Jesus First rebranded as Congregations Matter. Really?

A new anonymous “group” has formed in the sphere of LCMS politics, it’s called Congregations Matter.  I like congregations and in God’s eyes they matter a whole bunch, because they are made of God’s people gathered around the pure Gospel and rightly administered Sacraments.  So the site seems nice, but then after reviewing some of the content, the site isn’t anonymous at all – it’s literally a rebranding and rehashing of Jesus First.
I am going to quote some things to prove it:

First I want you to read a 2003 article by Jesus First (the organization that championed revivalistic and evangelical theology, liberal politics, and power-seeking Synod restructuring).  I quote it from another source since it has been scrubbed from the internet (I wonder why… the answer is so soon to come).

Now compare that to the “new” post by the “new” organization:

Notice that they are almost word for word copies.  So the new group is not anonymous at all – in fact we know it well – it’s the group that sought to destroy our Lutheran identity through confusing male/female (where do we see that in our culture today?), opening up communion practices, importing non-Lutheran worship, and don’t forget they managed to centralize power at the Synod level through restructuring in 2010 (which they now bemoan since their guy is not running it).

Don’t believe the title of this new organization.  It’s just as real as the belief that Jesus First was really about putting Jesus first.  Instead, look at the results of the last convention, how 70-85% of delegates (clergy AND lay working together as God’s people) confessed Biblical communion practices, encouraged some level of uniformity in worship, repented to follow Augsburg XIV in a very gracious way, and confessed our Lutheran identity in every sphere of our life.  It seems that this “new” organization is not new at all, but an older and smaller minority now that is upset with something the vast majority of congregations, convention delegates (clergy AND laity), and general church members approved and widely practice in their congregations.

Let’s put aside the politics of division between the way in which God’s people serve their neighbor.  Congregations are important, so are the ways in which our congregations have set up to work together – under the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions as circuits, districts, and yes even Synod.  Let’s pray for our leaders and encourage them in their task.  Let’s let the sour grapes end with this rehash of the politics of old.


About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


Jesus First rebranded as Congregations Matter. Really? — 86 Comments

  1. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #38

    I myself see the LCMS as remarkably unified. True there are groups like Steadfast Lutherans and Jesus First that don’t seem like they get along very well. But these are groups that appear to lack, in my opinion, basic social skills in thier ability to get along with others. Fortunately,as a whole, the LCMS is more emotionally intelligent and generally congenial then this.

    Kind Regards,

    Michael Baun

  2. @Michael Baun #51

    I myself see the LCMS as remarkably unified.

    Do you not get out very much? Or do you perhaps live in Wyoming? They seem to be “remarkably unified” there. [But I think you might be odd man out…so no, not Wyoming.]

    Atlantic District, maybe. 😉
    [Like the Democrats, they think the East Coast is the whole world.] 🙁

  3. The ghosts of Benjamin Kurtz and Samuel S. Schmucker are still haunting the LC-MS. Solomon was right. Ecclesiastes 1:9

  4. Michael,

    I’m not entirely sure what planet you’re living on, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be “Planet LCMS” that is grounded in reality. We are a much divided Synod in both doctrine and practice. As previously indicated, its not about getting along, but about real differences in the doctrine and practice that is suppose to unify us, not the LCMS logo on the sign out front.

  5. @Michael Baun #51

    Dear Michael,

    You are correct to observe that the LC-MS is “remarkably unified.”

    Pastor Jack Cascione used to tell me, on several occasions, that the LC-MS inherited the German herd instinct and this accounted for its “lockstep mindset.” He being an Italian, would understand that from an “outsider’s” perspective.

    When I was at Union Theological Seminary, New York, many of the faculty observed, in private conversations, that the LC-MS was remarkably unified in doctrine compared to most large denominations. The antipode of LC-MS in that respect would be the Episcopalians, where “everything goes” and the theology and church practice is “all over the place.

    The reason that the LC-MS is so doctrinally unified, compared to other church-bodies, is that it was forged in the fires of “unionism” and “rationalism.”

