Saturday, October 31, 2009

For Hallowe'en/Reformation Day

From "BrotherBoris" on ALPB Forum Online:

"The Reformed are like vampires. They are horrified by the sign of the cross, literally run away from holy water (I wonder if it burns them?) and suck any good ceremonial out of a congregation. No wonder they dress in that dreary black robe of death. God forbid we should have something beautiful, colorful and worthy of the King of Kings like a Gold colored Chasuble or a Gold plated chalice instead of some plastic, disposable Nyquil cup for the Sacrament."

Trick or treat!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Remembering the Signs

So there I was, driving north-bound on I-35 about a half-hour after crossing the Iowa-Minnesota border, on my way to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis. It's not the most exciting drive, but I had the lecture series by Br. William Short, ofm, St. Francis of Assisi: A New Way of Being Christian, on the CD player to keep my mind occupied.

When I was in seminary I worked for the Franciscan School of Theology -- first as it's Controller then, upon my return from intership, as the (personal) Assistant to the President. Brother Bill was FST's President all that time, though in the Spring-Summer of '92 he was on sabbatical, so I was Bill Cieslak's assistant my last few months there. Anywho, listening to Bill's lectures -- and I highly recommend them -- had reminded me of just how compelling lecturer he is. I'd not thought for years of how his lectures in the GTU's pre-Reformation Christian history courses were immensely well received. The CDs were (are) a nice reminder of what I really liked about going to seminary in Berkeley, and one of the reasons I've always had a stronger affinity for FST than my official alma mater, PLTS. But I digress.

So I'm driving northbound on I-35 in the middle of August. Also known as "road construction season." Especially this summer as where ever you drove, you weren't far from watching our grandchildren's money at work stimulating the economy for us. So we're actually driving northbound on the southbound lanes, as the northbound ones are closed so they can be rebuilt.

And, suddenly before my eyes, an hour or so away from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly that would be called to order in just a few hours, came this sign:

Lutheran CORE in Illinois

I sent the following last evening.

Illinois CORE Update #1

Greetings in Christ Jesus.

This message is to give you a brief update on what has been happening with Lutheran CORE Illinois since a Steering Committee was elected Sunday evening October 4 at American Lutheran Church in Rantoul. You are receiving this because you left this e-mail address with us at that meeting, or you have indicated to me in some other way an interest in Lutheran CORE's efforts in Illinois. Please feel free to forward this message to anyone you believe would be interested, lay, clergy, or congregation.

But first, most of you receiving this were sent an invitation on October 18 to join a "CORE_Illinois" group at Yahoo! -- and a few of you have joined are receiving this message from it. This group will be used for announcements and updates of what is happening with Lutheran CORE in Illinois. It is set up for anyone interested to receive messages only. We will not use this group/list to fill up your e-mail inbox. We will be setting up another Yahoo! Group for conversation, questions, etc., and will announce that on the CORE Illinois group once it is ready for CORE members to join.

If you wish to keep up with CORE Illinois news and events, please either:
  + respond to the original invitation, or
  + send your name and e-mail to CORE_Illinois-subscribe (at) yahoogroups (dot) com, or
  + send your name and e-mail to me personally at or Lynn Bivens at 7Whites (at) comcast (dot) net, or
  + go to and follow the instructions to join.

That website and the messages on it anyone can read. You do not need to join Yahoo! to receive the messages via e-mail, but with a Yahoo! memberships you will be able to manage how you receive the messages yourself and use other features that come with Yahoo! Groups.

If you are not interested in CORE Illinois messages, you need do nothing. We will not be sending you further messages about CORE Illinois unless you tell us you want us to.

Now, for the update:
  1. The Illinois CORE Steering Committee is made up of:
      + Pastor Steven Tibbetts (Zion, Peoria), Chair
      + Ralph Cox (American, Rantoul), Vice-Chair
      + Lynn Biven (Bethel, Bartonville), Secretary
      + Mike Kasten (Champaign)
      + Jim Taeger (Prince of Peace, St. Joseph)

  2. We have been formally received as a member of Lutheran CORE That means we will be part of a larger coalition of Lutheran reform groups that, over the next year, are discerning how to continue mission and ministry with each other even as some stay in the ELCA and others leave in light of the actions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. Lutheran CORE is looking to be a movement for the renewal of Lutheranism in North America, as part of the ELCA when possible, apart from the ELCA when necessary. There is much helpful information on their website, as well as clarification of misinformation. They are still in catch-up mode after the overwhelming attendance at the Fishers Convocation -- so you may still also find materials that reflect how things were before the Assembly.

