Higher Things – Quo Vadis?

Over the years Higher Things has received the support of many readers of Brothers of John Steadfast as well as of our editors. Sadly and with great regret the editors of the Brothers of John the Steadfast can no longer give such support under its current leadership. Our readers must understand why.

In the summer of 2015 Higher Things published an article by a former Missouri Synod pastor, Greg Eilers, who has gender dysphoria and as of this writing has undergone sexual reassignment surgery. After concerns were raised, Higher Things removed the article in its online form and published a retraction. The retraction contained difficult and confusing verbiage. It was unclear, but recent actions have shown that the direction that originally published the article is still the direction of the organization.

Higher Things has now invited Dr. Daniel van Voorhis, the resident scholar of 1517 The Legacy Project, to be a plenary and breakout speaker at their 2017 summer conferences. 1517 The Legacy Project is what our fathers would have properly identified as a Heterodox Tract and Missionary Society. How do we know this? From what they state about themselves and what they do. They do not identify as Lutheran and fit more the mold of generic protestantism where Lutheranism is just one of many Reformation traditions.  Their Reformation Conference speakers include orthodox theologians, as well those who do not share our confession of faith, and a devotion leader who has disqualified himself from public ministry. One cannot say that this conference is a Free Conference for the discussion of theological issues for 1517 The Legacy Project says:

“This is our legacy as children of the Reformation, and it gives us great cause for both celebration and proclamation in 2017. A celebration of the truths recovered in the Reformation and re-proclamation of them to the world and Church, which seems to be in great danger of forgetting them. To this end, we are excited to announce Here We Still Stand: A Reformation Conference. We have assembled an incredible line-up of over 20 speakers and musicians for this event, and YOU are invited to join us as we examine the men, ideas, and passages of Scripture that sparked the Reformation and yes—to have a huge party!”

The vision of 1517 is listed as:

1517. The Legacy Project serves churches and the world by providing a message of hope for those broken by the church, supplying theological resources that strengthen congregations, and modeling ways of engaging the culture in a manner that is thoughtful, courageous, and Christ-centered.”

Our readers can discern for themselves what 1517 The Legacy Project is about. We encourage the confessional Lutheran speakers we admire to remove themselves from association with 1517 The Legacy Project. We believe they do not know what they have joined themselves to. However, we do believe that the current leadership of Higher Things knows exactly what it is doing by its repeated difficulties on these topics.

The Scholar in Residence and Director of Curriculum for 1517 The Legacy Project, Dr. van Voorhis interviewed Mr. Eilers and his wife for the “Virtue in the Wasteland” podcast. (Part 1) (Part 2). The interview is long (3 hours), but to be informed our readers should listen to both parts and judge for themselves if the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Natural Law are affirmed. We believe they are rejected. [Is this what we want our children exposed to?] Yet, not only has Higher Things invited Dr. van Voorhis to be a plenary and breakout speaker, 1517 the Legacy Project is a sponsor of this summer’s conferences, with prominent billing on their conference shirts. Note this quotation from Higher Things President Rev. George Borghardt in a recent post: “We are really excited to have 1517 sponsor our conference shirts. Our organizations share a common love for the gospel and the comfort of troubled consciences.” He continued: “We’re grateful to all of our sponsors for their support as we dare youth to be Lutheran.”

The question must be asked what kind of Lutheran?

1517 The Legacy Project and their companion organization, Christ Hold Fast, (one will note 1517, CHF, and HT share authors and speakers including Dr. van Voorhis) are not Lutherans nor are they Lutheran organizations.  The “About” sections of the sites of 1517 and CHF do not identify as Lutheran.  1517 calls itself a Movement, an Educational Organization and a Party. Christ Hold Fast calls itself a Law Gospel Collective. Look and judge for yourself the writings of these organizations and the practices at their conferences, particularly their worship practices. These writings and practices are what Higher Things chooses to introduce to our Lutheran youth. This is specifically a problem for an organization centered around teaching youth. Organizations that are geared for adult participation can be more open to trusting the discernment of their constituents.  Serving youth is quite different and deserves extra care and consideration.  Let us state that again: serving youth is quite different and deserves extra care and consideration.  That important understanding is lacking in the case of current Higher Things leadership.  Our children are living in a time of connectivity, where a simple Google search of a speaker they saw at a Higher Things event will bring up all of that speaker’s other ideas, teachings, and words. This is not just an issue of what is said in the events itself, but an issue of bringing teachers in front of children who have questionable affiliations and materials.

