A Tale of Two High Schools, er, um”¦ of Two Synods? By Jonathan Townsend

Ok, here is where I get into big trouble…


In the 1970’s a Lutheran Synod that bears the name of a Midwestern state, that has a unit concept of fellowship and teaches that the pastoral office is only one form of the divinely instituted public ministry, opened a high school in a western suburb of Detroit. There was great pride and happiness that God had blessed the families of the local congregations of this Synod with a Lutheran high school where they could send their children.


At the same time there was another Lutheran high school about 10 miles away within the city of Detroit. This high school was started by another Lutheran Synod, which sees the congregation as “Church” as opposed to the Synod being “Church” and should view the pastoral office as the only divinely instituted form of public ministry – and also bears the name of a Midwestern state. The school was older and was started, if not before, around the time that the two Synods mentioned here broke fellowship with one another. It had a storied and proud history.


In the 1980’s white flight gripped Detroit and the Lutheran high school within its borders on the west side began losing students at an alarming rate. An opportunity came up for the association that ran the high school to purchase land and a building for a new high school outside of the city – and here comes the irony – about 500 feet away from the high school of the other Synod.


Now I am no stranger to Christian high schools existing side by side. I went to a Lutheran high school on the east side of the city and next to it was a Catholic girls school bearing the Latin name for the Queen of Heaven and next to it was a Catholic boys school bearing the French name for Our Lady. All of them are gone from that location now, but 20 years ago there was a waiting list to get in.


Occasionally I turn down the side street where the two Lutheran high schools are and I shake my head. Some might believe that these two schools confess something good about the state of Lutheranism. I don’t. To me it represents a failure that happened in 1961. The seeds of higher criticism and poor fellowship practices were germinating within the LCMS and the WELS/ELS walked away from the Synodical Conference. The LCMS cleaned house several years later, but in many ways it was like a house in which chain smokers lived for 20 years. You can paint the walls, but unless you first put stain kill on them the nicotine and tar bleed through. – I don’t think the house was really totally cleaned, I think folks were still smoking; they were just cracking the window now.


While there were and are “no smoking sections” in the LCMS where one can breath the air free from the second hand smoke of higher criticism and unionism, there are still definite “smoking sections” even after the clean up efforts .WELS/ELS folks can still point to these for justification of their walkout. But one must always look out for that plank in one’s own eye and that plank is this statement from the WELS Q&A: “Wisconsin teaches that the pastor of a local congregation is only one form of the divinely instituted public ministry. Other forms are teachers, professors, called administrators, etc.” www.wels.net


So, in the LCMS you get stuff like “Yankee Stadium”. In the WELS/ELS you get a view of OHM that does not square with Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession. (For further proof that teachers et. al. do not fall under the divine call defined in Article XIV, please see Luther’s explanation of the 4th Commandment in the Large Catechism – he mentions this estate in the responsibilities attached to the 4th Commandment. Luther applies the commandment to parental fathers and “fathers” in vocations serving governmental and educational needs. He differentiates these vocations from “spiritual fathers” For those only are called spiritual fathers who govern and guide us by the Word of God; 159] as St. Paul boasts his fatherhood 1 Cor. 4:15, where he says: In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.) Church Growth has made inroads into both.


Back to high school: Within 500 feet in a western lower middle class suburb of Detroit there are 300 students in Lutheran High Schools, as in Lutheran High Schools, plural. 90 are in one. 210 are in the other. For at least one, it is not going so well financially. When my oldest is ready for high school in 8 years, I do not see it as question of “Which one should we send him to, honey?”, but rather “Will there even be a Lutheran High School to send him to?”


The time will come when Lutheran parents in this area will have to sit down and examine their doctrinal positions and find concord, or there will be no Lutheran High School for our children to attend.


In the same way, on a higher level, the same problem exists between WELS/ELS congregations and the LCMS. In time the spiritual children, the sheep, will suffer because the separation causes waste and at times just looks silly. If you are in a congregation that holds to biblical inerrancy, quia subscription to the Book of Concord, practices closed communion and hasn’t strayed from the historic liturgy – wouldn’t it make sense to sit together and figure out a way to come together on fellowship concepts, church discipline and OHM? Someone has to have the guts to sit down and work out the differences and come to an understanding for the sake of confessional Lutheranism.


The LCMS and WELS/ELS hold keys to fix one another. The WELS/ELS has the will to carry out church discipline on those they see as straying from true doctrine. In the WELS/ELS Rev. Wallace Schulz’s decision on Rev. Benke’s participation in the Yankee Stadium affair would have been upheld and carried out. Confessional congregations in the LCMS have a proper understanding of OHM that the WELS/ELS needs to embrace – namely that the divine call applies primarily to the ministry of Word and Sacrament that is carried out by the pastoral office and that other vocations within the church are auxiliary to this office..


I belong to a WELS congregation because I moved and all of the LCMS congregations nearby are definitely for those who prefer the smoke and mirrors of American Evangelicalism to Law and Gospel Preaching and weekly communion. To those in the LCMS I would give this advice as someone who had to make the decision to not go to one of the three LCMS congregations in my area. Depending on how things go in the next couple of years you have a choice to make. If the ship cannot be turned, maybe it is time to build a new ship with a fellowship that is closer to you in doctrine and practice than some of your current shipmates.


Out of three there wasn’t one that was confessional? You may ask. Sadly, no there wasn’t. The closest LCMS congregation to my home does not even publicly identify itself as Lutheran.


(Jon’s writes regularly for BJS. His posts can be seen on the Regular Columns page under the title of “I Desire Mercy and Not Satire, but a Little Satire is Good for the Soul.”)

