Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Times They Aren't So Changing

As was mentioned in the sermon on Sunday, however briefly, something rather “big” happened in the ELCA (“Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) last week. In a series of votes, their international assembly approved committed homosexual relationships as a valid and God-pleasing lifestyle, as well as allowed for the ordination of men and women in such relationships. They also, by a “yes” vote of 95%, elected to enter full communion fellowship with the United Methodist Church (UMC).

What does this mean? Lot's of things.

Firstly, FoxNews ran headlines stating that “Lutherans” vote to approve homosexuality. This is not the first time the LCMS and other Lutheran bodies have been assumed into the national actions of the ELCA. Even so, and in spite of public statements issued by the LC-MS, the WELS, ELDONA and the Lutheran Church – Canada, the headlines were written and they will stay written. So...don't be surprised if there is confusion the next time you tell someone you're a “Lutheran.”

Second, this movement by the ELCA, completely in step with the culture and the other historically “liberal,” “mainline” church bodies such as the UMC and the Episcopal Church USA, is only the next logical step in a long line of steps away from what Scripture teaches in the realm of “the Law.” As Rev. Scott Murry of Memorial Lutheran Church in Hoston TX writes: “In the 1960's some theologians began to invoke Law-Gospel as ...the only [interpretation principle] in Lutheran theology. They adopted this [interpretation strategy] as a replacement for the old inspiration [of Scripture] doctrine, which they had decisively abandoned in this period.” What that means is that what the Bible says no longer became as important as teaching Christianity as a form of “good news,” period.

The result is what we have today, churches where all the taboos of a previous era – most of them based on Biblical prohibitions against actions which are harmful to neighbors and society – have been swept away, from murder (abortion), divorce and procreation issues, to much deeper issues of worship and doctrine.

This brings up the third point: the truly diabolical vote this last week was the vote to enter communion fellowship with the UMC. This has far less to do with whether or not the UMC and the ELCA actually are in practical fellowship – in fact, because they more or less teach the same things now, they actually are in fellowship. BUT, the problem lies in that their shared doctrine is one of “doctrine doesn't really matter.” This vote confesses for the ELCA and all her churches that there is no difference between “justification by grace alone” and “justification by a transformed life.” It says that baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament are options for faith. It proclaims that the 1st and 2nd Commandments need no longer apply – for who God is and how we speak of him has no bearing on what we consider “truth.”

So, while there is sub-cultural rage over the debate on homosexuality – a real and important issue – quietly, the very idea that there is such a thing as “doctrine” (Biblical Truth) is truly stripped away completely in the name of being “Lutheran.”

Finally, and not unimportantly, the concept of “Law-Gospel Reductionism” which replaced “sola-Scriptura” as a Lutheran principle in the 1960's is not limited to the ELCA. As author David Kuske points out in his book on Biblical interpretation, “Many of those men who were leaders of this movement later left the Missouri Synod to join the ELCA. However, a great majority of the students whom they trained over several decades and who became pastors and teachers remained. They continue to form a rather large and influential group within this church body at this time.”

It may seem strange, but I was actually nervous about preaching on Ephesians 5. I was nervous about standing in front of fifty Lutherans and saying “the Bible is true,” and then teaching according to what the Bible says. I trembled a little as I put the mp3 (audio file) onto the internet Sunday afternoon, where anyone anywhere could hear it. Why? Because standing on what the Bible says is not necessarily acceptable even in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Don't get me wrong. There are many good things about being Lutheran in the Missouri Synod. But we should neither deceive ourselves into thinking its a safe, green pasture. The Church-Growth Movement and its theology, fearless and irreverent worship movements, charistmatic theologies of prayer and the Holy Spirit's actions, pietistic focus on pride in our personal faith-walks – the list of dangers is endless, and they all threaten the same thing: the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus' sake. It may seem on the surface that something like “women's ordination,” “prayer” or “Law and Gospel” couldn't possibly have anything to do with stealing Christ and him crucified for the forgiveness of our very real sins. But the history of doctrine has shown again and again that theology is a body. It is a unit, given in God's Word and set together to keep that one Truth central. Hack off a finger, and you bleed. But you also get addicted to hacking things off, even and up to the very head. As Jesus said:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

This is the fear, strength and hope we have put behind the pulpit at St. John. And, this is still the strength and hope the Missouri Synod officially believes, teaches and confesses. Thanks be to God that he has so graced us to be hearers of his Word.

So be not overly daunted whenever you hear this or that from church or churches. We know these things must take place. Instead, commit yourself all the more firmly to being steadfast feeders upon the Word of God – to seek to conform your minds the mind of Christ as he has delivered himself to us. Kneel together, with me as well, at the foot of his cross, where the Law and the Gospel come together to form one proclamation for the future life of the world. He will take care of the rest.

You can read the rest of the In the Name of Jesus newsletter at St. John Posts

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