The present crisis and this blog

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The ELCA is now in crisis.  On the most obvious level, the decisions to permit same-sex blessings and to permit ordinations of persons in such same-sex relations will lead many individuals and congregations to contemplate leaving the ELCA.  Historically, fewer congregations leave than one expects, but some will leave and others will find ways to disengage from ELCA structures (e.g., by withholding contributions to synods and the national church).
Beyond those organizational results, the teaching and practices adopted represent a crisis.  For some, myself included, these are more than just mistakes, policies and ideas with which we disagree.  They are false teaching, teaching that directly contradicts the clear command of Scripture and the authoritative tradition of the church.  The ELCA is now not just a pilgrim church, an imperfect church on the way, but an erring church, a church which has, in an important part of its life, lost its way.
For many, these two items are the crisis.  But I think the crisis extends further.  A third aspect of the present crisis is the way tendencies present in Lutheranism since the early 20th century are now coming to a head.  One reason false teaching has captured the ELCA is that various views (a crude and static understanding of simul justus et peccator, a confusion between paradox and ambiguity, bad understandings of biblical authority) have come to be accepted as authentically Lutheran, even as defining Lutheranism.  Recent developments are not simply the outcome of ‘liberalism,’ but also of what we have come to think of as ‘Lutheranism.’  (What I worry about at 2 AM when I cannot sleep is that what we have come to think of as ’Lutheran’ actually is Lutheran, in which case the Reformation was just wrong.)  We will not come out of our present predicament without careful and extended thinking about basic questions of Lutheran theology.
Finally, a fourth aspect of the crisis are the propositions the ELCA has come to affirm in the
course of adopting the recent proposals, e.g., that opposing ‘bound consciences’ can stymie consistent church teaching or that no disagreement on ethics can divide the church (unless one side of the ethical disagreement is inconsistent with the doctrine of justification).  These are bad ideas that will come back to haunt us.
These topics and the process that stills lies ahead of us in the ELCA as the quite general decisions are turned into policies will be the subject matter of this blog.
Michael Root

The ELCA is now in crisis.  On the most obvious level, the decisions to permit same-sex blessings and to permit ordinations of persons in such same-sex relations will lead many individuals and congregations to contemplate leaving the ELCA.  Historically, fewer congregations leave than one expects, but some will leave and others will find ways to disengage from ELCA structures (e.g., by withholding contributions to synods and the national church).

Beyond those organizational results, the teaching and practices adopted represent a crisis.  For some, myself included, these are more than just mistakes, policies and ideas with which we disagree.  They are false teaching, teaching that directly contradicts the clear command of Scripture and the authoritative tradition of the church.  The ELCA is now not just a pilgrim church, an imperfect church on the way, but an erring church, a church which has, in an important part of its life, lost its way.

For many, these two items are the crisis.  But I think the crisis extends further.  A third aspect of the present crisis is the way tendencies present in Lutheranism since the early 20th century are now coming to a head.  One reason false teaching has captured the ELCA is that various views (a crude and static understanding of simul justus et peccator, a confusion between paradox and ambiguity, bad understandings of biblical authority) have come to be accepted as authentically Lutheran, even as defining Lutheranism.  Recent developments are not simply the outcome of ‘liberalism,’ but also of what we have come to think of as ‘Lutheranism.’  (What I worry about at 2 AM when I cannot sleep is that what we have come to think of as ’Lutheran’ actually is Lutheran, in which case the Reformation was just wrong.)  We will not come out of our present predicament without careful and extended thinking about basic questions of Lutheran theology.

Finally, a fourth aspect of the crisis are the propositions the ELCA has come to affirm in the course of adopting the recent proposals, e.g., that opposing ‘bound consciences’ can stymie consistent church teaching or that no disagreement on ethics can divide the church (unless one side of the ethical disagreement is inconsistent with the doctrine of justification).  These are bad ideas that will come back to haunt us.

These topics and the process that stills lies ahead of us in the ELCA as the quite general decisions are turned into policies will be the subject matter of this blog.

Michael Root

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38 Responses to “The present crisis and this blog”

  1. Jim Wagner Says:

    Thank you, Prof. Root. Many of us know that there is more wrong than we are able to articulate. I hope that you and others can help us with the historical/theological background to think this through.

    We need more than anger, and more than the usual answers of “denominational” Lutheranism. I too have the same 2:00am thoughts.

  2. Joe Copeck Says:

    I would love to hear more of your thoughts on numbers 3 and 4. It seems to me that last week’s decision was a furthering of the errors of ELCAism. We seem content to be a permanently separated church body and to be more sectarian than ever.

