Monday, September 28, 2009

What I Didn't Get to Say at Fishers

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.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Project Return of Peoria on Web

Now on the website of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria is information on the Mission to Prisons we began (with the collaboration of our nearby sister congregations) last year and its biggest ministry so far, Project Return of Peoria.
In partnership with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), Karen Wong, AIM, is a part-time chaplain at the Pekin Women's Federal Work Camp. Her ministry there includes leading classes on "Boundaries" and "Changes That Heal," and one-on-one spiritual counseling.

Project Return of Peoria helps incarcerated mothers reintegrate into the Peoria community by matching each returning mother with a team of trained and supported volunteers for one year. We also educate the public about the barriers these women face as they seek to make a successful re-entry into the community.
Project Return currently has teams, groups of 3-5 men and woman from several churches in the Peoria area, working with three mothers who have returned from prison. A fourth team is presently being formed for another woman who has just been released.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Fallout Begins

Meetngs have been held, and now there is a website. Traditionalist ELCA Lutherans are seeking to re-establish the historic Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Texas. For the moment it looks like they are forming some sort of free synod:
Lutheran traditionalists in Texas include every strand represented in the country. The ELST is being formed to “think globally, and act locally,” to lead by example. The goal is to get Texas Lutheran traditionalists together on one boat, and show that these issues can be worked through, unity on essentials achieved and the Church among us set onto a positive, open and expanding course. What a gift that Texans are bound together by seemingly limitless good will and optimism, and can put these attributes to work on behalf of Lutheran Christians all across America.

Some have already decided to leave the ELCA, some may intend to stay, and many are unsure which way to jump. The ELST will function as a synod in formation, comprised of congregations which retain their status within the ELCA or other existing denominations (such as the LCMC or the UCC, for example), or independent congregations. Congregations may first become “Participating Congregations” by Congregation Council action, or later “Member Congregations” by action at a congregational meeting. A structure will be provided for participation by individuals who are in other congregations as well.

After a period of discernment, the shape of the future will emerge. Traditionalist Lutherans may find themselves in a new synod, or in a special synod within the ELCA, or perhaps held together in some structure which encompasses both.

But the Lutheran confessional movement will not have splintered apart, or disintegrated, or turned anxious or even bitter, and will have begun to achieve its destiny on North American soil.
Some of these folks will be at the Lutheran CORE Convocation later this week.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Requiescat in pace: Bishop Bertil Gärtner

Bishop Bertil Gärtner, who served the Göteborg (Gothenburg) Diocese of the Church of Sweden 1970-1991, died early this morning. He was 84.

I first met Bishop Gärtner in 2004 through the Society of St. Birgitta, whom he served as Fader Visitator (father visitor). This year during the Mass on St. Birgitta's Day (that's where I took the attached photo) he preached. Afterwards and for the next couple of days people kept asking me, "Did you understand any of Bishop Bertil's sermon?"

"Not really," I replied each time, "but I know he preached about Jesus." That word I understood. At that point my questioner would tell me some point or detail from the sermon.

It was a deeply personal sermon, which was unusual for him. Actually, I'd suspected that, for there was a brief moment his voice halted and tears filled his eyes. Turns out that was the moment he spoke of his fears from earlier this year when his leg had to be amputated because of his diabetes. Yet even in that darkness, he was given the strength to trust in his savior, Jesus. A word that was helpful to all of us listening to him, for the faithful who have been so beset upon by the church we serve.

Later at the formal dinner, I shared with him the reactions I was getting from people who wanted me to know what he had preached. He smiled at my answer, and told me the story of refugees from Finland who had come to Sweden during the War. Every Sunday they came to church, even though it was all in Swedish and they spoke Finnish. Finally the priest, while pleased they were worshiping, asked them if they were getting anything out of it not understanding the language. "You preach Jesus," they responded, "and that's all we need." Thank you, Bishop Bertil.

Prior to his election as the immediate successor to Bo Giertz as Bishop of Gothenburg, Gärtner was known as an academic theologian, teaching at Uppsala University and then as Professor of New Testament at Princeton University (1965-1969) -- which meant that conversing with him in English was quite easy. After his retirement in 1991, he continued to be very active in the Swedish Church, particularly as a Bishop for various renewal groups and organizations within the Swedish Church.

