Thursday, May 6, 2010

LCMS and ELCA Talk about ELCA’s Decisions on Sexuality

The Reporter Online reported yesterday on the Committee on Lutheran Cooperation (CLC) meeting between ELCA leaders and LCMS leaders, which met April 12-13 (I've had to link to the joint ELCA copy of the press release, since it has disappeared from the LCMS website). In-depth discussions were held on the theological implications of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly decisions on human sexuality. The LCMS officials included President Kieschnick; Dr. William R. Diekelman, First Vice-President; Dr. Raymond L. Hartwig, Synod Secretary; Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Executive Director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations; Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, Director of LCMS Church Relations and Assistant to the President; Ronald Schulz, Chief Administrative Officer; and Dr. Larry Stoterau, President of the Pacific Southwest District.

I’ll include a few highlights of the report, as well as a few comments. All quotes from the report will be indented.
The leaders began their discussion by reviewing "Theological Implications of the 2009 ELCA Decisions," a 10-page document prepared by a task force appointed by Synod President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, who indicated that the document was intended for use by LCMS pastors and members in their own study and in dialogue with ELCA members.

Key provisions of the document are:

• The LCMS believes and teaches "that same-gender sexual activity -- in every situation -- violates the will of our Creator and must be recognized as sin." The LCMS affirms the biblical view of marriage as a lifelong union of a man and a woman, and that unmarried men and women are to "live in sexual chastity and celibacy."
• There is "legitimate concern" over the ways people who are gay or lesbian have been "excluded and even vilified by Christians."
• The LCMS does not believe that the ELCA's decisions on sexuality should necessarily or summarily end cooperative work in human care since this work is "based on the sharing of a common goal, not doctrinal unity." The LCMS document continued, "However, we hope and expect that the leadership of such entities will respect the theological position of the Synod (including its position on same-gender sexual activity) and avoid any policies or decisions which would require us to cease our support and involvement in their activities."
• The LCMS believes that disagreements about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior "impact the Gospel itself," since the Gospel is "the heart, center, and ultimate message of the Bible," and that "a church body's acceptance of homosexual activity promotes a false security about behavior and conduct which God has forbidden and from which He longs to redeem us."
• A prayer that the ELCA would reconsider its actions.
The above quotes from the document are well and good, as far as they go. One weakness in the document is that while it addresses same-gender sexual activity, it seems to lack any definitive comment on same-gender sexual desire or thought. Perhaps they mean to include this in the definition of “sexual chastity.”

Disagreements about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior certainly "impact the Gospel itself." In the broad sense of the word Gospel, I would contend that the ELCA and the LCMS do not share the same Gospel, and that the ELCA in fact preaches a different Gospel.
"We received it in the understanding that you were speaking to your own church, but also to us," said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA Presiding Bishop. "We also hope that you understand, and we understand, that our actions put stress on relationships, but not stress to the point that we believe that they should sever the relationships rather than call us to deeper conversation."
Presiding Bishop Hanson’s call to deeper conversation is the same call he makes to all of those who disagree in the ELCA. His call is one in which he desires that those who disagree with the version of the Gospel which condones homosexuality continue in the conversation so that they too can be assimilated by his specious views.

Dr. Marcus R. Kunz, ELCA Executive for Discernment of Contextual and Theological Issues outlined several points:
• The central message of the Scriptures is the Good News of God's love and saving work in Jesus Christ, and that the Scriptures are properly used in proclaiming this message of faith.
• It is not true "as some are claiming, that the ELCA has abandoned or ignored the authority of Scripture. Rather, we seek to be faithful to the evangelical purpose that God intends with the Scriptures," Kunz said.
There is a term for Dr. Kunz’s point of view – Gospel reductionism. When you abandon the clear word of God’s Law in favor of an inclusive “Gospel,” you have lost the meaning of the Gospel in the broad sense.

Dr. Kunz continued:
• The ELCA asks "respectfully that the LCMS not silently allow or tacitly encourage misrepresentations of the ELCA's commitment to the evangelical use of the Scriptures, a misrepresentation that subverts the evangelical witness we share," Kunz said.
I would say that we no longer share an evangelical witness. His point of view demonstrates why we should no longer work together – they believe we hold to the same Gospel, which we do not.

Dr. Rebecca S. Larson, Executive Director, ELCA Church in Society, was parsed:
• The greatest concern Larson mentioned was about the LCMS paper's discussion of lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships. She said the LCMS has not fully or accurately interpreted the assembly's decisions because it points to only one part of the 2009 actions. Without full and accurate disclosure of the language of the social statement and ministry policies, she said that the LCMS document leaves the impression that recognition of persons in lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, and placing such people on official church rosters, "constitutes the agreed and sole position of the whole church." That is not true, Larson said. "What the ELCA did decide is that we are not in agreement, including theological agreement, regarding partnered same-gender relationships, and that, because these matters are not central to determining our salvation, we can and will continue to live together with different practices, bearing the burdens of one another, and respecting the bound conscience of each other."
Saint Paul answers Dr. Larson: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Romans 6:14-16
Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, director of LCMS church relations and assistant to the president, asked the ELCA participants if, in their opinions, there were "any positions of a bound conscience that should divide brothers and sisters in Christ at the altar."

"Our two churches are bound together by many things," he said, "and there's no place for Christians to misrepresent the position of our two churches on the issues we are debating."