    I am angry but more than that I am deeply saddened. Lord have mercy on us!

  3. David Says:

    Thanks Dr. Root for being a recognizable voice in the midst of so many others.

  4. Joel Brown Says:

    True to the wishes of the governing Bishop, Mark Hanson, I wish to remind you, Mr. Root, that we are not to speak ill of the ELCA. As a current professor of Southern Seminary, unless you have tendered your resignation, we are called to speak well of each other and lift each other up in prayer. This constant bashing does no good. Bound conscience, as I read it says that we are to respect the other persons conscience and not use it as a personal tool. I hope, as a called faculty member of Southern Seminary, you keep personal opinions to yourself and teach the Systematic Theology class to which you have been called. Peace

    • Tony Metze Says:

      Joel, would you have made such a request of Martin Luther? I pray that Michael does not retreat to his faculty office but speaks the truth in love.

    • Mike Bennett Says:

      As I read Joel Brown’s response I wonder when it ceased to be a scholar’s legitimate role to publicly state his opinions – in this instance a professor of theology’s opinions regarding theology. I find no bashing here, and appreciate Professor Root’s establishing this blog, and the content he’s posted here already.

    • Pr. Dan Biles Says:

      Mr. Brown should meditate on the Psalm for this Sunday: Who shall dwell on God’s holy hill? The person who speaks the truth from the heart. The issues we face involve commitments to truth on which there cannot be compromise — including that sin of remaining silent when we should have spoken. As Bonhoeffer noted in “Life Together,” nothing is more unloving than the silence that leaves another Christian in his sin, and nothing is more loving than a word of reproof (I Tim. 4.2) that calls a fellow Christian back from his sin.

    • Brian Holle Says:

      Joel, are your joking?? Please clarify that you are. To invoke the “governing” bishop Hanson by name in a call to “not speak ill of the ELCA” is almost camp!

      C’mon, you sound like me making fun of the “inside ELCA” liberal culture that seems to, from my perspective, exist.

    • Kathleen Suggitt Says:

      I believe that to squelch the voice of dissension from within is a step from the light of truth and toward the darkness. If Dr. Root cannot – as one of the premier teaching theologians of the ELCA – publish a blog discussing his concerns with good theological and biblical grounding, then we have truly failed to be the church.

      This blog is no different than 95 theses posted on a door in Wittenberg. A call to conversation and serious consideration that there may be other issues to consider in this process.

      I for one want no part of religious institution which will not allow me to voice a disaggrement, concern, or attempt to hold accountable that which I in good conscience see as error. I EXPECT the teaching theologians in this institution that we call the ELCA, to TEACH and not tow the party line.

    • Ron Hamm Says:

      Exiling Dr Root to his classroom with a gag order is hardly a Lutheran perspective and totally un-American. I have heard many say we stood by quietly without voicing our opinion – guilty! Several years ago in the adult class I lead I uttered the phrase “political correctness gone totally awry.” I hear that sentiment spoken by many others now, but fear that it is rapidly moving downstream as if propelled by a jet engine!

  5. Kathleen Suggitt Says:

    Professor Root, I give thanks for your clear head, theological and biblical clarity, and couragous willingness to speak the truth in love. You have not simply called a spade a spade, but in the words of a friend of mine called it what it is … a &*%$ing shovel.

    Blessings to you for your voice and clarity.

    A former student.

  6. Brian Holle Says:

    That’s right: now it moves into teaching. The first action I am going to take is to raise awareness in our congregation of what the CWA has done and its implications for the in-house Augsburg published materials. Specifically with my fellow SS teachers, who are accountable in preserving the faith. We have plenty of sound options. The Institute for Lutheran Theology comes to mind.

    • Melinda Jones Says:

      Brian, thanks for that additional resource…I have been wondering where I COULD turn in light of Augsburgs relationship with the ELCA and subject to its CWA actions.

  7. Brian Says:

    I will pray for you Dr. Root. IMHO, Joel’s option above will soon become the norm within the church. Now that the advocates have “won,” they will work tirelessly to stifle dissent.

    Long term the issue is about teaching. As a generation passes away that was trained to think as Lutheran theologians and is replaced by post-modern, argue from personal experience folks, the ability to produce pastors who can actually think critically about our “place in life” through the lens of scripture, the confessions and a proactive understanding of the paradox will become problematic. The slide away from the historic, orthodox church will accelerate.

  8. Robert Jenson Says:

    Der Mike,

    I fear that your 2am thoughts may be close to correct. The sickness of Lutheranism goes very far back. If Luther’s theology was creative in agood way, and if that of the Lutheran scholastics was fine, that is about the last period in Lutheran history where slogans about “law and gospel” or “justification” were not harmful to the faith.