He had been with arbetsgemenskapen Kyrklig Förnyelse (aKF or the Church Union, a "high church" renewal group) since its founding in 1959, and served as its chairman for many years. He was unable to attend aKF's Church Days at the end of August, but his written message was delivered and appears on their web site -- which, in reporting his death, also describes (at least as Google translate puts it) exactly what many of my SSB friends are feeling at this moment: "Many of us feel like sheep without a shepherd."

He was also active in Oasrörelsen i Sverige, an independent charismatic renewal group, since its beginnings. In their announcement, Oasrörelsen links to an article he wrote for their latest newsletter, "Vara kvar eller inte?" Google translates that as "to remain or not" and, while it needs a lot of polishing, you can get his answer here.

Do we leave the Swedish Church today? he asks. (Is that hitting home, fellow ELCAers?) Wrestling with that question since at least 1979-80, Bishop Gärtner had opportunity to meet Eastern and Western Patriarchs -- the Russian in Moscow, the Greek (the then Patriarch and the current one) in Constantinople, the Roman in Rome (the then-new Pope John Paul II). And in those conversations, he sought their counsel to this question.

Each Patriarch gave the same answer: remain where God has placed you. And that has been Bishop Bertil's conviction ever since.

The Bishop was active in the Free Synod throughout its existence. And from hospital on Saturday, the day before he was called to his eternal home, came his final post on Bertil bloggar ("Bertil blogs"), where he wonders why people knowing nothing about, or not believing in, the Christian Faith would seek election to next year's Church Synod -- and encourages his readers to vote for nominees from Frimodig kyrka.

A Churchman to the end,

Bertil Gärtner (13 December 1924 – 20 September 2009).

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetuam luceat eis.
Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Seventeen Years

What follows is a slightly edited re-post a previous blog post. A blessed St. John Chrysostom's Day to you all. Zip+

+ + +
O Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am indeed unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation.

But since thou hast appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teaching and the instruction, O be thou my helper and let thy holy angels attend me.

Then if thou art pleased to accomplish anything through me, to thy glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of thy pure grace and mercy, a right understanding of thy Word and that I may also diligently perform it.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, thou shepherd and bishop of our souls, send thy Holy Spirit that he may work with me, yea, that he may work in me to will and to do through thy divine strength according to thy good pleasure. Amen!
That is Luther's Sacristy Prayer, and I pray it every Sunday as I vest for the Eucharist. I'll sometimes think then that it would be good to post it here and it is particularly fitting to do so today (thank you, Father Weedon, for the idea), for it was 17 years ago today that the Rev. J. Roger Anderson, Bishop of what was then called the Southern California (West) Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America addressed me as we stood in the Chancel of the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Canoga Park, California, about 15 feet from where I had been baptized 33 years (less one week) earlier:
According to apostolic usage you are now to be set apart to the office of Word and Sacrament in the one holy catholic Church by the laying on of hands and by prayer.
Bishop Anderson was joined in the addresses that followed by the pastor loci and my pastor, the Rev. C. David Olsen (of blessed memory, who preached that afternoon), the Rev. Brian Eklund (pastor then at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Los Angeles, who had supervised my seminary "Cross Cultural Experience"), and the Rev. Jeffrey Frohner (a friend and seminary classmate who had just begun serving his first call at Trinity Lutheran Church, Santa Barbara). With them standing around me, the Bishop then examined me:
Before almighty God, to whom you must give account, and in the presence of this congregation, I ask: Will you assume this office, believing that the Church's call is God's call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

The Church in which you are to be ordained confeses that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and are the norm of its faith and life. We accept, teach, and confess the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds. We also acknowledge the Lutheran Confessions as true witnesses and faithful expositions of the Holy Scriptures. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and these creeds and confessions?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

Will you be diligent in your study of the Holy Scriptures and in your use of the means of grace? Will you pray for God's people, nourish them with the Word and Holy Sacraments, and lead them by your own example in faithful service and holy living?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

Will you give faithful witness in the world, that God's love may be know by all that you do?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