  3. As you read materials about and from Lutheran CORE, and as you find yourselves in discussions about this summer's actions, you will notice that the controversies are not simply about sex. Yes, we in Lutheran CORE believe the Social Statement on Human Sexuality is fundamentally flawed and the changes in ministry standards are unacceptable. But these are symptoms of deeper issues within the ELCA (which most of us are still part of) over the use and authority of Holy Scripture; how we speak about and to God in worship, prayer, and study; and Christ's Great Commission to make disciples. The temptation is to focus on the ELCA's new perspectives on sexuality; that diverts the churches from Christian mission.

  4. I am forming a Clergy Advisory group of about a dozen C/SIS pastors. They are not only providing the Steering Committee guidance and advice, they are at work building a web site for Illinois CORE. Watch for an announcement of the site's launch.

  5. The Steering Committee has been creating a brief Powerpoint (TM) presentation for use with smaller groups, such as Congregation Councils, etc. It has been used with at least one congregation so far, but is still a very much a work-in-progress.

  6. Representatives of the Steering Committee and/or Advisory group have addressed Lutheran CORE with the pastors and rostered leaders of at least two Conferences, at least one congregational forum, and with at least one Congregation Council. Other inquiries are being made in various spots throughout the Synod, but nothing has been scheduled as yet. If you'd like a representative from Lutheran CORE Illinois to be part of your conversations responding to the Assembly's actions, contact me or Lynn.

  7. As I'd indicated at Rantoul, I attended a gathering of clergy from the Northern Illinois and Metro Chicago Synods concerned about the Churchwide Assembly's actions. Before this, they have been isolated from one another, thinking that they were alone in their concerns. (That will sound familiar to some in our Synod, too.) Now they know otherwise. While it seems more likely that they will form their own Lutheran CORE group rather than join with ours, we intend to support each other as much as we are able.

  8. The October 4 gathering called for a January convocation open to all Lutherans within the Central/Southern Illinois Synod, or even the entire state of Illinois, in order to complete the necessary organization of a Lutheran CORE Illinois member. The Clergy Advisory group is currently scouting out possible locations, initially focussing on the Decatur-Springfield area.

  9. Please keep Bishop Freiheit and the pastors of the C/SIS in your prayers. As across the ELCA people are divided over the actions of the Churchwide Assembly, we find the same divisions within the Synod, among the pastors, and even within congregations. Even those who have supported the Assembly's actions are aware of the negative impacts this has had throughout the ELCA. Lutheran CORE aims to be a means for the faithful to stand together in the Gospel and to work toward the future the Lord is giving us in our places. That begins in this difficult time by holding all our called leaders in prayer.

Again, please feel free to forward this message to anyone you believe would be interested, lay, clergy, or congregation.

Your servant in Christ, Steven+

The Rev. Steven P. Tibbetts, STS
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Peoria, Ill.
Chair, Illinois CORE Steering Committee

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reformation Sunday 2009

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I’m doing something unusual with this sermon, for in my 17 years as pastor at Zion, it has been very, very rare for me to preach on Sunday from a manuscript. Furthermore, just about everything I’m going to say is not my words, but the words of another pastor, Frank Senn, whose name many of you will recognize as the Senior of the Society of the Holy Trinity. This is a sermon that he has offered to be preached in many churches throughout the ELCA for this particular Reformation Sunday, one that is being preached in one form or another by a few dozen pastors across our church who are in the process of uniting to proclaim a clear word within the church we have been called to serve. So, here goes.

Ecclesia semper reformanda. "The church must always be reformed."

