Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Common Confession

"You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
Those words of Jesus come from John 18:37 and will be read in church Nov. 22.  Jesus is at his trial before the governor, Pontius Pilate.  He has just been asked if he is a king.  Jesus, however, is not interested in political power.  He is interested in the truth.

"For this I was born," says Jesus, "and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth."  Read through Ephesians 6:10-17 and you'll see that truth is the only real weapon God puts at our disposal.

At the time of Jesus' arrest one of his followers drew a sword to defend Jesus, but he wanted no part of it.  Jesus simply came to speak the truth with his Words and with his Life.  The truth is that Jesus' love would not allow him to take power in this world.  Power in this world is always corrupted.  It's necessary, to keep sin and evil from destroying everything, but the Kingdom of God will never come by force.

It's in the spirit of truth telling that our church council and I are recommending that our congregation accept The Common Confession.  Speaking the truth does not change any relationships in the "power structure" of church life.  Such changes, if any, will be later guided by the truth we proclaim.  And that truth, of course, has at its very center the sacrificial love of Jesus for all.

So what is The Common Confession?  The Common Confession is a seven-part statement of faith, highlighting some of the important biblical and confessional doctrines of traditional Lutheran theology. This common confession has been officially adopted by Lutheran CORE and 16 other groups including Mount Carmel Ministries, World Mission Prayer League, the WordAlone Network, the Fellowship of Confessing Lutherans, and Youth Encounter.  Copies will be distributed in the December Parish Pulse newsletter, are available from the church office or from the Lutheran Core website.

Adopting the Common Confession will make it clear how we will be teaching the truth of God here at our local church. This is necessary because the ELCA “brand” has become officially ambiguous, especially in regard to whether heterosexual marriage is or is not the one “institution created and blessed by God” for sexual intimacy.*

The seven parts of the Common Confession cover: (1) how we speak of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), that (2) we are saved by faith in Christ, that (3) the Bible is God's revealed Word, that we (4) uphold the Lutheran Confessions, that (5) God gives spiritual gifts to all Christians (not just to pastors), that (6) marriage is between one man and one woman, and (7) that the mission of the church is carried out in individual congregations that can work together.

The Common Confession simply states what Lutheran Christians have always believed.  By accepting the common confession, nothing changes.  If we do not accept the Common Confession or something similar and take a stand, then we probably will change more and more along with the rest of the ELCA.

More information about why each of the seven points are necessary has been prepared in a commentary and introduction that is available at church or at the Lutheran CORE website.  Authors of the commentary include Pastors Mark Graham (Roanoke, VA), Kenneth Kimball (Waukon, IA), Scott Grorud (Hutchinson, MN), Erma Wolf (Brandon, SD), W. Steven Shipman (Watsontown, PA), Paull Spring (State College, PA) and Paul Ulring (Columbus, OH).

It's in the spirit of truth telling that adopting the Common Confession comes before any discussion of denominational affiliation.  It simply lets people know where we stand and what we will teach.

Accepting the Common Confession leaves us with many options going forward.
  • The congregation could choose to accept the Common Confession on Dec. 6 and, in the future, and remain members of the ELCA.  People, however, who come to this ELCA congregation will know where we stand as a church.
  • We can accept the Common Confession and, at a later date, declare our intention to become members of Lutheran CORE or another reform group (such as the Lighthouse Covenant) and still remain a part of the ELCA.  
  • Should the congregation decide to change denominational affiliation in the future, the Common Confession will keep us rooted to what Lutheran Christians have always believed.

So far our church council has sponsored three denominational forums.   The first, on September 20, provided an opportunity for church members to speak and ask questions.  For the second and third forums (Nov. 8 & 15) the church council invited representatives of Lutheran CORE (Pastor Scott Grorud) and our Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA (Pastor Linda Pedersen).  They made presentations and asnwered questions. Video recordings were made of the last two forums and can be borrowed at the church office.

The council is now preparing the outline of the December 6 congregation meeting.  As I understand it, we will gather at 6:30 in the church fellowship hall.  After an introduction and prayer, there will time for people to speak (perhaps having people sign up in advance for two minute time slots) or to have written comments read.  Then at 7:30, we will vote on whether to accept the Common Confession as a congregation.  For more information contact the church office.

As we move toward this truth telling action, let's pray and continue walking together, listening to the Lord and to one another, “bearing with each other in love” and “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:2, 15 -- I’ve had Ephesians 4 posted on my office "equipment room" door since I arrived here in 2005.  It's very important now.) Also, look to the great guidance from God in Matthew 18:15 about speaking directly to one another instead of indirectly about others. Avoiding one another out of fear is not a good idea.  In fact, the Bible calls it sin (see Romans 14:23).

In the midst of this, please remember, God will take care of us!  Jesus was not afraid at his trial and we do not need to be as we go through this relatively minor one.  Let's put our anxiety aside!  Philippians 4:4-7 speaks to us now: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  

Please read and study the Common Confession and come prepared to discuss and vote December 6.
* For more background please go to ELCA Sexuality Business, Why Not?, and What's Happening at ELC.


  1. Hi Pastor Steve,
    I have been learning more about CORE, reading their Common Confession and trying to find out who will be allowed to be clergy. I think these are important topics, considering the ELCA's vote at the assembly is what seemed to push some to want to finally break away from the ELCA (on scriptural grounds). I can respect that position. But, after much digging I have come to the understanding that CORE will allow people that are divorced and remarried to be clergy. This also goes against scripture (Mark, Matthew), and against CC6 of the Common Confession. It is adultery (not my words, Jesus'). Sexual/immoral sin was the straw that finally pushed CORE over the edge, and it seems to me they are doing the same thing that they accuse the ELCA of doing. I dont bring this up to be a smart alec, but to show the hypocrisy of us all. What are we to do about this as Christians? Is it wrong for us Christians to deny ANYONE whom Christ Himself has called into His priesthood of all believers. Who are we? Do we know better than Christ Himself? Please, if I'm wrong about CORE's clergy comment I made above, set me straight.

    In Christ Alone,
    Mike Lawyer

  2. Thanks, Mike. I'm rushing from one thing to the next but just want to say that, as I understand it, divorce and re-marriage still stay within the male-female pattern of creation and so there is a difference between the two. Also, Jesus' prohibitions on divorce, as I understand it, are not absolute, that is, there are cases even within those commands that do provide some wiggle room. For example, Mt 19:9 contains the stipulation "except for unchastity." Also, Jesus' point here was to say that "from the beginning" God made them male and female and so we ought not divorce "for any cause," meaning, I think, for any old reason. There are cases when marriages are dead due to the sin of the partners and we need to acknowledge that and grant forgiveness (see the end of Mt chapter 18). Since forgiveness is complete when given under the blood of Jesus, it seems to me that remarriage can be allowed in some circumstances when there is confession of sin, repentance and forgiveness granted. But, Mike, you are right in that remarriage does break the pattern. Is is okay then to break the pattern further to allow homosexual marriage. I look for signs within the scriptures that it might be allowed and don't find it. It seems to me that homosexual unions go against something very basic in God's creation. But I will not hate or exclude people who think differently. Where does that leave me? I'm cast back on the scriptures, looking for how we might "find a way" within them to allow for this exception and can't find it. As to clergy, what I read in places such as First Timothy 3 where there is an outline of conduct of those in leadership. When something is publicly scandalous it creates a huge problem. I will continue to pray and search the scriptures. Let's continue to speak with one another in love.