welcome. why "weak on sanctification"?

this accusation is often made about lutheran christians. because we focus so strongly on god's justifying grace in christ, and our continual need, as "sinner-saints," to receive god's gifts of grace through word and sacrament, people say we are "weak on sanctification." i prefer to say we are strong on jesus, whose sanctifying work in our lives is the fruit of the gospel all along our lifelong journey. i would much rather focus on what he has done than on anything i might do.

the weekly discussion

each week I set forth a topic to promote discourse about some aspect of Christianity, the church, or the spiritual life. i would love to hear your perspective and thoughts on each week's subject. these discussions are usually posted on mondays, so if you missed this week's post and would like to catch up on the conversation, just scroll down and join us.

September 28, 2009

the weekly discussion—sept 27

those of you who keep up with religion news know that the ELCA (evangelical lutheran church of america) recently had their 2009 annual churchwide assembly and made some controversial decisions. let me summarize a few of those decisions before opening up a discussion.
  • the ELCA adopted full communion with the united methodist church. controversial to many lutherans, but overshadowed in most coverage by the other decisions made at the cwa.
  • the ELCA adopted the social statement, “human sexuality—gift and trust.” although this social statement deals with many different aspects of human relationships and sexuality, the most controversial part speaks about homosexuality. here is an excerpt from the executive summary of the resolution:
It is only within the last decades that this church has begun to understand in new ways the need of same-gender oriented individuals to seek relationships of lifelong companionship and commitment as well as public accountability and legal support for those commitments. This has led to differing understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. Disagreements exist in this church and in the larger Christian community about whether marriage is also the appropriate term to use to describe similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong, monogamous relationships.

Although at this time this church lacks consensus on this matter, it encourages all people to live out their faith in the local and global community of the baptized with profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor. This church calls for mutual respect and for guidance that seeks the good of all. As we live together with disagreement, the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect.
the church recognized four different views of this matter within the denomination, and the practical effect is that local churches may deal with this issue as they see fit.
  • the ELCA adopted ministry resolutions allowing the church to recognize homosexual relationships and for the denomination to have homosexuals serve in ministry. Here is an explanation from the ELCA website:
The assembly adopted four resolutions that commit the ELCA to bear one another’s burdens and respect bound consciences in these matters; to allow congregations that choose to do so to find ways to recognize and support lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships and hold them publicly accountable; and to find a way for people in such relationships to serve as rostered leaders in the ELCA. The fourth resolution points toward a specific way to allow rostering while respecting bound consciences.
needless to say, these decisions have raised an uproar. one group of conservative lutherans met in indianapolis last weekend and laid the groundwork for separating from the denomination and realigning lutheranism in america. one of the largest lutheran churches in the u.s. voted this past weekend to leave and join a more conservative lutheran group. even the united methodist church, with whom the ELCA just joined in full communion, has said they will not welcome any homosexual pastors as they share in ministry together.

on the other hand, i spoke with my pastor sunday and he said we most definitely will not be leaving the ELCA. in his view, the decision is a social policy statement and does not go to the heart of the gospel or affect our doctrine of salvation in christ. furthermore, our church did not participate in the entire process of studying the social statement, we have a rather distant relationship with the larger denomination, and the decision has little or no effect on our life and ministry as a local congregation.

in fact, one of the redeeming characteristics of the ELCA decision is that it clearly recognized the differences of opinion that exist in our churches regarding homosexuality and how to deal with it. and it called people on all sides to respect the "bound consciences" of others as we go into the future together.

gail and i have been members of an ELCA congregation for about a year now. we love our local church, its worship and emphasis. it is a very different experience for us, having been in mostly non-denominational evangelical churches for 30+ years. the evangelical churches of which we were part were more compatible with our beliefs in some areas of doctrine, moral convictions, and worldwide mission emphasis. this includes our understanding that the bible does not set forth homosexual behavior as congruent with god's design for creation. however, as i wrote last year on my other blog, we also saw significant weaknesses and failures in the evangelical church in worship, pastoral theology, missional living among our neighbors, culture war emphases, and many other areas.

