Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
of Stanwood, WA
Supporting documentation from the OSLC Task Force
The following 34 pages documents the research and analysis conducted by the nine member Task Force over the past 5 months. You are encouraged to read the overview and characteristics for the 14 parameters evaluated in depth. In addition, please use the provided web links that will further expand on those passages quoted and referenced. It has always been the goal and desire of the Task Force to simply provide the materials that each member of the congregation can then use to better inform themselves before the vote on June 13th.. Ultimately it is only through your prayers and thoughtful consideration that we will arrive at a decision that is best for the congregation of Our Saviour’s.
Regardless of which position individual OSLC members have, the Task Force recognizes that these positions are heartfelt and no person should attribute evil to or condemn those who have a position different than their own. The members of the Task Force all care deeply for each and every member of Our Saviour’s congregation and for each and every member and non-member who worships, studies, prays, and serves with us. The Task Force believes that there are many other important subjects that unite us as a congregational family that are central to our ministry of bringing people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. After the vote Our Saviour’s will need to refocus on its mission of “encountering God, encouraging believers, extending the Kingdom”, rather than being distracted by divisive political and social issues which were dropped into our lap and do not go to the heart of our faith.
It is our hope that this document will be carefully read and that readers will use the listed websites to go to the sources of the documentation.
In Christ’s name,
OSLC Task Force
Overview: Authority of Scripture
The term “sola Scriptura” or “the Bible alone” is a short phrase that represents the simple truth that there is only one special revelation from God that man possesses today, the written Scriptures or the Bible. Scripture states this concept repeatedly and emphatically. The very phrase “It is written” means exclusively transcribed, and not hearsay. The command to believe what is written means to believe only the pure word of God. What is at stake before the All Holy God is His incorruptible truth. The ELCA adds that reason, imagination, cultural arts, and science are also to be used to interpret the Scriptures since they were written almost two thousand years ago and the writers could not foresee the cultural differences that would be present in today’s more enlightened age.
In the very last commandment in the Bible God resolutely tells us not to add to nor take away from His Word.
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book: If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book”
ELCA Lutherans confidently proclaim with all Christians that the authority of the Bible rests in God. We believe that God inspired the Bible’s many writers, editors and compilers. As they heard God speaking and discerned God’s activity in events around them in their own times and places, the Bible’s content took shape. Among other things, the literature they produced includes history, legal code, parables, letters of instruction, persuasion and encouragement, tales of heroism, love poetry and hymns of praise. The varying types and styles of literature found here all testify to faith in a God who acts by personally engaging men and women in human history.
At the same time, we also find in the Bible human emotion, testimony, opinion, cultural limitation and bias. ELCA Lutherans recognize that human testimony and writing are related to and often limited by culture, customs and world view. Today we know that the earth is not flat and that rabbits do not chew their cud (Leviticus 11:6 ). These are examples of time-bound cultural understandings or practices. Christians do not follow biblically prescribed dietary laws such as eliminating pork from one’s diet (Leviticus 11:7) because the new covenant we have with God has replaced the Old Testament covenant God had with his people. Because Biblical writers, editors and compilers were limited by their times and world views, even as we are, the Bible contains material wedded to those times and places. It also means that writers sometimes provide differing and even contradictory views of God’s word, ways and will.
Listening to the living Jesus in the context of the church, we therefore have the task of deciding among these. Having done this listening, we sometimes conclude either that the writer’s culture or personal experience (e.g., subordination of women or keeping of slaves) seems to have prompted his missing what God was saying or doing, or that God now is saying or doing something new.
As Lutherans, ELCA members believe that the Bible is the written Word of God. It creates and nurtures faith through the work of the Holy Spirit and points us to Jesus Christ, the living Word and center of our faith.
However the ELCA also gives human reason, imagination, cultural arts, and science equal status with Scripture. This excerpt is from the social statement on human sexuality:
“As we determine how to love and serve the neighbor in a complex world, Lutherans rely on Scripture. We also are guided by the Lutheran Confessions, and we bring to this task a particular appreciation for the gifts of knowledge and learning. We believe that God also provides insights to us through reason, imagination, the social and physical sciences, cultural understanding, and the creative arts (Philippians 4:8). One reason Lutherans have engaged so deeply in education and research is that we believe God works through such means to guide us in reading Scripture and in understanding how we will live in a world of continuing complexity and change.”
We are rooted and grounded in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions —
Our association is firmly committed to accepting the normative authority of the Bible. We reject the notion that science, personal experience, tradition, or other human endeavors have equal footing with the Bible. We are certainly aware that these endeavors contribute to our conversations and deliberations, but the Bible must be our final authority in matters of faith and practice. We also believe that the Lutheran Confessions offer us accurate interpretations of the Biblical witness and we commit ourselves to being guided by them in our life together as an association.
Is the Bible truly the final authority in all matters of faith and morals?
The following three paragraphs are from the website ChristianAnswwers.net
The principle of “sola Scriptura” is basic to accurate interpretation of Scripture. Psalm 36:9 explains, “For with thee is the fountain of life; in thy light we see light.” God’s truth is seen in the light of God’s truth. The Apostle Paul said the same thing, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (I Corinthians 2:13). It is precisely in the light which God’s truth sheds, that His truth is seen. (Cp. John 3:18-21, II Corinthians 4:3-7).
The Apostle Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declares, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Logically then, Peter makes it very clear that in order to maintain the purity of Holy God’s written word, the source of interpretation must be from the same pure source as the origin of the Scripture itself.
