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.


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