This past September a church in a tony suburb of Houston hosted a small conference that ignited a prairie fire in the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Two months later the fallout continues from the “#Wiki14” event arranged by ecumenical parachurch organization FiveTwo Network with its “missional” focus.
FiveTwo has attracted criticism for being a solvent that is desalinating the Lutheran Confessions and dimming the lights of LCMS doctrine.
“FiveTwo” is a play on the five loaves and two fishes of Matthew 14. According to FiveTwo’s interpretation, “The disciples were blind to the resources in front of them and blind to Jesus’ power to multiply them. Modern translation: Everything the planter needs to feed his community is already in the community. It just needs to be brought to Jesus for blessing.”
CrossPoint Community Church in Katy, Texas is the springboard for FiveTwo, and the two institutions share a “founder”, Rev. Bill Woolsey, who is rostered with the LCMS in the Texas District. He also moonlights as a strategy consultant and relationship coach.
If all that sounds very business-like with the voguish portmanteaus and corporate titles, that’s because it is. CrossPoint, FiveTwo, and Woolsey are cut from the cloth of Leadership Network and the Pastoral Leadership Institute. Those organizations have worked for decades to corporatize Christianity. They have spawned the MegaChurch and multi-site sensations with their emphasis on attendance and achievements benchmarked against key performance indicators.
CrossPoint Church epitomizes these new measures. It self-consciously advertises that it has little desire to be your grandfather’s LCMS church:
“Sometimes people assume that CrossPoint is a non-denominational church. With our modern architecture, rock music, casual dress and creative message approach, it’s understandable that a guest might get that impression. CrossPoint is actually a part of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).”
This detachment from the LCMS is both deliberate and provocative as underscored by FiveTwo’s mantric statement, “start new to reach new”. Indeed, the whole lexicon of FiveTwo is peculiar and alien to orthodox Christianity with terms like “sacramental entrepreneur”, “reaching lost people”, “stories”, “spiritual communities”, and “creating families who follow Jesus”.
“Start new to reach new” has a pithy, avant-garde aura about it, but it amounts to little more than a variant strain of American evangelicalism rather than an enrichment of Lutheran doctrine and practice. As it turns out, FiveTwo’s status as an innovator is questionable given that its name, logo, and “story” echo those of an existing organization in South Korea. Similarly, its practices were pioneered long ago by the likes of Bill Hybels, Dallas Willard, and Rick Warren.
FiveTwo seems to be less about creativity than rebellious independence and covetous imitation. It does not offer a reformation, but a revolution that infiltrates the church growth movement’s “deeds-not-creeds” ideology whilst it exfiltrates the truth of God’s certain comfort from the cross. We are witnessing the exile of the church from the Word in the name of relevance.
Brian Houston, “founder” of Hillsong Church has unwittingly clarified the terminus of this movement:
“The message doesn’t change,” Houston said. “Sometimes if the church isn’t going to change the methods, then it will become irrelevant.”At the end of the day, the goal is the same as any other church, to practice religion.
“I just know what we do, which is love God, love life, love people, have church the way we have it,” he said. “Let the chips fall where they may.”
Let the chips fall where they may… The gospel as a gamble.
Starting new implies a defect in the old, which for FiveTwo ineluctably translates to the pastoral office and the traditional liturgy. Reaching new insinuates abandonment of the old with the alarming inference that current believers or lapsed believers are out of the “target market”. Most troublesome of all, starting new signals that the gospel has an expiration date – your customers will shop elsewhere if you don’t dress in next season’s theological fashions.
The outworking of this approach manifests in:
- Hectoring Christians to be Jesus clones (only winsome, nice Jesus – not angry, dead-raising, or humiliated Jesus).
- Subordinating the Holy Spirit’s sovereignty in bringing sinners to repentance and salvation.
- Switching from proclamation of the gospel to the category error of “living the gospel”.
- Warping the Pastoral Office into a leadership function that corrodes the principal shepherding role ordained by Christ.
- Changing the sacraments from objective external means’ of grace to include a subjective internal component.