1517 The Legacy Project and the other groups listed above are by definition heterodox tract and missionary activities; renunciation of which is a condition of membership in the LCMS. Higher Things is a Recognized Service Organization of the LCMS. The Office of National Mission headed up by Rev. Bart Day should investigate as to whether Higher Things should continue to receive RSO status.

It saddens us, but Higher Things under its current leadership has ceased to Dare to be Lutheran. We believe that our many faithful brothers who serve as plenary and breakout speakers simply do not know the facts of where Higher Things is going ­— the way of reductionism or a certain kind of antinomianism.  At the very least the current leadership of Higher Things has acted like they have forgotten their purpose to carefully serve our tender youth with the basics of Lutheran doctrine and practice.  The podcasts of Dr. van Voorhis’ and association with 1517 The Legacy Project do not contribute to a “distinctly Lutheran identity” for our youth.

The mission of Higher Things:

The mission of Higher Things is to assist parents, pastors, and congregations in cultivating a distinctly Lutheran identity among their youth and young adults.

It brings us no joy to write such things about an organization through which our parishioners and children have been blessed, but the fact remains that we do not believe that Higher Things is currently worthy of the support of Confessional Lutherans. It saddens us greatly.  This is not meant to be an “eat our own” situation, but it is spoken in love with the hope that change would happen.  Parents should ask their pastors what is going on with Higher Things. Pastors should be asking hard questions of the current Higher Things leadership. The Synod, according to its established procedures, should investigate Higher Things. We pray the organization can be redeemed and this is our preferred outcome to glorify God and continue to help our youth. Perhaps it is time for it to cease operations. It will be pastors and parents who will decide its future. The current leadership has been addressed privately with no substantive changes and now joins itself to an organization that is anything but exclusively Lutheran and introduces Lutheran youth to false doctrine and false teachers. We now hope and pray that they would listen to pastors and parents and return to the organization that we all used to love, support, and work with.  We will continue to pray for this and hope for a day when we can again support and work with Higher Things.

Higher Things, Quo Vadis? We pray and have now spoken in the hope that you will turn around.

– The editors of the Brothers of John the Steadfast


We tried to reach Dr. van Voorhis but he didn’t return our call initially but has reached out since this was published (update: Dr. van Voorhis and Rev. Scheer talked this morning very openly and honestly with mutual respect for each other and their respective organizations.  They will continue to talk about matters that they disagree about).  We also have contacted Higher Things leadership concerning this statement.


Note: Commenting on this post has been closed.  Read the post, consider doing what it suggests (listen, read, discern, ask, pray).


Higher Things – Quo Vadis? — 68 Comments

  1. @LW #48

    I know both Dr. Van Voorhis and Dr. Mallinson. To interview someone and listen to what they have to say without scolding them or ‘correcting’ their views is a mark of maturity and does not constitute false doctrine or heterodox teaching. Neither is letting someone speak about their situation an endorsement of what they are saying. Listening closely and putting the best construction on the conversation, as we are urged to do by the Catechism, the interview is really a non issue. Both of the good Dr.s would agree that it is wrong to mutilate yourself in an attempt to change your gender.Knowing most of the board members I can safely say that they would also concur.

  2. @helen #29
    Yes, kids are open to wrong ideas, and can be impressionable, but that is why parents and the Church local need to be so much more vigilant. Solid teaching to counter what is tossed at them. And good, solid real worship…that does stick!

  3. @Patrick Kyle #51

    you wrote, “Both of the good Dr.s would agree that it is wrong to mutilate yourself in an attempt to change your gender.”

    It would be good to have something in print or on a podcast from them that said that. Could you direct me to such?

    Thanks, Pr. Ball+

  4. @Timothy Schenks #44

    Finished Pastor Surburg’s article. The main thrust of his article is ‘Hey, you aren’t saying it exactly right. Like we say it’ To believe what Surburg says you have to dismiss the best construction of Rosenbladt’s comments and replace it with an attribution of untruth or ulterior motive on the part of Dr. Rosenbladt.

  5. @Patrick Kyle #49

    You may not be aware that the disciplinary process in the LCMS is broken, which has been a topic here and on other sites (http://ACELC.net for example) for many years. People citing the 8th Commandment or Synod bylaws to cover up errors is nothing new. We’re quite used to it.

  6. @Patrick Kyle #54

    Maybe if Surburg edited his article by half (2/3rd’s?) I could find his point.
    (Or maybe you did, Patrick?)

