President Schroeder on Issues, Etc.

wels_logoOn Wednesday, May 27, 2009, WELS President Mark Schroeder appeared on the popular Lutheran radio program Issues, Etc.™ to discuss the state of Lutheranism in America.

Subtopics of the conversation included:

  • What does it mean to be Lutheran?
  • The differences between the LCMS and the WELS,
  • The church growth movement, and
  • The possibility of a realignment of Lutheranism.

Click here to download the Issues, Etc. sound clip.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:  “How has Pop American Christianity and Evangelicalism in general influenced the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod?”  (34:00).

There is always going to be a temptation on the part of sinful human beings like us, who take seriously our desire to preach and proclaim the gospel & to share the good news of Jesus, to find ways to make that happen more effectively.  [However], we have to understand that the faithful proclamation of law and gospel is quite simply never going to be popular.

When you preach God’s law in the way that God has given it to us, it’s not going to make me feel good.  It’s going to slay me.  And when you preach the gospel, it’s going to be nothing but foolishness to those who are perishing.  [1 Corinthians 1:18].

So even though the temptation is always going to be there to try to bridge to the culture, and find ways to relate to people and make the gospel more palatable, more acceptable; you have to remember that if you do that, you will tend not to have the gospel anymore because you will have changed it.

“Is there a potential for a real realignment of Confessional Lutheranism in America?”  (37:00).

Just as important as it is for us to be able to identify false doctrine and separate, it is also just as much our responsibility to find where there is agreement and celebrate that and establish that where possible.

A True Under-Shepherd

In a world where many “pastors” behave like CEOs and treat their members like employees, Pastor Schroeder is a breath of fresh air.  I believe that President Schroeder has a true pastor’s heart, and that God is using him to bless the WELS.


6 thoughts on “President Schroeder on Issues, Etc.

  1. Rick,

    “So even though the temptation is always going to be there to try to bridge to the culture, and find ways to relate to people and make the gospel more palatable, more acceptable; you have to remember that if you do that, you will tend not to have the gospel anymore because you will have changed it.”

    I am not sure where the quote from the above article came from since you have not cited the source, but I offer the following quote from St Paul:

    To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (NIV).

    St. Paul didn’t have any problem bridging the culture to bring souls to Christ .

    Semper Fidelis,

    PC Christian

  2. The source of the quote is from the audio itself.

    If you take your scripture reference and expand the context to include, for example, verses 16-18, Paul is sacrificing all these things so that he can preach the Gospel. Compromising the Gospel itself is not an option.

    Can the Gospel be shared in a format similar to what Pop American Christianity and Evangelicalism use? Theoretically. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen very often. It delves down into love-songs-and-nothing-but-love-songs for Jesus, without presenting what he has done, or it turns into a new law like the Nazarenes present, where the delusion is present that they actually keep the law.

    If a Mormon can sing what you sing, you don’t have the entirety of the Gospel.

  3. PC,

    Please permit me to share a few thoughts on the verse you cited, 1 Corinthians 9:22-23. The principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture (and, in this case, letting Paul interpret Paul) is key in this discussion. What follows are some thoughts I have written previously; the larger context of what I have copied below may be found here:



    In a recent sermon on John 2:13-22, I raised a concern about a Bible verse written by St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:22, that seems to be taken out of context on a fairly reguar basis. On its own, the verse sounds like Christians should do just about anything to bring people into the church. But the fuller picture of Scripture suggests that we shouldn’t take Paul’s words as a blank check that turns just about anything into a means of grace. Here’s the point I made in the sermon:

    Do you know what one of the most misunderstood verses is in the Bible? There are several candidates, but the one I’m thinking of today is 1 Corinthians 9:22, where St. Paul wrote, ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.’ This verse has been used to justify the practice of bringing the world and its culture into the church. This verse has been used to justify the practice of marketing the church to a particular audience, even though the gospel is supposed to transcend ethnicity, age groups, and other demographic divisions.

