The WELS Northern Wisconsin District Convention will be held in Appleton, WI at Fox Valley Lutheran High School from June 13-15, 2010 A.D. The District President (equivalent to a Bishop) will be chosen at this convention, as will the District Presidium and numerous Circuit Pastors. It is imperative that the Northern Wisconsin District choose its leaders wisely.
The Northern Wisconsin District needs leaders who will pay more than lip service to the means of grace, and who will promote and use the means of grace to change hearts. The means of grace is the gospel in word and sacrament, and the first means of grace is God’s Word.
There are serious theological divisions in the Northern Wisconsin District, and there needs to be some serious theological discussion of God’s word to deal with these divisions. From my perspective, there are at least four specific and serious doctrinal problems in the WELS Northern Wisconsin District:
The first problem is exceptionalism. This is the belief that the WELS cannot be wrong. It is a numbness that causes us to ignore the symptoms of unhealthy doctrine and practice. Those who hold to this false and unhealthy belief sometimes express contempt toward those who raise concerns about doctrine and practice in the WELS. Their opinion is: “How dare you question your WELS pastor!”
However, Paul warns us that even among the leaders of the church
men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
— Acts 20:30-31.
Does this warning not apply to the WELS? If such stringent warnings were necessary in an age of living Apostles, then how much more do these warnings apply to us today?
The second problem is a lack of trust in the means of grace (Word and sacraments). This is the belief that from our perspective, God needs our services in order to grow the church. It is also a denial of God’s promises and omnipotence. One example of this false doctrine can be found in the WELS produced songbook, Let All the People Praise You. The first verse of the song “Ready Lord” states: “… show me Lord, the service you will need.” I cannot count how many times my own congregation has sung that verse.
However, Paul says that God
is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
— Acts 17:25.
The problem here is not an inadvertent error. The problem is a persistent adherence to an error even after the error has been pointed out. Those who claim to believe God’s Word should repent of saying that God needs our services, and cease this blasphemy against the Almighty. God says: “If I were hungry, I would not tell you.” (Psalm 50:12).
The third problem is a belief in post-conversion works-righteousness/decision theology. This is the belief that Christians (after conversion) can not only choose to listen to God’s Word, but can also choose to understand and believe God’s Word. This also encompasses the idea that once God has “saved” us, it is now up to us to keep ourselves in the faith. This theology causes at least four problems: First, sermons to Christians become motivational speeches instead of proclamations of the life-giving Word of God. Second, it creates two “gospels,” one for believers and one for unbelievers. Third, it causes us to view God’s Word as a tool we use to improve ourselves, instead of as a life-line that we cling to in desperation and faith. And fourth, it causes people to base their faith and salvation on their daily choices instead of on the firm promise of God.
In contradistinction to the belief that Christians can choose to believe God’s Word, Paul told the early believers:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead … For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this [faith & grace is] not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
— Ephesians 1:17-20, 2:8.
God’s Word alone creates faith, and causes it to grow.
The fourth problem is a variation of unionism. Unionism is the belief that doctrine is not that important. This unhealthy belief reveals itself in the form of a church council president who tells WELS members that if they have doctrinal disagreements with their pastor, then they should be quiet, or join another WELS congregation. Those who hold to this unhealthy belief view doctrinal discussions as divisive and a waste of time. However, the biblical solution is to discuss and study God’s Word until the issues are resolved.
For example, in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke wrote that
the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Also, in the Revelation Jesus said,
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked…
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.
— 3:15-17, 19.
Most of the above listed unhealthy doctrines are not proclaimed proudly from the rooftops for all to see, but rather they are hidden and are mostly revealed by poor practices which are the primary symptoms of unhealthy doctrine. Beliefs always affect what we do. (James 2:18).
No doctor merely looks at a patient and says, “Well, I can see that you have cancer.” Rather he looks at symptoms, and probes, and seeks to discover the true sickness, and then he applies the cure. The cure is the proclamation of the pure clear Word of God. When will the shepherds apply the cure? (Ezekiel 34:1-6). Unfortunately, some of the shepherds and over-shepherds are sick, and they resent the cure.
It is vitally important that the Northern Wisconsin District choose its leaders wisely. The leaders of the districts are called to apply the Word of God. This is their job. This is their calling. The Northern Wisconsin District needs leadership that, instead of squelching discussion and quashing dissent, will commit itself to promoting open discussion and the study of God’s word.
God’s Word is not a tool we use to make ourselves better, but rather it is a life-line that we must cling to in desperation and faith. Therefore, dear delegates to the WELS district conventions, please pray and vote wisely. We need, we need the clear pure truth of God’s Word!