22 August 2009

Lutheran Fundamentalists headed out

It didn't take too long for the fundamentalists in the ELCA to call for a parting of the ways. Threats of a split coming from CORE, the Lutheran equivalent of the Southern Cone. They've called for a September meeting of "True Christians" and CORE has renounced any recognition they've received from the ELCA.

The statement begins

Lutheran CORE leaders are calling on faithful Lutherans to meet in Indianapolis in September to begin an expanded ministry that draws faithful ELCA congregations and members together. They are also encouraging ELCA members and congregations to direct finances away from the ELCA churchwide organization to faithful ministries within and outside of the ELCA.

Lutheran CORE is continuing in the Christian faith as it has been passed down to us by generations of Christians. The ELCA is the one that has departed from the teaching of the Bible as understood by Christians for 2,000 years.

Later we find a Chapmanesque tone to the statement.

Lutheran CORE will be working together with faithful Lutherans from throughout the ELCA to defeat both the proposed social statement and the proposal for blessing and ordaining practicing gay and lesbian persons. We have voting members and volunteers ready to bear witness to the truth as it has been revealed in Scripture and confessed by faithful Christians for nearly 2,000 years.

Consideration of these proposals threatens the ELCA's relationship with our partner churches in the Lutheran World Federation. Church leaders from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe have already written letters stating that approval of the sexuality proposals would greatly damage the ELCA's relationship with their churches. These proposals will also severely damage the ELCA's relationship with Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestant Christians.

In reality, this debate is not about sex. It is about the source of authority in the ELCA. The ELCA claims that the Bible is the source and norm of its faith and life. The sexuality proposals are based on a different source and norm. They reject the clear teaching of Scripture and seek consensus on a different basis. The question is whether the ELCA practices what it says it believes. [Emphasis added.]
Where have we heard all of that before? The full statement is here. Perhaps the group will flee to Duncan, who is the reincarnation of Martin Luther, for refuge.

A history lesson on the ELCA

I grew up in the literal shadow of an Augustana Synod Lutheran Church. When the sun was almost set, the shadow of the steeple cross fell upon my home. A large portion of my friends were Swedish Lutherans and so, when it was time for their catechism classes to begin, I went, too, and learned to love the Lutheran heritage as practiced by the Augustana Synod Lutherans. I still am listed on the rolls of the local congregation because of my 52-year association with the congregation.

With that background, I look at the recent events in the ELCA from an inside-yet-outside vantage point.

While the "liberals" are celebrating the step towards equal justice taken yesterday by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), some, including me, are preparing for the fall out.

The problem will be that the ELCA was born 1986-88 from a merger of three different Lutheran synods with a history going back to the early 1800s. [Click on the chart for a visual history of the ELCA]*
  • The Lutheran Church in America
  • The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches
  • The American Lutheran Church

Each of these synods represented (and still represents) various theological positions and practice based largely on ethnicity.

  1. The American Lutheran Church was primarily Norwegian and Danish. There were some small German Lutheran groups involved in this merger but they weren't the "Saxon Lutherans." They were heavily pietistic in their theology with Calvinist leanings (particularly the Danes). By church government they were congregationalist in most matters. These are the "low church" Lutherans and their services were more in like a Presbyterian service ritually - particularly the Danish Lutherans.
  2. The Lutheran Church in America was a merger of three large German speaking synods, the Swedish Augustana Synod, and the Finish Synod. The LCA was the most liberal of the three groups that formed the ELCA. Some of the Swedish Lutheran Church government was more like TEC and included bishops - with full Apostolic succession. But not all of the Swedes retained bishops. (In the case of the Swedish church I grew up knowing, until the 1970s, all pastors were required to have been ordained by a Church of Sweden bishop assuring Apostolic succession.) The LCA was known as the "high church" of the Lutheran world and they even used the "mass-word" and some Augustana congregations even used incense. There was a pietistic element in the Swedish church which gave us hymns such as “How great thou art” and “Children of the Heavenly Father.” In my opinion, they had the best music (the second setting from the Service Book and Hymnal is the most glorious setting of the luturgy I've ever heard.)
  3. The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. The AELC was formed by moderate members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (known as “those Saxons” by most other Lutheran groups in the United States) who left in the 1970s after a purge in LCMS seminaries of any professors who were perceived as having liberal leanings. The "schism" was known as the "Whale schism" because it began over whether it was a whale or big fish that swallowed Jonah. In reality, the schism was over the literalness and infallibility of scripture. That split is still a sore spot for the group. The AELC was the most conservative of the three groups.