    Jens

  9. Wayne Kofink Says:

    Thank you, Dr. Root, for doing exactly what I expect from a professor of theology and teacher of the Church. I imagine there were a good number who told Luther, “Father Martin, go back to teaching your Bible classes and stop posting your personal opinions on the church door.” I am glad Luther didn’t listen to his critics.

    The ELCA is in need of sound theological teaching. I will be interested in reading future posts.

  10. Keith Falk Says:

    Hopefully Pr. Brown will offer a tempering of his words, especially in light of a Facebook “conversation” we had when he expressed a similar sentiment to my posting of of the link to Dr. Root’s blog.

    Thanks, Dr. Root, I look forward to reading more.

  11. David Brobston Says:

    At our Synod Gathering this week a colleague of mine said that the reality of “bound conscious” seems to be playing out in a simple phrase that we can all understand, “Shut up and play nice.”

    We are not to challenge one another, we are not to redirect benevolence, we are not to do anything that could possibly be construed as standing against the decision of the CWA.

    Unfortunately I am afraid that many of us will be called to task for doing just that, dissenting. I can only pray for some Wise Fredericks among us.

    Thank you for your words Dr. Root – and blessings to you and to your clarion call.

  12. A. Michael Boggs Says:

    Today, as I was communicating with a Roman Catholic friend, I needed to confess my sadness, distress, and shame over the actions of our denomination. I, too, think that we have abrogated our theological heritage, our oneness with the “… one holy catholic and apostolic church …,” and have become an occasion for scandal for people seeking spiritual wholeness. In abandoning the canonical form of the scriptures as the norm for our faith, life, and practice we have become an apostate church. RCIA anyone?

  13. Paul Gausmann Says:

    Thank you Dr. Root for starting this site, we need it. I think some of us are wondering if within Lutheranism there is not a recessive antinomian gene that keeps showing its ugly face throughout history. It does seem to me that the most pressing item right now is to give a theological and ecclesiastical framework for the discussion going on in Lutheran CORE that will lead up to the September national gathering. I am also aware that the crisis in the ELCA expression of Lutheranism can benefit from the Lutheran developing world perspective.

  14. Kaye Hute Says:

    Thank you D. Root. I need trusted voices to speak out, as I struggle with these issues, not just as a pastor but as a person of faith.

  15. Harvey Mozolak Says:

    Dr. Root, your point three is gut puncher for me… when I first learned _theologica crucis_ and of the Lutheran similitudes under Hank Kadai it was refreshing stuff in the midst of Springfield Sem’s theological stuffiness… Your “Work of Christ and the deconstruction etc.” devastes my remembrances and use of these strains pastorally over the years… While you argue their thin use in Luther, can they be used wisely as new Lutheran thought as well as a flimsy basis for some our present weak footings? Harvey Mozolak

  16. Phil Harkey Says:

    Thank you Dr. Root for leading this discussion and for standing firm in the historic, catholic and apostolic faith. Thank you Nathan Hilkert for posting the link to this blog on Facebook. I frankly was appalled to read so few responses, pro or con, this week by my colleagues to the actions taken by the CWA. It seems that now we are beginning to find our voices.

    This morning, as I was standing before the altar leading the prayers of the people to God, I was overcome with such a deep sense of grief and shame at what our denomination has done that the words simply would not come. What prayer can I possibly utter that adequately expresses or explains to God what we have done?

    And now we are being asked to play nice together as if this were some sporting event where the winners and the losers all shake hands after the game and go out to have a few beers together. That attitude would have us believe that it is only a group of people who have lost, but I maintain that the argument is fundamentally flawed, for it is not a group of people who have lost, but rather it is the cause of the proclamation of the gospel and our life together as a community that lives into the gospel proclamation that have been damaged.

    As one of you so astutely observed, it is now the teaching of Lutheran theology that will be affected. Perhaps the task that lies before us now is to begin the process of teaching our congregations exactly what the far-reaching ramifications of these decisions are, and the effects that they will have on our life of faith.

    Not only have we gone from Luther’s doctrine of ‘sola scriptura’ to a new doctrine of ‘sorta scriptura,’ but the ELCA has also declared that it is now possible to change any doctrine or dogma of the church by a simple majority vote. All we have to do, we now discover, is to gather enough folks together in a room, have a straight up or down vote, and we can declare the divinity of Jesus to be null and void. I know, let’s make it easy for those who can’t grasp the concept of one God in three persons and do away with the doctrine of the Trinity.

