Skip to comments.Unintended effects: How the ELCA’S aim for unity fractured the church
Posted on 12/27/2010 5:08:40 PM PST by rhema
In its 2009 Churchwide Assembly in August of 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church took the momentous step to allow for the blessing of gay and lesbian unions as well as for the ordination of gays and lesbians in partnered relationships. It was the first major confessional church to take those steps. In anticipation of much disagreement about its decisions, the church struck what it thought was a compromise so that we could journey together faithfully even though there was no consensus on these issues. The instrument for compromise was the bound-conscience doctrine. Realizing that we now had no authoritative teaching on homosexual conduct, the Sexuality Task Force proposed and the Assembly agreed that all of us respect each others bound-conscience on these matters as we went about the life of our church. Also, since the official line of the church was that these issues were not church-dividing anyway, we could live with such a settlement. (It was unexplained why the ELCA should be immune to the church-dividing nature of these issues when many churches in America and in the world were experiencing painful divisions over them. Indeed, the leaders of the ELCA mistakenly projected their own assessment on the church at large.)
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Since there is now no authoritative teaching and since we can claim bound-conscience on whatever teaching we prefer, this means that each parish and ultimately each individual has to decide which teaching is normative for them. In one fell swoop the Assembly turned the ELCA into a collection of congregations and individuals.
What has happened is that the conflict that the Assembly could not or would not solve has been ratcheted down to each parish and finally to each individual. The compromise has become the occasion for some hard fighting. Some churches are leaving the ELCA out of their bound conscience. Each attempt to leaveeven when successfulcreates enormous tension and conflict. Even churches who had prepared their laity for the crisis still have many members who believed that, in spite of all, the congregation should remain in the ELCA.
Other churches are withholding their benevolence money from the regional Synod and the ELCA in response to the ELCA decisions. This, too, creates conflict between the members who agree with the local leaders decisions and those who believe the parish ought to support the ELCA in spite of or because of its decisions. Those same churches are often taking time to decide whether to leave or stay, which extends the difficulties. Still other churches are taking milder actions: articulating where they stand on these matters and often providing options for members to divert their benevolence monies into their preferred causes. One church has contrived a bound-conscience fund for those who wanted to keep their benevolence away from the ELCA. (The Assembly certainly did not anticipate this use of the doctrine!)
The so-called compromise also presses individuals to decide where they stand, which congregation they want to belong to, as well as where they want their pledges to go. So a game of musical chairs is going on among many laity as they try to match their convictions with that of a particular congregation. A goodly number moved to other denominational chairs when the music stopped in August. Others moved to Lutheran congregations that fit their bound conscience. Many are still in a quandary about what to do. This church shopping presses churches to decide where they stand, which also causes tension.
In the face of this widespread fracturing, a small portion of churches have embraced the decisions of the ELCA and are moving quickly toward openly blessing gay and lesbian unions and calling ordained gays and lesbians in partnered relationships. Some of those parishes have been engaging in those practices for a long time; others now have official permission to exercise their bound conscience by adopting them. Laypersons in the latter group who disagree with this agenda no doubt depart for other more orthodox churches.
A far larger number of churchesperhaps even the majority of parishes in the ELCAtry to duck the challenge. Their pastors or laypersons say: this is not an issue in our parish, which can mean a number of things. It can mean that the pastor and/or the majority in the church agree with the decisions of the ELCA but are not going to make a big thing about it. They will face the issues when they come up. It can also mean that the issue is not important enough to get steamed up about, which follows the ELCA lead by viewing these issues as non-church dividing. These congregations, too, will face the issue when they have to. In either case, pastors and laypersons who are disturbed by the changes in the ELCA have to decide whether they can go along to get along in those congregations. Some will keep quiet, others will protest or leave. The largest number of congregations for whom this is not an issue more likely hope that this will not become an issue because it could indeed be church-dividing. These congregations are sometimes in a fragile enough condition that a controversy over sexuality issues may well spell the doom of the parish. If they take a clear position pro or con on the Assembly decisions they will lose people. And they cannot afford that. Other parishes are doing pretty well and dont want to upset the apple-cart by introducing controversial issues. These are generally orthodox in teaching and practice and intentionally distance themselves from the workings of the ELCA.
It is understandable why churches want to duck the issue, but I suspect in the long run they will not be able to do so. Laity are slowly awakening to what is happening and will raise inconvenient questions about the direction of the congregation, synod, and the national church to which they belong. Besides, they might be directly confronted with pairs asking to be blessed. Then they wont be able to duck.
Given this account, at least two insights are relevant:
First, it is easy to sympathize with orthodox individuals and congregations who are struggling about what to do. They didnt ask for this. Therefore, it is important for the time being to respect the various decisions that are being made by the orthodox. Each parish situation and each individual situation is different. Some parishes and individuals simply cannot leave at this time. But as the full consequences of the churchs decisions become more visible and concretechanges in the teaching materials, the rites, and the composition of the clergy, the path ahead may become clearer. As groups such as the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal and Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ become more viable ecclesial bodies than the ELCA itself, the inclination to leave may be more intense.
