So Many Denominations, but THIS Is Why I’m WELS Lutheran…

Modest Hits Tour

Modest Hit #2 So Many Denominations, But THIS is Why I'm WELS Lutheran...
(Originally published on November 29, 2012)

blog - Wesleyan QuadrilateralSeveral years back, the United Methodist Church launched a multimillion dollar advertising campaign, targeting young Americans, with the slogan “Open Minds. Open Hearts. Open Doors.”  I was reminded of this as my wife mentioned to me she heard a UMC promotional ad run while listening to Spotify Radio the other day.  If you don’t know, Spotify is a music listening tool aimed primarily at young Facebook users – precisely the demographic the UMC is now attempting to reach.

The Methodist Church has dropped approximately 3 million members in the past 40 years or so (from 11 to 8 million members).  Thus, the massive advertising efforts.

Some would look at the “Open Minds. Open Hearts. Open Doors.” motto and suggest that it’s a beautiful depiction of God’s unconditional and inviting love.  They would even point to various national awards the slogan has won as validation that it is a good tagline.  Others, cynics, might say that this motto was simply abbreviated from the longer slogan which included “Open Closets, Open Biblical Interpretation, and Open to Multiple Pathways to Salvation.”

To be fair, in official documentation, in their Book of Discipline, the UMC has repeatedly reaffirmed “homosexual practice” to be “incompatible with Christian teaching” consistently since 1972.  But in practice, the UMC has more often than not simply tried to avoid such taboo cultural questions.  And when official votes have been taken on such issues, the results have been, by no means, overwhelming.

Having now read a number of documents and blogs by Methodist members, it’s clear to me that those within the Methodist Church perceive it, to a degree, as a church without an identity, a body that doesn’t know what it stands for anymore.  This is all a little strange to me since I personally feel that one of the main reasons why I’m a pastor in the church body that I’m in today is because of the brilliant teaching of the man often credited as the theological father of the Methodist Church – John Wesley.

So how did studying John Wesley affirm my Confessional Lutheran beliefs?  In my second year of systematic theology at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Prof. Rich Gurgel exposed me to something called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  Fortunately for me, as I’d taken no math courses since high school, this quadrilateral had nothing to do with geometry, but theology.  The term “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” was actually coined by Albert Outler, but was based on Wesley’s teaching.

In simple terms, John Wesley stated that the reason why we all arrive at the theological conclusions that we do is based on what we emphasize as authoritative while we’re forming our doctrinal beliefs.  There are four pillars that every Christian (and Christian denomination) use to filter their beliefs – 1) the Bible, 2) Tradition/Church History, 3) Reason, and 4) Personal Experience.  Every single Christian church or church body emphasizes these to differing degrees when they establish their beliefs.  This understanding of biblical interpretation is THE reason why you see so many different denominations out there.

I learned this Wesleyan Quadrilateral thing at about the same time that I’d started dating a girl named Adrian (now my wife) who’d had an Assembly of God background, furthering my curiosity about other denominations.  When I figured out that you could use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to graph churches and what they emphasize in doctrine relative to other churches, I did.  I started looking very carefully at different denominations’ theological backgrounds and confessions of faith and charted them.

Let me give you a brief glance at what I’m talking about, with some explanation.  Now bear in mind, EVERY Christian denomination, by definition of them being Christian, is going to use the Bible.  Therefore, it is not sufficient to say that “we use the Bible to form our beliefs.”  Don’t be fooled when people say that.  The question is whether or not any additional factors strongly influence your doctrine.

The Roman Catholic Church certainly accepts the Bible as the inspired Word of God.  Nonetheless, church leadership is perceived to have the right to repeatedly reinterpret what Scripture says.  The Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility would suggest that church leadership has the same weight and authority as the Bible itself does.  The problem with that, of course, is that everyone, including the RCC would freely admit that humans are flawed and sinful, and therefore even humans in important and influential positions can and do make mistakes.  The RCC has openly acknowledged mistakes in church history by church leadership (e.g. Sale of indulgences; Spanish Inquisition).  If you truly believe that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, but that humans make mistakes, wouldn’t that naturally suggest that it is a dangerous position to take in suggesting that the pope holds the same type of authority that the Bible itself does?  For the two to be on equal levels of authority, then the pope must be perfect (which he is not) or the Bible must be imperfect (which it attests it is not – 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).  Since all humans, even church leaders past and present, are flawed, they must necessarily be weighted less in the formation of doctrine in order for us to have a correct biblical interpretation.

