A few weeks ago, in our post, The Witch Hunt Has (Officially) Begun, Rev. Rydecki highlighted section PD.02, entitled "Intrepid Lutherans" (yes, we have our own category of discussion now! We're not being ignored.), from the Minutes of WELS Council of Presidents' (CoP) most recent quarterly meeting. Further down in the notes, however, we read another bit of information germane to not only recent discussion on Intrepid Lutherans, but discussion that has been ongoing since our inception. That section from the CoP's notes reads as follows:
PD.06 Time of Grace board membership
President Rutschow did not have anything new to report on the issue of Time of Grace Ministry and its board membership. The SEW district is continuing to work with TOG to resolve any issues that remain.
What on Earth could this possibly mean?
What's Wrong with the Board Membership of Time of Grace Ministry?
Some may recall that a Memorial to the 2011 WELS Convention addressing "Time of Grace Ministry" was signed by pastors and laymen numbering on the order of one hundred. That Memorial read as follows:
Synod Convention Memorial - Time of Grace
Memorial to the Synod in Convention Re: Time of Grace Ministry
Whereas (1) Time of Grace Ministry has actively sought and obtained the status of a Recognized Service Organization (RSO) from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS); and
Whereas (2) Time of Grace is listed in the Yearbook of the LCMS as a Recognized Service Organization; and
Whereas (3) Leaders and representatives from Time of Grace regularly appear at LCMS events and congregations to promote the ministry of Time of Grace; and
Whereas (4) The administrative board of Time of Grace includes at least one member of the LCMS; and
Whereas (5) The LCMS, according to its official bylaws and policies, considers its RSOs to be “valued partners of the LCMS,” views the services of its RSOs as “a profound extension of the LCMS’ mission and ministry,” and expects its RSOs to “respect and not act contrary to the doctrine and practice of the Synod” and to “foster the mission and ministry of the Synod and engage in program activity that is in harmony with the programs of the boards of the Synod;” and
Whereas (6) An organization cannot truthfully and honestly carry out joint mission and ministry with two synods that are not in fellowship with one another, pretending to “walk together” with both; and
Whereas (7) The practices of Time of Grace are examples of the very unionism over which the bond of church fellowship between the WELS and the LCMS was formally severed in 1961; and
Whereas (8) The speaker and chief writer for Time of Grace is Pastor Mark Jeske, who with his congregation, St. Marcus Evangelical Lutheran Church of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member of the WELS; and
Whereas (9) Time of Grace maintains that it is not affiliated with any denomination or part of any denominational structure; and
Whereas (10) Such an arrangement implies that it is possible to be a member of the WELS while leading a religious organization which will confess no denominational ties; and
Whereas (11) Time of Grace has established a presence in most (if not all) of the Twelve Districts of the WELS; and
Whereas (12) Time of Grace has pursued the introduction of its services and ministry into the world mission fields of the WELS; and
Whereas (13) Scripture instructs us to present a clear confession of our doctrine and practice and to affiliate ourselves only with those church bodies whose doctrine and practice conform to the entirety of God’s Word (Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 4:16); and
Whereas (14) The Southeastern Wisconsin District presidium is charged with oversight of doctrine and practice of the pastors, teachers, congregations and other entities of our fellowship within its district; and
Whereas (15) Time of Grace has not provided to the Southeastern Wisconsin District presidium documentation from the LCMS regarding the non-RSO status of Time of Grace; and
Whereas (16) The Southeastern Wisconsin District presidium, in two years of dealing with Time of Grace, has been unable to convince Time of Grace of the need to withdraw its RSO status or change its unionistic practices; therefore be it
RESOLVED (a) That the Synod in convention recognize Time of Grace’s relationship with the LCMS as unionistic, confessionally unclear, and therefore unscriptural; and be it finally
RESOLVED (b) That the Synod in convention encourage the presidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin District to take immediate measures of loving Christian discipline toward Time of Grace and its leaders, calling on them to terminate their LCMS RSO status and to return to biblical practices and a clear confession regarding their walk together with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
Notice Whereas (1) and Whereas (4). It is unfortunate, but this Memorial did not make clear that these two Whereas' directly involved each other. When news of its newly designated status of Recognized Service Organization of theLutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) was announced by the LCMS Board for Communication Services (BCS) in January of 2009, the Minutes of the January meeting of the LCMS BCS indicated that Time of Grace Ministry actively sought RSO status from LCMS and that RSO status was granted, contingent upon
the presence of an LCMS clergyman,
as a voting member of the ToG Board of Directors (a decision making role, not just an "advisory role"), who was
approved by LCMS BCS to sit on the ToG Board of Directors (directly tying LCMS to the authority structure of ToG).
