Sunday, July 8, 2012

WELS DP Jon Buchholz Drops the Hammer on Gunn -
Luv-fest Welcomes the Sheep-Stealer with Open Arms.
Intrepids Silent, Changers Rejoice


http://ichabodthegloryhasdeparted.blogspot.com/2012/07/dp-buchholz-critic-of-gunn-and-changers.html








Gunn, Larry Olson, and Wayne Mueller's kid?
Church and Change still runs WELS,
under reformers Mark Schroeder and Jon Buchholz.





presented to the 2012 Arizona California District Convention









Arizona Golf Resort
Mesa, Arizona
June 11-14, 2012

Scripture passages used from the Concordia Triglotta are KJV; the others are from
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
 Every congregation and pastor in our church body officially states that the only source and norm for faith and life is the Holy Scriptures.  They also state that they will teach according to the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as stated in the Book of Concord, because those are faithful expositions of the Scriptures. Any congregation that professes to be confessional, Lutheran, and evangelical, will make sure that all of its efforts are carried out in the light of its trust in the power of the means of grace alone to change sinful hearts into hearts that know, trust in, and follow Christ.    

 What does it mean to be a confessional evangelical Lutheran pastor and congregation? It means first and foremost that the message of Christ crucified and risen will be at the center of their entire doctrine and practice.  To be evangelical means that Christ for us is and ought to be the centerpiece of a congregation's entire ministry.  It is the focal point of the entire picture.  

1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) NIV 1984 

 There is nothing else to proclaim. We know and believe this.  We believe this with our hearts and confess this with our lips. We are to proclaim Christ for us clearly from our pulpits and classrooms; it is to be the centerpiece of all of our worship, Bible study, and outreach.  

 Confessional Lutheran also means something. It means understanding the difference between law and gospel.  

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.19 For it is written:
   “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;     the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.  (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) NIV 1984

 While both law and gospel are good and are given for eternal blessing, what each delivers to us is entirely different.  The law only and always accuses, afflicts, terrifies, forbids, reveals, threatens, damns, curses, demands, reproves, convicts, guides; the gospel alone saves, acquits, justifies, imparts grace, gives life, promises, reconciles, forgives, comforts, nourishes, strengthens, works faith, empowers, motivates. Both are needed - the one to show what God rightly demands from His creatures, and to also show the impossibility for the sinner to carry out those holy and righteous demands; the other to show what God in His grace and mercy promises to His creatures - the sinners' perfect Substitute, the Savior who alone fulfilled those righteous demands - the keeping of the law in thought word and deed, and the eternal punishment that the law pronounces on all who fail to measure up.    



 Confessional Lutheran means something. It means trusting the efficacy of the means of grace.  The message of Christ crucified and risen alone conveys to the sinner the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, life, peace, hope, and joy that Christ won for us. 

1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:1-12) NIV 1984
The Formula of Concord faithfully echoes that truth:
"It is not God's will that any one should be damned, but that all men should be converted to Him and be saved eternally. Ezekiel 33:11: "As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."

Therefore God, out of His immense goodness and mercy, has His divine eternal Law and His wonderful plan concerning our redemption, namely, the holy alone-saving Gospel of His eternal Son, our only Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, publicly preached; and by this preaching collects an eternal Church for Himself from the human race, and works in the hearts of men true
repentance and knowledge of sins, and true faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And by this means, and in no other way, namely, through His holy Word, when men hear it preached or read it, and the holy Sacraments when they are used according to His Word, God desires to call men to eternal salvation, draw them to Himself, and convert, regenerate, and sanctify them. 1 Cor. 1:21: "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by its wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Acts 10:5-6: Peter "shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do." Romans 10:17: "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." John 17:17,20: "Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy Word is truth, etc. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their Word."  Therefore the eternal Father calls down from heaven concerning His dear Son and concerning all who preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name:  "Hear ye Him," Matthew 17:5.

Now all who wish to be saved ought to hear this preaching of God's Word. For the preaching and hearing of God's Word are instruments of the Holy Ghost, by, with, and through which he desires to work efficaciously, and to convert men to God, and to work in them both to will and to do." (Concordia Triglotta. Formula of Concord. Thorough Declaration. Article 2. Of Free Will, page 901, paragraphs 49-51.)

 So what does it mean to be a confessional evangelical Lutheran congregation and pastor?  It means to believe in God's inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word in its entirety.  It means to trust only the means of grace to create and sustain saving faith. It also means the gospel will predominate.  

 A working definition of gospel predominance that we've been using with CrossWalk's leadership as well as the District Presidium, a definition that CrossWalk's leadership has also publicly agreed with is this:

As Lutherans, our desire is to be truly "evangelical," in the sense that the gospel of Jesus Christ comes through clearly in all that we say and do. This alone establishes faith on the sure foundation of Christ, so that God is truly glorified and troubled hearts find peace in Jesus' forgiveness.

We remember that we are naturally creatures of the law. Seeking to justify ourselves by the law is our default setting. The clear proclamation of the gospel is foreign to our nature. The new life results only from the Spirit's compelling work to forge us into a new creation. He does this only through the means of grace, the gospel in Word and Sacraments. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ for us is and ought to be the focus of our existence as congregations.    