While I’m certainly speaking in general terms here, churches that strongly emphasize the spiritual gifts of individuals often have a tendency to overemphasize individuals at the expense of the individual (Jesus).  They additionally tend to come out of an Arminian theological background which places a great deal of importance on free will and personal decisions.  Most Arminians will be able to tell you the date on which “I made my decision for Jesus”, a teaching that would fly in the face of what the Apostle Paul says about us all being spiritually dead by nature (Eph. 2:1-10).  Charismatics value feeling the power of Christ in your life.  But the reality is that we all know our feelings have led us down dangerous paths before, and therefore, we cannot trust them wholeheartedly.  Some days I might feel like the greatest Christian on the planet.  Other days I might feel like the worst heathen there is.  But my perception of self counts little towards my eternal welfare.  In other words, my status before God is not ultimately based upon what I feel.  It’s based upon God’s verdict of me through Jesus (Rom. 8:1).  Since feelings are part of the flawed and fallen human state, they must necessarily be weighted less in the formation of doctrine in order for us to have a correct biblical interpretation.

Reformed churches generally practice the theology of John Calvin, one of the major players in the Protestant Reformation.  Calvin was originally trained as a humanist lawyer and his humanist leanings are often reflected in his theology.  For instance, Calvin believed that the thing which separates us humans from animals, aside from our souls, is our intellect, our rational capacity.  Therefore, he also tended to believe that God would not present anything in the Bible that was beyond the realm of man’s logic.  This led Calvin to such teachings as his famous “Double Predestination” – the idea that God predetermined the eternal destiny of every human being, choosing some to eternal life through Christ, and others to everlasting punishment for their sin.  The troublesome implication here is that this understanding of God’s foreknowledge turns God into an ogre who capriciously and arbitrarily sentences some to heaven and some to hell.  The even bigger problem is that while double predestination sounds somewhat logical (since the Bible does certainly speak of predestination – Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:5; 1 Peter 1:1-2), it is NOT biblical.  You will find no part of the Bible that talks about God foreordaining anyone to go to hell.  In fact, you’ll find the opposite, that God wants all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).  This is clear evidence that Reformed theology relies too heavily upon reason in the formation of doctrine.  Since reason is part of the flawed and fallen human state, it must necessarily be weighted less in the formation of doctrine in order for us to have a correct biblical interpretation.

I won’t spend too much time here, but Mainline Protestant denominations have been bleeding a slow death in membership for many years now, in part, because they don’t know what they stand for anymore.  When you compromise the Bible as even one of your true authorities, you lose yourself as a church.  As liberal theology crept into Mainline Protestantism in the 20th century, teachings like the Creation Account, the Global Flood, Predictive Prophecy, and really anything of a miraculous nature, including belief in Jesus’ actual physical resurrection, was lost almost entirely in many churches.

As I mentioned earlier, the irony behind this for Methodists is that they still promote the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  See for yourself.  The dilemma, however, is that Wesley himself was not suggesting that all four pillars (Bible, Tradition, Reason, Experience) should contribute equally to your formation of doctrine, only that they do contribute to every church’s doctrine.  The more Methodist literature you read today though, the more you get the impression that, as with many Mainline Protestant churches, all four of these pillars contribute rather equally to what they believe.

This is why I’m WELS Lutheran.  The church I belong to and pastor in learns from the faith of the saints who have gone before us (Heb. 13:7), but also recognizes that these leaders were great not because of their perfect faithfulness, but because of their profession of Christ’s faithfulness.  Therefore, traditions, customs, and rituals developed by leaders of previous generations, while helpful, are not mandated by God nor should they be elevated to the status and authority of God’s Word.  Additionally, the church I belong to and pastor in values reason as a blessing from God for applying his Word to our lives (James 1:22) and for subduing his creation (Gen. 1:28), but also recognizes that it would be inappropriate to subjugate the Bible to flawed human reason, especially since there are undeniably “hidden” components of God’s Holy Will (Isaiah 45:15).  And finally, the church I belong to and pastor in values personal experience.  We regularly encourage Christians to tell of the great things that God has done for us (Deut. 3:24) and to use the resources the gospel gives us for humility and confidence and perspective and optimism (Rom. 8:28).  But my church also recognizes that a sinner, even a believing one, living in a sinful world, is going to experience highs and lows and that whether I feel God in my life or not, I can know he’s there (Matt. 28:20).

