Guest Post — A Vision for FiveTwo by Rev. Brian Flamme

visionVision for Five Two

by Rev. Brian Flamme of Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, Colorado

We have been learning a lot from Bill Woolsey lately. Who knew that you could write vision statements for other organizations? For the sake of relevance and to keep up with this exciting new trend of ecumenism, here’s Hope Lutheran Church’s vision for Five Two.

Fifty years ago, the LCMS was nothing more than what it was at its founding or what it is supposed to be today. A collection of churches that have agreed to preach and teach a common confession of scriptural doctrine. What if we actually held our pastors and member congregations to the confession they promised to uphold? What if we desired to remain faithful to doctrine that Jesus entrusted to us through his Word, even if the LCMS were to disappear tomorrow?

What if we honored rather than despised the preaching office that Christ instituted and gave to his Church? What if Christ’s Word and Sacrament remain the same no matter how the world’s culture and false worship shifts and morphs to the whims of the demons?

What if we stop trying to find God’s presence in creation, where he does not promise to be found with his grace and mercy, and instead teach people to cling in faith to what they hear in faithful pulpits and altars, that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, that God placed his name on them in Christian Baptism, that Christ’s gracious presence is bound to his promise, “This is my body. This is my blood”?

What if our congregations were taught not to feel guilty for the success they’re not having, but to pray in thanksgiving and joy for the gifts that Christ has always kept before them for their life and salvation?

What if congregations were taught their place in life according to the Ten Commandments? What if we stop conforming our charity to fit the world’s standards of good works, and instead submitted our good works to be ordered and governed by God’s Word?

What if congregations were taught that their pastors weren’t evil overlords but hand-picked servants of God himself to preach, teach, and administer the sacraments. What if congregations could find the joy of not striving after serving God, but in resting as God serves them with grace and mercy?

What if our Lutheran identity were actually bound to the Book of Concord as a faithful and true exposition of Scripture’s doctrine? What if we continued to use them as Lutherans have for centuries, to foster the true unity of the Church through the unchanging confession of Christ’s name?

What if preaching and hearing Law and Gospel never had to change? What if Christ’s ministry will last till the Lord comes in glory and remains effective despite the devil’s temptations to fear the Church is dying?

We at Hope Lutheran Church believe that the way forward, in reality, is a way back to teachings of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Below are Three Helpful Suggestions which we hope that people associated with Five Two will read for their rebuke and comfort.

Three Helpful Suggestions

  1. Repeat to yourself, “If the LCMS and Five Two were to disappear tomorrow, Christ’s Church would remain victorious over her enemies because Jesus has already obtained the victory through his blood and resurrection and promised that the gates of hell will not overcome his Bride.”
  2. Be assured that the pastoral care of Christ’s saints, young and old alike, with the ministry of the Word is a holy and precious work in the sight of God and that it doesn’t need to be amplified by inventing novel works for the laity that distract them from their Christian vocations which are also holy and precious in God’s sight. We don’t need another monasticism.
  3. If you trust more in the visions of your leader than the unchanging Word of God and the theology of our Confessions, it’s likely that you don’t really want to belong to the LCMS. The promises that pastors and congregations make to be a part of this organization are pretty narrow, so you could save yourself a lot of time and energy by not trying to make the LCMS something that it was never designed to be. If you desire to remain “Lutheran,” that’s wonderful. Trust not in princes, they are but mortal. Go to church. Hear the preaching of Christ crucified. Repent of your sins and believe in Christ’s timeless promises. Resting in the faith of Christ’s comfort and peace is the best place to be.



Editor’s Note – If you want God’s vision for the LCMS, go to our hip and trendy site for it:



Guest Post — A Vision for FiveTwo by Rev. Brian Flamme — 10 Comments

  1. “The promises that pastors and congregations make to be a part of this organization are pretty narrow, so you could save yourself a lot of time and energy by not trying to make the LCMS something that it was never designed to be.”

    This is most certainly true.

  2. To quote Spurgeon, “If these men believe such things, let them teach them, and construct churches, unions, and brotherhoods for themselves! Why must they come among us?”

  3. Rev. Flamme,

    Thank you for translating confessional language into vision casting language for this people. I pray that it will reach them. It definitely helps me to better understand them. I think it also points out their hypocrisy.

    For example here is Bill Woolsey in his own words:
    “What if we celebrated instead of denigrated? What if we built up instead of tore down? What if we blessed instead of cursed? What if we trusted each other rather than attacked and stabbed and belittled?”

    Read the rest of his “vision?” and ask yourself: What if Bill Woolsey were without sin? Would he still be our accuser? Would he still cast the first stone? What if the pot didn’t call the kettle black? Would anybody listen to it? What if he didn’t live among his synod brothers in a passive-aggressive manner? Would he be considered less loving?

