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How did we get here?

Pastor Randy Freund

April 25, 2004

(download entire PowerPoint slide show)

How did we get here?

photo of Pastor FreundPowerpoint slide 1That question is related to CCM, our topic this at this convention, upcoming worship matters. All are related to how we understand the Word of God as an external Word…beyond us…as a transforming power and authority.

Rather than “the starting point being ourselves (Sundberg), what does it mean to begin with the confession that Jesus Christ is the Word…and that that Word, Jesus Christ is the source and goal of life…the Alpha and Omega…that “to live is Christ.” THEN the STARTING POINT for talking about LOVE, TRUTH, LIFE, GOD…the DIRECTION OF THE ARROW MATTERS. That is, do we move from us to God…or from God to us? This is an important (Lutheran) distinction that can go quickly backwards.

A statement (ECUSA General Convention) by Bishop Gene Robinson illustrates this. I don’t share this to raise the moral questions this statement raises (something for the next two days)….but…for the purposes of this presentation to recognize how important the starting point is/how the “direction of the arrow’ matters.

Defending his right to be elected as Bishop (though a practicing gay man), Gene Robinson said: “I believe that God gave us the gift of sexuality so that we might express with our bodies the love that’s in our hearts. I experience that love with my partner. ( In the time that we have), I can’t go into all the theology around it, but what I can tell you is that in my relationship with my partner, I am able to express the deep love that and his unfailing and unquestioning love for me, I experience just a little bit of the kind of never-ending, never-failing love that God has for me. So it’s sacramental for me.”

Note the starting point…if the starting point is the self/human experience of love…and this points to God/love of God…And is even sacramental…how easily things get muddled and reversed. How easily GOD and the WORD of GOD that creates, authors gives, is love and creates the church and the sacraments…becomes ours object…rather than the subject. Sundberg: What is the starting point???

MY ROLE in this presentation is to lift up, explain and analyze some of the METHODOLOGIES employed that have led to the differing positions/conclusions we find in this study…but this can easily be applied to OTHER matters relating to CCM, worship, etc… Any argument that reaches a conclusion or a position on the topic before us must be able to defend the employment/use/grounding in scripture… the centrality of the Word of God.

The Church of the Reformation WAS and IS a church of the WORD.

What does that mean and how does it function as it relates to this topic. ARE WE STILL A CHURCH OF THE WORD…AND IF SO, WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE?

One place this question is raised begins in an odd place…our own ELCA constitution.

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This congregation accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith and life. (ELCA Constitution, C2.03)

What does it mean, then, for the Word of God to be the authoritative source and norm…of life? This is not only a fair question as we approach the issue of blessing same-sex relationships and ordaining practicing homosexuals, it is a necessary question.

Given the resurgence of Gnosticism and a sloppy or largely forgotten understanding of “Word of God,” our Lutheran antennas need to be raised….especially in places where the Word of God is clear…lest we become dangerous theologians….lest we would become the kind of (tongue in cheek) “theologian” Luther once described:

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“If you want to become a theologian, you must carefully observe this rule, namely, where the clear word of God contradicts your understanding, look for some other word that pleases you, and say it is the Holy Spirit. After that you may arrange and interpret the words as it seems good to you.” (LW, volume 38, p.297).

Again, how one understands the Word of God as a living authority and/or the methodology one uses in matters such as the one before us has much to say about the conclusions one draws.

In all of this…. How does the Word of God retain a primary place? How does it remain an “external Word” that interprets us…that establishes its authority over us?

This is the main question in my presentation.

Recently, a number of methodologies have been employed as ways of opening up discussion on difficult matters. To this extent (opening up discussion on difficult matters), it has proven to often be a good and helpful process.

However, when we get to the point of drawing CONCLUSIONS…seek action…look for truth…what happens when Word of God, tradition, reason, culture, science, and human experience, Holy Spirit, understanding, discernment… are all a part of the mix/the conversation. How are each “weighted…is a legitimate question…even for a church that has a healthy and positive understand of the “secular”? How does or does the Word of God retain a primary place in the mix? How does the Word of God interpret us…stand over us versus “we interpret it and stand over the Word?”

