Why Stay?Why would a Traditionalist ELCAer still desire to stay in the ELCA for the long term?
For this Traditionalist, part of it is having been steeped from childhood in the Muhlenberg vision of one Evangelical Lutheran church with one liturgy in this one nation. In spite of her deep flaws, in spite of her almost total amnesia of why she came into being in the first place (yes, that same Muhlenberg vision), the ELCA still represents the the fullest grasp of that worthy goal. No other Lutheran Church has this catholic perspective on the (what the sainted Arthur Carl Piepkorn called) Church of the Augsburg Confession as an integral part of its DNA.
Yes, there are many in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod who get it, and who work to lift up that catholic vision for the Church of the Augsburg Confession -- they have been, in fact, indespensible to the modern articulation of that vision (beginning with Piepkorn, but continuing with others, including those associated with the ALPB). But despite their efforts, it has never been Missouri's vision and it is one that, given the opportunity, she keeps rejecting. As long as she views the Lutheran church through the eyes of C. F. W. Walther (as important as he is to the American recovery of Luther in the American Lutheran churches), she will at heart be sectarian. And in none of the other Lutheran churches in the US is this vision a significant factor in that church's life, except in a few tiny ones that are all vision, but no real church.
Yes, the ELCA has been overrun by sectarians in her pulpits, seminaries, and offices, and by the actions and inactions of Churchwide Assemblies has now herself taken on the characteristics of a sect. I am not yet convinced, however, that this necessarily need be a permanent state.
One of Pr. Stoffregen's frequent challenges to the traditionalists who post here and elsewhere is to quote the Statement of Faith from the ELCA's Constitution and ask, "Where it is in error?" I read (present tense) the Statement of Faith and -- as in the mid-1980s when it was proposed in its final form, and as in my seminary days when I would wonder if this was truly the right church to ordain me -- I see nothing there that I would want to change. Why, then, should I leave this church? It is those who no longer teach and believe that faith -- the genuine schismatics -- who ought to either repent or leave.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of Pastors who have not bended their knee to Ba'al. There are Synod Bishops and Synod Councils that remain faithful, and others who, while not in total agreement, are willing, even eager, to have solid, confessional Pastors serving in their synods.
The faculty and leadership of at least one ELCA seminary, Southern, remains largely in touch with the ELCA's Statement of Faith and a catholic (rather than protestant sectarian) Evangelical Lutheranism. I should think we should approach LTSS about being an orthodox refuge with a missionary impulse to spread about the ELCA -- even if, like those early Anglo-Catholics, it is to serve in undesirable, difficult circumstances. This could be one fine place to redirect a portion of a congregation's benevolence (mission support).
This Traditionalist rejects the vision that a church body ought to be viewed as a "voluntary organization" that people choose or not choose to join. That is a Puritan, American denominationalist perspective which is at odds with the ecclesiology of the Lutheran Confessions -- if not, alas, so many American Lutherans both in and out of the ELCA.
Finally, the blessed Dr. Martin Luther did not leave the Church that called and ordained him into the Office of the Holy Ministry. Nor did he take any steps to do so until her then-corrupt leadership threw him out -- largely because his faithfulness was exposing their corruption.
I've been threatening to stay for all these years because I really do want to stay. If I were to leave the ELCA, it would be as a reluctant exile, a temporary (I would hope) refugee. One who (aware that the break-up of the General Synod would not be repaired until the formation of the United Lutheran Church of America some 50 years later) would be eager to return home as soon as those who have usurped the ELCA's vision and destroyed the Ministerium are overthrown by their collaborators who, having chosen to get along and not speak up, discover their error and aim to repair it.
Or in the disappointing conviction that the Evangelical Lutheran experiment in this land (one of a Calvinist mindset, though now almost completely secularized, even amongst Christians) has failed.
Pax et bonum, Steven+