Archive for August, 2009

On the Road Again

August 30, 2009

I’ll be on the road for a few weeks, and will be posting as I’m able – but no guarantees about how often or lucid that will be.  Heck, considering the average lucidity here, maybe that’s not  a necessary caveat!   There’s a great dialogue going on between Marie and myself under the “7 Quick Takes” entry from Friday, 8/28 on the topic of civil obedience and Romans 13.  Keep an eye there for further dialogue as I have a chance to post and Marie responds. 

God’s richest blessings to each of you and all of the people God has placed into your life.

Public Service Announcement

August 28, 2009

Read this.  Protect yourself.  ‘Nuff said.

7 Quick Takes Friday

August 28, 2009

Another Friday, another 7 Quick Takes.  Get ’em while they’re hot.  The theme this week is various tidbits I found interesting out of the latest issue of Christianity Today

Counting Controversy
(p.17).  A blurb discussing the hope of Miguel Rivera, chairman of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, that he will be able to sway the 22,000 evangelical churches that are part of this organization to urge their members to boycott the upcoming 2010 US Census.  Rivera hopes that this will spur immigration reform, but I find it a highly suspect tactic in light of Romans 13.  Fortunately, it seems as though many other Hispanic leaders also disagree with Rivera’s tactic.

Seminary Plants
(p.18).  An interesting blurb on the increasing trend of large congregations with well-known pastors creating church-based seminaries.  “The church-based theological seminaries like ours are more intent on offering a theological and philosophical world view that is consistent with the teachings and writings of the well-known pastor-theologian with whom the seminary is affiliated,” says Tim tomlinson, president of Bethlehem College and Seminary – which is affiliated with Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and pastor John Piper

As a product of a more traditional seminary, I share the concerns of some of the folks in the article about the depth of grounding that these church-based seminaries will offer.  How heavily will these seminaries ground their candidates in the depth of Christian history and doctrinal development?  How heavily will homiletical style be emphasized, if the draw for the seminaries is a notable personality?

I do believe that – at the very least my – seminary is in need of some updating.  I think that church-based seminaries will probably be much better at producing pastors with the pastoral hearts to deal with congregational issues and dynamics.  But is the ultimate goal of seminary simply to produce a pastor capable of emulating the particular style and approach of a notable luminary, or is the goal of seminary to produce theologians capable of independent – but not isolated – theological inquiry and examination?  And ultimately, why do these two things have to be separated?

The appointment of Francis Collins to head the National Institute of Health is a decision that has riled many in the scientific community.  Not because of his scientific chops – Collins was head of the Human Genome Project and his credentials academically and professionally are impeccable.  Rather, it’s the fact that he is an evangelical Christian who insists that faith and scientific theories can be reconciled that irritates his detractors.  Obama’s choice of Collins’ seems to be a shrewd calculated move.  Collins’ religious credentials are likely to make him seem like a friendly appointment to Christians, and yet his research views on embryonic stem cells are harder to pin down.  It may turn out to be a valuable lesson that simply being a Christian is not always commensurate with being a Christian in terms of how the faith has been explicated historically.  My previous musings on this topic are here.

The fallout from the Episcopal and now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s decisions in the past months and weeks (respectively) to ordain and validate practicing homosexuals as clergy will begin to snowball, I believe.  Not that you’ll hear about it in the popular media.  The real excitement were the decisions themselves, not the follow-up and the emphasis on how Christians in both bodies are and will be rejecting the blatantly unBiblical stances their church bodies have chosen.  But it will happen, and these folks will be looking for church bodies that adhere more closely to the Biblical witness and 2000 years of Christian history and tradition.  This was the first news that I saw about such transitions.  This is loosely related to the news brief on page 21 of the magazine noting the Episcopal Church’s decision in July to allow homosexual clergy and facilitate same-sex marriage services.  While the ELCA is apt to point out that their resolutions last week stopped short of pushing for gay marriage, they logically have no choice but to do exactly that.  To indicate that homosexual couples can live together outside of marriage in a committed relationship that is not marriage, while forbidding their heterosexual peers from doing so would be a rather ugly double-standard, which I’m sure they’ll move to eliminate as soon as possible.