SO… With Professor Sundberg’s before us and bearing in mind the key question: How does the Word of God retain a primary place as “authoritative source and norm of proclamation, faith and life?”…let’s consider the following methodologies…beginning first with what you can call a Christian approach…but for our purposes we’ll call it a “Lutheran Approach”…and then we’ll continue with other versions that have been employed in Lutheran circles. I’m NOT suggesting that there is some movement afoot in the ELCA to somehow intentionally move us away from a Lutheran position…with its emphasis on the primacy of the Word…But I invite you to take a walk with me down… METHODOLOGY see what we might learn.

See if you, like me, find yourself asking… “How did we get here?”

A LUTHERAN APPROACH (where the direction of the arrow matters…an externalword that interprets faith and life). I understand that, as a diagram this is simple (and maybe too simple), but the point of it is to notice the POSITION and place of the WORD and the DIRECTION of the arrows.

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Constitutional language is not by accident.

Lutherans do come with a rich history of how we understand the WORD and particularly…how we understand Scripture…

  • “Scripture alone” – as-over-against a sense that the Word is “not enough” and that tradition, new teachings, personal charisma or experience must be “added” to bolster or protect the Word (the whole problem with CCM)
  • “Scripture is clear” – seems impossible and foolish…yet is in another way TOO CLEAR…both in terms of LAW (what that tells sinners)…and GOSPEL…which sounds too good to be true. So we hide from the law OR reverse the arrow when it comes to grace…taking salvation into our own hands.
  • “Scripture interprets itself” – also seems like an impossible assertion…but Luther meant it as a theological claim about God. The Word of God is a power…is Jesus Christ…creates…gives us our identity…it interprets us (and not the other way around)…which is to always be clear that it is not our object.
  • “Scripture as law and gospel – not a wooden or mechanical formula. The Word is living and the purpose of and function of law and gospel is to put an end to trusting idols (like imagining our bodies are our own) and begins faith that trusts and clings to Christ alone.
  • Word: interprets us…life…faith. How? By hearing it…reading it…being in the presence of it…the pathway of it…CUTS ITS OWN COURSE IN OUR LIVES AND IN THIS WORLD.

Is the WORD…a LAMB to be protected…or something that needs to be BOLSTERED…by CCM…or human experience….Is it a DART, ARROW, WEAPON FOR ATTACK…a DEFENCE… Or…a TRANSFORMING POWER THAT WAITS TO BE UNLEASHED!

When it is seen as this…we see it as a power that cuts its own course the world and in our lives… The question is…

Do we trust this? An issue!

I’m not sure why, but over the years I began to notice something…..At a Synod Assembly in the early 90’s…noticed something at a workshop in the topic before us (homosexuality)…a slight variation (or so it seemed).

  • Looked good and logical (given…wisdom is a gift from God…priesthood of believers…holiness of the secular….love God with the MIND)
  • Seemed and was conducive to free and open discussion
  • Began with the Word at the top…reading and discussion of it
  • But FUNTIONED…much differently…

I remember asking… -How are each weighted (no real answer given)

Others -Bible passages (called “bullets”…can function that way…but where is the place for them…wasn’t really answered.)

Others -Painful stories of hate and discrimination…ended discussion.

Whoever had the most ammunition (Bible knowledge/verses) or most emotional story “won the day.” (a problem with a potentially good method)

I began watching for and thinking about methodologies employed for difficult issues like this…

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Word as the voice of God/presence of God within the conversation…the assumption seemed to be that “truth” would somehow emerge...

…I kept an open mind

The next time (at another synod event) I noticed this methodology…there was a new twist. Instead of a category “Word,” it now read “Tradition” (and that included the Word). I found this odd, but depending on how it was understood and used, again I kept an open mind. But I have to admit that my “Lutheran antennae was raised…because IF the Word needs tradition to extend the meaning of Scripture…that’s a problem….again, the issue we have with CCM.