frankly, i don't consider myself a part of "american evangelicalism" anymore. i am what michael spencer calls a "post-evangelical". i long for the wisdom of good theology and the lessons of history and tradition to inform my faith. i'm no longer into the next christian fad and i have moved out of the christian ghetto. i love luther as well as lutheran theology and worship, consider myself a reformation, confessional christian, and feel connected to the catholic (universal, historical) church in ways that i never have before.

however... in the mainline churches of today (heirs of the social gospel, higher-critical thinking, and liberal theology), one must come to grips with an entirely different perspective on theological, social, political, and moral issues. the bible is sometimes understood and treated differently. it's a "big tent" approach that forces me to consider many challenging concepts and relationships.

so, i guess i don't really have one question today. can we just have a conversation about all this? i'd like to get feedback from people in mainline churches, evangelical churches, folks who don't go to church at all, etc., about how you would view the situation in the ELCA if you were in our shoes.

don't be shy. let it out. keep it civil, but don't be afraid to express strong opinions strongly.

today's van gogh
path in the woods, 1887


  1. not too controversial except to some dyed-in-the-wool lutherans who oppose all such cooperative relationships.

    Careful with that brush there. :) There's a reason why "dyed-in-the-wool" and other Lutherans oppose pulpit and altar with the UMC, Episcopal Church, and others that the ELCA has "agreements" with. It is about what we believe about the Sacraments (UMC denies that the body and blood are present, and the Evangelical United Brethren arm of the UMC even denies infant baptism), about how God prefers to deal with us (through his Word, and everything else must be compared and verified against his Word), and other issues.

    Full disclosure: I go to an LCMS congregation, but LCMS has its own issues with pulpit-and-altar with the charismatic TAALC and our own Baptist streaks of Transforming Congregations and Ablaze!(TM).

    I would not want a Methodist preacher coming into my congregation and trying to unshackle it from the grace and promises of God through their Law-lite and Gospel-less preaching, which never convicts sinners but gives them a thing-to-do-this week.

    Am I making any sense?

  2. Yes, Dan. Didn't mean to downplay the importance of this for many Lutherans. I understand fully, and have amended the post to reflect that.

  3. Dan-
    I think that is a truly unfair characterization of Methodism in general, I don't know many methodists that are gospel-less and law-lite! I think we also need to realize the times we are in, people my age (16-25) could care less about denominations, and find them for the most part a dying relic of american Christendom, and world Christendom which has passed away. Shouldn't we be finding ways to work with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and trusting in God's grace to rectify the altar, not our own protections of it? Especially when those of us charged with the sacraments are bound to sin?

    As a lifelong Lutheran, I think that you understand the point of the Church much better than most of us do, as a big tent in which we gather under the Cross. Our doctrinal bickering, while important to many of us IN the church, looks silly to anyone outside the Church, and a downright un-Christ-like behavior. Especially in a country that is so fractured down the middle, it can barely see straight. As somebody that sees homosexuality as a sin, and was a mild supporter of the statements, I think the statements are less an approval of the behavior, as much as recognizing that we can't agree. Let us not forget that the 1st century church was divided on doctrine too! (circumcision) Yet went on to proclaim the Gospel to the world!

  4. I will apologize for my own brush. I should have said that the Methodist church services I have seen (I have a lot of Methodist in-laws) only mention Christ dying for their sins and their sinful condition around Christmas and Easter. If your church preaches Christ crucified for sinners each Sunday, then you are blessed!

  5. Well I'm kind of new at this blogging with the brothers sort of thing. But hey I'll just jump right in.

    I am a Christian mutt.

