Friday, February 26, 2010

The Seven Marks Society: Vision Statement

Late in the evening of Wednesday, 30 September 2009, after Compline at the General Retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity, nearly three dozen pastors (members and non-members of the Society) gathered together to discuss a common response to the actions of the previous month's ELCA Churchwide Assembly and Lutheran CORE's recasting itself as a movement for the renewal of Lutheranism in North America.

By midnight, we'd established both Yahoo! and Facebook groups, and within a week some 75 pastors had signed on to form what was soon called the Seven Marks Society — referring to Luther's seven Marks of the Church that had been the focus of the STS General Retreats 2007-2009. We planned to constitute the Society at a convocation in Nashville on 29-30 January 2010, but icy weather conditions caused its postponement to a later, yet undetermined, date.

The Seven Marks Society is being launched nonetheless, and the Chairman of its initial Steering Committee has shared his

Vision Statement

The Rev. Dr. Timothy D. Hubert
January 30, 2010

Grace and peace to you, from God, our Father, and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Is it only pure nostalgia that brings us together tonight? Is it the looking backwards with our rose colored glasses, remembering a time when, we believe, the churches we belonged to, though different, all acted more alike than the single church we belong to now acts through its unity in diversity culture?

Do we really remember a time when the behavior of pastors and congregations were noted and carried consequences? Do we really remember a time when divorcing pastors were summarily removed from their congregations? Do we remember a time when a congregation would likely be removed for going their own way?

Do we remember when clergy enjoyed meeting together, learning from each other, helping each other in our parish ministries? Do we remember when clergy spouses called each other friend?

Do we remember when the church’s publishing house actually produced a faithful and usable catechism curriculum? (A few years ago, a popular, and expensive, catechism program denied real presence when it taught about Holy Communion.)

But, of course, the reality is that the seeds for the ecclesial discontent were planted fifty or more years ago. I remember a tract, (Do you remember tracts that we used to put in the narthex for visitors and members)? This was back in the days when I was in the Augustana Synod, yes, that paragon of virtue and faithfulness that I never tire of publically remembering. About 1958 a tract was published by Augustana that tried to explain the Holy Trinity. On the face page was a pleasant graphic. Page two talked about God the Father. Page three talked about God the Son. And page four was blank.

We gather today because we and the churches we serve have become confused, disoriented and depressed. Today we are energized by potlucks, by doing things our own way and by doing mission locally, but not evangelically. Deep down we know something is wrong.

Today we are frightened whenever anyone talks about congregations working together. We are terrified that someone will ask us to go the extra mile, to actually be evangelical (so that our name accuses us), to be Christ’s presence in the market place. We are terrified because we have no models, no resources, not even a clue on where to begin.

This is where those of us who call ourselves evangelical catholic Lutherans are encouraged to jump in with both feet. But, let’s get something straight. We are not individuals, nor even individual congregations. We are the people of God! You are my spiritual flesh and spiritual bone and I am yours! Your faithfulness in ministry is my faithfulness and mine is yours! Your frustrations, fractures and fumbles are mine and mine are yours.

We are the Seven Marks! Word and Sacrament gather us together in the mission and ministry of the church. We are not gathered because it is fashionable or because this is our support network or because it makes us feel good. It is Word and Sacrament that gathers us. It is Jesus Christ who gathers us together. It is Jesus Christ, in Word and Sacrament, who gathers us to be His body, to do His mission through the ministry of His church.

This mission and ministry is guided by bishops and pastors and lay leaders. Christ Jesus instituted the holy office of ministry and we call to serve those who love Jesus, are well trained and equipped with spiritual and practical gifts for ministry. This is an honorable office because it is Christ’s office.

The office of pastor is not an afterthought. It isn’t an embarrassing necessity. It isn’t occupied by hirelings who neither care for nor love the sheep of that particular fold. It can’t be filled on the spur of the moment even by people whose only credential is good will. The office of pastor is occupied to those who will show us heaven, who will encourage us to come closer to our heavenly Father, who will point to the signs of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

The office of pastor is occupied by those who will point us to the holy and life giving cross, who will lead us in sacrificial service, who will champion the poor among us. It is the role of the pastor to remind us that justice is doxology, not the touch stone of our confession.

Is this pure nostalgia? Is this idealistic nonsense? Or is this the goal, the vision, for faithful ministry among us? Do we gather here tonight because we are theological fossils or because we are living vessels holding tightly to a precious and holy treasure?

Did we come all these miles and spend our own money in order to indulge our common delusion of a bygone and largely forgotten era? Or have we been called by a living God to remember how His Church was formed and spread around the entire world? Are we not the spiritual descendants of the Petrine epistles (a la Ray Brown)?

How can we give this up? How can we turn our back on our faithful ancestors? How can we say no to Jesus, who gathers us in and through the seven marks of His church?

