At this time in the history of our church body, all ELCA Lutherans are called to serious study and review of founding documents, the draft social statement on human sexuality, standards and expectations of pastors and ministers of the Lutheran church, statements and articles by scholars, theologians and pastors on various aspects of the arguments regarding our future course of action. Shall our church maintain the path of traditional Lutheranism or follow the current move to introduce changes in church life that reflect cultural trends? Excellent sources for the reader and student are the WordAlone website www.wordalone.org and the ELCA website www.elca.org.
Now is the time, not only for study of the core issues, but also for action in preparation for standing firm on our Lutheran foundations.
I believe that as ELCA Lutherans we are called--at this time more than ever--to speak up for the authority of the Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions. This is the time for us to write resolutions and memorials for synod and churchwide assemblies, defend the sanctity of marriage, uphold the historic and traditional practices of the Lutheran church and expect our pastors and ministers to follow the standards expressed in "Vision and Expectations" for ordained ministers. I anticipate that annual congregational meetings and synod assemblies in 2009 will be faced with many decisions and resolutions that will affect the outcome of actions at the 2009 churchwide assembly.
Many of us have responded to the draft statement by adding our names to a Lutheran CORE open letter that went to the task force studying human sexuality, the ELCA Church Council and the Conference of Bishops.
* This first announcement is a preliminary notice of a meeting of the Southwestern Washington Chapter of the WordAlone Network to be held in February 2009. One of our featured speakers will be Pastor Gary Jepsen of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Puyallup, Wash. Jepsen's writings and speech from the 2008 annual WordAlone convention can be found on the WordAlone website (www.wordalone.org).
This forum and assembly in February 2009 will be important for our chapter in preparation, planning and anticipation of congregational and synod activities in our area in 2009.
* Although the date to respond to the ELCA Task Force draft statement on human sexuality has passed, I would like to report on the two hearings in our area, which were sponsored by the ELCA in cooperation with the Southwestern Washington and Northwest synods. I attended both hearings and thought they were conducted in a fair and open manner.
The representative of the task force and the conveners and facilitators deserve commendations and were well prepared for the hearings, allowing those in attendance to present various individual viewpoints on the draft statement--line-by-line and section-by section of the study. They listened, and carefully recorded all the input.
In October the Northwest had the special privilege of hosting the WordAlone Network Board of Directors at Glendale Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burien, Wash., with host pastor, Philip Lee. Friday evening provided an opportunity for congregational members and others from the area to meet members of the board and raise questions and listen to remarks from staff regarding the activities and plans for the days leading up to synod assemblies and the ELCA churchwide assembly in August 2009.
In the evening, following the board meeting, Oct. 18, a significant event was held at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Puyallup, Wash., with host pastor, Gary Jepsen. The topic for the evening meeting was "The Role of Scripture in Lutheran Deliberation--Two Views." The presenters were retired Pastor Charlie Mays and Pastor Mark Chavez, vice president of the WordAlone Network.
The attendance of about 60 participants representing various views on the authority of Scripture and its interpretation provided an excellent opportunity to raise questions and listen to answers from two authorities on Lutheran church history and practice. My hope and prayer is that many, if not all, ELCA congregations will schedule similar challenging presentations and discussions on the topic of the authority of Scripture as it relates to the current controversy over Scriptural interpretation and sexuality.
Personal opinions on Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality
From my personal viewpoint as a member of the Lutheran church for 80 some years in predecessor Lutheran bodies, currently a member of Christ Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Wash., member congregation of the ELCA; graduate of a Lutheran Academy and College; and member of the WordAlone Network Board of Directors, there are simply too many major weaknesses in the draft statement as it is currently written.
I am hopeful the responses from the hearings on the sexuality study and comments from members of the ELCA at large will compel changes and amendments to the document.
The major weaknesses of the draft statement as I see it are:
1. The text of the draft does not seem to allow that the Scriptures are to be "the authoritative source and norm" for teaching on sexuality and appears to be in conflict with the Biblical boundaries for sexual relationships.
2. The draft confuses Law and Gospel in its attempt, or maybe the desire, to ground the treatment of the subject apart from the Law. This treatment appears contrary to the Biblical record and traditional Lutheranism.
3. The draft is clear that our God forgives sinners and with His love accepts them unconditionally; but the statement does not express as definitely as I would like that nowhere in His inspired Word does God condone sin.
4. I conclude that the draft is too long and lacks the clarity needed for any ELCA social statement.
An article published on the WordAlone website on Aug. 13 by Pastor Frederick W. Baltz, WordAlone board member from Galena, Ill., stated rather clearly my feelings about the future of the ELCA. Quoting him, (you can read his entire article on www.wordalone.org): "What the future brings for the ELCA will depend on whether those vested with authority listen to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, or decide to follow other voices instead. One thing we do not have to prove to anyone is this: the ELCA has been in a state of almost perpetual decline, and the decline has worsened in recent years."
Let us put a stop to the loss of ELCA congregational members and churches, and move on to the mission of the Lutheran church in preaching and teaching the truth of God's Word as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I hope and recommend that ELCA congregations, synods and the churchwide assembly voting members reject the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality at their meetings in 2009.
Some years ago a pastor inspired members of the congregation, which I belonged to, to read the entire Bible daily through the year. At the time of the challenge I remember that nearly 400 members responded. Many of us with enhanced understanding and rich blessings have continued this daily commitment.
In the last few years, after being involved with WordAlone locally and nationally, I have been particularly drawn to those passages of the Old and New Testaments that state the constant and everlasting truths of the Word of God as the writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit. I further believe that to bow or bend Scripture to secular cultural trends will substantially weaken, if not destroy, the ELCA as we have known and supported it.
During my morning devotions for the fall board meeting in Washington state, there were three passages of Scripture, among those I referenced, that testify to the steadfast and eternal truth of our Scriptures:
Isaiah 59:21 - "'As for me, this is my covenant with them,' says the Lord. 'My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,' says the Lord."
2 Timothy 3:14-17 - "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
The two foregoing Scripture passages, in my humble opinion, are excellent and foundational for parents and Sunday school teachers in teaching our children some of the fundamentals of the Christian belief system, or a Biblical worldview.
The future of the ELCA rests on the right instruction of the coming generation.
Revelation 22:18-21 - "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen."
I would urge that our church leaders, pastors, and congregational members pray for guidance, wisdom, and inspiration regarding Scripture and our Lutheran foundations. I believe there is always opportunity in prayer and by the power of the Holy Spirit to renew and reform a church body that has moved away from the Truth.
[Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.]