Martin Luther didn’t invent it; it was a medieval slogan. In fact, as the Luther biographer Heiko Oberman, reformation was "a medieval event." It grew out of the experience of the monasteries, which were always growing lax with regard to the observance of their Rule, and which required calls for reform and renewal. Sometimes this led to splits in monastic communities: for example, the Cistercians split off from the main body of the Benedictines. Martin Luther belonged to the "observant" branch of the Augustinian Order rather than the "conventual" branch. By the way, Luther was not, strictly speaking, a monk; he was a friar. Monks are cloistered religious; the friars were out and about on the streets and highways. Anyway, calls for reform were not new by the 16th century; and schism had been experienced—not only in religious communities, but in the papacy itself. The Protestant-Catholic schism was not the first schism in church history; but it was a pretty major one.

"The church must always be reformed." Once Luther’s reform movement settled into being a church established by law in the cities, territories, and nations of central and northern Europe, it too needed reform. The first major reform movement within Lutheranism was Pietism in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, which set out to "convert the outward orthodox profession into a living theology of the heart." Later in the 19th century, after the period of rationalism during the Age of Enlightenment, there was a confessional revival movement that sought to recover the confessional identity of Lutheranism.

Our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America came into existence in the 1980s on a wave of ideologically-based culture wars. The idea was to transcend the differences between the merging church bodies by creating a "new" Lutheran Church which cut continuity with preceding traditions. Sometimes in silly ways. For example, when I receive a notice from the ELCA I am addressed as "rostered leader," not "pastor." If you’re trying to be relevant to the contemporary world, who in the world knows what a "rostered leader" is? But there have been more serious issues raising the concern among many about whether "this Church" takes seriously the Scriptures, creeds, and confessions.

Not surprisingly, almost from the very beginning of the ELCA there has been agitation for reform. In the early 1990s, when I was still in seminary, there were two "Call to Faithfulness" conferences sponsored by three independent Lutheran journals and held at St. Olaf College. They attracted nearly a thousand participants who paid their own way, people whom at the second conference then-Presiding Bishop Chilstrom insinuated didn’t love the Church. In the year 1995 a document called The 9.5 Theses came out, claiming a "crisis of faith" in the Church. More than 700 pastors and some 300 lay people subscribed to them. The leaders of this effort appealed to then-Presiding Bishop Anderson to at least have the Theses discussed within the Conference of Bishops, but he refused to put it on the agenda, saying that he would be proposing his own faith formation initiatives. No one seems to remember what those were.

Out of this intransigence, the Society of the Holy Trinity was born in 1997 as an inter-Lutheran ministerium that seeks to renew the ordained ministry, a Society I joined shortly after its formation and which after our latest General Retreat last month now numbers over 260 pastors in 8-9 different Lutheran church bodies in North America. In the wake of the most recent ELCA Churchwide Assembly, a coalition of reform groups numbering 1200 people came together in Indianapolis a few weeks ago (again, at their own expense) to propose forming a free standing synod that will include pastors and congregations that are in the ELCA and those that are not in ELCA. I think there is promise in this proposal, if groups that have quite different, sometimes diametrically opposite, views on the nature of the church and ministry, can transcend those differences and organize an annual convocation in which pastors and congregations come together to do what the church needs to do: worship, study the Bible, discuss mission strategies and congregational life, and move beyond the culture wars that have dominated ELCA assemblies for twenty-one years.

Back in the 1530s there were lots of ideas about reforming the Church. Since early in the Reformation, Luther had been calling for a free synod under the presidency of the Emperor, rather than the Pope, to deal with the differences in theology and proposals for reform. He called for such a synod one last time in a 1539 treatise called On the Councils and the Church. People were confused about where the true church was found. He said, "not in Rome; not even in Wittenberg," but where the word of God is preached and the sacraments of Christ are administered. In other words, not in the churchwide structure, and not even in the local judicatory, even if that local judicatory is more to your liking. He expanded this to discuss Seven Marks of the Church, which Society of the Holy Trinity has spent the last three years studying.

Here in these Seven Marks is the basis of church reform and renewal, based not on human effort, but on the divine means of grace. In a time of crisis when reform is needed, you go back to the basics. Here are the basics, said Luther, but in their catholic fullness. It’s not just, as one reform movement has coined, "word alone."

