Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 21, 2008

WELS President Gets “Issues, Etc.” Thumbs-Up!

This was brought to my attention via a fellow WELS pastor’s email who pointed me to another WELS blog post with this information.

The WELS website offers a “Question and Answer” service.  Laypeople can submit their religious questions, and either a professor from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary or a WELS administrator will answer the question.  Answers are usually anonymous — in other words, while we know the “pool” of pastors who answer the questions, we don’t know who answered a specific question.

There was one recent notable exception.  A recent questioner asked if there were concerns among WELS administration and seminary professors that the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod was heading down the same “church growth” path that the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) appears to be on.  There is a concern — and I would argue a justifiable concern — that some segments within WELS are flirting too much with methodology that leave the proclamation of the gospel behind just so we get people in the door.

The question was answered and signed by WELS President Mark Schroder.  You can read the question and answer at this link, but I’ll also quote it here.

Question: I have one grandfather that was an LCMS minister and another was a WELS minister. I understand the history of their division and I accept the need. What I fear there is a trend in WELS to follow the same route as LCMS. In the desire to increase church attendance many WELS congregations are not making a solid doctrinal stand. Law and Gospel are still present but one must look for it. Do these same concerns exist at our seminaries and synod offices?

Answer: Thank you for your concern about the centrality of Law and Gospel in our preaching and teaching.  God has promised that his church will endure until Jesus returns again, but he has made no promises that individual church bodies or synods will always be blessed with the pure doctrine.  That is why the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:2 are such an important reminder for our synod:  “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel which I preached to you and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you will have believed in vain.” In other words, our synod and its congregations will need to be vigilant in holding on to the truth of Scripture and careful to preach solid Law and Gospel boldly and consistently.

I assure you that I share these concerns, and I know that our seminary faculty would say the same.  As we face declining numbers in worship and in church membership, we will want to avoid the temptation to resort to methods or “quick fixes” which rely on something other than the means of grace, which alone can bring people to know their Savior and through which the Holy Spirit will work.  All efforts to increase church attendance and membership need to be carefully evaluated in the light of God’s Word, not on the basis of “what works.”   If we water down the message of Law and Gospel, if we change the message to a generic message that simply tells people what they want to hear (instead of what they need to hear), we will eventually have no gospel message left.  We may fill churches, but the danger is that those churches will be filled with people whose true spiritual needs — the call to repentance and the assurance of full forgiveness in Christ — will not be met.

Please keep our synod, its congregations, and its pastors in your prayers as we address these important matters.  Thank you for your concern.

In Christ,

Mark Schroeder, WELS president

The previous WELS blogger I cited quoted this Q&A entry on his blog.  As it turns out, the blog entry was chosen by the Lutheran talk show, “Issues, Etc.” as one of its two “Blog of the Week” suggestions on last Friday’s show.  “Issues, Etc.” producer Jeff Schwarz quoted a large portion of Pres. Schroeder’s answer and indicated that Schroeder had taken a courageous stand in the face of church growth tendencies and temptations.  He said, “The church needs more leaders like President Mark Schroeder of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.”  (My response: “Amen!”)  Here’s a link to the audio:

Issues, Etc. “Blog of the Week” segment on Friday, November 14, 2008

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Schwarz and “Issues, Etc.” host, Pastor Todd Wilken, while they were in Northern California conducting remote broadcasts and promoting the program.  They were kind enough to talk to me personally for about half an hour, and I’m grateful to see their influence in the LCMS.  In fact, now that “Issues, Etc.” is no longer run and funded by LCMS, they can be a little more direct in their criticism (plus the bumper music is much better!).  Self-analysis and self-criticism for a church body, LCMS and WELS included, are healthy exercises these days when church growth methodologies abound and the gospel seems to be shrinking out of more and more pulpits and classrooms.

Even though the other blog site and the audio file have started to make their rounds around cyberspace, I mention this here because think it’s worth contemplating the ramifications raised in this discussion.  I cite this especially so that we realize the threat to the gospel that church growth methodologies pose — methods that rely more heavily on getting people in the door than preaching the gospel to all creation.  I think of last Sunday’s Gospel (WELS Christian Worship lectionary, Year A, Third Sunday in End Time), Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13.  All ten virgins in the parable expected the bridegroom to return, just as all who claim to be Christian await Christ’s return.  Half of the virgins were left without oil for their lamps when the bridegroom arrived, just as there are Christians who don’t continue to fuel their faith regularly, and their faith may flicker and fade away.  Those five virgins tried to get into the wedding banquet late, but were met by a locked door and no entry, just as Jesus said earlier in Matthew’s Gospel: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:22-23, NIV).

I also cite this to encourage you to pray for our WELS leaders.  Pray for our president, administrators, seminary and college faculty, pastors, teachers, and all other called workers, that they faithfully apply the gospel in their various callings and not fall prey to the temptation to play bait and switch tricks with the gospel, or drop the gospel altogether.  And pray for our members that they support leaders who are faithful to the Word of God, and that they come to expect (even demand!) that the cross and empty tomb of Jesus will be preached every week in our churches!

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