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


A Tale of Two High Schools, er, um”¦ of Two Synods? By Jonathan Townsend — 11 Comments

  1. Jon, an excellent article. You have stated what what needs doing, the formation of a church who practices true, orthodox, Lutheran doctrine. The time is now, not later.

  2. “I don’t think the house was really totally cleaned, I think folks were still smoking; they were just cracking the window now.”

    That’s a great analogy, though not as graphic as Rev. Wallace Schulz’s description of the unionistic/syncretic debauchery pandered by the current SP and blessed by DRP toadies.

    But with problems in both synods, any LCMS/WELS discussion on doctrine will probably have to wait, at least until the synodical Ablaze(TM) has burned itself out, whether or not there are any Lutheran high schools left in Westland.

    As for the LCMS choices in your area, a congregation that claims “Our focus and vision is to reach families, and a diverse segment of people in order to reflect the true environment of Heaven” may be a member of the LCMess, but it does not appear Lutheran.

  3. The incessant encroachment of the world into the church never ends, and it is where the devil focus’ much of his attention I believe. I just created a website for an newer LCMS high school here in MN, but I don’t see the push for much in the way of Lutheranism when I was putting their website together. Most of the LCMS congregations in my local area are not what I would call confessionally focused (which is what I would dearly love to attend) but do have the divine service. Praise service raises its evangelical head once a month at our church, so things aren’t exactly perfect. Thankfully our pastor preaches the Law and Gospel every week, we have that going for us.

    How do we motivate and mobilize to move the LCMS back to a confessional focus? I hope and pray that BJS can help.

  4. I think that pastors, colleges, and seminaries in the LCMS have done an exceptionally poor job in exposing the influx of American evangelicalism to the average person in the pew.

    Where is the bibliography of CPH books which can counter Max Lucado, Frank Peretti, and Billy Graham?

    What efforts are there to keep American evangelicalism out of the Commission on Worship’s liturgies and hymnals?

    Who is distinguishing between Law and Gospel so well that American Evangelicalism is decried as impotent hypocrisy? If a pastor could preach Law and Gospel so well, people wouldn’t WANT a praise service once a month.

    News of what is going on in the NID is horrid, of course, but where is anyone doing anything but complaining or blogging about it? That’s not an accusation. I’d really like to hear what’s being DONE about it.

  5. 2 Tim. 3:5 “They will hold to an outward form of godliness but deny its power. Stay away from such people.” International Standard Version (©2008)

  6. #5 Ms. Berger

    CPH does publish materials that are great counters to Lucado, Peretti, and Graham, among others. Here is just a small sample (Let us not forget the great resource of Issues Etc… podcasted)

    Fiction contra Peretti: “A Skeleton in God’s Closet” and “More Than a Skeleton” both By Paul Maier. You could also pick up the People’s Bible Commentary on Revelation, very readable commentary series.

    Lucado is schmaltzy, so not much there but if we want to speak of the Gospel in all its power and glory: ” Just Words” by Jacob Preus

    How about against Graham?
    “Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness” by Harold Senkbeil which speaks to God’s actions and decision for us as opposed to our supposed decision for God.
    “Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today” by John Kleinig in which we learn if we pray enough, read the bible enough, and how does one live the Christian life. (Vesus Graham’s “Good Morning, Holy Spirit”)

    Speaking of the Christian life how about countering “Purpose Driven Life” stuff?
    Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action by Matthew Harrison, a tour de force on the “doing” of a living and active faith.

    Finally what about American Evangelicalism as a whole?
    First two books by Evangelical refugees: “The Defense Never Rests” by Craig Parton and “The Spirituality of the Cross” by Gene Veith Both very readable.

    And of course a good treatment on Liturgy “Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service” by Arthur Just, or for an even easier treatment “Worshipping with Angels and Archangels” by Scott Kinnaman.

    This does not include the classics: Book of Concord, “God’s Yes and No” (Walther’s Law and Gospel boiled down), and a whole host of other Books and Bible Studies.

    The difficulty is getting this in the hands of laity to read, if they read, because they NEVER appear on the Christian Book store shelf or the bestseller list. Even Pastors seem unaware of these. The resources exist, praise God for CPH, but the readers alas seem very few.

  7. Re: Ryan’s comments about getting these books into the hands of the laity…

    It is indeed a challenge to tell your folks to not set foot in your local “Christian” bookstore, especially when they are filled with faith-destroying garbage by Word-Faith authors, charlatans, and even those who deny the Trinity (e.g. T.D. Jakes)…

    But getting CPH materials into the hands of the laity can be done. It just takes someone committed to advertising these books in the congregation. I started a “book-of-the-month” club here where some of the books you mentioned have been offered. I pick the books, a member of our congregation administers the ordering and distribution.

    I admit, it makes me look like a shill for CPH, but to counter that, we’ve also offered books from Repristination Press, Northwestern, and others, as long as they are solidly Biblical and Confessional resources.

  8. If WELS and LCMS compromised and got together, it’s a nice thought that they would complement each other. But the spirit of compromise would probably lead each to influence each other for the worse. The ministry issue is just too hardened for now.
    A lot of the debate reaches an impasse with hermeneutics. How do you decide what is prescriptive and descriptive, and how do you decide when something is implied strongly enough to be considered part of the text, even when it’s not implicitly stated (e.g. great commission given to only apostles or all the church. how do you settle that?). I’ve had thoughts along the same line as you, but looking at the history of Lutheranism in this country, compromise begets compromise. Look what happened when the Tennessee Synod tried to compromise on just a few small points with North Carolina – soon it was destroyed.

  9. Aaron and Jon,

    Things may get so bleak that folks from each synod will rethink everything and find a way to come together in a common, true confession.

    Pastor Rossow

  10. Pr. Rossow:
    This is my hope and if some of us keep saying it, some people might just listen.

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