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+


Steve said...

I too stay.

I don't know where else to go.

When my pastor leaves, I will probably leave. Not sure.

Friends say, try an LCMS church.

I think not. God bless them, but I feel as though I am with Baptists when I am with them. (I tried a few times).

Anonymous said...

Pr. Tibbetts -

As an ELCA Seminarian, thank you for clearly articulating the reasons for staying. You have summed up my own take on the situation well. I won't leave; they'll have to throw me out, or at least make things so intolerable that leaving will be the only responsible action. It's time to buckle down, education our laypeople, teach the faith, and pray.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Tibbetts, As a lay person who was extremely upset by this decision and surprised by how much this decision shook me to the core, I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts online. I am so happy there are pastors out there standing up for what they believe in. Thank you and God bless you. For now, I will stay with the ELCA because, as others have said, I don't know where else I would go.

Anonymous said...

"Alleluia Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" That portion from liturgy keeps running through my head over the past two weeks. I have decided to sever communicant membership at my ELCA congregation, while staying for worship at least for now. That is really the only way I can follow my conscience. Our pastor claims to be confessional and states we will make some sort of decision soon. I am hoping that we become independent or perhaps LCMC.
Steve - I was LCMS for 20 and wonder in what way you were made to feel as if you were among Baptists? LOL (I was Southern Baptist before I found the Lutheran Church).

hn160 said...

I was a member of an ELCA church until we moved in 2005. We found a very confessional LC-MS church and never looked back. As far as being wannabe baptist, this church is not. The ELCA is hardly Lutheran anymore especially when they ordain gays ( woman is bad enough ) and have inter-communion with everyone under the sun. Lutheran altars and pulpits should be for Lutherans only.
Charles Porterfield Krauth said that error comes into the church in three stages and the ELCA is in stage three where Error triumphs

Steve said...

The LCMS church I attended was off to the 'right'. They were biblicists and inerrantists, and 3rd users and so much of what they did and said revolved around the law, and not just to kill you off, but to make you what you ought to be.

Having been taught by and preached to by a really good confessional centerist ELCA pastor for 12 years prior, I fely as if the handcuffs were trying to be slapped on me again.

Once you hear that freedom (really hear it) you just can't go back...even if it's a little bit.

Anonymous said...

Very well said, and I agree with the remarks about LTSS. I beleve it is the theological education and formation I received at Southern that helps he stand up to such issues in the church and in society.

I'm glad I have found your blog and will gladly add you to the list of blogs on my site.

Jason said...

I have left the ELCA for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Not being raised Lutheran, I was initially attracted to the ELCA in my adulthood because of the rich orthodox theological history and development from which the ELCA was built. As I have learned that the ELCA was not as orthodox in their actions as in their creeds, I have sought refuge elsewhere. There aren't many LCMS churches in my area, but I have rediscovered orthodoxy in the PCA. Unlike the ELCA churches in my area, the PCA churches seem to be orthodox in both their creeds and their congregational life. Some may call these churches conservative, but I call them orthodox. I admire those of you who stay to fight. You will be in my prayers. To me, as a short-lived member of the ELCA, it seems to me as if the ELCA is beyond saving. There comes a time when the house is simply too broken to be repaired - it must be abandoned, and rebuilt elsewhere. I pray that I am wrong.

Michael Bennett said...

Thanks for posting this, Steven - both to the ALPB forum and here. It's a good summary of the case for staying, even while disappointed.

Anonymous said...

The problem with being a "centrist" and scoffing at inerrancy (which Luther himself was a fan of, ala "God's Word does not lie") is that it inevitably leads down the road the ELCA has headed from its inception. A little leaven spoils the whole batch, and you can't just say, "here, and no farther." Better to stand on simple trust in God's Word than lean on one's own understanding and appeal of emotions.

Jonathan said...

It would do no good to leave the ELCA and set up a "new" church body that carries the same underlying viral hermeneutic of skepticm. The disease would just keep progressing in the new body. Perhaps an staying and adopting a hermeneutic of trust in God's Word could bring about real orthodoxy.

RR said...

Dear Parson "Zip",

I do not nor can not support a "church organization" that teaches the Word falsely. It seems as though many confessing Christians of the Lutheran vintage must not only "resist" the ELCA and its errors, they must traverse forward. Forward in faithfulness. Forward in hope. Forward in our confession to the Living God. I wish Pastor Zip the full faith of our fathers and the strength to persevere. Godspeed!

Anonymous said...

The reasons for leaving are outlined here,
Catholics are more Lutheran than the ELCA

Anonymous said...

Thank you - a dear friend and now former colleague has left both ELCA and ministry for the Roman Catholic Church; I was bereft. There are times I have felt alone, especially at pastors' meetings.

Thank you for both reminder and challenge to be faithful, to be the leaven of orthodoxy, of inerrancy, and of obedient witness.

Pr Marie Caron, Pipersville PA

Anonymous said...

Pastor Zip,

"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."

The above quote confuses me. Please define "sectarian" in this context. The LCMS is definitely NOT a universalist church. How is the LCMS "sectarian".

Are you aware that C. F. W. Walther was an orthodox Lutheran. Please explain what the ELCA/LCMC perceive as shortcomings in the writings of C. F. W. Walther.

Why do the topics of Biblical Inerrancy and Historical Criticism bother ELCA and LCMC clergy? Could you please discuss why and post it on the front page of your blog. All web visitors deserve to see why the ELCA and LCMC are different than the LCMS and TAALC.

Biblical Inerrancy and Historical Criticism explained:

Some LCMS congregations have bought into the Church Growth Movement deception, but most have not. Matt Harrison will soon become president of the LCMS. He wants to return the LCMS to its traditional (non-church growth movement) roots, and he has a lot of support from the pewsitters.

Many people are coming out of the Church Growth churches. Are Lutheran churches prepared to receive these refugees.

Thanks for reading!


A concerned Layman

Pastor Zip said...

I've addressed "inerrancy" here.

The context for my use of "sectarian" is the presumption that those who hold to the same Confession of Faith are excluded from the Table because Altar and Pulpit fellowship has not been declared. My simplified 19th-Century illustration is that Krauth would have communed with Walther, but Walther would not commune with Krauth.

Anonymous said...

If Methodists and ELCA Lutherans are in altar/pulpit fellowship, does this mean: 1.) The Methodist church has accepted Lutheran doctrine; or 2.) The ELCA Lutheran church has accepted Methodist doctrine.

As an example, the Methodist and Lutheran understandings of communion are radically different. As Lutheran and Methodist church doctrine conflict in many areas, then how can there be agreement? On any given day, how does the ELCA (or even the LCMC) know which church doctrine to follow.

The ELCA and LCMC have embraced Historical Criticism of bible - "Situational Lutheranism" for the postmodern age.

Steve said...

To anonymous. On what grounds do you say that LCMC has embraced historical criticism?? I have never seen any indication of that.