Monday, April 30, 2007

Meet the ELCA's newest partner

The headline on the ELCA News Blog last Friday read: ELCA partners with Jolie, Global Action for Children. The release begins:

"Actress Angelina Jolie appeared at a news conference April 26 in Washington, D.C., to announce the launch of Global Action for Children (GAC), a coalition advocating for orphans and vulnerable children around the world. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a member of the leadership council of GAC with 20 other faith groups and nonprofit organizations."

Then after a paragraph describing GAC and Ms. Jolie's role in the lobbying group (read it all here) comes this:
"We shape our future by the way we raise our children," said Jolie, who serves as the honorary chairperson of the GAC board. "And orphan children are the world's children."
Ms. Jolie is correct about the the importance of how we raise our children. And her celebrity is certainly helping draw attention to the plight of orphans and other vulnerable children in the Third World.

But what kind of message is being delivered when a major Christian church body trumpets a "partnership" for children with someone for whom honoring marriage vows is distinctly not a part of the future she wishes to shape, at least for the child she has had with her current paramour, with whom she is also raising her adoptive children?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Missing the Mark at Virginia Tech

Prof. Ed Schroeder of the Crossings Community threw down the gauntlet last week in his Thursday Theology #462 in an open letter to William King, ELCA Campus Pastor at Virginia Tech. It started, you might say, with an ELCA News release that began thus:
The Rev. William H. King, Lutheran campus pastor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Blacksburg, Va., and staff of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), delivered the Christian message April 17 at the Virginia Tech Convocation where students, faculty and others of the community gathered to remember the victims of yesterday's shooting on campus. According to the Virginia Tech Web site, at least 33 people died including the gunman.

"We're gathered this afternoon for many purposes. To weep for lost friends and families, to mourn our lost innocence, to walk forward in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, to embrace hope in the shadow of despair, to join our voices and our longing for peace, healing and understanding which is much greater than any single faith community, to embrace that which unifies, and to reject the seductive temptation to hate," said King, who also serves as deployed staff of the Department for Campus Ministry, ELCA Vocation and Education.

"We gather together weeping, yes, we weep with an agony too deep for words and sighs that are inexpressible, but also we gather affirming the sovereignty of life over death. At a time such as this the darkness of evil seems powerful indeed. It casts a pall over our simple joys, joys as simple as playing Frisbee on the Drill Field. We struggle to imagine a future beyond this agony. If we ever harbored any illusions that our campus is an idyllic refuge from the violence of the rest the world, they are gone forever. And yet we come to this place to testify that the light of love cannot be defeated. Amid all our pain, we confess that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it," said King.

"We cannot undo yesterday's tragic events, but we can sit in patient silence with those who mourn as they seek for a way forward. As we share light one with another, we reclaim our campus. Let us deny death's power to rob us of all that we have loved about Virginia Tech, our community. Let us cast our lot with hope in defiance of despair," said King, who invited the convocation to a moment of silence.
Read the rest of the release here. Listen to the Audio of Pr. King's message here on the ELCA Web site.

Then Prof. Schroeder really goes to town:
Dear Pastor King,

I'd say you blew it.

It may be that you did indeed say more than the publicized words we got in the ELCA news release--and from the audio they sent us to. But did you notice? Neither the word God nor the word Christ ever appears. So how can that the THE Christian message for the survivors? Whose side are you on?

The Good News you offered (unless there was stuff edited out of your prose) is not even good Judaism or Islam.

But what was the good news you offered? I ask you to read your own prose again and then articulate for yourself--and for us--just what it was that you offered the folks. Especially if you were billed as THE Christian spokesman. Here's wht I see:

Your diagnosis of the survivors in their dilemma: "weeping . . . mourning . . . shadow of despair . . . agony too deep for words . . . sighs inexpressible . . . darkness of evil seems powerful indeed . . . casts a pall (even over frisbee-playing) . . . we struggle . . .illusions about our idyllic campus are gone.

Where you sought to bring these folks: to walk forward . . . to embrace hope . . . to join our voices & our longing for peace, healing and understanding . . . to embrace that which unifies . . . to reject seductive temptations to hate. . . affirm the sovereignty of life over death. . . to imagine a future beyond this agony . . . to push back darkness.

