Little Steps

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?


About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


Little Steps — 17 Comments

  1. Experience is not self-interpreting or self-validating. Scripture stands in judgment of our experiences. Based on the steps he described, remembering that while they listened to tales of struggle could have resulted in a very different trajectory.

  2. I must respectfully disagree with the implications of the end of this article. The resolution did NOT leave us in this state forever. The resolution did what I think is proper when there is a disagreement over the interpretation of scriptural texts – it asked for a study from the CTCR on the issue. That may not please everyone, but from the perspective of this lay delegate it was the right thing to do at this time. In the meantime the resolution allowed for women in the military who believe that the Bible prohibits their service in combat to show that their belief has support from the Synod, thus helping to validate any conscientious objector claim they would make. This is what our military chaplains asked us to do at the convention, the wording of that part of the resolution was vetted by them.

    I do agree with the author on the dangers of incrementalism. I do not believe the issue of women in combat is an example of incrementalism at this time.

  3. @Harry Edmon #2
    Harry, thank you for your kind way of partial disagreement. I think you are onto something with regards to the CTCR being asked to render judgment on the matter. I think it would be good to include them in prayer and hope that they would firmly state what the Scriptures teach in regards to men and women and what God has given to each. I will edit my article above with such an admonition to prayer and encouragement for the CTCR.

    The greater concern which I was stressing from the article is that we are struggling to come to agreement on the texts that we are supposedly agreed upon. This is dangerous, and I hope and pray that this lack of unanimity does not become standard operating procedure. It is unsettling to say the least.

  4. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #3
    Thanks for your kind words. I totally agree that we need to eventually stop disagreeing about settled questions. I heard President Harrison say the same thing at the convention, but he want to do it carefully without compromising the doctrine. That is why several issues were sent to task forces and the 2016 convention. Let’s hear one more time from everyone concerned, come to a final resolution based on the Scriptures and Confessions, and then pass it at convention and move on.

    We are slowly getting there. I noticed at this convention that there really was no attempt to change the Synod’s long standing view on closed communion. The resolution passed by the convention this time was to direct the DPs and Circuit Visitors (Counselors) to raise the issue with non-conforming congregations and pastors and encourage them to follow the Synod’s position. Debate time on this issue is clearly over.

  5. As an ELCA refugee, I would like to add in here that the methods of encouraging people to take certain positions are coercive and manipulative. When our faithful pastor retired, we would have loved to keep our assistant pastor but the ELCA bishop encouraged us to get a new senior pastor and let the assistant go. Well, the assistant who was a faithful man promptly led his new congregation out of the ELCA, something many of us had wanted to do, but we were a big rich big city congregation and the bishop didn’t want us leaving… So, in comes the bishop-approved new guy, who of course is one of those creepy progressives and so many faithful people left.

    The point is that faithful men are targeted by corrupt bishops who don’t believe the Bible. It is not that they actually move the laity or most pastors to actually agree with them. They just promote the guys who do agree and punish those who don’t. They take a vote and see who votes which way and work behind the scenes to get rid of as many no votes as they can and replace them with their guys. They are snakes

  6. I wonder how that ELCA fellow would react if somebody in his denomination said something like this about another position:

    Eventually, I came to believe that all of them addressed adulterous abuse and rape. I had seen none of this among the growing number of adulterous Lutherans I had come to know firsthand.

    And at the risk of coming across as redundant, the words of Baptist Pastor Robert Shindler come to mind here:

    In the case of every errant course there is always a first wrong step. If we can trace that wrong step, we may be able to avoid it and its results. Where, then, is the point of divergence from the “King’s highway of truth”? What is the first step astray? Is it doubting this doctrine, or questioning that sentiment, or being sceptical as to the other article of orthodox belief? We think not. These doubts and this scepticism are the outcome of something going before

    The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God’s Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching. “To the law and to the testimony,” is his appeal concerning every doctrine. He esteems that holy Book, concerning all things, to be right, and therefore he hates every false way. But let a man question, or entertain low views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and he is without chart to guide him, and without anchor to hold him.

    In looking carefully over the history of the times, and the movement of the times, of which we have written briefly, this fact is apparent: that where ministers and Christian churches have held fast to the truth that the Holy Scriptures have been given by God as an authoritative and infallible rule of faith and practice, they have never wandered very seriously out of the right way. But when, on the other hand, reason has been exalted above revelation, and made the exponent of revelation, all kinds of errors and mischiefs have been the result.

  7. I moderated out some comments do to getting off track from the article. The status of CRM men is a hard situation, but there are other articles here on Steadfast to have that discussion.

  8. Thank you for this provactive and insightful article, Pastor Scheer. It has provoked me to suggest taking a step we have been loathe to take for generations now–the step of rejecting and condemning that which Scripture rejects and condemns in no uncertain terms.

    You have written about, “…the 2009 ELCA decision to bless not only practicing homosexuals but also to allow them to be pastors in the ELCA.”

