John 3:21

John 3:21
"It is the nature of all hypocrites and false prophets to create a conscience where there is none, and to cause conscience to disappear where it does exist." Martin Luther

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lutherans in Search of a Church

Lutherans in Search of a Church
In its August 2009 Churchwide Assembly, the Evangelical Lutheran Church decided formally to leave the Great Tradition of orthodox Christianity for a declining and desiccated liberal Protestantism. The decisions it made—accepting a weak and confused social statement on sexuality, allowing blessings of gay unions, ordaining gays and lesbians in partnered relationships, and requiring Lutherans to respect each other’s “bound conscience” on these issues—crossed the “line in the sand” that separates revisionist Christians from orthodox.

That result was a foregone conclusion for critical observers who had been watching the ELCA carefully since its inception in the late eighties. (Among them, of course, was Richard John Neuhaus, who saw clearly the trajectory yet to unfold.) What had been the promise of a renewed and robust Lutheranism in the merger of the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America was aborted before its birth, in 1988. The planners of the new Lutheran church saw to it that those who provided theological guidance to predecessor churches—then almost exclusively white and male—were marginalized from the real decision-making centers of church life.

One of their instruments was a quota system that insured that the more “progressive” elements of the church would be overrepresented. Every committee, task force, and voting body must be comprised of 60 percent laypeople of whom half must be female and 40 percent of clergy of whom half must be female. 10 percent must be people of color or people whose first language is other than English, of whom half must be female. This scheme dramatically reduced the role of white, male pastors in the church.

Other instruments were: making the Bishops merely advisory; categorizing theologians as only one interest group among others; and locating final authority in lay-dominated, semiannual assemblies that could vote even on doctrinal matters, as one fatefully did in August 2009. These bodies made sure there would be “many voices” in the life of the ELCA, and we now have “many voices,” but no authoritative ones. What is left of classical Lutheranism in the ELCA is a mere “aroma in the bottle.”

But church organizations abhor a vacuum. In the absence of a genuine confessional teaching authority, the ELCA has followed liberal Protestantism in adopting a working theology sharply different from its classical confessions. It has substituted the “Gospel of inclusion” for the classic “Gospel of redemption” that emphasizes repentance, forgiveness, and amendment of life. The former diminishes the importance of the Law as the source of both repentance and guidance for Christians. The god of self-esteem promises everyone acceptance just the way they are.

But the ELCA is far more interested in pressing forward the liberationist themes issuing from feminism, multiculturalism, anti-imperialism, and environmentalism. These themes constitute the non-negotiables in ELCA church life. The ELCA bishops recently participated in a workshop that featured a presentation titled “Power, Privilege, and Difference.” Being therefore educated about their propensities to be oppressive, the worthy bishops resolved to have “observers” at all their meetings to monitor for “PP&D” thinking. One might note that they employed no monitors for confessional theology, perhaps because there was nothing of significance to monitor.

The decision to allow the blessing and ordination of gays and lesbians in partnered relationships was the flash point for those who had observed these deep-running liberationalist trends operating in the church for many years. That flash point, however, illuminated the deeper problem of authority in the church. Scripture and its Lutheran confessional interpretation seemed to have been cast aside for the voting process of a Churchwide Assembly that was shaped more by contemporary experience, highly-organized interest groups, and the scarcely veiled agenda of ELCA headquarters.

The ELCA’s proclamation that it held no clear teachings on homosexual conduct, yet allowed the blessing and ordination of partnered homosexuals, individualized and congregationalized the church in one fell swoop. Each individual and congregation has to exercise their own “bound conscience” on these matters. Some individuals may simply leave for other churches or press their congregations to leave the ELCA, while some divert their offerings to purely local causes or participate in organized efforts to renew the church. Most members, however, try to act as if nothing has happened.

Some congregations have left the ELCA for other Lutheran bodies, while others have publicly proclaimed orthodox beliefs and practices and allowed their members to divert their offerings into “bound conscience” funds that cannot be sent on to the ELCA. Most try to avoid these controversies like the plague. Pastors know the tension will cost them membership and support no matter what direction they go.