While I skimmed Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical in July, Caritas in Veritate, I didn’t really read it very closely.  I may have to rectify that after reading the editorial on page 25 entitled A Unifying Vocation, which paints a picture of vocation that strikes a chord in light of my recent beginning efforts on a book on the topic of vocation.  Benedict, quoting Pope Paul VI, says “Progress, in its origin and essence, is first and foremost a vocation“.  I’m not sure I agree with that fully in the way it’s stated here.  It results in a theology that states “development as a vocation“, to quote Benedict.  It would depend a great deal on how one define’s progress, and the editorial leads one to believe that it is defined very broadly by Benedict.  One more for the reading queue!

Backtracking to a blurb on page 20, there’s a note about how a Swedish government report may further endanger theological education in that country.  The report indicated that it seemed more appropriate that state money and support be used to assist schools and students involved in religious studies, rather than more narrow (and traditional)  theological education.  Stefan Gustavsson, general secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance hits the nail on the head: “The underpinning perspective seems to be old-fashioned Enlightenment thinking that theology is not real science and therefore eventually should not be a part of the university.”  It also reflects the more post-modern emphasis on relative truth, encouraging broad study across a variety of religions as a comparative exercise, rather than discerning truth in a particular religion.

Is a profit anti-Christian?  An ancient question contextualized anew by the decision of some Christian universi
ties to transition themselves into for-profit institutions in order to keep tuition as affordable as possible for their students.  While that may sound like an oxymoron, the model for this appears to be Grand Canyon University located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The profit component is driven primarily by online education, where there are not the hard limitations of a specific number of chairs or classrooms to be dealt with.  Adding classroom capacity is a matter of adding instructors and server space and bandwidth – far cheaper than adding a new wing to a physical campus.  The article notes that critics of this move feel that it causes the university to lose “Christ-centeredness”. 

Having developed and delivered collegiate coursework online for close to 15 years, I can vouch for the fact that quality education
can be delivered effectively online.  It’s not for everyone, but it is very effective for some folks.  And students are paying tuition one way or the other – whether the university is non-profit or for-profit.  While at first blush it would seem that there’s a greater incentive to drive tuition in a for-profit university up in order to increase shareholder return (I used to work for the University of Phoenix), is it a necessity?  Time will tell, I suppose.

Keeping Your Pastor On Track

August 27, 2009

I tell my congregation that they have a heavy responsibility each Sunday, which is to make sure that I’m preaching the Word to them.  And to make sure that I’m not getting in the way of the Word with my own emotions and ideas and prejudices. 

In my denomination, the pastor is called to a congregation by the congregation.  It’s a process whereby both the pastor and the congregation acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is at work, and that we’re supposed to utilize our own good judgment as well so long as it’s not contradicting indications that the Spirit may have something else in mind.  Both the congregation and the pastor have to feel that the union of the two would be a good one for all concerned.  That’s a really fuzzy process, but it’s our best effort at allowing God to guide things, and avoiding a situation that feels more like a secular job interview.  And it avoids the difficulties that come when pastors are assigned to congregations without any control by the congregation.  Not all denominations follow this rather convoluted procedure, but there it is.

So I tell my congregation that they have a responsibility to keep me orthodox.  That they aren’t just listening to the Word I preach to them simply for their edification or benefit, but to also ensure that I’m not twisting Scripture – or ignoring it – to suit a pet preference or to support a personal soapbox. 

The only way to do this is for them to be in the Word as well.  Reading it, digesting it, reflecting on it, discussing it.  Because if they don’t do these things, they can’t hold me accountable in my presentation of the Word to them. 

And if they can’t do that, you wind up with this

This is why it is important to be careful where you choose to worship, and who you entrust with explicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to you.  This is why you need to be in the Word, why you need to know it every bit as well as your pastor does.  This doesn’t mean that you may not apply certain passages differently.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t both have different areas of Scripture that you prefer to emphasize.  But it should ensure that when your pastor apparently goes off the theological deep end and refuses to pray for his enemy (a term used loosely here, and only because that’s how Pastor Anderson identifies Obama), you will be prepared to handle it.