 It means the focus must ever be Christocentric, not only in doctrine, but also in practice. If the gospel focus is off, so the practices will be off. The ways in which a congregation carries out its ministry will surely reflect its thoughts and attitudes about the focus.  

 There should not be much debate about that for a confessional evangelical Lutheran congregation.  But what's clearly stated is not always so easily carried out. The effort on the part of Lutheran pastors and congregations alike to keep the focus on Christ needs to always be a very concerted and conscious effort. It must be because it is so easy for us to slip back into
"default" mode.  We know how easily that focus can be lost because the sinful rebel adheres to each of us. That sinful nature only and always hates the gospel. The Christian's constant struggle against the desires and will of the sinful flesh are real.  We know that without the struggle, without the concerted and conscious effort to keep the proper focus on Christ for us, we will inevitably begin to be drawn into the wretched selfish focus with which we are conceived and born.

 The sinful nature focuses on us instead of on Christ. Thus one's ministry can easily turn into what we do instead of what He has done; into our work instead of the Spirit's work through Word and Sacrament; the saving of souls will become about what we must do to convince, grow, change hearts and lives, etc. The following trap can serve as both example and warning:

To use a coarse illustration: Some ministers, in their eagerness to bring the Gospel to the people, resort to entertainment to attract the crowds, in order to get an opportunity to preach to them. If you would tell such ministers that they are ashamed of the Gospel and that by their methods they disgrace it, because they manifest a lack of trust in its efficacy, they would resent the charge. Are they not doing all in order to promote the Gospel? The disgrace their methods bring upon it does not appear on the surface; that is why Paul spoke of the secret things of shame. The disgrace is nevertheless, very real, as will become evident in Paul's further remarks...the type of minister to which we referred above as using entertainment in order to lure the people is employing "panourgia," and is therefore guilty of committing secret things of disgrace. The Gospel is the word of Truth. To resort to ruses in proclaiming it, even though with the best of intentions, is heaping shame on the Truth. Not only are truth and lures incompatible in their nature, but to use lures in connection with the Gospel ministry treats the Truth, the eternal Truth of God, as though it were inefficient, not attractive enough in itself." (J.P. Meyer, Ministers of Christ, pages 61-62)

 It is not ours to save souls; it is not ours to grow the church; it is not ours to change hearts. We by nature want what is seen rather than what is unseen.  We yearn for the tangible.  We can easily fall into the trap of measuring numbers (confirmations, visitors, baptisms, attendance, etc.) as a standard for a congregation's "effectiveness," even though they have never been the measure of whether or not a Christian congregation is being faithful in its use of the divinely appointed means of grace.   

 It is ours to sow the seed. It is ours to be faithful in utilizing the means that God Himself has promised to use to carry out those works. If a congregation is faithful in its use of those means of grace, and still declines by 20, does that mean it is somehow being unfaithful? If the same congregation does the same and grows by 20, does that mean it is somehow being more faithful or can take any credit? God has called us to preach His Word.  For it is through the means of grace alone that the church is built. 

 It bears repeating. Unless a Christian congregation and its leaders consciously and deliberately keep the focus on the truth, they will slowly but surely begin to drift away from it.  When a pastor or congregation loses sight of that work, for whatever reason, Christian love demands drawing attention to it, warning against it, calling to repentance where they have strayed, and announcing forgiveness when penitence is expressed. Often we get too busy in our own ministries that we think this is none of our business. We think and sometimes are told that it should be none of our business. We mistakenly think we cannot or should not hold each other accountable. But such thoughts do not come from Christian love.   

Gunn: "Jesus is my rice."


 For the past two years our committee has worked with Pastor Jeff Gunn, the staff, and the Board of Directors of CrossWalk Lutheran Ministries in examining several areas of concern primarily about CrossWalk's ministry. One of the main reasons for such focused attention is that CrossWalk by its practices has drawn this attention to itself.  We want to express our gratitude to CrossWalk's staff and leadership for their willingness to work through some of these questions. We also wish to acknowledge that those of us who visited CrossWalk clearly noticed the large number of members involved in ministry, and the eagerness of those involved. The services and education time are evidently the result of many hours of hard work and planning.  In no way here, do we wish to diminish or discourage the committed, loving efforts of so many of God's people, and their desire to reach the lost; rather we want to acknowledge their efforts.  Yet the key issue for us has been this issue of Gospel predominance.  And that issue is always a matter of content, never window-dressing. 

 Some have objected that no pastor/congregation should have to be placed under the microscope like CrossWalk has been. Yet as stated above, CrossWalk has invited the examination by some of its practices.  It holds true however, that each of us is daily under the microscope of God's Word and faithfulness to it. Each of us ought to be examining every one of our practices daily, weekly, monthly, annually, to see whether or not our practices line up with the doctrine we profess.  This holds true even more when the methods we decide to use depart from what would be considered the norm in our circles.  Do our weekly worship, Bible studies, youth activities, outreach focus on the one thing needful? Do the methods we use to carry out that work reflect our understanding of and trust in the efficacy of the means of grace? Do we make it clear that we trust the Word's power alone to change hearts, or do we somehow think that the need to change hearts depends on our abilities, gifts, etc?  Do the means we use reflect an understanding that our rebellious and wicked sinful nature cannot be reformed or coddled, and only hates God's Word entirely?  Are we focusing people on the sure foundation of God's Word or are we appealing to their emotions, their life circumstances, their expectations?  How does each aspect of ministry convey the means of grace, the only means through which we say
souls are won?  God's Word by its very nature and we by our sinful nature will always and only be at odds.

