Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Meditation on the Future of Zion Lutheran Church

I have recently shared with you a lot of my thoughts as to why the ELCA vote to nullify the Word of God at the recent Churchwide Assembly is wrong and cannot be support by the Bible, by the Lutheran Confessions, the historic teaching of Christianity for the last 2,000 years, nor the context of first century Judaism, in which Jesus lived and ministered. Now I simply want to do this: I want to paint you a picture of what the ministry of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church would look like if the congregation decides to sever ties with the ELCA.

First, a pre-supposition: since Zion is already a member of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC - I am going to presuppose that we will continue in our relationship with this denomination/organization. In other words, I’m going to assume that we will not have to shop for another Lutheran body outside of the LCMC. You may recall that we joined the LCMC in 2007 in order to be able to call Pastor Chris Magnell, a member of LCMC and not the ELCA, as our associate pastor.

That being said, this is what I see as our future: freedom and joy. Allow me to elaborate:

Zion will have the freedom to believe. Throughout it’s 150 year history, Zion has been characterized by a high view of Scripture. A century ago, Zion left another Lutheran denomination (which doesn’t exist anymore) over a dispute regarding whether or not the theological concept of millennialism was biblically faithful or not. Zion felt strongly that it was not and separated itself, joining another denomination which eventually became the ALC (American Lutheran Church which merged with others to form the ELCA). In other words, we believe that the Bible is the word of God and that the Lutheran Confessions are an accurate interpretation of that word. This means that the Bible is to be the standard by which we measure our lives and faith. The ELCA does not share our high view of Scripture. In Synod gatherings and pastor’s meetings, in the books and curriculums put forth by the denominational publishing house, in The Lutheran magazine itself, the ELCA continues to broadcast that it’s beliefs that place human reason and experience above the word of God and demand that the word of God be subject to human wisdom. Increasingly this has led to “agenda politics” culminating in the passing of that latest social statement and it’s resulting ministry changes. Without the ELCA, Zion will be free to continue its time tested beliefs in the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions without interference from its own denomination.

Imagine what it will be like never again to have to apologize because one’s own denomination has made a decision that our church doesn’t agree with and wound up on the front page of the local paper. Imagine what life will be like without the endless march of ELCA social statements telling us what we are supposed to believe about everything. Imagine what it will be like not to have one’s own denomination publish a document like the “Use of the Means of Grace” which dictates how often we have to have communion in order to be Lutheran, and which liturgies and resources we have to use and the words we have to say.... Imagine what it will be like not to ever have to worry about our denomination making an agreement with another denomination which violates our own Lutheran teachings and requires our pastors to be ordained a certain way by certain people in order to legitimize their ministry like the ELCA did to us in the agreement with THE Episcopal Church in “Called to Common Mission.”

Zion will have the freedom to choose it’s own pastors for the future. One of the best benefits in being something besides ELCA is that Zion will be able to choose it’s own pastors based on what those pastors believe about the word of God and the Lutheran Confessions and about whether or not they practice that teaching in their own life. I know that some of you will argue that Zion has chosen it’s own pastors and that I am an example of that and so is Pastor Chris. But I want to tell you that the days of that kind of freedom are coming to an end. We have enjoyed a period of time of liberty lately because many of the ELCA’s own bishops (including our former bishop) were in violation of ELCA standards for ministry because they refused to bring disciplinary action against pastors who performed same sex blessings or who were actively engaged in lifestyles contrary to Scripture. But those days are quickly ending and I believe there will be more emphasis placed upon local Synod involvement in the call process (which the rules call for already) and that churches will be compelled to choose between candidates supplied by the local bishop who may very well wish to remake a congregation in a different image using a pastor whose beliefs are contrary to that congregations culture. We already see this kind of “top down” management in many Synods.

Zion will have the freedom to participate in ministry projects of our choosing with other congregations. I know one objection I’ve heard to leaving the ELCA has been that we lose the opportunity to participate in all those wonderful missions the ELCA does. But, rest assured, in LCMC, there is a lot going on already. Mission is done not at the national level, but at the local congregational level. In other words, we can work with any congregation, LCMC or otherwise in any mission project we choose, locally, nationally, or globally. Zion’s current relationship with Redeemer Lutheran Church (a member of the AALC - American Assoc of Lutheran Churches) required the approval of our former bishop. Now we won’t need permission to engage in mission with any congregation of our choosing, whether Lutheran or not. There will be no need for complicated ecumenical statements or verdicts or the reading of speeches. We can simply do mission with whom we choose to do mission.

In Des Moines already there are two other LCMC churches. Ephphata Deaf Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church of the Cross. Both have opportunities for us to engage in mission. We simply need to take the time to fellowship with them, learn what they are doing, and join in. I forecast that there will be at least two other formerly ELCA congregations joining LCMC in Des Moines. They also have opportunities to do mission and so do we. There are a total of 16 LCMC congregations already in Iowa.

Some of you might be concerned about our relationship with the ELCT (the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania) and our sister congregations in the Pare Diocese. Believe me when I say that the ELCT will be in sympathy with our decision to move form the ELCA as the ELCT bishops are already on record before the vote as condemning this action as unbiblical. The ELCT may very well end its relationship with the ELCA.
Check out further mission opportunities at LCC - .

Zion will have the opportunity to join in joyous fellowship with other congregations. One thing about ELCA gatherings: they aren’t joyous. Did you know that we don’t order any materials from our own ELCA publishing house, Augsburg Fortress? Why not? Well, they don’t print the kind of things we think are appropriate for our people to read. They offer a mere human view of the Scriptures. Another interesting fact about Zion: we haven’t attended an ELCA youth event for a decade. Why? We don’t think it’s good for our youth to be exposed to what the ELCA is exposing them too. In the LCMC our youth will have the opportunity to be with other believers and learn things that will strengthen their faith and spur them on to live lives as witnesses for Jesus Christ.

Each year, the LCMC has a National Gathering. Pastor Chris tells me that they are really wonderful, edifying events. I will confess to you that in some 14 years as an ELCA pastor, I have never been edified by our Synod or ELCA events. I have been called names for quoting Scripture, told that my congregation was unfaithful and that I stood in the way of progress. I’m looking forward this October to seeing if Chris is right. I think he is. Turns out I know so many of the pastors in LCMC already. They are extraordinary men and women with amazing gifts who used to be in the ELCA but whose congregations simply couldn’t abide being told that what they believed about the Bible was uninformed and not in keeping with the times.

You should know that LCMC also has a district structure. That means that congregations group together by shared emphases or passions. We are free to join as many “districts” as we want. We currently belong to the ERD - the Evangelical and Renewal District, which Pastor Chris helped to found. There are fellowship and mission opportunities also available through districts. Further, if more churches in Des Moines join LCMC, as I believe they will, we have the opportunity to form our own local district. But none of this is mandatory, which means that it is pure joy.

Will things be different if we vote to leave the ELCA? Yes. But I wonder if they won’t be better, more joyous, and if we won’t be more eager to serve together.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. God bless you. PJ

1 comment:

  1. Pastor John, thanks for this post. May God bless you and your congregation!