    “Rationalism” intended to replace: a) the traditional Lutheran solemn-vow-and-allegiance to the creeds and the Lutheran confessions by the clergy (aka “confessional subscription” with b) a “reasonable and rational approach to religion.” “Unionism” said that the differences between Lutherans and Reformed were not significant enough to keep their church’s apart. This was the mindset in Saxony, Franconia, and other parts of the German Confederation when Stephen, Walther, and Co. left for good in 1838.

    When the LC-MS was founded by Walther and Co. in 1847, the traditional solemn-vow-of-allegiance to the creeds and Lutheran confessions by the clergy was restored and “unionism” was explicitly forbidden in the Constitution (now Article VI). This position was maintained without serious challenge in the LC-MS until the postwar period (1945ff.) when it came under attack in various quarters. The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, Valparaiso University, and later the Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis advocated for a different approach that was more like the position of the other Lutherans in America (e.g., ALC and LCA). Valparaiso and the seminary also advocated for a theology more akin to those Americans (e.g., Elert, Bonhoeffer, and Barth) and higher criticism of the Bible.

    This resulted in real battles in the 1960s and early 1970s in the synod, in its schools, in its missions, in its districts, in its congregations, and in many families. Eventually the faculty majority at the Saint Louis seminary “walked out” under the leadership of its president, John Tietjen, and created a new seminary called “Seminex.” When the LC-MS would not accept its graduates, Tietjen and his allies created a new Lutheran synod, the AELC, in December 1976. 250 congregations and their pastors left the LC-MS for the AELC in the next year or so.

    The aftermath of Seminex and the AELC was the fact that 950 congregations, and their clergy, who had publicly expressed support and agreement with Seminex and its doctrine, remained in the LC-MS in the mid to late 1970s, and they still are with us today. For the lack of a better term, they have been called “Seminex sympathizers,” because they expressed support for Tietjen and Seminex, but did not join the AELC. On these numbers and facts, see John H. Tietjen, Memoirs in Exile (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 269.

    The LC-MS is composed of about 6,000 congregations. If 950 were/are Seminex sympathizers, that means about 16% of the present LC-MS disagrees with its founding ideas and constitution. That is not enough in pure numbers to have a majority for electing officers or passing resolutions. It is not even enough to block a 2/3rds majority. But it is enough people to support dissenting political organizations and activities, and they have. This is the primary cause of conflict that has been in the LC-MS since the late 1970s, which continues on today.

    It has been my personal experience that the “Seminex sympathizer” clergy and congregations are much more politically active than the rest of the synod, so they have an influence disproportional to their size. They have, on occasion, convinced synod officers to follow their will and have, at other times, been successful in terminating officers and electing their own. They have had more sway in certain districts than others. These have been the five districts (out of 8 total) that ordained Seminex graduates: Atlantic, Eastern, New England, California-Nevada-Hawaii, and Northwest.

    So how do you know if you are dealing with a pastor or congregation that agrees with the LC-MS or is a “Seminex sympathizer”? If they agree with “confessional subscription” and reject “unionism,” then they are true-blue LC-MS; if they disagree with “confessional subscription” and accept “unionism” in practice, then they are “Seminex sympathizers” or the next generation of the same. You can always ask someone in discussion whether they agreed with Seminex and John Tietjen—that will often tell you right there. If they don’t know about those names, then you are dealing with a later generation.

    I hope this helps your understanding of the LC-MS a little bit.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  6. @Martin R. Noland #56

    “Sympathizers” exceeded 16%, IMO, and infected far more than the “5 of 8” districts.
    Almost everyone writes as if CSL was pure in doctrine and teaching practice until the walkout and all the trouble walked out! CSL didn’t get liberal ‘overnite’.
    We probably have at least 20 years worth of their “loose” graduates. And if they are retiring, they have rebuilt CSL in their own image and raised an army to replace themselves.

    It looks as if we will have 20 years more (plus all the SMP’s they are rushing through this year and next) before the new “infection” [not really new at all] is challenged and disposed of. IF IT CAN BE DISPOSED OF!
    There are more districts pushing “enthusiast” ideas than not. “Open” communion is all over synod. Jerry Kieschnick had 50.5% support at Synod convention, (till his “creative worship” there opened a few eyes in 2010). He had far more [imitation Baptists like himself] in Texas.

    You make it too simple, Pr. Noland!
    If pastors are on the “missional” trip, they are not teaching Lutheran doctrine. They brag about being “no theologians” but they are eager to stick faux “Dr.s” in front of their names!

