout the
years and have treasured their pearls and thrown away
what is useless to me and my faith.) To some degree,
it is like throwing away a cd because one song out of
a dozen has lyrics in it that may be questionable. I
would avoid the song that gives me difficulty and be
enriched by what is inspirational to me in the other
I agree that we need to know what is be presented
so the presentation will have benefit to those in
attendance. The person presenting should also be
aware of our fellowship principles to avoid conflict.
I'm confident that those who are hosting any such
conference or presentation would do this.
"To some degree,it is like throwing away a cd because one song out of a dozen
has lyrics in it that may be questionable. I would avoid the song that gives me
difficulty and be enriched by what is inspirational to me in the other songs".
To follow your analogy, Leonard Sweet is the one song with questionable lyrics,
why are we going to allow him to fill our ears with what he has to say? It's
kind of hard to avoid him when he is speaking at the conference. So, let's avoid
him all together, ask him not to come, and focus on the other good
non-controversial Christian speakers that will be there with their varied gifts
Good points regarding my comment about the old computer term GIGO. The
problem of course with filters is that my filter may be better (or worse)
than yours and that while my filter may generally be good over exposure to
stuff that needs to be filtered may render it ineffective. And, we can't
forget that any of us with good filters have an obligation out of love to be
sensitive to those whose filters may not be as well developed. Finally,
there comes a point where there is so much chaff in the material being
presented that one has to question whether the grain or two of wheat
justifies the effort to engage the filter. The problem with Dr. Sweet is
that he is the keynote speaker. As such, one would expect his presentation
to be full of wheat and light on chaff. Thus, I also very much agree with
you that we all need to know what is be presented. But that should not be
the end of the analysis!
The other issue that we need to be cognizant of is that Church and Change
does not exist in a vacuum. We need to remember that what we do sends
messages to others within WELS - whether we want that to be the case or not.
So, we need to ask what message we are sending to those who don't attend the
conference by having someone like Dr. Sweet as the keynote presenter. And
what effect our providing him with a platform or even a resume entry that
might allow him to further the promulgation of his aberrant theology.
In the final analysis, I do believe that there are some people to whom we
should not provide a platform - simply because of their views or their
notoriety. Thus, I do believe that there are some people who, although
content of their presentation might otherwise be "ok" from a content
perspective, are sufficiently controversial or notorious so as to make their
appearance at a WELS-related conference problematic.
With best regards,
I have three questions. I looked on the Church and Change Website about Dr.
Sweet being at the November conference, but I didn't find any information
about it. I must have not paid close attention when the announcement was
made. My questions are then as followed:
1) Who is he? (I know I can find this information out on my own, and I
will, but I would also like to hear the opinion of those who chose him to be
the speaker to tell me who he is in their own words. It helps me understand
the next question.)
2) Why was he chosen to speak at the November Church and Change conference?
3) What will he be talking about?
Just point me to an old email if these questions were answered before.
I'm reading with interest the post by Michael Sullivan. Michael mentions a
post by Dr. J.B. about the "Union Grove Folks," then later he twice refers
to what Dr. Braun said. In fact, once he capitalized BRAUN. The J.B,. is
Dr. John Bauer; he is the executive director of CHARIS. My name is Mark
Braun. Although I was for a time the part time director of CHARIS and
although I occasionally contribute an article to the CHARIS journal, I did
not write the statement about Reggie McNeal. I only listen in on this
discussion, and I have no comment whatever to make about the "Union Grove
Folks." I absolutely do not want to be an agenda item at their meeting
next week. I belong to the same Urban Pastors'Conference as Michael does,
so I guess this means I should attend conference more regularly.
Yes, would someone please answer these questions? At least 3 people have asked
similar to identical questions and no one can or will answer them. I also am
wondering who choose the speakers and who is organizing this conference?
With the discussion about Mr. Sweet's appearance at a
conference, and what, if any, influence we in the WELS
can look for in extra-WELS sources and resources.
One "thorn," I guess, in the side of the church is the
Church Growth Movement. I remember reading Rev.
Koester's book "Law and Gospel: Foundation of Lutheran
Ministry" which takes an in-depth and theological look
at the Church Growth Movement. It is my opinion that
the book is well-written and well-researched. A review
of the book can be found at:
I *hope* it is not Out of Print at NPH. It was part of
NPH's "Impact" series (other titles in the series
included "What's Going on Among the Lutherans?", the
Andrew Das book on Baptism, and I believe Harold
Senkbeil's "Sanctification: Christ in Action" (also an
excellent book, by an LC-MS pastor), reviewed at:
JOHN L. HOH, JR.
OOPS. I am so sorry Mark (Dr. Braun). I knew that it was NOT you. I meant
to write Dr. Bauer. I am sorry about that and the confusion.
Another reason why I am going to the conference is that I figured I might be
one of the few (if not only one) there from the Urban Conference, and I
could report to all of you about it. (Not too many from our conference
expressed interest in going).
I guess I wrote what I did to encourage everyone on the Church and Change
server to have an open mind to the other things other people are doing in
our synod, even if you think they are being close minded towards you and
your opinions. Just as you are expressing your zeal for Jesus and his
Kingdom, so are they. We have the same faith. There are many times that I
think we talk past each other instead of to each other. Its tough bearing
each others burdens as St. Paul encourages us to do. We can learn from each
other. I thank God that not everyone thinks the way I do. If they all did,
who would keep me from making mistakes?
What I encourage here is also a message I will encourage in Union Grove.
Even though we might seem on "opposite sides of the fence" let us realize
the gift we have in each other, and work with each other, bearing each
others burdens in love. God helps us do this.
Taken from the minutes in the Union Grove Conference
"One person said that the reason he came to the conference was to get a message
to our synodical leaders. The words of Jesus tell us to “watch out for false
prophets.” We need to stop sitting at the feet of false prophets. To say we have
the wisdom to listen to what they say and then completely filter out truth from
error is pride and stupidity. We’ve forgotten why we have our doctrine of
AMEN!!! This applies very much to Sweet and what the Church and Change
conference is doing by allowing him to speak.
I'm glad Michael corrected the attribution for the "Union Grove folks"
comment. I wrote it, not Mark Braun. I'm also glad Michael is going. I've
not been invited.
It's a good thing any time people get together to discuss ministry in
Christ's Church and to do so in a godly manner and with an open mind.
Whether it is Church and Change, CHARIS, Union Grove - I believe all are
motivated by their love of Christ and their desire to reach the lost. At
the same time, there are clear differences of opinion about how the church
should carry out its ministry. It's pretty clear what those differences
are. All one has to do is look at past Church and Change conference topics,
past issues of CHARIS, or the minutes of the Union Grove meeting to see
differences in orientation, perspective, priority, and method.
However, hunkering down in our own little silos of like-minded people is
not going to accomplish much except foster a "we/they" mentality and create
further division. That is why I consented to have my response letter posted
on the "Issues in the WELS" web site. I suspect that many of them will not
agree with what I wrote. That's OK. If the letter generates healthy debate
- that's a far better alternative that doing or saying nothing.
I certainly don't think that those who organized this conference and
invited Mr. Sweet asked him to expound to us his theology. There are a
number of topics regarding the emerging church that he understands well.
His presentation will give insight to what our synod and congregations
should address as we plan for the best possible way to reach this
Bloomington Living Hope Lutheran Church and School
A few people have asked for this: what are the topics Sweet is being asked to
present? Having this information could bring more clarity to the whole
Instead of us guessing and debating about Sweet and if He should be at the
conference or not, please SOMEONE, answer these questions:
WHAT IS HE GOING TO SPEAK ABOUT???
And if you have some time.
WHY WAS HE INVITED???
We could save a lot of time and aggravation having these questions answered.
Also, the longer these questions go unanswered, the more suspicious my human
A NOTICE FOR ALL:
I talked to those organizing the Union Grove meeting. EVERYONE is
invited, whether you are clergy or not and regardless of gender. I
suggested that they change their website to reflect that, and they said they
would. The agenda is posted on the site as well. www.issuesinwels.org
So far I heard that 3 synod DP's and President Gurgel himself will
be there, so you can see that the purpose of this meeting is far from being
a "let's bash the administration" event. It is meant to improve dialog and
voice concerns in an edifying manner. Solutions are what they want to find.
On a personal note. Thanks John. I agree with you whole heartily,
especially with your last paragraph. A constructive debate of opposing
opinions is healthy. Silence and avoidance is deadly. You are officially
invited to the meeting. I hope to see you there.
Thanks for the comments. I agree with several of the responses to your last
post that it would be better for us to actually hear from those involved in
extending the invitation to Dr. Sweet than for us to speculate as to their
motives or thoughts.
I would, however, like to use your comments as a springboard as to why I
have concerns regarding the value that Dr. Sweet can bring to the
conference. In your response you stated your belief that "There are a
number of topics regarding the emerging church that he understands well."
I'd like to challenge that statement - for the purposes of focusing the
group on certain issues.
So, let's start with the fundamental question as to the nature of the
"church" to which Dr. Sweet would have an understanding. Is that church the
Christian church? Or is it some fuzzy new age church? I'd suggest that it
is more likely to be the latter and not the former based on what I have read
from Dr. Sweet. (Please note that I am in no way suggesting that I am an
expert regarding Dr. Sweet's theology - which to me is at best rather
muddled - I've only read a few excerpts -- but those excerpts give me great
Given that Dr. Sweet (charitably) seems to be confused as to even the basic
fundamentals of Christianity, I'd like to suggest that he would similarly be
confused as to what the Church is and hence any insights he might have as to
topics related to an "emerging church" would be similarly flawed. Do we
care as to the techniques that are successful in "growing" a new-age church?
Ok... maybe the organizer's answer to that question is "yes, we think that
those techniques would be of benefit to WELS congregations" ... that then
leads to the next point.
If we don't care about his theology, i.e, if Dr. Sweet is being brought in
to provide suggestions from a non-Christian perspective as to (for example)
how to better attract and engage a twenty-something, boomer or whatever,
then why not bring in a real expert? Let's invite and bring in an
advertising expert from Madison Avenue (for example someone who developed or
worked on the Apple iPod advertisement campaign). Someone with that
background really would be able to provide insights as to how to (from a
secular perspective) engage people and "reach this emerging generation."
Note, that I am not really suggesting that we bring in an ad agency expert,
but if that is the subject (i.e., to look at the "the best possible way to
reach this emerging generation") on which the organizers of the conference
are seeking a presentation and is the subject on which Dr. Sweet is expected
to provide input, then why not go to a real expert? At least in that case
the flawed theological baggage that Dr. Sweet carries with him would not be
With best regards,
"Change will come however we feel about it. Our part is to help it be the right
kind of change, not the change of recklessness – but also not the change that
comes from the deterioration and decay of stagnation."
That's a paragraph from a timely article about changes in the way we view
"church" titled "Fearlessly Facing Change". The writer also notes:
"Some of this change is physical as in the building of a new facility, but some
of it is "programmatic," as a congregation seeks to engage its surrounding
neighborhood in new ways.
"At times like these, harsh words within a church family can be spoken, battle
lines can be drawn, and hearts can be wounded.
Why does this sometimes happen? How is it possible that we, who are brothers and
sisters in Christ Jesus, can react in such different ways to the same dynamics
and then hurt each other as we begin to assume the worst in the other’s
I invite you to read the rest of the article at
Blessings in Jesus!
A valid question could also be:
1. Is Leonard Sweet discussing the make-up of the
2. is he discussing the make-up of the post-modern
world and post-modern people and their way of
We would have some qualms about the former; the
latter we could gain some insight from one who has
studied that culture and has aimed his message at that
culture. If the latter is the case, are we speaking
"ecclesiastical-ese" or are we willing to "go out into
the world and teach all nations" in the manner of
Paul: "being all things to all men."
