Tuesday, May 31, 2005

the identification of idolatrous notions--the list is growing

That we in the ELCA must find and concentrate on ways of living together faithfully has generated quite a bit of response around the denomination (see one congregations response here)

It's such an obvious ploy. Sort of like the unfaithful spouse wo starts speaking of the sanctity of marriage when caught in adultery. Now this spouse is not going to stop their adultery, but somehow expects that the new way of being married has to be expected by their spouse because unity is so important.

The Revisionists do not stop at revising theology, revise the meaning of words, revise ecclesiology, they will also (necessarily?)revise history.

Here is Pastor Tony Stoutenburg's response to the that question:

"The issue of self definition is the problem. How do we define ourselves?

Are we a liturgical church? That is what the ECUSA is. The PB will talk
about being bound together by their liturgy. There are certainly people
who think Lutherans are this sort of church; those people were behind
"Use of the Means of Grace" that subtlety seeks to impose worship
uniformity, and they have gravitated to the work on the new hymnal. They
are centralists in their understanding of power, which is why they seek
to use centralized power (Churchwide commissions, etc) to impose an
agenda. But as Conrad Bergandoff, late patriarch of the one true
church, the Augustana Synod ;-) , used to say, we are not a liturgical church, we just happen to have a liturgy.

Are we an episcopal church? Again, there are those who are trying to make us one. The ECUSA is kind of one, but the reality is that Rome is the only church truly ruled by a full-blown hierarchy of bishops. And the Crypto-Romans in the ELCA are guiding us on such a trajectory, but the liberals who have bought into their agenda will never be co opted into a full blown magesterium. I think that this has been a long process that has been carefully managed by some on the crypto-Roman right. The problem is that they did not foresee the normalization of homosexuality in society. Therefore, by abandoning scripture/confessions as the norm, they placed the norming power in the bishops. (Notice how the church council proposal which the CWA will vote on places even more power in the conference of bishops? Coincidence? I think not!)

Are we a constitutional church? That is Lowell Almen's claim, and HGA followed right along with him. Mark Hanson sees the limitations in that and does not use the term (that I have heard) anymore. As pointed out by Robin Lake, the constitution does not allow dual rostering of congregations, /but it does not prohibit it either/. And there is precedent!
More importantly this is what HGA had to say on the matter: "ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson told the LCMS news organ /Reporter /that dual congregations don't pose a problem for the ELCA, though official documents don't provide for them. 'Concern for the spiritual
needs of congregations sometimes requires unusual solutions,' he said." Just let them take you to court over joining LCMC, and then subpoena HGA!

But we are not a constitutional church, because the constitution is not constitutive of who we are. Neither is the episcopate nor the liturgy. We are a Confessional church. Bergandoff's full quote was, "We are a confessional church that happens to have a liturgy." In the ELCA, we also happen to have a constitution, bishops, hangnails, etc.

Now in spite of the best efforts of the confessors in 1577, they did not settle every question. Some things are still open to interpretation. For instance, I read CA 7 as prescriptive and Apology XXIV descriptively. I have publicly acknowledged this disparity. Generally, people who favor the historic episcopate read CA7 as descriptive and Apology XXIV as prescriptive, and I have never gotten one of them to admit a disparity. Hence, I see Word and Sacrament alone as constitutive of the church, and weekly communion optional; they see polity as optional, and weekly
communion as mandatory.

(As an aside, at the SW Washington synod assembly - possibly my last ever ELCA synod assembly - the first resolution we passed was one to work and pray for the elimination of poverty. No teeth, just a nice sentiment and an encouragement to do something Jesus calls impossible. This is what I call a "Yea God, Boo Devil" resolution. Church assemblies pass a lot of those. At any rate, as we debated, and defeated, a resolution calling for the upholding of traditional moral standards in
marriage and ministry within the ELCA, it occurred to me that if we applied the same way of reading and applying Scripture to the poverty issues that some are applying to the sexuality issues, we could easily adopt an Ivan Boesky

To settle disputes between various interpretations of the Confessions, European princes relied on their favorite theologians. Under the Erastian system, this worked just fine.