Second, the fall-out reveals the foolhardiness of changing doctrine and practice before there are compelling biblical and theological arguments for doing so. In deciding it had no authoritative teaching on homosexual conduct, the church tossed the problem to congregations and individuals to decide for themselves, which is a sure-fire formula for conflict. The authorities in the ELCA were warned repeatedly that this maneuver would lead to the fracturing of the church. That is precisely what is happening.
Until someone can figure out how to eliminate them... beware the Eastbound Train...
The sad thing here is that ELCA Assembly was directly warned by the LORD in a whirlwind and lightning that struck the meeting area and neighboring Lutheran church (ripping the cross off the top of the church). Despite that, the Assembly went ahead and abandoned God and adopted the religion of Sodom anyway. Now the LORD has spewed them out of His mouth.
As an individual I chose to walk...nay, RUN with my family from the ELCA to WELS.
The ELCA has its reward.
No, accepting homosexuality is what has fractured the church.
As groups such as the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal and Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ become more viable ecclesial bodies than the ELCA itself, the inclination to leave may be more intense.
Once a church has cut its ties to scripture and the Spirit there is nothing left but an empty shell.
since we can claim bound-conscience on whatever teaching we prefer, this means that each parish and ultimately each individual has to decide which teaching is normative for them.
We are all "conscience bound" all the time, consciences guided and informed by scripture and the Spirit. When a church starts to go off the rails alarms should be going off all over the place, and when an apostate church leadership refuses to repent then there is little left to do but cut your ties.
It seems so stupid and illogical that they would do this.
If the Bible is the Word of God, then it contains the moral absolutes. What do they not understand about the meaning of moral absolutes. The Bible is very clear about homosexual conduct. To divorce behavior from a moral framework is ridiculous. It creates no reason for religion.
To elevate and revere homosexual behavior is what the pagans did—it degrades the body and all relationships and creates sexual identity confusion in children. This warping of Natural Law Theory is incredibly evil and the work of Satan. Even Cicero recognized the evil of laws against nature.
If you resort to moral relativism, then you reject the moral absolutes and the Bible. You can not be a Christian when you reject the Bible.
Are they just stupid or are they Marxist infiltrators who want to destroy the two pillars of Western Civilization—Christianity and the family.
It is not just the church that is suffering from this fracturing. Our leaving the ELCA for the LCMS has caused disruption in our family and within our closest circle of friends. We did not ask for this and we hung in there as long as we could. I have a hard time feeling sorry for those in the ELCA who are suffering the consequences of the 2009 decisions.
I have wondered the same thing. Were the just ignoring what was happening to the Episcopal Church?
ELCA has been on a slow walk to apostacy for decades. Acceptance that maybe Jesus was just in a coma while in the tomb and recovered three days later were swirling as possibilities from them in the 70’s. Focusing on the Gospel (yes, the Gospel is good!) but not preaching the Law as a means of convicting the sinner for years has lead to weakening the understanding of the laity. Then women were allowed to assume an office that is meant to be held by men - the office of the holy ministry. The defense is that culturally 2000 years ago women were oppressed and not allowed to be ministers, but today we are more enlightened. The laity were not schooled in the truths of the roles of men and women from the Bible, so many bought into this. Now Satan has taken it another step by having the ELCA affirm that which God condemns. Let those who have eyes see! Working from within is pointless because they have been walking away from the Bible for too long.
Actually, a while ago I read an interesting Catholic Online article which was talking about how the issue of contraception was the start of the downfall in the Lutheran Church. I think it was in the 30’s that it happened and it was a fascinating read and made a lot of sense.
The Catholic Church was under tremendous pressure to also give in to popular culture, but they refused. The Lutheran’s eased up on the issue. I have no idea what the name of the article was or when I read it.
Infiltration of the churches by Marxists and atheists and homosexuals have been the reason for the downfall and corruption of the various churches.
Look at the Liberation Theology churches that sprang up in South America and Latin America. The Marxists knew to defeat Christianity, they would have to subvert the church. They did a remarkable job. The Pope calls them demonic....and it is the one our fascist Marxist in Chief attended for 20 years.
A Marxist-Christian is an oxymoron.
* as of August 19, AD 2009, a liberal protestant SECT, not part of the holy, catholic and apostolic CHURCH.
Christ is Born, Glorify Him!
Wonderful choice. Joining a WELS church was the best decision I ever made.
That was indeed the beginning of the slippery slope.
Stage two was the acceptance of divorce and remarriage after divorce; first among the laity, then among the clergy.
Stage three was the acceptance of abortion on demand, first among the laity, then among the clergy, an acceptance aided and abetted by having unrestricted coverage for abortion in the ELCA Board of Pensions Health Care plan.
We ran from the ELCA to the LCMS.
Selfishness sows the seeds of its own destruction.
Sola Scriptura was turned into Sola “Hip-too”-ra, as was predicted.
In the long run, "I would rather ye be hot or cold than lukewarm..."
I don’t intend this to be a post of disunity, so if you can reply via freepmail, that would be great —> why did you choose WELS over LCMS?
I find this headline frankly unbelievable. Such an obviously extra-Scriptural stance could have had no other outcome when forced upon Bible-believing Lutherans.
Your pings are always interesting. I continue to pray for the church of my youth.