Don’t attempt to handle it as you exit the service.  Neither he nor the rest of the parishioners are going to expect or appreciate a theological argument in the doorway to the church.  Rather, contact the pastor later in the week.  Ask to meet with him, and explain that you believe him to be incorrect in his teaching.  Be specific in what you have a problem with.  When you meet, open the meeting in prayer.  Then succinctly lay out your concern (again being very specific), and then refer to the verses that you feel are pertinent.  Try not to approach this with an attitude or a chip on your shoulder.  Your goal in this is not to be ‘right’ or to ‘win’.  Your goal in this is that one of you – or both of you – will recognize that you are misled about some aspect or application of Scripture, and can be corrected in love.

If there is no agreement at this point, thank them for their time and indicate that you still have concerns, and that you wish to pray and study further.  Accept materials that your pastor may have to help you, or to further explain his stance.  Pray.  Study.  Ask friends whom you trust for their input.  Do NOT turn this into a battle where you try to rally as many of your congregational friends to your side as possible in order to ‘force’ the pastor to change his or her perspective.  That’s very inappropriate at this point (if ever – unless the Biblical errors are major).  If after these steps you’re still convinced of your position, ask to meet with the pastor again, and indicate that you would like to bring 2-3 others with you who feel that the pastor is in error.  Don’t surprise your pastor with the extra guests when you show up at your meeting.  Let him know in advance that you’re doing this.

If you still can’t see your way clear to understanding one another or agreeing, it may be time to ask for greater clarification from a congregational Elder or your church polity.  Obviously, if you’re doing this, it better be for a reason more important than the fact that you don’t like how your pastor pronounces the name Elijah with a soft j instead of a hard j. 

If all of this comes to naught, it may be time to find another congregation, if you feel strongly enough about the importance of a particular issue, or if you find yourself unable and unwilling to reconcile yourself to your pastor.  The key is to try and conduct yourself in the manner befitting a child of Christ, even if your pastor or church leadership is not doing so themselves.  This is hard, and contrary to our human nature.  But it’s a vital part of your witness – to your pastor as well as to others in the church who may not understand what’s going on. 

Should Doctors Disclose Conflicts of Interest to Trial Patients?

August 27, 2009

Well, should they?

Yes, they should.

If doctors are increasingly to become the authoritarians of our health, able to force us into treatment against our better judgment or will, then they have every responsibility to fully disclose to their patients any considerable biases that would influence their decision to push a line of treatment or medication.  If doctors are going to be entrusted with such great power – not just medically but legally – then they need to be held to the highest accountability for that power.

Writing Wednesdays

August 26, 2009

Aside from the basic enjoyability and need for practice in writing, my friend Nancy’s Writing Wednesdays seem like a great back-up idea when things are slow (and when aren’t Wednesdays slow?).  So, courtesy of Away We Go, here’s my stab at Writing Wednesdays

This week’s prompt is to:

1) Select a roomI opted to select my office, since that’s where I am at the moment.
2) Select 3-4 specific details of that roomI opted to select the various lighting instruments in my office, shared below in photo format for your viewing pleasure.

3) Study the objects and determine either a) the tone you’re attempting to develop or b) what these objects reveal about your characterI’m a sucker for character.
4) Draft.  Let it rest.  Play with it.  Show it to friends.  Get feedback.  Publish like Nancy, I’m rather impulsive with my writing.  So here it is!

The Result:

Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear.
No one comes near.
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there,
What does he care?

– The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby”

Eyes closed, the song rings, incriminatingly, in the back of my mind.  Surely it’s sinful to sit in a darkened office when there is so much light available?  Everyone else seems to think so.

Don’t you want the light on?

No, I don’t really care for the fluorescent lighting.  And besides, half of the bulbs don’t work half the time. 

I could fix those for you.  Install some new ballasts.  Good as new.  Really brighten up the place!

No need to go to all that trouble and expense.  I can use my desk lamp.  Or my reading lamp.

