Monday, November 02, 2009

ELCA will not allow synods to maintain traditional standards

ELCA synods will not have the option of upholding traditional Christian teaching on marriage and homosexuality in their standards for pastors and other rostered leaders according to a draft of candidacy rules released Oct. 10 by the ELCA churchwide organization.

No synod or bishop may make decisions on ministry standards that differ from the new policies of the ELCA churchwide organization as defined by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, the policy draft explains. The ELCA now allows pastors and other rostered leaders to be in committed same-sex relationships.

“By the governing documents, all candidacy and call decisions are made on an individual basis, thus no body can make a blanket statement of approval or disapproval for a group of
candidates. Nor can a body alter the policies which this church has accepted. However, a decision making body may express its general understanding of what will best serve the mission of Christ in the places and times for which they have decision making responsibility. No body can restrict the authority given to another by the governing documents. Thus, for example, a synod council cannot bind a synod call committee nor can a synod bind its congregations, but any of these entities may express convictions and preferences to the others,” the draft states.

The only option for a synod candidacy committee that wishes to uphold traditional standards for sexuality is to transfer a candidate to another ELCA synod. “There is local option on same-sex blessings — no congregation is to be forced to perform them (that is what the Assembly adopted; we will have to see how it develops). But ordination policy as proposed is, so far as I can see, tolerance as long as one does not obstruct. A synod could urge partnered gay and lesbian candidates to go somewhere else, but it could not outright refuse them,” the Rev. Dr. Michael Root of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary wrote on the “Lutherans Persisting” blog.

The proposed standards suggest that those who believe in biblical standards for sexuality resign from synod candidacy committees: “Individuals who have a share in discernment and decision-making responsibility need to decide whether they can function in that role under the new policies.”

Professor Root and those participating in the discussion at Lutherans Persisting have traced the way the decisions on allowing pastors and other rostered leaders to be in same-sex relationships were transformed from the local option proposed by the Sexuality Task Force to indisputable change in ELCA policy by the ELCA Church Council.


Anonymous said...

Is CORE an ELCA protest group. How do beliefs differ from LCMS?

Pastor Tony Metze said...

If ELCA persists in saying one thing such as "structured flexibility," and on the other hand lay down the law, then I intend to be disobedient to the recent ministry changes in any possible way I can with all the humility I can muster.

Anonymous said...

All the posts on your blog talk about sexuality. Do other doctrinal differences exist between ELCA and CORE besides sexuality. If so, then which? Is this statement correct: CORE = ELCA - sexuality.

I don't get it.
Is it really necessary to "reinvent the wheel? by forming yet another Lutheran synod. If CORE really is different than ELCA, then why not join an existing, more conservative synod (LCMS, ELS, WELS, etc.). For example, which CORE doctrines are in disagreement with LCMS teaching? Please tell us on your blog. Thanks.

Pastor David Baer said...

The disagreements with the ELCA are really not about sexuality. They are about the authority of Scripture and the Bible's role in the life of the church.

Lutheran CORE is in conversation with other Lutheran church bodies about ways to work together.

One significant difference between Lutheran CORE and the Missouri Synod and others you mention would be the understanding of the role of women in the church. Lutheran CORE members believe that Scripture supports leadership roles for women in the church.

R Bell said...

Pastor Baer-

Obviously the Missouri Synod must be wrong regarding women, Pastor, as Lutheran CORE has apparently claimed the role as final scriptural authority.

Would be very interested to find out what the CORE's stance on divorced persons serving in ministry... if this is really not about sexuality.

Marshall Hahn said...

Dr. Root does a very good job, in his article "What Was Decided...", of pointing out that the attempt by the ELCA Church Council to prevent synods, bishops, candidacy committees, etc., from acting on their "bound conscience" is contrary to what was decided at the CWA. The "structured flexibility" outlined by the Task Force makes it clear that synods, bishops, candidacy committees, etc., will indeed have the option to refuse candidates in PALMS. And this was what the CWA had before it when the recommendations were approved.

Marshall Hahn

Pastor David Baer said...

My personal understanding of divorce is that it is a sin. It is the breaking of marriage vows. Sometimes the divorce itself functions as a public confession of sin, acknowledging the reality of the broken relationship.

Divorce is sin but it is forgivable sin. All of us as Christians fall short in our relationships. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But God's free gift in Jesus is forgiveness and new life.

In Jesus there is the possibility of both repentance and new life for divorced people and for all of us -- sinners one and all.

Anonymous said...

Pr. Baer- Where in Scripture does it say that homosexuality is not a forgivable sin? I thought there was only 1 unforgivable sin- the denying of God's Spirit?

Pastor Steven King said...

Dear Anonymous (above):

Pastor Baer did not say that homosexuality as an orientation is an unforgivable sin, nor did he say that homosexual behavior is an unforgivable sin. You are making a false inference, based on your own assumed comparison between the reason why a divorced person might be ordained and why a person advocating homosexual behavior by their own lifestyle might not.

Within the context of the question you raised, Jesus defines a “forgivable sin” as one to be repented of and not done again (as in John 8:11 – Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”). Both divorce and homosexual behavior are “forgivable” — as are virtually all other sins (which is why Jesus’ reference to an ‘unforgivable sin’ is rather limited to say the least).

If I understand Pastor Baer correctly, he and I would both agree that forgiveness and repentance go together — especially in the teaching and commission of Jesus (e.g. Luke 24:47, et al.). Note that I carefully did not say that one is a human condition of the other. Both are the result of God’s gracious action in Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit.