Even Paul quoted secular writers to reach an alien
culture with the Gospel message!
JOHN L. HOH, JR.
"A valid question could also be:
1. Is Leonard Sweet discussing the make-up of the church itself; OR
2. Is he discussing the make-up of the post-modern world and post-modern
people and their way of thinking?"
This is not only a "valid" question, but it is in my opinion, an excellent
And, I would agree with you that we justifiably should have serious qualms
about the former. Regarding the latter, I guess I am not yet convinced, nor
admittedly am I sufficiently knowledgeable regarding Dr. Sweet to know,
whether he has particularly good insights that he has gained from studying
the post-modern world and aiming his message at that culture.
Even if he does, however, that should not be the end of the analysis. There
are several more questions that should be asked (out of love and concern for
our brethren) before Dr. Sweet is given such a major forum.
First, in discussing any insights that Dr. Sweet has obtained from studying
the post modern world and aiming his message at that culture, will he of
necessity end up discussing the his "message" and as a corollary, are the
insights that he has obtained universal or are they a result of the
"message"? (For example, if my message is that one can work one's way to a
oneness with the universe, then any insights that I may have obtained from
studying the post modern world with the intent to proclaim that message to
that world may not be relevant at all to a presentation to that same world
of the concepts of law and gospel.)
Second, even if Dr. Sweet does have insights worth sharing, we should ask
ourselves the question as to whether, given the aberrant theological baggage
that he admitted brings to the table, he is the right person to present
those insights. (I find it hard to believe that he is unique in his
Third, we need to ask out of love what impact having Dr. Sweet as the
keynote presenter at a WELS-associated conference might have on others in
the Synod. (For example, is it possible that some could conclude that
because of Dr. Sweet's association with WELS that WELS now endorses or
teaches and holds to views comparable to his and as a result thereby be led
astray or have their faith in the truth of God's Word be impacted?) In
inviting Dr. Sweet are we doing something that is permissible but not
beneficial? Would it be loving to cause any one of our brothers or sisters
to stumble because we chose Dr. Sweet instead of someone with less
controversial theological baggage?
Fourth, we need to ask whether or not our providing Dr. Sweet with a forum
would in any way assist his proclamation (either now or in the future) of
his brand of theology. (Certainly, out of love, we would not want to do
anything that would enhance the reputation of or that would assist someone
whose goal apparently is to lead the people of this post modern world away
from their only source of salvation.)
While you note (correctly) that "even Paul quoted secular writers to reach
an alien culture with the Gospel message", I don't recall Paul inviting any
of those secular writers to be the keynote speaker at a conference of
Christians. ;-) Bottom line is that no one is suggesting that we should
not be going out into the world. And no one is suggesting that we should
not seek to learn as much as we can about that world /culture so as to
assist our going out into it. But, on the other hand, we do have discretion
as to when and how and to what degree we invite the world into our homes and
bedrooms -- or into our conferences.
With best regards,
John Bauer's explanation of invitations by WLC/Charis to non-WELS presenters
quoted a Conference of Presidents resolution and cited invitations by the
national worship conference.
[Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2005 8:56 AM]
We're writing to clarify both of these items from a Commission on Worship
Dr. Bauer did not quote all of the COP resolution, only the first paragraph.
Here is the full resolution.
"Presentations and discussions about secular and/or religious
matters which take place in schools, churches, conferences,
commissions and parasynodical organizations of our fellowship,
or similar events, can take place outside the framework of fellowship.
When speakers and presenters are not of our fellowship they MUST
be conducted outside the framework of fellowship.
"Pastoral concern and sensitivity to the feelings and concerns of
our constituency must always be shown in the selection of such
speakers and the way in which their presence is publicized.
"Since the choice of certain speakers may cause offense or unrest
among our constituents it would always be advisable to seek the
counsel of a wider spectrum of the brotherhood including the
leadership of the district in which the event will take place.
"Although scheduling of celebrities may be of some value in the
information they can share with [us] and even in showing their
agreement with our position, we should be careful not to rely upon
their endorsement to give credibility to our cause."
It's important to note that the COP guidelines were shared after a firestorm
of objection to WLC featuring Martin Marty as a convocation speaker. Among a
variety of opinions about Marty's appearance, numerous respected WELS
leaders summarized the invitation this way: "While it was not WRONG, it also
was not WISE" - in the sense of 1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23: "everything is
permissible, but not everything is beneficial..."
The C/W and others in WELS Parish Services would say the same about Sweet
and certain other choices made by Church & Change - especially in light of
the second and third COP points above.
We would also fully agree with the basic point in Dr. Bauer's post - as
stated also by the COP: that presentations may take place outside the
framework of fellowship. But fellowship isn't the only factor.
Dr. Bauer also wrote:
First, a correction. Schmidt was never invited to a national worship
conference. Conferences were in 1996, 1999, and 2002.
Second, a clarification. The vast majority of non-WELS presenters covered
topics that don't generate heated objection (some requiring various kinds of
expertise not widely found in WELS and not carrying theological baggage),
e.g.: acoustics, composition, advanced handbells, MIDI, new piano music
styles, gospel music, historical insights, research into children and
The C/W does not want WELS members to conclude that our invitation of
non-WELS presenters at worship conferences is similar to or supports the
invitation by Church & Change of Leonard Sweet.
Senkbeil's topic was "Lutheran Worship and Contemporary Culture." It gave
WELS people insight into what is happening outside of WELS to alert us to
mistakes and detours that have troubled other denominations (including
LCMS). The presentation description stated: "A noted author will show how
Pietism and Revivalism have influenced contemporary American Evangelicalism
and late 20th century Lutheranism." Note how dramatically different this
kind of presenter is compared to Leonard Sweet. Senkbeil's perspectives on
the topic are so biblical and reliable that our own NPH published his book!
("Sanctification: Christ in Action." NPH later published another book by
him.) Which of Sweet's books do you think NPH might have published?
Since there has been some confusion over inviting non-WELS speakers, the C/W
has sought the advice of others when inviting non-WELS presenters. The C/W
followed the spirit of the COP guidelines even before those guidelines were
disseminated in 1999.
This information is provided as a joint statement from those currently
responsible for national worship conferences.
Pastor Mark Bitter
Chairman, Commission on Worship
Prof. James Tiefel
Chairman, Worship Conference Planning Committee
Pastor Bryan Gerlach
Administrator, Commission on Worship
Thank you soo much for your post! It makes things so much clearer now on many
fronts. Thank you for including paragraghs that were left out of Prof. Bauer's
email to us. It is eye opening that it was left out and very reassuring to read
that it was written in the first place. In addition, I think we all also have a
better understanding of the Conference on Worship as well, and I for one will
not be so critical of it in the future. I think many of us have heard there are
non-WELS speakers there and that upsets us, we just didn't know what kinds of
topics they were speaking on. It makes a huge difference when questions are
answered. Thank you again!
Regarding the clarifications offered by Brian Gerlach, et.al, to my letter:
1. I used the information regarding presenters at Worship Conferences that
was received by me in prior correspondence. It was my mistake not to verify
independently the accuracy of the information. Although I had no reason to
doubt the source, I'll be more careful to check the facts in the future.
The speakers and dates were assumed to be correct. My mistake.
2. Quoting the entire COP resolution was not necessary to the point I was
trying to make, namely, that they acknowledged the reality that non-WELS
speakers may occasionally be invited to speak, and that such speaking must
be done outside the context of church fellowship.
3. The good pastoral advice contained in the remainder of the COP
resolution to "consult the brethren" before inviting non-WELS speakers has
in fact been followed by me at CHARIS (inviting Reggie McNeal to the recent
Church Door Symposium) and by the directors of Church and Change. To be
sure, not everyone in the Synod was consulted - as evident from some of the
postings to this listserv, but the opinions of respected church leaders was
sought. Just because some raise concerns does not in and of itself justify
retracting the decision. What it does suggest is that additional preemptive
information should be shared.
4. I'm sure a statement will be forthcoming from the Church and Change
leadership which will answer the questions posed by some, and which will
reflect the rationale for inviting Dr. Sweet and which will describe the
topics on which he will be asked to speak.
Dr. John E. Bauer
Executive Director, CHARIS
Wisconsin Lutheran College
I must admit that I am growing more and more unsettled by the
direction of this
discussion about Dr. Sweet speaking at the Church and Change
conference. I do very
much appreciate the passion expressed for the Truth and a commitment
contaminate the Truth with New Age philosophies or demoninational
traditionalism; I only
wish there was the same passion to share that Truth (I believe some
need to spend more
time and energy in their own faith communities). The recent innuendo
of a cover-up and
the fortress mentality that jumps off some keyboards is
Here are numbers that keep me up at night: 14 – 15 – 31.
According to the information I have received we as a church body have decreased in membership for 14 straight years, tragically some are lost through the back door and many more never make it through our front doors. For 15 straight years our Lutheran Elementary School have been decreasing in numbers and students. For 31 straight years we as a church body have experienced a decrease in the number of students in our Sunday School programs.
The Word doesn't work if people don't hear it. God designed his means of grace to be
heard and experienced. There needs to be human contact! If Dr. Sweet's presentation can give us all some insights on how to better approach people with those means (that is what I believe was his purpose for speaking—forgive me for putting the best construction on the C&C invitation, it's an 8th commandment thing!), perhaps we can channel passion away from tearing brothers and sisters down to winning more brothers and sisters to Christ.
John Parlow [GJ - Parlow's argument is the same as F. Bivens'. Parlow's Depere church is in doctrinal fellowship with the Willow Creek Association. Here is the link.]
And All God's People Said - AMEN
Greetings from Texas! It's been a while since we roomed together at CYD
I appreciate your taking the time away from your faith community to comment
on the invitation extended to Dr. Sweet. It is an important issue. I also
am glad that you appreciate the passion for the Truth that has been
expressed. (Since I am not personally aware of anyone who has expressed
passion for the Truth who has not exhibited that same passion in sharing the
Truth, I have to presume (it is indeed an 8th commandment sorta thing) that
all who have commented (for or against) with passion exhibit that same
passion for sharing the Truth.) Certainly, we both know that if there is no
passion for the Truth in and of itself, there will be no passion for the
sharing of that Truth. One is indeed the prerequisite of the other.
You note that there has been "recent innuendo of a cover-up and the fortress
mentality." I guess I have not seen or have not recognized that innuendo.
Maybe we aren't reading the same posts or maybe I am wearing rose colored
glasses? :-) What I have seen are repeated expressions of concern out of
love regarding the wisdom of extending an invitation to Dr. Sweet to be the
keynote speaker at a WELS-related conference and the effect that such an
invitation may have on our brethren and on our neighbors.
Your citation of the numbers and statistics should keep all of us up at
night. What has changed in the last 14 years or in the last 15 years or in
the last 31 years? Sin hasn't. Grace hasn't. Man's human nature hasn't.
The Gospel to unconverted man is still foolishness. Dr. Sweet may (or may
not) have insights into the answer to this question. But... as I am sure
you recognize, that should not be the end of the analysis. We both know
that there are several more questions that should be asked (out of love and
concern for our brethren and for our neighbors) before Dr. Sweet is given
such a major forum.
We should ask whether in discussing any insights that Dr. Sweet has obtained
from studying the post modern world and aiming his message at that culture,
he of necessity will end up discussing the his "message" in the presentation
at the conference and whether his insights are really relevant to sharing
God's Truth. Even if it is determined that Dr. Sweet does have insights
worth sharing, we should then ask whether, given the admittedly aberrant
theological baggage that he brings to the table, he is the right person to
present those insights. We also should be asking (out of love) what impact
having Dr. Sweet as the keynote presenter at a WELS-associated conference
might have on others in the Synod. (Certainly it would not be acting out of
love if having Dr. Sweet as the keynote speaker would cause any of our
brothers or sisters to stumble, especially since it is virtually certain
that others with similar insights could be found who would not carry the
same theological baggage carried by Dr. Sweet.) Finally, we should be
asking whether or not providing Dr. Sweet with a forum would in any way
assist his proclamation (either now or in the future) of his brand of
theology. (It would certainly be unloving for us to do something that would
assist Dr. Sweet in leading even a single person away from the Truth.)
