Our liturgical tradition has witnessed to the belief that the pastor speaks in the place of and with the full authority of the eternal Son of the Father. Thus we have the absolution spoken by the pastor in the rite of Confession and Forgiveness, “Cling to this promise: the word of forgiveness I speak to you comes from God. [Name], in obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” And going back earlier within the tradition, the Service Book and Hymnal offers these binding words from the rite for Public Confession in preparation for receiving the Holy Sacrament:
On the other hand, by the same authority, I declare unto the impenitent and unbelieving, that so long as they continue in their impenitence, God hath not forgiven their sins, and will assuredly visit their iniquities upon them, if they turn not from their evil ways, and come to true repentance and faith in Christ, ere the day of grace be ended.From this theological and liturgical tradition within the Lutheran church, a pastor whose bound conscience belief in the Word of God that homosexual behavior is sin for the sake of pastoral care exercises the keys and binds that sin until repented. In doing so, that pastor speaks God’s own binding word upon such a person. His sin is not forgiven, neither by the pastor on earth nor by God in heaven. The Office of the Keys is exercised in this way so that a person might be convicted by the law and saved by the gospel. This is the ministry of the gospel and a fulfillment of the pastoral calling to be ministers of the Word. I must be painfully clear this concerns every unrepentant sinner and every unrepented sin. I only address homosexual behavior, because it is the issue upon which the ELCA now struggles and according to the bound conscience doctrine the keys are a valid and correct response to this sin and must be respected.
The social statement, however, affirms and lifts up the exact opposite teaching and interpretation. According to the statement, an equally valid and correct interpretation of Holy Scripture is that, not only is homosexual behavior not a sin, but that it is something that the church should recognize and possibly even bless. The same Word of God as is taught above to be correct is now also correct in the opposite interpretation and application. The Office of the Keys rightly used above by pastors has no place in this interpretation.
The ELCA formally holding these two opposed positions as equally correct raises obvious and difficult challenges to the ministry of the keys and the unified witness of the gospel. Because the social statement puts forward the bound conscience, which cannot be violated, as the criterion for allowing opposite interpretations of Holy Scripture to be normative within the church, it is also putting forward two different and opposed ministries of the gospel. One ministry of the gospel is to use the Office of the Keys on those who engage in homosexual behavior. The other ministry of the gospel is to use the Rite of Marriage (for lack of a clearer term for a rite for recognizing a publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships). One ministry of the gospel is to stand in the place of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and be His representative and witness to the vows that same-gender couples make. The other ministry of the gospel is to speak in the place and stead of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, to call a person engaging in homosexual sex to repent amend her life and strive to avoid it at all costs to save soul and body. And now in the ELCA according to the social statement and ministry policy resolutions both ministries of the gospel are correct, valid, and equal.
The implications of these two opposite ministries of the gospel are unthinkable. I truly pity our homosexual brothers and sisters who now hear from one pastor in the ELCA the keys and from another pastor blessings and welcome. Does Jesus speak to such a one, through the office of pastor, a word of admonition and warning to their soul or does Jesus speak to such a one, through the office of pastor, a word of joy and blessing for that same behavior? Which Jesus is speaking the truth to our homosexual brothers and sisters? This church unfortunately has confused the gospel to the point that a person engaging in homosexual sex doesn’t know whether he’s condemned by God or blessed by God! The bound conscience doctrine now condemns a person to his or her own conscience to determine whether this behavior is or is not sin, because this church can no longer give a clear witness. How can any one do that?
The social statement condemns us because, due to our fallen nature, we truly cannot discern our sins. We need an outside word. We need the Law of God (second use) to show us our true nature, to say “no” to our sinful desires and to show us what truly is good, right, salutary and God pleasing....
Read it all here.