The national church has a budget far less than the one it began with in 1988, even if one does not account for inflation. Sixty-four of the sixty-five synods have diminished their giving to the national church. All the synods have less to work with.

However, the most interesting fall-out is the organizational changes.The two organizations formed to resist the direction of the ELCA—the Word Alone Network and Lutheran CORE—have redefined themselves. Neither desires to continue organized resistance within the ELCA, which they regard as futile. Both have turned their attention to building new organizations independent of the ELCA, as they seek to provide harbors for those in search of a church beyond their congregations.

The Word Alone Network has become Word Alone Ministries, which provides educational and worship materials, mission opportunities, and theological education for the church that it founded earlier. That church, or better, that “association of congregations,” is the Lutheran Congregations in Ministry for Christ. The LCMC was formed during the fracas over an agreement, between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, Called to Common Mission, which required ordination to the historic episcopacy for Lutheran pastors and bishops. That requirement was anathema to the mostly Midwestern, low church Lutherans. The LCMC now lists 410 member congregations, with 191 having joined since last August. Among them are some of the largest Lutheran churches in America.

Representing the “evangelical catholic” or high church wing of the church, Lutheran CORE redefined itself after the fiasco of August 2009 as a coalition for the renewal and reconfiguration of Lutheranism in North America. Though it had no initial desire to start yet another Lutheran church, CORE responded to the wave of churches wanting to leave the ELCA for a more “churchly” organization than Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, and hopes to facilitate the birth of the new North American Lutheran Church next August. It is uncertain just how many congregations will be on board at its founding.

Both CORE and the NALC see themselves as instruments of a reconfiguration of Lutheranism in North America—CORE as an ongoing convocation of Lutheran teaching theologians, and the NALC as an ecclesia embodying those teachings.

Whatever comes of these ventures remains to be seen. If the Holy Spirit blesses them they will flourish and provide new beginnings for Lutheranism in America. For many they are the last, great efforts to live out the promise of Lutheranism as a church on this continent. If they fail, the only remaining option may be a bracing swim across the Tiber.

Robert Benne is Director of the Center for Religion and Society and Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion Emeritus at Roanoke College. His Good and Bad Ways to Think About Religion and Politics will appear this summer.


Word Alone Ministries
Lutheran Congregations in Ministry for Christ
Lutheran CORE
Lutheran Forum
American Lutheran Publicity Bureau
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5.27.2010 | 8:25am
I certainly admire Dr. Benne's tenacity on these issues and have watched him speak from the floor of the ELCA's previous assemblies, a voice crying in the wilderness, often.

I must however, with respect, take exception to the conclusions in his post here.

It is just a tad bit audacious and rather, in my view, arrogant for him to assert that if in fact CORE and NALC do not receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit and flourish this means that "Lutheranism in America" is over and these movements of former or outgoing ELCA Lutherans represent the "last, great effort" to "live out the promise of Lutheranism as a church on this continent" with the only option remaining to swim the Tiber.

Let me put forward some very serious challenges to these assertions.

First, CORE and NALC do *not* represent, yet, a faithful expression of historic, confessing Lutheranism. Let's take a look at but one issue: the ordination of women. This practice which is contrary to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is not in keeping with the "the promise of Lutheranism."

Second, CORE and NALC, to my knowledge, have yet to repudiate publicly abortion on demand, the murder of unborn children. Will they? And if they do not, how can we consider either organization to be the "last, great effort" to "live out the promises of Lutheranism as a church on this continent."

Third, one reading Dr. Benne's article might be left with the impression that "the promise of Lutheranism" is only remaining with these groups. Well, with all our faults, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, is still alive and well and we are doing our level best to "live out the promise of Lutheranism" in this nation, and doing so with very specific intentionally to be and remain faithful to Lutheranism in its orthodox, historic, confessional identity!

I think a tad more humility here is called for by Dr. Benne.

CORE and NALC do represent a very good opportunity! But if all these organizations are willing to do is turn back the clock to the point before the ELCA went forward with the embrace of homosexuals in its clergy ranks, this will not provide for these organizations the opportunity to "live out the promise of Lutheranism."