Almighty God, who has given you the will to do these things, graciously give you the strength and compassion to perform them.
After the Prayer of the Church and Come, Holy Ghost, they (though Brian and Jeffrey aren't really visible from this angle) were joined in the laying on of hands by the Rev. John Stump (Pastor Olsen's predecessor and my pastor at Resurrection during most of my college years) and the 2 nearest neighboring ELCA pastors, the Rev. John Lundeen (then of St. Luke Lutheran Church, Woodland Hills, and one of the Augustana Synod's Lundeen clan) and the Rev. Bryan Woken (then and now at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Canoga Park (West Hills). And thus they committed the Office of the Holy Ministry to me. Every time I attend an ordination, or simply take a few moments during devotions to review those promises -- many of us who have been in the Society of the Holy Trinity for a longer time have a card with them imprinted on the obverse of a holy card of Rublev's icon of the Old Testament Trinity -- I am struck once again by what I have been called to. How awsome! And how inadequate I am to bear that office.

Being reminded of that is a good thing. There is another similar Sacristy Prayer of Luther's that I don't use, but it always makes me smile, then ponder:
Lord God, thou hast appointed me a bishop and pastor in thy church. Thou seest how unfit I am to undertake this great and difficult office, and were it not for thy help, I would long since have ruined it all. Therefore I cry unto thee; I will assuredly apply my mouth and my heart to thy service. I desire to teach the people and I myself would learn ever more and diligently meditate thy Word. Use thou me as thine instrument, only do not forsake me, for if I am left alone I shall easily bring it all to destruction. Amen.
What an exciting day it was 17 years ago. And despite all I've done since, somehow it's not yet been destroyed. What a gracious Lord God we have!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The "Inerrancy" Question

What follows is a slightly edited version of a statement I wrote last week for a Facebook group of folk who, in the light of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly's actions, are wondering about what's next for Lutheranism in North America.

I begin by recalling that "inerrancy" was a matter of significant debate in the 1980s during the discussions that led to the formation of the ELCA. In part because the word was included in the ALC's statement of faith in its constitutions and it was not in the LCA's. This is not a new question.

Here is how the Epitome of the Formula of Concord begins (using the Tappert edition):
We believe, teach, and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged, as it is written in Ps. 119:105, "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." And St. Paul says in Gal. 1:8, "Even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed."

Other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, should not be put on a par with Holy Scripture. Every single one of them should be subordinated to the Scriptures and should be received in no other way and no further than as witnesses to the fashion in which the doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved in post-apostolic times. (Epitome, intro 1; p. 464f.)
And further to paragraph 3 of the intro,
In this way the distinction between the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments and all other writings is maintained, and Holy Scripture remains the only judge, rule, and norm according to which as the only touchstone all doctrines should and must be understood and judged as good or evil, right or wrong. (p. 465)
The Solid Declaration reads,
We pledge ourselves to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments as the pure and clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated. (SD, intro 1; p. 503f.)

If you a looking for a *Lutheran* description of the Holy Scriptures, that's it in the Formula of Concord.

This is reflected in the ELCA's Statement of Faith (much like that of our LCA and the ULCA predecessors):
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.
"Inspired" comes from the Scriptures themselves, "source and norm" from the Lutheran Confessions.

So, whence "inerrancy?"

19th Century American Evangelicalism and its encounter with modernism, science, the mass immigration of Roman Catholics, and -- as the 19th was turning into the 20th -- Darwinism. "Inerrancy" didn't enter American Lutheran lingo until WWI and the use of English in Lutheran theological discourse. It was first formally adopted with the formation of the "old" ALC (1930) and the LCMS soon afterwards.

What are the problems with asserting "inerrancy?" As Wartburg Seminary's J. M. Reu argued during the discussions the led to old ALC, it goes beyond what the Bible claims for itself. If that isn't enough, it goes beyond the Lutheran Confessions themselves (see above).

Furthermore, as was pointed out in a comment on [this group's] Wall, one indeed finds factual errors in the Bible. The usual solution to this is to define the idea further as "inerrant in the original autographs." That may help some people, but the original autographs of the biblical books are, like unicorn horns and Atlantis, neither available nor recoverable.