But I don’t. 

The stubbornness of an aging man?  It’s my teeth that worry me, not my eyes.  I can see just fine, especially since I’m shackled to this laptop all of the time.  Maybe I’m just attempting some old fashioned prophetic embodiment.  But what good is the prophet if nobody hears him?  What good is a metaphor of light when nobody is around to see it? 

It certainly isn’t that the Light isn’t clear enough.  It isn’t that there isn’t enough Light.  Despite my shortcomings and failures and pride and humanity.  That’s what the cracks in the jar are for, right?  So that the light can shine brighter.  The shadows only end up accentuating what they aren’t able to extinguish.  Darkness is only a peripheral study in contrast, failing to be anything more than just a momentary distraction.  Great.  I’ve just rationalized the necessity of evil for the glory of God.  Add several logs to the fire that’s being stoked in my honor downstairs.  I’ll be there all too shortly.

Father McKenzie can never more than speculate on who hears, who sees.  He darns his socks because it doesn’t matter who sees or who hears, what matters is that he is present to point the way, that he delivers the Word that is not his own.  He darns and speaks and sits in the dark because the servant doesn’t question the instructions of the master.  The servant’s worthiness is not in his ability to discern, but to obey.  All fine theological points that were largely lost on the Fab Four, most likely.

I turn back to the books and the laptop.  The soundtrack fades and I resume the various things that require my attention for the moment.  The toes of my socks are thin, but aren’t worn through yet.  The teeth are likely to hold a while longer.  And for the time being, the eyes are good.  Despite the shadows and the darkness – distinctions that would be impossible without first having Light.

The Starbucks Child

August 26, 2009

No, I’m not thinking of an overly-caffeinated child – though that would be a great entry as well.

It’s just that we’ve entered the age of the order what you like child.  No more settling for whatever child you happened to conceive and giving thanks to God.  No more being surprised to find out the sex of the child.  No more being surprised that even though the doctor told you it was a boy, it’s actually a girl and you need to repaint the baby room.  No more receiving the gift of life for what it is – miraculous, largely out of our control, immensely humbling as well as joyous.

No, now you can order your child pretty much like you’d order your coffee at Starbucks.  Overpriced, doctored to your specific preferences and requirements. 

What control freaks we are!  Any child isn’t good enough for us any longer.  Nope, we have to customize the child to our tastes and our preferences.  It isn’t enough of a blessing just to have a child, now we have to have the child we want, the perfect child.  The child that will accessorize perfectly with our own hair or our own dreams.  That should make for some wonderful counseling sessions for little junior down the road.  How much more bitter will it be for all involved if Junior doesn’t happen to measure up to what Mommy and Daddy intended for them? 

This is sick and wrong on so many levels I can’t adequately convey them.  When children become accessories, when they are not the surprise of nature but the calculated decisions of their parents, what does this say about our culture?  What does this say about people who have such a strong need for control that they have to preprogram their child’s looks?  What does this say about how we value life?  It says that we value life for what it provides for us – not for that life in and of itself. 

And when that happens, we’d best keep an eye out for who is eying us as simply objects to be manipulated for their ends and desires. 

No Easy Answer

August 25, 2009

I know that there isn’t a simple fix, an easy answer, by the time I actually set my laptop to the side and make my way to the counter of the coffee shop.  The owner has been talking to her for at least 15 minutes by this point.  He is incredibly patient.  He is willing to help.  He is the epitome of Christian love in dealing with this woman.  But it’s clear that they aren’t making any progress.

I noticed her briefly as she walked in, a woman probably in her late 40’s or mid 50’s.  The others notice her as she comes in as well, but they notice her mostly for the conversation she is trying to have with the owner.  A missed bus.  A missed bus stop.  Transportation problems.  Looking for friends.  Does she want to make a phone call?  Yes, yes of course.  But the owner has stood there for at least 10 minutes with the phone in his hand, and she has not given him a number to call except for government offices that he patiently explains are closed at 9:00 at night. 

