David Yeago: In the Aftermath


David Yeago’s “In the Aftermath” is a bit long for a post, so it is placed as a page on the list to the right.  It is well worth reading and reflection.

11 Responses to “David Yeago: In the Aftermath”

  1. Joe Copeck Says:

    Thank you Dr. Yeago! I’m still deciding where I am in these things–staying in order to call the ELCA to repentance and renewal or too tired, hurt, and lost to stay. But you words were balm to my wounds. Thank again!

  2. Pr. Dan Biles Says:

    A daily devotional I use is Magnificat, written by the Dominicans. Every day it tells the story of a saint. Friday, 9-11’s saint was Pahhnutus, a bishop who was tortured for the faith in the early 4th century. He was an ally of Athanasius against the Arians. At the Council of Tyre, he and Athanasius were outnumbered by the Arians. Paphnutus was appalled to see the bishop of Jerusalem, Maximus, sitting with the Arians. Like Paphnutus, Maximus had also been tortured for the faith in the recent persecution. He asked to speak privately with Maximus and expressed his unhappiness and dismay at seeing one who had suffered for the faith sitting with those attacking the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus.

    Maximus repented and changed his seat to side with Athanasius. He was later canonized.

    In the spirit of Yeago’s article, I relate this story and note two things in this story: First, Paphnutus recognized the faith of Maximus, even while he was in error. Both of them were united in Luther’s seventh mark of the Church, suffering for Christ.

    And, Paphnutus did not do what so many of us in the ELCA are doing: withdrawing into the safe confines of our respective camps, where everyone nods their head in agreement with what we say, while we lob theological mortar shells at the other side. Pahpnutus stayed in his relationship to Maximus, and so was able to converse with him and convince him of his error. (As Peter Steinke would say, “He defined himself, regulated his reactivity, and stayed in touch with others.”)

  3. Pr. Dan Biles Says:


    Let us recognize that the issues we face are not just the sexual questions. That is the tiip of the iceberg. We are dealing with a whole raft of other issues that have been eating away like corrosive acid at the faith of our Church: Baptisms in names other than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Confessions of faith other than the Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian Creeds (e.g., the “creed” that was “confessed” at Goodsoil’s service during CWA). Worship skewed to fit political or social agendas. The abolishment of Scripture from the life of the Church, especially worship, as it is replaced by politically correct paraphrases.

    And now that the revisionist agenda has been approved by CWA, the whole bureaucracy will swing into action, supporting and propogandizing it. It is not something pastors or congregations can stand up to alone. Even Luther had his powerful supporters and allies in taking his stand. So, the need for organized resistance — what I called “loyal opposition” on Lutheran Forum Online — is necessary.

  4. Jay Thorson Says:

    Dr. Yeago,

    Your essay was very thought provoking, and sent me back to my copy of Luther’s Galatians. You neglected what I think is an extremely important point for the issue at hand. In his 1535 lectures on Galatians, when the mature Luther exegetes that same section, 6:1-4, he says that we are to bear the sins of our brother in areas of faith and morals, but NOT IN DOCTRINE. Among many statements of the sort, Luther says “we can well understand that forgiveness of sins shall not prevail in the area of doctrine . . . but in the area of our life and our works.” (p.111, LW v. 27).

    Or, concerning those who have concord in love, but not doctrine, Luther says, “I would rather that they depart from me and be my enemies, and the whole world along with them, than that I depart from Christ and have Him as an enemy; this is what would happen in I forsook His clear and simple Word and followed instead the vain notions by which they distort the words of Christ to their own interpretation. (p. 107)

    It seems to me that the life experiences of the mature Luther are quite relevant for our current situation.

  5. David S. Yeago Says:

    Dear Jay Thorson-

    Several quick points in response to your reference to the 1535 Galatians.

    First, I did not cite the 1519 passage as authoritative because Luther said it, so that you could counter it by citing something Luther said later, as though we were comparing earlier and later passages in the Koran. I cited the 1519 statement because it seemed to me to penetrate into the deep meaning of Scripture’s teaching on Christian fellowship in an almost breathtaking way. What you cite from the 1535 Commentary does not seem to be to be theologically and spiritually on the same level. In fact the first passage you cite seems rather confused.