You aptly note that we should put the best construction on the decision to
invite Dr. Sweet. I certainly have no problem in doing that. I have no
reason to believe that the organizers in inviting Dr. Sweet did not do so
with the best of intentions. However, that does not mean that I am forced
to agree with that decision. Having good intentions does not mean that one
cannot make an error in judgment. I am certain that the organizers of the
conference would not want to do anything that could cause any within our
circle of faith to stumble. I am also certain that they would not want to
do anything to enhance the likelihood that Dr. Sweet could lead others away
from the Truth.
Finally, I do heartedly agree that in this discussion, as in all
discussions, we need to "channel passion away from tearing brothers and
sisters down". Instead, we should strive always to act in love towards our
brethren and our neighbors. To me, acting in love necessarily precludes
bringing Dr. Sweet to a Church and Change conference (or to any other
conference) and it precludes giving him any other aid or comfort as he
strives to lead fellow believers away from the Truth.
With best regards,
Thank you John for your email and corrections.
Regarding your forth point: I ask with all earnestness that the steering
committee quickly answers my one question: "What was Dr. Sweet asked to talk
about?" It bothers me to discuss topics with out having full information
because we can not discuss it properly. All we are doing is guessing.
Therefore, for the sake of your brother who is a little bothered by the
situation, but wants to evaluate it based on all the facts, please at least
give us the topic of his discussion, and please do this soon. Thank you.
I agree with John. I fear we as a church organization have become more
concerned with being so careful not to lose one or something, that we've almost
forgotten gaining many souls. We need to remember that the Lord holds all his
souls in his hands and gives us the power and encouragement to reach out, far
out, to seek the lost. It's a wilderness, but we must trust him and his
protecting hand. Challenge the Lord to send us into the farthest reaches of the
world to bring in the harvest and he will go with us. If we don't understand
where the lost is, or is coming from, how can we expect to find them?
Unfortunately, we don't find most of the lost in our churches on sunday morning
and most often if they are there, it's because someone went a long way to get
I SO agree with John and John.Thank you so much for expressing that
point of view. I am a lifelong Wels Christian who attended Wels
schools from elementary through college and certainly have
experienced how legalism has hurt our efforts in reaching out with
the Gospel message. I took encouragment from the fact that there was
a site like this to share new ideas. We all need to look outward
instead of inward. The whole reason our membership is decreasing is
definitely related to all this.
We need to be careful about all of these assumptions.
Membership is decreasing in virtually all mainline
denominations. Meanwhile, membership is on the
increase in churches like the E Orthodox - certainly
far from "trendy". I'm not saying that means we don't
look at change, but lets be careful before we jump to
the assumption that something is fundamentally wrong
with our synod in this regard.
Personally, I haven't seen any "legalism" in any of
the posts on this list. Perhaps there's been a bit
too much defensiveness and jumping to conclusions, but
I think that could apply to *both* sides of this
discussion. Mostly I've seen fair, thoughtful
concerns about the reasoning behind a controversial
decision and an understandable request for more
explanation. This has been balanced by a zeal to
explore every possible God-pleasing avenue to reach
the lost. I think that's a very good sign of a
healthy church, myself, as long as we keep working
together with a spirit of humility.
- Mark Salzwedel
With all due respect, I guess I am not seeing a link between, on the one
hand, inviting Dr. Sweet (whose mission in life appears to be to lead people
away from the Truth) to appear at a WELS-related event as a keynote speaker
and, on the other hand, seeking the lost and bring them the truth.
Please note that this issue is not an abstract one. It involves the single
concrete question as to whether or not it is both "permissible" and
"beneficial" to have Dr. Sweet speak as a keynote speaker at a specific
conference. IF you think that he should be the keynote speaker at the
conference, then please give us the reasons. (There certainly have been
more than enough reasons stated as to why he should not speak - not the
least of which have to do exactly with a concern for the lost!)
You note, in the context of inviting Dr. Sweet that you "fear we as a church
organization have become more concerned with being so careful not to lose
one or something, that we've almost forgotten gaining many souls." In the
context of inviting Dr. Sweet, do you really believe that? Do you really
believe that those who oppose Dr. Sweet speaking at the Church and Change
Conference have forgotten that the fields are ripe! I haven't! If you've
seen statements that indicate that sort of loss of focus in this discussion,
cite to them. (Not that I've not noticed any.) Then, allow the poster to
respond. (It may be that you misread or misunderstood what he or she was
saying -- it is as John Parlow said, an 8th commandment sort of thing.)
You state: "We need to remember that the Lord holds all his souls in his
hands and gives us the power and encouragement to reach out, far out, to
seek the lost. It's a wilderness, but we must trust him and his protecting
hand. Challenge the Lord to send us into the farthest reaches of the world
to bring in the harvest and he will go with us. If we don't understand
where the lost is, or is coming from, how can we expect to find them?"
If you are suggesting that we don't know where the lost are or where the
lost are coming from or where we can expect to find them, I'd strongly
If you have a secular job, they are right there next to you at work. They
are your neighbors. They are your relatives. They are the people with whom
your children carpool to soccer practice. They are your doctor, your
mechanic, your dentist, your paper boy, the person at the grocery store
checkout stand. They go under the label of Mormon, Hindu, Jehovah's
Witnesses. Many/most go under no label at all. They go to college with you
or your children, they play softball with you. They come from every
culture, race and nationality. They are simply all of the people with whom
God places you into contract as you live your life in the vocations in which
God has placed you. Do we need Dr. Sweet to tell us that? I don't... do
Can Dr. Sweet provide insights into how to reach the lost of this
post-modern generation? Well... perhaps. He admittedly has been trying to
reach them himself (as well as to reach believers) as he purveys his
soul-destroying message. As such I would suspect that he indeed can provide
us with ample insight into how one appeals to the old man. Now, perhaps
some of those insights can translate into something that could assist us in
reaching the lost. Can you guarantee that? I sure can't. But for the sake
of argument, let's concede that such is possible. That, however, is not at
all the end of the inquiry!
Even if it is determined that Dr. Sweet does have insights worth sharing, in
love for our brethren we simply must ask (out of love) whether, given the
admittedly aberrant theological baggage that he brings to the table, he is
the right person to present those insights. Out of love for our brethren,
we also have to consider the impact that selecting Dr. Sweet as the keynote
presenter at a WELS-associated conference might have on others in the Synod.
(It would not be acting out of love to cause any of our brothers or sisters
to stumble.) And, out of love not only for our brethren but for the lost
generally, we should be asking whether or not providing Dr. Sweet with a
forum would in any way assist his proclamation (either now or in the future)
of his brand of theology. In my opinion, it is not loving; it is not acting
out of a concern for the lost to knowingly and consciously provide aid,
comfort and a platform to someone whose clear and unambiguous goal is to
lead the lost (and believers) away from the Truth.
So, let's focus on the specifics, let's focus on Dr. Sweet and whether or
not he should attend the WELS-related Church and Change Conference as the
keynote speaker. Let's hear reasons as to why the choice of Dr. Sweet,
specifically, is meet, right and salutary. Believe it or not, I am willing
to listen. Frankly, I am desperately seeking to understand what benefit the
inviting of Dr. Sweet has that overcomes all of the concerns expressed.
But.... thus far, I've seen nothing that indicates to me that his appearance
would be in the best interests of any of the following: the attendees at
the Church and Change Conference, WELS members, believers in general or the
With best regards,
WIth regard to the following statistics from an earlier e-mail:
"Here are numbers that keep me up at night: 14 – 15 – 31. According to
the information I have received we as a church body have decreased in
membership for 14 straight years, tragically some are lost through the
back door and many more never make it through our front doors. For 15
straight years our Lutheran Elementary School have been decreasing
in numbers and students. For 31 straight years we as a church body
have experienced a decrease in the number of students in our Sunday
I would simply suggest that the decline in our membership is more a
function of the end times and the increase in wickedness and apostasy
that we know we will see. We KNOW from the Bible that this will
happen. If we are a harbinger of the "The Truth", and increasingly our
postmodern world is seeking its own "authenticity" in place
of "Truth". So when people turn to the teachers they have gathered
around them, who will fill their itching ears with what they want to
hear, should we really be surprised?
As proclaimers of truth, we should not join the ill-motivated search
for purpose and authenticity, when the Biblical message is damnation
through our own wretched sins, or salvation through Jesus alone. If it
doesn't appeal to the postmodern ear, it is because the postmodern ear
is setting itself against the Law & Gospel message of the Word. The
message is what the message is. Let's not change the message.
I do assume in all of this that the organizers of the C&C conference
mean the best for the Kingdom. I don't question that. I simply
challenge the assumption that there is something "wrong" with the
WELS. We should expect membership declines as the spirits of
antichrist thrive in these last evil days.
By grace alone, through faith alone, as revealed in teh Scripture
Brothers and sisters,
Concerning the cause of the membership decline in the WELS, it seems to
me that blaming it on the end times is a bit too simplistic. After all,
we have God's promises that his Word is powerful and will accomplish
great things--even during the end times. While saying that we should
expect membership declines can give the appearance of blaming the sinful
human nature for membership declines, it also comes close to sounding as
though those promises of God concerning the power of his Word are not to
be believed--as though sinful human nature is more powerful than the
Word. It could even lead us to view our declining numbers as God's seal
of approval on our preaching--"The Word isn't working--so that must be
proof that we're preaching it in its truth and purity."
Yet it also seems to me that blaming it on our poor communication of that
Word is a bit too simplistic. After all, there are both specific examples
and general statements in the Bible which indicate that even outstanding
preaching and perfect communication of the Word is often met with
indifference, hostility, and unbelief. (Lest someone protest that there
is no such thing as perfect communication of the Word, I would suggest
that Jesus perfectly communicated it--and yet was often met with
indifference, hostility, and unbelief.) There is the promise that these
things will even increase in the end times. Besides, to suggest that our
poor communication of the Word is the reason for declining numbers gives
the proclaimer a power and a responsibility that the Bible never gives
him/her--the power to cause someone to believe or to reject the Word.
In the end, let's not blame sinful human nature for the membership
decline--and in doing so also diminish the power of the Word. And let's
not blame the proclaimers of the Word for the membership decline--and in
doing so also diminish the power of the Word.
Instead, let's just admit that we don't know all the reasons for the
decline in WELS membership, and instead focus on how to continue to reach
out to people with the powerful Word. Let's leave the rest--that is, the
results--up to God.
Thank you for your words and insights. Allow me a few words of clarification. Who stated
that, "... our poor communication" was the cause of our decline? I may have missed that. I
certainly did not posit that. I do believe the Word still works in these "end times" as it did
in the "end times" the Thessalonians believed they were experiencing and in the "end
times" my grandparents believed they were experiencing. To blame the "end times" for
our lack of growth places such proponents in the same religious camp of the millenialism and other end time prophets like the Millerites. I'm not sure you want to pitch your tent there.
God still grows his church today in this 21st century. It seems to me we spiritually bail out
when we blame our lack of ability to reach the lost and nurture the found on the times in
which we live. Others are apparently reaching people with the saving message of
Jesus in the Church at large during these "end times". Denominations may be on the
decline, but not Christianity.