More to the point, it is not the original autographs, but the Holy Scriptures as we have them that are the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.

Finally, the idea comes from a stream of protestantism that rejects such things as baptismal regeneration and the bodily presence of the risen Christ in the Holy Communion -- both of which are taught directly in the Scriptures and which are central to the catholic faith, particularly as Lutherans teach it. Which ought to raise the question of what "inerrancy" actually protects us from.

Friday, September 11, 2009

R. R. Reno: "Marriage, Morality, and Culture"

The always thoughtful lay theologian Rusty Reno posted the following on Wednesday over at First Things: On the Square.

Marriage, Morality, and Culture

R. R. Reno

The tide is going out. Words like fornication have a musty, antiquated ring. Unwed mothers no longer suffer social stigma. Divorce has become common. The large, complicated human reality of sexual desire, mating, romance, and childrearing no longer finds itself ruled by elaborate and widely accepted social norms. And now, of course, we are in the midst of a drive toward same-sex marriage.

I’m not surprised by the latest development. In my years as an Episcopalian, I came to see that homosexuality plays in important role in the much larger phenomenon of changed social mores in the area of sex, family, and marriage. The image of two men or two women kissing gives a dramatic immediacy to the many aspects of sexual revolution: real people, genuinely felt desires, new possibilities, the courage to transgress old norms, and the hope for the lasting happiness based on love’s unifying power.

In other words, homosexuality richly suggests freedom from an old, restrictive moral order, freedom from the inhibiting power of shame, freedom from the burdens of judgment, censure, and condemnation. And it evokes the promise of existential freedom, the inner release from inhibition and fear of social censure.

The allure of existential freedom is not new. In 1859, John Stuart Mill published On Liberty, an argument for expanding the scope of human freedom beyond the realm of the political narrowly understood. In order to undertake what Mill famously called “experiments in living,” we need to be able to escape from “the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling.”

Mill was correct. We are social animals. Hardwired to want to fit in, all of us feel the soft coercion of cultural norms. As a result, a deep freedom to live as we please requires more than political rights. We need something like “social rights” that give us leverage over and against inherited culture.

To a very great extent, the cultural history of the twentieth century can be understood as the gradual acceptance of “social rights.” In America, a long dominant Protestant and bourgeois ethos eroded—and then in the 1960s collapsed. In a short decade, divorce went from something dangerously shameful to socially acceptable. Premarital sex and cohabitation followed the same trajectory. Acceptance of out-of-wedlock childbearing came more slowly, as did same-sex relationships. But the end result is now the same. Gay couples now have a social right to live their personal lives free from social censure.

Our courts tend to reflect social reality. In 1965, the Supreme Court was faced with a case (Griswold v. Connecticut) that challenged a law against contraceptives. In its majority decision, the Court identified a right to privacy. As a legal right narrowly understood, it means that the government has no business policing bedrooms. However, it has become more expansive, most notoriously to include right to abortion. Today, the right to privacy pretty much accords with Mill’s notion of freedom from “prevailing opinion and feeling.” It amounts to a right to conduct one’s personal life as one wishes, unhindered by other people’s ideas of right and wrong.

This expansive legal right has been reinforced by a new social consensus. Today, it is singularly gauche to announce that you regard someone’s marital, sexual, or parental choices to be “wrong” or “immoral.” Indeed, the very fact that I put scare quotes around “wrong” and “immoral” is telling. We are now heavily socialized to be tolerant and non-judgmental—with the exception, of course, of refusing to tolerate the intolerant and quick to judge the judgmental. But there is no contradiction. Both the tolerance and intolerance serve to provide and reinforce the now dominant culture, one that believes we should be able to live as we wish.

The controversial question of same-sex marriage is so interesting and important because it marks decisive new phase in our cultural drive toward an every deeper freedom to live as one pleases. Freedom from censure is no longer sufficient. Today, we see an emerging right to cultural approval and endorsement.

