The ELCA's adoption of
CCM has generated not just a
confessional crisis, but a constitutional one as well. Written June 2000
constitution of the ELCA
explicitly recognizes the prior authority of both the Scripture and the
Lutheran Confessions, subordinating to them other authorities within the church
such as the churchwide assembly, national officers, synods and their bishops.
- The authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions are established by
their witness to Christ Jesus and their usage, and are therefore independent of
the ELCA's recognition.
- The Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions provide a variety of
understandings of the nature and function of the ministry. As
Augustana 7 states, "...it is sufficient for the true unity of the
Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure
understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with
the divine Word. It is not necessary that ceremonies, instituted by men, should
be observed uniformly in all places."
- The textbook in common use by seminaries of the merging churches at the time
the ELCA came together states the working consensus of the time concerning the
interpretation of Augustana 7: "Most
denominations with which Lutherans are led to negotiate define themselves by
organizational peculiarities that Lutherans must regard as 'ceremony'.... For
Lutherans all these matters are negotiable; but for the bodies that are in
question they are not. ...As soon it is discovered that [a ceremony] is
constitutive for the unity of the church as some group proposes to establish it,
Lutherans are bound to resist." Robert W. Jenson, in Lutheranism: The
Theological Movement and its Confessional Writings (Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1976), 177.
- If as has more recently been claimed, Augustana
7 is ambiguous, the prior authority of the Lutheran Confessions would require
that the various readings stand, being subject to continued examination on the
basis of reasonable evidence.
- To submit a particular reading of a scriptural or confessional teaching to
the vote of a churchwide assembly necessarily subordinates the prior authority
to the lesser authorities of those calling for a vote and the assembly itself.
- To require by churchwide assembly vote the practice of a particular form of
ordination on the basis of an extra-biblical or extra-confessional theory of
authorization of ministry subordinates the authority of Scripture and the
Lutheran Confessions by negating the variety provided for in the prior
documents. Under such circumstances, by the earlier consensus interpretation of
Augustana 7, Lutherans must resist.
- Voting on matters defined biblically and confessionally is inherently
divisive in that it takes away from those who lose the recognition of their
previously guaranteed constitutional standing in practicing historically
established interpretations of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
- To enter into negotiations with those
officials of the church who have proposed an extra-biblical, extra-confessional
standard for the interpretation of the prior documents is to implicitly
recognize their claim to arbitrate interpretation and thereby, further
subordinates the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
- While it may be helpful in seeking reconciliation, to use constitutionally
through synod assemblies in an attempt to reestablish churchwide standing in
the ELCA for alternative interpretations of the Scripture and the Lutheran
Confessions also compromises the prior authority of the documents.
Article 10 of the Formula of Concord spells
out grounds for resistance, there is no confessionally established procedure for
redressing the subordination of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions to
churchwide authorities. Neither is there a defined procedure in the constitution
for challenging the subordination of prior authorities to lesser authorities in
- The action of the Denver Assembly of the ELCA in considering and ratifying
Called to Common Mission has precipitated a constitutional crisis by
asserting power over the Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions as the defining
documents of our church, leaving those on the minority side without remedy. By
the original constitutional provision, churchwide and synodical officials have
no basis for imposing the ceremonies required by CCM
on those who on the basis of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, disagree.
By the same token, those who stand in such disagreement must of necessity
resist, as Article 10 of the Formula of Concord insists, for the sake of the
freedom of the gospel.