In this treatise, Luther wrote:
The Children’s Creed [that is, the Apostles’ Creed] teaches us… that a Christian holy people is to be and to remain on earth until the end of the world. This is an article of faith that cannot be terminated until that which it believes comes, as Christ promises, "I am with you always, to the close of the age" [Matt. 28:20]. But how will or how can a poor confused person tell where such Christian holy people are to be found in this world?
And thus Luther introduces these Seven Marks of the Church, which some of you may find familiar from a Lenten series Pastor Lund and I taught a few years ago. The Marks are:

1. "The Holy Word of God"

Luther writes:
First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God....

[W]e are speaking of the external word, preached orally by men like you and me, for this is what Christ left behind as an external sign, by which his church, or his Christian people in the world, should be recognized....

Now, wherever you hear or see this word preached, believed, professed, and lived, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, "a Christian holy people" must be there, even though their number is very small. For God’s word "shall not return empty," Isaiah 55 [:11)
God’s strong word is creative and accomplishes what it sets out to do. The word which the hymn writer Martin Franzmann wrote cleaved the darkness and created light can create and sustain the church.

2. "The Holy Sacrament of Baptism"

Luther writes:
Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered according to Christ’s ordinance. That too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession by which God’s people are sanctified. It is the holy bath of regeneration through the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5], in which we bathe and with which we are washed of sin and death by the Holy Spirit, as in the innocent holy blood of the Lamb of God.
God claims us as his own people in Holy Baptism and places his Name on us. In times of difficulty we affirm with St. Patrick, "I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity."

3. "The Sacrament of the Altar"

Luther writes:
Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it is rightly administered, believed, and received, according to Christ’s institution. This too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession left behind by Christ by which his people are sanctified so that they also exercise themselves in faith and openly confess that they are Christian, just as they do with the word and with baptism.
The Eucharist has served as the glue that binds together in one fellowship the body of Christ on earth. We are bound together not by our organizations, but by the body and blood of Christ.

4. "The Office of the Keys publicly exercised"

Luther writes:
Fourth, God’s people or holy Christians are recognized by the office of the keys exercised publicly. That is, as Christ decrees in Matthew 18 [:15-20], if a Christian sins, he should be reproved; and if he does not mend his ways, he should be bound in his sin and cast out. If he does mend his ways, he should be absolved. That is the office of the keys. Now the use of the keys is twofold, public and private.... Now where you see sins forgiven or reproved in some persons, be it publicly or privately, you may know that God’s people are there.
A real church, as St. Matthew’s Gospel taught, has to deal with real forgiveness of real sins.

5. The Office of the Holy Ministry

Luther writes:
Fifth, the church is recognized externally by the fact that it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices that it is to administer. There must be bishops, pastors, or preachers, who publicly and privately give, administer, and use the aforementioned four things or holy possessions in behalf of and in the name of the church, or rather by reason of their institution by Christ, as St. Paul states in Ephesians 4 [:8], "He received gifts among men…"
A public church has a public ministry which publicly preaches God’s Word and publicly administers the sacraments of Christ. In other words, the public ministry does God’s work, not just the work of human institutions.

6. "Prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God"

Luther writes:
Sixth, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God. Where you see and hear the Lord’s Prayer prayed and taught; or psalms or other spiritual songs sung, in accordance with the word of God and the true faith; also the creed, the Ten Commandments, and the catechism used in public, you may rest assured that a holy Christian people of God are present. For prayer, too, is one of the precious holy possessions whereby everything is sanctified, as St. Paul says [1 Tim. 4:5].
The church is visible in public assemblies for worship and in its public catechizing of the people.

7. "The holy possession of the sacred cross"

Luther writes:
Seventh, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord’s Prayer indicates) by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. And the only reason they must suffer is that they steadfastly adhere to Christ and God’s word, enduring this for the sake of Christ, Matthew 5 [:11], "Blessed are you when men persecute you on my account."
The true church will experience trials and tribulations and persecution for the faith.

