Monday, August 24, 2009

Reflections on the ELCA

Just a few somewhat random thoughts concerning the recent high-profile actions by the assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

One of the issues is the problem that this body uses the name "Lutheran" - which has the tendency to tar-brush the rest of us. In other words, when we read articles in the newspapers like "Lutherans Endorse Homosexuality," this gives the impression that all Lutherans have done this, that the ELCA represents "Evangelical Lutheranism" in America. It's especially confusing for congregations like mine which is called "Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church" and yet is not a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

So, this confusion requires us to constantly point out that the ELCA is one specific denomination that claims the label " Lutheran." The church body that my congregation belongs to is the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS). We are not the same, nor do we share communion, churches, or ministers with the ELCA. We are different in a similar way that Mexico and New Mexico are two entirely different jurisdictions, even though they have some common shared history and even some overlapping linguistic and cultural heritage. They are simply two different entities that make use of the same name - though they are far from being the same.

There is a pastoral concern here. In spite of many years of solid pastoral teaching by my predecessors in this congregation, and an emphasis on catechesis and orthodoxy in doctrine, I have had several of my own parishioners recently either visit and in some cases commune in ELCA congregations. Others have moved away and considered joining ELCA congregations - owing to the name "Lutheran" on the door. I had one parishioner who had moved away send a request to me for a "transfer" to an ELCA congregation, unaware that our two congregations have no relationship or fellowship.

Sometimes, a family will face a choice between an established ELCA congregation that is enjoying worldly success with a beautiful facility and a large Sunday School and youth group, versus a small, struggling, or even a mission congregation of the LCMS that has no youth group or Sunday School to speak of, a humble building, but with a solid pastor. Situations like this make us really check our priorities. Would we rather our children be members of the ELCA and have a "vibrant" youth group, or would we rather them have solid teaching in the faith and fidelity to Scripture? And if no-one is willing to be the "pioneer" so to speak, and help the struggling or mission congregation grow and have children in the parish, how are they ever to have a "vibrant" youth group or Sunday School?

And what about five years from now, if the local ELCA congregation that is today "conservative" decides that their next pastor will be a lesbian? Or what about a hundred years from now when the decision to shun the LCMS congregation means that a good number of one's great grandchildren are now established in the ELCA congregation - while the LCMS congregation closed decades ago?

These are things that need to be considered now.

As far as the recent decisions to bless same-sex unions and allow open and unrepentant homosexuals to be rostered as church workers and pastors, this was inevitable. This decision was a foregone conclusion when the ELCA began accepting methods of biblical interpretation that expressed a belief that error could be found in the Scriptures, which encouraged the Bible to be read critically, if not dubiously - to the point where one could read a passage and draw a diametrically-opposite conclusion than the clear reading of the text. And this owes to a human desire not to submit to Scripture as God's Word, but rather use it as a tool to advance a certain political and social agenda. It is a case where preconceived conclusions and purpose-driven goals are allowed to replace Truth as the ultimate end of our study and theology.

The advance of the homosexual agenda was only the next logical step after the shattering of the barrier between the sexes when the ELCA began to "ordain" women. At that time, many predicted that the inevitable conclusion would be an endorsement of homosexuality. Those concerns were met with scoffing, dismissed as hysteria, by many in the movement to ordain women. The more conservative element within the ELCA is no longer scoffing, but are now shell-shocked and wondering where to go from here. There have been some who repented of women's ordination when they finally did accept the fact that they deviated from the path of Truth and this deviant path was leading to further deviation from Truth.

The other big news from Minnesota was that the ELCA was entering altar-and-pulpit fellowship with the United Methodist Church. Again, this was hardly a shock. The two denominations had already been sharing churches and ministers before the agreement. For many years, the ELCA had already been in communion with church bodies that denied the physical presence of Christ in Holy Communion, asserting only a spiritual presence. Entering into a communion arrangement with the Methodists takes things a step further, as the Methodists, unlike the Presbyterians (with whom the ELCA already shared fellowship and who believe in a spiritual presence) completely deny the presence of Christ in the bread and wine, relegating the elements of Holy Communion to mere symbols. Accoding to the Formula of Concord, church bodies that deny the real presence have no presence at all, and have no valid Eucharist (FC SD VII:32). The ELCA is thus condemned by the books it claims to confess.

None of this matters to the ELCA, in which unity trumps truth. It is more important to share communion than it is to agree what that communion is. It would be like the United States and Russia declaring that we are one country, while each operates under contradictory constitutions.