Some months ago, the Supreme Court of Connecticut handed down a decision that required the state legislature to make provisions for same sex marriage. The most interesting part of the opinion concerns the alternative of civil unions. As the Court recognizes, the artifice of “civil union” is a bloodless affair designed to remove the legal disadvantages that adhere to the private choices of same-sex lovers: matters of inheritance, health coverage, and so forth. The Connecticut judges deemed civil unions separate but unequal, and their reasoning is telling. Civil unions are unsatisfactory, because they lack the “transcendent historical, cultural, and social significance” of traditional marriage.

Gays and lesbians, by this way of thinking, have a right to a full range of cultural resources for defining their lives together, including the rich symbolic legacy of traditional norms for marriage. Privacy is not enough. It is unfair to deny public endorsement and quasi-sacred sanction to personal choices.

Therein lies the final act of the sexual revolution that has defined Western culture for the last fifty years. A traditional culture constrains and limits desire, especially the volatile complexities of sexual desire. The reasoning behind the drive toward same-sex marriage reverses the direction of authority. Our secular elite culture believes that desires—as long as they do not directly harm others—should command and shape culture. We should be able to make of marriage what we wish.

Result: the emerging postmodern Empire of Desire. In the past, the instruments of political power (e.g., the right to privacy) have been used to tear down official forms of limitation and censure so that desires can find their satisfactions. The soft power of culture has followed the same path. Our present and widespread social censure of moral censure inculcates and reinforces a non-judgmental ethos. Now we are embarking on a much more aggressive program. Everybody should have access to the cultural symbols of affirmation. Everybody has a right to feel normal.

This right to normalcy is very different from the right to privacy. Indeed, they can seem antithetical, since the former requires mobilizing the power of the state to redesign social institutions that we all must live with, while the later is focused on minimizing the role of government in people’s personal lives. Yet I think the right to normalcy follows from the logic of John Stuart Mill’s insights.

As social animals we don’t just want to be free from censure. We are not rugged individualists. We want to feel like we are part of the pack, and as everybody knows, feeling marginal can be very painful, even if everybody is smiling and nodding and uttering reassuring platitudes of acceptance. Therefore, if we really believe that human beings are most happy when they design their own lives, then eventually we will come around to the view that culture as a whole should be turned over to serve our desires. Moral traditions must be available for personal tailoring.

Thus, whatever one thinks of homosexuality, one can see that the judges in Connecticut framed the issue clearly. Same-sex marriage is about achieving a social or cultural equality for everyone, regardless of their experiments in living. It’s about our need to feel normal, and it’s about giving everybody access to institutions that confer feelings of normalcy and legitimacy. In the Empire of Desire, everybody gets ceremonies and ribbons and prizes and their fifteen minutes of fame.

But we cannot turn culture into the equivalent of a public access channel. As Aristotle explained in his account of moral formation and human flourishing, culture humanizes us by demanding our obedience. Happiness does not come from living according to your desires. It comes from desiring to live according to demanding and disciplining social norms that transcend individual desires.

The judges in Connecticut and elsewhere, as well as the larger same-sex marriage movement, are entertaining a fantasy. It is sociologically incoherent to imagine that we can both radically redefine marriage and transfer its “transcendent, cultural, and social significance” to same-sex couples, as if the former does not alter and undermine the later.

We cannot make culture serve our desires—or our ideals for that matter. We cannot turn traditional modes of moral discipline such as marriage into a ready resource for conferring feelings of normalcy or equality. To consciously modify the moral norms of moral institutions such as marriage turns them into something else: existential decoration, imaginary seriousness, or an engineered garment of meaning that cannot help but feel plastic and artificial. A bespoke “transcendent, cultural, and social significance” is ephemeral and short lived.

R.R. Reno is features editor of First Things and professor of theology at Creighton University.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Forgetting Who You Are?

Pastor's Zip's web browser opens to Google News and he'll read the headlines there. In the last day or so, one of the headlines was about a ruling in another part of the nation declaring that Bibles could not be given away on a public school campus. Naturally, I can't find that headline today (so maybe I imagined it?), but the search raised up controversial new law in Texas requiring that "Bible literacy" be incorporated in school curricula.

The controversy neglects discussion of something that, to my way of thinking, is more than a mere historical tidbit. Namely, that public schools were started in these United States for the purpose of teaching children how to read the Bible. Not simply to read, but read the Bible.

