Monday, January 4, 2010

On the Same Road?

Is it ever the case that Christians who have "walked together" with one another can faithfully decide that they are on different roads?

Last evening I was in the church basement with about 60 plus others, mostly from our church, listening to Pastor Steven King of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Maple Lake, MN.  He also serves one quarter time as Education Director for the WordAlone Network.

Pastor King has come the point where he says "yes."  We can faithfully transition to a different path... I, and others at our local church, together with thousands of others throughout the ELCA, are looking seriously at that question.

Last night Pastor King shared with us how he has served in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in a variety of ways over the years.  He has been a pastor in our Southwestern Minnesota "Synod" since his ordination.  He has served in a variety of ways through the synod on committees, boards and task forces.  In recent years, however, Pastor King and others have discovered that there are significant differences in teaching and preaching in our synod and ELCA.

I found myself agreeing with what Pastor King said last night.  What do you think?  Please comment below or let me know in another way.  We need to talk!

One major difference is that some in the ELCA seem to have replaced the traditional gospel of redemption with a gospel of acceptance.
  • The gospel of redemption says that we are all sinners who need a savior, that Jesus sacrificial death and resurrection provides the way to repent, be forgiven, saved and changed.  The gospel of redemption would look to the ten commandments and other Bible teachings* to say what sin is--and that we sin whenever we go against God's Word.  This leads to a need for us to repent of our sin, receive the good news of Jesus, and begin a new life.** (See John 8:11)

  • The gospel of acceptance, on the other hand, would have us say that Jesus' main message was that we are "okay" before God and there is little need to bring up sin and salvation, that we can all be accepted just as we without calling for any changes.  Those preaching a gospel of acceptance would say that the main sin is intolerance--not loving my neighbor as myself--but that we ought not emphasize "sin" too much but instead accept people as just they are.   
The word "synod" means is Greek for "same road."  Steven King and I, together with many other pastors and teachers in the ELCA, fear that ELCA is significantly on the road with the gospel of acceptance.  Those of us who believe in a more traditional gospel of redemption think it's time to look around and see who really is walking with us.  Who is on the same road?  Is it the official "synod" structure of the ELCA?  Or do we fit better with others?

Here's my own story:  After repenting of significant sin in my life, and after receiving total forgiveness and the ability to begin my life anew, I began preparation to be ordained as a Lutheran pastor.  I was ordained in 1984 as a pastor of the American Lutheran Church -- the American Lutheran Church merged with the Lutheran Church in America and on January 1, 1988 we became the ELCA.  For many years, however, I have found myself questioning the direction of the ELCA.  For the past ten years I, like Pastor King, have been a member of WordAlone--though I have not been as active in the organization as he has.

I found Pastor King's presentation to be very helpful.  As a biblical example for what is happening right now, he used the following story from Acts 15. 
Acts 15
... Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. 36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
In this story I see no hint that Paul or Barnabas rejected one another as Christians.  It's just that they had a disagreement that led them to go different ways.

Many within the ELCA, including myself, feel that in the ELCA we now have a significant disagreement.  Some would say that the main disagreement is about homosexuality--those of us in the more traditional camp would say no, it has to do with how we read and interpret scripture.  The most challenging question is whether the disagreement is "sharp" enough to cause us to go different ways.

I think it's time for our local church to look seriously at this question.  I am thankful for those who are bringing these thing to our attention, such as by inviting Pastor King to share with us last night.  Pastor King's church in Maple Lake has put together a statement of welcome and teaching that they will be voting on soon--I can print you a copy if you're interested.  You might also look at a statement that was adopted at the Gethsemane Lutheran Church at Dassel -- click on this link and then download the PDF of Gethsemane's December newsletter called "December 09 Steeple"--the section you're looking for is on pages 10-11, "On Marriage, Family and Sexuality."  Also, as a continuing part of that "looking at things together" I invite you to come to the Bible study we'll begin in the church library this coming Sunday, Jan. 10, at 10:00 a.m.

This is very important stuff.  It really has us asking "What is the gospel?" and "What shall we preach and teach?"  Given that all people are sinners, what is the message?  Is it simple "affirmation" or is it a radical message of sin and salvation--a message that we have an urgency to preach so people can believe and be saved.  I believe that the scriptures teach something radical: It took the sacrificial death of Jesus and his victorious resurrection to open the door for condemned sinners such as myself to share the grace of God and the promise of eternal life.

The question we are discussing is what we teach.  It's not about bigotry or sexual orientation.  I think Pastor King and others are probably right in saying that the ELCA today in the control of those who are wanting to change the church's teaching and doctrines to a more "tolerant" message of "acceptance" instead of a radical message of sin and salvation. The blessing of homosexual unions is just a part of a bigger picture.

The question before us is whether the difference is sharp enough, as it evidently was between Paul and Barnabas, to admit that we are on "different roads."  Can we take time to look at that without rejecting one another in the process?  I hope and pray that, with God's help, we will be able to patiently look at things together and to come to some kind of clear conclusion. 

Please look over the information that has been provided over the past few months through this blog and the links on it.  Then come to the Bible study on Sundays at 10:00 in the church library.  Talk openly with your neighbors and friends.  Do not be afraid.  The Lord our God will not let us get lost when we remain close to Jesus and the Word of God.

* Christians always interpret God's Law in the light of Jesus
** Lutherans say we actually begin a new life each time we repent and receive forgiveness.  See Martin Luther's teachings in part four of the section on Baptism in the Small Catechism.


  1. Matthew 7:13-14

    Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

  2. It is very clear to me and my wife that we are on a 'different road' than the ELCA. We are parting ways with them one way or another. My wish is that we could remain with CELC, but if the congregation decides to go along the road with ELCA, it will be without us. That would sadden me greatly, but for us it would be necessary.
    Allan Sorenson

  3. It is too bad that this issue is dividing our church. For you, Pastor Steve, it may not be about homosexuality, but for many others it is and no one can blame them for feeling the way they do. Is it possible that we are really debating which sins we can leave with in our church and which ones we cannot? Is a sin a sin? If the answer is yes, then I have no business being a part of the church.
    I very much respect Allan's comments as he has decided the ELCA is not for him and is ready to leave. It is very respectable to step out of the comforts of the church he has called home and to look at other ones that fall more in line with his beliefs instead of trying to make those that are comfortable with the ELCA leave. No matter how this plays out over the next few months,my fear is that CELC is going to lose members and good people.

  4. I agree that this whole situation is very sad. I just talked with executive directors of two ELCA related camps. Everyone is struggling.