(Editor’s Note: The account that is being referenced is the ELCA press release we posted the other day. You can find it here.)
I read with great interest and concern the account of the recent meeting between LCMS and ELCA officials regarding “cooperative ministries.” Realizing that a press report of a meeting is not the same as a transcript, I submit the following points on the basis of the content of the press release, which is copied below. If it is not an accurate representation of what was said and done at the meeting, please feel free to correct the record.
1. “The mission of the cooperative ministries is bigger than both church bodies…” (M. W. Bullock, ELCA executive). Whatever Ms. Bullock means by “bigger,” cooperative social ministries are not more important than remaining true to scriptural doctrine and practice. Indeed, the oft-used, ill-defined expression, “cooperation in externals,” is misleading. What witness do we give when we are linked in any way to a church body that has thrown Scripture overboard in its key teachings and practices? (See also 3. below.) Can we even say that we engage in God-pleasing works of mercy when we cooperate knowingly and on a regular, formal basis with a heterodox church body? What is the message to the world? To the church? That remaining true to Scripture is of secondary importance?
2. “We believe that working together with other partners can enhance the ministry that’s delivered to the recipients…” (G. B. Kieschnick) It depends on the partners. See 1. and 3.
3. “We believe, teach and confess some things that bind us together such as our common understanding of Baptism,” (S. Nafzger) Really? Baptism creates faith and “signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts” (Small Catechism). Does a church body that officially condones unregenerate sinful practices have a right understanding of Baptism? The ELCA no longer has a scriptural, i.e., Christ-centered, understanding of the Scriptures. Two representative examples from the new ELCA “Lutheran” Study Bible (AF,2009) will suffice. The notes for Psalm 22 make but one reference to Christ’s Passion (v.1: the words spoken by Christ on the cross). Not a single other verse in this rich Messianic Psalm is cited as relating to the Passion, e.g., pierced my hands and my feet, cast lots for my garments. The note for Isaiah 7:14 claims that the Septuagint translation of almah (Heb.) as parthenos (Gr. for virgin) enabled Matthew to link the prophecy to Christ ¹s birth. In quoting Isaiah, Matthew 1:23 (mistakenly? naÃ¯vely?) uses the word for “virgin,” while Isaiah allegedly refers only to a “young woman.” Why would a church body that strives to minimize the Christ-content of Scripture have any regard for “time-bound” scriptural strictures that contradict 21st-century social and sexual mores? Thus, in the ELCA we now have ordination of both women and practicing homosexuals. The latter is but the most recent manifestation of the underlying cancer, the ELCA’s heterodox approach to God’s Word. To use President Kieschnick’s words: “[There are] significant differences in how we [our two church bodies] understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God’s revealed and infallible Word.” Is there anything more fundamental? Who expects this to change?
4. “Attending on behalf of the LCMS were Hartwig, Kieschnick, Nafzger, plus the Rev. William R. Diekelman, first vice president; the Rev. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director, Commission on Theology and Church Relations; and Ronald Schulz, chief administrative officer. One can only wonder at the decision (whose? why?) not to include the Rev. Matthew Harrison, executive director of Lutheran World Relief and Human Care, in the CLC gathering. Surely, a theologian with much experience in synodical works of mercy would have brought both practical and scriptural perspectives to the discussion.
Finally, the press report of the meeting suggests that LCMS officialdom is likely to fall into the ELCA trap of eternal talk. The policy changes at the recent ELCA convention could not have taken LCMS officials by surprise.
There has been time aplenty to anticipate and prepare for this action. The past 8-10 years (and even longer) have seen a steady stream of ELCA meetings, discussions, and documents leading to a foregone conclusion. In the end, the penultimate step in the path to permit ordination of homosexuals in “committed relationships” (the discussion and approval of a study document on sexuality) took place during a freak, unpredicted wind storm that dislodged the cross from the steeple of the convention worship site. That should, at the very least, give us pause.
While LCMS expressions of concern for the recent ELCA actions were frankly stated at the meeting and in a subsequent letter of President Kieschnick, where is the call for repentance? Are we not well past the time for more talk? Is it not time to act? Can we delay any longer the breaking off of relationships that give false witness of unity? What greater danger is there to the weaker brethren than to continue to give the appearance of unity in the faith when it is lacking? It is our loving obligation to witness in a concrete way to the remaining scripturally faithful congregations and members in the ELCA that, judging by its official actions and practices, their church body is heterodox. It is equally important to clear up the confusion among the general public that the ELCA speaks for all Lutherans.
Merely not implementing a sinful decision in the context of inter-Lutheran ministries is no solution. We have seen that official expressions of grief, dismay, and concern, however sincere, have no effect. It is time for firm actions, coupled with a call to genuine repentance.
No institutions or working agreements are more important than witness to the truth.
Together in His service,
David O. Berger