Thursday, October 29, 2009

Requiem for a Relationship

Our congregation voted last Sunday to leave the ELCA. 85.5% of those who voted wanted to go. It should be noted that another congregation in Waukee, IA also voted to leave on the same day and that the week prior, a church in Fontanelle, IA also voted to leave. We aren’t going alone. And I hear they are more to follow.

I was very proud of our congregation. There was no cheering, no clapping after the results of the vote were announced. We had a prayer and dismissed the meeting. People who wanted to go made an effort to comfort those they knew wanted to stay. The end was full of grace. My attention is now focused on trying to minister to those members who are disheartened by the result of the vote. Some of them will eventually leave our congregation. It’s heartbreaking. Some of them have been here for years and years and invested themselves in our ministry, in friendships and relationships.

Immediately after the vote, I kept fighting back tears. I wanted to get to my office and just ball. But people needed things and they wanted to talk. By the time I did get to my office, about 45 minutes later, I had no tears.

I have a variety of emotions. I’m pleased with the vote because I feel the congregation stood on the word of God. I’m saddened by the rending of people’s lives that will result. Quite frankly, there was no way to avoid this. Because if the vote had been different, it just would have been different people leaving and grieving. And I’m angry. Angry with the institution and establishment that brought this forward when 57% of respondents told them they were strongly opposed to the course of action that led to the current situation in the ELCA. I’m angry at the bishops and lay leaders who let the vote go forward, always keeping their opinions private, and shrugging their shoulders and saying, “We have to proceed. It’s the will of the church.” Rubbish.

We tried to avoid all of this. We played by all the rules.
Our congregation was kept informed of every action at Synod and church wide assemblies.
We did our study group and sent back our info regarding all the various sexuality studies.
We went to local conference meetings and stated our opinions and “engaged in the conversation.”
We sought to elect delegates to Synod and Churchwide Assembly. We were always defeated.
We sent out letters and e-mails to pastors, council presidents and churches, asking them to join us in our opposition.
We brought in speakers and invited local congregations.
We enlisted the help of national organizations.
We kept informing the bishop of our dissent.

But in the end, all our efforts locally and nationally failed.

We are not people filled with hate or anger although that is how we will undoubtedly be characterized. We have been called names and have suffered much from those who disagreed with us.

We are not poor losers. We did what we were supposed to do and we played by the rules. We fought the good fight. We engaged the issues. We are people who are certain that the word of God is clear about marriage and sexuality and who know that you can’t take away the requirement to repent and believe from the gospel of Christ.

We are not being chased out. We are leaving on our own. Heads held high.
We have not left historic Lutheranism. We still hold to the ideals and teachings of the Lutheran Church which has always taught about law and gospel, the centrality of Scripture in everything, and the need for daily repentance and amendment of life.

Finally, I want to congratulate our congregation for making a stand on what is and what isn’t God’s word and for having the courage to leave our denomination because of it.  It is my belief that by doing so, you stand with the likes of Jesus, Peter James John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, Eusebius, Justin Martyr, Iraneaus, Augustine, Luther, and your Grandparents and parents.  Those who sought to elevate human reason over the word of God in this matter stand with Bishop Spong and the Jesus Seminar.

Who is the Jesus Seminar?  Exactly.  And if you know or care today who the Jesus Seminar is, know that your kids or grandkids will one day ask:  “Huh?  Who were they?  Never heard of them.”  Because everyone who has tried to change the word of God before is dead and forgotten.  Jesus is alive.  The Bible remains and his word goes out and lives are continually changed and people are healed and transformed.  All because they hear the call of Christ, “Repent and believe.”

I know that some of you who read this blog have been doing so because you have found some comfort in the arguments which have been made for leaving the ELCA. I have been overwhelmed by the positive response in e-mails and phone calls. God bless you all. If I can encourage you as you struggle with all the complex issues surrounding these issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

For those of you who have been following because you are angry, please forgive me. I am only living out and speaking what I understand about Scripture. May you find peace with God.