    Re Eilers: The explanation given by the HT writer (I’m not going back, but…) sounded to me as if they were a bit “used” by Eilers. They had the understanding when the article was written that, ‘Yes, he had this idea in his head, but No, he wasn’t going to “transition”‘
    I.e., a story about resisting an impulse, which might be useful to teens with similar thoughts. And that would have been fine…but Eilers didn’t subsequently do that. And didn’t HT do what they could to withdraw the story?

  7. @Patrick Kyle #54

    First you claim to be Confessional Lutheran, then you claim to say things differently than us. That is not Concordia. Redefining words is a practice of theological liberals. Is means is, Mr. Zwingli.

    My best construction is that you are Lutherans in name only performing a bait and switch act, which was the main thrust of Surburg’s article.

  8. @Pastor Prentice #50

    After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. – Rev 7

    This sounds just like church-growtherism to me. 🙂

  9. @Patrick Kyle #60

    No. Actually it’s very difficult. The ACELC site would tell you that.

    Surburg’s blog also details his attempts to interact with Higher Things leadership.

  10. @Patrick Kyle #54

    Putting the worst construction things, unfortunately, is becoming normal. Doing an interview is unionism? When the interviewee changed his mind, the article was renounced.

  11. @Patrick Kyle #51

    Thanks for your reply. I understand that it is difficult to interview a person beset by a public sin and show proper Christian compassion for them especially in light of their apparent mental illness, but the interview left me with the impression that there were some bad people who hurt this dysphoric person by naming his sin and calling him to repentance. The interview left me with a lot of questions. Is gender dysphoria a sin? Is it a sin to publicly call a sin a sin? Is it wrong to publicly call a person to repentance especially if they are mentally ill? Do LCMS folk still believe in church discipline?

    Sometimes it seems as though I am one of the few who are still living in the dark ages because I still think the Office of Keys and Confession are relevant and should be practiced today. Has the field of psychiatry somehow changed this?

  12. @LW #63

    Church Discipline (Matthew 18, banning from Communion, excommunication, etc.) is conducted by one’s congregation and pastor, not the Synod. Synod can suspend a Synod membership; they cannot excommunicate anyone.

  13. While discussion of me is only the undercard to the main event of this article, what was said merits a response, specifically my view of Natural Law. Once I learned of this article, it explained my heavy blog traffic since yesterday. Because many are reading my stuff, I was even more compelled to post this here.

    In short, my arguments are not against God’s Law, but against those who will not reckon gender dysphoria for what it is.

  14. @Timothy Schenks #64

    I know, but how many LCMS pastors still actually practice the lesser ban? What percentage of LCMS pastors practice open communion? How many LCMS pastors are willing to commune those committing unrepentant hard-hearted open sin? How does the mental illness of an individual effect how a pastor ministers to him?

  15. Our family has been blessed by Higher Things in the past. Many times their writings have called us to repentance and deeper faith. For this we are grateful. Sadly, the last couple years we have noticed that there are sometimes antinomian sentiments within their devotions, articles, and their radio show. We also have a relative who suffers similar things to Mr. Eilers. We were eager to see how this HT article could help him. The article by Mr. Eilers failed to identify the sin involved, furthering the confusion of the young readers and anyone who has gender dysphoria. The HT statement following the article was heartfelt, but lacking in a full rebuke. It was a disappointing lack of discernment. The publication gave Mr. Eilers a platform to recruit others (especially children) to his way of thinking.
    We can no longer assume that HT is being solid until these things are addressed. Higher Things cannot be friends with the world. I believe that the leaders of Higher Things are good hearted Lutherans who truly love the Gospel, and I hope that they will love those who correct them and grow in wisdom and discernment so they can regain my trust.

  16. Comparisons with Issues, Etc. or Seminary Symposium, or pastors contributing to non-Lutheran blogs are more obscuring than helpful. Same with personal testimonies about how 1517 used to be. 1517 understands itself as a “movement.” The question is, where is it moving?

    Once upon a time 1517 had nothing to do with Christ Hold Fast (CHF). Now it does. Is that a “movement” toward or away from Confessional Lutheranism?

    The founder of CHF, “Pastor” Daniel Price, has sexually preyed upon one of Christ’s sheep. He twists the Bible to remain instated as a “pastor” of an “independent Lutheran church” (read: cult leader). He practices open communion, slanders confessional brothers, is divisive, quarrelsome, and blatantly unrepentant. If you want to know his m.o. read, “Beware of Broken Wolves” by Joe Carter. It spells out how Price uses the gospel so that Price can do what Price wants to do.