    Too much has been read into Paul’s words. We would be better served if we let Paul interpret Paul. Look at the way Paul carried out his ministry. When he preached in a Jewish synagogue, he began with a natural starting point for Jews: He talked about the God of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Paul arrived in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) and found himself surrounded by statues of Greek gods, he preached in a way that would communicate the gospel to this different culture. He started with the natural knowledge that God existed and had created them. He quoted some of their poets as proof that they recognized this. And he turned that into his avenue to get right to Christ and the resurrection. If you know the story, that’s when Paul lost his audience. The resurrection was too much for these Greeks who ‘looked for wisdom’ (1 Corinthians 1:22), as today’s Second Lesson mentions.

    There is a big difference between bringing Christ and his work into a particular culture versus bringing the culture into the church. But there’s only one way to serve any culture. Bring Christ and his work to the world! Yes, we should understand our local culture and setting so that we can serve it. But let the church be the church! Serving the culture is not the same as becoming the culture. And this is so important because there is so much at stake.

    The point of this sermon excerpt is to show what happens when we “reduce the data.” If Paul’s encouragement to “become all things to all men” is understood apart from his own preaching in Acts, and if it is understood apart from Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 (which indicates that teaching and baptizing are the means by which people enter the Holy Christian Church), then someone might assume that Paul condones any tactic to bring people into the church. Some have decribed this approach as “proof passage Christianity,” using the Bible as a source book of quotes to support one’s ideas and approaches, but not necessarily taking it as a whole. This can happen either intentionally or (more often than not, I suspect) inadvertently. But if you’re using the Bible as a book of spiritual quotations, you might not look for the quotes about sin, death, judgment, grace, Christ, forgiveness, salvation, etc. — and miss the whole point in the process. “These are the Scriptures that testify about me,” Jesus said (John 5:39).

  4. JS,

    Your point, I think, was my point (or really St Paul’s point). I said that Paul had no problem bridging the culture while you talk about “serving the culture.” Sounds pretty much the same thing to me. I bridge to serve, you serve to bridge.

    I disagree with Mark Schroeder when he says “So even though the temptation is always going to be there to try to bridge to the culture, and find ways to relate to people and make the gospel more palatable, more acceptable; you have to remember that if you do that, you will tend not to have the gospel anymore because you will have changed it.”

    Paul related, served, and bridged the culture as you noted in your examples above. Paul became like a Jew, a slave, someone under the law, someone not having the law, a weakling, a tentmaker (today a developer), a Thessalonian, a Corinthian, a Philippian, an Ephesian, a Roman, and at the end of his life even a fellow prisoner in the Mamertine Prison. He became all things to all men. Why?? “So that by all possible means I might save some…for the sake of the gospel.” What an example he was to all of us!

    One Sunday I was sitting in church and a young man sat next to me. He had jelled dark black hair, wore a black tee shirt and blue trousers that went 3 inches below his knee, high top tennis shoes, and a heavily tattooed body. My first reaction was that he was a gang-banger. He may have been or was at one time. During the sermon he, like me, had his Bible open, was underlining and highlighting it, taking furious notes on the sermon handout, and listening intently to what the pastor was saying. Many others in this church were eclectic also. The pastor wore sandals and a Hawaiian shirt. His sermon was spot on. The pastor was bridging (or serving) the culture with the Word and yes he was speaking “about sin, death, judgment, grace, Christ, forgiveness, salvation, etc.”

    What’s the underlying motive. Quite simply, that the Message SHALL never change but the presentation MUST in order to reach lost souls. Jesus did it, Paul did it, and we should not be afraid to do it too!

    Semper Fidelis,


  5. A “culture” isn’t just a set of arbitrary fashions and styles, but rather it is a set of fashions and styles based on a set of ideas. No one has ever claimed that one cannot preach the law and gospel while wearing a Hawaiian shirt. But this culture (like all cultures) expects people with real authority to dress in an authoritative “uniform” when they fulfill their duties. That is why judges and police officers and soldiers and attorneys and politicians do not wear Hawaiian shirts. You claim that a Hawaiian shirt does not change the message, but what does a Hawaiian shirt say in our culture? It says, “I have no authority.”

