Christian Living

ChurchWatch 08/24/09

Gay is O.K. According to Lutheran Vote

On Friday, the nation's largest Lutheran church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), voted to allow sexually active gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy. Individual congregations now have the ability to select pastors or lay leaders in monogamous and lifelong same-sex relationships. Last month, the Episcopal Church lifted a similar ban on non-celibate gay bishops.

Over the years I have recruited pastors and ministers in various denominations and religious organizations to aid me in keeping ChurchWatch "in-the-know" regarding issues that face these different groups. My "Lutheran guy" is Pastor Eric Jonas Swensson of New Rochelle, New York. On Friday he sent me the following posting regarding the Lutheran vote on the homosexual issue.

I believe Eric's commentary will help give perspective to the controversy now surrounding the ELCA.

The End of the Line for the “Journey Together Faithfully.”
By Eric Jonas Swensson

Today is the end of the Line for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s “Journey Together Faithfully.” They vote on the second of two big issues in human sexuality and the one that the media deems so important, gay clergy. You can expect headlines and pictures of people in tears. I don’t want to belittle anyone involved, but you need two things straight. This is not about sex, but about the Bible, and second, this process has eviscerated the ELCA. It is a sad morality play about religion and politics full of ironies. It is a tale of what happens to a body of Christians when they want to be nice to everyone. In the end they forget what they were formed for.

Eight years ago members of the ELCA were told that we were to engage in mutual study over the issues of human sexuality. Documents and processes were prepared for us. As a pastor of a small multicultural congregation with many challenges and for whom this was not our issue, I resented the moralistic tenor of the whole thing. It was something imposed on us by an Assembly that had been hoodwinked by a relatively small group of activists.

I knew these people. I had gone to school with them. I even had to make pink triangle cookies when I worked in the kitchen of one of our church retreats. I liked the activists personally, but I never bought their arguments, though in the beginning, I actually tried. It just never made sense to me and it seemed to me that they were desperately in need of affirmation and support, so I tried to smile and be non-judgmental, after all, what was it costing me?

Fast forward to a few years into what ELCA leadership decided to call “Journey Together Faithfully.” I was trying to grow my congregation and as I got a little older and wiser I less identified with the social justice perspective and more with evangelism. I was very concerned about the direction of my synod, Metro New York. It was shrinking, and each year at our Assembly we did nothing but talk about becoming “Reconciled in Christ,” the name the gay activists came up with for their program to normalize the idea of homosexual clergy and homosexual sex. Each year we were browbeat by the Synod Treasurer, Bishop and Vice President over lack of income and then spent the rest of our time debating homosexuality. I approached my bishop about restarting the Evangelism committee, he pitched something else and I joined him for several years trying to get a Commission going to address dysfunctional congregations.

I dropped out in 2004 when it became clear to me that our synod was becoming unhinged. The synod Secretary wrote a resolution in favor of homosexual marriage. We wasted a whole afternoon arguing over that until we voted and it passed by seven votes. I had been outraged upon hearing his explanation of the need for it, that he didn’t want our pastors bad-mouthing this issue because it was controversial: his intent was to censor me. That was bad, but I got over it. However the next day the Bishop was asked to rule on the resolution as someone pointed out that it was in conflict with our Constitution that states the Bible is the source and norm of our faith, life and proclamation. The Bishop hesitated greatly but ruled that there was no conflict. Something broke inside me at that moment. It thought I knew my bishop and I thought I knew I shared a common faith with most of the clergy on the foundational beliefs, but I didn’t.

Something else had happened for me in the year previous, I had begun graduate studies. I was already studying Luther’s theology, but soon enough I was thinking every day about how this issue had become a litmus test. I began to see just how many ELCA clergy were in the grip of a “soft theology,” a fuzzy, wuzzy gospel-reductionism that basically said, “I’m O.K./you’re O.K., God accepts us just as we are.” Well, God does accept us, he comes to us, but He then gets busy on us after he justifies us. That is what I believed, but now I was told that I was a Pharisee, a fundamentalist, and even at times a Neanderthal who should come closer to the fire of enlightenment. This all happened because I believe in progressive sanctification and the Third Use of the Law, that is that after we are justified the Law continues to be a  “mirror, curb and guide.”

This argument we are going through was never about sex, but about the Bible, and for the ELCA, it was about Law and gospel and the nature of sin. One of our preeminent Lutheran theologians, Gerhard Forde wrote in words very simple for anyone to understand, "...when we come up against laws that call our behavior into question we usually attempt by one means or another to erase, discredit, or change the laws. We become antinomians. If we don't like the law we seek to remove or abolish it by exegetical circumlocution, appeals to progress, to genetics, to the authority of ecclesiastical-task force pronouncements, or perhaps just to the assurance that 'things have changed." (Forde, "Law and Sexual Behavior," 7.)

