Friday, January 01, 2010

ELCA & LCMC

Ah, the politics of the church in which I am firmly embroiled:

My church is an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) congregation of which the national body passed resolutions in 2009 much like those the Episcopalian church did earlier in the decade. Openly gay clergy are to be welcomed as long as they are in lifetime committed monogamous relationships or celibate. Entirely as expected, virtually every ELCA congregation is in tatters over that decision.

The Lutheran Churches in Missions for Christ (LCMC) is an organization that was formed nine years ago when the discussions began in the ELCA towards the decision made recently. The LCMC is basically a group of Christian fundamentalists that take a literal interpretation of the Bible according to how they read it. If you've read some of my other writings you know I hold Christian fundamentalists in low regard. Methinks they think too highly of themselves and push others away from God by their perceived expression of greater righteousness.

Mark 10:15 (New International Version)

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."


I take this to mean that we should all hold our faith dear, grow in it as best we can, but also remain in awe of God, aware that His intent may be beyond our current understanding. I take this to mean that we should also be accepting of theologies that differ from our own provided the basics are agreed upon. This is much easier when they hold their faith meetings separately from our own! On a more secular note, regarding our acceptance of other theologies or lack thereof, we should be as firm or polite as the situation warrants and allows.

My church has a vote coming up at the end of this month to choose to join the LCMC while remaining members of the ELCA. This dual relationship was rightly decried by an LCMC representative as problematic with the two organizations theologies at odds with each other. One group (LCMC) says every word in the Bible is purely God's Word, the other (ELCA) saying that we need to keep in mind the times and situations in which those words were written and, most importantly, that they were written (and re-written and amended says I) by men, not God. The inference being that men and women, even those called to duty by God, are by nature flawed. The Bible is the best history of God's relationship with us and supports the concept of the flawed nature of God's called people throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Human nature being what it is, most of the congregation that thinks about these things had knee-jerk reactions strongly to one side or the other. Divisive times, sadly.

I was among the knee-jerk crowd speaking against the LCMC on several fronts, meeting with our pastors individually to try to dissuade them, presenting a lengthy paper towards that end that both pastors said they read but wouldn't really comment on. In conversation with the youth pastor we reached a draw, too quickly agreeing to disagree. I was immediately ready to leave if our church joins the LCMC but willing to remain active up to the end. My sense is at least one pastor would be happier if I left now, maybe both. If they wanted me to stay, wouldn't it be correct to rebuke me and try to bring my thinking to that which is "right?" These men are both my teachers, both of them must consider me a student gone wrong, letting me hold faith in something that they see as Biblically wrong. Why don't they try to change my thinking? What is their role in the church?!?

(I come back while proofreading and consider that both pastors and myself were passive aggressive in those discussions, too polite to want to say things that needed to be said, or simply not up for the argument because in truth we know each other to be firm in our thinking. So yes, I should be asked to leave as I theologically disagree with the leadership. But as I agree with the greater denomination, I wonder who should leave? Logically, the pastors and that part of the congregation that agrees with them should accept ELCA thinking or join the LCMC or another group alone, apart from the ELCA. Conflicting articles of faith are the death-knell of a faithful body.)

If my congregation chooses to go LCMC while remaining ELCA, with two differing theologies, I have to ask as a six-year volunteer teacher with the high school youth group, "What shall we teach?" At first I thought it an untenable situation but then I realized in that question I find hope. The hope of making our youth think and come to their own conclusions, their own understanding, their own relationship with God. Developing that personal relationship in ourselves and others is what the church is for!

I have decided to vote against the LCMC but I will no longer expect to leave if the vote goes to stay ELCA while joining LCMC. My relationship with the youth is good and many of them hear me when I speak of God. I will remain and teach as my heart and mind tell me to: that God loves us all, that God is disappointed in us all, expects better from us, and that God forgives us all if we believe in Him. Christ died on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven, not so that we could pick and choose which sins are worse.

And, for that matter, I'm not sure homosexuality is a sin. It sure isn't right for me, makes me nauseous to consider in fact, but in view of what I do know of gays I think it may be something God wired into them. Even if not wired by God, if a choice and if committed monogamous, who are we to say what another person's life long love shall be? Who are we to say that their sin is worse than ours? Are our pastors perfect? Of course not, that is not possible. Beyond that I'll plead back up to Matthew 15.