    Luther is surely not saying that false doctrine is the unforgivable sin. He is arguing against weak acceptance of false doctrine for the sake of a purely external fellowship. But “forgiveness’ is never a weak acceptance of evil for superficial peace. Forgiveness is not pretending that everything is really OK. Forgiveness is the costly labor the party in the right undertakes to restore the party in the wrong to communion.

    If we have to understand the 1535 Luther to mean that we owe no debt of love to those who teach falsely, no obligation of any sort to forgive them and thus seek communion with them, then surely he is just wrong. As he himself pointed out in his early Hebrews lectures, the very act of writing Galatians was an act of pastoral and fraternal love by Paul for those who were “turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6).

    Second, in the second passage you cite, Luther is writing from the perspective of one who has already been kicked out of the Roman communion, not one who contemplates leaving. He says that he is willing that others depart from him as he persists in Christ, not that he is going to depart from others. He is not the one doing the leaving. He will not, for the sake of communion, abandon the clear words of Christ and follow those who depart in pursuit of vain notions. I hope you don’t think that I have counselled otherwise. My counsel is that we persist in the Apostles’ teaching and communion, and let the ELCA decide whether or not it can handle that. We should not depart from the ELCA; let the ELCA decide if it needs to depart from us.

    Third, nearly everything else in my paper has to do with what kind of presence we should seek by God’s mercy as we persist. I’m suggesting that if we persist as penitent people, Scripture-intoxicated people, people more focused on the righteousness of God than on being right, people who treat those who are in the wrong as objects of care and affection rather than as enemies, then our presence may in some measure truly represent the Apostles’ teaching and communion.

    What I fear is that I could sit on the sidelines, angry and snarky, secure in my righteousness, “sure that I am a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (Rom 2:19-20), confident of all the ways the word of God challenges others and deaf to the ways it challenges me — and then someday have to hear sentence passed: “You then who teach others, will you not teach yourself?” (Rom 2:21).

    Maybe you have no temptations of this sort, but I do and I fear them. I have no real doubt about the issues — when I am in agreement with clear biblical teaching, twenty centuries of Christian tradition, and 99.99% of the existing church on earth, I don’t generally find myself wracked with doubt. But I do have a great deal of doubt about myself, about my own capacity to represent the truth. As I told my daughter when when we discussed this, “One of the hardest things for a human being to do in this world is to be right without getting it wrong.” If my paper goes wrong in generalizing my own weakness inappropriately, then by all means pass it by.

    Fourth, you write “It seems to me that the life experiences of the mature Luther are quite relevant for our current situation.” Alas, I can’t quite follow you there either. I myself have not been excommunicated for my beliefs, nor have I been outlawed, nor have people who think as I do been burned at the stake, nor have I been threatened with burning. The ELCA’s hostility to my beliefs just doesn’t quite rise to that level. By historic standards, the standard of the confessors and martyrs, the challenges to discipleship that I face in the ELCA seem almost embarrassingly mild.

    Yours under the Mercy,

    David S. Yeago

  6. Travis Says:

    Thank you Dr. Yeago. there are a lot of us looking for leadership in the wake of the CWA. This essay was very helpful to me.

  7. David Brobston Says:

    Dr. Yeago,

    Thank you for your thought provoking article. I have great respect for your teaching and your writings and even 16 years into ministry find myself pulling out many of my study notes from my time sitting in your classes at LTSS.

    I will confess that this article lays a challenge at my feet. A very healthy tension. As I walked out of the Assembly Hall at CWA on that Friday I saw a friend of mine with tears in his eyes that matched the tears rolling down my face. I told him with some false bravado, “We have three choices, roll over and accept this, leave, or stay and faithfully call the ELCA to repentance.” The words are still true, the reason that it was with false bravado is that I find that it would be an easier path to either accept the decisions or to leave the fellowship.

