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