 What follows is a summary of our findings, progress to date on implementation of our recommendations, and conclusions. The main issue that came to light for our committee as we carried out our work was the lack of gospel predominance in various areas of CrossWalk's ministries. At our committee's meeting with CrossWalk's Board of Directors in January, every one of the Board members expressed their understanding of, and appreciation for the committee's observation concerning the lack of Gospel predominance in those various areas of their ministry.  They expressed repentance not only there, but also at the February open forum for the leaders of the Phoenix Valley congregations that was held at Arizona Lutheran Academy. CrossWalk's leaders were comforted with the news of sins forgiven. They also expressed their desire to refocus their efforts at Gospel predominance.


1. Law/Gospel in preaching

 One area that was addressed fairly early on in our work with CrossWalk was the regular use of non-seminary trained preachers during the worship service.  CrossWalk had at least two men (one with an education degree from DMLC and one with two years of training at MLC) helping with these duties on a somewhat regular basis, in addition to their called pastor.   The Board of Directors understands that additional training and Biblical background is necessary for someone who preaches regularly, and they agreed that using a lay preacher should be an exception, not a regularly scheduled practice for their congregation.  They recognize that any sermon not authored by their pastor would require additional review by their pastor, placing an additional demand on his time. They changed their practice on this and now regularly use seminary trained guest preachers.

 At CrossWalk, the sermon itself takes up the bulk of the worship service, and especially in a non-liturgical setting, carries the main responsibility of emphasizing the Gospel during the service.  As such, our committee reviewed over 30 randomly selected sermons delivered at CrossWalk over the past 18 months and jointly evaluated them.

 In general the CrossWalk sermon series reflect a chosen theme rather than following a pericope. The sermons we reviewed made a conscious effort to put the Word of God as their central focus.  The handout that accompanies each sermon serves a good purpose in helping the listener remain engaged in the subject at hand.  The sermons make use of a number of additional Bible passages during the course of study, passages that were chosen for their
relationship to the chosen theme of the day. The sermons were in general easy to listen to and managed to hold the listener’s attention despite their additional length - usually over 40 minutes.

 We recognize that theme-based sermon series in the regular place of pericope preaching can present a number of challenges for the preacher. The regular emphases incorporated into the Christian Church year can be overlooked. Sermon texts can sometimes be used as a pretext for the sermon theme, rather than being treated as expository.  Specific attention needs to be given to ensure that the whole counsel of God is being preached.    

 Of greatest concern to this committee, however, was that in many of the sermons we reviewed, the message of the Gospel, while present, did not predominate.  Many of these sermons were designed to be practical in nature, but the practice (i.e. sanctification) of the believer was not always clearly connected with the motivation (i.e. justification) of the believer.  We found this observation to be a serious concern, because if the Gospel does not predominate during the course of the sermon, there are not enough places in the rest of CrossWalk’s worship format to make up for that deficit.  For a congregation that has defined their target group as the unchurched, this concern was also that much more magnified.

 One other outside observation from our District Worship Committee chairman, Pastor Johnold Strey, who was able to personally attend one of CrossWalk's Sunday morning services:

The sermon was part of a topical series on witnessing one's faith.  The sermon lasted about 40 minutes and appeared to be the peak of the service's progression.  I consider the message I heard that morning to be more topical than exegetical.  The gospel was clearly explained at three different points in the sermon, however in each instance it was presented as a message for the lost and not as forgiveness for the person who had come to church that morning.  The explanation of the gospel was clear; the "for you" application was not so clear.  As I pointed out at the fall pastors' conference in Las Vegas, this is hardly unique to CrossWalk, and plenty of "traditional" and "contemporary" preachers in our synod have preached sermons that lacked gospel content.  (A past "Preach the Word" article by Prof. Gurgel echoes and expands on this general observation as well).  This ought to be a concern among all of us, regardless of where we stand on the worship spectrum.

 In a couple of face to face meetings with Pastor Gunn, we discussed "gospel predominance" and its practical impact for the confessional Lutheran pastor. We acknowledged the sometimes difficult nature of quantifying/measuring "gospel predominance." However we also thought it vital to point out the specific sermons where we were convinced the gospel was not predominating. We greatly appreciate Pastor Gunn's willingness to listen to those concerns, and to implement the suggestions we offered for improvement. To that end CrossWalk has begun a formal process of internal sermon evaluation.  Additionally, Pastor Gunn has expressed his willingness to work together with the brothers in the Valley circuits in holding each other
accountable for law/gospel sermon content. Recent sermons that our committee members have listened to have reflected clearer and more specific gospel predominance. 