In the United States, this did not work so well. The U S Constitution means that there is no governing authority, so Christians instead form voluntary associations based on shared religious understandings.

If these understandings are based around a shared polity or a shared liturgy or a shared view of the office of the ministry, then the association is relatively peaceful and stable. But if it is based around shared understanding of the Bible or of something like the Confessions, then watch the family fights break out. And since no family fights like religious families, there have tended in the confessional churches to be some real vitriolic fights. Actually, the most prolific at such fights have tended to be Baptists. But Lutherans have, over time, been among
the runners up. As a result, Lutherans tended to split over what may seem to be relatively minor doctrinal differences. They have also tended to split over other issues and found doctrinal differences to serve as good excuses. (Ok, that is a rather snotty and not quite fair take on the metamorphosis of the Friends of Augsburg College into the LFC.)

At any rate, and I may have the number wrong, because I am packing up all my reference books, but it seems to me that in the year 1900 there were seventeen separate Norwegian speaking Lutheran denominations in this country, and most of them thought most of the rest heretical.

Now as silly as it sounds, I do not think that is a bad thing. What people want, I think, in this era, is clarity as a means to certainty. When we stand in the pulpit and say, "well, it is really all the same" that is about as certain as a cheap plastic Ever-ready flashlight on a dark night. What people want instead is a laser-beam to cut the darkness with clarity. Confessional positions staked out, even to the point of excluding other points of view, at least gives clarity.

Since WW1, there was an inclination to be a more "American church" dropping European language worship, etc. Since 1945, the great project of American Lutheranism has been unity. Todd Nichol once pointed out that the textbook Lutherans in North America was written from a particular bias. The point of the book was to show the trajectory toward unity of all Lutherans in this country. So what started with the unification of the United Norwegian Synod in the twenties became the ALC in '60 and the LCA in '62 and eventually morphed into the ELCA in 1988. Of course, the Concordia Seminary/Seminex crisis put a monkey wrench in these grand unity plans, but onward and upward nonetheless.

The problem is that the unity is forced and therefore false. While most of us have grown up with this notion, it is really only a blip in the longer history of American Lutheranism. We have suffered this "unity" for only 17% of all the years that there have been American Lutherans. That percentage is based on the establishment of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania and the establishment of the ALC. If we go with the beginning of the Soviet-style hegemony of the ELCA, the number is only 6.4%!

Since the unity is forced, the fault lines in the ELCA are showing. Some of them are splitting the denomination apart. So whenever someone looks at a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity or Goodsoil or LCMC or WordAlone or insert-your-favorite-alternative-here and says, "Well, you aren't being very faithful if you split the church" or "It isn't very Christian to split the church" I have three answers:

1. "Denomination" is not the same thing as "Church". If you really think
humans can split the church you have a smaller God than I do.

2. If you read the history of Lutheranism in America, especially Norwegian Lutheranism, there is nothing more true to the Lutheran tradition in the US than to split the denomination over doctrinal differences. The natural state of American Lutheranism is sectarian, not unified. We have forced it into a unified state over the last 45 years, as opposed to its natural state, so it has begun to die!

3. More importantly, unity as expected by the ELCA's sexuality task force recommendation 1
is nothing short of idolatry. Unity as understood there trumps truth, trumps scripture, trumps conscience. Luther may as well have said, "Duh .... Here I squat. What do you want me to do next?"

Enough for now. Peace

Tony Stoutenburg
Pastor, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chinook, Chinook, WA until 30
June 2005/Pastor, Naselle Evangelical Lutheran Church, Naselle, WA until 30 June
2005/Chaplain, Naselle Youth Camp until 4 June 2005
Pastor Elect, Grace Lutheran Church,
Hayward, WI, beginning service 1 July 2005

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