The merger was not without problems and not all the AELC and ALC joined the ELCA. There are still congregations of both of these synods sprinkled throughout North America.

So what does all of this corrected history lesson have to do with the vote yesterday. To understand what is possibly coming for the ELCA, one must know the players and the history.

  • Three main ethnic groups
  • Three different theological positions worship styles and hymnody
  • Three parent groups themselves formed by splits and mergers

My prediction is that there will be a withdrawal of some sort by the former AELC and some of the ALC. They may migrate back to their parent groups or band together as a church within the ELCA.

Two factors that may prevent a full parting are that

  • ELCA leaders do not wish to have a full blown schism as they have seen in the Anglican Communion and
  • ELCA has been one church for only about twenty-five years or so. There hasn't been decades of fermentation by disgruntled members

Remarkably, the three groups have managed to form one of the strongest churches in the protestant world. They don't want that witness tarnished.

My thanks to Matt and Robert for pointing out a few errors in the formation groups of the ELCA.

* You'll find the explanation of the various initials used in the chart here. When I was young the first question a Lutheran asked when meeting another Lutheran was "What alphabet?" After you've examined at the chart, you'll get the joke and be glad you're Episcopalian!

UELC = United Evangelical Lutheran Church
LFC = Lutheran Free Church

By the way, the LCMS leadership does not consider the other Lutheran groups as Christians. In fact, at the service of healing after 11 September, the president of the LCMS was nearly impeached because he took part in the ecumenical service (also here). Officially, at least, LCMS does not pray or worship with non LCMS people. There are rare exceptions, but they are rare.

21 August 2009

Lutherans do it!

Breaking news -

Thirty minutes ago the Evangelical Lutheran Church has passed a motion to accept the ministry of clergy in same-gender monogomous relationships.

From the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis:
The 559-451 vote marks a historic change for the 4.8 million ELCA members, including 830,000 in Minnesota.

The vote repeals the ELCA's ban on gay clergy unless they agreed to remain celibate. The new position allows the installation of gay pastors but leaves the decision to call a gay pastor up to individual congregations and synods.

Good news, indeed. But it's not all great news. The Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod is bound to gain a few congregations from this. Although, the theological differences between the LDMS and the ELCA is light years apart. A split of some sort will come, I predict.
With the Episcopalians headed toward a likely split over the appointing of gay bishops, ELCA leaders are well aware of the risks with this divisive issue.

"The word of the Lord will endure forever," said Wayne Jacobson, of the Northeast Iowa Synod, "and this vote won't change it."

20 August 2009

Putting the Roundhead numbers game in perspective

Of all the things I should blog about today, I've decided to give you a snippet from an article in Newsweek by Lisa Miller.

She writes of the events in TEC over the past few years. The final paragraph of the article contains one gem that puts the power of the schismatics in perspective.
Following the story was difficult—a little bit like reading a Russian novel where you can't remember anyone's name ... In the end, number of actual people who have seceded from the Episcopal Church is about 100,000. They would, in other words, fill Wembley Stadium—something Michael Jackson managed to do 10 times over. [Emphasis added]
It's rather sad that Michael Jackson could muster ten times the followers the Roundheads can. But that fact won't bother Duncan: He's no Michael Jackson, he's Martin Luther reincarnated.

19 August 2009

What would Martin say?

Our sister community of faith, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America faces two storms today and it survived both.

First, while the convention was debating sexuality, a tornado hit Minneapolis and "nicked" the building in which the delegates were meeting.

If that wasn't enough, later in the day the delegates passed a social statement on homosexuality. From the Lutheran blog:

The jolt [from the tornado] was reinforced a short time later when the highest governing body of the ELCA voted 676-338, or 66.67 percent to 33.33 percent, to adopt the controversial sexuality statement. Social statements of the ELCA must be approved by a two-thirds vote. A change of one yes vote to a no would have rejected the statement. [Emphasis added]

Some are calling this a "close vote." Well, if by that one means "one vote" would have defeated the statement, then it was a close vote. But look at the numbers: two-thirds of the delegates voted 'yes.' That's a huge number.

Remember, too, that in the ELCA the delegates aren't the free agents TEC delegates are. The delegates reflect the thinking back home, for the most part. Two years ago there was a study which almost 4/5 of the ELCA congregations went though about homosexuality. The ELCA membership is much more informed about the theology behind the change than members of TEC are.

