Laodicea on the Mississippi – A Primer for those Late to the FiveTwo Controversy

FiveTwoTwoThis 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.

Start New?

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.


Comments

Laodicea on the Mississippi – A Primer for those Late to the FiveTwo Controversy — 32 Comments

  1. Great article, Tim. This statement really hit the nail on the head.

    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.

    As an example, here’s my DP boasting about the Mid-South’s church planting initiatives (poor audio quality). Notice anything?

    -Praise bands: Check.
    -Church in a bar: Check
    -Changing practice to mimic society: Check
    -Confessional Lutheran Practice and Doctrine:………………absent.

    [vimeo 74747926 w=500 h=281]

    IMPACT in the Mid-South District: Sept 2013 Update from Mid-South District, LCMS on Vimeo.

  2. Thank you, Tim, for a cogent, right-on-the-money contribution in an effort toward retaining orthodoxy in our synod. I would suggest you send this to President Harrison soon.

  3. “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.”
    So, if President Harrison is looking at bringing the Gospel to non-believers instead of focusing on making sure that all churches are on the same LSB page (literally!), he is wrong?
    Did not Jesus say “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” ? Or, did Jesus say, those who worship in a specific format and know a set of doctrines will be saved?

  4. Jim,

    Jesus did say that. What is meant by believe if what we believe doesn’t matter? Doctrines of the church are the teachings of Christ. The worship is important as it teaches about Christ, as well. Do we worship a Jesus who saves us sinners and gives us His word and sacraments as a testament to that or one who wants us to feel energized and emotional and not preach his word but rather a “relevant life message”?

  5. Sorry: “He who believes in ME and is baptized shall be saved”.
    Why do you assume that any worship service that does not follow LSB (exactly or approximately) does not provide “a Jesus who saves us sinners and gives us His word and sacraments as a testament to that “? The LSB style may teach some people a bit of doctrine, the sermon may also do this. But that style (LSB) is not the only way to worship or teach doctrine or receive the sacraments.
    If LSB works well for you, great! Other styles work well for others.
    Quit insisting on one style of worship.
    Let us focus on bringing the Gospel to non-believers; not on worship styles.

  6. @jim #4 Jim, if we take your approach to its conclusion, then baptism can become anyone with the invocation and a fire hose at a football game. That’s not Lutheran.

    I know that you’re being tendentious, but I provided a list of the specific things we should be concerned about. Baptism is not listed. So what specifically in that list do you think is unreasonable?

  7. jim :Did not Jesus say “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” ? Or, did Jesus say, those who worship in a specific format and know a set of doctrines will be saved?

    Jim, I think you’re missing the point and importance of doctrine. Also, please remember that Doctrine and Practice are tied to each other.

    Titus 2:1-2 (ESV)
    But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

    2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV)
    16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

    Romans 16:17 (ESV)
    I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

    Titus 1:9(ESV)
    He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

    Martin Luther:
    Therefore, as I often warn you, doctrine must be carefully distinguished from life. Doctrine is heaven; life is earth. In life there is sin, error, uncleanness, and misery… Here love should condone, tolerate, be deceived, trust, hope, and endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7); here the forgiveness of sins should have complete sway, provided that sin and error are not defended. But just as there is no error in doctrine, so there is no need for any forgiveness of sins. Therefore, there is no comparison at all between doctrine and life. “One dot” of doctrine is worth more than “heaven and earth” (Matt. 5:18); therefore we do not permit the slightest offense against it. But we can be lenient toward errors of life. For we, too, err daily in our life and conduct; so do all the saints, as they earnestly confess in the Lord’s Prayer and the creed. But by the grace of God our doctrine is pure; we have all the articles of faith solidly established in Sacred Scripture.
    -Martin Luther LW: 27:41-42

  8. Indeed, why did Luther say that he would have no fellowship with Zwingli if he did not think it would be harmful to his salvation? As the sainted Dr. Robert Preus said, “Doctrine is life”!

  9. So, if President Harrison is looking at bringing the Gospel to non-believers instead of focusing on making sure that all churches are on the same LSB page (literally!), he is wrong?

    False dichotomy.

  10. Where is the assurance that five two/Crosspoint converts are well enough catechized that they really know some basic Christian stuff?

    Does anyone know?

  11. jim :
    The LSB style may teach some people a bit of doctrine, the sermon may also do this. But that style (LSB) is not the only way to worship or teach doctrine or receive the sacraments.