 We are convinced that the accountability between brothers in the area of law/gospel preaching is an issue that needs more focused attention in our circles. Those charged with such regular oversight of doctrine and practice (circuit pastor, District Presidium) need to be more proactive in carrying out such oversight in this area; those charged with faithfully using the means of grace as overseers of God's flock also need to be willing to be rightly held accountable. This applies not only to CrossWalk and Pastor Gunn, but to each of us. We also recommend an ongoing homiletical evaluation and review by one's peers, such as is already being done in some circuits, as something that would be greatly beneficial for all of our pastors and congregations.    
     

2. Law/Gospel in Worship Practices

 In personal visits from our own committee members, we concur with the observations of Pastor Strey:

There was a professionalism in CrossWalk's efforts that was certainly laudable.  As a church without its own building, they had made quite an effort to make their congregation's gathering place visible to the community.  Pastor Gunn greeted people in the parking lot.  A staffed welcome booth was located outside the auditorium.  The materials distributed to worshippers looked neat, clean, and professional.  In this respect, CrossWalk's efforts are commendable and exceed many WELS congregations.

 Nevertheless, the issue of Gospel predominance must also be at the forefront here. It's important to recognize the ongoing debate and discussion currently taking place in our synod and others surrounding contemporary worship practices. (e.g., - Can one separate heterodox methods/forms from their content? Is there an emphasis on style over substance with these forms? Though it may be permissible to use certain methods, is it always beneficial?  What is the brotherly responsibility toward those with whom I have pledged to walk together? If one uses  heterodox materials, how does the vetting process take place and who does it?  What happens when someone used to non-liturgical worship moves to a different town or state?  Will they avoid the liturgical worship that prevails in most WELS churches in favor of a heterodox church that more closely resembles their familiar style of worship?)

 The basic format for CrossWalk’s worship is non-liturgical.  The service will begin with several songs by the band.  The worship leader will usually make confession on behalf of the congregation in a prayer format, followed by a freely-worded absolution.  A confession of faith, including the Apostles Creed, is sometimes used.  The bulk of the service is spent on the
sermon. The conclusion of worship will include the offering, perhaps some corporate prayer, and another song or two by the band before dismissal.

 On the one hand, there are some elements of this format which have a basic connection to the Christian liturgy.  At the same time, we would not describe this format as liturgical.  As a committee, we do not see a desire on the part of CrossWalk to manipulate the participants emotionally, although we acknowledge that many churches that use a similar format have this as a goal. While we did not see anything in CrossWalk's content that directly contradicted Scripture, we do see weaknesses in the format’s ability to repeatedly emphasize the Gospel as compared to the liturgy. When discussing worship format, the distinction between man-centered and Christ-centered presuppositions is one that must be acknowledged and addressed.  Pastor Strey summarized this point in this way:

The order of worship appeared to be based on the standard Protestant Praise Service, with some additions that reflected a more Lutheran way of thinking.  While we make no laws about the specific structure in worship, we nonetheless recognize that the gospel ought to be at the very heart of our worship structures, because gospel proclamation alone can nourish faith.  The Protestant Praise Service was developed around non-Lutheran, non-Means-of-Grace presuppositions, and so its structure has inherent weaknesses that must be overcome.

At the CrossWalk service I attended, a confessional prayer was spoken by the band leader after the first song, and a statement of God's mercy (though not a direct absolution) was spoken by the band leader after the second song.  The Apostles' Creed was read by the assembly after the third (and final) opening song.  While it was good that gospel-oriented content was added to the praise service structure, this observer believes it would be more advisable if the structure itself was built around law-and-gospel, Means of Grace proclamation and assumptions.

 It is important to note, that as our committee talked with the CrossWalk leadership, their members who did not come from a WELS background could clearly identify differences in CrossWalk’s format and purpose as compared to their experiences with community churches which were similar in format to CrossWalk.  These leaders identified a focus to hear and follow God’s Word as peculiar to CrossWalk, unlike some of their past experiences with other churches.

 Nevertheless, it is our opinion that overall the evangelical richness of the liturgy is clearly lost in this format, especially when it comes to the lack of connected Scripture readings which focus on one Gospel truth.  If someone chooses to replace the evangelical content and format of the liturgy, the replacement must serve at least as good of a function, if not better, than the liturgy already does in clear law/gospel proclamation. In CrossWalk’s format, the sermon attempts to fulfill this goal.   

 Some have also expressed concern over the use of heterodox source materials which provide many of the lyrics for the CrossWalk band’s music.  The concern is a valid one, because every song must be carefully reviewed for doctrinal content before being allowed for use in worship.  CrossWalk's worship team is currently responsible for that review process. Even though a review of CrossWalk's song list did not find songs that conflict with Scripture, we recognize the difficulty of consistently using such materials—not only in the time it takes to review these songs, but also in the relative lack of solid Scriptural materials from these sources.  Another large difficulty CrossWalk faces is building up a body of lyrics which reflects the whole counsel of God, not just bits and pieces which are able to be sanitized.  Some of the best examples of solid lyrics we came across were arrangements of actual Bible passages or original works co-written by the members of CrossWalk’s band.  We believe that this ongoing task will take years to complete based on the resources that CrossWalk is currently able to devote to this project.