In comparing divorced persons who have repented of their sin to people engaged in unrepentant homosexual behavior, the difference is not in whether the sin is “forgivable.” The difference is in whether the action is recognized, acknowledged, and repented of as sin, or whether it is endorsed, accepted, and continued as “God-pleasing” behavior.

According to ELCA policy under the “Unaltered Vision and Expectations” (if I may call it that): A person who admits that their divorce was a sin, and repents of that sin by not encouraging or endorsing it as blessed by God, and by living a changed life, would be eligible to serve as an ordained pastor. Likewise, a person who had formerly engaged in homosexual behavior, and repents of that sin by not encouraging or endorsing it as blessed by God, and by living a changed life, would also be eligible to serve as an ordained pastor. Both are not only able to be forgiven, but both are able to live a chaste life of daily repentance — based solely on the promise of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.

This original policy of the ELCA is what Lutheran CORE has been defending.

R Bell said...

Pastor King,

So as far as ministry goes, will this "free standing synod" require any person who has been divorced to remain celibate and not remarry? If I understand the logic here, it is the continuation of the act that constitutes "unforgivable sin" therefore, any divorced person who remarries and carries on a normal sexual relationship with their spouse has not repented of their sin and would be committing the ongoing (thus unforgivable) sin of adultery. HMMM..that would actually apply to all divorced/remarried members of your congregations- wouldn't it?

How interesting that the lone voice in my congregation that is insisting that we break from the ELCA is twice divorced and remarried, thus is guilty of as "unforgivable" a sin as those that he(and your entire group) rail so heartily about. If this is indeed "not about sexuality, but about scriptural authority" then divorce must fall into the same category as homosexuality and therefore be treated with equal vigor.

As for me- sinner that I am- I prefer to trust in Jesus and the love of the Father who sent Him. If we truly lived by grace with faith in the sacrifice of the cross and spent more time trying to love one another(rather than debating "scriptural authority", we would come much closer to living the message of Christ. I think that perhaps I just believe in a bigger God than most people I see in these posts.

I realize that I am probably banging on a closed door, but there it is.

Pastor Steven King said...

Dear R Bell.

Thanks for the question, and for thinking about the ramifications of the commandments God gives to us.

In teaching, I don’t talk about sin in terms of what is “forgivable” and “unforgivable” – but in my post above, I was attempting to use the terminology of the previous author. As I tried to express in my own post, the issue at stake here is not the “forgivability” (sic) of any particular sin, but the fact that in the teaching of Jesus, forgiveness and repentance go together.

In terms of God’s expectations, you are correct in saying that divorce ought to be “treated with equal vigor.” Part of why the recent capitulation of the Church to cultural pressure is so troubling in the case of homosexual relationships, is that we have seen in the last several decades the woeful result of our culture treating heterosexual marriage and divorce so lightly. I still do not believe as you appear to, that “two wrongs make a right.”

Your post raises the question for me of where you might “draw the line.” I would ask you: What behavior – sexual or otherwise – do you think should *not* to be exemplified or practiced by those who serve in the ordained ministry? It is not simply those of us who (in your words) have a “small” view of God who draw line, as if those with a “big” view of God don’t draw any lines. The truth is, we all “draw the line” somewhere. The ELCA has always had standards for its ordained ministers. It is simply our intention in Lutheran CORE to try to keep the line where Scripture draws it.

And yes, we may fail. Yes, we are as guilty of sin as anyone else. That is why we know so deeply and personally our need to trust in the gospel Christ’s forgiveness and mercy, rather than the false gospel of affirmation and acceptance. They are two very different things.

R Bell said...

Pastor King,

Nice deflection- and typical- when you don't want to own your answer, question the questioner.

Let me restate the question: Will this new church (synod, sect, whatever you would like to call it)
treat heterosexual sin the same as homosexual sin.

A fairly straight forward question, I think. And I certainly don't understand from where you draw the conclusion that I believe that two wrongs make a right. What I am pointing out ( which is the part that you don't want to acknowledge, is that this "free standing synod" will be as "guilty"in its application of scripture as you accuse the ELCA. It will condemn homosexuality, but ignore the much wider spread(and according to scripture- equal) problem of adultery, as it is a problem of the heterosexual(thus larger) community.

And although you haven't answered my question, I will answer yours. I think that we should use the same criteria that Jesus used when he called his disciples. Hmmm... now that I think of it, I don't remember Him giving a list. I do seam to recall that he did hang out with some very unsavory characters.

If your church spent as much time talking about how we can better love God and our neighbor than hypocritically claiming that they are "scripturally authentic"( when they will also pick and choose), then perhaps yours would be a true "renewal".

Still awaiting an actual respone.

Pastor Steven King said...

Yes, with the help of God.

R Bell said...

Pastor King,

Thank you for a direct response.

I know that you have spent much time in prayer and contemplation on these issues. You have been a member of this church body longer than I, and I know that this has been( asd continues to be) painful.

I would be very interested for any on the steering committee who might glance at these posts to weigh in on this.

So, any of you whose names appear on the masthead - two questions:

What will this new "free standing synod's" position be on divorce?

And how is it that this is the only traditionally orthodox faith( i.e. rigidly adherent to scriptural interpretation) that permits women to serve in ministerial positions?

Bob Thompson - Orion, Il said...

I am a born and baptized member of the ELCA. I fully do not agree with this Gay preacher ruling. A ruling that has the impact that this has should be brought to the whole membership of the ELCA for a vote. If this would pass then I would have to re-evaluate my lifelong membership and decide whether to stay or go. As it is now I have to like it or lump it and I and many others don't like it.