The power to get them from A to B:
We come to this place to testify that the light of love cannot be defeated
We confess that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it
We cannot do everything, but we can do something
We cannot banish all darkness, but we can by joining together push it back
We cannot undo yesterday's tragic events, but we can sit in patient silence with those who mourn
As we share light one with another, we reclaim our campus
Let us deny death's power to rob us of all that we have loved about Virginia Tech
Let us cast our lot with hope in defiance of despair
Inviting the convocation to a moment of silence
Sounds like the Saviors vis-a-vis that horrendous dilemma are the survivors: "We can... Let us."

If you were actually asked to be THE Christian voice on the program, why did you fudge? Someone apparently wanted something explicitly Christian. And just 9 days after Easter you still must have had something left over that you could have spoken. If the program people just wanted you to proclaim the Gospel of American Pelagianism--"by our bootstraps WE can DO it!"--which I think you proposed, then you might have simply said: "Thanks, but no thanks. Not my job. My ordination vow commits me to a different Gospel. Can't do it."
Read it all here. And note his conclusion:
You had a better Gospel for April 17 delivery. To wit, the Christian message. You should have used it. The folks needed to hear it. They still do. Use your campus pastor post to keep messaging that message. That's the real Good News for all of us to hear in order to cope with the Virginia massacre.
Ed Schroeder isn't the only one to notice. Christian broadcaster Frank Pastore (formerly a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins) wrote over at of the Virginia Tech Convocation:
Each of the four speakers were there to represent their religion, to bring the message of comfort and hope rooted in their faith tradition. The Muslim speaker read passages from the Koran in Arabic and appealed to Allah, the Jewish speaker read from Ecclesiastes 3 while an assistant repeated the passages in Hebrew, the Buddhist quoted the Dalai Lama, while the Christian did not even quote from the Bible, nor mention the name of Jesus – the namesake of his religion.

What Mr. King said should be studied in every seminary in America. It is precisely what not to do when given the opportunity to bring the message of the Gospel of Jesus to those grieving the loss of loved ones and struggling to make sense of the evil visited upon them.

The nearest thing to Christianity anyone heard at the Convocation was the playing of Amazing Grace and the unison recitation of The Lord’s Prayer. There was far more Bible coming from the pews than being preached from the pulpit.

No wonder Christianity is so easily and regularly attacked on college campuses. With advocates like this, who needs opposition? We’ve got guys in our uniform playing for the other team.

Mr. King could have spoken the truth. He could have explained why Christians are confident in divine justice, why we believe that good will ultimately triumph over evil, why we know that there is life after death for those that trust Christ. He could have explained that Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins on the Cross that Friday long ago, and rose bodily from the dead on Sunday to prove His sovereignty over evil, sin and death.

In short, he could have preached the Gospel. After all, the murders were only a week removed from Easter.

But, Mr. King decided to do something apparently more important in his mind. He decided to be politically correct and not offend the members of his interfaith community by offering hollow words of humanistic philosophy lacking any real substance, and by appealing to various “religious streams” and by validating the search “for a way forward,” he insulted those of us who actually believe Christianity is true and other religions false.

In so doing, he denied his faith.

He offered those mourning no hope for the present nor any hope for the future.

He left the hearers dead in their sins.
Read it all here.

Naturally Pr. King's address is the subject of discussion at ALPB Forum Online, where LCMS Pastor Paul McCain of Cyberbrethren brought in Pastore's commentary and, along with other LCMS pastors, raised the question, "Why participate in an 'inter-religious' service anyway?"

I finally put in my 2 cents on the whole controversy:
Because the nature of the community gathering together is to be inter-religious.

Early in my days of ministry, I was occasionally asked to deliver a prayer to open or close "community" events. I was concerned about how to craft appropriate prayers that would be more than mealy-mouthed platitudes yet would not, uh, offend non-Christians. I was quite pleased to find the book 150 Opening and Closing Prayers at our local Catholic book store which helped with that, drawing on both Old and New Testaments while using the classic Collect form. Some of the prayers specifically invoke the name of Jesus, others don't.