Again, the development of the of the ELCA entering communion with the Methodists is hardly a shock. Once they mounted the slippery slope of open communion, even allowing communion fellowship to go beyond what Lutherans believe about the Sacrament, it quickly degenerates and becomes a situation of "anything goes."

At this point, what is to hold the ELCA back from sharing communion and ministers with, say, Unitarians and various Pentecostal groups that deny the Trinity? What, ultimately, is to prevent communion with Wiccans and Hindus? What seemed impossible and scoff-worthy 30 years ago is today reality. Once the restraints of submission to Scripture have been torn asunder, what can be considered a boundary at all? There have already been Episcopal clergy who claim to be both Muslim and Christian or Muslim and Buddhist at the same time. The ELCA is in full communion with the Episcopal Church. The sky is the limit as to how this "unity" will play itself out.

Practically speaking, I can only hope that the shock value of the homosexual agenda will finally translate into a withdrawal of LCMS involvement with the ELCA. There is simply no reason for us to be involved in joint missionary work, joint chaplaincies, and joint school and university projects. There is no reason why any LCMS rostered (or unrostered) church workers should be sent to churches with ELCA pastors and workers, or to foreign seminaries that train female "pastors."

It is time for us to move on and recognize that the "division" has become a "chasm," to borrow President Kieschnick's terms, and did so decades ago. The chasm has, in fact, become a Rubicon that is now a permanent border of separation between us. As the office of the holy ministry is a mark of the church, and as God's Word makes it abundantly clear that women are not ontologically equipped to be pastors, how can one even recognize the ELCA in an ecclesiological way at all - even without the added anti-Scriptural sexual conclusions they have drawn?

I believe we need to consider the ELCA in its official, national, and organizational sense to be outside of the Church, no different than the Watchtower Society. In destroying the office of the ministry in their own parishes, they have made their exit from Church, ministry, and sacraments. This is not to say that there are not churches and faithful Christians located under the umbrella of the ELCA. But it is simply a fact that LCMS churches will increasingly be presented with the situation of bringing in members who were allegedly baptized by women "pastors" outside of any emergency baptism situation, and that some of those (questionable, to say the least) baptisms will have been done using euphemistic language, avoiding the Trinitarian formula decreed by Scripture.

We need to develop a clear vocabulary as to what constitutes heterodox baptisms and ordinations that we will accept (though being schismatic or laden in error), vs. what makes for baptisms and ordinations that are heretical or apostate, liturgical actions that we will not accept. I believe we need to be clear that not every error is "heresy" and not every errorist is a "heretic." We need to also find a way to teach everyone in our churches that formal communion fellowship is important. The name "Lutheran" does not mean the same thing everywhere, and just because "Lutheran" congregations outside of the LCMS will allow you to commune with them does not mean that you should, nor is it a guarantee that there really is communion going on in that place at all. It is entirely possible as of now to walk into a "Lutheran" (ELCA) church and have a Methodist minister blessing and distributing elements to Methodists, ELCA Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians all at the same time. What is actually being given and received there? The answer, according to FC SD VII:32 is "only bread and wine."

And as refugees may come from the ELCA clergy roster seeking status as LCMS pastors, are we going to make distinctions between those who have been "ordained" by women ministers of ordination/bishops vs. those who have been ordained by legitimate pastors? Some in the LCMS would undoubtedly argue that a woman "pastor" can indeed officiate at an ordination, or that the congregational "call" is all that suffices, or that ordination is only an optional ceremony anyway. Lack of clarity in our confession and consensus on these issues will come back to bite us, unless we figure these things out now.

We need to be clear about what is heretical vs. what is merely heterodox. It does not help our situation be be triumphalistic and be eager to operate under the self-aggrandizing notion that all things LCMS constitutes orthodoxy, and all that happens outside of our communion fellowship is heresy. We must recognize "the distinction between errors that threaten the foundation of the church and going astray in less weighty matters, in general the distinction between false teaching and mistaken belief, between heresy and erroneous opinion" (We Condemn, Hans-Werner Gensichen, 1967 edition, CPH, p. 7) - especially as people cross denominational lines for many reasons.

In spite of the name "Lutheran," I believe it would be better for a Lutheran with absolutely no alternatives but a conservative Baptist church and an ELCA congregation led by a woman to choose to attend the former rather than the latter (though a better alternative might be to stay home and pray the traditional offices of the Church together until a local congregation can be established). Similarly, I believe a local congregation has more claim on being a real church if their pastor is an unrepentant homosexual than a "conservative" woman claiming to hold the office. In other words, I believe the female "ordination" to be a far bigger scandal than having an unrepentant gay man as a pastor. We live in confusing and convoluted times.