The coffee shop is small, and the jazz music in the background is not enough to drown her voice and prevent the smattering of people hunched over their laptops and lattes from flitting nervous eyes around the room at one another.  I go to the counter, looking for the trash bin to dump my cup.  If you need a ride someplace, I can give you a ride, I hear myself say.  But I know it’s not really a ride that she needs.  Perhaps she knows this as well.  The owner gives me a dubious look.  He’s tired.  Frustrated.  The woman furtively glances up at me without making any definite response to my offer.  I can’t help you with a place to stay, but if you have a place to stay, I can get you there, I reiterate.  Again the pointed, awkward shuffling through a small memo book in which are stuffed frayed business cards.  She rejoins the owner about another call she could make.  He explains that nobody will be in that office at 9:15 at night. 

I return to my seat.  It isn’t long before she concludes her time with the owner.  She moves towards the exit, which is directly to my right.  In my peripheral vision I watch her body language, the body language of someone unsure of what to do.  I have just about decided that she’s leaving, when she suddenly swings around to seat herself next to me.  She begins talking.  A rivulet gushing into a stream pouring into a river of words.  She just needs to get a hold of this woman at Von’s, who said she knew of a place that she could stay for $650 a month.  But she’s not sure if this person is still on shift at Von’s or not.  Nor does she know where the Von’s is.  Everything is cloudy and uncertain.

I know that this will not be a conversation that comes to any form of happy resolution.  But I endeavor.  Do you have a place to stay?  Where did you stay last night?  Where did you stay the night before?  How long have you been in town?  Where were you trying to take the bus to?  All dead-ends.  All curly-cues circling back on themselves.  She has no where to stay.  She slept outside last night.  She probably slept outside the night before.  And probably the night before that.   She claims she’s only been in town for four days.  She came from the Valley because it was so hot there she kept passing out.  She has dark, long hair and a face that is not overly weathered, hands that are not overly calloused and hardened by too many days in the sun.  She’s wearing hose or tights beneath her coat and what I guess is a skirt.  She doesn’t smell bad.  She waves her hands as she speaks in circles, short chopping motions, and one of her fingers has a slightly odd bend in it that I focus on.

There is this house, but it’s in the Valley, an hour or more away, she shares.  She could stay there. 

Do you know the address? 

Well, it’s near the 405. 

Do you know the address?  Do you know them? 

She never knows how many people will be staying there, and they aren’t always very kind.  I tell her I can take her there if she knows the address.  She can’t go there.  They asked her to leave.  We return to square one, and I look at the crisp, firm lines of that square that surround us, but mostly her.  Can she ever leave square one?  I thought of being a teacher once, she confides.  I have a lot of things that I want to tell people. 

They stole her state ID card.  They stole her college transcripts.  Do you know how difficult it is to get college transcripts?  You have to send the envelope within the envelope.  Who knows how long it would take to get those again?    She slept outside last night.  It was cold, and she was a little worried, but it was near a store that was open all night and they told her they wouldn’t bother her.  When she awoke at the crack of dawn this morning, a policeman asked her who she was and where she was going.  I’m a single woman, but I have a right to walk down the street.  He asked me if I was all right.  I asked him to ask all these other people if they were all right.  What other people he asked?  This whole city, I replied.  There are lots and lots of people here in their houses, why don’t you ask them if they’re all right and leave me alone.

The Motel 6 won’t let her stay there without her state ID.  Even though the Christians were willing to pay over the going rate for a room for her.  She had thought of starting a church once.  A friend of mine said she thought I would be good at that. 

It’s almost closing time.  I could try to get her a hotel room at the Motel 6 she says refused to give her a room before, but she seems unlikely to stay there, even if I could get her the room.  I tell her to go back to where she stayed last night, where it was safe.  And in the morning she could call the names and numbers on the business cards and scrawled amidst the doodles in her memo pad.  The people would be awake then, in their offices.  Maybe they can help you tomorrow

I don’t know why things are so hard for me, she says out of the blue.  I’m not a perfect person, but I know lots of other people who aren’t perfect either, and they don’t have these problems.  I try to share the Gospel with her.  It isn’t about how perfect you are – nobody is perfect.  Jesus loves you, He’s not punishing you for something.  I don’t even know her name.  She nods, probably out of habit.  I begin gathering my things together, packing up my laptop. 