    Bill Woolsey and his Five-Two network brothers need to repent along with the rest of us. They need to get the log out of their own eye before they try to help to get the sliver out of their brother’s eye. The log in this case seems to be a self-righteousness utopianism. That at least is the impression I’m getting.

    Yours in Christ,

  4. Having seen the 5-2 article last week, I have been waiting for a substantive response from BJS on the particular ideas put forward.

    I am disappointed that rather than putting the best construction on the words from our fellow brothers in the Synod and responding directly to the substance of the argument/vision where there is disagreement (even if some/most on this site disagree with most of it), it was only alluded to and not responded to thoroughly or even directly.

    Having read BJS for quite some time now, I know that there are authors and writers whom, though I may disagree on some things with, are more than capable of writing a theological and thoughtful response, rather than just disregarding it out of hand.

  5. @Ben #5

    It being Lent you may have to give more time to our authors (none of us have managed to become so successful in our entrepreneurship as to stop being parish pastors – nor would any of us want to), but the theological critique is also right here in this if you read carefully.

  6. I agree with this list *far* more than with Woolsey’s. But I do have a few quibbles, particularly wrt the reaction to Woolsey’s over-emphasis on a wrong-headed conception of God-in-us and God in creation. Woolsey definitely seems to be following the standard evangelical approach of making God’s temporal work in our lives and in creation the “lived reality” of the otherwise assumed-to-be-imperceptible eternal salvific work of God. Instead of focusing on how the physical, tangible sacraments *are* the lived reality of God’s eternal saving work – that God’s eternal salvific work isn’t imperceptible at all, but can be concretely seen and heard and tasted and felt – instead Woolsey’s implicitly conceding that, no we *can’t* perceive God’s eternal work of salvation as it’s worked through the sacraments. All we can perceive is God’s temporal work (thus the extremely common evangelical focus on God’s work *in* us – it’s the only part of God’s spiritual work that we can perceive). I believe that’s the motivation behind Woolsey’s extension of the sacraments to temporal life – it’s his “Lutheran” answer to the un-Lutheran question of “how do we temporally perceive God’s imperceptible eternal work?”, where evangelicalism has already written off God’s eternal work as inherently imperceptible and has defined the parameters of what “temporally perceiving” means (“spiritually feeling God’s presence” or “seeing evidence of our genuine obedience”).

    Classic evangelicalism inherited the Reformed belief that “the finite cannot contain the infinite” – with the practical outworking that a) all of God’s spiritual work is worked spiritually (the visible element in the sacrament can be no more than the physical sign of the spiritual grace received exclusively spiritually), and that b) God is not limited to working salvation *only* in Word and Sacrament nor is He limited to *always* working salvation in Word and Sacrament (in other words, God can be anywhere and nowhere – we can never know a priori that God *is* savingly present anywhere but He *could* be present anywhere). Woolsey is pushing back against those anti-sacramental evangelical assumptions – he is trying to be very Lutheran in his upholding that the physical and spiritual are capable of being sacramentally united and that we can *know* where God is found.

    But, he’s arguably still entangled in *another* set of evangelical assumptions, those underlying the idea that God’s eternal work cannot be directly perceived by us, but can only be seen indirectly through the resulting temporal effects. For evangelicals, the temporal effects of salvation are the visible, physical proof of an invisible, spiritual reality – the *only* possible perceptible proof. It functions as a de facto sacrament. I believe this stems from evangelicalism’s assumption that the physical equals the temporal and the spiritual equals the eternal. And when this is overlaid on Lutheranism’s two kingdoms (as it so often is, and not just by missionals, but confessionals, too), a good chunk of the evangelical worldview comes with. Namely, the assumption that God’s eternal work is exclusively spiritually worked and cannot be perceived *physically*. Which changes the *sacraments* from being *the* lived reality of God’s eternal work to *belief* in the sacraments functioning as a purely intellectual *temporal* assurance of God’s eternal work. And not everyone finds that sufficient (nor *should* they).

    Which is where I don’t find the list’s response sufficient. Yes, evangelicals denying the possibility of a lived reality experience of God’s eternal work, and so substituting the lived reality of God’s temporal work, is *bad*, very, very *bad*. But too many confessional Lutherans *accept* the underlying reality that we can’t *have* a lived experience of God’s eternal work (or at least fail to explicitly push back against it) – and fire back that we don’t need no stinkin’ lived reality of God’s temporal work – that *any* desire to have a lived experience of God is inherently legalistic and a theology of glory. That implicitly accepts the evangelical premise that the only lived experience of God possible is to experience the temporal effects of God’s eternal work, and then deals with resulting problems of that bad, bad theology by denying that even a lived experience of God’s *temporal* work is possible. Which is it itself bad, bad theology (and fairly unconvincing bad theology, at that) – and extremely against the Confessions, which have a strong sense of the lived experience of God’s temporal work – that’s *rooted* in a strong sense of the *lived experience* of God’s *eternal* work.