Now it’s time now for us to start talking about the future. And what life looks like in a new world, with a clean slate. Mission is there. And we embrace the opportunity. Thanks for reading. PJ

Friday, October 9, 2009

Two Thoughts Confirmed

At the LCMC Gathering this week I had two thoughts confirmed: Thought #1: We need to be around more mission-minded churches. Thought #2: Everything must change.

Here are some vignettes of the conversations I had.

Jamie is second year student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. He has two years left. He was the only Luther student recognized this year at the Gathering. Why? Because students serious about the bible are fleeing denominational seminary programs because of run away biblical revisionism by many faculty members. What does this mean? It means that in the mid-term, it will become increasingly harder to find young pastors who love God’s word and are faithful to it in the mainline denominations. A tectonic shift is well underway.

What kinds of seminaries are students now going to? Their were about 20 seminarians recognized this year. The majority of them are going to Bethel Seminary where are very own Brent and Tina also attended. No one should be shocked by this. Our friends on the west side, Lutheran Church of Hope, has well over a dozen students at Bethel. These days it isn’t a question of “you must attend a seminary of your denomination,” it’s more “you need to attend a seminary that is faithful to the word of God.” How did mainline Protestant Christianity wind up in such a sorry state of affairs in the US? Because we lost the battle for the seminaries long, long ago. Making our master’s degrees count in the eyes of the world means that seminaries have to be accredited by the world. That immediately requires them to compromise. I was taught in seminary by admitted heretics. They weren’t nasty people by any means, but they didn’t hold with the historic teaching of the church and they were bold enough to tell you so. Because of accreditation, they are all tenured and cannot be removed no matter they teach. How weird is that? Many people insist we send our students to denominational seminaries so that they will have a strong denominational identity formed in them. But the denominational seminaries cannot form a strong denominational or even Christian identity any more and haven’t been able to for years. There were also a lot of students going to church run programs like The Master’s Institute ( )in the TC and the brand new, LCMC endorsed, Beyond the River Academy ( )which runs special programs for older, more established students.

Jamie is currently involved in planting a new church ( ) As he’s learning in the classroom is he able to put what he learns into immediate practice. The seminary didn’t set this up, he was asked to help out by a LCMC church in the Twin Cities. He’s a self starter who has decided to answer the call of Jesus and turn his worldly experience toward kingdom work. Jamie is from Des Moines and has been working with our homeless population for years, preaching at the Bethel Mission. Jamie wants to come back to Des Moines after seminary and plant a church for the homeless. Now, I ask you: isn’t that extraordinary? Here is a guy who isn’t looking for a soft landing. He’s not looking for a nice little church somewhere. He wants to do mission. That’s what LCMC is like because it is full of men and women and churches who have that same heart for mission. People and churches who aren’t afraid to change everything and even die to previous ambitions for the sake of mission.

Met another pastor named Dana from northern LA. ( )He’s been working at his church in an urban center for 27 years. These days, if you want the church to thrive, the leadership tends to stay a long time. He’s now lead pastor. His church and school sit on 7 acres of urban land across from a major medical center that wants to buy them out for millions and millions. Those millions could move his church and school out to the ‘burbs and build a really, really nice campus. But God spoke to Dana in a dream. They are staying downtown. And now, everything must change.

Post war, Lutheran churches in California grew because so many Lutherans from the midwest and east coast settled there. Bill Vaswig, our guest at Zion 2 weeks ago, reportedly said told a Zion member who was visiting him in California, “See that white stuff on the mountains over there? It isn’t snow. Those are all the letters of transfers from Lutherans moving to California.” But now, California has changed. It is incredibly diverse and many, many people have never been to church. So Dana’s church decided that if they were going to stay in the city and minister to the city, they would change their name. No one in their city knew what a Lutheran was so they removed it from their name. Then they selected a new name for their church, one that they felt would reflect their new reality as an urban mission center: LifeHouse Church. Now the new name probably won’t bring in people in droves. But it will change the way that Dana’s church thinks about itself. In the Bible, when people had been changed by God, they frequently got a new name. Jacob became Israel. Saul became Paul. A new name to signify a new way of being: mission. Everything must change.

