THE CONFESSIONAL CRISIS CREATED BY THE DECISIONS OF THE 2009 ELCA CHURCHWIDE ASSEMBLY
The decisions surrounding human sexuality made at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly have created a confessional crisis within the ELCA. The controversy over these decisions is not simply a disagreement over a social issue concerning how to treat homosexual relations in the church. These decisions touch upon the issues of the authority of Scripture and the role of the Lutheran Confessions in the life of the church.
The crisis these decisions have created can be shown by examining two crucial passages from the Social Statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust”. In Part IV (lines 620 – 628 in the Pre-Assembly Report) this statement reads:
The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10: 6–9: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” (Jesus here recalls Genesis 1:27; 2:23–24.)
On the next page of the statement, (lines 740 – 744, as amended) it reads:
Recognizing that this conclusion differs from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions, some people, though not all, in this church and within the larger Christian community, conclude that marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong monogamous relationships.
The statement then goes on to treat these two positions and the variants within them as of equal validity, on the basis of the “conscience-bound beliefs” of those who hold them (lines 809 – 868). Moreover, it is on this same basis of the “conscience-bound lack of consensus in this church” (lines 452 – 453 of the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies) that the resolutions on ministry policies were recommended and adopted.
These actions are contrary to and done in violation of the ELCA Confession of Faith, which reads, in part:
CONFESSION OF FAITH
2.03 This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm or its proclamation, faith, and life.
2.04 This church accepts the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as true declarations of the faith of this church.
2.05 This church accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel, acknowledges as one with it in faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.
2.06 This church accepts the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord, namely, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord, as further valid interpretations of the faith of the Church.
The Social Statement and the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies present the two positions mentioned above as of equal validity in the church, even though it is admitted that the first position – namely, that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman – is the position supported by Christian tradition, the Lutheran Confessions, and Scripture; and that the second position – namely, that marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong monogamous relationships – differs from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions.
Given the confessional and constitutional commitment of the ELCA to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions noted above, once a position is identified as that of the Confessions and the Christian tradition based on Scripture, there should be only two options for a Social Statement of the ELCA:
1) State that such is the position of the ELCA, based on our Confession of Faith, which commits us to the authority of the Holy Scriptures and the witness of the Lutheran Confessions; or,
2) Demonstrate, by an appeal to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and with the aid of sound reason, that such a position ought to be abandoned or, at the least, present evidence enough to raise serious questions about that position.
Likewise, once a position has been identified as differing from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions, there should be only two options for a Social Statement of the ELCA:
1) Reject such a position on the basis of our Confession of Faith, which commits us to following the witness of the Lutheran Confessions; or,
2) Demonstrate, by an appeal to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and with the aid of sound reason, that such a position ought to be adopted or, at the least, present evidence enough to argue that it ought to be considered a valid position within the Lutheran Church.
However, the Social Statement does none of these. It does not present a compelling argument based on Scripture, the Confessions, and sound reason for overturning the stated position on marriage. Neither does it present a compelling argument based on Scripture, the Confessions and sound reason for adopting this alternate position. It does not even attempt to do this. It simply states that within the church there are differing opinions on the matter, and treats both opinions as equally valid. In doing so, it fails to honor our confessional and constitutional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as “the authoritative source and norm of
Such actions are in violation of our Confession of Faith. The ELCA ought to repent of these actions, take steps to render them ineffectual, and overturn them at the first opportunity. The synods and congregations of the ELCA ought to reject these actions and refuse to abide by them on the basis of our own and identical Confession of Faith. Each pastor in the ELCA ought to oppose these actions and decisions on the basis of the vows taken at ordination to teach and preach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and in light of the Lutheran Confessions.
If such actions are not taken, it leaves those who oppose the actions of the Churchwide Assembly in a state of confessional resistance to the ELCA, and possibly to the synods of which they are members. Appeals to unity and “churchmanship” are of secondary importance to the confessional commitment which undergirds this opposition. Even if one were to make a compelling argument from Scripture and the Confessions in support of the changes in ministry policies at this point, such an argument must also acknowledge and repent of the violation of our Confession of Faith which the actions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly have committed. If these actions are allowed to stand, it will undermine the very Confession of Faith by which we are united.
Pastor Marshall Hahn
St. Olaf Lutheran Parish – Marion & Norway Lutheran Churches
St. Olaf, Iowa
NE Iowa Synod, ELCA