Scripture can only be understood correctly in the light of Scripture, since it alone is uncorrupted. It is only with the Holy Spirit’s light that Scripture can be comprehended correctly. The Holy Spirit causes those who are the Lord’s to understand Scripture (John 14:16-17, 26). Since the Spirit does this by Scripture, obviously, it is in accord with the principle that Scripture itself is the infallible rule of interpretation of its own truth “it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (I John 5:6).
II Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
This speaks of the nature of Scripture and the value of the bible, namely, that its being profitable for teaching etc. is connected with its source, i.e. that it is inspired by God. The operative word in this verse is the word “inspired by God”. Literally, the word is “God-breathed”. Again when we say all Scripture is God-breathed, we don’t mean that it was somehow there and then God breathed upon it or God breathed into it making it a Spirit-filled book. We could say this of a lot of good Christian books that the author was really led of God in this writing and that God really breathed into the book. We means something much stronger. When the Scripture asserts that it is “God-breathed” it means that it is the product of the creative breath of God.
So when we say that all Scripture is “God-breathed” it is an assertion that the whole Scripture is a created product of the divine mind. The Scripture as a whole owes its existence to an activity of God. It is in the highest and truest sense – His creation. This is the strongest summary statement on the nature of the Bible.
As to the quality and extent of that inspiration, we have seen this evening what Christ and the N.T. writers say concerning this. Jesus you remember said, “The Scripture cannot be broken…” His mentality, and what is being stated here, is that the Bible down to its smallest detail is reliable. We have seen that the N.T. writers have the same mentality regarding the extent of inspiration.
II Peter 1:20-21: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
This is the strongest summary statement we have on the mode of inspiration, that is, exactly ‘how’ the Scripture was inspired. The Greek word translated here “moved” means “borne along” or “carried along”. Men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. If you want to think of this visually, one could think of a little cart carrying along somebody. “Men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” They were borne along by Him as they spoke. The passivity of the prophets is stressed here. They are not the movers but were moved. It didn’t come by the will of man. They were borne along and spoke – in contrast to their own will. So what is being said is that the Holy Spirit so led the human authors, that when they wrote down what they wrote down, it was exactly what God wanted them to write down. In all their unique personality, vocabulary, writing style which comes through in their writings, they were carried along in their writing.
Now if we were to look at the O.T.’s claims for itself like we have looked at the N.T. claims for the O.T. this evening, we would see in the O.T. that this is exactly what occurred. It wasn’t their own will. What we would see there in the O.T. could not be described better than the picture of them being carried along by the Holy Spirit.
What does the O.T. say about itself? What does the N.T. say about the O.T.? There is nothing in II Timothy 1:21 that the O.T. doesn’t claim for itself or the N.T. for the O.T. It exactly expressed what is claimed. It says it beautifully. They were not the movers but the moved. It isn’t man groping upward. It is something very different. It is a verbalized communication. It is as specially chosen holy men of God spoke. You have verbalized, propositional communication. They “spoke” as his mouthpieces as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
We believe and confess that the Bible is God’s revealed Word to us, spoken in Law and Gospel. The Bible is the final authority for us in all matters of our faith and life.
We believe and proclaim that the Good News, centered in Christ, clearly is revealed in the written Word of God, the canonical Holy Scriptures. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Through the Law, God preserves good order and safety in creation. As sinners violate His gracious will, the Law also exposes and condemns their sin. Through the Gospel, God forgives sin and grants salvation through Christ Jesus. In this way, sinners are put to death and raised to “walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:5)
From Interpretation of Scripture in the church – a response to the ELCA initiative on Scripture in the “Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible”
1. The canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who has revealed himself most fully and completely in Jesus Christ. The Bible bears witness to and receives its ultimate authority from the Triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-as definitively revealed in, by, and through Jesus the Messiah, the incarnate Word of God, from and through whom the written Word came to be.
2. God gives his written Word to the church-the community of believers across time and space who confess and worship Jesus as Lord and Messiah and God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The church is only able to recognize the authority of Scripture as the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit given to the community of Jesus Christ. Further, the church is only able to submit to and obey Scripture by this same Spirit. The misuse of the written Word by the church or individuals does not divest Scripture of its authority but rather reveals sinful disobedience and rebellion on the part of human beings.
3. The proper relationship of the church to the Bible then is that of appointed steward responsible for its correct care and use. Therefore the interpretation of Scripture is the prerogative and responsibility of the church; the church cannot and must not surrender its stewardship of Scripture to either the secular academy or others who would usurp the Scriptures for contemporary ideological agendas. At the same time, neither the church nor the individual believer is judge or master over the written Word. The church’s interpretation of Scripture is bound by Scripture’s own witness. For the ELCA and the Lutheran community, the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church provide a faithful and sufficient summary and witness to the content and boundaries of Biblical proclamation, faith, and life. This witness includes the biblical diagnosis of sin as the catastrophic infection affecting every human being. All human beings are sinners, turned inward upon themselves, under the judgment of God. This condition is so pervasive and dire that it can be overcome by nothing less than the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in whom the Old Testament’s history of Israel is fulfilled and consummated. The Scripture’s own distinction between law and Gospel informs and guides the church in faithful proclamation; the spoken Word is used by the Holy Spirit so that sinners are convicted of the truth that they are indeed dead in their sins, and redeemed and forgiven for the sake of Christ Jesus who transforms them for lives of new and fruitful obedience.