Communication IS the key! Not the style but the opportunity. The Gospel does
not save the human heart when not heard or experienced. We cannot increase the efficacy
of the Word but we sure can hinder the Spirit's work by placing stumbling blocks that
prevent people from coming in contact with His means. "Therefore let us stop passing
judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or
obstacle in your brother's way." We all need to reexamine how we do things in light of why
we do them. [GJ - Paul Kelm, Bruce Becker and the Reformed teach exactly the same thing. Why invite Sweet when they have heretics within the fold?]
If you beleived you had been graciously given a message that can impact someone's eternity, wouldn't you do anything short of sinning to communicate that Truth? The Spirit has given us the Christian freedom to do so; the onus is on those who believe otherwise. Jeremiah speaks to those who exhibit a fortress mentality surrounded by the moat of end times hand-wringing ... "Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" What would happen if you didn't just believe in God but actually believed God?
Dream big ... the Word works!
The first thing I have to do is look at myself and ask a simple question: Do
people see Christ in me in all my actions and especially my interactions with
I know for myself the answer is certainly no.
That doesn't mean I may not have a solid understanding of the message of God in
the cross. And it doesn't mean that in private and even public moments I may be
able to proclaim that message clearly and with passion.
It does mean that I dare never claim that I'm doing everything right, and that
lack of effectiveness in my witness must have only external causes.
In humility I must repent and ask for the grace to build on the good that sneaks
out here and there, and to be willing to move into new and uncomfortable
territory if that's what it takes to be Christ to the world I encounter.
The same process applies to a family, to a congregation, to a synod.
We can get so hung up on processes and methods, be they deeply-rooted traditions
or "cutting-edge" new insights. The bottom line is: do people encounter the
living Christ in what we do?
I appreciate your comment that "Communication IS the key! Not the style but
the opportunity. The Gospel does not save the human heart when not heard or
experienced. We cannot increase the efficacy of the Word but we sure can
hinder the Spirit's work by placing stumbling blocks that prevent people
from coming in contact with His means!"
If I may add to that.... We need to remember that we don't even have to seek
out the lost! They are right there, all around us, every day. We work with
them; we live next door to them; they are in our families, either immediate
families or extended families. We carpool with them, we come into contact
with them every day as we go through our normal daily lives. Some are easy
to identify as they go under labels like Mormon, Hindu or Jehovah's
Witnesses. Others may be a bit harder to identify because they may go under
labels like Methodist, Baptist or Lutheran. Others (even most) simply go
under no label at all. They are found in every culture, they are of every
race and nationality. In short, they are simply all of the people with whom
God places each of us into contract as we live our lives in the vocations in
which God has placed us. As Christians we know that it is God's will that
we deal with all people out of love. And because we know of His love for
us, we too love. Out of love, we help our neighbor when he or she has
temporal problems and difficulties. And as Christians, out of love, we let
our lights shine; we stand ready to provide an answer - and as Christians we
cannot help but tell the Good News, the source of our hope and peace.
And, too, we need to remember that we don't have to worry about what would
happen if we didn't just believe in God but actually believed God. As a
believer, we know with joy that we remain in this life both saint and
sinner. We know that new man in us always and completely not only believes
in God, but believes God. And we know and confess with sadness that in each
of us, the old man always and completely refuses to believe in God and
remains at war with God. Thus, daily, we confess that "our faith is still
very feeble and cold. If it were as firm and stable as indeed it should be,
we would almost die for sheer joy. But, God be praised, we know that even
those of little faith are children of God. And Christ does not say in vain:
"Fear not, little flock". But we should at all times sigh and pray with the
apostle: "Lord, increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5); and with that man in Mark
9:24: "I believe; help my unbelief!" This is our consolation, that the
believer in Christ has been assured and guaranteed that he is an heir of
God, not a servant or a maid but a son, who is an heir to all the
possessions. To acquire this privilege we should be ready to crawl to the
ends of the world on our knees, yes, on our bare feet." (Luther's works,
vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4.)
It is with that motivation and joy that we as Christians go through each day
of our lives, each in the vocations in which God has placed us, each letting
our lights shine; each standing ready to provide an answer; each telling the
Good News, the source of our hope and peace.
With best regards,
Thank you for the discussion of our invitation to Leonard Sweet to be a speaker
at the fall Church and Change conference. We desire our listserv to be a place
where any subject can be examined in a safe, Christ-loving environment -- even
when the subject is improving the decisions made by Church and Change leaders.
We are sorry that we were not able to respond to the concerns raised on the
listserv as quickly as some would have appreciated. The leaders of Church and
Change are part-time, spare-time leaders with busy ministries that don't always
allow them the time to respond to issues as quickly as they and others might
like. We leaders tend to stay away from contributing to the discussion for
another reason: we have determined that our listserv is a place for God's people
to discuss issues of faith and ministry. The intrusion of Church and Change
leaders into that discussion can have an unwanted squelching effects.
Leonard Sweet was chosen as keynote speaker for the November conference because
of his insights into current American culture. He has researched and written
extensively on the issue.
Based on our acquaintance with Dr. Sweet through the writings we knew, we
believed him to be an excellent choice for our conference. Unfortunately,
certainly in terms of our listserv discussion of late, we had not reviewed his
online book, Quantum Spirituality, an early book in his exploration of the
As much as we appreciate the thorough review of Quantum Spirituality that was
made available to us on the listserv, we believe the 8th Commandment requires us
to examine this book ourselves before forming any judgments. That is not to say
we won't arrive at the same conclusions as our reviewer, but Christian love
dictates our personal investigation rather than dependence on the conclusions of
In the meantime, be assured that the leaders of Church and Change have taken the
information and advice we received on our listserv seriously and prayerfully.
We will respond to it with equal seriousness and prayer.
With you in ministry to a changing culture with the unchanging gospel,
Rev Ron Ash
Dear Members of the Steering Committee,
Thank you for your honesty and candor. May God bless your study and
reevaluation of Dr. Sweet. May the LORD richly bless your ministries.
Your brother in Christ,
I have been following this Dr. Sweet thread and it's morphs with great interest.
This is a great example of the verse "iron sharpens iron" a pastor friend of
mine uses quite often.
Just to interject, and this may have been stated already; yes, we live in the
end times, but we are not growing and there are churches that have experienced
phenomenal growth in the last 10 to 15 years. We have to do something. I don't
know if I'll be at the conference, but I am somewhat put off by the fact that it
is assumed by some on this list that some of us cannot discern what is good and
what is bad. The casual/baby Christian/low end of the spectrum faith worshipper
is not going to be at the Conference. These are people with strong faiths who
show genuine concern about the future of our Synod and theology. Reaction on
this list is proof of that. We are pretty much WELS Christians who are very
involved in our churches. Thank the Lord that Luther was able to discern.
Luther is a great example to look at in times like these. Take what is good and
throw out the bad. But you have to remain relevant in today’s society and if we
need to bring in someone who can help us, I say go for it! When I see churches
like Lakewood in Houston buy the old Omni because of their growth, or Saddleback
in California, or Chandler Christian Church right in my back yard buying up
chunks of real estate to expand, I think they must be doing something right!! I
would never approve of their theologies, but hey, why can’t we take what they
are doing right and graft it on our theology? We’re pretty proud of our
theology aren’t we? At least that’s the impression I get from this list. We
have to get proactive. I fear our Synod has waited too long. At times I grieve
for WELS. We just need to get as evangelical as the Evangelicals are and be
like it says in our name: Wisconsin EVANGELICAL Lutheran Synod.
God Bless you all!
Thank you Joe! I couldn't agree with you more!
There are quite a few comments I'd like to make to what you said. First, I
applaud the fervor and concern you express for the lost. To the best that I
can tell that concern exists on the part of those who think inviting Dr.
Sweet is a great idea and on the part of those who think that inviting Dr.
Sweet is not such a good idea.
A few specific comments...
First, the ability to discern and deal with false doctrine is of course an
issue. And I think you'd admit that the abilities of each of us vary. And
I think that you'd admit that those abilities also vary depending on the
type of false doctrine being presented. Often, until one sees the false
doctrine actually presented, it can be very difficult to determine for sure
that one will recognize the danger and that one won't be influenced - indeed
we are often influenced without even being aware of that fact. And it is
even more difficult to determine who among us may be more susceptible to a
particular type of false doctrine. Out of love, what level of risk to
others should we be willing to tolerate?
But... that misses the point a bit... the ability to discern false doctrine
is in no way the focal point (or at least it is not the only focal point) of
the concerns being expressed about Dr. Sweet.
Second, no one is saying that we shouldn't seek information to assist our
efforts in spreading the Gospel. The question rather is focused on whether
the use of Dr. Sweet as a keynote speaker to provide that information is
meet, right and salutary.
Third, you raise the issue of needing to remain relevant in today's society.
I'd like to pose a question: Is the Gospel ever relevant to the unbeliever
or is it always foolishness? Can we ever by whatever technique make
something relevant that God tells us is foolishness? Do we need to remain
relevant or do we need to let our lights shine and be prepared to answer?
(Note that I am not saying that we should not continually seek new
opportunities and ways to share God's Word - both law and gospel - with
others. What I am suggesting is that if one seeks to be relevant... one may
have just left the foolishness of the gospel behind.)
Fourth, it is a huge leap of logic and to a degree very simplistic to
conclude that we can in every instance take what somebody else is doing that
attracts crowds, strip out the bad and retain the good. Theology and
practice go hand in hand. Practice shapes theology and theology shapes
practice. To ignore the relationship can be very dangerous. (To use a bit
of a crass example, the filth of pornography has a huge following... it has
that following because it appeals to the baseness of the old man. In some
"churches" the "filth" of the doctrine that they proclaim likewise is
designed to appeal to the old man. So, it should not be surprising that
they grow. The point being that just because some group is growing does not
necessarily mean that they are doing something right. They may simply be
excelling at doing something wrong.)
Now, having issued the warning, does that mean we stick our heads in the
sand? No! But we also don't close our eyes and sprint whatever way the
wind blows. (It can be a bit dangerous to close your eyes and try to run a
hundred meter dash in a ninety meter gym.) We are to be discerning. Let's
do that regarding Dr. Sweet.
Again, I appreciate your fervor. Use that fervor. Go and tell! Let your
light shine. Be prepared to answer. When asked, invite the asker to "come
and see." One is not going to go wrong if one goes by the Book and uses
With best regards,
You are right when you say this thread is "iron
sharpens iron". But I must comment on some of the
things you say.
It is not that some on this list can't dissern right
from wrong but it is a matter of protecting ourselves
from those that teach questionable or downright wrong
things. I have heard more than one person on this list
refer to Sweet as a heretic. Do we strong faith people
want to sit there and listen to a heretic??? Is
anything constructive he may have to say worth it if
he causes any of the strong faiths, medium faiths or
weak faiths to stumble or question anything they
You do NOT know that the baby/casual Christian will
not be at that conference. It is an open conference
and anyone can come, and apparantly, anyone can speak
at the conference as is shown by Sweet being invited.
Sure, these types of conferences generally draw the
more rooted or strong in faith but can you guarantee
that no baby/casual or medium type Christians will not
be sitting there listening to Sweet? Maybe they have
heard about him from another source, read his books or
heard a speech and are curious to hear what he has to
say in this instance.
Sure the ones with deep rooted faith can disern, but
what about the baby/casual Christians? Their ability
to discern is still being shaped and growing and
developing. Do we want to throw a monkey wrench into
that by putting Sweet in front of them and confuse and
risk any growth they have had?? I can't and I wouldn't
dare risk having Sweet there. The reaction on this
list against Sweet is because we want to protect the
strong in faith and the weak in faith of all our
members who would attend Sweet's talk and those who
aren't members. We are to be concerned for their
spiritual well being, not just brush it off and allow
Sweet to speak because there will be strong Christians
there who can disern right from wrong.