Finally, Luther writes as a conclusion:
Now we know for certain what, where, and who the holy Christian Church is, that is, the holy Christian people of God; and we are quite certain that it cannot fail us.
The Seven Marks are signs of the true visible Church. Where you see and experience these marks, you see and experience a real church. But these marks also serve as a basis for reform and renewal, whether we’re talking about the 16th century, the 21st century, or any other period of the church’s history.

Ecclesia semper reformanda. "The church must always be reformed." It’s been a church slogan for nearly 1000 years.

Renew the preaching of the Word, the practice of Baptism, Holy Communion, and Penance, the holy Ministry, and public prayer and worship, and experience the cross of Christ in our common life — and the church will be reformed.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

N.B. The quotes from On the Councils and the Church are as they are found in Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings, 1st edition (1989), edited by Timothy F. Lull, pp. 545-564.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

An ELCA Confessional Crisis?

The adoption of Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (the link here is to a pdf file of the Statement as it was adopted by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, and not the version linked at this moment on the ELCA web page entitled "Adopted Social Statement") has precipitated a confessional crisis in our church, if my brother in the Holy Ministry and friend, Pastor Marshall Hahn, STS, is correct. I first saw this on ALPB Forum Online, but he also presented it at the most recent gathering of Call to Faithfulness, the Northeast Iowa Synod reform movement.

I think he's correct. But I'm wondering if the ELCA is capable of recognizing the possibility of a confessional crisis. Read it and weep.

The Confessional Crisis Created by the Decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly

The decisions surrounding human sexuality made at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly have created a confessional crisis within the ELCA. The controversy over these decisions is not simply a disagreement over a social issue concerning how to treat homosexual relations in the church. These decisions touch upon the issues of the authority of Scripture and the role of the Lutheran Confessions in the life of the church.

The crisis these decisions have created can be shown by examining two crucial passages from the Social Statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. In Part IV (lines 620 - 628 in the Pre-Assembly Report) this statement reads:
The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10: 6-9: "But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder." (Jesus here recalls Genesis 1:27; 2:23-24.)
On the next page of the statement, (lines 740 - 744, as amended) it reads:
Recognizing that this conclusion differs from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions, some people, though not all, in this church and within the larger Christian community, conclude that marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong monogamous relationships.
The statement then goes on to treat these two positions and the variants within them as of equal validity, on the basis of the "conscience-bound beliefs" of those who hold them (lines 809 - 868). Moreover, it is on this same basis of the "conscience-bound lack of consensus in this church" (lines 452 - 453 of the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies) that the resolutions on ministry policies were recommended and adopted.

These actions are contrary to and done in violation of the ELCA Confession of Faith, which reads, in part:
Chapter 2
2.03  This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm or its proclamation, faith, and life.

2.04  This church accepts the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as true declarations of the faith of this church.

2.05  This church accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel, acknowledges as one with it in faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.

2.06  This church accepts the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord, namely, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord, as further valid interpretations of the faith of the Church.
The Social Statement and the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies present the two positions mentioned above as of equal validity in the church, even though it is admitted that the first position - namely, that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman - is the position supported by Christian tradition, the Lutheran Confessions, and Scripture; and that the second position - namely, that marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong monogamous relationships - differs from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions.

Given the confessional and constitutional commitment of the ELCA to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions noted above, once a position is identified as that of the Confessions and the Christian tradition based on Scripture, there should be only two options for a Social Statement of the ELCA:
  1. State that such is the position of the ELCA, based on our Confession of Faith, which commits us to the authority of the Holy Scriptures and the witness of the Lutheran Confessions; or,

  2. Demonstrate, by an appeal to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and with the aid of sound reason, that such a position ought to be abandoned or, at the least, present evidence enough to raise serious questions about that position.
Likewise, once a position has been identified as differing from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions, there should be only two options for a Social Statement of the ELCA:
  1. Reject such a position on the basis of our Confession of Faith, which commits us to following the witness of the Lutheran Confessions; or,

  2. Demonstrate, by an appeal to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and with the aid of sound reason, that such a position ought to be adopted or, at the least, present evidence enough to argue that it ought to be considered a valid position within the Lutheran Church.
However, the Social Statement does none of these. It does not present a compelling argument based on Scripture, the Confessions, and sound reason for overturning the stated position on marriage. Neither does it present a compelling argument based on Scripture, the Confessions and sound reason for adopting this alternate position. It does not even attempt to do this. It simply states that within the church there are differing opinions on the matter, and treats both opinions as equally valid. In doing so, it fails to honor our confessional and constitutional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as "the authoritative source and norm of [our] proclamation, faith, and life" and treats the witness of the Lutheran Confessions as a matter of indifference.