The January 2009 Minutes of the LCMS BCS reads as follows:
Request of Time of Grace Ministry for LCMS Recognized Service Organization status
M/S/C to grant Time of Grace Ministry the status of Recognized Service Organization of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synodcontingent upon its inclusion of an ordained clergyman of the LCMS, approved by the BCS, as a voting member of its board of directors.
(Minutes: Board for Communication Services, January 27, 2009 – emphasis mine).
Time of Grace Ministry objected to these conditions, but not in the way one would expect from a Ministry, conducting itself as "Church," led by laymen and served by clergymen of the WELS, having respect for the WELS Doctrine of Fellowship. Instead of saying, "We can't have membership of our Board of Directors controlled by the LCMS," or "We can't partner in Ministry endeavors with those who are not agreed with us in doctrine and practice," they chose, instead to inform the LCMS BCS that they could not have an LCMS clergyman on the ToG Board of Directors, since the Ministry of Time of Grace was intended to be a strictly lay-led endeavor. They already had an LCMS layman on their Board of Directors, so Time of Grace Ministry countered LCMS BCS by requesting that the contingency of LCMSclergyman be lifted, which LCMS BCS granted on the condition that at least one LCMS layman serve on ToG Board of Directors instead. This was carefully explained in the Minutes of the April 2009 meeting of the LCMS BCS, as follows:
2. Time of Grace
The program hosted by Pastor Jeske remains the only Lutheran television program available nationally. RSO status was granted in January by the BCS, contingent upon the ToG board’s including a clergyman of the LCMS. At least one LCMS layman is currently on the board. The organization is adamant about maintaining a lay board and has resisted including any pastors. Given that RSO status is revocable if necessary, the board took the following action:
M/S/C to remove the contingency of LCMS clergy presence on the board for LCMS RSO status for Time of Grace Ministry. [The operative assumption, however, is that the board will continue to have LCMS lay presence.]
These facts became widely reported and discussed when Time of Grace Ministry replaced Issues, Etc. at KFUO AM. Blogs, like Brothers of John the Steadfast and Ichabod: The Glory has Departed, and other news resource reported KFUO's newest program, along with the fact that Time of Grace Ministry was a Recognized Service Organization of the LCMS, supplying hyperlinks to the LCMS BCS documents detailing the conditions under which Time of Grace Ministry sought and was granted RSO status with the LCMS and, consequently, their evident willingness to allow the influence of the LCMS a permanent seat at the table of their decision-making body.
Is the pot calling the kettle black?
By merely pointing out that "Time of Grace Ministry" has a non-WELS member on its Board of Directors, as if this fact suggests that there may be negative implications with regard to the WELS doctrine of Church Fellowship, Intrepid Lutherans may be accused of "calling the kettle black," as a simplistic pretext for dismissing the significant points at issue. But let's pre-emptively address this likely accusation head-on: Is Intrepid Lutherans "calling the kettle black?"Answer: The question is irrelevant, and a childish attempt to deflect the real issue. The proper and relevant question to ask is this: Is the kettle black, or isn't it?
But still, it may be useful at this point to draw comparisons between "Time of Grace Ministry" and Intrepid Lutherans, Inc., to make clear how vastly different we are and how the negative implications aptly suggested of "Time of Grace Ministry," are vastly more serious than any such implications that may be suggested of Intrepid Lutherans, Inc. – if they could be applied, at all.
