[Editor's note: this is the expanded version of the article by the same name in the November-December 2009 Network News]
It seems that whatever saying you want to use to express extreme consequences fits the current situation facing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“Pandora’s box has been opened.”
“The tangled web woven to deceive has been revealed.”
“The floodgates have been flung wide.”
“The little boy’s finger has been removed from the dike.”
Church leaders came out in support or ordaining persons in homosexual relationships and of accepting homosexual relationships as not sinful.
It happened three months ago when the ELCA churchwide assembly decided to put God’s Word up for a vote it, in effect, removed itself as a church, not just a Lutheran one but as a Christian one, in the minds and hearts of believers and unbelievers across the globe.
Ecumenical relations are strained to the point of rupture, ethnic/multicultural ministry has been disrupted and church after church is breaking off its relationship with the ELCA in search of new relationships and renewed mission.
All of this was done for what, for whom?
The argument has been made that it is in order to include those who have been excluded until now; to become a church that doesn’t just talk about full inclusion but practices it. I’ve heard it said by bishops in recent presentations explaining the assembly’s actions and the “good news” that now gays and lesbians can be “fully included” in the church that had excluded them from “fully serving” in the past.
I’m quite sure that Lutherans preach, teach and confess that through baptism we are fully entered into the ministry of the laity, the priesthood of all believers, which is of equal value and of parallel importance to ordained and lay professional ministries. Therefore, all the laity are “fully serving God.”
It seems that the vote in August changed even more about what we teach, preach and confess than it first appeared to. Either this is all just talk after the fact—to try to convince church attendees and givers to keep attending and giving because this was no big deal, only an act of justice and equal rights—or God really did make changes to His law and those in the ELCA, who wish to, may believe something new and different about ordained ministry than before.
Remember that gays and lesbians were not excluded or precluded from serving as ordained ministers in the ELCA. They in fact, it could be argued, had a higher calling, a calling to celibacy, to great self-discipline, to pick up very heavy crosses to follow the One calling them into service in His church.
Service that serves Him and not the self.
And, as with all ministers, they accepted the call to exercise chastity as witnesses to being called into ordained or professional lay ministries and to reject whatever sins the desires of the flesh oriented them toward. This was a shared standard for all hearing the calling to public ministry regardless of sexual preference or martial status.
Arguments over “orientation” continue to drone on in public forums and writings when that, in fact, has never been the issue and should have no bearing on the present predicament. We confess that we all are born into the state of original sin. We all have predispositions to sin against God and our neighbor.
We all declare independence from God’s will for our lives and try to make our own selves “gods.” This sin, in any form or habitual behavior is not to be held up as exemplary and blessed. But is to be confessed and, by the grace of God, denied as a desire of the sinful flesh requiring self-restraint. It is not to be celebrated as self-expression.
The reason all of this is such a big deal is that none of this is about sex or even homosexuality. This vote has no more to do with the homosexuals than the vote in 1999 had to do with the Episcopalians. What was put up for a vote both times was the authority of the Word of God and whether the church has the right or even the calling to mandate teaching and practice that are not scriptural and that conflict with our Lutheran confessions.
The voters this past August decided to “unsin” that which has been regarded as sinful behavior (homosexual practice), give a word of blessing where there is no scriptural, confessional or historical basis for it, hold up as exemplary in public ministry that which has been prohibited not only by the Bible but also through all church teachings and 2000-plus years of history (not to mention social and cultural prohibitions and glaring lessons in history of empires that fell as a result of sexual promiscuity.)
Who gave authority to the church, this human institution, to “unsin sin”? The true church where the Word of God is preached purely and the sacraments administered rightly is calling “foul.” This usurped authority has done nothing less than engaged in warfare against the very basics of the Christian faith. This warfare against our faith has ushered in a new religion that elevates the self and its authority through its own conscience, identity and desires to the position of “god.” This is a matter of significance that knows no bounds historically, geographically or temporally.
There are eternal consequences for leading Jesus’ flock astray.
Satan is honored and revered when God our Father, in the person of Jesus Christ, is denied His lordship, sovereignty and “way.” To now give the impression of false security—that this will not affect you and is a matter that we can disagree on and yet live in harmony and peace by appealing to a false, fabricated unity that trumps truth—is unacceptable and necessarily must be addressed and rejected.
Clearly there seems to be a realization by some of the leadership in the ELCA that they underestimated the response if they changed the teaching and practices of the ELCA on human sexuality, marriage and ordination. We now hear the appeal from the ELCA that it won’t affect you or your church if your conscience is bound in such a way as to disagree.
Really? Look around and listen because it already has.