4. The present generation has no new authority or special revelation to authorize new or additional meanings that contradict or undermine the plain sense reading of the Bible. Responsible scholarship often deepens the church’s understanding of the Word of God. One of the distinctive marks of such scholarship is concern for continuity with the church before us, and care to build upon the foundation of faith bequeathed to us. Any revision of the church’s interpretation and application of the written Word can only be legitimately undertaken on the basis of the Scripture itself. Those who advocate for changes in interpretation and application are called to demonstrate how such changes are congruent with the comprehensive witness of the Scriptures and the confessions of the church.
5. Some claim that the ELCA is divided between two approaches to interpreting Scripture: one “traditional” and the other “contextual,” “both of which are valid and irreconcilable.” “Traditional” presumably describes the position represented by this present statement. By contrast, the “contextual” approach emphasizes the contemporary context at the expense of Scripture’s intrinsic meaning and authority. Human reason, personal experience, and contemporary culture are regarded as final arbiters of the Bible. The “contextual” approach puts aside two millennia of the church’s reading and interpretation of Scripture and threatens the church’s confession of the Bible as God’s written Word.
6. When the primacy and immediacy of the interpreter’s experience and contemporary context predominate over the written Word, interpretation becomes a means of importing contemporary social political agendas into Scripture. Under the guise of contextual principles, these contemporary agendas increasingly control the church’s interpretation of Scripture and threaten to displace the Bible’s message of redemption and transformation. Antinomian ideologies of inclusivity and acceptance become determinative for the church’s proclamation. The result is a sweeping revision of Christian faith and life, contradictory to and discontinuous with that of classical, orthodox Christianity.
7. Increasingly the “traditional” approach to Biblical interpretation is dismissed as a Lutheran version of fundamentalism. In contrast to fundamentalism, the “traditional” approach to the Bible is neither literalism nor bibliolatry. The “traditional” approach recognizes the divine and human character of the Bible; gives priority to the living Word, Jesus, from whom the Scripture receives its authority; and makes responsible use of the tools of historical criticism. The “contextual” approach, on the other hand, endangers the authority of the Bible within the church as “the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of (the church’s) proclamation, faith, and life” (ELCA Constitution 2.03). The “contextual” approach so emphasizes the human nature of Scripture as to virtually exclude divine revelation from the Biblical message.
8. The claim is now quite commonplace within the church that both the “traditional” and the “contextual” approaches reflect a legitimate diversity in Biblical interpretation. Not only is the claim that both “are valid and irreconcilable,” a logical absurdity but it is disingenuous as well. The two approaches begin and end with radically opposed understandings of the church and the Christian faith. More to the point are the words of Jesus: “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25) and “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). In reality the “contextual” approach vitiates the authority of the Bible within the church and ignores the Lutheran teaching that “Holy Scripture remains the only judge, rule, and norm according to which all doctrines should and must be understood and judged” (Formula of Concord, Epitome I, 3).
We are grateful that the ELCA has undertaken this study on the nature of Biblical interpretation. It is long overdue and is desperately needed now in our church. We desire to participate more fully in this initiative. At the same time, we have serious concerns about this initiative. If the study merely reaffirms the current situation in the ELCA regarding Biblical interpretation, then the study will have failed, and our church will be the worse for it. Some people in the ELCA are calling for a plurality of interpretations of the Bible. We are, however, seeking for something more definitive than that.
We believe that a Lutheran understanding of the Bible is readily available to us in our Confessions and through our heritage within the church catholic. Major themes for a Lutheran understanding of Scripture should include, among others: the centrality of Christ in Scripture, the plain sense of Scripture, the distinction between law and Gospel, the relationship between Scripture and church and between Scripture and Confession, the unity of the Bible as the inspired and written Word of God, Scripture as its own interpreter, and the authority of the Bible as sola Scriptura.
May God’s Spirit give us his blessing as we “search the Scriptures” anew.
Human sexuality and Marriage – Overview
The Task Force recognizes the conflict arising from the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. For those persons who are aware of and engaged in the controversy leading to the Churchwide Assembly vote in August, 2009, division within the ELCA appears to be irreconcilable.
Those persons who are opposed to the Assembly action generally cite an absence of Biblical affirmation for gay or homosexual relationships and affirm the traditional Lutheran view that normative sexual relationships are between one man and one woman within the confines of marriage.
Those who are heartened by the decision of the Assembly maintain that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, and that it is a trait people are born with, and consequently the church has no place condemning homosexuals in committed lifelong relationships or relegating such persons to a secondary status in the Lutheran Church.
These two approaches to sexual behavior have been on full display at recent ELCA assemblies. Sexual revisionists tell poignant stories (and they truly are poignant!) of loved ones who feel excluded from the church because it will not accept them as they are. Those who support traditional sexual ethics appeal to the Bible and Christian teaching, urging all people to conform to Christ. The two arguments pass each other like ships in the night, because they grow out of two entirely different gospels. (Read the entire article “Wresting the Wheel from God by Pastor Scott Grorud at
Some members of Our Saviour’s disagree with the decisions of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly on Scriptural grounds, some because they believe that the ELCA should not be making social and political decisions for its members, and some because they believe that bringing the issues to a vote was highly divisive, splitting the church and adversely affecting finances, ministries, and relationships. Some believe that the ELCA through its emphasis on formulating and advocating numerous political and social positions, which go far beyond the scope of the mission of the Church, is disrespectful of sincere Christians who hold other political and social views, causing alienation and divisiveness within the ELCA, and wastes time, energy and resources (for example, at ELCA synod conventions which , instead of focusing on how to share the good news of Jesus Christ in the world, have acted more like a platform committee of a political party or political action group) and in general, distracts our church from keeping the “main thing” the “main thing”.