As I was studying to become a pastor, I became very sensitive to this question: Was I becoming a Confessional Lutheran minister simply because this is the faith I was raised in and spoon fed?  Was this merely the path of least resistance?  Through comparative denominational study, I became convinced that what I have here in this particular church body is a very unique, very healthy approach to biblical interpretation.  It’s an approach that acknowledges both the inerrancy of the Bible and the potential pitfalls of Church Tradition, Human Reason, and Personal Experience, and thereby identifies the Bible as the clear and supreme authority by which we formulate our beliefs.  I’m certainly not suggesting that this would be the only church body in which you’d find true believers; wherever the gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is working and winning hearts (Rom. 10:17).  But if God is known most decidedly through his inspired Word, then it only makes sense that I’d want to be in a church that had the safest, healthiest approach to interpreting that Word.

People choose the church they belong to for a variety of reasons – family background, friendship ties, a specific ministry, style of worship, appeal of a pastor, proximity to the church, etc.  But if “church” is the design of God to help bring believers closer to him and to one another (Eph. 2:19-22), it seems fairly obvious that the main reason for choosing the church that we do would be sound Biblical teaching – the thing that the Bible itself says is the way to know Jesus (John 5:39), and therefore know salvation (2 Tim. 3:15).

In all honesty, if I was selecting a church simply based on external preferences, I don’t know that I’d choose the WELS.  I’m not positive that the general worship style resonates with me.  I don’t know that the general church programs best connect with either the talents or needs of the average person in the 21st century.  I don’t know that the general church governance and administration that is used is the most efficient way to organize hundreds or thousands of God’s people.  But I’m a very big fan of our approach to biblical interpretation.  In other words, I drive this car not for its style, nor for its comfort, nor for its efficiency, but primarily for its safety features (i.e. correct understanding of the Means of Grace – the gospel in Word and Sacraments).

Some might say that my assessment of other denominations or of my own church body is unfair and exaggerated.  That’s fine.  I’d simply encourage you to investigate for yourselves.  Try not to be too anecdotal in your research – e.g. “I knew a Baptist once who…..”  Rather, try to look at the documented teachings of the church bodies themselves, perhaps through their own official websites.

Let me know if you come to the same conclusion that I do.

 

ONE FINAL NOTE: In a society that I’m convinced is now officially post-Christian, I generally try not to come across as overly denominational, simply Christian.  It becomes very confusing for those 75% or so of people not regularly attending church when you start pitting one church body against another.  That said, there are occasions when it’s a worthwhile exercise to clarify the fundamentals of what it means to be a Christian (the example pointed to in the above post being the acceptance of the Bible as ultimately authoritative).

 

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18 thoughts on “So Many Denominations, but THIS Is Why I’m WELS Lutheran…

  1. Mary says:

    ” I drive this car not for its style, nor for its comfort, nor for its efficiency, but primarily for its safety features “…..well said!

  2. “As I was studying to become a pastor, I became very sensitive to this question: Was I becoming a Confessional Lutheran minister simply because this is the faith I was raised in and spoon fed? Was this merely the path of least resistance?” Wow, does this ever resonate! I remember all sorts of personal wrestlings in high school especially. How did I know my religion was the only right one? How did I know my denomination was the best one within that religion? I had to settle on “Why Christianity?” first before I settled on “Why WELS?”

    For the answer to “Why Christianity?” I eventually found peace in two facts: 1) It is the only historical religion. (All other religions fall apart the more seriously and studiously you dig into their history. Christianity is the opposite, as also others much more serious and studious than I have found out – e.g. C. S. Lewis, Thomas Arnold, etc.) 2) Christianity is the only religion of its kind. (All other religions are man-centered and thus promote uncertainty about the afterlife. Christianity is the only religion that is God-in-Christ-centered and thus promotes absolute certainty about the afterlife and gives maximum and complete glory to God. In other words, it’s the only religion mankind could not have and would never have come up with on its own.)

    Once I settled on that, then the answer to the second question, “Why WELS?” was much easier. As you show in this article, the WELS, at present, is the most faithful to the Scriptures, and thus brings out most fully the “Why Christianity?” reasons above. Because when you are faithful to the Scriptures, even when they really rub your old Adam the wrong way, you will never be fighting against history and you will always have maximum certainty of heaven. The more you water down the Scriptures, the more you consequently lose the beauty of Christianity and dissolve its precious crystals into the muddy waters of all the other religions…and the less you glorify God, which is the ultimate goal of religion and of human life.

