Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Faithful Voices Conference

The Call to Faithfulness group in the Northeastern Iowa Synod held a "Faithful Voices Conference" this past weekend. You can listen to the presenters here. The keynote speaker was Pr. Cori Johnson, who was one of the three dissenters of the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality. Other presentations were also given by Prs. Jason Cooper, Marshall Hahn, Gary Hatcher, and Ken Kimball. They are all available to listen to on the link above. Over 125 laity and clergy from 5 synods were in attendance.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Lutheran Church Body

From a Lutheran CORE press release:

Lutheran CORE leaders announce that a new Lutheran church body will be formed for those leaving the ELCA

NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. — Leaders of Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Renewal) have voted to begin work on a proposal for a new Lutheran church body for those who choose to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, they announced Wednesday, Nov. 18.

The votes by ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August to allow pastors to be in committed same-sex relationships have created a biblical and theological crisis throughout the ELCA and conflict in local congregations. Many congregations and individuals are considering the possibility of leaving the ELCA or have chosen to redirect giving away from the national church.

More than 1,200 Lutherans gathered in Fishers, Ind., Sept. 25-26 unanimously voted to authorize the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee “to initiate conversations among the congregations and reform movements in Lutheran CORE and other compatible churchly organizations leading toward a possible reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism” and to bring a recommendation for action in 2010. The Lutheran CORE Steering Committee decided Tuesday that a new church body likely will be necessary and directed that work begin on a church body proposal.

“Many ELCA members and congregations have said that they want to sever ties with the ELCA because of the ELCA’s continued movement away from traditional Christian teachings. The vote on sexuality opened the eyes of many to how far the ELCA has moved from Biblical teaching,” said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., Lutheran CORE Chair.

“Lutheran CORE will aid in the formation of a Lutheran church body for those congregations and individuals that choose to end their affiliation with the ELCA. This church body will stand where Lutherans have always stood and will center its life on the mission of the church to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Spring, the retired bishop of the Northern Pennsylvania Synod.

A special working group will draft the church body proposal. The recommendations are to be released in February to allow interested individuals and congregations time for feedback. Final proposals will be brought to the Lutheran CORE Convocation Aug. 26-27 in Columbus, Ohio.

The working group will also bring recommendations for the continuation of Lutheran CORE as a free-standing synod that will serve both Lutherans in the ELCA and those in other church bodies. This working group will be in conversation with other Lutheran church bodies about ways to work together. Lutheran CORE has expressed an interest in working closely with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, an association of Lutheran congregations which many ELCA congregations have joined. The proposed church body is intended to provide a place for congregations that desire a more a traditional denominational structure.

“We have not made any firm decisions about what this church body will be or how it will be structured. That reality will come into focus as the working group meets with the members of Lutheran CORE who are looking for a new church body and with other Lutheran church bodies in North America,” explained Ryan Schwarz of Washington, D.C., who chairs the working group.

Northeastern Iowa Synod is Conscience Bound

The Northeastern Iowa Synod Council this weekend passed two resolutions as a stand against the decisions the Churchwide Assembly made back in August. The first resolution is to bind the synod's conscience to the traditional teaching of the Church and the 1990 version of "Vision and Expectations" prohibiting the ordination, consecrating, commissioning of a homosexual person in a sexual relationship. The resolution argued that based on previous decisions by Synod Assemblies the Northeastern Iowa Synod has been clear in its understanding regarding these issues. The second resolution which was passed was to formally "repudiate" the adoption of the social statement & to memorialize the ELCA Church Council to do the same. We are the first Synod of the ELCA to take an official "conscience bound" position. The RESOLVED portions are posted below:


RESOLVED, that the Northeastern Iowa Synod Council, recognizing the past actions of the Northeastern Iowa Synod Assembly as evidence of the Northeastern Iowa Synod’s strongly-held views with respect to the approving, calling, commissioning, consecrating, or ordaining of one in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship, determines that the standards for rostered ministry as outlined in the 1990 documents, “Vision and Expectations” and “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline” shall remain in effect for the Northeastern Iowa Synod, and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Northeastern Iowa Synod Council encourage the Northeastern Iowa Synod Candidacy Committee and the Office of Bishop of the Northeastern Iowa Synod to continue to abide by such standards for rostered ministry in the Northeastern Iowa Synod during the period leading up to the 2010 Synod Assembly, and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Northeastern Iowa Synod Council recommends the following Continuing Resolution to the 2010 Synod Assembly of the Northeastern Iowa Synod:

S14.02 A10 In addition to the standards for ordained ministers in the current “Vision and Expectations” as adopted by the ELCA Church Council, this synod shall continue to maintain this expectation from “Vision & Expectations” (1990) in its candidacy process and in its standards for pastors and other rostered leaders:

Ordained ministers, whether married or single, are expected to uphold an understanding of marriage in their public ministry as well as in private life that is biblically informed and consistent with the teachings of this synod. The expectations of this synod regarding the sexual conduct of its ordained ministers are grounded in the understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that ordained ministers are to live in such a way as to honor this gift. Ordained ministers are expected to reject sexual promiscuity, the manipulation of others for purposes of sexual gratification, and all attempts of sexual seduction and sexual harassment, including taking physical or emotional advantage of others. Single ordained ministers are expected to live a chaste life. Married ordained ministers are expected to live in fidelity to their spouses, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a marriage relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful. Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.


RESOLVED, that the Northeastern Iowa Synod Council, repudiate the decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in adopting the social statement “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” and the 4 Resolutions on Ministry Policies (CA09.05.23 – 24 – 26 & 27) as violations of the Confession of Faith, Chapter 2 of the ELCA Constitution, and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Northeastern Iowa Synod Council memorialize the ELCA Church Council to repudiate these actions as violations of the Confession of Faith, Chapter 2 of the ELCA Constitution, refuse to implement these actions, and begin the process to overturn these decisions at the 2011 Churchwide Assembly

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Broken Keys

An article I've written, "Broken Keys" is posted over at www.lutheranforum.org. It is a critique of the bound conscience doctrine.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Unity in Mission and Ministry

Unity in mission and ministry seems to be the pleas I've been hearing from around the ELCA as of late, especially in the face of deep divisions over the sexuality issue. The Presiding Bishop, the Executive Director for Evangelism Outreach and Congregation Ministry and even leaders of Lutheran CORE have called for unity in mission and ministry. Here are some examples:

Presiding Bishop Hanson wrote in a Pastoral Letter to the Rostered leaders, "my greatest sadness would be if we missed this opportunity: to give an evangelical and missional witness together to the world. Therefore, I urge each one of you to make this a time to engage one another with honesty and respect in renewed and deepened theological conversation informed by an evangelical and missional imagination."

Bp. Bouman Executive Director for Evangelism Outreach and Congregational Ministry recently wrote in an Open Letter to Lutheran CORE, "The church, in all of its flawed and diverse forms this side of heaven, is about God's mission to the world if it is to be a church. The old and new testaments bear witness to the centrality of mission in the church and I believe that as a movement within Lutheranism, your DNA will be determined by the priority you place on mission."

Ryan Schwarz at the Lutheran CORE convocation told us, "And both for those who leave and those who stay, Lutheran CORE is committed to helping them find ways to work together in common ministry, for the sake of a united and powerful proclamation of the Gospel."

It seems everyone on all sides is intentional about unity in mission and ministry, but what exactly does that mean? Certainly Lutheran CORE and the ELCA HQ are not talking about the same thing, are they? Yet what I lack hearing from those at Higgins Road and in a smaller way from CORE is unity in faith. I've always tended to believe that unity in faith is in some way necessary for any common unity in mission and ministry. Doesn't unity in "the faith" shape and focus a common vision of what the apostolic mission is? Does a lack or break of unity in the faith result in a broken vision of what the mission of the church is? Unfortunately words like "gospel" "mission" and "ministry" lack clear, unified, and common definitions.

I fear that what the ELCA HQ has put forward for our way together "unity in mission and ministry" is nothing more than unity in the law or worse simply unity in mission support. I fear that unity in the law will fail, because ultimately the law cannot sustain us. The law cannot give our church life and sustenance let alone a fruitful life-giving unity. I have some of the same fears when it comes to Lutheran CORE as well, although to a lesser degree. Lesser in that there seems to be more of a unified understanding and sharing of definitions as to what the gospel, mission, and ministry are. There is a better shared understanding of The Faith although not perfect. The big elephant in the room and the greatest hindrance to CORE's success continues to be ecclesiology.