Intrepid Lutherans, as an organization, is an association of five men having similar concerns regarding doctrine and practice in WELS, and in broader confessional Lutheranism, who, having exhausted all other means we can conceive of bringing attention to the issues we consider important, have opted to collaborate in an attempt to bring these issues into the realm of public discussion, in hopes of contributing to a wider recognition of what we consider critical issues and that such recognition may, finally, draw the concerned and deserved attention of laymen and clergymen such that the process of resolution to some of these issues might finally begin. By the name we have chosen for ourselves, by the statements contained on our What We Believe page, it is clear that Intrepid Lutherans wants to be known not merely as Christian, and not only as Lutheran, but as Lutherans in unmistakeably full harmony with the doctrine and practice of those who've made their public Confession that of Lutheran Book of Concord of 1580, because it is in full agreement with the Holy Scriptures. In an effort to assist in the solicitation and management of donations, Intrepid Lutherans incorporated in August 2011 as a religious, non-profit, tax-exempt corporation. Intrepid Lutherans has maintained that it is NOT "Church": we do NOT bear the Marks of the Church; we do NOT participate in the work of the Gospel together; we do NOT take upon ourselves the exclusive privilege of the Church to issue Divine Calls to anyone to serve us or serve on our behalf; having no legitimate Divine Call to serve Intrepid Lutherans, we do NOT, in the name of Intrepid Lutherans, bestow upon ourselves the title "Minister". In short, Intrepid Lutherans is NOT Church, it is NOT Ministry, nor are we in any way, shape or form "Ministers" engaged or participating in any kind of "Ministry" on behalf of Intrepid Lutherans. We are on record multiple times openly and forcefully rejecting any such notions, one notable example being the opening paragraphs of our post, The 'Tone' of polemics: Thoughts regarding vigorous public discourse, where we state directly: "We don’t bear the Marks of the Church. We don’t commune one another, neither have we selected from among ourselves a ‘pastor’ or ‘overseer’. Intrepid Lutherans is strictly a Universal Priesthood endeavor – all five of us are equals." If any negative implications regarding Fellowship are to be suggested, the cut-and-dried applications of "Church Fellowship" are completely off the table. Ours is a voluntary individualassociation – the only "standards" which might apply are those of so-called "Christian Fellowship,"1 which are very loose, if there are any at all, and would apply to any group of individuals who've gathered to discuss doctrine and practice, whether all in attendance pretend to be in full agreement on every matter they discuss or not.
Time of Grace Ministry, on the other hand, is a much different matter. "Time of Grace Ministry," having offices in Wisconsin, was incorporated in Wisconsin as a foreign agent in 2001, as "Time of Grace Ministry." Its home incorporation state, however, is Virginia, where it was initially incorporated in 2000, again with the name "Time of Grace Ministry." It is clear, "Time of Grace Ministry" wants everyone to immediately know, by putting the term "Ministry" in its name, that it aspires to be "Church," and that, in its corporate endeavors, it intends to take on the function of "Church" in the execution of its "Mission." What Miission? The use of technology driven media to "share the good news of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible" (according to the ToG "Who We Are" page). That isEvangelism. That is the Ministry of the Church, conducted by an organization that enjoys the exclusive privilege of the congregation, of calling a Minister of the Word to be its Evangelist – in this case, WELS pastor Rev. Mark Jeske. That there are non-WELS Lutherans working alongside WELS Lutherans in the Ministry of Time of Grace, means, principally, that they are working together in the Ministry of Evangelism.
Moreover, "Time of Grace Ministry" has no desire to be known as Lutheran at all. This is clear not only from the name it has chosen for itself, which completely omits any reference to any public Confession it may hold, but by it's Statement of Faith as well, which reads:
We believe in the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe that God has revealed himself to us through his word, the Holy Bible, that the Bible is divinely inspired and without error. We believe that all human beings are terminally sinful and that only through the innocent life and death of Jesus Christ can anyone be saved. We believe we are here on this earth to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible.
In this public Statement of Faith, "Time of Grace Ministry" conspicuously avoids giving any hint that the Christians involved are Lutheran, or that the public Ministry they engage in together makes any confessional subscription whatsoever, whether Lutheran or otherwise. In other words, not only are those who work together in the Evangelism Ministry of "Time of Grace Ministry" of differing Confessions (unionism), they are working together under the banner of a manifestly non-denominational Ministry.