Met an old seminary classmate of mine. He was always very popular. He could have any church he wants. He’s got it together. But he was white as a sheet for much of the conference. Why? Because my old colleague left the comfort of the established church and the salary and the benefits and is now planting a church in California. There is no safety net. He and his ministry are entirely in God’s hands. It’s been three weeks now and he’s a bit freaked out. Why did he do it? For the sake of the mission. Because everything must change.

I’ll close with this. At the Gathering we learned about 20 new house churches planted by two Iowa LCMC pastors in Vietnam and Cambodia. They are both humble, unassuming men. They love their Thai Dam brothers and sisters and risked imprisonment to bring them Jesus. Because they love Jesus. Because everything in this world must change and will change, when they hear about Jesus. That’s the mission for which he’s invited us along. And I am overwhelmed to see how it plays out in the lives of the people and churches of LCMC.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Observations from the LCMC National Gathering

I’m in Fargo, ND, at the LCMC National Gathering. It’s wonderful. It’s like coming home. You can watch the Gathering until 10/7 at noon CST via web streaming at Here is my brief report.

Personally speaking, my time her has been incredible. It has been a time of personal and professional renewal. I have laughed long and hard and sung and prayed with over 700 of my brothers and sisters in Christ. The keynote speakers have been fabulous. The break outs have been informative and very, very relevant. It’s been a joy connecting with these mission minded brothers and sisters.

Here are my observations:

This is where the happy Lutherans have gone. I know this will offend some of you but from my perspective this is true. The worship was songs we know by heart both traditional and contemporary. There was swaying, lifting hands, spontaneous applause... such a sense of joy dominates the environment here. There is laughter everywhere.
The business part of the meeting was brief. There is no bureaucracy to support. Get this, the numbers part was brief, all the motions were passed, all but one unanimously, and the real focus was on the state of the association. And the state of the association is growth. 20 new house churches in Vietnam and Cambodia have been planted. I wept at this because those churches were planted by LCMC pastors who were denied permission by the ELCA to plant those churches. Why were they denied permission? Because it’s illegal to spread the gospel in those countries. Praise the Lord that LCMC exists to empower mission. LCMC churches continue to grow in Belarus, Russia, Canada and Mexico as well. So the business we discussed was about hope, life, and kingdom growth. It was amazingly refreshing.
There was little to no anger at the ELCA. Sure there were some new members who needed prayer in dealing with difficult situations, but overall I found the attendees to be about doing mission in the here and now and leaving the past behind them. LCMC seems to be an organization for those who want to devote themselves to mission, not anger. The quote of the day from a Canadian pastor: “I want to be light. I don’t want to fight.”
I have never met a friendlier group of over 700 strangers anywhere. In the crowded halls they all laughed and talked and greeted each other. So many new friendships were created. There is a real sense here of “being on the same page.” And, just so I’m clear, it’s a unity that comes from where we’re going not from where we’ve been.
The Bible teachings by pastors and by such names as Walt Wangerin and Walt Kallestad was biblically sound and built up all who heard.
The breakout sessions were amazing. Nearly as good as the breakout sessions at a Willow Creek conference. They are mostly congregations sharing what’s working with other congregations. It’s done with such humility and, I’ll say it again, a real sense of having the same mission.
There are many seminarians who are finishing various programs at different seminaries and who will be coming on board in the next year. It was exciting to see them brought forward for prayer. I was astounded by the large number of pastors who joined the association this year as well.
There were so many visitors! Over 300 more than expected. They represented churches checking out LCMC. Word on the street is that most are planning to join.
I couldn’t believe the number of my former seminary classmates I ran into. It seems that everyone I went to school with who loves the word of God and wants to tell people about Jesus is either in LCMC or soon will be. Amazing.

We hope to get all 16 LCMC churches in Iowa into a working relationship. There are many things we can do together and we can support and love and build up one another. Next year at this time Des Moines will host the LCMC National Gathering and Lutheran Church of the Cross in Altoona will be the site. We’re excited to be a part of this great organization. Thanks for reading. PJ