    Once upon a time Van Voorhis used his gifts in service to Confessional Lutheranism. For example, google his videos on “American Christianity” and “A Brief history of Lutheran Pietism.” Since becoming part of the “movement” that is 1517, how has Van Voorhis moved? There was the pro Nadia Bolz-Weber article, bizarre and questionable videos on “Christ and Culture,” the Reinke interview, the Eilers interview, and now hours of narcissism and humble-bragging about a sinful past (See “Virtue in the Wasteland” and “Monsters”).

    If 1517 was interested in working together with Confessional Lutherans, how hard would it be to simply post a correction, retraction, or clarification (on the Eilers issue, for example, or any of the others)? How hard would it be for 1517 to simply say: “If you see something contrary to the Bible or the Confessions, let us know, we will take it down”?

    But 1517 is a movement and it isn’t interested in what Confessional Lutheranism thinks. It’s headed in another direction, one small step at a time.

    Evidence? Donavan Riley: “Clark Kent in a Manger” (Eutychianism), “God’s Not Angry At You” and “The Gospel For those angry At God” (Antinomianism). Chad Bird: “Safe Preaching and the Prophylactic Gospel” and “Gospel Phobia” (Antinomianism). Scott Keith: “Do you Really think You can Use God’s Law” (Antinomianism), “The Gospel As Dynamite …” (Anachronism, Bad Exegesis, Reductionism), “My First Lutheran Cruise” (Mocking the Lutheran church). Joel Hess: “Is God Drunk” (Blasphemy), “Want Uniformity In Worship? Go back to Prussia” (Anti-liturgical). There’s even a papist! Graham Glover: “Authority Problem” and “Protestants Need the Pope.”

    Add all this to what you know about CHF and the tragic turn of Van Voorhis.

    1517 identifies as a “movement.” Does it appear that they are moving (and want their audience to move) toward Confessional Lutheranism or away from it?

    1517 has also promoted an organization called Mockingbird and its conferences (see the “friends” section of 1517’s website). If you want the abstract, simply google “episcodisco.” If you want the full scoop, check out the crass antinomianism of Paul Zahl’s book, “Grace In Practice” or the identical theology of his son, David Zahl. Mockingbird is also pro women’s ordination and has had, for example, “Rev.” Mrs. Fleming Rutledge as a conference speaker. Again, 1517 promotes Mockingbird and its conferences.

    1517 identifies as a “movement.” Does it appear that they are moving toward Confessional Lutheranism or away from it?

    1517/CHF are now promoting a conference called “Here We Still Stand.” The conference name and list of speakers will tell you all you need to know. Orthodox (Montgomery, Rosenbladt, Francisco, Siemon-Netto), mixed with heterodox (non-Lutherans, David Zahl, etc.), mixed with predatory (Daniel Price), mixed with flat-out heretical (Stephen Paulson). Yes, Stephen Paulson who, in his book, “Lutheran Theology” denies the atonement (p. 91-93), denies the Third Use (p. 170-188), and even accuses our Lord Jesus Himself of personal sin (p.105) is one with whom 1517/CHF is going to “stand” on the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Let that sink in.

    1517 identifies as a “movement.” If it “stands” with the kind of teachers listed above, and implies that Lutherans have always stood with these kinds of teachers (“Here We *Still* Stand), is this a “movement” toward or away from Confessional Lutheranism? Is it a “movement” toward or away from Truth?

    How have orthodox teachers gotten wrapped into this? By not truly understanding the nature of the “movement” to which they are lending their names and talents. Once upon a time 1517 was not so. Now it is. The big picture and the slow drift are sometimes hard to see. Old age, old friendships, and a bit of money can make it even harder to see.

    Of course, you could simply come to the same conclusion about 1517/CHF using the well-worn short-cut: lex orandi, lex credendi. If the worship is generically protestant, revivalistic, and ego driven – so too will be the theology. Check out any 1517/CHF conference.

    1517/CHF is a lot of good and a lot of bad all mixed together. The bad is a move toward protestantism, nuanced with radical Lutheranism. The good is why it has its champions. Everyone interested in Confessional Lutheranism needs to understand that 1517/CHF is a “movement,” and they need to understand where that “movement” is headed.

    And if this is, indeed, a “movement” that Higher Things wants to join, then, “Higher Things – Quo Vadis?”