Recently, I have been around many members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), both locally and from other areas of the country, who wonder why? Why they have stayed with the ELCA? Why they are still here? I have also struggled with this for the past several years, a struggle recently brought to the surface again by the ambiguous report of the ELCA sexuality task force. When they decided to recommend that the ELCA’s guidelines for marriage and pastoral sexual conduct should neither be changed nor enforced, again I wondered: Why do I stay?
I found an answer today in my personal time of Bible study and prayer.
As part of my preparation to be a “voting member” at the 2005 Churchwide Assembly in August, I have been studying Acts. I chose Acts, specifically, to learn how the Holy Spirit helped the leaders of the early church as they were challenged by many doctrinal and moral issues in the formative years after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. Just today I saw why I stay in the example of Paul: he stayed where he had been sent until he was forced to leave, but he didn’t stay quietly.
Paul followed Jesus. Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, directed Paul, and Paul went where the Holy Spirit sent him and stayed until he was forced to leave (which happened often). While Paul was in each location, he preached and taught about Jesus and stood firm for the Gospel of his Lord Jesus Christ. It did not matter whether he was at a new place, visiting an established church or writing a letter to a church, he did not compromise the purity of the Gospel. His teachings and his life were filled with respect for the Law in the joy of the freedom of the Gospel. He never forgot the mercy that saved him nor lost respect for the God who spoke to him personally on the road to Damascus.
Paul’s first message was always about what Christ had done for him with an invitation to know this for himself. But we must not forget Paul’s second message, which was needed all too often, as believers lost respect for God and bent themselves to behaviors that were clearly disobedient to God’s word. Paul stood up to any and all who in any way warped or bent God’s Word, but in so doing he never left the church. Paul stayed, stood firm and spoke boldly. He knew who his God was and was not. He knew God was not any one church, was not any city, country, ruler or church leader. So fortified, Paul had the courage to stand up and boldly challenge any political or church leader, church or group of believers who bent God’s word or bowed to sin (in any form) instead of God.
This is the message I got today. The call to stay and stand firm, speaking whenever and wherever God provides opportunity and staying until forced to leave. As I see the sins of others, I must remember my own need for grace. As I see the church compromising itself to sins of the world, I am called to stand firm and remember who is my God. So, here, in the ELCA, I stay.
Humbly in Christ, Stephanie Olson
“He has told you, O man, what is good And what is required of you; But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8