    Jim,
    I don’t agree with this statement – the “data” is against you. Perhaps if you’d skim through the liturgies in the LSB, you’d find that they do more than teach “a bit of doctrine.” This statement is almost insulting. If you actually read through them, you’ll find a richness of biblically based, trinitarian, Law and Gospel text that reiterates who we are (PMS’s), who God is, what He has objectively done for us, reminds us continually of our baptism, and leads us directly to the culmination in receiving Christ’s true body and blood for our forgiveness. Even if the sermon is pure tripe, you will get the richness of truth in the liturgy. However, if the sermon is seven methods for balancing your checkbook in a god-pleasing way (intentional lower-case “g”) and you have the vapidness of CoWo, you go home with nothing.

    Conversely, if you honestly examine the modern music and the usual liturgy of CoWo (make no mistake – it is a liturgy, just one that focuses on man rather than God), you will find it does not focus on the Trinity, baptism, our sinfulness, or our Justification. Feel free to check out Pr. Wolfmueller’s Praise Song cruncher if you are skeptical. Please – honestly listen during your CoWo services. Listen for how many times Jesus is mentioned, esp. in terms of our Justification rather than as a model; listen for how many times our sin is mentioned. Ask yourself if it is the emotional high that you like in CoWo. Realize that traditional liturgy is not focused on your emotional high, but rather on the objective truths of God and his gifts for us.

    There is an objective difference between the two worship forms, both of which are based in underlying doctrines. The doctrines underlying the traditional liturgy are Biblical. The doctrines underlying CoWo and 5:2 are not. If you want another data point, go to the thread “Pastor Moves His Church into the 1980s!” on Steadfast and enjoy some of the CoWo music from Crosspoint. The god of this world is very active, make no mistake.

  12. @Randy #1

    Randy, although I’m no proponent of “Church in a bar,” it is not unknown in the LCMS. My great-great grandfather was an LCMS pastor/missionary in the 19th century, and during the 1860’s he served in Wisconsin. On one occasion, he did indeed preach in a bar. Here is a snippet from his autobiography, “Lebenslauf:”

    “From Menomonie I hurried over the river by ferry, then rode up the hill to a saloon. I said, “Are you German?” The answer was, “Yes, sir.” I told him who I was and what I wanted. He said, “Yes, people are here, but where could we meet?” I said, “Here is plate enough.” He said, “Do you want to preach in a saloon?” I said, “Certainly!” He said, “Alright.” He took my horse to the barn, and pointed to a door to the family. I remained overnight. In the morning quite a number arrived. I said part of the hymn verse, sang and they sang also. After singing I leaned my back against the counter behind which stood the whiskey bottles and preached. Soon the door opened and somebody looked in, then slammed the door. So it happened again and again. It was so funny I had to be careful not to laugh. After the sermon I baptized two children.”

    As I said, it is not unknown.

  13. @Randy #16

    Yes, of course I agree. Johannes did what he had to do, as you say, out of necessity. And it’s a great story. But it’s no way to “do church,” no matter how noble the ends.

  14. I see this movement as a clone of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church or Hybel’s Willow Creek, seeker friendly abominations with a watered down Gospel, shallow theology of grace, and openly rebelling against Christ’s plan for the Church. They are businesses, not churches in the Biblical model. Purpose “driven” because there are no true God called leaders to follow. Cattle are driven, sheep are lead. Man’s opinions are the rule in movements such as these, not the revealed will of God in Christ. Rightfully assuming Rev. Bill Woolsey took ordination vows to follow and uphold the LCMS teachings I must ask why is he not disciplined, given a time to repent or be removed as pastor and lose his credentials if he refuses. The Emergent Church and other heretical movements thrive because a stand is not taken. How many once faithful churches must fall into liberalism and/or draw closer to Rome before we wake up and use the tools Christ gave us to properly rule the Church?

  15. “Claiming direct revelation.”

    This is a direct defying of the Lutheran Confessions which clearly condemn “enthusiasm.”

    Again, how is it that this is given a free pass? To do this and still call yourself Lutheran is akin to picking and choosing what parts of your wedding vow you wish to keep and still call yourself faithfully married.

  16. @J. Dean #19

    “To do this and still call yourself Lutheran is akin to picking and choosing what parts of your wedding vow you wish to keep and still call yourself faithfully married.”

    HA!!– well said. I may have to borrow that analogy. Thanks for that!

  17. J. Dean :
    “Claiming direct revelation.”
    This is a direct defying of the Lutheran Confessions which clearly condemn “enthusiasm.”
    Again, how is it that this is given a free pass? To do this and still call yourself Lutheran is akin to picking and choosing what parts of your wedding vow you wish to keep and still call yourself faithfully married.

    But do they want to call themselves Lutheran?