    The leaders in 1974 would have done us a favor if they had split the synod then, when Lutheran doctrine still had a chance, one seminary to each side, and let the congregations choose their allegiance.

  7. Any CSL grads want to wave the BS flag on the last post? I am assuming there are at least a few here.

  8. There is a fascinating letter from Hermann Sasse who was invited to teach at CSL in the 40’s. It remarks in that letter that he was treated with utter disdain by many of the CSL faculty at that time for his insistence on doctrinal unity for fellowship. It should be remembered that the so-called “Battle of the Bible” at CSL was really about the Statement of the 44 in 1945 and its misguided ecumenism. You see, something had to be done about Missouri’s insistence on doctrinal unity because for the CSL faculty, such a stance was an impediment to ecumenical efforts. Thus, Helen is quite correct in stating that the problems at CSL go back a long way and they are not over yet.

    I shared a room with a District President at the second ACELC conference. He indicated that every year he has to fill out a request form for graduates for each seminary. He indicated that on both forms he requested confessional men who used the historic liturgies of the church and who practices closed communion. Then he said that every year he received a response from CSL that they didn’t have anyone for him. Thus, he gets his new grads from FTWayne. Enough said.

  9. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Since I wrote comment #56 to explain the history of both the unity and division in the LC-MS, I need to explain a bit more, in light of comments that followed #56.

    After the walkout in 1974, the synod rebuilt its historic seminary in Saint Louis (CSL) with completely orthodox, faithful, and committed faculty members. I knew/know most of them. Ralph Bohlmann gets a lot of credit for that rebuilding effort, and the Board of Regents too!

    Post-walkout CSL had some top-notch academicians and seasoned pastors who were also great teachers. I apologize for some who are not named for the period of ca. 1974-81, but no one could question the orthodoxy in theory or practice of guys like: John Klotz, Lou Brighton, Francis Rossow, Bill Schmelder, Jerry Eickmann, Wayne Schmidt, Quentin Wesselschmidt, George Robbert, Bob Hoerber, Andy Bartelt, John Johnson, Dan Pokorny, Dean Hempelmann, Armin Moellering, Al Fremder, Martin Scharlemann, Clyde Kaminska, Roger Meyer, Roland Hopmann, Lorenz Wunderlich, Dave Daniel, Dick Schultz, and Richard Klann. I am probably forgetting someone here. Karl Barth became CSL president in 1981 and continued the orthodox tradition there. I am by the way, a CTS grad, so I am not bragging about my alma mater or my mentors or personal “favorite professors.”

    Since that time of rebuilding CSL, both seminaries have had an occasional “oddball,” i.e., “oddball” from a doctrinal standpoint. These are human institutions, so this is to be expected

    Actually there may have been more doctrinal serious problems at CTS since 1981 than CSL, if you are going to count. One of the professors at CTS denied objective justification, and after counsel and mediation eventually came around to the orthodox Lutheran position. One of the professors at CTS was an open advocate for women’s ordination when I was there–that was eventually dealt with and he moved on. One of the CTS professors was an advocate for the Church Growth movement and friendly relations with Evangelicals, and when he was criticized for this, he attacked both faculty and students, and was one of the guys who attacked Robert Preus ca. 1987-89. More than anyone, he was probably responsible for Preus’ termination. Then there was the “upset” at CTS, when Preus was removed and the enemies of Preus and Lutheran orthodoxy tried to destroy the place. I can’t think of anything comparable at CSL in that period (1981 to present).

    As far as graduates of both seminaries go, since 1974, I have seen no consistent difference between the two from a doctrinal standpoint. You can point to some graduates from CSL that are a bit off in one direction, but for every one of them, there is a graduate from CTS that is a bit off in another direction. Both seminaries–that is their boards, faculty, and staff–do their best to prepare graduates who will uphold LC-MS doctrine and work well with 21st century people, but there is no perfect system of education or vetting.