    So I will be a WELS man as long as, and only as long as, they remain faithful to the Scriptures.

    I also love how this article assumes that the Scriptures are clear. Anyone who says, “Well, that’s just your interpretation of the Scriptures,” is treating God as someone who really doesn’t care too much whether we are saved or know the truth. Do the Scriptures have difficult-to-understand parts? Sure. (But even those are due to our sinfulness and its effects, not to some handicap in writing that God has.) Is their overall message confusing? Not at all. God invented language; he knows how to use it better than any human; and he desires our salvation. So read it in earnest, and he will reveal to you the clear truth they teach.

    • Thanks for the thoughts, Pastor Biebert!

      Completely agree with order of thoughts – Why Christianity? first, then Why WELS? next. In fact, I might even suggest one more half step first, that being – Resurrection? As the Apostle Paul makes so clear in 1 Cor. 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” If Jesus did not come back to life, I have no business wasting my time with any of it, because he cannot help me overcome my biggest enemy. Conversely, if he did rise from the grave, the only appropriate response is for me to drop everything and follow him. At that point, if the resurrection is true, then my capacity to grasp his teaching is of minimal significance, because he’s clearly God.

      My point is…..you’re absolutely correct. When processing truths of Christianity, it’s important to do first things first. And for someone attempting to decipher between denominations, it’s wise to go back reminding yourself what is the basis of your Christianity to begin with. That will guide the denomination choosing process.

  3. Your statement that Mainline Protestant churches are “bleeding a slow death” is incorrect. The Latest Census Of U.S. Congregations is pretty clear that next to the Mormon church, this is the largest segment of growth for US congregations. This is partly because there are just so many of them. An independent church can spring up anywhere to fit any need. But it is also because more and more people are searching out an individual relationship with God. The idea that the bible means the same thing to each person is absurd. We all bring different life experiences and view points to our interpretation of scripture. The appeal of a non-denominational church is that they acknowledge this as a good thing. As long as the congregants believe the church’s core beliefs, they are open to believe freely. They are open to examine scripture in numerous ways, not to bend the Bible to fit their own sinful nature but to use their personal experiences in life to create a very personal and individual relationship with God.

    I have found that the WELS church takes pride in everyone believing the same thing where as these fast growing non-denominational churches emphasize a person’s individual walk with Christ. This is why these churches are having success and growing as quickly as they are.

    • #1 Practically, I have NO IDEA what research you’re looking at. Consider the following…

      http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html

      “Another study published in 2005 in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler — known for their scholarly research on the Church…Most of the mainline denominations were all reporting a net loss over the past 30 years.”

      Also…http://religioninsights.org/articles/latest-census-us-congregations

      Yes, Mormonism has been on the rise, and nondenoms and non-churched are the growing percentages in our country as well. Mainlines are NOT in there.

      #2 Theologically, I don’t understand this statement you made…

      “The idea that the bible means the same thing to each person is absurd. We all bring different life experiences and view points to our interpretation of scripture.”

      The second sentence is your basis for the first sentence. The second sentence, that each individual brings personal experience and bias to their interpretation of Scripture is true and can be proved. It doesn’t logically lead to your conclusion in the first sentence – the idea that “the Bible meaning the same thing to each person is ABSURD.” Why would that be absurd? Who are you to suggest that’s absurd? The Bible very clearly says the main problem with mankind is sin. The main solution to that problem is Jesus, God’s Son sent to be our Savior. That is the fundamental problem and solution for EVERY human being – the united human race. Please tell me both 1) why that’s absurd? and 2) on what basis you personally have the authority to make the claim that it’s absurd?

      If your overall point is that you believe WELS churches don’t do as much as they could to recognize the individuality of each unique human, I’m right there with you. WELS churches (and probably most denominations almost by definition) have a tendency to champion conformity ahead of creativity, even to a fault at times. I hope and pray that we can get to a point that we value more someone who is different from us. But please don’t draw a bad theological point from a true observation.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Pastor Hein,

    I have been a WELS member my whole life and will be until the day I die as long as our church body stays faithful. Can you comment on how your graphs might reflect the formation of doctrine in conservative Lutheran church bodies, particularly the WELS and the ELS, when considering the Reformation and the Lutheran Confessions? While I agree that the WELS and ELS hold true to the Bible, I have become increasingly frustrated with the elevation of the Reformation and the Lutheran Confessions to a level that seems almost equal to the Bible among certain groups within our two church bodies. I hear Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions quoted more than Jesus Christ and the Bible in many sermons, and it concerns me. I have read the paper “Legalism Among Us”, prepared by Pastor Daniel Rautenberg, and the paper seems to hit it on the head. I would like to hear your thoughts, though. This post may be too scattered or too general, but perhaps you will be able to gather what I’m trying to say.