You say take the good and throw out the bad. That is the wrong way to do it! Isn't that what people do with the bible when they want to make it suit their needs and their beliefs about things in this world?? We can't just take any thing that looks good and apply it to our way of worship or winning the lost! We have to care enough to want to do it right, and do it carefully, and do it in a God pleasing way, not just in whatever way gains the most members the fastest to make us as an indvdual church or a synod look good to the outside world.
The churches you mention, all are mega churches and the whole reason they are exploding is because they use externals to draw the people in. Things like praise bands, coffee bars, resturaunts, exciting dynamic preachers ect. ect. It's all to get them ultimately to give their money and line the pockets of these "pastors". Why do you think some of these churches have had to build or buy such large buildings to hold all the people?? Is it because the preachers are preaching Christ crucified and law and gospel and the people are going out and telling others??
Take Joel Osteen, he preaches prosperty, if you do this, God will make you prosperous in any number of ways. Do you ever hear the gospel come out of his mouth?? It's all feel good stuff. He wants his members to be prosporous so they can line his pockets with all the million God has prospered them with. Nonsense!
These churches may be doing something right for them but we don't want to immitate them. Their focus is pure numbers not souls for heaven. Our motivaton for reaching the lost is teachng them God's word in all it's truth and purity. That comes before anything else! Their money, their gifts and talents in our churches are secondary to their faith and making sure it is grafted to the true vine. Then their gifts of time treasures and talents can come forth and be used as an expresson of that faith.
As John said, "Just because a church has explosive growth doesn't mean there's actual growth". What should be more important to us than numbers is the spiritual growth of our members. Reaching the lost is important but the spiritual growth (and protection from Sweet) of those we bring onto our membership is more important.
I know that you are coming forward in this discussion with the best intentions in and for the Lord, and I truly appreciate your zeal for the Lord. However, I have some concerns and questions in light of your remarks. I will address my main concern with your remarks. You stated:
The churches you mention, all are mega churches and the whole reason they are exploding is because they use externals to draw the people in. Things like praise bands, coffee bars, resturaunts, exciting dynamic preachers ect. ect. It's all to get them ultimately to give their money and line the pockets of these "pastors". Why do you think some of these churches have had to build or buy such large buildings to hold all the people?? Is it because the preachers
are preaching Christ crucified and law and gospel and the people are going out and telling others??"
There is so much in this paragraph that alarms me. I am not sure you meant these things as I am reading them, and I am sure that you do not. For example, I would like to know how you know what is in the heart of these pastors and churches? How do you know that any large church is doing ministry only to make money and line their pockets? Whew, this statement of your's is very strong and very judgemental. I am just not sure you can make such a statement. We have to be very careful to not judge people and their motives and their hearts. We cannot make these judgements. From outward actions and statements, we can decide whether or not we want to associate with these churches, people, etc., but we cannot judge what is motivating them. Do you have proof that these pastors only care about lining their pockets? Wow, I am very troubled by these statements. It almost resounds to me the comments of the pharisee of thanking God that he was not like that terrible, wretched sinner the tax collector. We must be careful who we are pointing fingers at. It would be better for us to go and have dialogue with these pastors and find out for ourselves what is happening and then go forward from there. We need to be careful with these judgemental statements. We must be careful that we do not become like the pharisees thinking we are the best of the best. I side with Paul and proclaim that I am the chief of sinners. I desrve etrnal damnation. thanks be to God that he sent his Son to
die for me. I must now out of love for Christ walk forward in response to him and show my love and Christian concern for all and rerach out to all with the message of salvation. We all must be servant leaders and invite all to God's house. We must reach out to all in humility and Christian concern in whatver way works best for those that we serve and the areas in which we serve. God commanded us to do so! We want to do so out of love for him for all he has done for us.
Wow again. I am not sure how you know that the only reason these "mega churches"
are growing is because of praise bands, coffe bars, resteraunts, exciting dynamic preachers, etc. Again, I ask us to be careful in generalizing and making absolute statements where we do not have proof. I am not sure that we can or should make statements as such. By the way, I am sure you are not saying these things are bad. Let me share a little of my vision and dreams. I have recently taken a call back into the full time ministry as "Director of Christian Development" at Pilgrim Lutheran in Minneapolis, MN. This church and school is a cross-cultural, urban outreach oriented church and school. Pilgrim has a praise band that proclaims the love of Christ for us poor, wretched sinners. It is a great entitiy. I love it. I pray that this group grows and is provided with many opportunities to share the love of God with many through the message presented in their music. I also have great visions for buying a Mormon Church (Lord willing, I am starting and plan to get up and running a church and school endowmwnet fund to assist in purchases as such), which is located one block away from Pilgrim and is a beautiful building and has a wonderful parking lot. This Mormon church is located on a very visible and busy street. In buying this church (I get to shut them down, false prophets for sure based on doctrinal stances and personal investigation), I would hope to establish a coffee shop and Christian bookstore. I would like to employ the youth of Pilgrim and other members from the church in this coffee shop. Every cup of coffee would have Pilgrim's service times, our motto "Where Christ comes first," other contact information (very brief), and John 3:16 printed out. Each cup of coffe we would sell would be a way to reach out to people. Each cup of coffee would hold on it the key to salvation - God's word! Unfortunately, unbelivers do not come to church for the same reasons belivers do. They do not come for God's Word. They could really care less about God's Word because they do not believe. Therefore, if I can plant a seed through selling a cup of coffee with God's word printed on it, I will have given the Spirit a chance to work in their hearts if they read that scripture on the cup. My employees there would be an outreach team of the youth and managerially qualified people from the church. This coffe shop, Christian bookstore concept holds awesome possibilities in and through the Lord. I would then like to use the rest of that Mormon church, which I have shut down by buying it, for community outreach purposes. I would like to have Christian parenting classes, ESOL classes, Christ centered recreational activities, and more and more and more. Each one of these outreach functions would be offering practicial and applicable life skills lessons, and each activity will be centered on Christ. People from the urban setting will come to learn English, and learn how to be better parents, and the like. I then hope in time they will continue to come back because they heard the message and the Spirit has worked faith in their hearts. I also like your idea of having a resteraunt (sic) on site. I have not thought of that one, but it would be a great possibility to serve bread and to be able to tell all of the patrons of the "true bread," the bread of life - Jesus Christ. Great idea!
One other thought, the idea of having dynamic preachers - AWESOME! Dynamic preachers, preaching the truth of Christ, what a great idea! Presenting God's Word in a dynamic fashion is an excellent idea. My prayer would then be of course that the people return due to the faith that is worked in their hearts through the power of the Spirit through God's word that was preached to them from that dynamic preacher. We have to be careful to not downplay the importance of a good sermon, a good speaker and preacher, and doing our best to present God's Word in the best possible way to reach the most. It is our duty, our command from God to preach the truth to all people. I personally would like to hear the Word of God proclaimed by a dynamic preacher, but to each their own. Preaching and teaching styles are all in the eye's of the beholder. What is dynamic to me, may not be to someone else, etc. We need to be careful to not to condem someone just because they are good and "dynamic" at preaching. I think it could be a good thing.
I have been reading these postings in this vein of conversation, and I have been wondering when and if I should or needed to reply. Through much prayer and thought, I decided now was the time to plant a few seeds and share some of my thoguths. I would love to talk to you personally to to everyone in our Synod. I have grave concerns for our Synod and the direction we are headed that is part of why the I am headed back into the full time ministry through the Spirit's guidance. We need to make sure that we are constantly evaluating all that we do because this side of heaven, we will never be perfect, we will never have it right. We need to continuosly look at our practices and retool, change, and do whatever is right to reach all people. Notice, I say we need to look at our practices. Doctine is doctrine. God's Word is God's Word, and it cannot and must not change. However, our practices and applications need to be reviewed, and must change as needed to reach the most with God's Word. Whether we have a praise band or organ (my least favorite music is organ music), it does not matter. What matters is reaching out to people with the message of Law and Gospel. That God loves us, and he loved us enough to give us his Son to rescue us from eternal damnation. What an awesome God we have!!!!!!!!
I pray that positive and productive dialogue continues in order to make sure that we are doing the best as a Synod, individuals, etc. to reach out to all people with the truth of God's Word! May the Lord bless and keep you all always!
Your Friend In Christ,
Dr. Scott Gostchock
I agree that some of the things that Jennifer mentioned can have legitimate places in an orthodox, truth-proclaiming church. I think it is a good thing that she and I don't agree on everything all the time. :) I do believe that we need to think outside of the box in ministry of the gospel. My criticism of Sweet has been really directed at him and his theology, not the concept of methodology change in and of itself.
But I need to defend her criticism of Joel Osteen. Although perhaps it would have been better not to lump all of the preachers she mentioned into one group, in the particular case of Joel Osteen I totally agree with her assessment. I don't think that it is breaking the 8th commandment to reflect what Osteen openly preaches. One needs only go to his site and try to find the pure gospel through the forest of prosperity preaching. After much trial and tribulation, you will be very frustrated. By his own words, through his own sermons, he has revealed himself to be all about money.
Regarding the others she mentioned, I can't speak to them because I am not familiar with them. But I'll say it again, just because a church is growing phenominally does not mean they are doing something right. If I started a church that advertized a $10,000 membership sign-on bonus, I'll bet I could have a mega church pretty fast. That is essentially what the prosperity preachers are doing. The true gospel gets lost. Just listen to a few of Osteen's sermons.
May the Lord bless us all as we continue to search for the truth. Let us continue in a spirit of love to work together for the advancement of the Gospel!
Thanks, Scott, for your thoughtful, biblical, Christ-centered response on the C & C site. Please feel free to speak out often! I look forward to hearing how your ministry is going...it sounds like an exciting adventure in the Kingdom!
I am sorry that I alarmed you with my statements. Maybe I was a bit judgemental, maybe not. I decided to do some serching for the churches that Joe mentioned and this is what I found.
In Joe's email, he mentioned Saddleback church. I did a search on Rick Warren who is pastor there and here is a link to a Larry King show discussion featuring Robert Schuller who talks about Rick Warren (who wrote The Purpose Driven life by the way). Supposedly, Robert Schuller mentored Rick Warren. Doesn't that say something???
My whole point in what I said about mega churches is that the reason they are growing so rapidly is because the externals that people see are all people see. When you see these preachers on TV, it's the large crowds, the huge choirs (great, love choirs!) the crystal cathedral type buildings or auditoriums or stadiums. The message (genenerally not Christ crucified, law/gospel) gets lost in all the glitz.
Take Pastor Mark Jeske, some may not care so much for his sermons but is there glitz in the show? No, it's like you are sitting in his church. The focus is on the sermon-the message. Maybe not all those churches Joe mentioned are bad as I painted them, but if the externals are all you see, then that should raise a red flag. Churches are not supoosed to scream "Look at us! look how big we are, look at all WE offer!" They are supposed to scream, "Look at Christ! Look what HE has done for us!"
Lakewood church in Houston that Joe mentioned also is Joel Osteen's church. I did not know that when I wrote my post. He just jumped in my head as I was writing.
Here's a snippit from a story/interview written on him by NBC
"...His sermons are strictly optimistic and address practical, everyday issues, like time management. His critics say it is all too simplistic, that Joel is part of a new trend called prosperity gospel. "It sort of treats the Bible as a collection of fortune cookies," says Michael Horton, a theologian with the Westminster Seminary. "If you claim the right verses, then you can have health, wealth and happiness."
" He (Joel) does not ask for money during his television broadcasts. But Lakewood still took in $50 million this year — much of it from the local congregation. For the record, Joel says he no longer takes a salary from the church. His new book has made him a millionaire, and because of his new celebrity he is selling out arenas across the country, including Madison Square Garden.
Here's the link to the article if you'd like to read it.