Meanwhile, in my car stereo I'm giving my first listen to the Verve CD re-issue of the classic Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Song Book album, which I acquired earlier this summer for practically nothing while trying to burn up my accumulated points with the now-closed BMG Music Club. (Oh, am I enjoying riding in Sebastian -- yes, my 2002 Golf TDI has a name -- right now!) It would be hard to say what Irving Berlin's most popular song is, but it would be hard to top "White Christmas" and "God Bless America."

The latter song is sometimes looked at curiously, for while his father had been a cantor in a Jewish synagogue, Irving Berlin himself was not a particularly religious man. He was, in fact, another immigrant product of New York's public schools (albeit only to the age of 8) and streets (where he hawked newspapers and, later as a teen, even lived). One of hundreds of thousands. Berlin's lyrics reflect the language and thinking of the "average American" of his era, which was the first two-thirds of the 20th century.

And so, listening to Ella sing (with Paul Weston's marvelous orchestra), the seventh cut begins, "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan." A song I'd never heard before. And an Irving Berlin lyric that makes no sense at all apart from a Biblically literate society.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Free Synod?

Lots of questions about this from Bishop Spring's latest letter about the Lutheran CORE Convocation:
A free-standing synod, carrying out synodical ministries, apart from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Here is how I understand it, as I posted on ALPB Forum Online. Note, this is not definitive, but it is what I understand and will advocate at the Convocation.

Our problem as 21st century American Lutherans is that we hear the word "synod" and immediately think "denomination" or, worse, a sub-division of a denomination or "judicatory."

A "synod" is a gathering of pastors and congregations. That's it. A gathering of pastors and congregations for a particular purpose. "Synod Assembly" is like "The La Brea Tar Pits" (forgive the Southern California reference; it's a major historical site in Los Angeles: "la brea" is Spanish for "the tar pits").

If we wanted to be really precise about it, we could call the Convocation itself a "free synod," that is, a gathering that is open to anyone interested in the purpose of the gathering. It is "free" because it is not associated with, in this case any official gathering of the church.

So, a Free Synod of ELCA pastors and congregations is a gathering of ELCAers separate from the formal structures of the ELCA for a particular purpose -- in this case to provide support for those pastors and congregations in the ELCA who are conscience bound, by Scripture and Confession, to reject the errors of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly and the ELCA's leadership.

That "support" happens primarily at the Free Synod, that is the gathering (something we seem to be forgetting of our ELCA synods), but since it must be on-going support (until the ELCA repents of its error) the Free Synod will likely have some sort of continuing existence to co-ordinate relationships with various ministries and missions, to provide common suggestions for alternatives to the anti-Gospel portions of the ELCA (such as curricula that will portray gay "families" or a pastor's "partner" as just another option, or liturgical/prayer resources that neuter the Lord God or emasculate the risen Christ, etc.).

A Free Synod within the ELCA enables those of us who reject the CWA's actions to stay together in mission to live out the mission that brought us together in the first place, the mission expressed in the Constitution of the ELCA, its synods, and congregations. (See my "Why Stay?," originally posted on this online forum, for why we want to do that.) A Free Synod of faithful ELCA folks would call upon the ELCA to return to its stated purpose. The CWA's actions specifically provide for our voice to be there, and we should challenge the ELCA's leaders to be true to their word is every way we can, and that challenge includes participating as fully as possible in official ELCA, synod, conference, etc. activities. (So, yes, it challenges us, too.)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Update on Lutheran CORE's Convocation

September 4, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This is an exciting and hopeful time for confessional Lutherans in North America. I am glad to report that in the past couple weeks we have received an incredible outpouring of support for Lutheran CORE's ministries and plans for the future. People and churches are joining at a rate with which we can barely keep pace. During the churchwide assembly and after we have made connections with important leaders of other Lutheran groups in the ELCA and beyond. We are most encouraged by these responses.