We are called, in faith, to lead lives pleasing to God. For any one of us some days are better than others. Some darned good, in fact. Others, not so much. And yes, I have read Romans numerous times and studied it with a very diverse group of Christian men. What Lutheran couldn't! We should not sin more to show God's glory in His grace. But recall, please, that even the apostle Paul agonized greatly over his inability to lead the life he thought God desired of him, and this from a man who met the resurrected Christ! Can anyone reading this claim to lead a sinless life? Even for a week? A day? Thought, word and deed, right?

Church is not for the perfect except for the perfect One. There is no perfect person! Church is for everyone. Anyone should be allowed to lead if so called by a congregation, to speak of their understanding of God and let the congregants decide what fits for them. Different denominations were formed because groups align around differing theological minutia. The broad strokes are the hand of God, the small stuff the mind of man.

Pray for us, please, that we might hear God's word, give thanks for His Word, and carry on in the Love of God and Neighbor that Christ called us to.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christian Democrat,

What a mess. I am surprised the LCMC would allow you to have a dual affiliation. I belong to an ELCA in the South. As you can imagine, we had some who wanted to leave the ELCA.

We had several meetings where we allowed anyone to speak their peace. I assumed a great majority would be against the ELCA, but I was pleasantly surprised that over 75% of the congregation was for staying with the ELCA.

I was impressed with the progressive way many of the members looked at the situation.

We ultimately decided to stay with the ELCA and a small group of members left to start their own new independent Lutheran church. It meets just a short distance from my church home.

Things are tense between the two groups, but hopefully will get better. We probably need some time apart from each other so our congregations can grow on their own.

Good Luck

1/04/2010 6:16 PM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Did your congregation look at other denominational relationships?

Under what organization did the new congregation begin their church?

I really have no sense of how this will turn out for our church family but it feels like divorce and that's no fun at all, not for a long time.

Ever read "The Screwtape Letters" by C.C. Lewis? His minions are having a field day.

1/04/2010 8:42 PM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

C.S. Lewis, of course.

1/04/2010 8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not know for sure, but I was under the impression that they were not going to affiliate with anyone. We have a LCMC here close by and they did not want to join them.

It has been difficult with a lot of sniping back and forth. Now that they have the new church started up, it has gotten a little better.

1/05/2010 5:27 AM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

In a chat with another church member last night I realized that in divisive times we might look to the "pruning the branches" scripture. Regardless of our theological thinking, to have two churches where there was one is to cause growth. As much as I disagree with fundamentalist theology I appreciate that they are reaching some that we progressives may not. Similarly, we'll reach some they cannot.

And yes, it has been even more difficult here than I've mentioned in my writing. Some relationships will surely fall by the wayside.

How very Christian of us! (not)

1/05/2010 6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting blog. Our congregation (in Georgia) is having a vote in a couple of months. We are having representatives from various groups come in to speak to us and answer questions. Last night, a pastor from an LCMC church spoke to us. I felt as though I was in a Baptist church. And it was disconcerting to hear so much talk about "correcting a congregation that 'does things' not in keeping with their statement of faith." My husband found a newsletter in which an entire page was devoted to the proper way to "correct" a person, group, or congregation.

So much energy toward "correcting" ... so little talk about grace and forgiveness. And who is to say WHO is the one who is "incorrect."

I don't think our congregation has the 2/3 votes to leave the ELCA (and I pray this is the case). I, of course, will read up on all these groups, but this one, quite frankly, frightens me a little bit.

1/15/2010 7:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please read about sola scriptura. This is a fundamental point on being Lutheran - a point not shared by bishop hanson.

1/16/2010 8:46 PM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) is also a point of debate for many Lutherans, again by way of interpretation and again led by those of more fundamentally conservative understanding.

This from the ELCA website with a long URL http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Journal-of-Lutheran-Ethics/Issues/February-2003/The-Authority-of-the-Church-in-the-World-A-Lutheran-Perspective.aspx :

" In regard to its social witness the ELCA affirms that the Scriptures are normative, but it does not exclude the use of other sources. The sola scriptura principle does not exclude the use of other resources, for that principle had a very limited use in the Reformation era, i.e., a reforming one. That was to oppose ecclesiastical traditions that are contrary to the teachings of the Scriptures. According to Lutheran teaching and practice, the Scriptures must be read, interpreted, and applied in light of the gospel of Christ. That viewpoint has been formulated in the slogan often attributed to Luther: "Scripture is the cradle in which the Christ child lies."8 It is recognized that the Scriptures themselves, as well as their particular teachings, are variegated in authority. For Luther, as well as for the Lutheran tradition, whatever in Scripture presents and urges Christ upon us is apostolic and authoritative; the rest is less so."