Attempts to correct "Time of Grace Ministry," over years, are ignored
This situation is not new. While it has only been generally known since "Time of Grace Ministry" came under broader scrutiny by concerned confessional Lutherans following public revelation of its RSO status in 2009, it had been known prior to this. Not only prior to, but especially subsequent to this public revelation, countless concerned WELS Lutherans have contacted Rev. Jeske, his overseers in the praesidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin District, and even "Time of Grace Ministry" itself, to either correct or end this offensive "Ministry." They were ignored. Indeed, regarding Intrepid Lutherans itself, there were TWO primary precipitating situations behind its formation in 2009: (1)the appalling treatment of the layman, Mr. Rick Techlin, by his pastor and congregation, and the incomprehensible support publicly granted them by the praesidium of the Northern Wisconsin District; (2) the continuing existence of "Time of Grace Ministry" as a manifestly non-denominational and unionistic evangelism Ministry conducted by WELS and other Lutherans, and the continuing support of the praesidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin District enjoyed by "Time of Grace Ministry." Both prior and subsequent to our formation, Rev.'s Rydecki, Spencer and Lidtke have been in direct contact with Rev. Jeske, the praesidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin District, and the corporate representatives of "Time of Grace Ministry." All to no avail. Many others have made contact with them as well – indeed, searching the pages of Intrepid Lutherans will reveal several instances where individuals have admitted doing so out of grave concern over the conduct of WELS Lutherans involved with "Time of Grace Ministry," with similar results. Continued inaction resulted in the creation of the Memorial above, which garnered around one hundred signatories. Although some have suggested that Intrepid Lutherans was responsible for this Memorial, in truth, this author has no idea who composed it or who launched solicitation for signatures, having only found out about it some time after it had been published and after many signatories had already signed on. Intrepid Lutherans had nothing to do with it. It was a genuinely deep and broad concern of WELS Lutherans all over Synod.
Swiftly following the publication of this Memorial, supporters of "Time of Grace Ministry" wrote a counter-Memorial, and in the relatively short time they had to gather signatures, were able to demonstrate support in WELS for the evangelism Ministry of "Time of Grace Ministry," support which completely dismissed its non-denominational character and demonstrated unionism. Synod President Rev. Mark Schroeder could have elected to disallow either of these Memorial; instead, he allowed both to be considered by the Synod in Convention. He recognized that the issue of "Time of Grace Ministry" was one which could no longer be ignored, but which must be confronted.
"Time of Grace Ministry," Convention "Gift Packages," and... political influence?
Unbeknownst to many WELS Lutherans, politicking is a vital aspect of Convention preparations, and the 2011 WELS Convention was no exception. Apparently, "Time of Grace Ministry" had gained access to the names and addresses of the Delegates to the 2011 Convention, and mailed "Gift Packages" to each one of them prior to the Convention. While these "Gift Packages" contained nothing which directly addressed the Memorials which concerned them, we thought it odd that (a) they had these addresses to begin with, and (b) someone thought that sending such packages would be a good idea, since most reasonable folks would see this as a rather transparent attempt to garner favor from voting delegates. Our suspicion grew when Intrepid Lutherans tried to get the same address list, in order to send "Gift Packages" of our own, but we were unable to get that information. But still, such was only suspicion. Maybe we just didn't ask the right people.
A week before Synod Convention, however, we understood the real reason for the "Gift Packages": having the address list of all delegates to the Convention meant that they also had access to the addresses of the Delegates of the Floor Committee which would consider the Memorials concerning "Time of Grace Ministry" – Floor Committee #21.A week before the 2011 Convention, each member of this Floor Committee, and only the members of this Floor Committee, were secretively sent a special letter by "Time of Grace Ministry" specifically rebutting the Memorial calling for the termination of their RSO status with the LCMS.2 One of the members of Floor Committee #21 was from Rev. Rydecki's Circuit, and being Circuit Pastor, he was informed of this rebuttal the day it was received, Monday July 18, 2011. By Wednesday, July 20, 2011, Rev. Rydecki had composed a rebuttal to the document distributed by "Time of Grace Ministry," and sent it to his Circuit delegate, to the Floor Committee Chairman, to SP Schroeder, and to DP Bucholz. Since, from his perspective, it was an issue limited in scope to his Circuit, he felt that distributing his rebuttal beyond these individuals was not reasonable. Whether his rebuttal was considered by Floor Committee #21 or not, is unknown to us. What we do know, is that not only did Floor Committee #21 have Memorials to consider that were officially and publicly submitted to the Convention for consideration, they had additional non-Convention documents privately submitted to them by interested parties for consideration, documents which materially impacted the Committee's consideration of only one of the publicly submitted Memorials. Since this documentation was submitted to them outside of channels, its submission was neither generally known nor governed by an equitable process, thus depriving other interested parties the opportunity to supply additional documentation of their own. We also know that representatives of "Time of Grace Ministry" arrived at the Convention on Monday, July 25, 2011, with "stacks" of copies of the rebuttal they had sent to Floor Committee #21, and were actively handing them out to Convention delegates. We know that no other organization or interested parties had the opportunity to address the contents of that rebuttal, since it was distributed outside official channels and since, by the time it was discovered, there wasn't time to assemble any kind of organized effort to respond to it and distribute that response. We know (from a private email sent to us by a Convention delegate) that by Thursday of the Convention (July 28, 2011), it was suggested from the Floor of the Convention itself that the rebuttal document distributed at the Convention by "Time of Grace Ministry" be the basis for considering the Memorials which concerned them, rather than just the Memorials themselves. We know that the following day, as the Resolution concerning "Time of Grace Ministry" that was finally offered by Floor Committee #21 was being considered by the Convention, Rev. Rutschow, President of the Southeastern Wisconsin District, publicly offered support for "Time of Grace Ministry," indicating that the SEW District praesidium didn't really have a problem with "Time of Grace Ministry." And we know what the Resolution was that the Synod in Convention finally adopted:
Subject: Time of Grace Ministry
Reference: Unpublished Memorials 2011-06U and 2011-07U
Resolution No. 01
WHEREAS 1) Time of Grace Ministry is serving a valuable purpose in the spreading of the gospel around the world and serving our WELS constituency with doctrinally sound, Bible-based materials, television programs, and Internet resources; and
WHEREAS 2) some in our fellowship are concerned with the relationship between Time of Grace and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), possibly resulting in an unclear confession and/or cases of offense within our fellowship; and
WHEREAS 3) the praesidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin District, the constitutionally appointed body tasked with overseeing doctrine and practice in its district, has been working with Time of Grace in order to address the issues causing the controversy and confusion; and
WHEREAS 4) Time of Grace is cooperating with the praesidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin District in order to address these concerns; therefore be it
Resolved, a) that the synod acknowledges, thanks, and encourages Time of Grace to continue in its ministry for the edification of WELS members and the spreading of the pure gospel message to thousands of others; and be it further
Resolved, b) that the synod supports the praesidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin District as it works with Time of Grace (and will report to the Conference of Presidents in October 2011) toward a Godpleasing, scriptural resolution to this matter; and be it finally
Resolved, c) that we praise God the Holy Spirit for the precious unity of faith and brotherly love we enjoy in WELS and pray that through the Word he keep us steadfast in the same.
Those who watched the 2011 Convention live on the internet know exactly what was intended by the parenthetical in Resolved (b), which reads "and will report to the Conference of Presidents in October 2011": the expectation of those who contended for the inclusion of this provision was that the matter would have been resolved by October 2011, and that the praesidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin District would report to the Council of Presidents in October 2011 what that resolution was. The praesidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin District interpreted this provision, after the fact, to the contrary, reading in that parenthetical only that they were required to report to the CoP regarding resolution to the issue with "Time of Grace Ministry." And report they did: "While considerable progress has been made, the matter has not yet been fully resolved, and the Southeastern Wisconsin District presidium will continue its efforts to bring about a resolution" (2011-10-18 edition of Together).
On and on it goes
The authority granted to the Office of Synod President is rather all-encompassing, placing on him the responsibility for the execution of all resolutions and the conduct of all Synod officials according to written standards of WELS doctrine and practice. The Synod constitution reads:
(a) The president shall officially represent the synod and promote the best interests of the synod. He shall exercise supervision over the official conduct of all officials of the synod, supervise the execution of synodical resolutions, and oversee the total synodical operation, particularly to insure that it is true to its mission and objectives and that it is being conducted within the framework of the synod’s stated standards for doctrine and practice. He shall function in every way as the synod’s pastor and chief executive officer of the synod. He shall be responsible for reporting to synod and district conventions.
Synod President Rev. Mark Schroeder knows this provision well, as this writer knows for a fact that he has been reminded of it on more than one occasion by concerned WELS Lutherans. While dramatic action under this provision, such as removing a District President who is unable or unwilling to fulfill his responsibilities, is technically within the power of the Synod President, such action would also be unprecedented. No action from President Schroeder, of this sort, has been forthcoming. Unable to tolerate an endorsement of "Time of Grace Ministry" by continued RSO status, many concerned Lutherans of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS) petitioned their leaders for action. LCMSfinally acted. At the invitation of LCMS Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, WELS Synod President Rev. Mark Schroeder became involved, being asked by Harrison to attend a meeting with LCMS leadership and the SEW Praesidium in Spring of 2012. SP Schroeder reports from that meeting:
The praesidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin District, along with President Mark Schroeder, met with leaders of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS) to clarify how the LCMS defines and understands the Recognized Service Organization (RSO) status. The LCMS explained that the published guidelines defining the relationship are intended to be used by the LCMS in evaluating organizations for this status and that the guidelines do not require an organization to change its message or its program to comply. It was this understanding that led Time of Grace and the presidium of the Southeastern Wisconsin district to conclude that the RSO status did not represent a violation or compromise of biblical fellowship principles.