Then one day a couple years later I was reading a recollection of the days when the community's pastors would participate in such events -- and that regardless of what the prayer was, the local Roman Catholic priest always began with, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," while making the sign of the Cross. There was no fuss from Jews, or Protestants, or agnostics, or even atheists. He was a Catholic priest, and that was how Catholics prayed.

And my eyes were opened. I don't need to shove anything down their throats, but there's no reason I can't be authentic to who I am. And that's a Lutheran pastor. So I open in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I pray in the name of Jesus. I'll speak from our tradition. If they want a "generic" Christian or religious speaker, they'll have to ask for someone else.

I don't want to come down too hard on the ELCA Campus Pastor who gave the "Christian" message at this convocation. Everything we have been taught, both inside and outside the church, tells us to back away from explicit Christian prayer and proclamation. That is particularly reinforced in academic settings and highlighted by the oldline institutional ecumenicalists and the establishment (both national and local) secular media.

But we have been taught wrongly. And we need to do better than that. We in the ELCA ought not back away from speaking of, from proclaiming, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Especially when an inter-faith community gathers to deal with tragedy or evil; especially in Easter-tide.

It was most interesting to read Mark Tooley's commentary on the religious response to this mass murder. He's with the United Methodist desk at the Institute for Religion and Democracy, usually described by ELCAers as a "right wing" religious group. In it he goes after comments of leaders the NCC, WCC, and other mainline/oldline/sideline leaders, which he noted focussed on gun control as the answer to prevent such evils. Then comes this:

"Not all Religious Left officials exploited the Virginia Tech horrors. The chief officials of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) tactfully refrained from crowing about their denomination’s stances on gun control. Even evangelical left leader Jim Wallis showed restraint, calling for a time of "prayer and silence."

"ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson actually quoted Scripture in his statement: "We mourn, we pray, and with the Psalmist we plead: 'Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!' (Psalm 130:1) As family and friends grieve the deaths and injuries of loved ones, we claim the promise of Christ's Resurrection."

"How unique that a prominent mainline church official actually responded to the horrible deaths of countless young people by pointing to the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why do others of his colleagues not follow his example? " Read it all here.

Yeah. A "right-winger" praises our ELCA Presiding Bishop. Because ++Hanson indeed offered an unambiguously Christian message in the face of this evil. And in doing so, he is teaching us well -- which is what Bishops are supposed to do.
And, I should add, we pastors and priests, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lutheran CORE Statement on Scripture

A Lutheran Statement on the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture in the Church
from The Lutheran Coalition for Reform

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has begun a major five-year initiative on Scripture and the Word of God: “Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible.” As members of the ELCA, we are deeply concerned about the role and interpretation of the Bible within our church, and we welcome the opportunity to participate in this important work. We offer the following statement as part of our contribution to this initiative.

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 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.

Signed by
Lutheran Coalition For Reform (Lutheran CORE)
Steering Committee

    Paull Spring, State College, PA, chair
    Erma Wolf, Brandon, SD, vice chair
    W. Stevens Shipman, Lock Haven, PA, secretary
    Mark Chavez, Landisville, PA, director
    Mark Graham, Roanoke, VA
    Scott Grorud, Hutchinson, MN
    Ken Kimball, Waterville, IA
    Ryan Schwarz, Washington, DC
    Paul Ulring, Columbus, OH

Monday, April 09, 2007

Kristus är uppstånden! Halleluja!

(That's Swedish for, Christ is risen! Alleluia!)

An Easter Sermon from St. John Chrysostom

If any person is devout and loves God,
let him come to this radiant triumphant feast.

If any person is a wise follower,
let him enter into the joy of his Lord, rejoicing.

If any have fasted long
let him now receive refreshment.

If any have labored from the first hour,
let him today receive his just reward.

If any came at the third hour,
let him keep the feast with thankfulness.

If any arrived at the sixth hour,
let him have no misgivings for he shall not be deprived.

If any delayed to the ninth hour,
let him draw near, fearing nothing.

If any have waited even until the eleventh hour,
let him not be alarmed at this tardiness.

For the Lord will accept the last
even as the first.