I googled this next one Joe mentions and this is what is says before you even click on the link
Chandler Christian Church
CCC is a Purpose-Driven Church following the model of the early Church, and to aid in accomplishing this mission, we are committed to the following five purposes: Membership, Maturity, Ministry, Mission, and Magnification. ... John Townsend & Chandler Christian Church present: A FOUNDATIONAL TRAINING EVENT FOR: Family Leadership, Pastors ... Copyright 2004 Chandler Christian Church. All rights reserved. ...
What's the first word they use in the fuve purposes, Membership! Ministry is third. What does magnification mean??? Who are they magnifying, themselves or God? It doesn't take much searching to find out about these churches. Don't be fooled by externals, look at the core of what these churches teach and preach. You will know them by their fruits.
Thank You Scott for your zeal and faith!
I've worked very closely with my agency and St. Marcus in Milwaukee to reach out to the community to first preach the gospel, but also encourage and feed the lambs. I'd invite any of you to come and see our coffee shop and community center where much gospel sharing occurs. We however have a lot of fun and fellowship. praise bands, gospel music, African drumming, art events ...!
John D. Hartman
Thank you. I will keep you all posted on the ministry as it progresses. It is going to be challenging, but oh so exciting in and through the Lord! There are so many opportunities to reach out with God's Word. It will be great thanks to God, no matter what the visible earthly results. Lord's blessings always!
I was just wondering, it seems there's an aspect of fellowship that we overlook at times. What is our obligation (for lack of a better word) to Dr. Sweet? Isn't a big part of fellowship that we proclaim the truth, in love, to those who are in error? Because false teaching hurts and destroys faith.
If Dr. Sweet is a Christian, our primary obligation is to call him back to following the Word of the Lord. If he is not a Christian, then isn't our primary obligation then to basically do the same thing and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
Dr. Becker spoke about the Missouri and ALC pastors having conferences for the purposes of coming together on the Word of God. Dr. Becker shared that he was a part of this and finally the ALC pastors would not commit to objective justification. However, Dr. Becker was practicing fellowship in proclaiming the truth and finally those meetings had to end because the ALC held to their false teaching. That's just an example of this aspect of fellowship.
Just a thought. God's Blessings.
Valerie (& Joe Johnson)
I really appreciate your concerns. However, you missed my point! The issue is not theology. I thought Pastor Aderman summed it up in his post that Dr. Sweet is not coming as someone who is going to reshape our church, but someone who can possibly help us change some of our paradigms. We are not doing everything correctly! We can do so much better. I get the theology thing. All I’m saying is there are some awesome aspects of other churches that we can be incorporating. Do you really think if we continue on the current path that our Synod will survive? The definition of insanity is going about doing something the same way expecting a different outcome. It’s not going to happen.
In all of this, you have been critical of many things, yet I have not seen you offer a solution. I would be interested in seeing what your remedy is for this situation and our Synod.
In His Service,
"Do you really think if we continue on the current path that our Synod will survive?"
What path is that? What path are we currently travelling that ends in the demise of our church body?
Building on Dave's question about the dangerous path we are on, Joe, please help to clarify the danger. If you mean that our synod could cease to exist as an entity, that would make me sad. However, the church, which is built upon Christ and his teachings, would certainly survive. If we focus on what Jesus calls growth (holding to his teaching and remaining in his Word) then we should have no fear of survival, even if we shrink numerically. If we focus on numerical growth and take our eyes off of the whole of his teaching in order to attain numerical growth (something that certainly has happened in the churches that are growing numerically at the moment), then our beloved Synod may survive as an entity, but the life brought to it by the gospel alone will slowly drain away.
I'm not sure jumping in at this moment is a good idea for me, as my time for ministering within the flock to which God has called me is precious, but I thought I would at least try to figure out what exactly the fear is.
Your servant in Christ,
Rev. Aaron C. Frey
FR: Church and Change steering committee
RE: Listserv discussion about Dr. Leonard Sweet
Church And Change is a grass roots organization of WELS Christians who love and trust Jesus Christ, who love and trust the Bible as His Word of Truth, and who desire to see more souls brought into that faith through the power of the Holy Spirit and the gospel.
The steering committee of Church And Change invited Dr. Leonard Sweet to speak at our November, 2005, conference to help us better understand our postmodern world so that we might more clearly share the Gospel with it. He is an authority on the subject of understanding the culture of today. We believe that he will share valuable information about our culture that conference participants will discuss, evaluate, and use to bring the message of salvation through faith in Christ to their mission fields.
Obviously, Dr. Sweet is not of our fellowship. We should expect we will differ on some teachings of Scripture. However, Dr. Sweet does have a faith relationship with Jesus. He has written us the following statement: "I am quite conservative theologically. I see myself as standing firmly in the 'classical orthodox' tradition of Christianity. I do indeed 'believe that Jesus Christ is true God and true man...and that a person is saved for eternity through faith alone in Jesus Christ.' I have stated in print in many places and in many ways that Jesus is not just one way, or a way, or a good way, or a better way, but THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life."
In that same correspondence Dr. Sweet voiced his surprise that a book he wrote almost 20 years ago (Quantum Spirituality) should bring anyone to conclude he hasn't grown spiritually since then.
We invite you to set November 9-11, 2005 aside for our annual conference, but not only to hear Dr. Sweet. Our conference workshops will be led by a variety of gifted experts from within our fellowship who will share their research and experience. Our conference will inspire and enhance your ministry. Our conference will provide rich opportunities to network with Christian friends. And our conference will gather like-minded believers to worship the God who has saved us by His grace in Christ.
Yours In Christ,
Rev. Ronald Ash
Steering Committee of Church & Change
My pet peeve is the idea that studying "post modern thought" or "world culture" will help us spread the Gospel. My opinion is this: It won't. It is a waste of time.
Why? Because the people in your neighborhood are not Dr. Sweet or any other social scientist: they are themselves.
Do you want an effective way to spread the Gospel? Talk to people. Ask them questions? Show you care. And then: be yourself and share the Gospel. This is the best way to gain an understanding of the person in front of you, and it is individual souls we want to reach, not entire social groups. Have concern for the person and not the statistic (which is basically what culture is).
I always get uneasy about phrases like "American Culture" or the culture of this ethnic group or that one. Academia's view of culture is simply a statistic of what the majority in a defined area do or the way they think. The problem with that is that not every thinks that way or has that world view. Even if 9 out of 10 people think one way that means that there still is the 1 person in every 10 who does not.
Why is this important? Because if you address a person thinking you know their culture, you can easily draw stereo types. Never assume you know. Always assume you don't know. Ask, listen, learn and talk - this is how you get to know a person. This is where you learn the best way to tailor the message for your friend.
The best way to find out someone's culture is to get to know the individual. The best way to share the Gospel is simply to share it. It really is that simple.
P.S. Maybe I can be a quest speaker somewhere to share this interesting new world view on culture and evangelism. I would call the seminar: "Getting to know you neighbor by asking, "Hi. How are you?" - A friendly and effective way of sharing the Gospel". Any takers? :-)
P.P.S. My above opinion is based on living in 3 different countries, visiting many more, and my present residence in inner-city Milwaukee. Trust me: You learn nothing from social science that your neighbors can't teach you better!
If we based our ministry without trying to understand our culture, does this mean that our training of our missionaries for the culture their trying to reach is also a "waste of time"? We need to care for the lost, but we definitely have to try to understand them as well. Why don't we consider any avenue that will give us more insight into ways to connect people to Christ?
I'm curious as to how the invitation of Dr. Leonard Sweet (and Dr. Kent Hunter) is the most loving course for us to take. Their celebrity (actually their theology and practice) has made them lightning rods for criticism and offense in our fellowship. Their invitation has caused a tremendous amount of consternation among many, many of our WELS faithful. Has not God given the people and pastors of our own synod plenty of spiritual gifts, and even the gift of insight into the various cultures which make up the American people among whom we serve? Is it necessary for us to bring in heretics (a politically incorrect word these days, but /apropos/ to false teachers) to teach us how to do our ministries better? Cannot someone from our own fellowship teach us these things? If so many of our own people and coworkers are hurt by bringing in such heretics as Sweet and Hunter to teach us, then why do we so boldly insist on pushing forward and going ahead with our plans knowingly to cause offense or unrest among our so many of our constituents? Do we really prefer to ignore (if not trample upon) the feelings and concerns of our constituency?
Is this how we as a group of confessional Lutheran Christians want to operate? Where's the /charitas/? "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." That was /charitas./ May God give us the /charitas/ to deal with this!
Pastor David Peters
How about Galatians two and Acts 15? Unless it can be demonstrated that inviting Sweet or Hunter is contrary to clear Scripture, may it be that those who are "hurt" and suffering "consternation" are like the Jewish Christians who wanted to impose their religious culture on the Gentiles? The reason to ask how someone outside our fellowship sees the mission field is that we may be viewing reality through the narrow window of our own church culture. Our church's theology, based on Scripture, must remain unchanged. Our church's culture, the product of our history and experience, narrowed by homogeneity, may benefit from an outside perspective.
Why are some offended when Church and Change invites an author to speak on contemporary culture, but NOT when the World Mission Board and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary invite a Baptist seminary professor to TEACH a method of communicating the Gospel for two+ days at our seminary. Which has the greater likelihood of influencing our pastors? Is there another agenda here?
Take this in the kindest way, but your just plane totally wrong. Look at the posts. Concern is being expressed. This is clearly a 1 Corinthians 8 issue "at best." In 1 Corinthians 8 does it have to be "proven" that eating meet was contrary to Scripture? Don't even think to start calling the people expressing concern Judaizers.
One more thing: Why are you defending this on the merits of precedence rather than on the merits of the case at hand? Precedence means nothing to the Church, and you should know that. All that counts are biblical principles properly applied, so let's apply those principles here. Every situation is unique. We aren't talking about the Sem.
(In all honesty this argument is something like a person telling a pastor "Well you married them after living together, why won't you let me live with her for a couple more months and then marry us." - You know from the parish that this is not a good argument at all.)
Michael, if I understand you correctly, you just described the WELS pastor who wrote as a weak brother (1 Cor. 8:7) whose conscience is overly sensitive. Bad fit. Read 1 Corinthians 10:29.
Oh, and the parallel example of a Baptist professor at our seminary is not a precedent, it's a contemporaneous event.
Who said I am talking about A WELS pastor? Read all the posts! The people with the greatest concern are not WELS pastors.
Oh yes, and please continue to read through verse 33 of 1 Corinthians 10. I believe Paul is still talking about not acting on our freedom to cause others to stumble.
I don't know much about the Baptist pastor, so I can't comment on it. I will not defend it either. Right now we are talking about Sweet, so let us stick to the point at hand.
One more thing, when Paul (the apostle, not the pastor) quotes: "Everything is permissible"-- but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"-- but not everything is constructive. (Also in 1 Corinthians 10)" We tends to focus on the permissible, but forget Paul's main point of the "beneficial". We end up sounding more like the Corinthians and less like Paul. Paul's entire point of the chapter is: even it is permissible and alright, don't do it if it will cause your brother to stumble, if it burdens his conscience.
Not everything is beneficial. Not everything is good. Not everything builds up the Church. We have to ask ourselves: does the benefit of having Sweet build up the Church, or is it causing offense? Does the potential benefit for the Church outweigh the potential harm? Also I know for a fact that lay people are being offended by having Sweet come. The woman who originally posted concern is not a pastor. And what difference would that make anyway? I still would want to have concern for the consciences of my fellow pastors as well as for my lay people.
I am sorry if I sound passionate about this, but I am! I felt that your original post comparing those expressing concern about Sweet with the Jewish Christians in Acts 15 and Galatians 2 uncalled for . . . as well as your question: Is there a hidden agenda? Those were personal attacks, and you should really apologize for them!
Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus:
A couple thoughts from the listserv moderator:
I see an email from Dave Peters has revived the discussion about Dr. Sweet being a speaker at the fall Church and Change conference.