    • Anonymous,
      I can appreciate your frustration. I haven’t read the specific article you mentioned, but know it refers to the work of J.P. Koehler, who is considered the pioneer of “The Wauwatosa Theology”, the basis of the WELS approach to doctrinal formation. In a nutshell, it’s the idea that Lutherans wouldn’t proof-text passages of Scripture that they believe support the Lutheran Confession beliefs they’ve already pledged allegiance to, but rather that each generation of believers would for themselves mine Scripture and come to accurate conclusions. In other words, we put the horse before the cart – the Bible is preeminent, and the Lutheran Confessions are understood as a good explanation of the Bible.

      So, I think your question is, do I think some Lutherans, at the very least, insinuate that the Lutheran Confessions and Luther himself are primary authority, Sola Luthera rather than Sola Scriptura, so to speak? Yes. Is that a problem? Yes. Is it ironic and illogical? Also Yes – I’m no Luther biographer, but from what I gather, he would be appalled to think that pastors would esteem his comments more than those of Scripture himself. Now, I don’t know that many pastors would admit that – that they rely more heavily on the Lutheran Confessions than Scripture – rather, I think they’re simply unaware of the insinuation they’re giving. I think there’s probably a brand of Lutheran self-righteousness that forms a pecking order seeking to be “the MOST LUTHERAN Lutheran.” Again, I’d assume this would make the actual Luther sick to his stomach. But, self-righteousness, which we’re all guilty of to some degree, blinds us to our own faults. I’d warn, then simply avoid anyone who seems to have that imbalanced approach to theology.

      Fortunately, I don’t think this segment of Lutheranism outweighs the majority of Confessional Lutherans who do cherish the Sola Scriptura principle. If it does in your specific church, I’d encourage you to speak to your leadership about it. If you truly believe in your heart and by guidance of your conscience that your church has lost this principle, there are fortunately other Confessional Lutheran churches available.

      BTW, here’s an article on the topic you brought up – Legalism Among Us, that I’ve found helpful – http://www.wlsessays.net/files/SellnowKoehler.pdf

  5. Mark says:

    Pastor Hein,

    I very much appreciate your thoughtful and well written article. As a pastor in the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) I share many of the same sentiments you expressed. Our small church body is doctrinally very close the WELS. I wonder if you have any knowledge of the CLC and our differences from the WELS? Also, what are your thoughts on Thrivent membership? Thrivent, especially given its recent trends, would seem to at odds with the WELS confession of God’s Word. Thanks for taking the time, may God bless your ministry of His Gospel!

    • Thanks for reading and for your support, Mark!

      I’m only recently fairly familiar with the CLC and understand how close we are doctrinally. I’m not an expert on the history, but I know in part the triangle history of the CLC, WELS, LCMS, all of which pre-dates my time on this planet 🙂

      As for Thrivent membership, I know that both the WELS and LCMS have been in correspondence with Thrivent regarding the Choice Dollars and matching funds that were being given to pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood. My understanding is that Thrivent has backed out of giving to non-profits on both sides of the debate – pro-choice and pro-life organizations – and that they’re still reviewing their policies on the issue.

      I know many WELS members who participate and many who don’t. I haven’t yet heard an argument so compelling that to where I think people are conscience-bound. I think our default always has to be – educate ourselves as best we can on Scriptural principles and let individuals, guided by conscience and Spirit, make decisions where we don’t have Scriptural mandate.

      As a larger issue, financially supporting organizations that we don’t always theologically agree with is probably something of a necessity for Christians. When Solomon was building a Temple for the Lord, he ordered that “cedars of Lebanon be cut” (I Kings 5:6). He contracted a non-Israelite entity to provide cedar for Israel’s Temple. In other words, he chose cedar not because it was Israelite cedar, but because God deserved “THE BEST” and the best cedar was in Lebanon. My point is, I have very little understanding of what every corporation does with the dollars I give it. If I was bound to purchase clothing and food from only Confessional Lutherans, I might be naked and starving. So…my first recommendation for someone looking to invest their money would be – find someone you trust to wisely invest your money.