 Another concern addressed with CrossWalk in the area of worship centered around its communion practice. The Sacrament is not a part of the general Sunday service, but is held separately for members after the service.  It is vital that as confessional evangelical Lutherans, we do not give the impression, whether to those outside the church or those within, that we think the means of grace in any way is a detriment to our outreach efforts, or something that we are ashamed of, or something that needs to be hidden or downplayed.  In discussing this with CrossWalk’s leadership, it has been stated that this practice is in place out of concern for the large number of visitors who attend each service, and not an attempt to hide the Sacrament of Communion or to downplay its benefits.  CrossWalk has indicated that visitors clearly outnumber members at almost every service.  In the examples we have seen, the benefits of the sacrament have been stated in the sermon and public explanation of their close communion practice has been given.  At the same time we discussed with CrossWalk's leadership the possibility of including the sacrament in future worship services, which they indicated a desire to do.

 To help address these issues and help CrossWalk continue to work through them, we have recommended to CrossWalk’s Board of Directors that they work with the AZ-CA District Worship Committee and enlist their help in evaluating worship practice, vetting song content, and pointing to additional appropriate resources.  We have also informed the Worship Committee of this recommendation, and initial efforts have already begun.  Again we quote Pastor Strey:

Jon Favorite (CrossWalk staff member) was my main point of contact to CrossWalk throughout the weekend.  After the service, I offered him some gut reactions to what I had seen.  Among those immediate reactions, I mentioned some musical resources that could utilize their
instrumentation but would incorporate familiar liturgical texts that had stronger gospel-proclaiming content.  Jon was interested in hearing more, and he recently sent me an email asking for those leads.  I, for my part, have not been as active as I could have been in the CrossWalk discussion, primarily because of the adjustment to the new call that I arrived at last summer shortly after the request to work with CrossWalk was first extended to the district worship committee.  But it should be noted that Jon was willing to listen to my suggestions and was open to the idea of working with resources that he had not been previously aware of.
 
 CrossWalk’s Board of Directors has shown its willingness to comply with the recommendation to work together with the District Worship Committee in the manner stated above. The District Presidium has also endorsed this course of action. We recommend that the Presidium continue to encourage both groups to develop a healthy working relationship going forward.  We also recommend this practice for other districts of our Synod and that the Synod’s Commission on Worship provide leadership in all of these areas as well.  

 
3. Law/Gospel in adult and youth study materials

 It is a fact that CrossWalk has used a wide variety of sources in preparation for its various training and study classes, including materials from NPH.  While materials from any source need to be used with a critical eye to content, orthodox sources typically have very few problems, while heterodox sources require more in-depth review.    

 CrossWalk's main desire when putting together the children’s program at CrossWalk was to find materials available in a multi-media format.  Since this type of material is not available from our own publishing house, we can sympathize with the need to look elsewhere for materials to adapt.  CrossWalk does make use of several synodically-trained teachers and one former WELS pastor to review these materials. That being said, we see the same challenges here that we did regarding the music of CrossWalk’s worship.  First of all, it is a large task for an individual congregation to thoroughly review a whole children’s curriculum and correct it as necessary.  Secondly, it is a difficult task to then go back and review what things may be missing from the curriculum to fill in any necessary gaps.  At this point, one weakness of the current CrossWalk children’s program is a relative lack of Bible history due to the theme-based organization of the lessons.  It is our recommendation that CrossWalk implement more Bible history into its curriculum.  It is not our intent to disparage the efforts of CrossWalk’s members who have worked on compiling their curriculum—we do, however, want to recognize the inherent difficulty of accomplishing this task well at the congregational level.

 Some of the reviewed material was also quite inadequate when clear law and gospel presentation is concerned. Those issues were raised with CrossWalk and changes are being implemented. The district's committee on youth discipleship has reviewed and submitted a
report on its recent findings indicating an improvement in CrossWalk's editing. What follows is the evaluation of Pastor Mathew Pfeifer, chairman of the district's youth discipleship committee, dated January 26, 2012:

I was asked by this committee to look at the children’s ministry materials and give feedback to CrossWalk Lutheran Church. I began by calling Pastor Gunn who referred me to Kristi Sebald, the director of the children’s ministry program. Kristi sent me several sets of recently used Sunday School lessons. 
The series is called “Elevate” and uses a DVD to present songs, skits and the Bible story. It also includes written materials. It drives the main point of the day home in many ways. It is easy for the volunteer teachers to use and is engaging for the students. 
The first lessons I looked at was the “Dojo” set of lessons. Kristi warned me that it needed lots of editing and she was right. The basic materials had very little gospel and the Bible story was not usually the main focus of the DVD. I looked at two more sets of lessons, “Allaso Ranch” and “Roanoke Jones.” These lessons focused much more on Christ and the Bible stories were more central to the whole lesson. 
Kristi and three members of the leadership team edit the materials to remove doctrinal errors and to focus on the gospel. They do this by editing the written materials, not showing portions of the DVD, and writing/recording their own songs if needed. They also share their edits with other WELS congregations who have used “Elevate.” CrossWalk is currently revisiting previous edits to continually improve the program. They have been very willing to work with District Youth Discipleship and are willing to continue.
I did not observe the Sunday School in action. Therefore, I do not know how the changes the CrossWalk team makes to the lessons carry through to the teaching of the lesson. But I am confident that CrossWalk recognizes the weaknesses and errors in the “Elevate” curriculum and that they work to present the gospel clearly in each lesson.
Realizing the weaknesses of the “Elevate” series, CrossWalk is currently writing their own lessons for the 4th-5th grade classes. Instead of following themes, these lessons take the children through the main stories of the Bible. CrossWalk is already using lessons they wrote for 2 year olds. 
I would not use the “Elevate” materials because I do not have the time or the team to edit them. CrossWalk has qualified members willing to take the time to do this. I encourage them to continue taking the time to fully edit the materials so Christ shines in every lesson."