Interestingly, it was my senior pastor several years ago who, when I went to him to discuss my sense that the Bible had been touched by the hand of man, who said, "The Bible is the cradle that holds the Christ."

My how times change. Now he's thumping the Bible like a Baptist.

Through "Faith alone" by "Grace alone." Those two are one, inseparable, and tied closely to: "By our understanding of (and relationship with) the Scripture alone."

The Sola Scriptura issue comes to a head when differing interpretations of the Scripture are spoken with too much conviction. There is a huge difference in saying "This is what I hear from that Scripture," as compared to "This is what that Scripture says."

When we tell people what a particular piece of Scripture means we can help or hinder their coming to faith. If they agree with our statement, fine. If not, what option do they have to consider?

When we tell people what Scripture means to us and then ask them what it might mean to them we require them to think and communicate at a more considered level. This builds their own faith.

Almost as an aside, I found it somewhat humorous that the sermon this past Sunday jumped from Jesus teaching parables to the concept of heresy. There was no connection, just a jump from hard soil to heresy and then back to weeds. I hadn't heard the word "heresy" spoken at my church in 12 years.

It would have been funnier if it weren't spoke with such conviction. This from a man who taught children one of two sins that can't be forgiven. As if knowing of a particular sin makes it easier to avoid it! Has he read Romans!?!

Where does the Love of Christ go when it isn't fed?

1/19/2010 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Kurt Schultz said...

Two issues: I have always thought Christians were suppose to judge each other and hold each other accountable to God's standards, whatever their congregation believes. Isn't most of the new testament about the apostles correcting or encouraging fellow believers? The Corinthians come to mind.

And why would someone want to remain in an organization they don't agree with when the disagreement is the core of their faith? I guess there are people who want to be martyrs, but who wants to share a church with a bunch of people who are constantly struggling to "win control" and "fix" the church.

I don't see how leaving a congregation you don't agree with is a bad thing. If a person's beliefs are strong enough to use words like apostasy and heresy, you'd certainly think they would trust that God would bless the people who separate themselves from the apostates, no? (Not that I am using those words, but they seem to be very common in the "discussions" the ELCA is encouraging.)

I didn't have a problem with the previous ordinations standards, but I do with the new ones. If my congregation votes to stay, I will peacefully leave and wish my friends I do not agree with on this specific topic well. I can respect someone else beliefs, but it doesn't mean I want yet another level of politics on Sunday mornings. And God will bless the results as he sees fit. Decisions in life have consequences, whether at a personal or national institution level. Agreeing to disagree doesn't make much sense to me when it is over the core understanding of the Bible and it's role in our life today. It won't change my friendships, it will simply change the location I go on Sunday morning to worship. I just don't get the hate this is generating. Follow what you believe God is calling you to do and pick up your cross on the way. Jesus never promised us cappuccino in "our" pew every Sunday morning. Actually making people think about what they claim to believe is probably the best thing that can happen to a church. It is just astonishing when people hold the facility they attend in higher regard than their God.

3/22/2010 10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please redo some of your research as LCMC does NOT take a Literal interpretation of the bible, Nor does it embrace abstract symbology that ELCA seems to have adopted. the LCMC looks at the scriptures as well as other writings to try to understand the complete meaning and purpose to what is written in the bible. If you want to say they take a "Literal" interpretation just because they don't bend to Political and social correctness and pressure well then so be it. If the Church stops standing up for what is morally good then we will all move toward complete chaos.

5/05/2010 8:53 AM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

I have come to learn that this sort of thing is the very reason there are different denominations of Christian faith. While we all agree on the basics, we differ on other points. It is the degree of that variance that allows some denominations to share alters and pulpits with select other denominations, or not.

The differences between ELCA and LCMC are entirely perceptible to those involved, with perception from either side perhaps being different.

I was given a brief book that nicely describes the differences of Biblical understanding recently: "The Gospel of Grace" by Dr. Mark Wickstrom. A good read for all Christians.

5/05/2010 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am wondering where your church is at presently. Have you left the ELCA and joined the LCMC? Did you attempt dual rosters? I believe that the ELCA does not acknowledge dual rosters with the LCMC. Thanks!

6/30/2011 9:15 AM  

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