I want to begin by asking this question: Why do we have denominations? I came up with a short list which includes the following: For the sake of our identity; for the sake of our accountability and integrity; for the sake of doing ministry and mission; and finally, to provide "approved" or vetted pastors for congregations to choose from.
Perhaps there are more reasons and if so, I'm open to hear them. But now that we understand the "why" of denominations, let's look and see what the ELCA's recent decisions affect those "why" reasons.
1. For Identity. We are this and not that. Denominations are a way of how we see ourselves and understand our history. Sadly, the ELCA has never been able to provide a common Lutheran identity that applied satisfactorily to those who came out of its predecessor bodies. In other words, they were never able to galvanize a collective identity of what it meant to be an ELCA Lutheran. Lutherans have ALWAYS identified themselves as people of the Word. Our entire Reformation history is about freeing the Word and making it available to all. Now, with the passing of these new policies, our own denomination has betrayed our history. How can we who value the Bible as more than just another book possibly find our identity in this denomination?
2. For Accountability/Integrity. Denominations are supposed to maintain standards for member churches to follow. Denominations are supposed to be the guardians of “what we believe and why.” They are the ones who enforce discipline against heretics (wrong thinkers), who zealously guard the historic, orthodox Christian faith. In this case, the denomination has betrayed it’s own incorporating documents and its own historic teaching. The ELCA is not accountable to the majority of its members nor to the Word of God anymore and therefore lacks any integrity as a denomination whatsoever.
3. For Shared Ministry/Mission: Denominations, historically, have maintained that they can do mission better then individual congregations acting alone. Rather than each congregation supporting one missionary a little bit, denominations basically asserted that they could do mission better by collecting funds from member churches and then using the money in a directed way. Can we actually be a part of a ministry or mission done by a denomination with no Scriptural, historic or orthodox Christian integrity? In other words, if our own denomination doesn't adhere to Scripture, do we really want to support any ministry or mission that the denomination does because won't we possibly be propagating false faith and error? After the passage of this social statement and implementing policies, do we even believe that we share the same idea of mission or ministry with this denomination? At Zion we are currently participating in only one ELCA initiative: the Companion Synod Program that partnered us with the Mhezi Parish in Tanzania. Our contacts among the Mhezi can continue because we now have direct lines of communication and relationships with people on the ground in Tanzania. We currently lose nothing by not being a part of the ELCA mission structure. It's important to note here that bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania have gone on the record as saying that the passing of this social statement and it's ministry resolutions would cause them to break off relations with the ELCA. I wonder if this will apply to others of our more biblically conservative Lutheran partners in the Lutheran World Federation as well?
4. To Provide "Approved" Pastors: The ELCA has always tried to have a lot of control over who could be a pastor and where they could serve. Most congregations must wait up to a year to find a suitable pastor and most congregations are limited in the pool of candidates the local bishop will give them from which they can choose. That hasn't been an issue at Zion, but it is in other places who haven't felt confident enough to go outside the process. Since the ELCA has abandoned the historic, orthodox Christian faith, what kinds of pastors will it be able to supply to its churches in the future? Won’t those biblically faithful men and women considering becoming pastors decide to join a different denomination? I believe the pool of faithful pastors will dry up quickly in the ELCA which will leave Zion ultimately unable to find ELCA pastors who share our beliefs. What pastor who loves the word of God can abide a denomination which doesn't?
So we have a lot of work ahead of us. We must pray and seek the face of the Lord together but in short of repealing recent decisions, I don't see how we can proceed in the company of the ELCA. We simply don't value the same things any more.
This will be an incredibly hard parting for those of us who grew up in the ELCA and its predecessor bodies. We need to be very patient and understanding with each other. But this isn't about leaving the Lutheran Church. This is about finding our home in a Lutheran body which shares our love of Scripture and of Christ Himself. To quote an oft use phrase: In this case perhaps we have not left the denomination so much as the denomination has left us.
Thanks for reading. God bless you. PJ
For more information, please see the following links:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/augustweb-only/133.41.0.html (About the tornado)
http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Office-of-the-Secretary/ELCA-Governance/Churchwide-Assembly/CWAUpdate_4.aspx (Presiding Bishop Hansen's letter)
http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx#&&a=4253 (news releases about what was passed at the Assembly)