Regardless of which position individual OSLC members have, the Task Force recognizes that these positions are heartfelt and no person should attribute evil to or condemn those who have a position different than their own. The members of the Task Force all care deeply for each and every member of Our Saviour’s congregation and for each and every member and non-member who worships, studies, prays, and serves with us. The Task Force believes that there are many other important subjects that unite us as a congregational family that are central to our ministry of bringing people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, and sexuality is only one of them. Being deeply divided greatly saddens us and we are committed to finding ways to address this division. Regardless of opinions regarding normative sexual relationships, Our Saviour’s Lutheran and its members desire to welcome everyone, including homosexuals, and proclaim to ALL the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and therefore Our Saviour’s Lutheran must declare that all people are welcome at Our Saviour’s regardless of gender, race, national origin, sexual orientation, economic status, political views, and any other characteristic that might describe us at the human level.
Our Saviour’s needs to focus on its mission of “encountering God, encouraging believers, extending the Kingdom”, rather than being distracted by divisive political and social issues which do not go to the heart of our faith.
The topic of human sexuality had been on the ELCA’s social agenda for 9 years before the Churchwide Assembly passed in August 2009 a social statement by one vote over the required 2/3 majority which recognizes and accepts same-sex relationships. The highly divided Churchwide Assembly then passed a resolution by a 55%-45% margin which allows rostered leaders to live in non celibate “publically accountable, lifelong, monogamous”, same sex relationships. These actions were preceded by a study commissioned by the 2003 Assembly called “Journey Together Faithfully”. Under Pastor Brekhus’ leadership, the congregation of Our Saviour’s participated in this study. The goal was to educate the members of OSLC and all members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America about human sexuality. Then in 2005 a report was issued by the ELCA Task Force for Sexuality Studies that showed only 22 percent of ELCA members who responded to this study favored change in church teaching to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions or the ordination of persons in committed same-sex relationships. A significant majority (57 percent) opposed change to accepted Christian teaching on homosexual behavior to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions or the ordination of persons in committed same-sex relationships. Also in 2005, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church of Stanwood voted 85% in the affirmative to affirm the 1993
Statement of the ELCA Conference of Bishops which states:
“We, as the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recognize that there is basis neither in Scripture nor tradition for the establishment of an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of a homosexual relationship. We, therefore, do not approve such a ceremony as an official action of this church’s ministry. Nevertheless, we express trust in and will continue dialogue with those pastors and congregations who are in ministry with gay and lesbian persons, and affirm their desire to explore the best ways to provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.”
Marriage is a covenant of mutual promises, commitment, and hope authorized legally by the state and blessed by God. 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.)
The ELCA acknowledges that consensus does not exist concerning how to regard same-gender committed relationships, even after many years of thoughtful, respectful, and faithful study and conversation. We do not have agreement on whether this church should honor these relationships and uplift, shelter, and protect them or on precisely how it is appropriate to do so. In response, this church draws on the foundational Lutheran understanding that the baptized are called to discern God’s love in service to the neighbor. In our Christian freedom, we therefore seek responsible actions that serve others and do so with humility and deep respect for the conscience-bound beliefs of others. We understand that in this discernment about ethics and church practice faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the meaning of Scripture and about what constitutes responsible action. http://www.elca.org/digdeeper
The ELCA has no policy for the blessing of same-sex relationships nor does it have an approved rite for doing so. However, recognizing the pastoral responsibility of congregations and pastors to all people, the 2009 Churchwide Assembly committed this church to find ways to allow congregations that so choose to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable people in lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
The draft proposal for rostered leaders changes church policy to include the encouragement and blessing same-sex relationships called officially an Affidavit of Partnership. http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Vocation/Rostered-Leadership/Ministry-Policies.aspx
From the ELCA Journey Together Faithfully (JTF) Study – “We study sexuality together as the baptized, the communion of saints, a people justified by grace for Christ’s sake through faith. Such study is a response to our call to engage in moral deliberation that is guided by God’s word in law and gospel. We are part of God’s good creation. We are created as sexual beings and we are redeemed as sexual beings. Regardless of our different sexual orientations or views about sexual orientation and sexual conduct, our unity comes from Christ and his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. The creation accounts take for granted that sexual relations will be between a man and a woman. Other interpreters… point out that part of God’s intent in the creation is to provide for companionship. While the partnership portrayed in Genesis 2 is a heterosexual one, the basic need for companionship reflected here is one that seems relevant to the lives of gay and lesbian people as well.”
The ELCA in an attempt gain consensus and to allow for inclusion of all interpretations of Biblical text have developed a theory called “bound conscience” to allow for differences of opinion on the topic of human sexuality. The theory of bound conscience is the center-piece of the ELCA stance on the homosexuality issue which maintains that the passages of Scripture that inform a Christian ethic of sexuality are so inconclusive that individual members and churches are free to interpret the meaning of Scripture relative to homosexual relationships. It is constructed around the idea that people have committed positions to a particular opinion or interpretation of the Bible which are filtered through one’s life experiences, science, and reason. The sexuality documents direct the ELCA to recognize one of the four “conscience-bound” positions held by ELCA members. It also changes ELCA policy so that all “conscience-bound” positions and practices are acceptable within the ELCA.
This idea of a “bound conscience” is based on Martin Luther’s famous statement before the Diet of Worms in 1521: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason . . . I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand, may God help me.” However, Martin Luther was clearly saying that his conscience was captive to what Scripture — the Word of God — says, not captive to the different opinions of others within the church as the ELCA now teaches.
