You’re Killing Me Peter
St. Paul guides us to treat one another gently when it comes to correcting each other. He, inspired by the Holy Spirit in Galatians 6:1 declared, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” St. Paul wrote this at the end of the Epistle, yet in chapter two he recalls his interaction with St. Peter when Peter came to Antioch. St. Peter wasn’t walking in accordance with the Gospel and, “the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:13). This is part two of my review of the Wiki15 conference in which I will discuss the presenters and some of the breakout sessions. The two main lecturers that I will discuss are Rev. Bill Woolsey and Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell. The breakout sessions that I will recall were on the topic of preaching titled, “The Preacher’s Studio.”
In keeping with the 8th commandment, we all should put the best construction on anything from these various presenters, and yet act as St. Paul guides us to whenever a leader proclaims false doctrine or walks in falsehood. As St. James confesses, “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). These pastors should be judged, not according to my opinion or practice, but according to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions in accordance with the Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Rule and Norm paragraph 3. As that same rule and norm declares, “In order to preserve pure teaching and fundamental, lasting, God-pleasing UNITY in the church, it is necessary not only to present the pure, beneficial teaching correctly, but also to censure those who contradict it and teach other doctrines 91 Timothy 3:9 and Titus 1:9” (FCSD rule and norm.14)
The Reverend Pastor Bill Woolsey is the head of the 5-2 network. After the opening service on Tuesday, Pastor Woolsey gave a summary of 5-2 network 2.0. He spoke on what the 5-2 network is and where the group is going in the future. We began by drawing a curve on a piece of paper, a line going up and then curving down. He (Pastor Woolsey) asked us to mark an “x” where our denomination is going. Are we growing? Have we plateaued? Are we going downhill in attendance? I marked an “x” on the downward curve because that is the reality. The LCMS is not growing by leaps and bounds, nor has she plateaued. She is decreasing because she won’t confess who she truly is and because of that no one believes her. The LCMS shouldn’t attempt to be someone she is not. Let us treasure the pure Gospel and the blessed sacraments that have been given to us by our Lord Christ. Let us proclaim that authentic message to every nation, language, tribe, and generation.
After we were asked to mark where our denomination is, we were asked to mark an “x” where our start up is located on the curve. Most people marked an “x” on the upward curve because most upstarts are growing. You can’t go to negative numbers if you start from zero when starting a church plant. After we did this, Pastor Woolsey commented that most mainline sacramental denominations, of which the LCMS would be included, are on the decline, with the appearance that they have lost the power of the Gospel. The Gospel doesn’t have the power anymore to reach the lost in these denominations. This was a red flag. Is he saying that these denominations have lost the forgiveness of sins? Can a pastor of 10 members on Sunday not declare everyone forgiven in the name of Jesus? Are Jesus’ words in the Gospel according to St. Matthew null and void that say, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). Is the power of the Gospel based on the incline of a church body? Or is it on the proclamation of the Gospel and the distribution of the sacraments? This statement and way of thinking by Pastor Woolsey is dangerous and poisonous because it draws the attention to the earthly reward or production, rather than to the words of Christ in the forgiveness of sinners. There is no ‘best construction’ with this. I’ve heard it before in the mouths of the Baptists and Methodists growing up in the bible belt. This language and emphasis is destructive to the spiritual life of both the congregation and the Pastor that she calls.
From there Pastor Woolsey showed a clip from the new Colbert Late Show where Stephen Colbert interviews Vice President Joe Biden. Biden talked about his Roman Catholic belief and how it is more than just the ritual on Sunday morning. Pastor Woolsey then proceeded to define what “sacramental” means. If you would like to know what sacramental means, go to their website. However, his definition of sacramental is confusing and vague. The beauty of the cross of Christ is its clarity. You know what is happening. Jesus died because He became a sinner and died in the stead of all sinners. The cross is the emptying out of the Father’s wrath against sin. In this, Jesus is victorious over the devil and ransoms man from the tyranny of the wicked foe. Jesus died on the cross and there purchased and won our salvation. Now in the means of grace He distributes the gifts that He won on the cross for us, the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is clear. You can’t put your own interpretation on it. Jesus defines how He saves you in black and white terminology. However, Pastor Woolsey uses vague and mystical sounding words that can be interpreted in various ways by different hearers. His manner of speaking had a heavy post-modernist feel to it where the hearer controlled the interpretation, rather than the speaker.
