An Open Letter to all 82 Willow Creek Association Churches in Wisconsin

An Appleton, Wisconsin pastor has given us permission to share a letter he wrote to churches across the state with a WCA (Willow Creek Association) affiliation. (To find out which churches in your area are affiliated with WCA, click here.) If you live in Wisconsin, there is a good chance your pastor has received this letter. You may want to ask him what he and his elders think about this:

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June 30, 2015

Dear Pastors,

I am writing this letter out of concern for the recent acknowledgment by Darren Calhoun, a worship leader on staff at Willow Creek Chicago, a downtown satellite church of the main campus, that he is gay. On the weekend of June 11-13 in Atlanta, he was a speaker at The Reformation Project conference, headed up by Matthew Vines. If you are unfamiliar with Matthew Vines, here is a brief quote from his bio which appears on his own website:

“In 2013, Matthew launched The Reformation Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to training LGBT Christians and their allies to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. He is now expanding his efforts with conferences and regular speaking engagements across the country...” (1)

In another significant headline this June, which is “LGBTQ Pride Month”, we learn that Tony Campolo, a “Red Letter Christian” (2) is now advocating for full inclusion of LGBTQ members into the church as a whole without repentance. Combine that with the Supreme Court ruling that gay marriage will be now legal in all 50 states, and it becomes very clear biblically that the time for sitting on the church fence regarding this controversial issue is past, and the time for a clear biblical stand has been moved to the front burner for those who claim to know and teach the truth.

Just a note on who I am: I am a bible-believing Pastor of a non-denominational church called Calvary Chapel. I fully realize that churches have differing views on this hot-button issue, but having said that, I assume that most if not all of you believe that the Bible is God’s Word. Paul wrote to Timothy:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness...” 2Timothy 3:16

I have been around ministry for some time, and in the Fox Valley where I live, as far as I know I have been in ministry longer than any area evangelical pastor, over 36 years. Beginning in the early ‘80s, I was a part of the Fox Cities Evangelical Ministerial Fellowship (FCEMF), but my participation ended when much of their focus began to revolve around Willow Creek and its leadership conferences. As I saw this shift begin, I expressed my concerns over building bigger churches based on demographic studies of what people want to see in a church, also known as the “seeker-sensitive” church model.

Their annual “Leadership Summit”, existing primarily to spread the Willow Creek ministry model to those churches that sign up to be a part of this “back-door” denomination, is known for bringing in speakers who are not even Christians, and include both politicians and postmodernists: Condoleeza Rice, Gen. Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter,U2's Bono, Tyler Perry, Oprah, emergent Erwin McManus, false teacher Steven Furtick, pragmatist Andy Stanley, and a host of other seeker-social-justice advocates, celebrity pastors, and adherents of liberal theology.

These annual “summits” are purposefully meant to be an example or pattern for those who attend to follow worldly wisdom in developing or modeling leadership, and then streaming this leaven out to 375 churches around the world, an estimated audience of 260,000. (3) The responsibility on Willow Creek to somehow be accountable for the practices and preaching of each of these churches is large, one that hopefully they do not take lightly. Each attendee, whether in person or via church-wide stream, pays a significant fee to absorb “wisdom” from people across denominational and cultural lines. In order to appeal to this wide of an audience, we must naturally assume that the spiritual message must be thoroughly watered down, as is evidenced by a lack of any mention of Jesus, the Spirit, or the Scriptures in any of their promotional material, something we have been watching for over a decade here in the church office.

Bill Hybels’ primary mentor was Peter Drucker, the guru of American CEOs for decades with seeming outward success. Drucker is not a believer, and has long desired to have an influence on Hybels and Rick Warren and the churches within their sphere of influence. This perceived success, when translated to ministry, can be seductive to an average evangelical church that just wants to stay current with the latest church model of success and feels that numbers indicate approval by God somehow.

A perfect example of this would be the largest church in the country, Joel Osteen’s church in Houston, with 48,000 people in attendance. Yet the full gospel is never presented there; no mention of sin or repentance, and basically doing nothing more than telling people what they want to hear. Nearly every one of Joel’s book titles contains “me”, “you”, or “I” in the title. Calling a best-seller “Your Best Life Now” does nothing to suggest that this pastor is getting his congregants ready for eternity but rather keeping them focused on themselves and their desires in this life.