I feel guilty for being anxious to get away, to step out of the torrent of words and to dry myself off.  I have nothing to offer her, nothing that can help what she is dealing with.  I’m not sure who can help.  She seems doubtful of help.  Frightened of being abused by police officers and social service workers who classify her and then determine what help she should get and they can give based on that classification.  I give her my card and contact information.  I point her in the direction of Von’s again, so she can find her friend tomorrow morning. 

Father please clear that woman’s mind.  Free her from whatever powers or conditions that have narrowed her world and her vision into the tight little circles she runs in now.  Restore her.  Protect her.  Guide her.  Assure her of your great love for her, regardless of whether her imperfections are more noticable than mine.  She’s your child, your creation, and I know you love her, even when I am unsure how to – or more ashamedly, less inclined to try.  Someday, I p
ray that she and I will meet again, when you have healed her and restored her, and together perhaps we can smile about this evening, because I don’t feel much like smiling about it right now.  Amen.

Sanctuary, Continued

August 25, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the storming of a church in Copenhagen in order to arrest for extradition Iraqis who were seeking – but denied – asylum in Denmark.  I wrote about the sense of outrage amongst an interesting variety of persons at the police’s violation of a church space, and the associated unstated idea of sanctuary

So it was interesting to see an article in the county newspaper here on a local sanctuary situation that has dragged on now for over two years.  The article isn’t very helpful other than providing a sympathetic face and  a complex and sad story without giving enough background information for the user to really form much of an opinion.  She entered the country illegally, which to many people is grounds enough for deportation.  Law has been broken, person must be punished/deported, end of story.  Making the case that her flight is justified on grounds of safety or some other mitigating circumstance sure isn’t done very well in this story.  Ultimately, we’re left with the image of a woman who is hoping that an exception will be made for her.  But if the exception is made for, what of the thousands or millions of others in similar situations? 

She’s been living on this church’s property for roughly two years.  Who knows how long her legal appeals will take to work through.  Undoubtedly at least another two years, probably a lot longer.  In the meantime, she can’t really do anything except sit there and wait, afraid to leave on the off chance that INS is waiting to nab her and extradite her. 

How many family members are here in the US?  All of them?  Is there anyone left back in Mexico to help her?  What about the children?  Is it reasonable to argue that the children’s lives will be devastated at this point if their mother is deported?  This woman broke the law – that much at least is clear.  But is the observing of this particular law worth the associated problems it is likely to cause?  No, it’s not a pretty picture either way.  She can’t live in a church forever.  It’s not good for the family to be separated, and after the father has achieved naturalization, it seems obvious he doesn’t want to go live in another country.  Should he have thought about that before marrying her?  Should she have?  And what is the best solution at this point? 

I don’t know.  But it seems clear that simply going by the law on it’s own is only a partial solution at best.  How do we take into account the disintegrating situation in Mexico?  Should we?  Thoughts? 

A Necessary Post

August 23, 2009

I suppose it would be remiss of me not to make comment on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) decisions this past week to allow monogamous homosexuals to be ordained as clergy.  But it’s not a post I wanted to make.

So let’s get the pedantic stuff out of the way up front.  No, there isn’t a Biblical leg to stand on for this decision.  No, the ELCA document which formed the basis for the voting at their Church wide Assembly doesn’t bother to even deal with Scripture, preferring instead to base all of it’s rationale on a slippery, unBiblical definition of the term “trust”.  I talked about this when the document, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust was released back in February of 2009.  Yes, I am deeply saddened and worried by this official shift in ELCA theology – even though it was a long time in coming.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) is understandably wracked with sadness and worry about this decision as well, as most any LCMS minister will be likely to tell you even if you’d rather not know.  Tragically, none of this expressed worry and sorrow is going to change anything.  The ELCA wasn’t able to prevent this theological shift from becoming official policy, so I doubt any amount of LCMS hand-wringing is going to come to much.

