The October 2009 edition of the Northern Herald of the North Wisconsin District (NWD) includes an edition of the Parish Paper that encourages the acceptance of women pastors. This is a big problem but before we get too bonkers about this let me put the best construction on this (which is still going to be quite a wobbly house) and then offer a measured critique. You can view this faux pas by clicking here and turning to page 12 of the Northern Herald.
I am convinced that the President of the NWD does not endorse women’s ordination and my guess is that he may have a fairly conservative view of the role of women in the church. Reports that I have heard from the north woods are that he is a fairly middle of the road sort of guy theologically. My guess is that the district has subscribed to the Parish Paper and puts it into the monthly district newsletter without much thought or maybe even without even reviewing it. That is tragic for two reasons: 1) articles in the Parish Paper typically approach the church from a purely sociological position which at best does not support a law/gospel, sacramental and Christ-centered approach and at worst actually contradicts such a view and 2) sometimes the Parish Paper endorses false doctrine as is the case with this issue on women’s ordination.
The issue that I want to raise here is more global. If no one in the North Wisconsin District office is endorsing women’s ordination then that is not the issue, although any fair-minded person would admit that by default they are in some small way endorsing it by printing this issue of the Parish Paper without any warning against its heretical content. But again, that is not the issue I want to raise here. The issue I want to raise here is that this is a glaring example of what happens when the orthodox church turns to the church growth movement for advice.
I doubt that the mis-publication of this article will spark a movement towards women’s ordination up there in the conservative north woods of Wisconsin. (I would bet though that more than a few doctrinally challenged laymen turned to their spouses and said “Honey, did you see this? Maybe a woman pastor isn’t the worst thing in the world after all.”) But what worries me more is the countless bits of advice that the Parish Paper has purveyed over the years to LCMS laymen and pastors that are not as drastically heretical as women’s ordination but slowly, and almost imperceptibly have been eroding the scriptural theology of divine monergism in our churches and replacing it with the man-centered theology of the church growth movement. The Parish Paper has been distributed in my district (Northern Illinois) for years. It is amazing that our district presidents peddle this stuff and I hope that this issue on women’s ordination wakes us up to the way in which our leaders have allowed false doctrine and practice into our synod via the front door.
One of the original church growth gurus is Lyle Schaller who is also the founder of the Parish Paper. I actually know Mr. Schaller personally. He lives here in Naperville. I have met with him a couple of times. He is a very kind, unassuming gentleman. He is a layman who has looked at the church with the eye of a businessman and sociologist and is actually one of the more tame church growth analysts. He is a Methodist and so theology is not high on his hierarchy of needs and that shows up in his writing and that is precisely the reason that Lutherans ought not to be promoting his material. The church is theological at its heart and core. God’s word is the only power that we have to grow the church. When we start to think that sociology or psychology can help us grow the kingdom of God we have sacrificed the power of God to the power of man.
There may be an innocent thing or two that we can learn from guys like Lyle Schaller but if there is one thing I have learned in twenty joyful years under the yoke of Christ, it is this. One hour of extra scripture study on sermon or Bible study preparation in any given week is more profitable for the cause of Christ than 25 hours of reading church growth theory. I stopped reading guys like Schaller about 15 years ago or so and ever since, I have become far more confident preaching the straight-forward Word of God as law and gospel. I find myself being more apostolic than “missional.” Where I used to waffle on the Biblical doctrines so challenged by modern culture (role of women in the church, closed communion, worship, inter-Christian relations) like President Kieschnick does, I now find myself humbly and confidently relying on the truth of God’s word and speaking openly, clearly and without compromise on these matters.
Why are out districts promoting things like the Parish Paper? Instead of reading Lyle Schaller, Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, we ought to be reading John Kleinig, Kurt Marquart, Klemet Preus, Martin Chemnitz and Luther. I pray this glaring example of accidental promotion of false doctrine in our synod may move us away from the omnipresent pop culture church and towards the apostolic and churchly approach of our grandfathers.