Monday, September 28, 2009


For traditionalists to remain within the ELCA we must be clear of what exactly it is we are opposed to, why we are opposed to it, and why it hinders or breaks our full unity within this church. The problem with formulating such a precise unified response is that the argument for changing the church catholic's position has itself not been unified. From what I can glean from reading the social statement and the thoughts of those who are in favor of this there are three basic arguments. The first argument I will call, simply for the sake of having a name of reference, the "Not Applicable" argument. The second argument for change, again for the sake of having a quick handle, the "Love" argument. The third argument, again, I will call "Comparison." If there are others which do not fall under these categories, please forgive my ignorance.

Not Applicable (NA):
This position can be simplified down to one coherent statement, "the prohibitions of same-sex behavior and activity in the Holy Scriptures, do not apply to today." This seems to be the bound conscience position of those who support and affirm changes according to the Social Statement. The statement reads, "On the basis of bound conscience belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today (HSGT, 11)." Because the Scriptural witness does not apply to the context of homosexual behavior then the question of homosexual sex as sin does not apply as well, especially within the confines of a publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same-gender relationship. It may be a sin if done outside the protection of a "marriage-like" relationship and in that way no different then biblical prohibitions against fornication.

This position is a little bit harder to pin down into a nice simple argument. It is like most of American definitions of love amorphous. Sometimes it can take form as, "hey we're all Christians we're supposed to love everybody what's the big deal?" Sometimes it argues, "we're all sinners and God loves us, why is this any different?" It can also be argued from the position of creation, "God created people this way, how can God not accept as good what God created as good?" Again these are my feeble attempts to put into words what I keep hearing from those who are in favor of changes in ministry policy.

This position, if not completely believing that the Scriptural prohibitions apply, at least partially acknowledges that they do and will concede that homosexual behavior is sin. However, it is usually always compared to the sin of divorce, which the church throughout the recent years has become to declassify it as sin or at least treat it in a minimal way. Here the argument holds that the response to sin is not avoidance or repentance of the act, but rather to find a way in which the church can live with it and support it in a faithful and pastoral way. Thus it is no different than having divorced clergy, or people who've divorced 2 or 3 times and the church has re-married them 3 or 4 times.

Obviously this is a simple summary of arguments for change. They are not completely exhaustive and certainly there are nuances which general groupings cannot maintain. Unfortunately there is not one specific argument to which we are opposed. However imprecise the arguments for change are, we must be painfully precise in our language and opposition. While theological imprecision seems to be the biggest shortcoming of the ELCA, we who stand opposed must not reply in like manner. For those who profess the, "Spirit is doing a new thing" without actually arguing how the Spirit is doing this and in what theological framework the Spirit can do this, is no different than declaring "the ELCA is in error" or "the ELCA is heretical" without actually arguing how it is in error or going through the process of a heresy trial (for lack of a better term to describe a process by which the whole church can discern whether or not there is a case of heresy).

We owe our brothers and sisters we believe to be in error more than throwing churchly grenades at one another. Saying, "we've got the Spirit" or "you're a heretical church" will not suffice. That is playground behavior at its worst. As St. Paul says, "owe no one anything, except to love each other." This must be our guiding principle as we stand in opposition. We must, however it can be accomplished, follow Matthew 18 as much as possible. This is a necessity for living faithfully with those with whom we clearly disagree. It is the calling of the cross.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cross-Travels (2)

And [Jesus] could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. Mark 6:5-6

In the previous post I argued that the Cross of Jesus Christ calls us to suffer and for those who find themselves at odds concerning chief articles of the faith (i.e. sin, the "gospel", authority of scripture, etc.) the cross might call us to remain or even draw closer to our church body which we believe has erred. There must be no doubt that those who feel lost in the wake of these decisions are indeed suffering. Through tearful conversations with colleagues and laity people are hurting. Pastors much now watch people they've come to know and love walk away from their home congregation. Pastors must now suffer as a divided congregation struggles to see a way of remaining united in the midst of painful conflict and division. Pastors must now try and hold what may seem like a crumbling ship of a divided congregation together. This is truly not what most of us believed we'd be doing in our first calls. And the most frequent question that I hear from my colleagues on the issue of staying is, "what's the point?"