    I was not raised a Christian. As an adult I was confirmed, baptized and married in a Lutheran(Missouri Synod) Church. For all of it's rich history of Luther, and the fires of the reformation, it's deep commitment to he sacraments as well as scripture, I never the less found my time there to be filled with cold indifference. But I love them, because they gave me a strong foundation for my Christian faith. And they drove me to dig deeper.
    I came to a whole new depth in my walk at the age of 27 when I was baptized(immersed)in a Church of Christ. Here I developed a passion for reaching the lost. I grew more in my passion and zeal here more than anywhere else.
    The only problem was that this particular (C of C) felt like they were the only ones going to heaven. So that sent me looking down the road further.
    Still I love them, because they helped to develope a heart and a passion for winning lost souls.
    I spent over ten years in a non-denominational fellowship, and gained a passion for study of God's word and how to interpret scripture. I learned of serving, and of family. I will always be grateful for my years there. I love them too, they are a part of me.
    There I first became a leader.I desired to go to seminary, and the pastor at the time told me to forget it for any other reason than for personal growth. You see, I had been divorced long before coming to Christ many years earlier, my young wife had left me for another man.
    God's grace apparently stopped for me at that divorce thing, and I could never serve as a pastor, having been divorced. I was tainted goods.
    Meanwhile my passion for the lost continued, many of my friends went on to become pastors, and elders , and teachers, and seminarians...but not me. I wasn't allowed to play, because of my past...one that I had no control over.
    Well I found my way to an outreach oriented, Bible teaching, neo-charismatic sort of fellowship. So here I am an "out of the closet charismatic", here chatting with my post-evangelical, other denominational, perhaps emergent sort of bretheran. Let me tell you that I appreciate ALL of you in your diverse expressions of Christ' love.

    I share your concerns over issue of homosexual clergy. I don't care how the denomination chooses it's words, they will have to try to use their wise and persuasive words on the Almighty in the not too distant future and give a reckoning for their actions. I don't think there will be much of a debate. I am all about grace, but clearly one must be beyond actions of the sinfulness I would think. For myself I have had to be ran through the wringer of several tribes of Christianity to come to a more full understanding of who Christ is. I've had to do this denominationally, as well as culturally. There is such diversity in our faith just among cultures. I have come to realize that there is no "one size fits all" sort of Christianity, and all of our wonderful debates and arguments only pull us on a trajectory away from any kind of useful dialog with one another....or so it would seem.
    I'm no "all roads point to heaven" sort of Christian, nor am I a universalist...and I really don't care for Oprah either :). I just wonder where all this debate puts us? I wonder what God thinks of it all. One thing that I believe is that God won't contradict Himself. I find the issue of homosexual clergy disturbing, and flowing along closely with the current societal norms.

    Was it Benjamin Franklin who said? "Surely we shall stand together or most assuredly we shall all hang seperately." (I'm not totally sure of this)

    I am concerned about the winds of change blowing in our churches today. I wonder what will be of the next generation. How far from the church, and from Christ will hearts grow.

    For myself, I earned that diploma, and I serve the body of Christ now as a sort of Ragamuffin/evangelist/pastor kind of thing. I mostly love just serving Jesus.

  6. Can (should) a conservative, who believes that homosexuality is not congruent with God's creation design, and should therefore not be recognized as an acceptable lifestyle or role model for ministry, stay in the ELCA?

  7. A friend sent me this information about how their church approaches matters of sexuality and sexual sin (a homosexual relationship would fall under that category):

    Our church offers counseling for those involved in fornication or adultery, and for habitual willful choices to walk after the flesh, manifesting in serious error in doctrine or conduct. When a situation becomes known to the church elders, they seek out the one involved. The counseling is done privately w/the goal that it will stay private. However, if the member refuses to submit to biblical teaching, then it is presented to the church. We are all asked to pray and reach out to restore that one during the more public time. The entire process can take weeks or months. If they still refuse to submit to God's teaching, they must leave the church, and we are asked to no longer contact them, just to pray. They have also revised the church constitution to show that we support only one man, one woman marriage and may have something stating that we cannot hire those who practice otherwise, as well.

    The church is a refuge for those seeking to escape hell, Satan, and sin, and turn to the Savior and for the redeemed to be equipped and grow to glorify Him to walk in newness of life.

  8. There's a nice passage from Thomas Carlyle to the effect of:

    "What is to be done? By you, nothing, until you have girded yourself suitably for the task."

    I think that describes the situation for the whole Christian community. We really can't solve this issue -- not the ELCA and not the wider Christian faith -- while so many other issues hang unsettled.

    I think we'd know how to answer this question if we weren't so confused and perplexed about the fundamentals.

  9. A question bigger than the ELCA issue:

    For Christians, is there any "in-between" or, better, "third way" position with regard to the issue of homosexuality?

