The ELCA Misstep

1 09 2009

I grew up as a pastor’s kid, with my father being in the clergy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). I have many fond memories of my formative years in the Lutheran heritage. My father and mother love Jesus and love the history and liturgy of the Lutheran Church. They taught me to love God and revere the Scriptures. Most of my deepest convictions about life, work, family, and God were formed by these two precious saints. I went to church every week and, due to the high church style of my dad’s churches, I learned by heart the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, and Luther’s shorter treatise on baptism. Now, that’s not bad upbringing.

But the ELCA that I grew up in has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. Like a tiny leak in the upstairs bathroom that, unattended, will cause the ceiling to cave in, the ELCA has gradually and slowly been moving further and further from the Bible that Luther so loved. As of a week ago, the slow theological leak has now become a flood. A week ago the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) during its national convention in Minneapolis voted to allow practicing gay and lesbian pastors to be ordained. The following are excerpts from the Bishop Julian Gordy, the bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Synod, explaining the new policy on homosexual clergy.

This past Friday, after hours of heart wrenching discussion and debate, our church, meeting in Assembly in Minneapolis, voted to ease limits on gay clergy and to allow congregations which wish to do so to recognize committed, life-long, publicly accountable same-sex relationships. It was a time for dancing for some, a time for mourning for others.

Some feel that they are finally included fully in the life of our church. The day for which they have worked and prayed for years has arrived.

Others find this change to be deeply troubling. They view the actions of the Assembly as contrary to the Bible and Lutheran teaching and practice.

During the weeks and months to come, I hope that both those groups and all those who find themselves somewhere in between will be able to talk with one another as we continue to discern the Spirit’s direction for us and for our church.

The implications of the Assembly’s actions will unfold more fully over time. Over the coming months, processes to implement the Assembly’s decisions will be worked out by church-wide leaders and staff, in consultation with the Conference of Bishops. This will not happen right away, but will take some months.

We know this much for sure: Whereas persons in committed same-sex relationships formerly were barred from serving on any of the official ministry rosters of our church, a way is now being opened for such persons to serve in rostered ministries, but only if they are otherwise qualified, as determined by the synod’s candidacy committee, and if a congregation chooses to call them. The call process will operate in the same way that it has since the beginning of our church, with congregations free to call that person to whom the Spirit directs them…

In Galatians, St. Paul admonishes us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This mutual burden bearing is one of the things that separate the church of Jesus from the world in which we are each required and expected to bear our own burdens.

Playing on the ELCA tag line, “God’s work. Our hands,” Dr. Ishmael Noko, a Tanzanian pastor and the outgoing executive director of the Lutheran World Federation reminded the Assembly that unity is a work of God. Our hands are called to serve that unity. The church of Jesus Christ is not ours to dismember. I am convinced that no church in the world has put the gospel into practice any better than the ELCA. We are bound to do all that we can to preserve its God-given unity and health.

Thank you for your prayers and for your support.

Julian Gordy
ELCA Southeastern Synod

I believe the ELCA has made a profound theological and missiological misstep with this decision. Like the Presbyterians and Episcopalians before them, this decision will lead to more disunity than the denomination ever bargained for. Disunity is most pronounced when churches have no plumb line for determining truth and unity. When the hermeneutic for truth, life, and vision is surrendered to majority vote, a denomination is in deep trouble.

The culture is changing. Never has a nation so quickly abandoned the ideals, foundations, and mission as America in the past 40 years. The disunity of our nation politically, spiritually, and culturally is evidence of a nation that is anchorless. Even the mainline churches that once stood strong as a “light on a hill” have now abandoned their source for truth, the Bible. The Bible has become a dusty old historical book that, like the so called “progressives” in Congress and their view of our constitution that it is a living document that is open to anyone’s interpretation based on the wants and whims of the culture. Praise God this was not Moses’ view of the Law when he returned from Mt. Sinai.

It is true that methods for proclamation of the gospel must change to fit our landscape, but our message remains rock solid, based on the foundations of truth through a literal historical hermeneutic of God’s holy writ. Contextualization means just that. We study to understand our changing context, so that we can present the ageless truths that never change. If we abandon our foundations and traditional convictions, upheld with blood through the centuries, we abandon the anchor for truth.