Again, this confusion we are now experiencing is the inevitable result of dabbling in "open communion" and seeking to make the Scriptures submit to reason rather than vice versa. Once a church body starts down that road, they all end up in the same place. We have been warned by history playing out before our eyes.

Though it draws us further at odds with the majority of those who use the name "Lutheran" in our country and around the globe, and though it exposes us to further ridicule and alienation from the world and our culture (including the American religious scene), we need to cling to Scripture and the confessions. We need to continue to hold a clear and unambiguous understanding of church fellowship and altar-and-pulpit relationships. We need to draw very clear lines about what constitutes the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and what makes for valid ordination and baptism. And we have to do it in a way that seeks glory only for God, not to ourselves, in a way that is humble rather than self-congratulatory and prideful. For we are saved by grace. Correct doctrine is given and believed by grace rather than the other way around, lest any of us should boast.

And like any time of schism, heresy, doctrinal confusion, and upheaval in the Christian world, this is our opportunity to be very clear in our confession for the sake of Christ and His Church, not just for ourselves, but for our brethren around the world and for generations yet unborn.


SKPeterson said...

Pr. Beane,

I have followed your blog for several months and enjoy it immensely. (I found you through Lew Rockwell) I'm an old (not too old - I think we're about the same age) ELCA Lutheran of sound Swedish stock. I'm confident that my grandfather would not recognize today the church of his baptism (Church of Sweden). He was more of an Aulen and Giertz sort. Now my family and I are at the Rubicon.

For what it's worth, the bishop of the North Texas-North Louisiana synod is a former pastor and family friend who baptized both of my children. His response to the CWA is here:

I responded as follows earlier today:


I appreciate Bp. Kanouse's letter. But, the horse has now left the barn, hasn't it? Will there be a counter mmove at the next CWA to reverse course? Unlikely. It's much easier to give inappropriately than to take away properly. And what happens when one of the synods elects a gay bishop? What will happen to all of the congregations whose bound consciences prohibit them from calling a gay pastor? How will they be accomodated? In short, they probably won't. I doubt that conservative churches are going to be tolerated nearly as much as the pro-gay churches were over the last 8-10 years that called gay pastors or kept them on the roster. The Church of Sweden had similar provisions in place and dropped them within 10 years. "Bound conscience" seems to be a limited time offer!

I also keep thinking about other synod and national gatherings, especially youth meetings. What's the official policy going to be? Openly gay. Any conservative opposition will likely be muted or ignored. Conservatives were effectively marginalized throughout the whole sexuality study process (at least in E.WA and ID the synod really came out with a major propaganda campaign) and I get the feeling that conservatives are needed in the ELCA in a "give us your money, and shut up while we make fun of your backwards ways" manner. Object lessons for comfortable derision at synod gatherings. The rhetoric out of (some, I'm generalizing I know) the LCNA/Goodsoil types is rife with talk of "neanderthals" v. "a new poetry", etc.

And I won't even get into the whole full communion with the Methodists debacle. How you have full communion with a group that doesn't even believe the same things happen in the Eucharist is beyond me. Full communion for the ELCA is sort of like Most Favored Nation status for the U.S. Everyone gets it, regardless.

I'm now realizing just how far the church has moved away from what I was taught in confirmation; I guess you can blame Bomgren;). I hardly recognize the ELCA anymore. As someone else said, it has the appearance of a bottle of perfume, but there's nothing in it, only the outward form. The ELCA has now affirmed its official theology as: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." - H.R. Niebuhr.

I understand the Bishop's call to remain, I'm just not sure my heart's in it anymore. If we conservatives haven't been listened to for the last 8-10 years, why would the culmination of events at CWA and calls now for unity this past week suddenly change that? I expect that "consensus" on sexuality will be declared soon by a coalition of the blind leading the blinded. Perhaps going over to Missouri would entail giving up some things, but I feel I may be giving up more by staying and trying to change something that will not be changed.



I'm not looking for an affirmation and I'm trying to let go of my bitterness, but your pastoral guidance would be valued and appreciated. We are suddenly bereft and desire some good word beyond the "peace, peace" from Chicago.

Kaleb said...

Regarding the baptism question, if a woman can baptize a person in an emergency situation, then women are ontologically equipped to baptize.

