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The church

—should be one body, not 'three expressions'

by Al Quie (WordAlone board member)

March 3, 2004

Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson wrote an insightful column in the March issue of the Lutheran. He says he has listened to the "diverse middle" of the ELCA who are becoming "weary and impatient with a church that seems to move from one controversial issue to the next but in the process seems to be losing its moorings in the Christ centered community of faith." He lists three political issues: "Israeli-Palestinian conflict," "the place of gay and lesbian in ministry" and "ecumenical agreements." He says he also hears a "deep concern for the faith being passed on." He lists as a concern that people are giving "time and money to organizations with which members have a more personal relationship." He hears compassion for poverty, longing for peace and concern for "God's creation."

The last three of the bishop’s concerns that I will mention are "little awareness of the ELCA as one church in three expressions" (to me an oxymoron), "a desire for greater participation in decision making" and a "disrespect for others’ convictions."

Hanson says, "When we fail to listen, our witness is weakened, trust is diminished and relationships fragmented." He asks us in the end to join him in renewing and listening, quoting Eph.4:4-6:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

It is the very structure of the ELCA that exacerbates the problems of which he speaks and which prevents our unity. We are not "one church" or "one body." We are three—congregations, synods and churchwide. The Holy Spirit is stifled because the synod can trump the congregation and the churchwide organization can trump both congregation and synod. That is why WordAlone wants congregations to have the right to ratify constitutional amendments and major ecumenical and ordination decisions rather than having all final power reside in the Churchwide Assembly.

The synods should be associations of congregations and those who are delegates to assemblies (not "voting members") should be representative of those who elected them. That way people in congregations would a part of "one body" and expected to pursue the direction of "one Spirit" as in the "priesthood of all believers."

Since we believe there is only one "way, truth and life in Jesus Christ," we need the best structure within which we can lovingly engage each other on controversial issues and find Christ in our lives together. In fact we should be required to. I believe that God speaks with one voice through the Holy Spirit but we seem to hear differently. We need a system where we need to find the truth together. I need you because I might be wrong. It is worth the effort to find truth together. It can also be painful. Our unity can only be in Christ.

We will always differ in politics. We need to constantly be led by the Spirit to share and receive the Gospel together. Poverty, conflict and destruction of resources require the church to be a voice for its people to the world. Its voice more likely will have impact in the world if that voice is really the voice of the people. The people’s power can only be trusted if they, together, are continuously seeking truth in Christ as revealed in the scriptures. vPeople are more likely to rise to the occasion when they have the responsibility, have the right to make the decisions and their elected leaders are their servants as Jesus repeatedly stated.