    One of the little steps leading to the step of “toleration” posited by Krauth is the framing of the argument by the definition of its terms and establishment of assumptions. Unless we clarify the terms in a biblical manner, and challenge their unbiblical assumptions, we have lost the argument before we have even begun.

    IOW, as theologians of the cross, let’s call the thing what it is. The 2009 ELCA decision is one that not only normalizes and blesses adulterous, fornicating sodomizers; but also allows and encourages adulterous, fornicating sodomizers to be pastors.

    We do no one–neither our errant ELCA brethren, nor our own people, congregations, and pastors–any favors when we mitigate sin and its consequences with consiliatory language. In our day, age, and culture, the term homosexual is amoral. It is simply descriptive of one’s physiological gender, sexual orientation, or preferred lifestyle. And as such, there is no basis or justification in the minds of most people—even of our own fellowship of churches–for denying either the benefits or vocations of the church to those so described.

    If we want the ELCA and our own people to understand why we are so adamant in withholding communion and ordination from “practicing homosexuals,” then we are going to have to get *more* polemic in our arguments not less. In order for the Gospel to be winsome—that is, truly Gospel—the Law must be brought to bear in all its severity. After all, “The wages of sin is death.” [Romans 6:23]

    Homosexuals are thought of as merely “queer” at worst (which isn’t so bad at all since they’ve embraced that label in the mantra, ‘We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re proud!’), but more commonly “gay”—which hardly conveys any inkling of sin or immorality, let alone deadliness. Why repent? Who needs forgiveness for being different and enjoying it?

    In Isaiah 5:20, the prophet of our Lord gives stern warning regarding such appeasing language that seeks to make the Law winsome rather than damning. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” So it is incumbent upon us to call evil evil again, lest our adversaries and even our own people be overcome by darkness to the point they see no need for the pure light of the Gospel, and lose sight of the fact that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.” And God further warns us through His apostle, Paul: “Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

    So, this is why we are so adamant in denying communion and ordination to “practicing homosexuals–because as fornicators and sodomites they will not be included in the kingdom of heaven. Therefore it would be misleading and harmful for us to commune them to their own damnation, let alone ordain them to the damnation of those who might follow their false teaching and practice.

    “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
    “Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” Romans 7:7-13

    While such polemics do not guarantee repentance, without them there is little if any need for repentance. And thus, there is nothing for the Gospel to forgive or from which to deliver. That is to say, there can be no salvation where sin has been winsomely closeted in the guise of outing happiness, freedom, and rights.

    God’s word to His prophet, Ezekiel, is also God’s word to His pastors today.
    “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.
    “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.” [Ezekiel 3:17-21]

  9. @Rev. Kurt Hering #10: “The 2009 ELCA decision is one that not only normalizes and blesses adulterous, fornicating sodomizers; but also allows and encourages adulterous, fornicating sodomizers to be pastors.”

    As the 2009 XXXA Church Wide Assembly wrapped up their meeting which had approved ordaining active homosexuals two days earlier, on Friday, August 21, 2009, LCMS World Relief Executive Director Matthew Harrison answered a question (at 9:16) from Rev. Todd Wilken on Issues, Etc.:

    Wilken: “Is apostasy too strong a word to describe what we’ve watched over the last — better part — of the decade that culminates this afternoon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?”

    Harrison: “No, it is apostasy. There’s no way around it. It gives me great pain to say that, but there’s no other word for it.”

  10. @Didaskalos #14

    Great recommend, Didaskalos. Thank you very much. He concludes powerfully:

    “Christian authorities need to stop thinking and writing as though the categories of homosexual and Christian can be joined—as though the Church could tolerate or accommodate, or speak gently of, much less bless or sanctify, anything peculiar to the garment stained by the flesh that those who come to Christ throw off in their baptism.

    “In that baptism we become penitents, and as such divided from our sins. St. Paul tells us here that no penitent is to be named by, identified by, what he has abjured. Those injured people who have put on Christ have put on, in him, life, hope, healing of their diseases, and resurrection of their bodies in the image and likeness of the one who has saved them.

    “The Church never can and never will give satisfaction—and the homosexualist knows it, for he knows the words against him are ineradicable—to the declared and impenitent homosexual, the person who, through an act of the vermiculate will, has identified his person with a sin, whether he demands acceptance of his sin through “love,” or vindication through identification of his perceived enemies as bigots. Whether he presents himself as an object of love or indignation, what he demands in either case is acceptance not of the person, but of the sin-bound and sin-defined person. He demands the declaration of spiritual authority that there is nothing objectively disordered about this binding of man to sin, and assurance that this monstrous amalgam can indeed enter the kingdom of heaven. This can never happen among Christians until they abandon Christianity, which is at war with every sin, and whose indelible constitution places all perversions of the perfect man at the muzzle of its canons.”

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