I understand that we as Lutherans do not separate Baptism from the preaching of the Word (feel free to correct my imprecise language there). But if someone was baptized by a female "pastor," it seems that a legitimate pastor's calling in that case would be to complete the person's discipleship by doing what the female pastor was not equipped to do: preach the Word to him.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Kaleb:

This is certainly one way to argue the question - and is not an unreasonable argument. I disagree with it, however.

For example, we don't accept Mormon baptisms - even done by Mormon men (perhaps even holding some sort of "ordination") using the right formula - as Mormons are outside of the Church.

Since the ministry is a mark of the church, and since a female "pastor" is not a real minister, but rather (as I believe) a blasphemous and diabolical mockery of Christ and the Trinity - I don't see how baptisms conducted in this way are Christian baptisms.

I certainly would doubt my own baptism (to say the least!) if it were conducted in this way - and at very least would ask for a "conditional" baptism.

A lay woman who is a baptized Christian may indeed baptize in an emergency - as an emergency is in no way a usurpation of the office of the ministry. Emergency baptism is an ancient tradition in the church that is endorsed by our confessions. Sacramental acts conducted by impostor-priestesses is something entirely different.

By contrast, non-emergency baptisms are conducted by men in the pastoral office (as Jesus directs the Eleven to "go and make disciples, baptizing...). Women are not ontologically equipped for the office of the holy ministry.

At the very least, there is a complication and questions being raised - and part of the reason of baptism (and sacraments in general) us to eliminate doubt.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Steve:

Thank you for taking the time to write, and I am very sorry that you are bearing this cross at this time. Feel free to e-mail me at larrybeane at gmail dot com if you would like to write privately.

Speaking of Bo Giertz, a dear friend, Rev. Hans Andrae, translated the last chapter of "Hammer of God" for the latest edition (it was previously unavailable in English). Hans was ordained in the Church of Sweden, and knew Bp. Giertz. He came to the states, and served churches that would become ELCA. He retired from the ELCA, but in retirement, was able to colloquize into the LCMS ministry, and he now serves as an LCMS pastor emeritus with his son in Pittsburg, PA. The ELCA lost a good and faithful pastor, a true gentleman and devout churchman, when Pr. Andrae came to the LCMS. I'm sure there are many more such faithful pastors and lay people in the ELCA who feel betrayed by their own hierarchy.

You are absolutely right about the "conscience clause" in Sweden. That is a case study in bait-and-switch tyranny! I'm glad you raised this issue with your bishop.

Peace be with you, dear brother in Christ! Take heart! Our Lord Jesus Christ has won the victory, and not even the gates of hell will prevail against His Church.

Kaleb said...

The difference with Mormons is that their words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, don't mean the same thing as our words. The words are useless if the meaning behind them is apostate.

It may be that I need to have a better understanding of how female ordination is specifically mockery and blasphemy as you say, rather than rebellion, which is not always quite the same issue.

Theophilus said...

I agree with you, Father Hollywood, the ELCA, as a church body, has lost its moral integrity and its ability to be the leaven that can leaven the whole lump. Sad! Fortunately, there are ELCA congregatons that still maintain
their integrity. Hopeful! On occasion, I attend one that does.

Theophilus said...

Regarding homosexuality, the most insightful commentary on this subject that I have read was one written in 1990 by Richard John Neuhaus, "Homosexuality and the Churches."

Blessings! TBR

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Kaleb:

Thanks for the question.

The people of God have always been distinct (holy) from the rest. In the OT, the Israelites were unique and strange among their neighbors because they worshiped only one God that was revealed to them in masculine terms.

Therefore, unlike the pagans, the Israelites (by command of God) had only priests and not priestesses - as the priest is a kind of image or icon of God (or gods and goddesses).

In the NT, God's self-revelation continued to being Father (not in the metaphorical sense, but in the literal, biological sense) and Son (again, physically and literally). The Holy Spirit, as some point out, is grammatically feminine, but this is a linguistic issue of gender, and not an ontological reality of sex.

In the NT, those who occupy the holy office, those who perform public priestly duties for the church (Rom 15:16) are always men. Jesus chose 12 men. The apostles chose a man to replace Judas. The Church (even in the face of a hostile culture that often had more women in the pagan clergy than men) chose men for the apostles to ordain - such as Timothy and Titus. The words for pastor in the NT always only appear in the masculine (such as elder, pastor, overseer, etc.).