 We realize that other congregations in our fellowship are looking for similar audio-visual materials.  Though we understand the tremendous commitment of resources for such a task, we urge Northwestern Publishing House to continue undertaking efforts to produce rightly law/gospel focused materials in this area as well.

 The adult education program of CrossWalk Ministries was reviewed by a subcommittee of the CrossWalk Ad hoc Committee.  The scope of the review included examination of the educational materials used in each of the classes/study groups as well as review of the processes used to assure scriptural soundness of educational materials and to select, train and supervise the lay instructors/group leaders.

 CrossWalk Ministries has an extensive adult education program which currently consists of eleven different classes or study groups covering topics such as basic Bible teachings, Christian living, stewardship, marriage enrichment, financial management, and in-depth studies of books of the Bible, among others.

 Overall, we found that the materials used in the various groups are doctrinally sound, most of them coming from WELS sources.  The materials developed uniquely by CrossWalk, either as complete study guides or as supplements to purchased study materials, were considered to be exemplary.  Three study groups use materials obtained from non-WELS sources for their basis.  These are:


· Marriage Enrichment – based on “Divorce Care” materials from the non-denominational group Church Initiative.  CrossWalk has discontinued offering this group until the materials can be reviewed with/by the District Adult Discipleship Committee.

· Mary & Martha Group – based on the book “God Chicks – Living Life as a 21st Century Woman” by non-denominational author Holly Wagner.  CrossWalk has developed a set of study guides to supplement the book which do an excellent job of placing the roles, responsibilities, activities and motivations of the woman in a biblical, gospel-oriented perspective.

· Financial Peace University – based on materials from author Dave Ramsey.  This material is primarily secular in nature and is known to be in use in other WELS congregations.  The materials contain only a few, easily correctable instances in which Bible passages are applied to money matters where the context of scripture intends for them to apply more to spiritual matters.



 Non-WELS study materials are reviewed and supplementary materials are developed, as needed, primarily by MLC or WLS graduates (e.g., Kristi Sebald, Tim Grams) with Jeff Gunn taking the ultimate responsibility for their content.  The congregation plans to call a Discipleship pastor in the near future who will oversee the process of reviewing and developing materials.  The congregation is also developing a relationship with the Arizona-California District Adult Discipleship Committee to assist them in this process and to review the materials they are producing for doctrinal integrity.

 Most of the classes and study groups are led by lay members of CrossWalk.  There is a well-structured process in place to develop new leaders which involves several semesters of mentoring before being assigned to a leader position.  All study leaders participate in formal training sessions which are held every four months.  Meetings are held with specific group leaders, as needed, prior to the beginning of a semester to talk about specific challenges that a topic might present, and how to deal with them.

 A concern that this review uncovered involved the basic qualifications required to be a growth group leader.  CrossWalk requires that growth group leaders satisfy all the requirements for communicant membership, but does not explicitly require them to be communicant members of CrossWalk or of a congregation in our fellowship.  The committee feels that this has the potential of leading to fellowship and/or doctrinal issues in the future as congregational leadership changes.  We have brought this concern to the attention of the CrossWalk leadership and they have agreed that communicant membership should be an explicit requirement.

 The study groups are continually monitored to assure the integrity of their teaching.  The congregation has been divided into “communities” and in each community the most gifted, skilled and experienced growth group leader is designated as a growth group leader coach.  This coach and the elder assigned to the community work together as a team to both proactively and reactively monitor the groups in the community.  If a question needs to be answered or a problem arises, leaders are trained and directed to go to their growth group coaches and elders, and then on up to staff and ultimately to the pastor and the elders team as a whole if the issue is of a serious nature.  There is also a “Growth Groups Leadership Team” made up of two staff members (one of which is the pastor) and two elders.  This team meets monthly and reports to the elders at the monthly meeting of the elders.  The key accountability component is the monthly elders meeting where the Growth Groups Leadership Team and the elders can converse about what’s going on with all the growth groups, identify problems, discuss solutions, and solve any issues that arise.  Staff members are also generally aware of all the groups going on (a number of the groups are staff-led) and growth group issues are discussed at staff meetings as well.

 We recommend that our district’s Adult Discipleship committee help review and refine CrossWalk’s somewhat unique system of training its members, help evaluate some of the materials used in CrossWalk’s growth groups, and encourage ongoing accountability of the structure, content, and training for this program.   


4. Law/Gospel in outreach efforts

 For a confessional evangelical Lutheran, there is daily trust only in the efficacy of the divinely appointed means of grace in Word and Sacrament to create and then strengthen saving faith in Christ.  The methods that we use to reach people with the gospel flow from this conviction (Romans 10:17). We place our confidence in the powerful word of God to produce the results that God himself desires (Isaiah 55:10, 11). 