    Evangelicalism generally toes the conservative culture war line: it's a sin, and we don't really want anything to do with gays until they are willing to repent and change their behavior.

    More liberal Christian groups offer unconditional welcome and acceptance, and either (1) decide not to deal with the issue of whether homosexuality is sinful, (2) decide that the Bible is talking about something other than the kind of homosexual partnerships we see today and therefore we must deal with the question according to other more clear Biblical principles, or (3) that the Bible is not a static revelation but must be constantly reinterpreted in each generation as the Spirit teaches the church. Usually the third option is followed by appeal to how God has helped us to overcome other prejudices and practices such as slavery and the oppression of women.

    How might Jesus have approached homosexuals?

  10. He reached out to prostitutes to save them and bring them into a saving relationship with Him - but he did not condone their sin, but rather forgave the repentant sinner. The Bible condemns to hell those who remain in their sin - because they are identifying with themselves or their sin or something else to save them. Those who identify with Christ and are IN HIM, are saved, even though they may choose to walk in the flesh at times (Rom. 7). It is our identity that saves us, not our performance. But, at some point, our performance will manifest who we are - by their fruits you shall know them.

    It is Satan's goal to muddy the waters so we doubt our salvation if we have sinned. It is God's goal to get us to be "good at believing" who we are in Him, so that we choose to walk in the Spirit more and more, so that our love of one another and our works so shine before men, proving who we are in Him and glorifying Him.

    A homosexual can say "Yes" to Christ and believe on Him for salvation and then trust Him for the sanctification process as well - just like any other believer - allowing God to transform him/her by the renewing of their minds. Their temptations will be of a different kind than someone else. We each have our own flesh patterns that we must count as dead and then turn and yield and count our Spirits alive to righteousness.

    The question is does the homosexual see their need of a Savior (acknowledging their independence from God as sin and their homosexuality as a manifestation of that independence - thus, sin). Also, does the believer who may have homosexual temptations see their need to trust the Sanctifier for a renewing of his/her mind from sinful sexual thoughts? Are they (the unsaved homosexual) seeking to enter a church so that they can be delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of God's dear Son? In like manner, are they, as a believer, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God? If so, then they are trying, or they are asking God and/or counselors for help, so then they should be welcomed in the church because the church is a refuge for sinners who love the Savior (more than their sin) with the goal of glorifying Him with a life that is godly and overcoming evil with good, for the fear of the Lord is to hate evil.

    We don't welcome sinners into the church who want to live in their sin and display their sin and who are in rebellion against God. They have chosen to love the world and hate God. They will cause disension and water down the Word in all areas before long. If we do, we have chosen to keep company with scoffers and the wicked and we will soon become like those we are with.

    Any persons, churches, or denominations that accept doctrine different than what God's Word teaches (that homosexuality is a sin) has chosen to go out of mainstream Christianity and should be considered a cult. This sounds harsh, except that this, too, by God's great mercy can be forgiven, when God, by His kindness, leads them to repentance...and they follow.

  11. How about it, everybody? There is the conservative evangelical position, stated pretty plainly. Anyone have a different take?

  12. Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Renewal)has a website at www.lutherancore.org where that group lays out its reasons for acting outside the ELCA denomination.

    As far as my own thoughts on this... I SO don't want to have an opinion. I don't think we lay people should have opinions on things like this. I think righteous pastors should rightly divide the word of truth, and we lay people should accept their guidance.

  13. I agree that repentance of behavior is the key.

    I am not unsympathetic to someone who has desires for something they are not supposed to have. Whether it's homosexuality, pornography, or plain old lusting after your neighbor's spouse, many of us have been there. The question is, do we act on it? Or, if we have acted on it, do we repent of it, change our ways, resolving not to do it ever again?

    Bottom line: I see no reason why a celibate homosexual (or someone with homosexual desires, but who chose to pursue a heterosexual relationship) could not lead a congregation. It's the acting on the desires that makes it sin. And if there is no acting on the desires, it would be the pastor's choice whether he wants to share his temptations and desires with his congregation.

    I would hold this for any kind of habitual sin, not just sexual sin. A pastor who cannot get a handle on his habits, his self-discipline, should not be leading a congregation.

    Don't get me wrong. I believe in God's grace. But there must be repentance first.