"But that's not what the LCMS is doing in this statement," he said. "The ELCA wants to respect the 'bound consciences' of both sides in this debate, but in our opinion, it cannot do this without having a different understanding of the authority of Scripture than that held by the LCMS. The Missouri Synod regards consciences bound to positions that contradict the simple and plain meaning of Scripture as erring consciences in need of confession and absolution."
An excellent point!
While he does not see much immediate change in the ELCA-LCMS relationship as a result of the ELCA sexuality decisions, Synod Secretary Dr. Raymond L. Hartwig said the decisions create "a special challenge" because the ELCA actions were "imposed" on the LCMS with its constant biblical view of marriage and related issues.

Hartwig said a key question being asked in the LCMS is, "Do cooperative efforts imply doctrinal unity with the ELCA?"

"I think we have a special challenge with this particular issue that is different than we've faced before," he added.

Kieschnick added that the LCMS convention in July will likely address the ELCA sexuality decisions because they are a significant topic of discussion in the church.
Secretary Hartwig is correct. We certainly do have a special challenge with this issue. President Kieschnick should not wait for the convention to act, he should be providing stronger leadership now to begin cutting ties with the ELCA where appropriate.

It will be interesting to see what action is taken at the LCMS General Convention in July. There are certainly an abundance of overtures seeking to curtail various or all aspects of joint efforts with the ELCA. (See the Theology and Church Relations section of the overtures beginning on page 165 of the Convention Workbook for more information.

Note: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of LCMS, Inc. Translation: You probably won't see me sitting in on a Committee on Lutheran Cooperation meeting anytime soon.


Dennis Peskey said...

The simple truth which eludes Bishop Hansen is when a "church" body elects to proclaim a different Gospel - the conversation has already ended; they are anathema. Our prayer is they repent and return to the Lord for the ground on which they tread now is not holy but defiled dust.

Rev. Josh Sullivan said...

When a church ceases to call a sin a sin, does it also abdicate its ability to call the savior the savior?

Thanks for this post. I'd recommend people to the lead article in this week's Christian News by Dr. Cindi Love from the ELCA. I think in many of the ELCA mind, this subject has nothing to do with Scripture and everything to do with cultural norms.

Rick said...

Hi Scott. Paul said:

"Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? ...

"I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.'"

-1 Corinthians 5:6, 9-13.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article, Scott. There is much that can be commented upon coming out of the ELCA, but one thing that is particularly striking is Hanson's statement, "We also hope that you understand, and we understand, that our actions put stress on relationships, but not stress to the point that we believe that they should sever the relationships rather than call us to deeper conversation."

Of course, "deeper conversation" entails several things. For one, it means that all views involved in the "conversation" are to be tolerated and treated as equals. Ultimately, the "conversation" would possibly end with the LCMS coming along to their point of view, or we would come to respect their point of view and cease "judging" them. Perhaps even join in with their "big tent" philosophy which Larson expresses with "...we can and will continue to live together with different practices, bearing the burdens of one another, and respecting the bound conscience of each other." Yep, ignore these secondary doctrinal differences, tolerate each other, join hands together, and sing the song of love as we carouse down the wide path "walking together".

No thanks. That is one "conversation" that sould be avoided.

Anonymous said...

Jim (#4). I respectfully disagree slightly with your take on "conversation." That term simply means the we-all keep on talking, but the ELCA just does what it wants to do. Talk, talk, talk. "Deeper conversation?" It just means more of the same--mushy double talk and double speak. They really don't care what we say.
"Conversation" is an evasion.

Preachrboy said...

We should have severed ties with the ELCA long ago.

I'm particularly troubled by our relationship in military chaplaincies and campus ministries.

Philip G said...

You lot really have a problem with sex. We are animals driven to reproduce. Sex can be fun between consenting adults. It can also be very irresponsible but what has god got to do with it?

Scott Diekmann said...

God has everything to do with it Philip G. God created humans in His own image. He created humans with a soul, which animals don't have. He also created male and female and made them for each other, not just for reproduction, but also to care for each other. God intends that man and woman unite in a lifelong relationship in which they honor Him and each other. That relationship is also a metaphor for the relationship between Jesus and all those who believe that He died for their sins on the cross (i.e. the Church; His bride). He loves His Church so much that He died for Her on the cross. In the same way a husband should love and care for his wife. This relationship is a sacred one ordained by God, and is good and healthy. Breaking that relationship by having sex with someone you aren't married to, or with someone of the same sex, is unhealthy, and doesn't generally end well. So Christians don't "have a problem with sex." On the contrary, we rejoice in sex as a wonderful God-given gift, and benefit from it when used the way God intended. For those who don't follow God's rules for sex, they can be forgiven for that sin against God, but only if they believe that He died for their sins and repent.

James Young said...

Great post. As an ELCA ex-patriot, we have received a warm welcome in our new, LCMS congregation. It's worrisome to see a "church" which picks and chooses which portions of Scripture it treats as authoritative, reminding me of John Hart Ely's comment about Roe v. Wade: "It is not constitutional law, and give almost no sense of an obligation to try to be constitutional law." One comment by our (former) pastor was particularly disturbing: "Most scientists studying the issue of homosexuality have determined that it depends upon a certain errant hormone in utero."

I was left wondering where he would be when he realized that, I suspect, I could find an even larger scientific majority holding that the notion of the resurrection of our Lord was scientifically nonsensical.

James said...

If the LCMS will never get the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans to change its position regarding Christian fellowship, then why bother talking about it any longer. And if the LCMS will never get the ELCA to repent and reject historical-critical method of bible interpretation, then what is the point in talking to the ELCA.

Is "cooperating in externals" yet another way to define missions work? Cooperation in missions to what end? Regarding the people that we want to help, do we want them to become ELCA Lutherans, or LCMS Lutherans? Let's sever ties with the ELCA, now!