What indeed is the point of this pain and suffering which those holding onto the orthodox position by remaining in the ELCA? Is there a purpose in any of it? Must we endure forever in this state of affliction? Is holy possessing the sacred cross a permanent call to remain? I believe that the faithful answers to that final question is "no." That doesn't mean jumping ship at the first sight of suffering, but it also doesn't mean suffering simply for the sake of suffering.

The above quote is from Jesus' encounter with his own hometown. Sort of a fitting parallel I think in our discussion and discernment of remaining in our own hometown (the ELCA). We all know the story. Jesus comes to his own town, is mocked, people are offended by his teaching and preaching, and because of this "he could do no mighty work there." Seeing in his own home town their unbelief in his teaching, he leaves. Jesus leaves. Jesus and his words are not welcome there and so he leaves to head onto the other villages to teach, no doubt teach the very same things that he spoke in the synagogue of Nazareth.

Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch to compare Jesus' encounter at Nazareth with our present situation and the feelings of flight which have overtaken many in the ELCA. Yet what follows next in Mark's gospel seems to echo Jesus' own response to his hometown family and again seems completely appropriate. After Nazareth, Jesus sends out his disciples two-by-two and gives them his orders. For the sake of the Apostles' Jesus tells them, "if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." Jesus wasn't listened to at Nazareth and so he leaves. The Apostles are sent out and if they are not received or listened to, then they too should leave.

It seems that the apostles are not to endure suffering solely for the sake of suffering and if they are not received then they must depart to other places where the word needs to be taught. To my colleagues and myself these words come as comfort of feeling like a stranger, not welcomed or received in our own home. Perhaps this is a little stronger line of clarity for those of us who wrestle with the call to remain and the desire to flee. That line ultimately must be how the bound conscience will be made policy regarding this issue. Will the call to repentance be welcomed? Will teaching against the errors of the social statement be received? Will those whose bound consciences can not and will not allow for such a strange teaching in the Christian Church be allowed or even be heard?

Since the ELCA has staked its future unity on the "bound conscience" it seems to me it must be that line which determines whether to stay or go. As one person roughly described the bound conscience doctrine, "I read the bible this way and you read the bible that way and we're never going to convince each other, for the sake of unity, we agree to disagree." Yet ironically enough the bound conscience (especially for Luther) was not an "agree to disagree" position, but rather a "firmly entrenched, I will not recant, I must continue to preach and teach this" stance. If the ELCA can hold together, "respectfully," the bound consciences of two fundamentally opposite entrenched positions, then we should endure this present darkness in the church. However if it cannot, then I think leaving is indeed a faithful option. At this point, only time and the church council will tell.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, 1521

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cross-Travels (1)

Perhaps the most fundamental question traditional-orthodox pastors and laity wrestle with now is whether or not to stay or go. At least for me that is my fundamental question with which I wrestle daily. Is the faithful thing to do, for the sake of the health of my soul and my family's, to stay and work to reform these decisions? Or is the more faithful thing to do leave and find a more familiar and yes, more comfortable home? I have to be honest with myself that option B, has been for me the leading response within my mind. As I told one colleague, "I do not want to spend the next 30 years of my ministry and life teaching against my own church body." I have no doubt that would ultimately be unhealthy for myself, my sanity, and my family. So surely the more comfortable, indeed more faithful response is to go, run, and not look back. In someways and at sometime that may be the right and faithful thing to do.

Yet those thoughts of fleeing for refuge have been temporary put on hold, by one of my favorite professors at Southern Seminary, Dr. David Yeago, in his paper "In the Aftermath." You can read it here at Dr. Michael Root's blog Lutherans Persisting. I think this paper has put forward, for me anyway, the best argument of why at least for now to stay put. Indeed it was in the wake of reading this paper and Dr. Root's blog that I created this blog. I'm not saying I've been completely convinced staying and fighting is the more faithful response, but certainly it has caused me, theologically and Christologically, to wrestle with staying.