The LCMS officials also reported that they are currently in the process of reviewing the entire RSO program with the intention of developing new requirements and guidelines. From what was said, the new guidelines may include requirements that would make it no longer possible for a WELS organization to have RSO status. Once those requirements have been adopted, Time of Grace has indicated that it will evaluate what is being required and take the appropriate steps. (2012-04-03 edition of Together)
Here we see a shift in the language employed, obscuring the fact that non-WELS members sit on the Board of Directors of "Time of Grace Ministry," and fully function as partners with them in that Ministry. The language employed directs concerned WELS Lutherans to imagine that "the relationship between Time of Grace and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS)" – as described in WHEREAS (2) of the Resolution adopted by the 2011 Synod in Convention – is limited to the RSO status LCMS granted "Time of Grace Ministry." Quite the contrary, it was news of the RSO status which revealed the unionism which concerns many in WELS. The months dragged on, while concerned WELS Lutherans continued their gape-jawed observation of ongoing inaction, leadership evidently waiting for LCMS to bring the matter to resolution for them. And so, it would seem, they did. Last Autumn, SP Schroeder again reports:
Time of Grace, a media ministry affiliated with WELS, is no longer considered to be a "Recognized Service Organization (RSO)" of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). "RSO" is the designation that the LCMS gives to organizations it considers to be consistent with its aims and can be utilized and supported by LCMS members.
The LCMS informed Time of Grace of this change in status because its board of directors does not meet the criteria necessary for Recognized Service Organizations. One of those requirements is that a significant number of RSO board members must be members of Missouri Synod congregations.
Even though it no longer has RSO status, the LCMS still considers Time of Grace to be a useful Gospel-media company that LCMS members and congregations may utilize and support. (2012-10-02 edition of Together, emphasis mine.)
The language here is pure subterfuge, a continuing pattern of de-emphasizing the fact that "Time of Grace Ministry" already enjoys a relationship with LCMS by virtue of its direct Ministry partnership with the LCMS layman on its Board. But that fact seems to have disappeared from public view. As we reported at the head of this post, in January, the notes from the January meeting of the WELS Council of Presidents informs us:
PD.06 Time of Grace board membership
President Rutschow did not have anything new to report on the issue of Time of Grace Ministry and its board membership. The SEW district is continuing to work with TOG to resolve any issues that remain.
The iniquity of inequity
Dear readers, compare this lethargy to the vigor displayed by WELS' "Holy Order of the Guardians of Blog Fellowship."They sniffed out and cornered poor David Porth like Artemis Hounds, and threatened his career. Why? (1) Rev. Rydecki posted some comments on their Facebook page. (2) Other authors on his blog are non-WELS Lutherans. (3) One of the WELS Lutheran authors wrote an article that was "a little out there." Why is this such a big deal? Luther Academyis a partnership between WELS and non-WELS confessional Lutherans who've been "promoting confessional theology since 1991." They host two conferences a year in cooperation with confessional Lutherans of every stripe. One of those non-WELS confessional Lutherans is a former WELS clergyman, who was suspended from our fellowship. Sound familiar? Yet, there's no problem there.
The continued recommendations to put things off, or to "continue working with '[insert favorite Ministry of the Month here]'," sound very much like the exasperating tolerance of Church and Change through the last decade. Remember the CoP report from January 2009? It read, in part:
5.D.05 C & C and outside speakers
We recommend that our Synod President and District President(s) continue to work with the representatives of Church and Change to come to an understanding of our desire for them to withdraw their invitation to the speaker proposed for their next conference.