 Some of CrossWalk's early advertising efforts and marketing techniques caused a great deal of confusion, questions, and mistrust with sister Valley congregations regarding the rationale for such efforts. It left the impression, whether directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, of disparaging other churches as perhaps being unreal, irrelevant, boring, or unentertaining. It also left some wondering about whether or not the focus of these efforts gave the impression that the means of grace was somehow inefficient on its own. At February's meeting with other Valley congregational leaders, CrossWalk's leadership publicly expressed repentance for these impressions; they were joyfully absolved; they expressed their desire to approach their outreach efforts differently now and in the future. They do not want to give the impression that they disparage the means of grace; they want to communicate more clearly and upfront with Valley sister congregations prior to future campaigns to get feedback and advice; they have already begun doing just that with their circuit pastor and circuit. 

 Another area of outreach/advertising that has been raised is the apparent avoidance of the public use of the Lutheran name. We recognize that the name “Lutheran” in the news is often associated with the false doctrine and unbiblical practice of America’s largest Lutheran church body (ELCA). Yet this also gives the opportunity to confess clearly and boldly what confessional Lutheranism really is, to set forth the truth plainly. Some have asked why a confessional evangelical Lutheran congregation would want to leave out the name Lutheran, or whether or not leaving it out gives the appearance of wanting to appear non-Lutheran or even nondenominational. CrossWalk does introduce confessional Lutheran teachings in membership classes, in public explanations of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and on their website, which has clear statements of belief available a click beyond the front page. In all of our discussions with the Board of Directors, they have expressed great appreciation for their Lutheran heritage.  Whether or not there will be specific changes in the Lutheran identification is an area still being discussed internally by CrossWalk's leadership. In so doing, we urge them to be mindful of their brothers and sisters in the Valley, and to keep them updated on the progress of these discussions and decisions. 


5. Law/Gospel when fitting into a Larger Fellowship

 As members of our synodical fellowship, it is important to remember our responsibility not only to our Savior and to those we serve, but also to the other brothers and sisters of the congregations which belong to the wider fellowship.  

 As CrossWalk has sometimes been the victim of unbrotherly and unsubstantiated attacks, so also CrossWalk by some of its practices (e.g. advertising efforts, member recruitment from sister WELS churches) has caused fires for other pastors and congregations to put out. For example, early on in CrossWalk's history, member recruitment from other WELS congregations was an issue that caused mistrust and confusion. It had been CrossWalk’s practice to recruit visitors, regardless of their church home, to participate in various aspects of CrossWalk’s ministry (Sunday morning setup, serving refreshments, helping with children’s ministry, etc.). Instead of urging members of other churches to “stay and do their duty,” they were encouraged to “get involved” with CrossWalk’s ministry. Pastor Gunn and CrossWalk staff members have become much more sensitive to these concerns, and have been proactive in stopping such activity. They have also expressed the need to better communicate with area pastors and congregations regarding membership issues. 

 We would expect that as we move forward, repentance and forgiveness would be expressed in both directions as circumstances require.  While this is a painstaking process, we believe it will be necessary in order for Gospel reconciliation to take place in a God-pleasing way. CrossWalk has already publicly acknowledged that it has caused problems for some of the sister congregations in the valley. At the same time, some of the leaders of those sister congregations have also acknowledged their roles in some of the unbrotherly ways in which they've expressed their concerns.    

 Such repentance was expressed by both "sides" of these issues at the joint meeting held in February. Forgiveness was also proclaimed. We understand that the fruits of repentance include avoiding those things which caused the problems in the first place, something both sides agreed they were willing to work through. For this we give thanks.

 Yet there remains a mutual lack of trust in some cases. Trust is not always easily built up.  How it is built, rather than torn down, largely hinges on CrossWalk's approach to the areas of concerns raised and whether or not they continue with some of the controversial practices that led to the problems in the first place. How it is built, rather than torn down, also hinges on pastors and congregational leaders bringing up their concerns in the proper forum with CrossWalk's leaders and proceeding accordingly. CrossWalk has an extra obligation to be especially sensitive to how their practices will affect not only the people they are serving but also their brothers and sisters at fellow WELS congregations.  This will probably require additional patience and time on their part as they endeavor to make clear why they have adopted a particular practice and how it fits into their ministry.  We would like CrossWalk to be increasingly proactive in their dialogue and communication with other sister churches in order to prevent additional misunderstandings.  Our committee has continued to emphasize this
point with the CrossWalk Board of Directors, asking them to take into consideration the larger fellowship as they make specific plans for their own ministry. This is something they've begun to do.

 Proactive steps need to continue to be taken to heal rifts between individual pastors, and/or between representatives of CrossWalk and other congregations in the Phoenix Valley.  This is also one of the reasons why we have given the encouragement for CrossWalk to work closely with one of our District’s standing committees.  We believe this interaction and mutual cooperation will help to foster an awareness on the part of CrossWalk as to their membership in a larger group, as well as allow other pastors of our district to have some input on CrossWalk’s plans and activities.  We do understand that the role of providing some oversight and assisting with accountability is a role that our district committees have generally not performed. That presents its own set of challenges.  It is also not our desire to meddle in the affairs of a congregation to which we hold no call; it rather is our desire to foster a better walking together in the future than has been present in the past. The areas identified have been and need to continue to be directly addressed with the leadership of CrossWalk. If there are concerns in the future, those need to be similarly addressed. 