As the seeker model of doing church began to sweep the country, suddenly back in 2007, a startling headline hit the Christian media: “Willow Creek Repents?”. Leadership Journal carried the story and James Twitchell, in his book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels' office hangs a poster that says: "What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?", which describes this ministry model to a “T”. (4)

Willow Creek’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell, outlined by two videos presented at that Summer’s Leadership Summit (including one from Hybels) was that “ the more people participate in (our) sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ." So programs and looking busy produces spiritual maturity? What might they consider the role of a pastor or leader then if all one needs to do is wind up a program and watch it magically create believers?

Leadership Journal went on to say that “Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry - church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage - has impacted every evangelical church in the country.” Wouldn’t you agree that with that kind of influence, the ground moves a little when Willow Creek stops in the middle of their day and says, “we made a mistake”? What did they mean by that, and how did it translate to the hundreds of churches that model themselves after Willow, 82 of which influence the church-goers in the state of Wisconsin alone?

On one level, research is what built that church; research is then what brought to light the fact that after years of such a model, research also showed that "Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone's becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more." (5)

Hybels goes on to say that after investing 30 years of his adult life and millions of dollars to do ministry based on a business model and convincing others around the world to do the same, the results of this unnamed “research” produced a significant “wake up call”. Unfortunately, that wake up call wasn’t loud enough to fundamentally change the way they do things at all, and any hope that they might stick with things that cost far less than their research, such as bible studies, prayer meetings and discipleship were quickly dashed. Within mere weeks, they hosted a large Youth event with postmodern pastor Erwin McManus (leader of Mosaic Church in the heart of Los Angeles), and the seeker ship has been floating along in the same manner as before without interruption, embracing a form of liberal theology that walks lock-step with the political ship that America is riding to sail off into the final sunset before the Lord returns. Hybel’s wife Lynn writes for socialist and professing Christian Jim Wallis’ social justice newsletter/site “Sojourners”, and conducts “Christ at the Checkpoint” pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel seminars. Exchanging one worldly perspective for another is hardly “change”.

It is in this same spirit that I am sending out to you this letter along with 2 particular books that are very timely right now. The first book, “Love Flowed Down - It Was For Me” is written by Ruth Christian, a part of our fellowship in Appleton for over 25 years and a bible teacher to our ladies. Her testimony as a former lesbian utterly changed by God’s grace, the same grace every repentant sinner has access to, raises the bar for anyone who somehow thinks that any 1 sin is outside His cleansing power. Also in this same vein, we recommend a book by Rosario Butterfield entitled, “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert”, in which she tells her story of being a professor at the liberal University of Syracuse when the Lord got a hold of her heart and utterly changed her from the inside out. It is a very compelling read and was featured in Christianity Today magazine in an article entitled, “My Train Wreck Conversion”. If you don’t have time for the book, do yourself a favor and meet Ms Butterfield in this article. (7)

The other book, “The New Evangelicalism”, is written by Paul Smith, brother of the late Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement. This timely book outlines the root cause and biblical concerns with the seeker-sensitive approach to ministry and its foundation in the worldly philosophies of Peter Drucker. At the end of the day, it is probably the definitive work exposing the roles of Drucker and Dallas Theological Seminary in bringing the church to this point. A must read for context, and thoroughly documented point by point.

Stand Up for the Truth, a cutting-edge radio program out of Green Bay’s Q90FM that airs Monday-Friday at 9AM, wrote an article on Darren Calhoun and his participation in Matthew Vine’s event in mid-June. They write:

“Willow Creek spokeswoman Heather Larson told WORLD News Group’s Warren Cole Smith that Willow Creek establishing an openly gay man in leadership at the church does not signal a change in direction for Willow Creek. This begs some questions: Heather, what statement of policy are you talking about, and how did it not change? Second, why does Willow Creek appoint leaders who are openly rebelling against God? And third, for all of you Willow Creek Association members out there who have scolded your sheep for years when they have brought concerns to your leadership about participating in Bill Hybels Global Leadership Summit: Do you think that perhaps you should reconsider your participation now, and perhaps issue an apology to those you’ve berated for their concerns?” (8)

While the professing church seems content in 2015 to sway to the beat of a secular culture and become nearly indistinguishable from the world, there are still godly men and women everywhere who desire to stop the ride and get off, asking tough questions that have already been answered by the Word of God, and which churches like Willow Creek are seemingly ignoring. For the record, I have contacted Bill Hybels about this issue and they have not responded to me.