The speaker referred to by the CoP, in 5.D.05 above, is Baptist "Church Growth" expert, Ed Stetzer – and this specific issue has been a lightning-rod of controversy in the WELS for almost a year. But this is nothing new for the group Church and Change(C&C) – an external group of WELS laymen, pastors, and theologians who seem to thrive on such controversy. In 2005, they invited the Methodist "Emergent Church" expert, Dr. Leonard Sweet, to instruct them, in order to disseminate his advice directly to WELS congregations through their organization. C&C was asked at that time by Synod to cancel their Conference because of their invitation, but C&C ignored this request. Because of the political positions in Synod occupied by those associated with this organization, C&C seems to have had free reign to "largely ignore them" (a quote from one of the papers I source, below). This year, it seems, they have finally been effectively pressured to "uninvite" the heterodox teacher, Ed Stetzer, but it remains to be seen whether the inclination to invite similar experts has also been reversed. In addition, many of our wealthy members seem to have gravitated to C&C leaders, perhaps because of their celebrity status, perhaps because of the “success” that their meticulously researched marketing plans seem to guarantee. As a result, several individuals have set up large endowment funds to finance the efforts of C&C – perhaps without realizing the theological compromises and dangers of the Church Growth Movement that they are supporting. The fact is, C&C and its constituency have been active doing this sort of thing for decades, exposing laymen to "Church Growth" theology/methodology by sponsoring trips to evangelical Mission events, like theExponential Conference and the Drive Conference, by holding their own Conferences celebrating heterodox keynote speakers, by encouraging our pastors and professors to attend grossly heterodox institutions (like Fuller in Pasadena, CA) to learn and import these practices into our Synod, by erecting supporting power structures within Synod (the Board for Parish Services, for instance), and by ultimately implementing these – often very expensive – CGM practices in their own congregations and by encouraging others to do the same.
And this was just the tip of the iceberg. Many pastors and laymen went to great effort to expose WELS congregations that had joined Ministries like the Willow Creek Association or Purpose Driven Church. To what end? Some have disaffiliated from these organizations, but not all. St. Mark's DePere is still listed as a member of Willow Creek Association! And the methods, priorities and ministry objectives of the Church Growth Movement are now ubiquitous in the thought patterns of WELS Lutherans, from the leadership on down through the clergy to the laity. The solution to the issue of Church and Change? Do nothing, and wait for the organization to simply peter out on its own – which it did, finally, in 2011 – leaving nearly a generation of devastation behind them, and a generation of clean-up ahead of us, if it is even possible to do. The solution to the Church Growth Movement, to the importation of heterodox theology through their sectarian practices and their Arminian study materials? Do nothing, just "wait for the fad to go out of style". Only it didn't. Among the most critical issues facing WELS Lutherans today is that of the Word of God itself. Many leaders have convinced themselves that the egalitarian NIV 2011 is the only suitable Bible for today's layman. A non-Bible as much as the Living Bible, it masquerades as the authoritative and genuine Word of God, just like the evangelism methods of CGM masquerade as the Holy Spirit's work through the Means of Grace, just like the Emergent Church Movement masquerades as the True Visible Church on Earth. That's masquerades – who can tell the difference? Not many anymore.
Compare the lethargy in dealing with apparently preferred aberrations, like the egalitarianism of St. James, the CGM of Church and Change, the unionism and manifest non-denominationalism of "Time of Grace Ministry,"4 to the uncompromising vigor employed in dealing with Rick Techlin (terminated without the discussion he requested), in dealing with Joe Krohn (terminated without the discussion that he requested), in dealing with Rev. Rydecki (terminated without the genuine discussion of the issues that he requested). Is it not evident that those leadership figures responsible for these terminations are cut from the same cloth? Have the same priorities and objectives?
For how long can the inequity be endured?
And we can thank the Rev. Mark Braun (WELS, WLC) for his recent works on Fellowship in the WELS, in which he enlightens us with the fact that there is, indeed, a significant difference between "Church" and "Christian Fellowship" and between the relative "standards" governing them. Two sources to start with include the following. He also wrote a series of articles in WLQ (2004?), but this author had borrowed the copies he read from, and no longer has access to them to provide a citation.
"Time of Grace Ministry" does not view the non-WELS status of its Board Member as legitimate, even though he makes a public heterodox confession through his membership in the LCMS
"Time of Grace Ministry," in fact, defends itself as a non-denominational Ministry.
"Helped" may seem to be merely suggestive. In point of fact, the emails we've received from former subscribers have specified, yes, several have been singled out and pressured to request removal of their names.