Where does the Cross call us to be? For the Church, and all the people of God to possess the sacred cross means exactly what our emotions, comforts, and even sanity don't want it to mean. As Luther mentions the people of God will suffer, even persecution for the sake of standing firm upon the word of God and under the lordship of Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ tells us that we don't get to not suffer and still think of ourselves as disciples. And for those who like me believe the ELCA has made a grave err in departing from the tradition of the church catholic, then we know some of that pain and suffering in our hearts as we feel abandoned and left alone. Yet is the fullness of the cross that Jesus has called each of us to bear? Is this the full weight of the cross carried in our souls that we now can in good conscience, for the sake of that very cross, depart?

Not only does suffering, indeed possessing the cross include the feeling of abandonment, perhaps Jesus' words ring ever louder from the cross now, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." Yet possessing the cross also includes suffering the nails, thorns, whips, and spear. Fortunately our Lord has spared us this physical suffering, and we only have words, thoughts, false teaching, and emotions to endure. As much as it wounds our hearts, minds, and senses it seems that the cross calls us to endure. Perhaps it even calls us to draw ever closer to those with whom we disagree and believe are in err, to love, admonish, and seek to correct for the sake of Christ, so long as it is possible to do so. If indeed the bound conscience doctrine of the social statement (Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust) allows us to do this. That is a question that must be addressed at another time.

I have been struck to the heart by Paul's words to the Corinthians, aptly titled under the section of my ESV Bible "The Ministry of the Apostles." Here Paul writes, "When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat (1 Cor. 4:12-13a)." Each act against the apostles (and the church) is a sign to draw ever closer. When reviled by the world, the apostles seek to bless. When persecuted, they remain firm in their position. When slandered, they draw ever closer and entreat of those who slander them. Is this the ministry of the cross? A true theology and mission of the cross? Not to head off to another church although the time may come for that, nor to only be bound in our conscience together, but rather bearing the cross move towards in love, not in teaching or doctrine that remains firm, patiently enduring the burdens of those we believe in err. Indeed the cross may call us to travel in directions we never imagined.

Closing prayer of Vespers (LBW):
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Commemoration of Holy Cross Day


Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross so that he might draw the whole world to himself. Grant that we who glory in his death for our salvation may also glory in his call to take up our cross and follow him; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

This is my first blog post, indeed my first blog ever, and the time of the Church could not be any better for it. Today the church commemorates, celebrates, and glories in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. By the cross we have won salvation and through the cross we as Christians find the truth of our own life. The title of this blog "Possessing the Sacred Cross" comes from Martin Luther's seven marks of the church in On the Councils and the Church of 1539. Each of the marks are signposts of where the true Christian church is to be found on earth. Luther writes about this seventh mark, "the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord's Prayer indicates)...," and a little later, "And the only reason they must suffer is that they steadfastly adhere to Christ and God's word, enduring this for the sake of Christ." (LW AE Vol. 41, 165)

The reason I have created this blog is because of the pain I've felt in the wake of the recent decisions made at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Namely, the move away from the traditional teaching of the Church regarding sexual behavior. I now struggle with what indeed is the faithful response of a traditional/orthodox pastor in light of the theological and I believe gospel divisions within my own church body. How best does a pastor who believes the decisions and social statement regarding this issue are in grave err continue to serve the Church and the church body? Perhaps the answer is found in the cross.

I don't intend for this blog to be only about this issue, but rather to explore the depths of what it means for us as Christians and as pastors who stand against this new teaching to "holy possess" the sacred cross of our Lord. The cross is what Lutherans are about and if our life and our teaching is to be an authentic witness to the Gospel, then it must witness to the cross, not only pointed to, but lived for His sake. Our Lord calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him.

I pray this Holy Cross Day all pastors and all the faithful who struggle with the ELCA decisions and how best to respond faithfully continue to meditate upon the Holy Cross of our Lord and there seek solace, peace, and ultimately our only hope.

On the Commemoration of the Holy Cross
Pr. Ian Wolfe