Dave's email takes us back to a weeklong conversation on the listserv. That's understandable since he just joined us. I'd suggest that Dave and others who are new to our group visit the Yahoo site for this listserv to see where we've been on this issue (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/church_and_change/). If there are new
thoughts to ponder, let's discuss them; otherwise, let's not focus on items
we've already talked about.
I also want to remind our contributors to be careful of their email tone. I find it helpful to ask myself if I would "say" to a person what I'm tempted to write in an email if we were sitting across the table from each other. It's also good to take several deep breaths, walk away from your proposed email, and then come back to it, reading it as though you were the person you were writing to. Disclaimers to take what is written in a positive way may be helpful, but it's better to write clearly enough (and lovingly enough) so such disclaimers are not necessary.
The Church and Change listserv insists on being a place where every WELS brother or sister in Jesus feels safe and loved enough to care-filled-ly offer their opinions, observations, and concerns. That requires respectful listening, patient questioning, and gentle responding from the rest of us. If you are not certain that your email fulfills those requirements, please don't press the "Send" button.
In the love of our gracious Savior,
Church and Change listserv moderator
I don't know about any agenda. And I personally am not aware of any issues or concerns regarding prior speakers/presenters at the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
It's my personal opinion, (and I think that you would agree) that in the abstract for a given speaker there should be less of an issue about having that speaker make a presentation at an institution of higher learning (such as WLC). There should be even less of an issue for that speaker to make a presentation at the Seminary (due to the greater level of discernment that I would expect from those attending the presentation). And on the opposite side of the coin, I would hope that you would agree that we should exercise greater care regarding a speaker at a conference that will draw from a much broader selection of WELS membership. To put it bluntly, I personally am less concerned about the shepherds than I am about the sheep.
To me, though, that misses completely the concern that I believe that Dave was expressing. I don't think Dave is saying that having someone like Dr. Sweet appear as the keynote speaker at the Church and Change convention is something that in an abstract sense is prohibited by Scripture or that it is necessarily, inherently sinful. The concern that I see Dave expressing and the concern that I personally have is whether out of love and consideration for our brothers and sisters we should be persisting in a very specific action, i.e., the inviting of Dr. Sweet to speak at a specific conference as the keynote speaker at that conference.
Now, in general, I've not seen any "consternation" expressed in the emails discussing this issue by those who do not see inviting Dr. Sweet as the pinnacle of wisdom. (I personally believe that those who invited Dr. Sweet did so for the best of intentions. More to the point, what I have seen evidenced by those who invited Dr. Sweet is a good faith belief that Dr. Sweet can provide the attendees at the conference with beneficial information and hence a desire to obtain from Dr. Sweet that information. But, however good the intentions may have originally been and no matter how good the reasons were originally for inviting Dr. Sweet, the situation now is different.)
The big problem that I see in your comments is that to me you are couching the issue in an "either/or" context, i.e., either we invite Dr. Sweet to be the keynote speaker at the conference or we in WELS totally lose the opportunity to see how a third party (someone outside our fellowship) views the mission field. I strongly disagree with that view of the issue. Simply, to me it is not an either/or situation. I believe that there are many third parties who could provide information to the conference regarding the present mission field and the post-modern generation who would not bring with them the same theological baggage carried by Dr. Sweet. (Indeed, if the goal is to have a presentation on how to "attract" those in the post-modern culture to church, then why do we need someone with theological baggage of any sort? Invite someone from Madison Avenue -- for instance, who better to talk about attracting the post-modern generation than someone involved in the advertising campaign for the iPod (which by all accounts was an unqualified success in attracting those in the post-modern generation)?) More to the point, the question is not whether we can in the abstract invite someone from outside of our fellowship to make a presentation to a conference regarding how the post-modern generation views the world; it is specifically whether Dr. Sweet should be that person; whether out of love for our brothers and sisters we should persist in bringing someone who as a result of the theological baggage he carries is so divisive to our fellowship.
With best regards,
Thank you Rev. Ron Ash, and the steering committee, for your efforts on this project and for a very good post below that highlights what C&C and the November conference is about. I am thankful and encouraged that we have a good group of WELS members putting available resources to good work, within the framework of scriptural principles. Let's keep exploring the best way for us to spread the good news to all people.
For some time you and I have had a major difference of opinion on the wisdom of inviting Sweet & Hunter. Our dispute is no secret. I am thrilled that we have a forum such as this in which we can air our thoughts and feelings in front of many of those who are directly connected with the decision to invite those guys. The free flow of ideas is very important to the maintenance of our freedom. Censorship of ideas is generally a mark of despotism.
The fact that we are poles apart on this issue is just one example of the hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of other WELS members who are taking sides on this issue. Perhaps those who deem it okay -- or even a great idea -- to invite Sweet & Hunter believe that this is just a tempest in a tea cup, perceived to be a problem only by a few reactionary old German Lutheran sticks-in-the-mud who aren't very sophisticated and who are always unwilling to change anything in the church, scared to face up to the reality that there are some things that we must change, some things that we may change, and some things that we must never change.
All who think that way about those of us who oppose the invitation of these heretics are dead wrong. And that's not just my opinion. Brother Paul, you are wrong. I think the world of you -- because of your sincere Christian faith, of your God-given talent and abilities, of your many years of faithful service to Christ's church and to our dear synod. I love you as a Christian brother and as a brother in the WELS ministerium. We have known each other for decades. In 1986 I wrote a letter to the Rev. Paul Burgdorf to defend you after he unfairly took you to task in Christian News. (And I still owe you a beer from a Brewers game that we attended together over 20 years ago. I still remember your kindness!) Paul, you are my dear brother -- and I love you enough to tell you that you are wrong, even in front of all these readers. Your email message to me this morning proves it.
The Bible passages which you cited against my opposition to your plan to bring in heretics to teach our WELS faithful are BY NO MEANS analogous to the problems that the Apostolic Church had with Judaizers. Just because the apostles insisted on their Christian freedom from insistence on strict observance of ceremonial laws does NOT buttress your argument that we have the Christian freedom to bring in the heretics -- much less that it is a wise or loving move for us to do so.
That same Apostle also wrote in 1 Cor 10:23: "'Everything is permissible' -- but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible' -- but not everything is constructive." Did you hear that, Paul? How can you defend the notion that your plan to bring in the heretics is beneficial for our unity of faith? What leads you to think that inviting in the heretics is going to be a constructive move for our synod? What about "keeping the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3)?
If you think that this is not a immensely divisive issue in our synod, you are wrong. People all over the WELS -- both clergy and laity -- are lining up on opposite sides on this issue. That's not just my opinion; that's a fact. Those who think that our synod's future will be better because we are going to sit at the feet of these two heretics are wrong. Why? Because this is more than merely an invitation of two outside experts to help enlighten us. This is an invitation to schism
-- division. I don't know whether anyone will actually leave our fellowship over this matter, but it is indeed dividing our fellowship over the matter of offense, if not false doctrine & practice.
I will not accuse you of violating God's Word in this forum, even though equating me and all who share my convictions about this with the Judaizers is tantamount to an accusation of heresy on our part. (It also demonstrates that you don't quite grasp what was the problem with the Judaizers and how Paul and the Jerusalem Council dealt with the problem -- but I digress.) I will, however, ask you to demonstrate how anyone can defend the wisdom of inviting these two lightening rods for division in our church
Where's the good pastoral judgment in this matter? Does a Seelsorger seek division in the flock, especially when St. Paul admonished us in1 Corinthians 1:10: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." We are NOT perfectly united in mind and thought -- not because so many of US disagree with you, but because YOU insist on doing something very, very divisive -- and, when fraternally admonished to seriously reconsider the wisdom of your plans, you stubbornly dig in your heals and insist on going forward, all the time saying, "I'm not being divisive! It's the guys who say that I'm being divisive who are being divisive!"
Who has their head in the sand? It's like those trustees at Marquette who just changed the school's nickname to the "Gold." They actually thought that their constituency would be happy with that, that it would be a good idea. Instead, they have divided their constituency, student body, and alumni, and have just cut themselves off from many of their major donors. What you are doing is very analogous to that. You think that the best course of action is to stay the course and to bring in those heretics. What you are in fact doing is dividing the WELS constituency -- and at a time when our church body needs to focus so much on our "Walking Together." How are Sweet & Hunter going to help us walk together? Or doesn't that concern you? It does concern all the brothers in my circuit -- and hundreds of other fellow pastors around our synod.
No, I am not exaggerating.
Brother Paul, I believe that the wisest, most loving thing to do right now is for you (and everyone else who decided to invite Sweet & Hunter) to immediately un-invite them, and to tell them the truth. The truth is not that you have to deal with a bunch of reactionary sticks-in-the-mud like Peters, but that Sweet and Hunter believe, teach and confess false doctrine, and that their celebrity and heresies have made them lightening rods for dissent and division in our fellowship, and that we would be much better served by having some of our own gifted men make the presentations to our people. Now that would be loving! You would give them both a faithful Lutheran Christian witness, you would defend and protect the WELS faithful from the persistent errorists, you would be publicly demonstrating how a Christian gentleman responds to and deals with fraternal admonition, you would be bending over backwards to help the "weak brothers with tender consciences" (as I and others like me have been called in other places), and you would be helping restore the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace in our fellowship which you have, by your plans, divided.
Please, please Paul, do the right thing -- the loving thing! Or are you and your fellow "inviters" more concerned about saving face for yourselves by not caving in to our pressure? Or are you more interested in listening to Sweet and Hunter than you are in listening to so many of your own brothers who, like me, share your confession of faith, circle of friends, and WELS heritage? We aren't trying to be closed minded, Paul. We're trying to be faithful to God's Word, to our Confessions, and to one another -- all out of love. Please do not think of us as legalists (which is clearly what you think since you cited the anti-Judaizers passages). We have not accused you of being licentious and antinomian (the opposite of legalistic).
Pastor David Peters
I issued no personal attacks. I raised questions ("May it be. . " "Is there. .
.") Contrast this with the letter I responded to, which makes the charge "knowingly cause offense." Why is it permissible to question the love and theological integrity of those who believe there is value in hearing an expert from outside our fellowship describe the culture that is our mission field, but not permissible to question the legitimacy of these charges or the spirit that prompts them? I appreciate your passion. Try to appreciate mine.
I'm not on the Church and Change list serve. Others have forwarded SOME postings to me and posted my comments for me. You'll understand, therefore, if I'm no longer responding.
Dear Brother David:
I have no doubt that there are many who have escalated the "Sweet/Hunter" issue to divisive proportions. I'm not underestimating the numbers or the passion. Nor do I perceive you and others as unsophisticated sticks-in-the-mud. Reactionary, yes.
Please don't assume that I and others are acting like petulant children taunting, "I can do this if I want to." This is about principle. Our synod has used the term
"outside the framework of fellowship" to describe the invitation of a Baptist seminary professor to teach at our seminary this summer and the invitation of authors like Sweet and Hunter to speak at conferences about contemporary culture. When the distinction between unionism and interaction outside the framework of fellowship is lost, we impose the fears and preferences of a church culture on Scripture's fellowship principles. (There are WELS Christians who are concerned that we don't create a church culture of isolationism or arrogance: isolation that diminishes the truth of the Una Sancta and withdraws our witness to the truth from other Christians, arrogance that assumes there is nothing we can learn from anyone outside our fellowship.) That IS why St. Paul says in Galatians two that Titus was not circumcised. Legalism IS as much a concern as liberalism, and warning each other about both such "slippery slopes" is appropriate. It IS constructive and beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23) and it IS preserving the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3) to take a stand when a biblical principle is at stake. You are right in saying that it will do little good to point fingers over who is being divisive. Perhaps you are also right in saying from I Corinthians 1:10 that we are NOT perfectly united in mind and thought. But let that be determined by going back to Scripture and its principles, not a particular case of application.