  17. Joel Brown Says:

    Evidently the only one who can have voice are those who disagree with what the way 2009 CWA voted. I understand that your bound conscience says that the ELCA has strayed, but how can we live into that difference and continue to be church.

    • lutheranspersisting Says:

      As far as I can see now, the ELCA can “live into” these decisions only if it is willing think through ways of living in impeded, or impaired, or partial communion within its own life. We will have to see.
      You are certainly free to have a voice here.
      Michael Root

    • Brian Holle Says:

      Joel,
      I am still waiting for your response to my question as to whether you were joking in your first post. I was seriously asking if you were joking. Because if you weren’t, then you could have only been issuing a threat.

      • Joel Brown Says:

        Not sure HOW you consider ANY of that a threat, and I was serious. Conversation is good, but evidently only for the dissenting. Peace, out!

      • Brian Holle Says:

        Joel,
        Let me quote you:
        “I wish to remind you, Mr. Root, that we are not to speak ill of the ELCA.”
        “As a current professor of Southern Seminary, unless you have tendered your resignation, we are called to speak well of each other.”
        “I hope, as a called faculty member of Southern Seminary, you keep personal opinions to yourself and teach the Systematic Theology class to which you have been called.”

        To paraphrase: “You had better not express a differing opinion, Mr. Root, or you may well lose your job with the ELCA.”

        That’s HOW, Joel.

        Joel, your comments sound like something Dean Wormer from “Animal House” would say.

      • Joel Brown Says:

        To even reference “Animal House” in a discussion of this type tells me all I need to know. I NO way am I implying that he will lose his position. My comment is completely in reference to the Bishops plea to NOT speak ill of the ELCA. IF, IF he feels the need to bash the decisions of the CWA, I merely suggest his resigning his post AS a Professor within the ELCA at one of their seminaries. Not to do so would be contradiction of his ideas and the direction of the ELCA.

      • lutheranspersisting Says:

        I would suggest we let Pastor Brown have the last word on this one and move on. If someone thinks I have moved from criticizing to bashing, then just say so and I will think about it. The line between blunt, but loving criticism and bashing, however, is not clearly defined.
        Michael Root

    • Pr. Dan Biles Says:

      “How can we live into that difference and still be the church?”

      An apt question, to which the answer may be: Not possible.

      I hear some people talk about “finding a place” for those who disagree with the CWA decisions to “stand” and to honor their consciences. Imagine that: Trying to find a place for orthodoxy in the Church. Richard Neuhaus’ dictum will indeed become a prophecy for this ELCA: “Wherever orthodoxy is optional, sooner or later it will be proscribed.”

      Those who think “a place” can be found for those who do not agree with the decisions of CWA do not realize is that those who hold to orthodox teaching and practice are committed to truths on which there can be no compromise. And they can lay claim to being orthodox – along with 99+% of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, against what the CWA has done.

  18. Fearsome Comrade Says:

    “What I worry about at 2 AM when I cannot sleep is that what we have come to think of as ’Lutheran’ actually is Lutheran, in which case the Reformation was just wrong.”

    Lutheranism managed to exist for about four hundred years without redefining homosexual activity as a non-sin. When something changes after being stable for centuries, don’t blame what stayed the same–look for what actually changed. How much do the formative principles of this church body have in common with those of the Reformation? Note that Lutheran church bodies that didn’t follow the ELCA in the changes it made during the 20th century (Barthian ecumenism, higher criticism, etc) are not having any similar struggle with gay ordination.

    And what do the church bodies that have gone down this road in common? If this were a “Lutheran” thing, why did the Episcopalians go there first? Why are the Presbyterians and Methodists headed that way? Why are the European state churches largely already there? Who doubts that the Disciples of Christ, which have as much to do with the Reformation and Lutheranism does with the Great Schism, will end up at the same place? What do all those churches have in common? They have in common Barthian ecumenism, anti-confessionalism, higher criticism, and the usual litany of the characteristics of 20th century theological liberalism.

    So don’t blame Luther or the Reformation. Blame yourselves.