However vague Woolsey was, he did have some beneficial things to say. He revealed the problem of our daily devotional life. You can’t go 165 hours a week without Christ and expect to get a little shot on Sunday of Him and be alright. You can’t live throughout the week as if Sunday didn’t happen. He connected the Divine Service on Sunday morning to the daily life of the baptized. During this I thought, “Good. That’s Luther’s doctrine of vocation. This isn’t anything new.” But I was wrong. It wasn’t vocation. It was sacramental. To Woolsey Sunday morning isn’t about feeding the empty sinner, but about equipping the saint to live the week in their ‘sacramental identity’. He said, “We need to emphasize the 1st article gifts and create awe in the sacramental saint in order that they see Jesus, not only in the Sunday morning stuff, but in the Tuesday board meeting and on the Thursday evening soccer field”. While he was saying this, on the screen behind him were slides from National Geographic. One of the slides that came up while he was speaking of seeing Jesus in more than just the Sunday morning service was a picture of a Mosque and Muslim’s worshipping. I wondered, “How can you see Jesus in pagan worship?” You can’t. He is not there in His grace and mercy. You can see Christ in the face of your neighbor and therefore you are given to love your neighbor as Christ loves you. However, you should not say that in pagan worship one can see Christ. Jesus is not present in any worship besides the Worship where He comes to us in the means of grace. If this slide was used on Sunday morning with a bunch of laity, it would confuse and inevitably kill the saint. We don’t have to look for Christ. We don’t have to try to see Him in everything. No. Christ is given in the Gospel proclaimed and the sacraments administered, in accordance with the Gospel. In the reception of these gifts you live your life in love for your neighbor in whatever vocation God places you. We don’t have to come up with a new formula.
If I am a little harsh on pastor Woolsey it is because he is a rostered pastor in the LCMS. He swore to uphold the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and he is not doing that. I don’t hate him for it. I’m not mad about it. I just want the honesty. If you don’t agree with these confessions, then don’t pretend to in public. It is dangerous to the hearer and the sheep that Christ gathers to hear His voice on Sunday morning or whenever the Gospel is proclaimed. The questions that I have for Pastor Woolsey are as follows. 1. What is vocation? 2. Why go to Church? 3. How can the Gospel lose its power? 4. Why do you have to come with new language instead of walking in the confessions you swore to at your ordination?
The next presenter that I will discuss is Pastor Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. He had some great thoughts and was very charismatic. I liked him as a speaker. I enjoy and get involved when I see that the speaker is passionate about what they preach because it shows their belief in what they speak about. He started out by saying that the pastor needs to have his priorities straight. He has God, then family, then church. I appreciated this because so many pastors burn out and sacrifice their family life for the sake of the church. From there it went downhill. He started praying the Lord’s prayer, but he skipped an important petition. He went, “Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What about ‘Thy Kingdom Come”? I thought that he would bring it up eventually, but never did. He talked about the social gospel and what his congregation is doing for the community. This is great, but not all there is. He talked about infiltrating the lines of the enemy with the mindset of the kingdom. However, He never defined that kingdom in the image of the cross. The cross of Jesus Christ never came up. He even brought up the Day of Atonement at the end and I thought, “Yes. I will eat my words and he will bring up the cross. NOPE. It’s like he was allergic to the cross. He talked about mindset, methodology, and money abstract of the cross. I wasn’t upset with him because he is not bound to the same Confessions as I am. However, he is bound to the same Scripture and He did not preach that.
At one point he grabbed a bottle of water and said, “We have to remove the label because all people care about is the content.” The he started ripping off the label and in a dramatic fashion, like a good BBC drama, he threw the label down and took a big sip from the bottle. “People don’t care about the label; they care about the content.” Well, let’s take that analogy and go with it. I have a son that is allergic to gluten, dairy, eggs, and pretty much anything that tastes good and makes you happy. If I have three bowls of ice cream in front of him. One is made from almond milk (Allergic), one is from good whole milk form a cow(Allergic), and one is from coconut milk (Not Allergic). I put all three in front of him and say have at it. All that matters is the ice cream, right? If he grabs one of the ones that he is allergic to then he will have a reaction and have to be treated. However, if there is a label, then either his mother and even he himself can see what he shouldn’t eat and what he is safe to consume. Label’s matter. They tell you what is inside. Only a complete naïve child would not care about labels. Vodka, water, and bleach can look similar. Only the label will protect you from consuming something that you shouldn’t. I know this isn’t good to say, but COME ON. Really. This is juvenile stuff. We pastors are called to the highest office. Act like it. Feed the sheep rather than entertain the goats.
This theology came to fruition in the preaching workshops. In these breakout sessions I listened to sermons, talked with my table, and was allowed to question the pastor about his sermon. A wonderful idea. I would encourage circuits to do this and pastors to do this with their friends. If people do it the right way. However, it was not done the right way. Pastors did not preach Christological sermons grounded in the means of grace, but growtivation was the driving force. The pastors were more concerned about equipping the hearer, rather than forgiving them. The pastor was the leading example of the Christian life, rather than the dispenser of Holy Absolution. As I mentioned in the first part of these articles, the cross is a mere footnote in their theology and inevitably their preaching.
My review of the presenters is that they all said similar things in different ways for different audiences. However, the one thing lacking was the Blessed Exchange, the justification of the sinner in the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus the Christ. This can never be assumed, but must always be proclaimed until Christ calls us home. Church for this group is about equipping the saint to live out the sacramental life throughout the week. When in reality Church is about the empty sinner being filled with the righteousness of Christ that is delivered in the means of grace. So with St. Paul I say, “You’re killing me Peter. Get with it. You know better.”