- Making light of the Lord’s Supper by recasting it as an opportunity for fellowship and fun.
- Remaking the church as the sanctuary of unbelievers at the expense of believers.
- Claiming direct revelation.
- Diluting the doctrine of vocation by promoting a hierarchy of leaders and apprentices with no obvious space for Christians of the type described in 1 Thes 4:11.
- Enervating the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms by tantalizing people with visions of making God’s Kingdom on earth.
- Encouraging men without a rightly ordered call to take control of the pulpit in violation of AC XIV.
- Promoting mysticism.
- Embracing the cultural markers of unbelievers.
- Engaging with non-Lutheran entities in possible violation of LCMS Constitution VI.2.c.
- Fraternizing with heterodox individuals and organizations.
Modern Reformation’s Michel Horton published a devastating critique of these Missional outcomes as a new form of monasticism:
“…the new monasticism collapses the gospel into law and going to church into being the church, it also collapses the church-as-gathered into the church-as-scattered. Or, to borrow Abraham Kuyper’s helpful categories, the church as organization is dissolved into the church as organism. There are many things that Christians are called to do in the world as parents, employees, employers, citizens, friends, and neighbors. Like all human beings created in God’s image, believers are called to obey the Great Commandment: love of God and of neighbor. Yet the church as God’s official embassy of grace gathers guests from the highways and alleys for the feast. Or, to change the metaphor, the church-as-gathered is the re-salinization plant, so that forgiven and renewed sinners can be scattered into the world as salt each week. Without the Word and Sacraments, the salt loses its savor and is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
Horton’s diagnosis of new monasticism is wrong only because the missionals suppress any ascetic instincts. Rather, these are New Social Gospel proponents, sharing many of the traits of last century’s Social Gospel cult that J. Gresham Machen fought tooth and nail. Social Gospel proponents attached salvation to acts of mercy. The modernists have attached to that the language of return on investment.
This is the civil religion of post-modernism. FiveTwo is the point of the spear within the LCMS.
Decline and Revival
Make no mistake, the new measures produce “results”. Attendance and giving in the “new” has outpaced the “old” in leaps and bounds. And the LCMS is greatly concerned about its declining fortunes. So it should come as no surprise that pastors might be tempted to pursue visible means of success.
President Matthew Harrison blames the decline primarily on demographics – fewer babies and a lack of outreach to “non-Anglos”. He says the solution is repentance with invitations to church for unbelievers, and repentance with being less critical of diversity in Lutheran outreach efforts.
This is commendable and expected, but it is also unsettling. The LCMS elected Pres. Harrison because he represented the majority desire to reaffix the Synod to its historical foundations. That came with expectations for a leadership that would exercise ecclesiastical supervision with more care for the Lutheran Confessions and LCMS doctrine and practice. It is not an issue of enforcement and discipline, but conservation.
Unfortunately, it appears that, irrespective of who is in office, a power inhabits our Synodical institutions that weakens fidelity to our doctrines, whilst elevating the 8th commandment into the greatest commandment.
When heterodox developments are constantly appeased then there will inevitably be questions about the Synod’s identity and purpose. It seems that the locomotive force in the LCMS is toward becoming a network of affiliates who have in common only a shared proper noun, and which prizes bonhomie above all else. This is a strategic plan for schism; if we may borrow from the church corporatists.
Christianity has no nuances. It is entirely binary, and despises tepidness. Our salt content must be so high that we gag on our sins. Our light must be several million candle power strong to illuminate Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. We must be hot or cold, not lukewarm. This is solely achieved by imbibing copious quantities of pure doctrine. It is pure doctrine that saves and unites us. Therefore, it is impure doctrine that will damn and divide us. FiveTwo is one such impurity that must be refined out of the LCMS; and all such church growth enthusiasms.
We conclude by adding to Pres. Harrison’s solutions: we should repent of our moderation of doctrine which renders it, in Walther’s terms, “dead-letter theology”. We are not heartless and unloving fanatics for requesting our Synod leadership to uphold pure doctrine.