Visit to Divine Savior Church, Liberty Hill, Texas – Field of Dreams

This is a ‘mission’ start of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). You wouldn’t know this except for it saying so on the front cover the bulletin, in tiny print, but more prominently on their web page . I call this Field of Dreams because like the movie says: If you build it, they will come. This is the philosophy behind this ‘mission’ start. WELS has plopped down, whole and complete, a pre-k, elementary school, and a ‘church’ prepaid in the middle of a growing, kitschy, suburb of Austin, Texas called Santa Rita Ranch. The aforementioned website will tell you they have planted other Divine Savior Churches in Delray Beach, Doral (both English and Spanish), North Collin County, Sienna, and West Palm Beach. But just what are they building? Actually, the question is really what are you faithful Wisconsin Synod laymen building? 

This was contemporary, but as my wife remarked, “It was better than the rest of them that are like this.” It was. The pastor wore a suit and tie rather than high-end tennis shoes, skinny jeans, and an untucked shirt. The president of the LCMS’s English District in the 90s, who was high church, said that he could see a time when the clerical collar will be replaced by the suit and tie. He was right. We have reached that time. The pastor was the only one in a suit and tie. However, better than Evangelicalism or Non-denominational doesn’t mean Lutheran let alone Confessional Lutheran.

The song were repetitious, but not too, and the lyrics were meatier but not by much. Two of the songs were from the new 2021 WELS Christian Worship. The WELS old hymnal from circa 1993 was also named this. WELS evidently didn’t get the memo that LCMS did. After the LCA and ALC named their new 1981 hymnal Lutheran Book of Worship, the LCMS in 1982 came out with Lutheran Worship. It was pointed out that these were the first incidences in the almost 500-year-old denomination of having the word ‘worship’ in a hymnal title. Hence, in 2006 the LCMS came out with the Lutheran Service Book. Lutherans emphasize the divine service (deity serving us) rather than us ascribing ‘worth-ship’ to God.

The pastor definitely knows the Gospel and proclaimed it explicitly stating both the active and passive righteousness of Christ that sinners need. But it might have been lost amidst such things as saying: Our relationship with God is not based on fear but on love. Well, we had better stop teaching our kids in all the Explanations to the Commandments: “We should fear and love God.” In the sermon he emphasized God has need of you. To make sinners feel their need for God, you have to preach Law. Saying God has need of you, well shucks, makes you feel downright needed, warm, fuzzy, valued.

My wife observed there was a constant dumbing down but allowed for the fact that if people are totally unchurched you have to reach them where they are. I responded. “Try telling that to Starbucks.” When you go in there, they are all speaking the same language and doing it fast, and if you don’t know the lingo? Tough. You’ll learn it. A Russian Orthodox priest said: the Divine Liturgy deals with another realm, another reality, and speaks of divinity. Of course, it’s going to be different, weird, to those outside it.

So this WELS mission start makes every effort to go outside of every Lutheran comfort zone. The sermon series, all contemporary churches have these rather than following the centuries old Church Calendar, was “Proverbs: Pursuing the Path of Wisdom”. The best thing about this series is that unlike the LCMS contemporary churches who follow the same series as the Evangelicals do, this was apparently written by WELS for WELS. The worst thing about it is that it was written by WELS.

It was so dumbed down. Helen Steiner Rice says more profound things than this sermon did. Dave Ramsey could have preached it. It was titled “Mastering Money” and the blanks could have been filled in by any 7th grade confirmand. 1. Wealth is a blessing from the Lord. 2. Wealth is a good thing as long as it is not the greatest thing. 3. The greatest wealth is the greatest gift of God: Jesus.” In case you missed these stellar theological truths, the pastor’s prayer after the sermon recapped them.

The most egregious thing in the service was “Confession and Forgiveness”. The mood music being played during the confession was sad: actually and metaphorically. The confession posited a doable law and while there was explicit Gospel there was no absolution. Far more upsetting to Protestants, both Evangelicals and Reformed, than even Closed Communion is the Absolution. “I forgive you” whether it be in Jesus’ name or not is anathema to them. You can say, “Jesus forgives you.” “God forgives you.” You can assure them, remind them, announce to them forgiveness just don’t actually do it. This pastor did not. I suspect none in the Divine Savior Church franchise does.

I don’t know, but I hoped the WELS hymnal doesn’t have the Confession of Forgiveness that was in this bulletin. “Too often my actions demonstrate pride” means not always. “At times, I have forgotten your instruction” means that if I can just remember more I’ll be fine. “I have not always rejoiced in your presence” means sometimes I did and that doesn’t need confessing. So much for Luther’s ‘we need forgiveness for even our good works.” So much for the Lord saying in Is. 64:6, “all our righteous acts are like a filthy cloth.” Not at the Divine Savior Church franchise. Some of their acts aren’t like a filthy cloth.

I have no doubt that these Divine Savior ‘Churches’ will grow. Continuing to worship like Baptists, confess and forgive like Baptists, and sing like Baptists, they will be Wisconsin Evangelical Baptist Churches, and watch out if you’re a Confessional Lutheran one. They will tolerate you for a while, but when they get big enough, when they no longer need the financial backing of the Old Time Traditional Lutherans, you won’t be tolerated. You will be labeled, scorned, belittled as maintenance ministries, dying churches, deadwood, dried up fields, needing to be plowed under so that another Divine Savior  Field of Dreams Church can be planted.

This is kind of like the ending to Soylent Green. You faithful, confessional Lutherans who have given your blood, sweat, and tears to support ‘missions’ have in effect been nursing, nurturing, the Beast of Protestantism that will eventually devour you. You built it all right, but you didn’t realize that when they came it would be for you.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
This entry was posted in Contemporary Worship, Missouri Megatrends. Bookmark the permalink.