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