The social statement recognizes that the ELCA membership is divided on issues of same-gender relationships and calls for "profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor," including same-sex couples.

God has used this calling to bind us to each other in surprising ways, despite our disagreements, and to change us all ...

The ELCA recognizes that it has a pastoral responsibility to all children of God. This includes a pastoral responsibility to those who are same-gender in their orientation and to those who are seeking counsel about their sexual self-understanding. All are encouraged to avail themselves of the means of grace and pastoral care...

The social statement also addresses trust, marriage, family, sexual education for and the safety of youth, sexual exploitation, and adult cohabitation. It opposes "non-monogamous, promiscuous or casual sexual relationships."

Several attempts to change the wording of the document or delete portions of it to make it more traditional or conservative were defeated.

On Friday the delegates will vote to amend the rules governing ordained ministers. If the recommendation is adopted, it would allow the rostering of gays and lesbians in committed relationships. The proposal, which will likely be voted on Friday, needs only a majority vote to pass.

Considering Martin Luther left the monastery and married a former nun, I wonder what he would say about this week's developments.

Let's pray that a second tornado hits the ELCA convention and they open the ordained ministry to partnered same-gender clergy.

UPDATE: Fr. Jake has an excellent post on this subject at Fr. Jake Stops the World.

TTLS flagged by blogspot.com

I must have been doing something "right" lately as my blog has been flagged.

This is interesting as I do not allow offensive words, I do not post pornography, and I stay away from politics.

I suppose it must be by right-wing so-called Anglicans since the only thing I talk about is the Anglican Communion and the reasserters who are stealing everything they can.

So, to whoever has been flagging me, my thanks for telling the world I'm doing a good job calling you on your activities as a on-christian.

18 August 2009

The quote of the year

One of the blogs I read is Telling Secrets by Elizabeth Keaton. I greatly admire her

In a post she made a couple of days ago, we find this comment regarding an exchange she had, via e-mail, with someone who, shall we say, misrepresented himself.
1. Never trust a skunk. Oh, they are soft and cute and furry and it's not that they mean any harm. It's just in their nature to pee on you whenever they feel the need to defend themselves.

2. Skunks don't change their stripe. Nothing you can say or do will move or change anything they believe.

3. Never enter a conversation, dialogue or debate with a skunk about scripture. They really don't want to know what you know or think or believe. They just want an opportunity to show you what - and how much - they know and think and believe. (See lessons one and two above.)
I've laughed hours over that statement! It is so true and so apropos to the researter diatribe.

Thank you, Elizabeth - as the Germans say, "Gut gesagt!"

RIP Thomas Moore Kim Dae-Jung

Thomas Moore Kim Dae-jung
1924 -2009

"In my life, I've lived with the conviction that justice wins.
Justice may fail in one's lifetime,
but it will eventually win in the course of history."
From Kim' Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

17 August 2009

St. Luke's pitches nearly perfect game

Sunday, 16 August, I had a unique experience. First, I had a "free" day from the church job. It was the first Sunday in about 45 years that I have not been sitting on the organ bench playing during the service.It was a treat to just be a "regular" person.

Second, I attended church with a group of people from the "church job" who are unhappy with the present direction of their leadership. They dislike the "if only the right music is used, led by worship teams, then our membership will skyrocket" insanity that three very powerful people in that congregation want. So, we went to the Episcopal Church of St.Luke. I was asked to go with them to act as guide. It was a wonderful experience.

When we arrived we learned that the Ordinary, the Rt. Rev'd Mary Gray-Reeves, was making her visitation. When we stepped inside the vestibule we heard the sound of guitars tuning up. One of my friends remarked, "we are going to get guitars here, too." I had to laugh. As it turned out, we had a mix of organ and guitar (and mandolin and violin and harmonica!).

We found a vacant pew and filled it. As I knelt I asked God to make this a wonderful experience for my friends and that I would be open to what I needed to hear from God. I asked that (for me) because I have a "problem" with our bishop. Within a few months of her consecration she had an opportunity to act upon her words of full inclusion and she backpedaled and thereby lost my respect as a person.

The mass began and the music wasn't bad. The congregation belted out the hymns and service music. It was really great; I mean, it was really great! The congregation even belted out the psalm tone.

The first lector was a young boy named Jaron, who is twelve-years old. That young man did an unbelievable job! He read the lesson as if he were telling a story (which he was, of course) with emphasis on the right words. His phraseology was perfect.