It already has affected every last church that is a part of the ELCA and the ripples go way beyond that to other Lutherans, other Christians and to the unbelievers who can’t believe the church would stand for this—by not standing at all.
We also hear how those of us who oppose the changes are the ones bringing schism, division and conflict into the church.
Well, right back at you with another old saying, “That dog won‘t hunt.”
This is becoming an endless game of Hot Potato. Who is to be left responsible for the division and schism and conflict? I’m reminded of the quote by Mignon McLaughlin, an American journalist and author, “Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.”
The 28th Article of the Augsburg Confession is quite clear. That final article of our confession is entitled “The Power of the Bishops.” I will cite two paragraphs from the whole:
Parish ministers According to divine right, therefore, it is the office of the bishop to preach the Gospel, forgive sins, judge doctrine and condemn doctrine that is contrary to the Gospel, and exclude from the Christian community the ungodly whose wicked conduct is manifest. All this is to be done not by human power but by God’s Word alone. On this account parish ministers and churches are bound to be obedient to the bishops according to the saying of Christ in Luke 10:16, ‘He who hears you hears me.’ On the other hand, if they teach, introduce or institute anything contrary to the Gospel, we have God’s command not to be obedient in such cases, for Christ says in Matt. 7:15, ‘Beware of false prophets.’ St. Paul also writes in Galatians 1:8‘Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.’ and in II Cor. 13:8, ‘We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.’
...We are bound to follow the apostolic rule which commands us to obey God rather than men. St. Peter forbids the bishops to exercise lordship as if they had power to coerce the churches according to their will. It is not our intention to find ways of reducing the bishops’ power, but we desire and pray that they may not coerce our consciences to sin. If they are unwilling to do this and ignore our petition, let them consider how they will answer for it in God’s sight, inasmuch as by their obstinacy they offer occasion for division and schism, which they should in truth help to prevent.
It seems quite clear to the majority of witnesses that schism results from the actions of those who import a teaching that is contrary to Christianity, one that drives the sinner into themselves, into their sinful desires and expression rather than calling them out of themselves and to their Lord and Savior whose calling it is to deny themselves, take up the Cross and follow Him.
It is truly sad that those who hold to the historic and faithful teachings of the Christian church are now the ones left searching for new church homes or working to build new ones. It has all the makings of a tragedy and yet is so biblical that with it—preaching, teaching and confessing only Jesus Christ—will come persecutions in many forms of denial, rejection and disregard. However, none should be led to despair; for many now are experiencing a deeper sense of identity in Jesus who reigns over them and their lives rather than looking for their own ‘gods’ inside themselves.
The ELCA’s new religion of “Selfism” has all the marks of many of the old heresies of the past, such as gnosticism and enthusiasm. But the ELCA added the hedonism, humanism and narcissism of this post-enlightenment, post-modern age that has outgrown any need for absolute truth and any authority beyond that of the individual. Embracing this new religion and making it official within the ELCA is a very serious matter that can not be ignored or merely a point of disagreement as we individually appeal to our consciences.
A further result of the assembly vote was the redefining of conscience to now mean being bound to the self and its desires rather than being captive to the Word of God as Luther’s conscience was in his last stand that was based on the Word and sound reason. The redefining of this historic Lutheran stand only has further confused the true issue. It has taken the topic further inside the self/sinner while attempting to give comfort where there is no basis on which to do so.
Captivity to the Word of God and being bound to Jesus Christ alone produce our true Christian freedom, which drives us from our selves to our Savior. The definition of despair is to be driven deeper and deeper into the self and isolation and away from the forgiveness of God. That is not a blessing to be given by the true church of Jesus Christ, but a curse.
That which can not be tolerated or ignored or regarded as adiaphora (an indifferent matter) needs to be addressed as a matter of grave importance not as one to “agree to disagree about.” Further, it is necessary that it be rejected and therefore not be passed on to the faithful and unbelieving as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, it must be identified rightly as contrary to God’s Word and therefore not “good news” at all. Here we stand today and we can do no other.
Every church and individual member has been affected now by this decision. The questions to be asked and answered seem to be, “Why would you stay in the ELCA, how does doing so help your mission and ministry,” together with, “why would you leave the ELCA and how would your mission and ministry be damaged by doing so?”
For many it has become very difficult to find any reason at all to stay—beyond personal relationships. Here the division that Jesus Himself spoke about seems uncomfortably inevitable because truth has been compromised for a false, fabricated unity.
A line has been crossed. That is no mere saying but a reality and so we pray that God will again draw straight with our crooked lines. We ask the Lord to realign faithful Lutherans and Christians in this time of great renewal and reawakening by raising up His faithful church, fresh and new in our midst, for His sake and in order that His church may make disciples again by telling His true story.