    The real problems in the LC-MS linger on, not in our seminaries, but in those 950 “Seminex-sympathizer” congregations that have been poorly or badly catechized by their “Seminex-sympathizer” pastors. There “open communion” is the norm, Lodge members find a happy home, worship is “all over the place,” members have a pro-ecumenical outlook, and the Bible is seen as filled with myths–rarely will all of these aberrations be found in a single congregation. Graduates from either seminary entering those congregations have a tough time–some buckle under the pressure, others take a call as soon as possible, others leave the synod in disgust.

    So, don’t blame the seminaries, please. Give credit where credit is due, and blame were blame is due. And please support faithful professors, synod officers, and pastors when you see them under attack, terminated, etc.

    I hope this helps a bit in giving a better perspective on the current situation.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  10. I’m confused. CTS comes up.
    CSL = Concordia St. Louis.
    CFW = Concordia Fort Wayne.
    CTS means ??????

  11. @LG #64

    CSL = Concordia St. Louis.
    CFW = Concordia Fort Wayne.
    CTS means ??????

    CTS means Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. 🙂

  12. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #67

    So I guess the alleged opinion of one man should serve as the basis to slander the entire population of Concordia Saint Louis, past, present, and future? Seems legit. I have known some poor Fort Wayne graduates, should I therefore infer all Fort Wayne grads are inept pastors or that this constitutes a systematic breakdown of one of our seminaries? Of course not, it is irresponsible. The standard you apply to others should be applied equally to yourself.

  13. @Sean #68

    First, “Jason II” [I’m guessing; it would be better to differentiate your signatures if there are two Jasons posting] to say “alleged opinion” insinuates that Pr. Bolland is lying about what the District President said. Without evidence, that is a very rash insinuation and says more about you than about him.

    Second, (I assume truth on Pr. Bolland’s part) a District President knows more than you do about what he asked for and what he got from the seminary administrations. [Note that he was talking about Administration and their assessment of their graduates.]

    If you are still a seminarian, maybe you should learn a little more before you leave?
    [If you are an SMP, maybe you should reconsider the whole idea. Arrogance is not one of the virtues desired in a “reverend”.]

  14. For the record, I have absolutely no reason to lie about what the DP said to me. I am simply reporting what he said and am doing so nearly verbatim. If you don’t want to believe me, that is not my problem. You can believe anything you want.

  15. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #70

    For the record I did not mean by the term alleged that you were not being truthful in what you were relating. I don’t buy for a minute that CSL doesn’t provide graduates who are confessional and believe in the historic liturgy. That was meant to reflect on the accuracy of the DP’s statement, not yours. So I apologize for not wording that more clearly. You though have apparently served for a long time in the synod and should know better with regard to your peers, and I find that your statement was still slanderous of your fellow pastors.

  16. What’s happened to BJS?

    We seem to have a bunch of morality sheriffs running around here, telling folks what is “right speak” and what is not!

  17. Sean,

    Yes, I have been around a while and I am relating realities that I have personally witnessed. Our Synod is not walking together in doctrine and practice which, unfortunately, makes us a Christian sect rather than a manifestation of the Church. People don’t like that when you say it, but by every definition of Church and sect we are a sect. I only wish that it weren’t so.

  18. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #73

    I hear your concern. I would probably agree on some points and disagree on others. I’m fine with you voicing your concerns for the synod. What I take issue with is casting such a broad net. I have known fine pastors from both seminaries. I have also known some terrible pastors from both seminaries. Each pastor should be evaluated individually on the merits of his own work (1 Corinthians 3). God will do so and I suspect that you and I both may be surprised at who is rewarded and who suffers loss.

  19. My family recently left a large LCMS congregation which had CoWo and liturgical Divine services, but with a pastor who believes in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Holy Scriptures, and who preached both Law and Gospel (at least at the Divine Service; the confession for CoWo was basically “Oops, I did it again!”). This church is tied to Willow Creek and Leadership Network (progenitor of Brian McLaren et al), and held studies using books by John Ortberg, whose writings I would consider heterodox even in my former big-E Evangelical past.

    I find it hard to understand why Enthusiast-Pietist leaning people, who nonetheless claim the highest view of Scripture, would be yoked with Rationalist, Bible-denying Seminex/ELCA wannabe types in our Synod. You would think that these two groups would be bitter enemies.

    My only explanation is this quote, “The Devil wants to join the Church”. But hey, isn’t this Pietist/Rationalist coalition the same thing that destroyed Lutheranism in the late 18th and early 19th Century?

