Error is deadly for the Church. Error develops and matures as time goes on if it remains unchecked. It has a step by step progression until it reaches its goal. Along the way many steps may happen, including the middle step of agreeing to disagree or equal footing with truth.
I recently read an opinion piece by the very first Bishop of the ELCA, Rev. Herbert Chilstrom. It was published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The piece was written in response to Pope Francis I’s comments regarding homosexuality which the media took and ran with just a couple weeks ago. It was a piece of “hope” for advocates of practicing homosexuality. In it Chilstrom points that the Pope’s comments are a step in a good direction. He then recounts what he considers the good path of the ELCA towards what it has now, that practicing homosexuals may be accepted as pastors within their church body. What he says reveals a lot in the matter of how those “progressive” minds in the Church work, little bit by little bit.
His path begins with listening to practicing homosexuals talk about their struggle. He says rightly, “It was a step”. There is nothing at all wrong with talking to people struggling with sin. It is perfectly reasonable. He then writes a letter to encourage other pastors to listen to practicing homosexuals and provide pastoral care to them. This of course depends on what he meant by “pastoral care”. He calls this a “step”. Then he describes a decade long study of the Scriptures on the matter coming to the conclusion that:
Eventually, I came to believe that all of them addressed homosexual abuse and rape. I had seen none of this among the growing number of homosexual Lutherans I had come to know firsthand.
Notice how this step even took a long time and was influenced by his experience firsthand with unchecked and impenitent sinners. Chilstrom then describes becoming the first bishop and after a few years exhorting and instructing the regional bishops to not bring disciplinary action against pastors who blessed practicing homosexuals. He then skips forward to the 2009 ELCA decision to bless not only practicing homosexuals but also to allow them to be pastors in the ELCA.
See the steps a little simpler. Talking and Listening. Encouraging others to do the same. Study the Scripture to agree with personal experience. Forbid discipline. Eventual apostasy.
Throughout the article, the idea of “steps” is a theme. The words “eventually” and “in the meantime” also find use, depicting this conclusion as a natural result of the patient work of error in their church. Chilstrom’s efforts of course not only trace the ELCA, but also it is his hope that the Pope’s Church would also follow the same path.
This is something which confessors of the faith need to learn – the Devil will gladly only take a part of the pie at first. Little step by step, he is more than happy to eat away at the truth. In doctrinal matters, what some folks refer to as compromise (or even coexistence) is actually victory for error’s patient walk towards total dominance over church teachings. It all is reminiscent of C.P. Krauth’s three steps to how error works. 1. Asking tolerance of it 2. Obtaining equality and then 3. Demanding Dominance followed up with persecution of the truth.
Recently at the LCMS Convention there was notable discussion going on about the women in combat resolution. There was a point when the floor committee chairman said that the committee could not reach unanimity over the meaning of the texts that were used to justify the position against women in combat. There was no true meaning determined. Out of this indecision came a “coexist” resolution which allowed for any interpretation of those texts. It passed. Update – Please note that the resolution did call for the CTCR to render judgment on the texts in a study document, please pray that they would come to unanimous accord on the meaning of the texts in question. Regardless, the fact that such a lack of unanimity exists is unsettling and could very easily become something similar to the “bound conscience” clause of the ELCA.
Wait a minute, was that a step? In what direction?