 The current Board of Directors has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to listen to our concerns. There have been some very difficult discussions along the way. To show a congregation and its leaders that there has been a general lack of Gospel predominance in its ministry is not always the easiest task for the one delivering the message, but it's also not the easiest for the one hearing such an evaluation. Yet the Word of God rightly applied does its work as God intends. Thus far with these leaders that applied Word has worked repentance and given forgiveness. It is guiding, but also empowering the Spirit's new life. The resulting fruits of repentance call for changes in practice, but also great patience and careful instruction as some of the questions are wrestled with and answers implemented.   


Final remarks     
 It goes without saying that the questions surrounding CrossWalk have drawn a lot of attention to the situation, both inside and outside of our district.  Our committee is not ignorant of the fact that faction-like groups have formed, with some who believe CrossWalk is not part of our fellowship; others might say let's wait another two, 10, 20 years and see how it plays out; still others believe that CrossWalk has been excluded for far too long (it's already been over four years).  We believe we are foolish to ignore the current and future divisiveness of this issue—it is part of the background under which our committee has labored.  

 On the one hand we see a clear need to distinguish which issues fall into the realm of Christian freedom.  The law is not a means of salvation, nor is it a method for solving problems.  Where God gives freedom, there also the Gospel must reign in shaping the actions of that freedom. But we must also be quick to point out that not every exercise of Christian freedom is beneficial.  Some practices may be difficult to understand without patient instruction; others may cause too great an offense to consider implementing.  This is true for an individual congregation which seeks to exercise its freedom as well as for other congregations, districts or synods which seek to limit an individual congregation’s exercise of its freedom.  Any request we make to someone else to change course in a matter of freedom must also be done so under the Gospel, so that changes in practice may be voluntary and not forced.

 On the other hand, the issues of gospel predominance, law/gospel preaching and teaching, and trust in the efficacy of the means of grace for a confessional evangelical Lutheran congregation and pastor are ones that can never be considered optional or dismissed as matters of freedom.  Souls are at stake. Turning a blind eye or sugarcoating the concerns does not serve the kingdom but our own bellies. Every one of our leaders and congregations ought to be looking into the mirror daily and examining whether or not they are faithfully using the means of grace in every aspect of its ministry.  

 We acknowledge that not everyone's concerns with CrossWalk's ministry and these issues will have been put to rest with this report. We also acknowledge that this painstaking work of building trust, making changes in practice, communicating more openly with one another, is only a beginning.  Our committee's work is done, but the "work" of reminding one another of the absolute necessity of the proper distinction between law and gospel, gospel predominance, and trust in the means of grace, is a work that will never be done. 

 CrossWalk's leadership has shown a willingness to be rebuked and instructed, to listen to and implement changes in practice. As CrossWalk has shown a humble and loving attitude, along with the realization that much of the difficult work of rebuilding shattered trust depends largely on how they move forward from here, the walking and working together will continue to be built. Our district's leadership has shown a willingness to patiently yet firmly admonish, to not sweep matters of doctrine or practice under the rug, to accept admonition when it has been called for, and to work together with CrossWalk's pastor and leadership to rightly address and resolve these matters. As that humble and loving attitude remains, the walking and working together will continue to be built.  God's Word works.  But if that resolve is not there for all involved, trust will not be built and fellowship will not exist, no matter what the outward affiliation says.

 These efforts must continue.  Those called to oversee such matters and hold others accountable must function accordingly.  Those called to account must be willing to answer on the basis of God's Word. Without such oversight and accountability, the time of the judges where everyone does what is right in his own eyes quickly commences.


Final recommendation     

 Mindful of the Lord's great patience and mercy, and trusting that His good and gracious will is always working for the good of His people, we recommend CrossWalk for district membership with the earnest prayer that those involved in moving forward remain humble before His Word. God grant such humility to us all.    


In Christ, 

The AZ-CA CrossWalk Ad Hoc Committee

Pastor Ross Else, chairman, Emmaus Lutheran Church, Phoenix, AZ 
Pastor Fred Casmer, Paradise Valley Lutheran Church, Phoenix, AZ
Mr. James Drexler, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Los Angeles, CA
Teacher Andrew Mildebrandt, Saint Peter's Lutheran School, Fond du Lac, WI (formerly at
      Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran School, La Mesa, CA)   
Pastor Jeffrey Smith, Living Word Lutheran Church, Petaluma, CA
Pastor Joshua Stahmann, Salem Lutheran Church, Scottsdale, AZ
Pastor Matthew Vogt, Water of Life Lutheran Church, Las Vegas, NV



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Joel Lillo has left a new comment on your post "WELS DP Jon Buchholz Drops the Hammer on Gunn - Lu...":

Well, finally...

I'm glad that the AZ/CA District made the right decision about Crosswalk!

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