During the open discussion time last Friday evening at the Lutheran CORE Convocation in Fishers, Indiana, I stood in line to speak. But because of time restrictions (and having yielded to another at my mic to ask a follow-up question), I was unable to do so (though I did get to express part of my second point the next morrning). My intent was to say something like this:
I'm Steven Tibbetts, Pastor at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria, Illinois.
I stand before you to say to you all the same thing I told my congregation from the Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, and the same thing I said last Tuesday evening before the pastors and lay leaders of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod during our annual conference:
By the actions of the Churchwide Assembly, I lost my church.
Nevertheless, I am not leaving. As I've been saying, with a smile, for several years, "I'm threatening to stay." I have been called to serve in my congregation and in my Synod, and I intend to continue participating as fully as I can for as long as I can. I don't know that I can do this all the way to my retirement, but the Churchwide Assembly committed the ELCA to respecting the bound conscience of those of us who believe the church needs to repent of its errors, and that can't happen if we all leave.
Not everyone here can make that sort of commitment, and I understand that. But some of us here who have been with Lutheran CORE from its very beginning four years ago have made that commitment. And you need to remember that. We can do no other.
Second, many of you are having difficulty with the idea of a "free-standing synod." I've been writing about it some since the Churchwide Assembly on my Pastor Zip's Blog, and I hope some of you will take the opportunity to check it out tonight if you can. But whether you do or not, I encourage you to focus not on the word "synod" -- a good churchly word that has been hijacked by the ELCA for other purposes -- but on the word "free."
Those of you who know about the Free Lutheran heritage might then begin to see how those of us united as we are in matters of faith and doctrine can do so inside or outside the ELCA, and can continue to work on a common mission free from the encumbrances of the ELCA when they get in the way, while still being able to take advantages of the good things that continue to happen through the ELCA.
And some of you may be able to think of the Free Synods in the Churches of Sweden and Norway, who for some 25-30 years were able to remain in the State Churches, sometimes even to participate fully in assemblies and be elected to diocesan offices, while holding firm to orthodox Christian faith as the Churches increasingly persecuted it, using the gatherings of the Free Synod for mutual support and encouragement.
No, it will not be easy, and in Sweden and Norway the Free Synods ultimately could not continue. But they enabled faithful proclamation in the church for another generation or two even as church leadership controlled by atheistic governments fell into apostasy. I think we have a better chance than they did.
Finally, to those of you asking tonight, "When are we going to do something?" we are indeed doing something right now. We have tonight, and we will tomorrow, speak the truth to the leaders of the ELCA and to those in our society who care to listen that the Churchwide Assembly has led the ELCA astray and we will not just sit there and let that continue. We will go home to speak the truth in our congregations and synods, to encourage congregations and synods to express consciences bound by the Word of God and the Creeds and Confessions of the church to do what we're doing right now -- rejecting the teachings of the Churchwide Assembly.
One key factor enabling the various parts of Lutheran CORE to work together these last 4 years is that we were all in the ELCA. I do not think it is too much to ask that we spend the next year figuring out how to continue to work together -- that is not waiting -- now that we no longer can hold that in common.