Obviously, there are people within our fellowship who believe that is beneficial and constructive -- apart from biblical principle -- to better understand the culture of our mission field by asking expert observers to share what they have learned. The knot in my stomach and others' testifies that we don't take lightly the concern you express. I didn't invite Sweet or Hunter to anything, so I can't un-invite them. I'm sure those who did the inviting never intended this to become the "cause celebre" it appears to be. Others will have to determine who made it this. Others will also have to explain what or who elevates an issue to "lightening (sic) rod" status, and why similar issues aren't in that category.
More than a decade ago there were people who threatened to leave the synod over the new hymnal, others over processionals and chanting that sounded "Catholic." Before that, it was replacing the KJV with the NIV. And, of course, there were the stewardship practices of Missio Dei, Reaching Out, et al. And for a time, there were members of the synod who were convinced that receiving money from AAL or Lutheran Brotherhood was a compromise of fellowship principles. Many of these people also claimed that they were offended by departures from historic practice or actions that were divisive of our fellowship. I trust that God used such controversies to drive us back to his Word and clarify our position, firmly between liberal and legalistic tendencies, between accommodating truth to the culture and pretending that we can carry out Christ's mission without regard to the culture.
David, as you ask that I not misrepresent or underestimate you, please accept my
plea that you not misrepresent or underestimate the position that I and others have. This is about principle. Biblical principle will always engender heated discussion among confessional Lutherans.
If any of this has helped to clarify truth, God be praised! If not, the one thing I will apologize for is wasting people's time.
In the ascended Head of the Church, our Savior Jesus,
You mentioned taking a stand. I am taking a stand to defend those to whom this is a stumbling block. The steering committee rightly ask us to trust them in their decisions. I will not judge them or call them names like "liberal" or "futurists". I do not believe they are. I believe C and C made the decision to ask Sweet on the basis of genuine concern and love for the lost, and what is beneficial for the synod. But please have the same trust in me when I say that consciences are being bothered. I am not being disingenuous about that, and as you may ask me to believe you, may you also believe me. Let us all have concern for that too! Please watch what you say.
Acts 15, remember the letter?
"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."
Here is an example of how the Gentiles were asked to curb their Christian freedom.
Let us look carefully at 1 Corinthians 10:23-33: 23 "Everything is permissible"-- but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"-- but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. 25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it." 27 If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in
sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake-- 29 the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? 31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God-- 33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
Have a heart for those who have genuine concern. Do not be so quick to label them reactionary. This is not loving.
If your qualm is with Dave, then email him directly, and Dave should do the same to you. Emailing publicly you involve the public, and personal attacks attack more than just one person (one both sides).
Your brother in Christ,
In addition to seconding the admonition of Michael Sullivan, I want to address a couple of other concerns regarding your comments.
Specifically, to me, your arguments seem to be filled with "we/they" constructs (which generally appear to me to be inaccurate) and "strawmen." For example, you state: "There are WELS Christians who are concerned that we don't create a church culture of isolationism or arrogance: isolation that diminishes the truth of the Una Sancta and withdraws our witness to the truth from other Christians, arrogance that assumes there is nothing we can learn from anyone outside our fellowship." Let me be blunt, the posts that I have seen that evidence concern regarding the invitation to Dr. Sweet indicate neither arrogance nor a desire by the posters to be isolationist.
There is no we/they dichotomy here. Further, I've not seen a single post that indicates that the author believes that we cannot learn from those outside of our fellowship. To rail against strawmen like these is not the way that in my opinion issues like this should be debated.
You go on to state "[o]bviously, there are people within our fellowship who believe that is beneficial and constructive -- apart from biblical principle -- to better understand the culture of our mission field by asking expert observers to share what they have learned." You follow that statement by comments that to me indicate that your "side" is the one with that "belief" - an admirable belief for sure. This too is a strawman. Do you really think that those who are questioning the wisdom in having Dr. Sweet be the keynote speaker at the conference think that we cannot learn from those outside of our fellowship? If you so believe, then you've not been paying
attention to what has been posted. I've personally stated more than a few times that I believe that it truly can be "beneficial and constructive" to seek a better understanding of the culture of our mission field by asking expert observers to share what they have learned. Others have stated the same.
You then go through a series of "examples" (the hymnal, the KJV, etc.) that also have nothing at all to do with the issue at hand. Bluntly, more strawmen.
What seems to be missing in your post is the recognition that the real issue has nothing at all to do with the abstract concept of whether we within WELS can learn from those outside of our fellowship. Let me put that issue to rest -- we can learn from those outside of our fellowship. The issue though does have everything to do with whether in the specific instance at hand (the upcoming conference) we should have a specific individual, Dr. Sweet, be the keynote speaker.
You close your post by stating that this case is "about principle." Nope, not at all -- clearly not if the principle is as you stated: whether it is permissible to asking expert observers to share what they have learned with the purpose of better understand the culture of our mission field. Very simply, I've not seen a single person who has disagreed with that principle.
So, a plea. . . let's try to avoid personal attacks (e.g., stating that someone is "reactionary" [not fair] as opposed to saying that their present argument is reactionary [fair]), and let's stop with the creation of strawmen. Rather, if we are going to discuss this, let's focus on the specific issue at hand - whether, in the present circumstances having Dr. Sweet as the keynote speaker at the conference is meet, right and salutary or to put it in Biblical terms, not only permissible, but beneficial.
My take on things is that in practicing discernment those who originally extended the invitation now, out of love for our brothers and sisters, will not want to persist in bringing someone who as a result of the theological baggage he carries is so divisive to our fellowship. If the organizers want someone from outside of our fellowship to help us understand the mission field, fine, I've no problem with that -- let's just find someone who doesn't have the theological baggage that Dr. Sweet clearly carries.
(Aside, how many of those who are discussing Dr. Sweet's appearance - pro or con - actually have read something that he's written or listened to his interviews. I'd really encourage you all to go to his website, read the book posted there (http://www.leonardsweet.com/Quantum/index.asp), listen to his interview with Elaine Pagels. See if this guy (in reality a UMC boomer - now there's a denomination that's really been growing and that is noted for its doctrinal purity and its understanding of such minor concepts as the means of grace) really seems to have a grasp regarding the post-modern generation. Yes, his use of words is creative and his books are graphically interesting, but where is the substance, where is the research, where is the demonstration of true expertise. I don't see it.)
With best regards,
A note from the Church and Change listserv moderator
Dear sisters and brothers in Jesus:
I'm going to call an end to our listserv discussion on non-WELS speakers at WELS events. I have not seen any new information or insights come forward on the listserv over the last days. We have been rehashing points previously stated, however. It's time to move on.
However, if there are those on the listserv who wish to continue the discussion, I have created an additional listserv where that can happen. You can sign up by dialing CACdiscussionfirstname.lastname@example.org Discussion on that listserv will be limited to the use of non-WELS speakers at WELS events.
If you still have points you wish to make about something someone on the listserv wrote on this issue, please take it up personally with that person. Do not reply to the listserv.
Blessings in Jesus!
Jim Aderman [Ancient warrior for the Church Growth Movement]
Church and Change listserv moderator
I was getting so tired of the "speaker" stuff I was about to be asked to be
taken off of the list.
Thanks for calling it to an end.
Don Patterson [Kudu Don is the anchor of the Texas Church Shrinkage Movement.]
I do not mean to open up this discussion again, but this is just an encouragement that Mark's comment reminded me of. I borrowed the audio book "Soul Salsa" from the Library. Check if your Library has one of Dr. Sweet's books and do the same. Listen to it in the car (in the bathroom or wherever) and ask yourself these questions:
1) Does he have some good practical advice that I can take from this book?
2) What is the motivation for the advice he gives (the reason for the action
3) Does he mention Christ and how?
4) Is there Gospel?
This last question is actually the hardest one. Dr. Sweet is UMC (United Methodist Church) and I found the theology of Soul Salsa to be "by the book" Methodism. Even if it sounds like Gospel, ask yourself if it really is. Law, especially when talking about love, can easily be misinterpreted as Gospel, but it really isn't. Gospel always has its foundation in what Christ has done for me, for us, and not in what my loving response should be. "Law called Gospel" is a very popular theology. The inner-city is filled with the effects of this kind of "gospel", since this is what most
churches around here preach. It sounds great in the beginning, but then people begin to despair because they cannot live up to the great practical loving advice (the "gospel") that is being preached. "I have to get right with God before I come to Church. . ." This kind of Gospel may encourage in the short term, but it devastates in the long run.
So, with a correct understanding of Gospel being the message of God's love and work for me and not my love and work to God, be sure to ask yourself: Is there Gospel in this book.
To make a correction to my hyperbole, I heard Gospel in "Soul Salsa" 1.5 times. (The 0.5 is one time I wasn't able to determine with precision). Maybe you will hear it more. Maybe less.
This was just an encouragement for every one to discover the theology of Dr. Sweet on their own, and to formulate your own opinion on that basis. Understanding his motivation for what he says is very important to understanding the practical advice he gives. The practical advice is not all bad, some is very good, but my prayer is that all of us will have true Gospel motivation, and not that of law.
Now I will be quiet on the Dr. Sweet subject.
You wrote: "Law called Gospel" is a very popular theology." Several years ago as I surveyed other denominations in a bit of spiritual wandering, I discovered that many of them preached a "Law called Gospel" theology that sounds very "gospel-ly" but is actually despair setting in practice, as you described. Anyway, finally put off by this theology, I started describing "Law called Gospel" theology with the simple term "Lawspel". I think it about sums it up.
For what it's worth,
Vicar John Stelljes [Pilgrimage to Exponential and Brother Stetzer]
The theme of this year's Church and Change conference is "Changeless Gospel, Changing World". It's being held Wed - Fri, Nov. 9 - 11 in Madison, WI. Sixteen workshops will offer insights on WELS innovative ministries that are proclaiming the changeless Gospel in a changing world...from Professor Mark Paustian's narrative witnessing to Pastor Jeff Gunn's very blessed mission start to Campus Pastor Tom Trapp's interview with atheists and agnostics and much, much more! Dr. Leonard Sweet, an outstanding presenter, will speak on our changing culture. This will give us information which will help us design Gospel ministries to reach our changing world. Phil Boileau is composing an original theme song for the conference. In addition, we plan to have a room full of vendors and sources of materials we hope you will find useful in your ministry. On top of that, we plan to have two evenings of Christian entertainment by WELS artists, including comedy. There will be a lot of Christian music throughout. Here is the next workshop and presenter:
God's goal for me is maturity - "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13) presented by Pastor Randy Hunter. The gospel builds maturity; love demonstrates maturity. Jesus gave us a new commandment: love one another. Love demonstrates discipleship and maturity. But what happens when people of the Christian community don't even know each other much less those outside the church? Loving one another, demonstrating maturity, gets harder. This workshop will lead participants to better understand maturity, identify obstacles to Jesus' new command, determine causes of the obstacles in your church and your life, and search for solutions.
since she "administers the Means of Grace"
at St. Andrews, Randy Huner.
Pastor Randy Hunter currently serves as pastor of St. Andrew Lutheran Church [GJ - Latte Church] in Middleton and also as Bible study author, part-time parish consultant, leader of national WELS marriage retreats and chairman of the WELS Commission on Adult Discipleship.
The following is the list of the previously announced workshops and presenters:
A Live Interview with Some Who Don't/Didn't Follow Jesus presented by Pastor
[Trapp trained his staff at Willow Creek Community Church and the chapel joined the Willow Creek Association.]
Witnessing Through Gospel Narrative in a Post Modern Age presented by Professor Mark Paustian.
Creative Preaching: Let's Grow Together Presented by Pastor Peter Panitzke.
Serving with you,