There are many of us in The LCMS who have, and will continue to, be very strong supporters of CORE and NALC, doing all we can to support and strengthen there intention to embrace again the "full promise of Lutheranism as a church on this continent" but it would be appreciated if Dr. Benne would stop writing as if there were no other Lutherans around left to sustain this vision.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Churches Leave ELCA in Hutchinson

Two ELCA churches in Hutchinson, Minnesota, held their "second" and final votes to sever ties with the ELCA yesterday.  This means there is no ELCA church in Hutchinson.
In a related story, 150 delegates representing 35 churches met on Saturday at Faith Lutheran Church, Hutchinson, to form the Augustana District of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC).  The Augustana District will promote classic and traditional Lutheranism throughout the upper Midwest.  Delegates gathered from Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.
The exodus from the ELCA continues, in spite of under-reported numbers provided by that denomination.
The Augustana District adopted its Constitution and Bylaws, as well as elected members to its first District Council and Board of Theology and Ministry.  The Plenary Session was presided over by the Honorable G. Barry Anderson.  Speakers included Jaynan Clark and Tom Walker, of WordAlone; Paul Spaulding of LCMC; Dennis Bielfeldt of the Institute of Lutheran Theology.  Professor Steve Paulson, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, preached at the opening worship.
More information will become available at the website:
Pastor Mark J. Richardson
Bethesda Lutheran Church
Augustana District,  LCMC
1947 110th Avenue
Dresser, WI  54009
(715) 755 - 2562

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Installation for Rev. Bill Sullivan

Installation for Rev. Bill Sullivan
Sunday, June 27, 2010 at 3 p.m.
New Life Lutheran Church
Sterling, IL

We invite you to attend this special service for a very special church and pastor of the LCMC. New Life is a LCMC mission start, now with 211 members within just a few months. We will take a van full from Faith Lutheran Church immediately following our 11:00 a.m service. Many people from LCMC will be in attendance and the LCMC Ministry Board has been invited. We hope many of us from Faith will attend. We are honored to have Pastor Sullivan in our area.

Pastor Martha Nelson will be doing the installation. And Pastor Mark Gehrke has been invited to have the honor of preaching the sermon. Please stay tuned for additional information as it becomes available.

Rev. Dr. Mark E. Gehrke
Faith Lutheran Church, LCMC
1611 41 Street, Moline , IL 61265
309-762-2824 Ofc   563-508-8388 Cell

“Love the Lord your God, with all your heart,
and soul and strength and mind;
and love your neighbor as yourself.”
                             Luke 10:27  

Monday, May 17, 2010

We've been released!

nis email letterhead-header.gif

May 17, 2010

Original Letter Sent Via USPS

The Reverend Mark Gehrke
 and Congregation Council
Faith Lutheran Church
1611 41st Street
Moline, IL 61265

Dear Pastor Gehrke and Congregation Council Members:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

At the Northern Illinois Synod Council meeting held this past Saturday, May 15, 2010, the following actions were approved which are relevant to Faith Lutheran Church:

1.      Faith Lutheran Church, Moline, Illinois, is granted approval to terminate its relationship with the Northern Illinois Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Americaeffective May 15, 2010.

2.      Pastor Mark Gehrke, Faith Lutheran Church, Moline, Illinois, is removed from the roster of the Northern Illinois Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America effective May 15, 2010.

By copy of this letter, I am notifying Mr. David Swartling, Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America of this information.   

God bless you.

In Christ,

Bishop Gary M. Wollersheim

Certified Mail

c:  Mr. David Swartling, Secretary
       Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Sunday, May 16, 2010

We've Hit What?