In a culture that emphasizes the individual, as if happiness can only come when we are true, Socratic-ally, to our own selves, do we dare to be silent? In a culture that champions democracy over faithfulness, do we dare to be silent? In a culture that calls evil good and good evil, do we dare to be silent? In a church that can’t separate philosophy from the faith, do we dare to be silent?

No! Our presence here tonight is not silent. We are here because we are faithful bishops, pastors and laity. We are here because we are held captive to the Word of God. We are here because there is nowhere else to go.

We are here to live out a full and faithful church life, where we counter the cultural pull and live out the seven marks. We are here to begin an evangelical outreach, celebrating our Petrine catholicity, carrying our vision into the public market place. We are both faithful and accountable. We do mission for mission’s sake. We love sacrificially. We help each other, because, to be faithful we can do no other!

This Society exists because the Lutheran churches need us. This Society exists because Lutherans around the world want to know there is someone they can talk to in this country, who understands their concerns, who shares in their vision of ministry.

This Society exists to be a light in the wilderness, to produce faithful and confessional programs and materials and maybe even tracts with all three persons of the Holy Trinity. We are being challenged to produce faithful, scriptural, traditional materials for youth groups, women’s groups, men’s groups, councils, evangelism committees, parish councils, stewardship committees, Sunday Schools. We are being challenged to provide solid training in forming lay leadership. This Society exists to help in the formation of bishops, pastors and deacons.

This Society is meant to be a missional home for those of us who have nowhere else to turn, to help congregations in many different Lutheran and Christian church bodies to be faithful to the Great Tradition in which we were born.

May God, the Father, +Son and Holy Spirit bless us and be a blessing through us! Amen.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Letters to the Editor

I couldn't resist. After reading this from the Reader Forum of the Peoria Journal Star for last Friday, February 12...
Prayers aren't helping

We had World War I - and the people prayed.

We had World War II - and the people prayed.

We had the Korean War - and the people prayed.

We had the Vietnam War - and the people prayed.

We're having the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the people are praying.

We've had tsunamis, earthquakes, riots, famine, AIDS, 9-11, plane, ship and car wrecks, cancer, polio, dictators, gangs, rapes, sexual abuse of children, lying politicians, drug abuse - you name it - and the people prayed, and prayed, and prayed.

If you truly believe that God created the heavens and Earth and that He is a "loving" God, why has He done nothing in the history of the world to stop this madness? After hundreds of billions of dollars have been given to churches and their leaders, not one single prayer has been answered in the history of civilization. Try to prove me wrong.

Ask your religious leader about this and he'll spout the usual "God works in mysterious ways!" Really? Prove to me that He is going to stop wars and famine and cure cancer, and then I might listen.

What better mind control could there be than inventing "Heaven" and "Hell" to control the people? How many times have you been told, "Stop that or you'll go to Hell!"?

Wake up, people.

John Cullen
...I couldn't help it, and I sent the following last Saturday evening.
Dear Editor:

re: John Cullen's "Prayers aren't helping" in the Reader Forum of last February 12

I am tempted to observe that the wars ended. However I expect that Mr. Cullen would, as he does in his letter, continue to list more and more things that aren't happening the way the "God" he envisions ought to do things. Those familiar with the Holy Bible know that both scoffers and believers have been making such lists for thousands of years. Frankly such discussions today better prove the skills of the debaters, rather than the subject being debated.

To his demand that "religious leaders ... prove to me that He is going to stop wars,... and then I might listen," this Christian pastor responds: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

And when he begins to get that, I pray that he will be ready to listen -- a become part of a long conversation.

Yours sincerely,

The Rev. Steven P. Tibbetts, STS
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
Peoria, Illinois
And leading off this morning's Journal Star Reader Forum, there it was, slightly edited, under the title "Proper beginning needed in prayer conversation."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Yeago: Facing Reality in the ELCA

Last Saturday some 700 Lutherans of the South Carolina Synod gathered at Newberry College for a “Day of Holy Conversation.” There Professor David S. Yeago of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary began his presentation, "Facing Reality in the ELCA," saying:
The ELCA changed last August in more fundamental ways than perhaps we generally realize. We didn’t only adopt a social statement and two policy changes. Those actions brought about something much more momentous: they altered the very character of the Christian fellowship embodied in the ELCA and its institutions and practices.

To be blunt: since August, the ELCA is internally in a state of impaired communion. Let me be clear what that means. I am not taking the Jeremiah 51 view of the ELCA, as though the word of the Lord to us was: "Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity…" (v. 6). Impaired does not mean abolished but diminished, weakened, damaged. There is significant space between full communion and no communion; the result of the CWA actions is that there is no longer full communion, full visible Christian unity, within the ELCA.