    Do Lutheran pastors have the authority to dispense the sacraments, forgive sins, and preach the word? That is a theological question, and the answer should inform our culture.

    Lutheran pastors are supposed to be preaching the Word of God. Therefore, why would they want to associate a cultural symbol of non-authority like a Hawaiian shirt with the Word of God? Isn’t the power and authority of the Word of God the very heart of Lutheran doctrine? Are we really just changing the presentation, or are we using the culture to slightly alter our message and make it less threatening? There are Christians who reject the power of the sacraments, the keys, and the authority of the Word of God: a Hawaiian shirt would fit with their theology.

    Our culture understands symbols of authority. For example, judges wear black robes. Judges don’t wear black robes because they all just happen to think robes look “cool,” or even because it’s a rule. Judges are required to wear robes because they themselves represent something other than themselves. They are not supposed to give their own opinions from the bench, but rather they speak the law. Because they don’t speak their own words by their own authority, but rather they speak by the authority of others, they don’t wear their own clothes. Therefore, black robes are part of the culture of law.

    The law condemns. If the judge is correctly preaching the law, people aren’t going to want to be there. Courts exist out of the necessity of sin. They aren’t there for entertainment (even though our culture of entertainment is trying to turn everything into an entertainment, even the courts). Some people go to court, not because they want to, but rather because they have been convicted. Pastors are not supposed to convict people physically, but they are supposed to convict people spiritually. We want people to come to church because they have been convicted, not because they are expecting an entertaining show. Only the convict can receive mercy.

    Real gang members go in front of judges all the time, and they pay attention. Why? Not because the judge is trying to entertain them or because he is wearing a Hawaiian shirt, but rather because the gang members have been convicted by the law, and they understand the value of paying attention. That young man P.C. cited wasn’t paying attention in church because the pastor was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, but rather he was paying attention because the Law convicted him in his heart, and he saw his need for a Savior.

    Finally, the Law kills and the Gospel raises to life. Therefore, it is impossible to make the pure Law or the pure Gospel more palatable or more acceptable to unbelievers. Period.

    You say that Paul and Jesus did this & that to save people, but Jesus said:

    To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

    ‘We played the flute for you,
    and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

    John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard …’ [Luke 7:31-34].

    The fact is that unbelievers are not going to believe just because we dance or cry or fast or eat or show movies or play drums. Those things are just phony excuses. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31). The Word of God alone saves souls. Therefore, we preach and teach rightly, not when we are trying to entertain or amuse or placate, but rather when we preach and teach with the authority of the Word. (Mark 2:9-11).

  6. There is quite a bit that could be said here, but I will limit myself to three short observations.

    [1] The gospel will offend some. Ask Jesus (cf. John 6). Ask any confessional pastor as he beats his head against the constant onslaught of postmodernity’s subjective smorgasbord. An attempt to reduce the offense of the gospel is, as Schroeder said, likely going to change the message in the process. Serving the culture is not the same thing as becoming the culture.

    [2] I’m not quite sure why one would want to connect the tattoo-clad visitor in church with the pastor’s Hawaiian shirt. Quite a few of the new members of the congregation I serve, who have joined during my eight years of service here, have their own tattoos. And some of those folks are the ones who most love the ritual and vestments and ceremony of liturgical worship. Our culture-transcending liturgical service did not repel them one bit.

    [3] I have become quite wary of the oft-heard expression, “The message cannot change, but the presentation (or some other item) must change in order to reach the lost.” This sounds like “gospel plus” to me. If the gospel message itself is thought to be insufficient to win the lost, then the assumed insufficiency reveals a failure to trust the means of grace and a lack of understanding the doctrine of election. Being faithful with our evangelistic witness is one thing; presuming that we can enhance the evangel is another.

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