    The leader of FiveTwo is the pastor of CrossPoint Community Church (LC-MS) and the church planter of CrossPoint Community Church Seven Lakes, which has since shut down. In the following articles from the Houston Chronicle there is a section for Lutheran churches, but you won’t find either in it. They are there, but under “Other”.

    Churches celebrate Christmas with candles
    December 2007
    http://www.chron.com/default/article/Churches-celebrate-Christmas-with-candles-1839973.php

    Katy-area Christmas services planned
    December 2007
    http://www.chron.com/default/article/Katy-area-Christmas-services-planned-1842912.php

    Katy churches celebrate Easter
    March 2008
    http://www.chron.com/default/article/Katy-churches-celebrate-Easter-1544927.php

    Katy-area churches plan celebrations for Easter
    March 2008
    http://www.chron.com/default/article/Katy-area-churches-plan-celebrations-for-Easter-1767217.php

    Katy-area churches to celebrate Christmas
    December 2008
    http://www.chron.com/default/article/Katy-area-churches-to-celebrate-Christmas-1755794.php

    Browsing the recent press that CrossPoint gets, you might find an article that contains the word “Lutheran” but I gave up.

  18. Mrs. Hume :
    Where is the assurance that five two/Crosspoint converts are well enough catechized that they really know some basic Christian stuff?
    Does anyone know?

    Mrs. Hume,
    At this point, with all they have published online, one must wonder if the leaders/catalysts of FiveTwo are well enough catechized.

    When addressed on Scripture and Confessional issues they shift topics to a pious, “Jesus loved others to spend the time to get to know them where they were. Shouldn’t we do what Jesus did?”
    It’s a very selective and pietistic reading of the Bible. And, oh, by the way, their goal, in case it’s not clear from all the things they post, is to lead people to take part in the sacraments. [sacasm on] Didn’t you notice how much effort they put on confession, absolution, baptism, and the supper? [sarcasm off]
    One does wonder why open and frequent direction to Word and Sacrament is so hard to find in their resources–that is, if the sacraments are so central to being a sacramental entrepreneur as they say.

  19. @jim #6
    If LSB works well for you, great! Other styles work well for others.
    Quit insisting on one style of worship.
    Let us focus on bringing the Gospel to non-believers; not on worship styles.

    Church services, as the enthusiasts forget, are for the spiritual growth of those who already believe, as well. In fact, more for the believer, since he shares in the Body and Blood Christ (if they don’t omit that “because it sounds gory and turns unbelievers off.”

    So they invite everyone for ‘the sincere milk of the Word’ and they feed them liturgical sawdust. Neither the believers nor the unbelievers are nourished. [For the “Contemporary service” they add cotton candy; is that really better?]

  20. @Pastor Abrahamson #22
    Any of the 5/2 Leadership w/ MDivs from LC-MS seminaries can’t get off by pleading ignorance. These men were taught what we have always believed taught and confessed, but they actively reject those things in favor of popularity w/ the old Adam.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  21. I went to the 5/2 site. Only perused for a couple of minutes. Felt the law tightening up on me.

    One guy is “an apprentice of Jesus Christ”. That’s enough to get the chains rattling on any chain gang .

    I much prefer the “Don’t just do something…sit there! (and listen) paradigm.

  22. So based on the video footage of a church having a band playing on a song, or that they aren’t in a “traditional” church location (sanctuary), they are automatically teaching a false gospel? You can not extrapolate from a 3-minute video, (which was put out by the District President, who I’m pretty sure wouldn’t advocate false doctrine) that all of the church plants in that district, or any of them for that matter, have false doctrine.

  23. The comments I have make are only in response to the video in the first comment. I am not supporting Five Two or anything mentioned in the article to clarify. Just hoping that people can watch that video and see the sharing of the Gospel 🙂

  24. What I wonder, is the law being preached in all its terror, so that the Gospel may be heard in all its joy?

  25. @Andrew #30

    Hey Andrew,

    Just a few points. First, what I was attempting to convey is that my district isn’t in the business of planting confessional Word and Sacrament ministries, but instead, are very much into the CGM. Next, while the video certainly does not completely depict what’s going on, I would encourage anyone interested to view material and sermons from those church plants. Like Tim said, “there’s no Gospel if the doctrine is wrong.” And speaking of doctrine, the books they promote on their websites is troubling. Lakepoint consistently provides self-help message series in place of rightly discerned law and gospel messages. To accompany the self-help theology, they conducted a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) outreach event in their parking lot that involved numerous folks beating the tar out of each other. So, perhaps the video doesn’t tell the whole story, but I also don’t believe you can attribute the “sharing of the Gospel” by the video either.

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