Bishop Grey-Reeves began her sermon and I thought, "Okay, Jim; listen for something from God; don't let what she did impede what God might say to you." And, I'm glad I made that wee "arrow prayer" (I wonder, is that term used anymore or was it just Life in the Spirit jargon?)

The bishop, being a woman, brought a unique angle to the gospel about eating Jesus flesh if we wish to have eternal life. She talked about her pregnancy and how the mother feeds the fetus. She talked about how the baby will take everything it needs from the host body without the host doing a single thing. She compared that to Jesus teaching in the gospel for the day.

She went on to give several examples from the Gospel of John and after each example, she said, "Hey, that sounds like pregnancy, doesn't it? .... what does that sound like? ... Humm, that sounds like pregnancy ... You must be born from above ..." It was really remarkable, actually. I shall never think of John's gospel again as anything except the "Pregnancy Gospel." The next time you read John, think of the gestational period as you read each of those stories.

After the sermon I experienced the Thanksgiving for the Adoption of a Child for the first time. When i was a child, I was present for several "Churching of Women" but this was the first time I was present for this particular service.

I was struck that, the deacon took the wee bairn, from the parents at the back of the church. The deacon carried the baby to the sanctuary and handed it to the bishop. The parents presented themselves at that point. After the Thanksgiving began, the bishop asked the parents if they would accept the child, and of course they did. At that point the bishop handed the baby to the adoptive mother. At that point I began to cry. It was such a symbolic act! I interpreted it as God giving the child to the parents. Does anyone know if this "hand off" is part of the ritual or was this some innovation on the part of this "chick bishop?"

The offertory hymn was Lord of All Hopefulness. Well, one can't go wrong with that hymn! But for me, it has a major significance. This hymn was the opening hymn at Peterborough Cathedral the morning I had my "reconversion" to the Anglican Tradition. Singing it yesterday brought back a flood of memories. The guitar group accompanied the hymn and gave it a real Irish flavour. It was wonderful!

The rest of the mass was really great. Particularly the communion hymn I am the Bread of Life. The roof levitated and it was partly due to the hymn itself and partly the wonderful leadership of the musicians. I've always liked this particular hymn but, I shall never hear it or sing it again without a strong memory of yesterday at St. Luke's. It is too bad that this wasn't the closing hymn; even "For all the Saints" would have been wimpy after that magnificent communion hymn. (Unfortunately the YouTube version does cannot compare with what we experienced.)

After mass there was a reception for the newly confirmed members. During the reception a recorder trio played expertly. My friends and I stayed for about ten minutes to listen to the music under the trees. It was a perfect ending to the mass.

My thanks to my friends who asked me to be their guide, and to the people of St. Luke's in Atascadero for a spectacular and deeply spiritual mass. It was nearly perfect.

Take a moment to visit their web page as listed above. But, how about searching for St. Luke's with GoodSearch.com. It generates a bit of cash for St. Luke’s. Go to GoodSearch.com and type in St. Luke's Atascadero.

16 August 2009

Trinity X / Pentecost XI

Trinity X / Pentecost XI
Deus in loco
Proper 15

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 and Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
    Introit: God in His holy place; God who maketh men of one mind to dwell in a house; He shall give power and strength to His people. -- (Ps. 67. 2). Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered: and let them that hate Him flee from before His face.

    Collect: Almighty God, who hast given thy only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life: Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Sometimes you have to wonder about after-church snacks, especially celebrations. Eating congratulatory cake doesn’t make for a good pre-lunch appetizer, does it? Some parents oppose having cookies available for their little ones and insist on fruit or other more nutritious snacks. What’s the hospitality committee to do?

Such minor controversy plays on the wider discussion about what we humans put into our stomachs. By now we are all familiar with the catchy and telling phrase “You are what you eat.” The teachings are legion. A child who fails to receive proper nutrition might become sick or even die. Eating food high in cholesterol can produce heart disease. An excess of sugar can lead to diabetes. And a person eating a proper, healthy diet grows and prospers. Clearly, what we eat is important.

That’s a central concept for us today because our gospel reading is all about eating. In it, we experience Jesus getting pretty graphic with his imagery. He said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life. … Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

Jesus could well have said, “You are what you eat.” He could have said, “If you don't eat that which is Christ, you have no life – no real life – no life that is of lasting and true value. If you do not eat of what I am, you will become malnourished and get sick and die, spiritually.”