I’m disappointed by the ELCA’s decision but I am not surprised. I told my dad five years ago that I saw this coming to the Lutherans. Now the ELCA has joined the ranks of most of the mainline denominations who bought into Barthian, neoorthodox, slightly less liberal theology of the 40’s and 50’s that has now proverbially become the chicken that has come home to roost. I’m sad to say that God will not be mocked and the Bible is still inerrant and infallible.

So, the great heritage of biblical commitment of Luther and Melancthon will gradually fade away in the ELCA. These are the gasps of a dying denomination. It will not happen overnight because there are still many of the Builder generation and late Baby Boomers who love the liturgy and the style of Lutheranism, but the younger generation will not be impressed. They are not persuaded; and this decision will continue the trend in the ELCA of young people leaving the church. Why? Because the ELCA (and all of the more liberal denominations) are looking more and more like the culture they have grown up in. The standards being lowered only lowers the commitment and faith of the adherents, and there will be fewer and fewer to be found.

I do hope that some Bible-centered evangelicals that are left within the pastoral ranks of the ELCA will choose to stay and fight, but I would not blame them if this is the last sign on a winding theological road that spells “exit.” For many the vestiges of a biblical standard for judging culture, the nature of man and the mission of God, will seem to have faded away in a momentous vote in Minneapolis that will leave them frustrated and depressed. And they will leave in droves.

The good news is that new denominations and new relational church networks will be formed. This is already happening within the Presbyterian and Episcopal evangelical churches, and it will certainly happen within the ranks of the ELCA. And Jesus will still be Lord and He will still continue to build His church and the gates of hell will still not prevail against her!

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,



2 responses

1 09 2009
Matt DeCoste

Pastor Steve,
Thanks for your thoughts regarding this momentous and sad misstep by the ECLA. I agree with your thoughts and just felt like I had to add a comment regarding Bishop Julian Gordy’s explanation of the new policy on homosexual clergy. In his letter he states, “… unity is a work of God… The church of Jesus Christ is not ours to dismember… We are bound to do all that we can to preserve its God-given unity and health.” But what unity are we talking about here? Are we talking about unity of true saints that openly and intentionally address sin issues (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) in the body and take corrective steps to change them in alignment with God’s Word? Or are we talking about unity in order to “keep everyone happy and not rock the boat” despite our knowledge that what they are doing is contrary to scripture?

Bishop Julian Gordy also states that we are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” He says this in the context (in my opinion) that the church needs to take care of its own because the secular world will not do so. But isn’t he really just saying that gays and lesbians that claim christianity should not be confronted about their sin issues by other christians because that would create division? That’s how I interpret his statement.

Just a few thoughts to ponder.

I do love attending Mountain Springs and appreciate that you keep in tune with what is going on in the evangelical and secular world around us and you are not afraid to speak up about it. Thanks Pastor Steve!

Matt DeCoste

5 09 2009
David Brownlee

Greetings Pastor Steve, and Matt,

This is I believe more and more of a sign from what you taught Pastor Steve out of Romans 1 months ago.
These happenings are showing that humans are living for pleasure, i.e. the so-called satisfaction of their souls, confusion has set in, etc.

My story if I may, I was abused sexually by my grandfather in my childhood. I grew up going to a main line denomination where two pastors resigned and went to the homosexual lifestyle (and pastored).
This really made me question my faith, question other believers, Christians, etc. What I have ultimately learned from this is that Satan is out on the prowl, devouring, Satan came to steal, kill and destroy (as Jesus states, and I believe Peter alluded to in his book also). No mater whether one is a Christian, born-again or not, Satan tries this, and unfortunately succeeds. If Satan can impact one person, than that person can influence others, such as what has been happening and just happened in the decision with ELCA.

Matt, I agree with you on the unity thing. When I read this, I could not resonate with what type of unity, this is so out of context. Also the fact of bearing one another burdens, wow, way out of line again.

Gentleman, I believe that somehow, someway in God’s sovereignty God is allowing this. Do I/we like it, no. However, just as what Jesus says, and I would like to have greater understanding on this, is when Jesus mentions about letting the wheat and the tares grow together. Hopefully I am not out of context, but I believe this is what is happening.

For me, thank God His hand is upon me, I could have gone a this other route. It is time for all Christians to stand up, put away the sin which besets us, look unto the author of our faith (Hebrews 12). It is time to take back the land, time to really unite. God does have much grace, however, we need not continue therein as Paul states.

Thanks gentleman,

GRACE – God’s Righteousness and Christ’s Embrace

David Brownlee

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