The ELCA document that defines the role and expectations of a pastor is called “Visions and Expectations”. In it three possible relationships are described and the conditions for each relationship, relative to sexual intimacy, are laid out:
A married ordained minister is expected to live in fidelity to his or her spouse, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a marriage relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful.
In the newly revised version from April 2010 has now added to the document to enable same sex relationships to have the same status as marriage:
An ordained minister who is in a publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationship is expected to live in fidelity to his or her partner, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a publicly accountable relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful.
But then the documents lays out the expectations for a single individual:
Single ordained ministers are expected to live a chaste life, holy in body and spirit, honoring the single life, and working for the good of all.
The topic of homosexuality usually leads to an emotional and often heated discussion. It has been no different in the Lutheran denomination since this issue was first raised back in 2001 by the ELCA leadership. The strength of personal convictions is often based on personal experience with homosexuals, interpretation of psychological or scientific studies on homosexuality, one’s own gender identity, community and familial influence and other factors. Such decisive factors, although powerful, are often unrecognized in the undercurrent of our interpretive thought processes as we consider Biblical texts regarding sexuality. And so it may be said with some confidence that the differences among us regarding the interpretation of texts regarding sexuality are not basically due to one’s perspective regarding the authority of the Bible, but to personal convictions about the matter which may be more or less deeply set within ourselves as interpreters.
This social statement commits those in the ELCA to bearing the burden of the “bound conscience” of all other ELCA members on matters of same-sex sexual behavior. It asks ELCA members to accept the opinions and biblical interpretations of others regardless of whether those interpretations are faithful to the Bible and to the Christian faith as it has been taught and understood for nearly 2,000 years. This idea of respect for the “bound conscience” of others becomes a new norm for the faith and life of the ELCA — replacing Scripture — regarding homosexual behavior.
The question before the ELCA is not whether gay and lesbian persons are welcome in the church. All people are welcome because Jesus died for all. All people are welcome on the same basis — as human beings — sinners who need a Savior.
We affirm that God created us male and female, and that it is God’s will and intention that human sexual expression and fulfillment take place only within the boundaries of marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24-25; Matthew 19:4-6; and Mark 10:2-9). And, we confess as individuals and as congregations that we have not fulfilled God’s will in our decisions, modeling, and teaching.
By adopting the Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust social statement the ELCA has departed from the traditionalist Christian position that sex is only permissible within marriage to a stance that “opposes non-monogamous, promiscuous, or casual sexual relationships.” This leaves room for monogamous non-marital sexual relationships, homosexual or heterosexual, to receive the church’s approval.
What happens between God and us when we confess our sins is one thing; to declare publicly that something that is sin is not sin is another thing. Justification is justification of the sinner, not justification of sin. Paul’s comments on the new life in Christ call for a renewal of our moral life based on a love of God and neighbor that is obedient to God’s revealed will. (Romans 13:8–10; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11) (JTF part 2 page 26)
On the WordAlone (a ministry founded by LCMC in 2001 ) website Dr. Robert Benne, in describing how this issue within the ELCA has had unintended consequences, writes:
In its 2009 Churchwide Assembly in August of 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church took the momentous step to allow for the blessing of gay and lesbian unions as well as for the ordination of gays and lesbians in partnered relationships. It was the first major confessional church to take those steps. In anticipation of much disagreement about its decisions, the church struck what it thought was a compromise so that we could “journey together faithfully” even though there was no consensus on these issues. The instrument for compromise was the “bound-conscience” doctrine. Realizing that we now had no authoritative teaching on homosexual conduct, the Sexuality Task Force proposed and the Assembly agreed that all of us respect each other’s “bound-conscience” on these matters as we went about the life of our church. Also, since the official line of the church was that these issues were not church-dividing anyway, we could live with such a settlement. (It was unexplained why the ELCA should be immune to the church-dividing nature of these issues when many churches in America and in the world were experiencing painful divisions over them. Indeed, the leaders of the ELCA mistakenly projected their own assessment on the church at large.)
In the face of this widespread fracturing, a small portion of churches have embraced the decisions of the ELCA and are moving quickly toward openly blessing gay and lesbian unions and calling ordained gays and lesbians in partnered relationships. Some of those parishes have been engaging in those practices for a long time; others now have official permission to exercise their “bound conscience” by adopting them. Laypersons in the latter group who disagree with this agenda no doubt depart for other more “orthodox” churches.
A far larger number of churches—perhaps even the majority of parishes in the ELCA—try to duck the challenge. Their pastors or laypersons say: “this is not an issue in our parish,” which can mean a number of things. It can mean that the pastor and/or the majority in the church agree with the decisions of the ELCA and are not going to make a big thing about it. They will face the issues when they come up. It can also mean that the issue is not important enough to get steamed up about, which follows the ELCA lead by viewing these issues as non-church dividing. These congregations, too, will face the issue when they have to. In either case, pastors and laypersons who are disturbed by the changes in the ELCA have to decide whether they can “go along to get along” in those congregations. Some will keep quiet, others will protest or leave. The largest number of congregations for whom “this is not an issue” more likely hope that this will not become an issue because it could indeed be church-dividing. These congregations are sometimes in a fragile enough condition that a controversy over sexuality issues may well spell the doom of the parish. If they take a clear position pro or con on the Assembly decisions they will lose people. And they cannot afford that. Other parishes are doing pretty well and don’t want to upset the apple-cart by introducing controversial issues. These are generally orthodox in teaching and practice and intentionally distance themselves from the workings of the ELCA.