But what interests me is why the LCMS is so upset about all of this – beyond the obvious this-isn’t-Biblical-and-you’re-leading-people-theologically-astray issue.  Which is a huge freakin’ issue, to be sure.

Here are my initial takes on it, and I’d be interested in hearing back from folks who have additional perspectives to add.

1.  That Could Have Been Us –  Almost 40 years ago the LCMS suffered a devastating schism within itself.  I’m not going to go into whether or not the schism was warranted, accurate, or anything else.  It simply was.  Or should I say, is.  It continues to be the defining moment of the LCMS for any LCMS clergy who was old enough to be conscious of it at the time.  Broadly speaking, the schism centered over the fear that the exegetical faculty of Concordia Seminary St. Louis were teaching the historical-critical method, thereby putting at risk the LCMS’ confessional stance of sola Scriptura and the inerrancy of Scripture.  Both a political and theological schism within the LCMS, the result was the formation of a rival seminary known as Seminex.

The assumption is that in going through this hugely damaging shift (whether real or imagined) towards more intentional theological methodology, the LCMS averted the errors that the historical-critical method can foster in terms of how people treat and receive the Bible.  By acting -however brashly – to state that such methodologies are not appropriate, the LCMS ensured that it remained as faithful as possible to the principles of sola Scriptura and the inerrancy of Scripture.  Watching as the ELCA – which was seen as having embraced historical-critical methodologies – moved down a progressively more liberal theological path, I’m sure that many LCMS-ers who were veterans of the Seminex era are recognizing just how dangerous these methodologies can be.  I’m sure there’s a certain level of shock in recognizing that if very intentional and painful moves had not been made 40 years ago, the LCMS might have found itself in a similar theological quagmire to the one that the ELCA is now floundering in. 

Thus, the vote this week in the ELCA is seen as a very real reality that the LCMS could have found itself in.  There’s the relief in knowing that a bullet has been dodged, as well as the shock of realizing that someone is shooting at you

2.  Lutheranism as a Whole is Affected – If there was ever a time when the population at large was clear about the distinctions between the various branches of Lutheranism in America and the world, that time is no more.  People see the word Lutheran and assume that all Lutheran churches are pretty much the same.  While this isn’t even true within a given Lutheran denomination, it’s certainly not true between denominations.  As the largest Lutheran denomination in America, the coverage of the ELCA’s Assembly this past week is going to likely lead to a lot of people assuming – for better or worse – that all Lutherans believe that homosexuality is not expressly forbidden by the Bible. 

3.  We Didn’t Believe it Would Come to This – As I try to frequently argue around here, people are basically flawed.  Which in my book means that more often than not, the wrong stuff is going to happen.  It may take it a while to be accepted, but eventually it will be accepted.  Whether we’re talking about redefining the social, cultural, biological, historical, and ethical foundations of human sexuality and the family unit, or whether we’re talking about the legitimization of obviously Biblically condemned behaviors, crap is continually hitting and preparing to hit the proverbial theological fan. 

But a lot of people live in the hope and assumption that it won’t.  Or that if it does, the spray isn’t going to be very bad.  I don’t assume that.  And I assume that there does not exist a theological equivalent of a giant trash bag at a Gallagher concert.  The decision of the ELCA – as well as the decision of the Episcopal Church a few months ago – are likely to not be the last such decisions. And this is going to trickle down to all of us in ways that we can’t even envision just yet. 

4. There are Other Issues at Stake – While the issue of ordaining homosexual clergy is what makes all the headlines, that’s in part due to the homosexuality issue being front and center in our society as a whole right now.  But for LCMS-ers, another trend that has been continued at the ELCA CW Assembly this week is the ecumenical ties with other groups with different theological heritages and understandings.  The ELCA is in communion and pulpit fellowship with several other major denominations such as:

  • Episcopal Church USA

  • United Methodist Church

  • Presbyterian Church USA

  • Moravian Church

  • United Church of Christ

  • Reformed Church of America
The concept of altar & pulpit fellowship may seem rather bizarre.  But essentially, it means that a Presbyterian congregation could call an  ELCA-trained pastor.  Or that an ELCA congregation could call a Methodist-trained pastor.  It means that the ELCA has decided that the theological differences between themselves and these various other denominations are essentially non-essential.  And if there’s one thing that Lutherans treasure, it’s separatism. 