1Corinthians 6:9-11 is not open to re-interpretation here in 2015, lest the church somehow think there is any wiggle room:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

“Do not be deceived”, a clear warning, tells us that the potential for deception is present in our hearts concerning this list of various sins; note which ones in particular that many in the church have decided ARE open to interpretation today, that men like Calhoun and Vines feel heaven AND earth should be moved to redefine. The verse clearly suggests that Calhoun, Vines, Campolo, and a host of other liberal churches and church-goers are deceived. That is a very heavy statement, a serious charge. But clearly we are promised that God is in the sanctification business regardless of the sin.

Men like these are walking a slippery slope and creating a god in their own image in their attempt to get the church to do things solely based on their “orientation”. Suppose someone came to your church and said, “I'm having trouble reconciling my orientation as a thief/liar/adulterer to what the bible teaches so I need to create a movement and put on a conference to convince the church to rethink its stand on adultery....stealing....lying”. Would the church move heaven and earth to accommodate these sins as well? Would your church entertain such absurdity? The truth is, anyone who thinks like this about any sin is in eternal peril and in need of repentance.

Let’s take it a bit further: does homosexuality cross a line with God? Romans chapter 1, vs 18 - 32 tell us that God’s wrath is kindled against unrepentant sin and ungodliness by those who suppress the truth for their own selfish, unrighteous reasons because what can be known of God is apparent to every human. Verse 21 tells us that “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man...Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

Verses 26-29a: “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due...God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality...”

In light of what God clearly says about these things, how does the Apostle Paul deal with them as they come up in the church? At Corinth, an issue of sexual immorality had arisen; Paul was not present with them at the time, but made a judgment call on this situation nevertheless and wrote them a letter. 1Corinthians 5:3 tells us, “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.” 1Corinthians 5:1-13 then presents us with Paul’s handling of this situation, in light of the seriousness of leaven in the church. Verses 4 and 5 tell us, “ In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

He goes on to say, “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” My desire is in the same spirit of Paul, to see such a one saved from eternal judgment. Jude 23 says, “....but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”

But God’s Word is clear; the handling of this situation in any church today, including Willow Creek and all it’s campuses and associate churches and any church that names the name of Jesus Christ, is found in these Scriptures. The inerrant Word of God is on the block here, not the reputation, ministry model, or political correctness of any congregation. Let God be true and every man a liar.

On Wednesday July 8, Stand Up for the Truth quoted Congressman Reid Ribble on this issue. Reid is a friend of mine, and back in the early ‘80s he contacted me about starting Appleton Christian School, which we did and it continued here for 3 years until they outgrew our building. He said, “I disagreed with the Supreme Courts decision on marriage. The Supreme Court decision to interject themselves in the topic of marriage is simply an intrusion at the federal level into a states rights issue. No matter how that decision affects me I choose to follow the admonition of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:14-18:

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." Christians would do well to heed these words.”

There is a passage of Scripture in which Paul gives a prophecy about the last days, as he is mentoring Timothy:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables.” 2Timothy 4:3

In supporting leaders such as Calhoun and Vines, Willow Creek is assisting in fulfilling this prophecy.

The remedy for this is found just one verse previous: “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine.” 2Timothy 4:2

In conversations with pastors in the past what I have heard most was, “we don’t agree with everything Willow Creek does, but we still attend the conferences.” I believe a line has been crossed for such a rationale, and that the church should mark Willow Creek for what it is.

My hope and prayer in light of clear Scriptural instruction is that you will reconsider your position as a Willow Creek Association member, the impression it leaves and the influence you have over those in your spiritual care. Some day we will all give an account to those the Lord put in that care. For an excellent resource, Ray Comfort has just released a movie, “Audacity” which addresses this issue. It is well balanced and meant to be seen by the general public; my letter is directed solely to the church, to Christians.(9)

“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” 1Peter 5:2-4

May the Lord give you wisdom as you prayerfully weigh out all of these things. If I can be of help in any way, I would be happy to talk with any of you.

In Jesus,

Dwight Douville

Sr. Pastor, Calvary Chapel of Appleton