It is understandable why churches want to duck the issue, but I suspect in the long run they will not be able to do so. Laity are slowly awakening to what is happening and will raise inconvenient questions about the direction of the congregation, synod, and the national church to which they belong. Besides, they might be directly confronted with pairs asking to be blessed. Then they won’t be able to duck.
Given this account, at least two insights are relevant:
First, it is easy to sympathize with orthodox individuals and congregations who are struggling about what to do. They didn’t ask for this. Therefore, it is important for the time being to respect the various decisions that are being made by the orthodox. Each parish situation and each individual situation is different. Some parishes and individuals simply cannot leave at this time. But as the full consequences of the church’s decisions become more visible and concrete—changes in the teaching materials, the rites, and the composition of the clergy, the path ahead may become clearer. As groups such as the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal and Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ become more viable ecclesial bodies than the ELCA itself, the inclination to leave may be more intense.
Second, the fall-out reveals the foolhardiness of changing doctrine and practice before there are compelling biblical and theological arguments for doing so. In deciding it had no authoritative teaching on homosexual conduct, the church tossed the problem to congregations and individuals to decide for themselves, which is a sure-fire formula for conflict. The authorities in the ELCA were warned repeatedly that this maneuver would lead to the fracturing of the church. That is precisely what is happening.
(Read the full document by Dr. Robert Benne at http://wordalone.org/docs/wa-benne09.shtml)
NALC (Lutheran church proposed by LutheranCORE for formation in August 2010)
We believe and confess that the marriage of male and female is an institution created and blessed by God. From marriage, God forms families to serve as the building blocks of all human civilization and community. We teach and practice that sexual activity belongs exclusively within the biblical boundaries of a faithful marriage between one man and one woman.
Lutheran CORE recommended that the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly reject the proposed social statement. The proposed social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, is so flawed that a significant number of amendments would have been necessary to produce a new social statement which would be faithful to Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and the accepted teaching of the Christian Church throughout the ages.
Instead, Lutheran CORE recommended that the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly affirm the ELCA’s current teaching documents on human sexuality: the ELCA Messages Sexuality: Some Common Convictions (1996) and Commercial Sexual Exploitation (2001); and continue to rely on the social statements of the ELCA’s predecessor churches: Sex, Marriage, and Family – A Social Statement of the Lutheran Church in America (1970); Human Sexuality and Sexual Behavior – A Social Statement of The American Lutheran Church (1980); and Teachings and Practice on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage – A Social Statement of The American Lutheran Church (1982)
The most common concern raised by pastors and scholars is that the social statement confuses the role of Law and Gospel in addressing human sexuality. The Lutheran tradition places sexuality within the doctrines of creation and the Law. God uses the Law to order the world and to reveal our sinfulness. The statement attempts to place sexuality within the saving work of Christ, the Gospel. Incarnation and justification are key to understanding salvation, but creation and God’s Law shape Christian understandings of sexuality and ethics. Christ’s birth, death and resurrection are intimately connected with providing salvation and not with sexual morality.
From a commentary on the Social statement by Dr. Robert Benne:
One of the noticeably odd features of the social statement is its absence of “males and females,” “women and men,” “husbands and wives,” “boys and girls,” and “mothers and fathers.” Instead, one reads of “couples,” “partners,” “engendered persons,” “parents,” and “children.” The subjects of the statement seem to have no distinct features, a bit like the amorphous Teletubbies of children’s television. This reluctance to affirm definite forms extends to the statement’s posture toward marriage and the family, commandments and law, guiding principles, and especially toward rules. In fact, this aversion to specific forms seems to be the fatal flaw of the document, leading to a vagueness and fluidity that undermines its capacity for genuine guidance in the church.
This formlessness appears immediately in the statement’s theological and ethical foundations. The law, though affirmed, remains a ghostly, abstract, and empty category. No commandments are mentioned. No covenantal structures—such as God’s gift of marriage to Adam and Eve—are affirmed. Indeed, there is no explication of male and female together being created in the image of God. Rather, the statement tries to derive its sexual ethic from the incarnation of Jesus and the justification his work has wrought. One of most astounding statements in the document asserts that ‘a Lutheran sexual ethic looks to the death and resurrection of Christ as the source for the values that guide it’ (emphasis mine).
Certainly Jesus makes relevant statements about sexual ethics, but these have little to do with incarnation or justification. He reaffirms the creation account of woman and man being created in the image of God; he upholds marriage and offers very strict conditions for divorce. He condemns all sorts of sexual sins—adultery, fornication, lust, etc. But all these are built on the law of God he inherited from Jewish tradition, which gives the basic form and content to the sexual ethics he teaches and sometimes sharpens.
What is the best way to evaluate the proposed social statement and the Ministry Policies Report and Recommendations? (from Lutheran Core website May 2009)
The Lutheran Confessions offer a clear answer to this question: “We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone” (Book of Concord, Formula of Concord, Epitome, Rule and Norm). Likewise, the ELCA Confession of Faith states: “This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life” (ELCA Constitution 2.03). As the source of the Church’s proclamation, faith, and life, Christians draw their understandings for faith and life from the Bible. As the norm of the Church’s proclamation, faith, and life, Christians look to the Bible to define what is a faithful interpretation of the Christian faith.