Therefore, all of you,
enter into the joy of your Lord.

Rich and poor together,
hold high festival.

Diligent and heedless,
honor this day.

Both you who have fasted, and you who did not fast,
rejoice together today.

The table is full;
all of you, feast sumptuously.

The calf is fatted;
let no one go away hungry.

Enjoy the feast of faith;
receive the riches of God's mercy.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
for the fullness of the kingdom is revealed.

Let no one weep for his iniquities,
for forgiveness shines forth from the grave.

Let no one fear death,
for the savior's death has set us free.

He who was held prisoner by death
has annihilated it.

By descending into death,
he made death captive.

He angered it
when it tasted of his flesh.

Isaiah saw this, and he cried:
Death was angered when it encountered you
in the lower regions.

It was angered,
for it was defeated.

It was angered,
for it was mocked.

It was angered,
for it was abolished.

It was angered,
for it was overthrown.

It was angered,
for it was bound in chains.

It received a body
and it met God face to face.

It took earth
and encountered heaven.

It took that which is seen
and fell upon the unseen.

O Death,
where is your sting?

O Grave,
where is your victory?

Christ is risen
and you are overthrown.

Christ is risen
and the devils have fallen.

Christ is risen
and the angels rejoice.

Christ is risen
and life reigns.

Christ is risen
and not one dead remains in the grave.

For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, and to him be glory and honor, even to eternity.

I was ordained September 13, 1992. Strangely, it wasn't until a few years later that it clicked in my mind that September 13 is also the Feast Day for St. John Chrysostom. Strange because in seminary he quickly became one of my favorite Church Fathers. Strange because, though he isn't a patron saint for pastors, tradition regards him as the best preacher in the history of the Church (hence Chrysostom, which means "golden mouth"). Someone worth emulating, no?

I offer this to any readers for Easter Monday. Alleluia! He is risen Indeed!

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross is an ancient devotion that brings the walk along the Via Dolorosa from Jerusalem to local churches. The traditional 14 Stations (which, while dating to the 4th century or earlier, were fixed only in the 15th Century) begin with Jesus being condemned to death, then follow him through the streets of Jerusalem to his Crucifixion, then his burial. A mixture of biblical and traditional episodes, the Stations are particularly part of Lenten devotions, offered particularly on Fridays in Catholic churches, and well as Episcopal/Anglican and Lutheran churches that appreciate their Latin Catholic heritage. American Protestants have only recently begun to be exposed to this devotion, particularly through its use in Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ. But any time you walk inside a Catholic Church, you will find the Stations of the Cross on the walls of the Nave.

I discovered several years ago (when we were investigating the possibility of posting the Stations in Zion's Nave as a memorial -- no, we haven't accomplished that) these Biblical Stations of the Cross that that Pope John Paul II first used in 1991 for his annual Good Friday celebration of the Stations. If ever I am able to place them in a church, this is the version I would use. Not that there is anything terribly wrong with Jesus' falling three times or St. Veronica, but they are "a way of reflecting more deeply on the Scriptural accounts of Christ's passion" (as the US Catholic Conference describes it).

Following papal custon, for Good Friday His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome -- see the Reuters news report here for a moving description. And then take a few moments to follow the devotions used by the Pope for the Stations. I was particularly struck, and gladdened, to see him following the Biblical Stations:
1. Jesus in the Garden of Olives,
2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested,
3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin,
4. Jesus is denied by Peter,
5. Jesus is judged by Pilate,
6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns,
7. Jesus takes up his cross,
8. Jesus is helped by the Cyrenean to carry his cross,
9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem,
10. Jesus is crucified,
11. Jesus promises his Kingdom to the good thief,
12. The crucified Jesus, the Mother and the disciple,
13. Jesus dies on the cross,
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.
As you follow them, you'll notice Latin in the English version of the Stations. The opening versicle and response of each is:
V/ We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
R/ Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

After the meditation for each Station -- and the paintings are part of that, too -- comes the Our Father, followed by a stanza of the Stabat Mater, or the hymn "At the Cross, Her Station Keeping."

Thanks to Canon Kendall Harmon at titusonenine for pointing us to this.