      • Dear Pastor Hein,

        Thanks for taking the time to reply. I appreciate your response and enjoyed reading your thoughts on Thrivent. It’s good to see it from another’s perspective. I agree that when it comes to organizations of the world, it’s an impossible task to track where your dollar goes and what it supports. It’s also encouraging to know that Thrivent has decided to review their stance on pro-choice organizations and at least for now conscientious Christians need not support something they reject in that area.

        However, I was thinking of Thrivent more from the membership angle than the financial angle. If involvement with Thrivent was merely a business transaction, I could see your point from Solomon’s temple. However, as a fraternal insurance company, one must become a member of Thrivent in order to receive investment and insurance benefits. Membership adds more to the situation, especially since each individual member of Thrivent has a vote, or stock if you will, in what the company does and what it supports. From this perspective, the example of Solomon’s temple doesn’t fit.

        In fact, I think Ezra 4:1-5 might be worth mentioning as a closer parallel to Thrivent. In this section, outsiders want to join with the Israelites in re-building the temple. They viewed the activity as one of joint confession or what we today would probably call fellowship. Essentially, these outsiders (most likely Samaritans), wanted to unite spiritually with the Israelites, even though the Samaritans mixed pagan worship with their worship of the true God (2 Kings 17:24-33). While we’re not given the specific reason why Zerubbabel refused to allow these outsiders to help, it seems more than likely because of the expression of religious unity that would have been involved, and certainly which would not have been proper.

        Members of Thrivent may not directly support unscriptural causes, but through their membership they are responsible for them. No one can deny that Thrivent supports other Lutheran churches who promote teachings contrary to the Word. In addition to this, Thrivent no longer limits their membership to Lutheran churches, they have recently opened up to the wider Christian audience. This was confirmed for my by our local Thrivent spokesman, who clearly stated that my membership in Thrivent would support the ministries of Roman Catholicism, Reformed, ELCA, and others. His view was that Thrivent was doing more good than harm. It’s certainly hard to argue with that since Thrivent has helped many churches spread and teach God’s Word. But, I don’t think God sees it the same way. Thrivent is not the only way to promote the truth. And God calls for Christians to turn away from error and inconsistent confessions of the truth when they see them (Eph 5:11, 1 Cor. 1:10, 1 John 1:6-7. 1 John 4:1).

        Back when Thrivent (or at that time AAL) began, they only offered membership to those within the Synodical Conference, essentially those who were in fellowship together. We know very well, especially given your excellent blog post, that the unity that once existed in the Synodical Conference no longer does. This makes membership in Thrivent a tricky subject, since it is both a business and faith-based organization.

        One final point, when speaking about Christian fellowship I like to remember the basic meaning of the Greek word as it’s used in the NT. One of the simple definitions for “fellowship” is “sharing.” That seems to fit very well with how membership with Thrivent operates. Whether intended or not, one cannot help that his or her membership and support of Thrivent is shared among churches of various denominations. It seems clear to me that this would be an example of Christian fellowship, and one that as you say, would bind the consciences of Christians. Again, I appreciate your thorough and relevant review of Christian churches in this post. From what you write it certainly doesn’t seem that you support these churches or that you would fellowship with them. I happen to see Thrivent as one of many fellowship activities, but I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from others as well. I look forward to reading more excellent articles from your blog.

        Again, thanks for reading, I would also appreciate your continued thoughts! Maybe it’d be better to meet sometime in person! I would like to know what your knowledge and experiences with the CLC are, God bless!

  6. Mary E Nessler says:

    I have been Lutheran my whole life. MSL WELS back to MSL. Moved on other side of town. Prayed about it and God guided me to different churches in area. I heard what He wanted almost every time. I now attend Clair Mel Assembly of God for about a month over 4 year.s. I have grown in my faith more than while attending Lutheran churches. My beliefs are based on teachings if Martin Luther whom I know spoke with the Holy Spirit’s and God’s guidance. We studied the fundamentals of their faith. They are very close to how I was raised. They delve deep into God’s Word and won’t water it down. Ive seen like at my mom’s funeral how narrow minded Lutherans can be no offense. I have more faith and joy now than before and I know I’m older but God has guided me along the way. He repłaced worldly people with believers. Though at a time when my non-Christian ex husbands dad was very ill A couple of “Christians” told me to walk away from him. He had asked for prayer for his dad. We are still friends talk occasionally.
    He’s never judged me though when going through something laughed about God I didn’t talk to him a while. I understood he was stressed and not himself. Back to the topic, I feel sad for Lutherans as they don’t get deep in God’s Word that I know of. I was raised in a WELS grade school never taught to have a personal relationship with Jesus, nor at Mich Luth Seminary attended 2 1/2 years. Actually my ex treated me better that most Believers I know and cared more about others. Sad! Wish he’d get to heaven though doubt he’ll change. We can only interpret Bible through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Also am learning about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit which us very Biblical. Wonder why others don’t teach it. That’s all I want to say God Bless