Some years ago, in an important essay in ecumenical theology (1. notes at end), my colleague Michael Root proposed a sort of practical definition of a church-dividing difference. A difference among Christians is church-dividing, he suggested, when it prevents them from carrying out the mission of the gospel together without violation of conscience on someone’s part (2). When you and I cannot practically do the gospel-business of the church together without one of us yielding on a matter of conscience, then our differences are, in the nature of the case, "church-dividing." In this light, I think we simply have to admit that in August, the ELCA welcomed a church-dividing difference into its own common life, and is now struggling with how to contain it.

This wasn’t of course what was supposed to happen. The "official" view was that our differences over sexual morality would be non-divisive, if everyone would just be reasonable and remember that our true unity is "in Christ" and not in moral teaching. Everyone’s "bound conscience" would be respected, the sexuality issues would go away, and the ELCA could march off into a glorious future to a rousing chorus of "Lift High the Cross."

But this was never going to work. The official assessment implies that unity "in Christ" is located in some ideal realm, and need never be lived out down on the messy terrain of this world, where people live and make choices and seek for love and affection and identity, where pastors counsel anguished people and children are taught the Ten Commandments. It assumed that we could pursue the mission of the gospel without ever getting involved with questions about what constitutes a good life, without bothering with the way people live beyond, perhaps, exhorting them to have a loving attitude.

In the real world, pastors and other Christians do counsel anguished people wrestling with desire and emotional need, and doing so is not external to the mission of the gospel. In the real world, children are taught what sort of life is good and pleasing to God, and what the meaning of His commandments is. In the real world, preaching the gospel involves proclaiming in public and private what grace it is that God has given us in Christ, what strength God promises us in the struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. And since last August, with respect to a very significant dimension of human life, the ELCA no longer has agreement on how to do such things together. Instead we have acknowledged the legitimacy of several mutually incompatible words that might be spoken to the anguished person seeking counsel, to the child awaiting instruction in the commandments of God, to the inquirer asking what goods God gives us strength in Christ to pursue and what temptations help to resist.

As a traditionalist (3.), I have to realize that significant elements of what traditionalists would say about sexuality in those settings is regarded in good faith by other Christians in the ELCA as cruel and destructive. They could not say "Amen" to my counsel and proclamation concerning the matters at issue any more than I could say it to theirs. The ELCA has now said that these differences are to co-exist within our shared institutional framework. And to that extent, which is not at all trivial, we do not have full communion any longer, we can no longer pursue the mission of the gospel together without violating someone’s conscience.
Read it all here at the Lutherans Persisting blog. Hat tip to Pr. Paul Knudson over at ALPB Forum Online.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

South Side Memories

Last month Bonnie White was the lector for the Sunday services at Zion. This morning, readers of the Peoria Journal Star saw that Bonnie, whom many have seen in local theater productions over the years (often with her husband, Mel -- one of Zion's organists), can write, too. No surprise to those who receive her letters.
Why is it, as we grow older, that we think about our earlier years and the happiness that went with them?

My childhood and the first 21 years of my 62-year marriage were spent on the South Side of Peoria. I loved Garfield School and still keep in touch with some of my friends from those days.

I remember walking home and having lunch with my mother and sometimes with dad, since he did shift work at Commercial Solvents Corp. I doubt Dad got beyond the 4th grade, but it didn't keep him from working hard and being a wonderful parent. My best friend considered our house her second home and we're still best friends.
Read it all here.

While they moved out of the neighborhood 40+ years ago, Bonnie and Mel are often on the South Side, worshiping and serving the Lord at Zion, which has been on the north-east corner of Easton and Hayes for over 115 years. The church -- both the people and the building -- is a jewel in a place too few expect it.

It's been my home for over 17 years -- and good memories are still made here.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010 blog: To the Moon

Dick McNally, Executive Editor of the wonderful Astronomy Magazine, wrote yesterday on President Obama's proposals regarding NASA:
I’m old enough to remember when, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would land an American on the Moon by the end of the decade. The 1960s were difficult years, with the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother Robert as well as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The turmoil continued with race riots in many major cities and, of course, a seemingly endless war in Vietnam.

Nonetheless, as President Kennedy had promised, we did manage to land astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon July 20, 1969, nearly 6 months before JFK’s deadline.

Now we have another young president who has declared just the opposite of JFK: We will NOT go to the Moon by the end of the decade. This, when we already have a program under way to accomplish that mission objective, declared by President George W. Bush in 2004. We’ve already spent 6 years in preparation along with several billion dollars, and have launched a prototype of one of the rockets that would get us there.
Read it all here. About the only positive thing I can find in this otherwise terribly short-sighted proposal by the President can be found in the sub-head of another Astronomy news article, also from yesterday:
The president's goal is to eventually make commercially provided services the primary mode of travel for astronauts.
Okay, that's a good thing. After all, thus far NASA has generally been better at hindering private space flight than encouraging it. But "eventually" is the kind of word to stifle dreams. What a message to receive from the first President of the United States who is younger than me!