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Tipping points and the confessions

by Pastor Paul Andell (St. James Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, PA; WordAlone board member)

October 18, 2002 (am)

About the time Called to Common Mission first became a rerun in the ELCA, I was the guest of a very successful businessman, raised a Lutheran but now an Episcopalian. We were boating off the coast of New Jersey when somehow, the subject of doctrine in our churches came up. In due course he said, “That’s what I like about the Episcopal Church. They don’t have many beliefs. The fewer there are the better.”

I was stunned into silence but wondered if his credo was an adult reaction to a bad adolescent confirmation experience. I even thought that perhaps I’d read more into it than was there. But I don’t think so.

Many a “paper” Lutheran could, of course, say the same thing and they do, with their inactivity and lack of passion. I have difficulty, though, accepting a culture within the church that says out loud that a little religion may be good for the psyche but don’t make it too scriptural, creedal or Confessional, whatever the affiliation.

That conversation turned out to be a “tipping point” moment in solidifying my dissent on the appropriateness of the ELCA’s decision to redefine itself for the sake of oneness with the Episcopal Church.

It is more than a little ironic that that church, which is insistent on a particular order of ministry, allows for such latitude in doctrine. And ironic that the Lutheran Church I remember once voiced and practiced almost the opposite view. But this article isn’t really about another tradition; it is about fidelity to ours. We are losing the one thing that held us together as Lutherans—a Confessional approach to faith in Jesus Christ and His Lordship over the Church.

Bill Easum, noted consultant and author on leadership and healthy church development, says we are living in "a crack of history" and are "back to zero." As I understand him, the world we know is changing so rapidly—that is: socially, culturally, technologically, and so on—that it can't even be recognized in what used to be familiar. It's like we're starting over, in introducing Christianity, for instance, to even our own constituency! If so, isn’t that all the more reason for Lutherans not to choose form over content? Besides, if the best way to be ecumenical, as some say, is to be who you are, your true self as a faith community, why aren’t we doing that?

By design, our definition of ourselves has become blurred so that the best kind of ecumenism can’t happen. To be who we say we are–evangelical and Lutheran—in conviction and application, is not the clear direction of this church. Is this a leadership “tipping point”? I think it is for the ELCA. And this remains a serious credibility issue for many, including me.