Why We Are Leaving the ELCA

Produced by Produced by WordAlone Ministries

May, 2010

The Tip of the Iceberg

You may also download this article in PDF Format

After a number of ill-advised course deviations over the years, those at the helm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have piloted the denomination into a deadly collision with the same iceberg that has caused other Christian bodies to fracture and sink. For many, the Churchwide Assembly votes in August 2009 — to affirm same-sex unions and lower the sexual standards of clergy — will go down in history as the defining moment of impact.
But the real danger in hitting an iceberg is that only a small portion of it can be seen above the surface. The greater problem is what lies underneath and cannot easily be seen.
The new social statement and policies on sexuality are just the tip of the iceberg. They are a single example of how far the ELCA has strayed from the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. On a much deeper level, the changes taking place in the church today are altering the very message of Christ. When the Word of God is no longer taught as the basis for the Christian faith and life, a religious institution ceases to be a Church of Christ.
The time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

The Decline of the ELCA

Consider the facts and disturbing trends over the years, shown here, since the forming of the ELCA:
ELCA Statistics19882008% Change
Baptized membership (millions)5.254.63-11.8
ELCA new mission starts5025a-50%
Global missions (millions)$18$15.6b-13%
Global missions exectuive staff2225+14%
ELCA missionariesc471180d-62%
a 2007 figure
b actual decline is greater when the $15.6 million is discounted for inflation
c missionaries actually supported by the ELCA churchwide budget (does not include Global Mission Associates supported financially by independent mission agencies)
d 48 were one-year young adults in global mission
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
For many years, the WordAlone Network has worked to reform the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and to call it back to the Church’s biblical and confessional foundations. Our time as a reform movement in the ELCA has now ended. We are moving forward as WordAlone Ministries, to directly support individuals and congregations in preaching, teaching and confessing the message of Christ. For those who ask why we are making this move forward out of the ELCA, the following is a simple list based on the format of our Common Confession and expressing the concerns we have about the theological departure of the ELCA in these important matters of faith.
  1. The Lord Jesus Christ
    • use of the name “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” has diminished in worship materials
    • biblical pronouns in reference to God have been eradicated, Scripture altered in the ELW
    • Unitarianism tendency in describing a non-specific generic “god” rather than naming Jesus Christ
    • the true gospel of forgiveness/repentance is replaced by a false gospel of acceptance/affirmation
  2. The Gospel of Salvation
    • a post-Christian form of Universalism (all are saved) is routinely preached in pulpits
    • less than 200 missionaries are in ELCA, only a few with “evangelism” in their job description
    • ELCA’s paradigm of mission changed to support and “accompaniment” rather than evangelism
    • lack of evangelism has resulted in a 600,000 decline in baptized membership in the ELCA
    • LWF and mission support dollars are used to export a false gospel to world Lutheran partners
  3. The Authority of Scripture
    • educational materials and social statements show lack of respect for biblical authority
    • Presiding Bishop acknowledges “two equal but irreconcilable” hermeneutics (March 2005)
    • methods of “higher criticism” are used as an end, rather than as a means of proclamation
    • seminary education stresses psychology and systems-theory rather than biblical teaching
  4. A Common Confession of Faith
    • teaching materials show a lack of respect for Scripture and our historical confessions of faith
    • general American Liberal Protestantism has replaced specific Lutheran doctrine and practice
    • a new definition of “bound conscience” grants authority to self-invented and individual truth
    • the work of the Holy Spirit is regularly detached from the Word of God (aka. “Enthusiasm”)
  5. The Priesthood of All Believers
    • the ELCA suffers from a rigid institutional, bureaucratic, and regulatory mindset
    • there is lack of representation and accountability in assemblies of independent “voting members”
    • the Lutheran understanding of ministry and ordination has been abandoned for Episcopal forms
  6. Marriage and Family
    • sexuality statement assigns morality and ethics to gospel (salvation) rather than law (creation)
    • 2009 CWA actions change the traditional biblical teaching on marriage and homosexuality
    • abortion is funded in the ELCA pension plan, contrary to the ELCA’s own social statement
  7. The Mission & Ministry of the Congregation
    • the ELCA has a “three expression” church structure, contrary to the Lutheran Confessions
    • the top-down ELCA governing system allows for no ratification of important decisions
    • congregations are routinely treated as franchises, simply “feeding” national offices
    • emphasis on political advocacy diverts 5% of hunger relief funds to ELCA lobbyists