We look forward to being with many of you at the Convocation at Christ the Savor Lutheran Church in Fishers (Indianapolis) Ind. on September 25 and 26. We want you to know in more detail what we hope to accomplish at the Convocation. Our goal and vision for Lutheran CORE is a re-forming and a re-newal of our coalition. With God's help, we intend to be . . .
  • A confessional and confessing movement, rooted in Scripture, creeds, and confessions, open to all Lutherans in North America
  • A churchly community, grounded in Word and sacrament and congregational mission
  • A free-standing synod, carrying out synodical ministries, apart from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • An umbrella group for other Lutheran reform movements
  • A coalition of synods, congregations, individuals, and reform movements both within and outside the ELCA
In addition, we intend to initiate a process that we hope will lead to a reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism (see resolution 4 below).

On Friday, September 25, we will convene at 4:00 p.m. There will be an introductory presentation by Bishop Kenneth Sauer, former chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, and a response from Mr. Ryan Schwarz, the runner-up in the election for ELCA Vice President last month. After dinner, I will present the vision for Lutheran CORE to be followed by general discussion. The evening will conclude with Evening Prayer.

On Saturday, we will begin the day with Holy Communion at 8:00 a.m. We will then consider and, hopefully, adopt a constitution for our ministry. Then we will consider the following proposed resolutions from the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee:
  1. That those currently serving on the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee retain their offices for one year, until an election at the 2010 convocation.

  2. That the Steering Committee be authorized to prepare and implement a fiscal plan for Lutheran CORE for the calendar year 2010; and that the Steering Committee prepare a proposed fiscal plan for the year 2011, for action at the 2010 convocation.

  3. That the Steering Committee be directed to begin implementing the provisions of the constitution beginning, October 1, 2009.

  4. That the Steering Committee be authorized to initiate conversations among the congregations and reform movements in Lutheran CORE and with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ and other compatible churchly organizations, leading toward a possible re-configuration of North American Lutheranism, whether through existing or newly created structures; and that the Steering Committee present a report and recommendations to the 2010 convocation of Lutheran CORE.
We want all who care for the future shape of orthodox Lutheranism to attend the convocation. It is not too late to register. The deadline for registration is September 10! You will find a registration form on

We anticipate a large attendance at our convocation. If the registrations keep pouring in at the present rate, we will have to re-locate the convocation site to another church near Fishers that has a much larger facility. The hotels listed on the registration brochure are conveniently located for either church so no one will need to make any changes in their accommodations. We will keep you informed and let you know as soon as possible if we need to move the convocation to another church.

We will place the draft of the proposed constitution on the Lutheran CORE website next week. Because of limited time at the convocation, we ask that you send us suggestions for revision of the constitution ahead of time. Doing this will assist us greatly in making efficient use of our time. Please send your suggestions no later than September 16th. Thank you for your understanding in this matter. You may send your suggestions to me at

Thank you for all your prayers and encouragement in the past month. I look forward to our time together at Fishers with great hope and in the confidence that Gods Spirit will guide and lead us. If you have questions, please be in touch with me or with another member of the Steering Committee.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Paull E. Spring
Lutheran CORE Chair

Lutheran CORE Steering Committee
Rev. Mark Braaten, Tyler, Texas
Rev. Mark Chavez, Landisville, Pa.
Rev. Scott Grorud, Hutchinson, Minn.
Rev. Rebecca M. M. Heber, Lake Mary, Fla.
Rev. Kenneth Kimball, Waterville, Iowa
Rev. Pastor Victor C. Langford III, Seattle, Wash.
Mr. Ryan Schwarz, Washington, D.C.
Rev. W. Stevens Shipman, Lock Haven, Pa.
Rev. Paul Ulring, Columbus, Ohio
Rev. Erma Wolf, Brandon, S.D.

Friday, September 04, 2009

See a Distraught Pastor Zip

The report of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly's actions as reported at the top of the news broadcast on WHO-TV in Des Moines, Iowa. It's just over 3 minutes long, and if you're on dial-up it's not easy to view. The full report comes to about 14 megabytes. But during the first 20 seconds, you can see the shot of me that was broadcast on at least one Minneapolis TV station and on CNN's Headline News.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Why Stay in the ELCA?

The following is slightly edited from comments I posted Monday night (as I was decompressing from our adult Vacation Bible School) in response to a frustrated layman's question on ALPB Forum Online.

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+