The pastor stands "in the stead of Christ" and "by His command" in a priestly role - speaking the Word of God in proclamation and absolution. Just as Jesus is the icon of the Father, the pastor is an icon (however imperfect) of the Son.

This has been consistent across the millennia throughout Old and New Testaments - with the exception of various heretical groups (like the Montanists) that were outside of the Church.

Some might argue that using this logic, only Jews, or only men of a certain age, or some other trait can be ministers. But this is to repeat the ELCA's sin of reducing sex (an ontological and eternal reality) to the realm of the "accidental" characteristic, such as race, age, etc.

Sex is built into our very fabric as creatures. Skin color is not.

The Church has confirmed this understanding of the holy office by nearly 20 centuries of unbroken submission to Scripture - until modern man decided he "knew better."

Father Hollywood said...


After half a century of "knowing better" we now have the denial of sex as an ontological reality degenerating into discussions of "gender," trans-gender, homosexuality, lifestyle choices, etc. It follows that if women can be ordained, they can also be married to other women - since sex is just another trait like skin color that is basically a meaningless trait.

A female "pastor" is an attack on the masculinity of Jesus, which is an attack on the Incarnation itself.

St. John tells us a mark of Antichrist is denial of the incarnation (e.g. 1 John 4:1-6). Confessing Jesus as God in the flesh is not only done with the lips, but with actions (which often do speak louder than words). And remember, Satan rarely uses a frontal assault, like walking into a room announcing: "Hello, my name is Satan, and I will be your tempter this evening..." Rather, Satan muddies the waters, boils the frog slowly, and unleashes chaos and confusion over time.

The same church bodies that "ordain" women are now also pushing the homosexual agenda, tolerate the teaching that there are errors in Scripture, allow for baptisms not in the name of the Trinity, and are forcing the entire Church Catholic to reconsider universally accepting baptisms without question. The same bodies that "ordain" women tolerate (if not embrace) "demythologization" that asserts the literal belief in the virgin birth and resurrection are unnecessary to the faith. These teachings are bundled together.

God is not the author of all of this.

In short, the people of God, the Church, of all ages, has never had priestesses standing in as icons of God in public worship and proclamation. Fertility cults and polytheistic pagan religions do, however. I think we should require Christian baptisms to be conducted within the Christian Church - in the same way that we reject Mormon baptisms as apostate for the very reasons you articulate.

I hope this helps explain my confession on this matter.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

Thanks for your kind words, and the First Things recommendation. I look forward to reading it!

And thanks for the reminder that there are faithful ELCA congregations, pastors, and laypeople who are suffering for the sake of making a good confession before God and men. We need to keep them in our prayers.

Father Hollywood said...

Regarding the paganism inherent in female "ordination," you can see it for yourself in this congregation in good standing within the ELCA. Check out their video here as well.

This is the underlying reality of women's "ordination."

Koobear said...

Father Hollywood - I just recently started reading your blog. This is a great article. I agree that fellowship should be over between LCMS, LCC (which I am a member here in Canada) and the ELCA and ELCIC and that should include missions etc. etc.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Father Hollywood: "Similarly, I believe a local congregation has more claim on being a real church if their pastor is an unrepentant homosexual than a "conservative" woman claiming to hold the office. In other words, I believe the female "ordination" to be a far bigger scandal than having an unrepentant gay man as a pastor."

Ohhhhh man. Ohhhhhh man. What terrible choices.

What if you lived on an island and those were really your only choices. Yeeeesh.

Myself? I'd choose to do something that I almost always tell others not to do: I'd worship God alone.

And I'd start up a small group outside of those two organizations.

P.S. Excellent Post!!

SKPeterson said...

What? You don't pray the god/dess rosary and acknowledge the christ/sophia within? I'm truly shocked. Come off your patriarchical high-horse "system of domination" and get more in touch with your feminine side.

I especially recommend this: I love the presentation for ordination with what? a magic wand? like for witches?

James said...

Didn't the LCMS publish an add 10+ years ago in a major US newspaper (USA Today I think) stating they did not sign on to the Joint Declaration on Justification between the ELCA and the Roman Catholic church. If so, they should do the same thing now to clarify they are not part of the ELCA and disagree strongly with their decision to allow gay clergy and homosexual unions. Most non-lutherans have no idea there are different and distinct lutheran bodies in this country. THe LCMS, WELS, and other orthodox lutheran bodies are tarnished by the fact the ELCA has the word "lutheran" in their name.