This is not unfamiliar territory in a denomination that values the Holy Communion. It might be instructive, however, to remember that the gospel reading we are considering comes from John and his version does not contain an account of the Last Supper, unlike Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul, who relate the story of Jesus taking bread and wine and telling his disciples to eat and drink of it to re-call him to presence.

In that portion of the passion story that John recounts, he gives us the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. And so, it is in the passage of today’s gospel – John’s version – that we don’t hear about Jesus acting out the sacrament but we hear instead of Jesus teaching about its meaning. Jesus helps us understand what we know as an outward sign of a profound spiritual truth. Bread and wine, through the power and spirit of God, become for us what Jesus really is. And if we are faithful and committed, we can become what we eat.

In regard to the Holy Communion as we experience it in the twenty-first century, what do we know and how much do we know about this eating that Jesus gives us to do? What do we understand about it? How much do we have to know to get it right? How old do we have to be to know enough?

Some parents and clergy puzzle over when the right time is to bring children to eat the food that Jesus bids us eat. This is based on the question of not cheapening the sacrament by feeding Jesus food to someone who doesn’t know what it is. So, what is the proper age? When is the time of maturity, the moment when it can all make sense?

For generations, the time was set at confirmation. This would mean that individuals were well prepared and old enough to claim the faith for themselves, ready to discern the meaning of eating Jesus’ holy meal. Others settled on a Roman Catholic-like “first communion” at age seven or eight. This view is based on the belief that children of such an age can understand enough about the Lord’s Supper for it to have true meaning for them. Where does one draw the line? When is old enough really old enough?

Perhaps a story from some years ago can be instructive. A priest abided by his bishop’s directive to give communion to children only after they reached first grade and after both they and their parents had received adequate instruction. Sunday after Sunday his 4-year-old son came to the alter rail and lifted his little hands for the bread, but the priest smiled and reached down to touch his head in blessing. One day, as the priest reached down for the blessing, the son pushed his hands in defiance, and after his father continued to withhold the bread, the child shook his fist at him in anger. The boy was gesturing what he could not fully articulate: “You are giving out bread to everyone but me, and something is wrong about that.”

The lesson taught by this preschooler is helpful. If he was able to understand being excluded, he was old enough to sense the importance of being included with those experiencing the feeding Jesus insisted will give spiritual heath. This gives credence to those who desire to open the table to all baptized, to anyone able to take the bread and wine that is the Body of Christ. It is the same theological perspective as baptizing infants. It’s not about us – not about what we initiate but what God does for us.

Feeding children the bread of heaven at an early age is like feeding them mother’s milk or pouring out parental love on them. Isn’t it powerful to think that children can grow up not having remembered a time when they did not eat at the table of the Lord? It would be like the reality of a good parent’s love – the absence of which they never experienced.

As to what they understand or when they are able to understand it, who knows? But one thing is for sure, if we communicate children early, whenever the time comes for them to understand, they will be receiving the same sacrament of love as the rest of us. And who’s to say that any of us understands everything about what Jesus meant when he said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”

Don’t we all continue to grow in our understanding of what this means? Why shouldn’t we begin the learning at the earliest age? What’s wrong with mothers and fathers guiding children at the altar rail, helping them learn to eat and drink the food that can help them learn to recognize themselves as part of the very body of Christ? What’s wrong with parents whispering to children at the altar rail, “Remember, you are what you eat”?

We want children to eat of this special food because that is how they learn; that’s how all of us learn. That is how we grow, through this feeding. And since we become what we eat, we need this food always.

We are what we eat; therefore, we must mind carefully what we eat and digest spiritually, for the health of our souls. The world offers us a lot of unhealthy diets – diets of materialism and greed and selfishness. Feeding on the word of God and partaking of the body and blood of Christ ensures life-sustaining nutrition for the spirit – food for the soul. By faith, eating the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we can enable the process by which Christ penetrates our beings and nourishes our lives. In this sacrament, God's very life comes to us through the elements of bread and wine so that we can have union with God. We are re-called to the truth that this union with God through Jesus, the Christ, is the connecting link for us with all that is good and true and holy.

The early church writer Irenaeus said it this way: “The word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of his great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.”

Jesus leaves himself with us and for us, and eating what is the Christ nourishes us into what he is – because we are what we eat.

The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of John E. Hines: Granite on Fire (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, Texas. Email: Kesselus@juno.com.