In this process (which…again can and does open up discussion), the assumption is that somehow by going around the “circle” of Tradition (Word), experience, what we know from society and culture…the Holy Spirit leads towards some discernment. My question again (beyond some theological ones) is…Is this how it functions? The potential danger is clear. Again, which ever category has the most “ammunition” will rise to the top…and now there are more trump cards possible. And rather than having a primary position, the Word can easily (and even unintentionally) be diffused…Again, the question I will keep lifting up is “how does the Word retain a primary position and truly function as the authoritative source and norm of proclamation, life and faith?

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With more categories…great potential for more confusion, more “trump” cards…more “knowing God, by knowing self Truth (of Scripture)…CAN…in the way this FUNCTIONS get lost, confused, buried, blurred.

Even on non-confrontational issues…I’ve noticed some new directions in how we do/talk about theology. At our 2003 Theological conference, the topic was about as NON-controversial as one can be…evangelism. One of the speakers began his first lecture by talking about “three lenses” he looks through as a Lutheran.

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“Lutheran lenses”

The addition that was noticeable was “The Holy Spirit.” If we were to apply these three lenses to the topic before us…how easily and quickly could we become the kind of theologians Luther warned about (earlier quote… “add the Holy Spirit and arrange and interpret words of scripture as it pleases you”). The Holy Spirit can become a trump card (detached from the Word…let alone the Trinity).

In light of the resurgence of Gnosticism (Sundberg)…this can be a dangerous move. If revelation is from the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit starts to sound a lot like “know God, know self”…or my opinion, my story, my understanding, my experience, my feeling…. rather than an external Word….scripture is a matter of individual opinion, feeling, and/or interpretation.

If this weren’t enough….there is one more….Note where it begins…(Sundberg)

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An ELCA model (1999 – Church and Society)(Description of process…ELCA webpage/Church and Society p. 11)

If where you begin (often) has much to say about where you end up…this model is significant. The free flow of where one begins changes in this model. One is encouraged to begin with “human story/experience.”

(Read from from Church and Society page….verbatum)

Discernment = Faith of the Church (including “Word, theology, tradition, and practice of the Church) comes in as #3. Again, does the Word retain a primary position?

Again, I concur that such methodologies can be helpful and haven’t claimed to be flawless. But the great potential causing a dangerous shift and drift.

There are things to watch for…both visually…in flow (direction of the arrows)…placement and function of the Word…namely, the (diminishing) role and place of WORD OF GOD as the “authoritative norm and source of faith and life.” Potential dangers

What happens when the (floating) Holy Spirit…removed from Word and Triune God?

What happens when the definition of Tradition/tradition…which can become any number of things…tradition of scriptural interpretation? Church traditions? Congregational traditions? What we’ve always done? Personal experience?

What happens when human experience/reason/emotion/story is the starting point (note the STARTING POINT on the last model)?

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I understand that the reason is “to get the conversation going.” But how does that really function theologically? The human by nature is curved in on itself (sin), protects itself and is in bondage to sin. And yet this (THE SELF) can easily become an important and authoritative source (if not a sole source) of “truth”…trumping even the Word of God. This is all part of the subtle dangers of Gnosticism. Again, all of which raises the issues of both HOW THE WORD RETAINS A PLACE OF PRIORITY in this discussion of homosexuality and how and where the reality of SIN comes into the picture.

What happens when other factors FUNCTION as trump cards? Again, the Bible can be misused to attack or defend….but with all these other matters in the conversation…differences in WHAT the words mean (tradition, experience, Scripture)…WHERE (is there place and what is the starting point)…HOW does the Word NOT become merely our object.

The question is not only how are…or to what extent are…the above methodologies helpful and/or faithful, but how do they function. Again, human experience, feeling, and story are all important facets to the conversation, but the question can be asked…how do they function in this discussion…especially as we deal the topic before us. That is a matter for us to address together in these next two days. If indeed the Word of God is still the “authoritative source and norm for our proclamation, faith and life”…the question of its place in this discussion is not only a FAIR question….it is an ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY question.