Such actions are in violation of our Confession of Faith. The ELCA ought to repent of these actions, take steps to render them ineffectual, and overturn them at the first opportunity. The synods and congregations of the ELCA ought to reject these actions and refuse to abide by them on the basis of our own and identical Confession of Faith. Each pastor in the ELCA ought to oppose these actions and decisions on the basis of the vows taken at ordination to teach and preach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and in light of the Lutheran Confessions.

If such actions are not taken, it leaves those who oppose the actions of the Churchwide Assembly in a state of confessional resistance to the ELCA, and possibly to the synods of which they are members. Appeals to unity and "churchmanship" are of secondary importance to the confessional commitment which undergirds this opposition. Even if one were to make a compelling argument from Scripture and the Confessions in support of the changes in ministry policies at this point, such an argument must also acknowledge and repent of the violation of our Confession of Faith which the actions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly have committed. If these actions are allowed to stand, it will undermine the very Confession of Faith by which we are united.

Pastor Marshall Hahn
St. Olaf Lutheran Parish - Marion & Norway Lutheran Churches
St. Olaf, Iowa
NE Iowa Synod, ELCA

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wolfe: "Broken Keys"

An excerpt from an excellent essay, "Broken Keys," by my brother pastor Ian Wolfe, STS, posted today at Lutheran Forum:

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.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Voice of Heaven

It was brutal, last night's 11-0 Dodger loss to the Phillies.

I was listening to the Dodger feed on my XM Satellite Radio. For the playoffs, the Dodger Network is taking a page from history. You see, during the season the principal Dodgers announcers are Charley Steiner and Rick Monday. They share the announcers' booth beginning in the 4th inning of all games, and for most road games they broadcast the entire game.

THE Dodger announcer is, of course, Vin Scully, who's been at a Dodger mic since the 1950 season. At home and West Coast games, he broadcasts the first 3 innings on radio, then heads over to the TV booth. But in this post-season, we get to go back (in a sense) to the old days, when Scully had the mic solo for most of the game, with Jerry Doggett giving him respite for a couple of innings each game. For this post-season the Dodger feed is Vinnie for innings 1-3 and 7-9. It makes all the difference.

Growing up, Vin Scully's voice was in the background whenever Grandpa Hutchinson was around (his house or ours) and the Dodger game was on. His voice echoed throughout Dodger Stadium as fans brought our transistor radios and tuned to KFI to listen to him describe the game we were watching. Just a couple of years ago, as I was driving on a September Sunday afternoon, I marvelled as Scully kept his listeners entertained as a batter fouled off something like 15 pitches in a row.

Last night, as the Dodgers were receiving a royal shellacking, Vin Scully told it straight. No whining like the more "homer" announcers we have here in the mid-west. No harsh criticism of "bad decisions" by Joe Torre, his coaches, or players. Oh, there was no doubt as you listened just how badly the game was going for Los Angeles and how they weren't executing the way the team with the best record in the National League ought to be executing. But the story is the game, and Vin is a master storyteller, bringing in all sorts of background -- one story was of when the "Whiz-Kid" Phils beat the Dodgers in a one-game playoff to make the World Series, and he didn't need to mention that it was 1950 and that he was there in the booth -- to put it all in the proper context. Baseball's a game. A wonderful game, even when things aren't going well for your team.

Sadly, the 2010 season will be his last. Then no more will a ball game begin, "Hi everybody, and a very pleasant evening to you, wherever you may be."

There's a Facebook group called "Vin Scully - The Voice of God." That's not quite right. Vinnie doesn't speak and things come into being. Rather he describes what's happening, and you are there and you understand what's going on in ways that never would have come to mind. When Scully's announcing the world is right. Evan when the game is brutal. Vin Scully - The Voice of Heaven.