Wednesday, June 08, 2005

You headed to your synod assembly? What you can expect (especially if Hanson is there).

Shrimp here. The following is from a pastor I have utmost respect for:

Some observations from the recently completed Virginia Synod assembly. I guess I'm hoping that if I forget about it, it will be as though it never happened.

In fact, what has happened to this church body? How did we ever get so close to the edge of apostasy in so few years as a denomination? One more step, I think, and it's into the abyss we fall. Never have I left a church gathering more dejected and disgusted than I did over the weekend. If Virginia is any kind of test case for the whole ELCA, we can start using apocalyptic language without fear of hyperbole.

So let me get this out of my system--until August, at least. Below are some summary observations from my perspective, offered under the caveat that I can only see the speck in the eyes of others as I am able to peek around the log lodged in my own:

1) Parliamentary games and hand-wringing over worry that someone's feelings might be hurt ruled the day over even a sniff of desire to follow God's Word of truth and love, Law and Gospel. Of the dozen resolutions submitted, nine dealt with sexuality. They went the gamut from a resolution supporting Dissenting View One to one that resolved "we must do nothing and let 'churchwide' handle it all in Orlando" (the resolution offered by the synod council) to three resolutions--all submitted in part
by one of the leading, most respected pastors in synod--that called for an embracing of "homosexual identity" as a God given gift to be celebrated longside "heterosexual identity" and thus no distinctions in terms of marriage or ordination should be observed. What a mess! But here's where the mess turns darker: Even though the pre-assembly instructions promised that resolutions would be considered on the floor in the order they were received, those instructions were ignored and outright
rejected in actual fact by both the chair of the committee on reference and counsel and the synod bishop overseeing the debate. As a result, the resolution Dissenting View One and some others on the conservative side never even made it to the floor for consideration--even though it was numbered "Resolution No. 1" because it had been received first! Instead, the synod council's motion "to do nothing" got first consideration. One pastor went to the microphone and said the Lord's word to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3 would be spoken to this church if this resolution passed ("...because you are lukewarm, neither cold not hot, I about ready to spew
you out of my mouth.") Needless to say, the synod council chair was angry in return. He said the council was "all over the place in their opinions," that "he had no idea what the right decision should be," that "this synod is diverse and diversity of opinion is a good thing," so indeed "let us stay in the middle and take no action since we have no definitive answer on matters of homosexuality. And I don't think the Lord is going to spit me out because I don't know!" Well, the resolution failed, but the irony is that it failed not because of orthodox, biblical confession but because several liberal, revisionist pastors wanted to keep the debate going so that we could discuss these matters and "be courageous" in our love. Then, as the bishop was about to call for us to consider the first resolution, a more savvy person immediately called for consideration of No. 7--which said "let us endorse completely the recommendations from the ELCA church council." As it turned out, that was the
only resolution that got debate and decision. None of the others made it off the paper they were printed on.

2) In the end, the assembly strongly endorsed recommendations 1 & 2 from the ELCA church council. The majority affirmed that we are a divided church with a great diversity of interpretation and opinion so we must learn to live with it. Period. As to Recommendation #2, they again strongly affirmed letting pastors do whatever pastoral care they wish with same-sex couples, though agreeing that the recommendation does not support an official marriage rite for such couples. However, when a voting member from my congregation offered an additional resolve that would on the basis of scripture then officially preclude any blessing of homosexuality since such practice is a sin, many pastors spoke out. How dare anyone tell them how to give pastoral care, many cried out. "If I want to bless a same-sex couple because that's what I think is best, then no church is going to stop me!," said one. This outburst drew applause. In fact, Bishop Hanson (more on him below), stood to offer guidance here: If this additional resolve were to be passed, he said, it would change the intent of Recommendation #2. So what we knew all along was now out for all to hear: Hanson, as all the revisionists do, assumes that blessings and church affirmations of same-sex couples will begin to take place all through the ELCA if this recommendation passes. This is nothing less than the "local option," so harmful now in the ECUSA.

Recommendation #3 from the ELCA council was amended to say that the synod affirms
the current standards for ordination. So some would see this a small victory for scripture and the confessions, but in the face of the whole assembly, it is a very small victory. Overwhelmingly, our pastors and key lay leaders are leading the flock of faith right into harm's way. When I asked another pastor on the synod council, also a highly regarded leader here, why he didn't support the resolution I offered, he said it was way too condescending toward homosexuals. "We can't talk about
disciplining people," he said, "that's pejorative and hurtful."

3) Clearly, the debate over the weekend had much more to do with sex as it did with scripture. We simply are not a church of the Word alone. This comes as no surprise to us, of course, but the weekend's conversations hit me in the face with this sad, painful, and gravely alarming reality.

4) Finally, I must share a deep concern about Mark Hanson, knowing that it's not wise to put such a concern in an email that flies everywhere. But I take that risk: Sisters and brothers, I believe Hanson is one of those very ones that our Lord warns us about in Matthew 7: a wolf in sheep's clothing. I believe, given this weekend of up close observation of him and listening to his presentations, that he is a most dangerous man to biblical, confessional, orthodox faith: he's urbane, funny, charming, and thoroughly disarming. He's slick. And his words fall easily on our ears and into our hearts: He suggests that anyone who takes the Bible too seriously is a fundamentalist and a bibliocentrist. Instead, he follows "Christ and the Spirit of Christ," not just the literal words of a printed book--Bible or no. "Diverse, even opposing interpretations of scripture are just the fact in our church and should be celebrated. If you don't like it, you can leave. The ELCA is not the only church in the Church catholic," he says. And he does so with a smile and a charm.
Love, he suggests, is all that matters. Nowhere did I hear anything about God's Law, truth, or commandments. So it's obvious that antinomianism is squeezing the blood of Christ right out of us. A young man at the assembly from my congregation said this after participating in his first assembly: "The Word says that 'God is love.' But we have turned love into an idol by insisting now that 'love is God.' We have lost the
truth with the love." This profound insight sends chills down my back. But he speaks accurately. Even so, my sharp, critical observation of Hanson causes me to pray even more for him, for the church, and for myself. God alone can change any of us."


Anonymous said...

The following, when I first heard them, resonated so fully in me it was, as if, they were spoken to me personally and to the ELCA in general. I wonder what it would be like to attend a synod assembly and hear:

“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith - only faith - that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.

On this theme, St Paul offers us as a fundamental formula for Christian existence some beautiful words, in contrast to the continual vicissitudes of those who, like children, are tossed about by the waves: make truth in love. Truth and love coincide in Christ. To the extent that we draw close to Christ, in our own lives too, truth and love are blended. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like "a clanging cymbal" (I Cor 13: 1).”

Homily of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, Mass for the Election of the Supreme Pontiff, St. Peter's Basilica, 18 April 2005

Jeff said...

What a mess. I hate to say it, but it makes me glad I left the ELCA.

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...