A commitment to the clear word of Scripture was central to the Lutheran Reformation. It is essential that all statements and actions of the ELCA reflect this commitment to Scripture stated in our constitution and essential to our identity as Lutherans. ELCA pastors promise to preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church when they are ordained and installed. Any teachings that depart from Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions would create a crisis in the ELCA as pastors would be torn between their ordination and installation promises and their role as a pastor in the ELCA.
The question before the ELCA is whether the Bible will continue to be the source and norm of church teaching and practice or whether the ELCA will base its teaching and practice on something other than the clear teaching of Scripture.
Salvation as defined by Merriam-Webster states that it is a deliverance from the power and effects of sin
According to Martin Luther, salvation comes as a gift of grace from God, which can be attained only through faith in his son Jesus Christ.
Within the ELCA website, they begin by laying out the historical foundation for thoughts on salvation and the “loopholes” created to address mentally handicapped, infants, those who have not heard the news, and those who do not believe.
1. Roman Catholic – there is no salvation except through the church (exceptions made for “invincible ignorance”)
2. Evangelical – Apart from faith there is no salvation (however exceptions granted for infants, and mentally handicapped)
3. Others – state that Jesus is only one avenue to salvation and other religions are equally valid (They do not state who others are).
They acknowledge the exclusivity of Christ as the redeemer and that salvation is found through no other.
The ELCA then moves on to argue the position that:
1. If Jesus is the Lord and Savior of all humanity.
2. And salvation comes only through Jesus Christ.
3. Then all will be saved by our Lord Jesus Christ no matter “whenever or wherever they lived or how religious or irreligious they are”.
The article wraps up by asking the question “Will all people be saved” and answers by stating “We do not…know the answer”.
Throughout the article the case is made for universal salvation, but ends by stating that the true answer cannot be known by man. In essence, they are promoting universal salvation without coming out and just stating it. This article written by Carl Braaten is quoted and noted by ELCA as “ringing true for ELCA Lutherans”
The following statement has been provided by LCMC:
Salvation is through Jesus Christ alone, given to us by grace through faith in him.
We believe and confess that all human beings are sinners, and that sinners are redeemed by the
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God alone justifies human beings by faith in Christ—a
faith which God creates through the message of the Gospel. As ambassadors for Christ, God
uses us to speak his Word and build his kingdom.
Overview: Historic Episcopate and Called to Common Mission (CCM)
The episcopate is the collective body of all bishops of a church. It is held that only a person in Apostolic Succession, a line of succession of bishops dating back to the Apostles, can be a bishop and only such a person can validly ordain Christian clergy. The succession must be transmitted from a bishop to a successor by the rite of Holy Orders (Wikipedia).
Called to Common Mission or CCM, adopted in 1999 by the ELCA and the Episcopal Church is an agreement to establish a relationship of full communion between the two. Previously any one of the 17,000 ELCA pastors could ordain another pastor. With CCM (except in rare occasions) only the 66 bishops may ordain pastors. CCM now requires three bishops, all of whom must be in the line of the historic episcopate, to install a newly elected bishop. Episcopal bishops are invited to participate.
Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) does not accept CCM. CCM was the catalyst for the formation of Wordalone and LCMC. The most significant concern is that the historic episcopate is an essential requirement for full communion with another church body. With the adoption of CCM, structure of ministry (the historic episcopate) is on the same level as the Bible, Sacraments and creeds. (LCMC website – Official Documents – Misc. Documents –
The proposed North American Lutheran Church (NALC) (per CORE Coalition for Renewal Steering Committee Representative from Northwest Washington, Vic Langsford, advised) … “that NALC will have a bishop but will not endorse the Historic Episcopate.”
Stewardship was selected as a topic during the review of the three different Lutheran affiliations. It was considered important not only in terms of dollars, but also in terms of being faithful disciples and stewards as we care for and manage all the gifts that God has given us.
Each of the three Lutheran organizations we reviewed understand “Stewardship” not only as how we spend money, but how we use our time and resources as well. Each also emphasize the importance of the congregation as stewards of their respective resources, as well as members within the congregation being good stewards of their own money, time and resources within the daily life of their parish.
The ELCA sees stewardship as money to fund the mission of God in the local congregation. Stewardship is also (1) thankfulness to God and others in affirming, supporting, encouraging and equipping their ministries in everyday life; (2) principled living, (3) legacy of giftedness passed from generation to generation, (4) value-exchange theory (the church enriching believers’ gifts for ministry and believers engaging in ministry. The first link above expands on these 4 concepts.
Page 60 of the 2009-2010 budget shows the 2010 expense proposals, with a total budget of
95 million dollars. 65.5 million (69%) is dedicated to support ministry and outreach programs. 29.8 million dollars (31%) covers administration and support services of the ELCA.
The proposed 2009-2010 budget contains many useful graphs and detail that shows how the various ministry programs and administrative are funded.
The NW Synod proposed 2010 budget indicates a total income of 1.54 million dollars. $549,000 (36%) covers salary and administrative costs of Office of the Bishop. $683,000 (44%) is sent to the ELCA. $312,000 (20%) goes to local partnerships, shared missions, and program support.
The LCMC believes that congregations should make their own decisions about financial support to LCMC and that congregations should give money directly to organizations doing God’s work. LCMC is an association that seeks to serve the member congregations. They don’t dictate giving, but simply ask that congregations remember that there are some expenses associated with running the association, such as: planning the annual gathering, running the colloquy process for new pastors, salaries for four employees of LCMC, hosting and updating the website, producing informational DVDs, brochures and mailings. So we ask each congregation to look at their giving, their mission support and their budget and come up with something that works for them. Some congregations give a $1,000 a year, while others give less and some give more. In any case, setting aside a percentage of your congregational budget for LCMC makes good Biblical sense.