  19. Todd Cutter Says:

    I am going to take a chance and enter into the foray here.
    First, I express some concern. If this blog is intended to be only for those who disagree with the actions of CWA Assembly, then fine. However, as I read over the past comments, it seems that if any comments are made in favor of the decisions, that person is called to question. Fine – that is debate. However, blog postings and computers don’t come with a “I kindly disagree” font, and I wonder if we are well served by making comments that could (notice the use of the word could) be read as malicious. Who am I to stand and declare beyond the shadow of a doubt that people who look at this issue differently are uneducated, unfaithful, or just plain wrong?
    On to the issue at hand. I was educated at Southern Seminary. I took some classes in which Dr. Root provided a few lectures (as my last year was his first year on campus). What disturbs me is that, while meeting with a church member opposed to the actions of CWA, I was told that “the problem is with those seminaries teacing liberal protestantism”. At least at Southern, I found professors faithfully presented all the ways one might look at an issue and then entered into dialogue with classes about how to respond pastorally. The gift of Southern was that all our professors did not agree – and my education was all the richer.
    So, how are we to respond to people who suddenly decide our seminaries are failing and refuse to support them? AND how can I say that having healthy conversation made my education all the richer, when now it seems that some are frowning on the concept of hearing all view points and continuing healthy conversation?

    • Brian Says:

      Tod,

      IMHO, the problem is a little deeper than the diversity of education now offered at our seminaries. Perhaps because I lived with the Paulist Fathers for a year and spent two years of my initial seminary education in the House of Studies program in DC and was exposed to Catholic University and the Theological Union, I find much of what passes as “dialog” in the ELCA as very limited in scope. It is a “dialog” from within a white, middle-class US based narrow sectarian understanding of the Christian faith.

      My personal experience is far too many of our seminary graduates take their one each confessions and systematics course and call it quits. Depending on who they had for those courses, that’s really all they know and it limits their ability to really think as pastors. Maybe they don’t understand the heresies the ELCA has embraced because they skipped from early church history to 1530 and then bounced up to modern liberation theology.

  20. John Thompson Says:

    It strikes me that Joel is correct in his original remarks to Dr. Root. And that is the rub.

    It appears to me that a most serious problem exists for “traditionalists” such as myself. I am now at odds with my own “church home.” Supposedly, I am to be respected as a person with “bound conscience.” Of course, it is precisely that “bound conscience” which obliges me to “protest/condemn” my own church tradition and its new self-awareness, as well as its sometime-soon-to-be-drafted practices commensurate with that new awareness. And yet, my church tradition says that though it respects that I am bound to protest its new stand, it forbids me to do so because it demands of me that I respect the ELCA and the consciences of those “bound to the new” by not giving expression to my own “bound conscience.”

  21. Bill Crabtree Says:

    My question: How can we at a congregational level, respect the “bound conscience” of those who are now caught between the congregation they love and the ELCA which they cannot support or even with which affiliate? Add to this question the most typical congregational situation of their being a 50-50 split when it comes to those who support and those who condemn this CWA decision. Leaving the ELCA is not really an option in these situations (ironic that the powers at be made sure a 2/3s vote is needed for a congregation to leave the ELCA but only a simple majority to overturn thousands of years of Judeo Christian practice)? Seems to me we have to set up a different way to support the wider Church giving individuals the ability to “opt out” and secondly, we will have to become very congregational in our thinking. Hasn’t this decision driven us there? Some of my colleagues have equated such distancing from the ELCA and withholding or allowing some to opt out of ELCA support as sin. Yet, isn’t it sinful to not do what is necessary to keep people in our congregations especially when many of them built the places where we worship? Or perhaps this is about purging the traditionalist? And finally, I have obviously thought about the problem that arises with this line of thinking – i.e. everytime the wider church does something we disagree with do we stop our support? ect… My reply is that for the people who I’m thinking about, they have lived with many things in the ELCA with which they disagree for many years. This time, in their view, as with Dr. Root, the Church has erred so severely that it has severed their ability to stay. Hmmm. Tough times and tough decisions.

  22. Eric Swensson Says:

    Interesting movement in the conversation.

    The more I think about it, people ought to be free to speak exactly what they think when it comes to our disagreements and the last thing we should have is any kind of stifling of speech.

    Why do some people seem to think that “bound-conscience” is a gag order. Did anyone else think Timothy’s Wengert’s piece was implying that?* Seems like things like that give folk like Pr Joel Brown every reason to think that paid staff should not say anything that could be construed as criticism.

    * http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Journal-of-Lutheran-Ethics/Issues/September-2009/Reflections-on-the-ELCA-6.aspx

  23. Tony Metze Says:

    Eric, Thank you for pointing out the essay by Timothy Wengert. I just finished reading it and I found it most insightful. I have heard folks argue that the task force made the decision biblically, but never heard it fully articulated as did Wengert. I can say with full confidence, however, that I find the biblical revisionist position he articulates completely unsatisfactory. I also read Reverend Mel White’s article on the Soulforce website. I truly am reading all perspectives, but find nothing that overturns the traditional understanding. While I admire what the CWA tried to do in this most recent social statement with the four options/views of homosexuality, I do not see how people who are option 1 can live together faithfully with option 4 folks.

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