    As far as I’m concerned, my current pastor could have kneelers installed, put up a crucifix in the sanctuary, use incense and ring bells 3 times at the Consecration of the Host, and I’d be just fine with it. But the mere mention of “blended worship” would make me cringe. Of all the LCMS parishes in my area, about half alternate between liturgical and CoWo. And guess what? No Sacrament of the Altar at the CoWo at some of these…

    BTW, I reside in the Northern Illinois District, which I thought was one of the more Confessional districts… Lord, have mercy.

  20. We have a Fort Wayne grad out here who does a contemporary and a blended service. I went to his church a couple times when I first moved here about two years ago. He was a nice pastor, but I just wasn’t a fan of his preaching style. He tended to do topical sermons pulling verses on a specific topic for his sermon. I’ve never been a big fan of that. Too much potential to use a verse to force a message in. Just not my style.

  21. @Sean #71

    Yes, I know poor CTSFW grads too. And some of the pastors I most admire came from CSL.

    The pinnacle of the Seminary year is the Call Service and Vicarage Placement. Here’s an objective measure. Watch the Services this year from each Seminary. Think the Seminaries are on the same page? CSL was a sad travesty in many ways. Several CSL alumni have shared with me their embarrassment and shame of what took place at their Alma Mater. (I hope they wrote Pres. Meyer and the Chapel Dean.) Another objective measure, look into where the vast majority of Field Workers are assigned at CSL (and where those congregations stand on Open Communion, women giving sermons, irreverent worship, non-Lutheran Bible studies and Sunday school resources, CoWo, etc.) and you see how the CSL faculty desires to help form pastors.

  22. @Rev. Weinkauf #77

    Just curious, do you have a document to reference with numbers of congregations supporting the practices you mentioned broken out by the attending pastors’ school?

  23. Witty reply to a dumb point, Michael.

    Sean. Re-read Pr. Weinkauf’s post. He told you to go see for yourself.

    Then let this thread go. Go find a new target.

  24. @jb #80

    I did. He stated there are a number of objective indicators then listed several subjective categories (with the exception of women’s ordination) failing to even provide quantitative data to support his claim. Feel free to post objective quantifiable data, or at least qualitative data such as a course syllabus affirming what you have said. Otherwise you’re just breaking the eighth with gossip. Also, I will decide for myself where to address my comments, thank you very much.

  25. No Sean

    I am not breaking the 8th. Why don’t you and Michael stop throwing that around like some sort of weapon.

    Thia is a public forum, on which I gave my personal opinion about the words you two wrote. Perhaps you don’t like it. So be it.

    And really, given the geniuses you two fancy yourselves to be, perhaps you might consider starting your own blog. I am sure it would be quite popular . . . at least among the two of you.


  26. @jb #83

    I didn’t say you were. Re-read the comment. I don’t have an issue with you responding to a comment. Please do so. I just don’t understand telling me what I can or can’t respond to. I had remained silent until the thread went off topic to attack an entire seminary system along with the population of pastors ordained from there. I kinda think that’s a big deal, particularly when a pastor makes reference to a body of numbers that likely don’t exist. That is gossip, pure and simple. Maybe you don’t have an issue with that. That’s fine.

    Amazing how you continually revert to insults and/or threats when you have nothing of substance to say. Says a lot more about you than the people it is directed against. Also, have some class. If you want to attack me or my comment, whatever, do what you gotta do. But don’t also insult a third party in a comment directed at me. That’s pretty lame.

  27. Digging up this old post… I have become aware of the 2 VP in my district was contacted by Congregations Matter and they (CM) wanted to know who would be nominating. (VP emailed it around) Knowing the more powerful leaders in my district…. yeah there is no way my congregation is sharing. While on vacancy I have been able to share my thoughts quite openly and we are on the conservative side. We are looking to nominate Pres. Matt Harrison. And for reasons, i.e. mobbing (which I feel I have been targeted myself from liberals, can’t prove but I’ve had interesting conversations), no way this will be shared. We will have a new pastor soon, and I do not want any of us to have a target on our backs. And as per other posts on this particular thread, for these mobbing reasons I do not wish to share my last name. Sorry if I do not differentiate myself.

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