The LCMS views these fellowship arrangements as essentially a denial of Lutheran confessional documents, and a form of syncretism that is every bit as theologically dangerous as ignoring the Bible as your authoritative norm for Scriptural behavior and belief.  While these issues aren’t going to garner much press attention, they pose huge theological questions and challenges.

5.  It’s a Slippery Slope – It can (and is) argued that the issue of ordaining homosexuals is not a matter of salvation.  It’s not as though they are any more sinful than the rest of us.  And this is true.  We are all sinful, we all fall short of the lives we are called to live by God’s law, and are therefore all entirely dependent on the freely given grace of God the Father through the atoning life, death, and resurrection of God the Son, all of which requires God the Holy Spirit for someone to be able to accept this as real and salvific.  Homosexuals are no more sinful than the rest of us. 

However, in addition to identifying homosexuality as sin, the Bible has some pretty strong words for how the shepherds of God’s people are supposed to behave.  They are held to some very strict standards.  While it’s understood that they are not – and cannot be  – perfect, it is at the same time asserted that they are to be held to stricter standards of behavior than others.  Why?  Because they function in a very public manner.  Someone who publicly lives a life inconsistent with the Biblical message is someone who obstructs the Biblical message.  How can someone hear the law at work in their own life, when it seems clear that the law is not functioning adequately in the life of their pastor? 

This isn’t just an issue of sexuality – although it’s clear in the Bible that sexual sins are incredibly serious.  Ask the Roman Catholic church how important sexual behavior can be – not just to the individual but to the faith and church they represent.

The Bible holds out some strong examples of how religious leaders are going to be held to stricter standards.  Let’s talk about the arena of family life.  Let’s look at Eli and his sons in 1 Samuel 2 and 1 Samuel 4.  Eli was held accountable for the actions of his sons.  As members of the priestly class, Eli’s sons were abusing their privilege and rank in egregious ways.  Eli was held accountable in part for this.  We see this idea reinforced in 1 Timothy 3.  While the injunctions given for the type of life a leader should live are not peculiar to the leader, the leader is held to the standard more closely, since his life is going to be on display for others.

Does this sound unrealistic?  Perhaps it is.  But it’s something that we expect.  We lift our leaders up, whether they are political or spiritual or entertainment leaders.  We put them on pedestals.  We know that they’re sinful, but we lift them up and idolize them all the same.  And so when they fall, when their private sins are made public, the fall is far and painful – not just to those leaders, but to everyone who put their faith and trust in them.  This is our nature as creatures.  We want to put our trust in someone.  It’s how we were designed, and as such, the Designer holds those who lead His people to higher accountability.

By tossing this consideration to the side and ignoring not only Biblical injunctions against homosexuality but also Biblical injunctions about how leaders of the church are supposed to conduct themselves, the ELCA is setting out on a slippery slope.  Why bother talking seriously about sexual sin of any kind, if one form of sexual sin is not only legitimized, it is held up for admiration and adulation?  How can we talk seriously about gossip, or drunkenness, or theft, or any other issue the Bible makes mention of, if we’re going to ignore *this* area.  For all the talk in the ELCA’s sexuality document on trust, trust is exactly what is being sacrificed for the sake of greater cultural acceptance.  Trust that God can be trusted to give us good instructions – even if they’re difficult to hear.  Trust that the Bible speaks cohesively not only in judgment but also in grace.  Trust that when God outlines the problems of our lives, He knows what He’s talking about, and is capable of seeing us through them.  Trust that the grace of God is even necessary, if we can simply wave our hands and convey our own grace on behaviors that God has explicitly forbidden.  It’s a slippery slope indeed that the ELCA has taken yet another step down on. 

Hopefully this is helpful in some respect for trying to make sense of everything that has happened this week – which is really just a capstone for  what has been happening for some time in various limbs of the Body of Christ.