Every September the shadow synod within the LCMS, FiveTwo, hosts a gathering in Katy, TX. The organization’s WikiConference recently concluded and, once again, rang every alarm bell and raised every red flag imaginable for Confessional Lutherans as well as LCMS office holders. The proceedings of the entire conference are available to view online.
This is a brief list of the most obvious problems that require FiveTwo to be cauterized out of the LCMS before its mutations spread deeper into the Synod’s nervous system:
RSO status is increasingly meaningless
The LCMS maintains a list of Recognized Service Organizations “which are in harmony with the doctrine and practice of the LCMS”. The reasons are obvious for having a formal qualification and good-standing process for independent organizations doing work with LCMS members.
FiveTwo is not an RSO, yet that has not stopped some districts within the LCMS from flipping off the Synod’s structures and processes to deliver significant cash and in-kind support to the organization. Texas (including a formal greeting from President Hennings…), Michigan (deeply embedded), and Northwest (53 delegates sent) Districts are the most visible supporters, and there are several others that contribute in various ways. There are also rebellious churches within sound districts which have decided to deliberately walk out of fellowship when it suits them.
Escaping LCMS oversight but holding on to the collection plate
FiveTwo head Bill Woolsey has resigned his pastoral calling. That frees him from ecclesial oversight yet provides a privileged alumni status that fosters FiveTwo’s continued insinuation into the Synod. The complicity of District Presidents and other synodocrats makes a mockery of the Synod’s ability to determine its polity.
Soft syncretism and unionism are the new tolerance
Woolsey teaches that FiveTwo’s “sacramental entrepreneur” ideology dissolves all distinctions – the purpose of the movement is to “ground you in a divine way of life” that lets you “live out the sacramental presence of Jesus” 24x7x365. Apart from the obvious doctrinal errors and dangers inherent in this recasting of the meaning of sacramental along with the general departure from orthodoxy, it has left FiveTwo painted into a corner on the issue of syncretism and unionism.
FiveTwo’s ideology nullifies its own attempts to distinguish between teaching and preaching. You cannot posit a theology of doing for every waking moment but expect an audience to separate the female pastor invited to speak about God from the rightly called and ordained pastor preaching about God. You cannot say the main sessions are the “business stuff” whilst the preaching is the “doctrine stuff”. In FiveTwo’s ideology everything is the same thing, and it affirms it with the conference’s deliberate interweaving of preaching, worship and keynote speaking (which includes Scripture-based teaching).
Remembering that FiveTwo is deeply embedded within the LCMS and draws considerable support and funding from it, and claims to hold to orthodox Lutheran theology, how do we reconcile that information with these keynote speakers:
- Bill Woolsey: rejects rite vocatus; rejects a traditional understanding of the sacraments; disdains LCMS tradition; has rebelled against ecclesial oversight.
- Jo Saxton: She is a “pastor” of Mission Point Church, which is a member of the LCMC. The LCMC is an ELCA break off that rejects the ordination of homosexuals, but does ordain women.
- Gemechis Buba: Assistant to the Bishop for Mission for the NALC. The NALC is also an ELCA spinoff that ordains women and holds a quatenus subscription to the Lutheran Confessions.
- Carlos Whittaker: self-described as “something unique in the church”, he is perhaps best classified as a revivalist entertainer. He is on staff at an Andy Stanley network church with all the accompanying theological problems.
- Kirbyjon Caldwell: credits all the growth in his pentecostal / Hebrew roots flavored Methodist church to his leadership and “effective social entrepreneurship”. His church boasts four female pastors on staff, and plenty more heterodox wackiness.
- Drew Dyck: is a church leadership guru who helps edit Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal. This would be the same Leadership Journal that last week published a piece by Karl Vaters entitled: “Why ‘Just Preach the Gospel’ Is Naïve, Unbiblical Advice”. Interestingly, Vaters’ notion that the gospel must be lived before being preached is foundational in the FiveTwo movement. It is a movement of doing rather than hearing, of the subjective over the objective, and where everyone is required to be a minister without any sense of sending and calling.
FiveTwo has produced a fruit we can examine
During last year’s Wiki2014 Conference, Bill Woolsey, who was then also the Pastor of CrossPoint Community Church said:
“So, get this. If I get a good guy who has a preaching gift and I work with him, and I pour good theology into him, and I help him try it, so that he can learn it, you know I’m going to start new, to reach new, here’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to start new to reach new by raising him up so he gets to do new. And maybe I’m going to give him a little pulpit, or a bigger pulpit, or maybe even THE pulpit.
One of my favorites in our ministry is our director of youth ministry who’s not ordained, but, but God has given him this ability to preach circles around many of the ordained men that I know. I mean, you’re all sitting there going, ‘dude, that, that boy can preach.’ So, I’d be derelict to not let him preach.”
The Augsburg Confession has a contrary position, where article XIV states: “Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.” This is also the constitutional position of the LCMS, although it has abandoned it somewhat by tolerating lay deacons and other irregular calls.
Woolsey’s threat to send ministers on his own initiative has manifested at NewChurch. CrossPoint’s former frontman for the church “house band”, and occasional preacher, Frank Hart, is the “Lead Minister” for “an exciting new thing Jesus is doing in Katy” with people “who want to be on mission”. The site includes a picture of Hart conducting what appears to be a baptism.
It is a textbook FiveTwo example of “start-new-to-reach-new” with all the coded language and symbols. However, its close proximity (5 miles) to the mother church has potential for sheep stealing; ironic.
NewChurch claims an undocumented association with the LCMS, and presents a truncated and misshapen definition of what it means to be Lutheran.
Despising vocation and the power of God’s Word
At its root FiveTwo despises the Office of Holy Ministry and the church as an institution; probably because of the constraints. FiveTwo seeks instead to liberate leaders to build movements based on either business school models or mass media / entertainment ideas. At the apex of each movement is a leader who is only as accountable as he or she wishes to be – it is designed to throw off the checks and balances inherent in a synodical polity.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. (1 Timothy 3:1)
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:7)
Distilled to its essence, FiveTwo implicitly rejects justification by faith alone. It relies on key performance indicators to determine whether God is present and active. It is not accidental that many of the Wiki Conference speakers have resumes boasting some extraordinary numeric achievement. Achieving viral notoriety or slipstreaming Western urban cultural evolution appears to be the material principle of these movement churches and their leaders.
Lest you consider my comment about justification too harsh, consider this approving tweet by Bill Woolsey for a speaker comment:
— Bill Woolsey (@BillWoolsey) September 22, 2015
Jesus clearly disagrees based on his statement in Matthew 16:17-19.
We are either divine monergists or we are not. Dr. Normal Nagel might remind Bill Woolsey and Gemechis Buba that the role of the pastor is to move his lips to preach the Word of God, and to move his arms and feet sufficiently to deliver the body and blood of the Lord to communicants.
Astroturfing grass roots support
FiveTwo is notoriously resistant to dealing with correction and reproof — it blocks critics and shuts down communications very quickly if you dissent.
It was, therefore, of little surprise to learn recently that the Facebook group “LCMS Encouraged and Encouraging” is a thin-skinned intra-Synod influence operation partly designed to prop up FiveTwo. One of the criteria for membership in the Facebook group is that you may not be a public critic of FiveTwo.
The censorship and control effort went so far as to share with senior LCMS officials copies of posts and comments deemed offensive, and with an expectation of discipline.
Not ‘fessing up
FiveTwo has announced a new logo. The rationale is that university students thought it was a football and, consequently, that FiveTwo was sports related. Color us skeptical. Why not come clean on what happened that FiveTwo ended up taking its cue from South Korea?