    • Chris says:

      Very interesting. I am also a lifelong Lutheran about to join a WELS parish. IMHO
      Pentecostal Christians have a way of reading Scripture that is sometimes based more on emotion than the Holy Spirit’s guidance through the Word. I would guess that Luther would have considered it a form of “enthusiasm”. The high view of Scripture, Baptism and Holy Communion that Confessional Lutherans embrace make for a very personal relationship with Jesus indeed.

  7. Nonymo says:

    Hi Pastor Hein,

    My compliments on your article, which is very well argumented and rather convincing. I was raised Lutheran and also wrestled with the issue of spoonfeeding you referred to. For a long time I accepted the Bible as the moral authority for my life, but came to realize that that there were problems with that view. I was unable to find a satisfactory argument for the existence of God. It seemed more probable to me that the concept of God is a social construct that evolved and came to be accepted in certain cultural areas, which mainly due to socio-economic phenomena if not pure greed and arrogance, managed to extend themselves and flourish in all the forms of Christianity we observe today.

    Recognizing that there is no compelling argument for the real existence of God, the task of a contemplative individual must be to continue gathering knowledge about the world with which we are faced and create our own meaning for life – which can at times be a very daunting task. It is understandable that some prefer to settle for a text composed in the bronze and iron ages of human development, which at times through its raw violence can vicariously satisfy our natural lust for power, while at other times offer us the security that we otherwise receive only from our mothers with the comforting words “There there, everything’s going to be okay”.

    From a technical aspect, it would be nice to have values assigned to the vertical axes of your charts, even if they are meant only as a qualitative description of the parties concerned. I would suggest converting the absolute values into percentages relative to the totals before generating the charts.

    Returning to my compliments: taking the moral authority of the Bible as a given, this article is very well structured and well reasoned. I would also be a confessional Lutheran if I were you, and would hold a comparatively low view of the other groups. The consistency and discipline with which you rely on the Bible is nothing but admirable.

    May the supreme being which we tentatively agree exists grant you happiness, success and enjoyment in your ongoing efforts!

  8. Jason says:

    I stumbled across this blog post searching for articles of why someone may or may not be leaving the WELS Lutheran Church. It is very interesting. I was even more interested when I saw that the Pastor’s wife is from an AoG background! I grew up AoG, but in my late 20’s and early 30’s God put me on a path that has me where I am today. My family and I currently attend a “Church of the Lutheran Brethren” (CLB) church. We have as of late been considering leaving due to the direction the church has been taking over the last few years. The church a few years back created an uber-contemporary service in order to engage the younger population and of course it has been successful (but not necessarily fruitful) The service reminds me of my younger days at an AoG service with lots of lights, sounds, and top 5 “worship” songs of the week. It does a great job of attracting and invoking emotion, but does little in providing meat in the form of the Word. i feel that because of the way current leadership is trending….they may want to direct the entire church in that direction. There is a WELS church directly across the street we are considering attending, but I keep getting stuck on a few things. We attended about 3-4 sundays months ago and I frequently heard the pastor say that he has forgiven the sins of the congregation. How is that possible. Man does not have the power to forgive sins, but only God. 2nd, though I understand the benefits of a liturgical service, why do the pastors wear robes and why are there many other attributes about the service that seem Catholic in nature?
    Doesn’t doing the same thing every week in a service lend itself to a congregation that just checks out?
    I’d be happy to talk more about these questions off the blog too. Thanks!

  9. Hi Pastor. Thank you for an interesting article. I am curious about this method being used to understand where orthodox Christians fall into place? There were many more apostles other than Peter who went into the world and preached the good news! Those people who follow the orthodox church teachings also think of their church being the original church and deeply steeped in tradition and experience. So thankful for the WELS!

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