Behind every appeal to same-sex unionism heard in the ELCA is an antinomian logic, usually some form of gospel-reductionism. This from a good paper, which can be found online:

What is “gospel-reductionism”?   Basically it’s the tendency to reduce the Bible to the gospel.  Gospel reductionism tends to allow the Bible authority only in matters which are explicitly part of the gospel or may be developed from the gospel.  Exponents of gospel reductionism believe that considerable freedom should be allowed within the church in matters which are not an explicit part of the gospel.  In this way, the rest of the Bible is relativised; it does not have the same authority.  Instead of the gospel and scripture, the tendency is for only the gospel to become the standard (the norm) of Christian teaching.” http://www.clai.org.au/articles/thegos~2.htm

Pretty simple, and so we see today that the breakdown of a denomination can also happen very simply. People hate the Law. That is only natural. It is understandable because it is instinctive. What is strange is that religious people do not realize through their second nature, as it were, that this is our Father’s voice and He means us well so we want to hear and obey. When theologians and activists collude to muffle God’s voice, there is a crisis. That is what happened to the ELCA.

It really is simple, cause and cure. The ELCA has in its Constitution language which enforces adherence to Confessional Documents. Where they concern the Law, this antinomian logic has been used to silence it “in the name of love.” There are many places, wherever the law is addressed, in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, in the Large Catechism, and in the Formula of Concord, that a simple way forward is proposed, but they are never allowed to speak as they are, they are always muffled and muzzled. Here is one example found in what we refer to Luther’s “Theological Testament,” the Smalcald Articles written in 1537.

II. THE LAW: Here we maintain that the law was given by God first of all to restrain sins by threats and fear of punishment and by the promise and offer of grace and favor. But this purpose failed because of the wickedness which sin has worked in man. 2 Some, who hate the law because it forbids what they desire to do and commands what they are unwilling to do, are made worse thereby. . . Book of Concord (Tappert), 303.

The ELCA really should give attention to this (I write this on the last day, their last chance). We see a direct application of line 2 to our present time. Scripture forbids homosexual practice. That is the Law. Luther said, “Some hate [this] law because it forbids what they desire to do.” This is our gay activists like Good Soil. The Law stands in the way of their standing. Other Lutherans, like many in our educated middle classes everywhere are in sympathy with these people. Where the strange and powerful religious dynamic kicks in is since we all hate other sections of the law, we can begin to hate the fact that there is any law, and when our leaders tell us they have a means by which the Law is no longer in effect this nonsense can embraced as “gospel”.

This is a strange idea to all but the religious liberal. What Luther was talking about when he wrote about the Gospel making the Law null and void was in matters of justification, but the antinomians ignore that and apply it to everything. For example, Scripture tells us that gossiping is a sin. Will all gossipers go to Hell then? I hope not! No, we are saved by faith, not by our ability to quit gossiping. Using antinomian logic as applied to homosexual practice, we are now free to gossip and can call it God-blessed if we only gossip within agreed policy guidelines. Surely, anyone who wants to can see through this.

What we cannot get around is willful blindness.

Everyone, not only the ELCA but all denominations, all people, fall prey to this. We see God's purpose in it as well as its immense value--the strange thing is that people would actually adapt this neutering of the law as a methodology; hence gospel reductionism and universalism and all forms of antinomianism. It is unthinkable for a denomination to pass policies and social statements that rely on an antinomian logic, but the ELCA did just that. Yet, it has a constitution that contains the above article; hence it is in essence in violation of its own charter.

Bottom line, make no mistake: The ELCA is changing its policies because they can. Of course, they can’t really, but they will have to learn the hard way. There has already been a shift toward interpreting the Constitution literally, now that the Bible is not. New rules are introduced all the time. Antinomianism cannot actually exist for long without chaos, so man’s rule replaces God’s. It is the end of the line for me, and it’s sad. My family helped build the Augustana Synod, one of the five “pioneer families.” But sadder still is my concern for my thirteen-year-old son who could be a better pastor than any of us. I will not have him go to any of our institutions, so why would I stay in the denomination I have deemed not trustworthy handling the mind of my own child? The ideologues are everywhere, they are aided by our leaders and teachers, and those who are not are scared into silence for what they think is the good of their career. Even if my reasons were not primarily theological I still could not stay in such an environment.

I dare not go on, people will think I have an ax to grind. Let me give you one more example of how unhealthy gospel reductionism if for a church once it gets a foothold. Our denominational publishing house issued its own Study Bible this year and in the footnote to Matthew 28:17 it says we do not really need to go out like Jesus said: “That does not mean make everyone disciples. Most people who are helped by Jesus and believe in him never become disciples. Jesus includes in salvation people who do not believe in him or ever know about him (5:30; 25:31-45).”

Can you see the antinomian logic and how it turns into universalism?

No, better to go and build with another. Sorry to say, but it happens all the time. I am getting off and I suggest you think through these issues and decide what to do. And if you are not a member of the ELCA, it hardly matters. This choice is going to be before you, no one is safe from it. If you discern they are right, it should be a dramatic theological event and you should get on with reshaping the world. If not, you, too, are at the end of the line. Get off the train. Another will come along.
Many of my friends want to stay on the train. They think they can get a car to themselves. I cannot convince them, and it is not my place. Everyone has to decide for themselves. Do the work as I did. Research and read and ponder it and decide. God bless you in it!

Related ChurchWatch Blog: Tornado Hits Lutheran Convention Voting on Homosexuality

Related from CBN News: Lutheran Church Allows Gay Clergy Relationships

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