    We need to push back against those bad evangelical assumptions – all of them – by insisting that we *can* have a lived experience of God’s eternal work – that’s the whole *point* of the sacraments. And that lived experience of hearing and touching and tasting Christ Himself – that very concrete experience – that’s the basis for our less-concrete temporal experiences of God’s non-salvific temporal work. To make God’s eternal work take primacy – as it should – we need to make the lived experience of God’s eternal work for us *stronger* instead of weakening the lived experience of God’s temporal work in us and in the world. Because that divine temporal work *exists* – even though secularism entirely denies it – and we can’t push back against the world if we box off God even worse than evangelicalism does :(. Woolsey’s trying to fix a *real* problem – he’s just not fixing *enough* of it and so not fixing it in the right way.

  7. I thought this article was clever and funny. Then I read the 5-2 piece it skewers. Now THAT is funny.

    But upon deeper reading I realize neither piece is funny at all. This is a powerful (and clear) confession against the sad 5-2 piece that reeks of soul emptying emergent church-ism. Five-two says the LCMS needs to change for our children? I’d say the LCMS has changed enough (the Confessions are now inflammatory?) and 5-2 and their ilk are hellbent on robbing our children of the one thing needful: the Gospel.

    Thanks for posting this.

  8. The tl;dr summary of my too-long post ;):

    The Sacraments provide *the* lived reality, *the* assurance, of God’s eternal, salvific work. Evangelicals rejected the sacraments, unintentionally rejecting the Biblical basis for assurance. And so they had to replace it with something lesser – to get assurance of eternal salvation indirectly, through their sense of God’s temporal work in their lives. Modernism happened, in part through that Reformed separation of spiritual and physical (and their uniting of the spiritual and eternal, and physical and temporal), and the influence of secularism’s sharp distinction between the spiritual and physical and the “more real” qualities of the visible, physical world as compared to the “less real” nature of invisible, spiritual world – all that just reinforced that the only reliable assurance of God’s eternal work are the temporal results of that eternal work.

    Lutherans maintained a belief in the sacraments, but too many have lost the sense of the sacraments *themselves* being the *lived reality* assurance of salvation. Instead, too often *belief* in the sacraments provides *temporal, physical* assurance that eternal, spiritual work has taken place – instead of the sacraments themselves providing physical-and-spiritual assurance that eternal work was done. Secularism has affected us all – the reality of the eternal and the spiritual has faded compared to the more concrete reality of the temporal and physical – and so too many people unconsciously *assume* that the concrete physicality of the visible element in the sacraments is somehow separate-in-practice from the invisible spiritual reality it is conveying, no matter how much they consciously affirm Lutheran sacramental theology. So that the lived reality of the visible element is invisibly but firmly separate from God’s eternal work through the sacrament – “Christ’s Real but Useless Presence” 🙁 – and it’s our *belief* in God’s work through the sacraments that provides assurance, not the sacrament itself. (And the same words are used to describe both realities, which means that orthodox Lutherans and unintentionally heterodox Lutherans think they are saying the same thing when they *aren’t*.)

    Woolsey is trying to break out of that “can’t feel the sacraments as a lived reality” trap – but he’s borrowing from the evangelicals (whose denigration of the sacraments *caused* them to lose their lived reality-ness) in order to do it. And so it’s only going to make things worse in terms of lessening our direct assurance of the reality of God’s eternal work. But in speaking against this, confessional Lutherans need to explicitly address the underlying reasons we lost the ability to feel the sacraments as a lived reality – instead of implicitly denigrating the very idea of Christians understanding and experiencing the faith as a lived reality in the first place :(. (The latter is how it is at least heard by many people – I understood “being Lutheran” in that way for too long – and the confessions-shmessions people I talk to now understand the confessional Lutheran position that way (it’s why they think it’s insufficient to deal with life – because that understanding of it *is*).)

    The tl;dr of the tl;dr ;): Evangelicals reject the sacraments and Lutherans accept the sacraments. But I believe that too many Lutherans (missionals and some confessionals) have unconsciously adopted much of the evangelical view of the nature and purpose of the sacraments, which makes too much of “Lutheran” sacramental theology not very Lutheran at all and causes problems for the LCMS in general. Missionals and confessionals are both trying to fix the results of this problem in different ways, but too often *neither* side is addressing the underlying evangelical corruption of sacramental theology.

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