The 2010 LCMC total expenses are:
Travel and Meetings 76,000
Professional Fees 10,000
(The NALC is relatively new organization and a NALC budget was not immediately available.)
From the 2/18/2010 Vision & Plan document, “A budget for the operation of the NALC will be submitted to the convocation with an estimate of the percentage of congregational income needed to meet the budget. Bearing in mind that information, congregations will decide the level of financial support that they provide to the NALC and to other ministries. The budget for the NALC will include support for its partner ministries. Congregations also will be encouraged to support these and other mission and ministry efforts directly.”
The NALC believes in the priesthood of all believers (all believers have spiritual gifts which God wants believers to use to love and serve God and others) and that the mission and ministry of the church are carried out within the context of individual congregations, using their gifts locally and globally. Jesus tells us that the faithful and prudent stewards are the ones who do God’s work with what God has entrusted to us — both as individuals and as congregations.
In recent years, it has become common to use the term “Mission Support” to refer to funding of the denominational institution as a whole, when only a small part of this money goes to the actual mission of the church, as defined by the Great Commission:
Admittedly, there are many worthy things that are done by church bodies in service of the neighbor — hunger and disaster relief, evangelism and education — just to name a few. However, denominational bodies do not hold the monopoly on such ministries. There have always been many faithful para-church ministries and independent organizations that serve
these same functions — often more effectively and with less overhead than denominational offices.
A 2010 NALC budget has been requested.
Overview: Lutheran Doctrine
All three entities – ELCA, LCMC, and NALC – profess belief in Word Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone and Christ Alone, along with the Priesthood of all believers and in all Lutheran and Christian Doctrine: namely: Acceptance of all the canonical books of the Old and New Testament, the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Large and Small Catechism, the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, The Book of Concord, namely, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, The Smalcald Articles, the Treatise, the Formula of Concord etc,, However, there are definite differences in emphasis, understanding and belief.
The following is a quote from Martin Luther,
“It is the duty both of preachers and of hearers first of all and above all things to see to it that they have a clear and sure evidence that their doctrine is really the true word of God, revealed from heaven to the holy, original fathers, the prophets and apostles, and confirmed and commanded to be taught by Christ Himself. For we should by no means ever let doctrine be manhandled according to the pleasure and fancy of the individual who adapts it to human reason and understanding. Nor should we let men toy with Scripture, juggle the Word of God, and make it submit to being explained, twisted, stretched, and revised to suit people or to achieve peace and union; for then there could be no secure or stable foundation on which consciences might rely.”
Again Luther writes:
The great difference between doctrine and life is obvious, even as the difference between heaven and earth. Life may be unclean, sinful, and inconsistent; but doctrine must be pure, holy, sound, unchanging … not a tittle or letter may be omitted, however much life may fail to meet the requirements of doctrine. This is so because doctrine is God’s Word, and God’s truth alone, whereas life is partly our own doing…. God will have patience with man’s moral failings and imperfections and forgive them. But He cannot, will not, and shall not tolerate a man’s altering or abolishing doctrine itself. For doctrine involves His exalted, divine Majesty itself.
Faithful participation in society is integral and vital to the mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). As individual members and as a corporate body this church lives out the Christian faith in encounter with the concerns that shape life in God’s creation. Social statements, messages, social policy resolutions, and studies of social issues are important means by which this church carries out its participation in society.
The following are quotes from the ELCA Website’s JOURNAL OF LUTHERAN ETHICS 2006 article by Dr. Robert Benne which questions the direction of ELCA:
“… the likelihood is strong that our Lutheran heritage of theological ethics will not persist much longer into the future, but rather will most likely blend into a liberal Protestant social ethic which will be indistinguishable from liberal ideology in general …
For Lutherans there is no such thing as a Social Gospel, there is only the Gospel of Jesus Christ addressed to every person and people by the Church’s preaching. …
The elites of liberal Protestantism tend not to make those sorts of Lutheran distinctions. For many years now they have either assumed or become uninterested in the proclamation of the Gospel itself. …
Their energies have been poured into the social, economic and political ramifications of Christian teachings, not the central affirmations of the Christian faith itself… Not only does this miss the main thing that Christianity is about and therefore leads to membership losses as people look for the real thing, but it has serious divisive tendencies.
(Dr. Robert Benne is the Director of the Center for Religious Society and formerly from the Lutheran School of Theology).
In contrast the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ’s (LCMC) written position is …”Our association is firmly committed to accepting the normative authority of the Bible … the Bible must be our final authority in matters of faith and practice. We also believe that the Lutheran Confessions offer us accurate interpretation of the Biblical witness and we commit ourselves to being guided by them in our life together as an association. LCMC has one primary mission: that of sharing the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ. LCMC is committed to knowing Jesus and to making Jesus known.” ( LCMC “Consider Your Options” pamphlet).
“North American Lutheran Church (NALC) will affirm the ecumenical creeds and the faithful witness of the Church across time and space. They will endorse the form and practices of the universal Church that are consistent with Scripture, particularly the office of the ministry and the tradition of worship under Word and Sacrament”. It is expected that they will adopt all of the portions identified under Lutheran Doctrine spelled out above.
NALC … “will be centered on four key attributes: Christ-Centered, Mission-Driven, Traditionally-Grounded and Congregationally-Focused”. (CORE Lutheran Website – News from Lutheran CORE – February 2010 – page 4). http://www.lutherancore.org/pdf/CORE%20February%202010.pdf