    I do not wish to speak for any other “traditionalists” or for anyone other than myself. Ministry is now much more difficult, the fallout and anger in my context is significant. The congregation I serve is very unhappy – and what we hear from those in authority is, “Don’t redirect Mission Support, don’t bring resolutions to Synod Assemblies to try to overturn the decisions made.” It puts many of us in a tension filled space.

    Thank you for your words of clarity and healing. They are indeed words that at least I need to hear. Words of healing and words of encouragement.

  8. James Gustafson Says:

    After reading David Yeago: In the Aftermath, and reflecting on it a bit, I’m struck by the idea that if we take that line of argument to it’s logical conclusion, then all of the ELCA members should be asking if they would be “Permitted” to continue to preach and teach if they were in the Roman Catholic Church, and if it passed that same test as this article asks about staying in the ELCA, “Permitted” not made harder, would they be “permitted” to stay in the RC and teach the true gospel? I think for most of us the answer would be in the affirmative, and if so, then the exercise would say that we can’t be Lutherans at all anymore but must join the RC Church?

    And as such a conclusion as that is reached for the vast majority of us, I have to disagree with the premise entirely. The results of using this ends up with an erroneous answer, if it were a mathematical formula, we would have to question how the formula is broken and flawed before we use it. How, for example, does it account for 1 Corinthians 5:11: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of….”

  9. David S. Yeago Says:

    Dear James Gustafson,

    I have to say that I am very puzzled as to what your point is in the main body of your response. Let me make only the following response to what I guess you might be saying: If I were in the Roman Catholic Church and asked myself whether I would be permitted to preach the true gospel there, I’ve no doubt whatever that the answer would be Yes. But I am not, in fact, in the Roman Catholic Church, but in the ELCA. And in the ELCA, I have all sorts of bonds of fellowship and obligation. Membership in the ELCA is not only, or even predominately, a relationship to the Assembly or to “Higgins Road.” It is a relationship to a local congregation, as lay member or rostered leader. It is a relationship to a particular company of disciples. For me it is also a relationship to two decades of students whom I have tried to persuade to undertake the calling of catholic and apostolic ministry in the ELCA.

    The question I have to answer first is “Does what happened in August impose on me a necessity to sever all these bonds, to consider myself free from all these obligations?” I can only see answering “Yes” if what happened in August prevents me from fulfilling my calling, or from being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

    As to 2 Corinthians 5:11, the context makes clear that Paul is not giving advice to individuals but has in view a disciplinary procedure in the community. We are in a situation in which there is no such corporate discipline-that’s more or less what was decided at the Assembly. My piece is an attempt to figure out what to do now, and to that Galatians 6:1-3, and Luther’s reading of it in 1519, seemed especially pertinent.

    • James Gustafson Says:

      Lets start over then. It seems to me that you are presenting the problem to us from the inside out, and there is nothing wrong with that, it needs to be done. Whereas I’m trying to take the point of view from outside the ELCA altogether, outside of Lutheranism itself and looking at Lutheranism anew. The context of which would have to be asked, why does Lutheranism exists? And the simple answer seems to me to be that Lutheranism exists because the Wittenberg way of thinking has an uncompromising discernment of the scripture, of the gospel and of the preeminence of Christ and the Gospel. Or, in so many words, Lutheranism is the discernment of what the scripture teaches and the mission of dispersing that message to the masses.

      Are we Lutherans just to be “something”, are we in the Lutheran church just because we are allowed to remain in the Lutheran church? No, we are Lutherans because we agree with the Lutheran discernment of the scripture as presented in the book of Concord. If we don’t advocate for that ‘way’ of thinking, that ‘way’ of discernment of scripture, then we might as well be any other denomination, be it Baptist or Episcopalian, Methodist or Catholic. The Augsburg reformers seem to have been sure that there was a ‘reason’ for teaching what they taught, an interpretation of the scripture that was more ‘right’ than the traditional interpretations being presented by the church of that time. They stood for the Wittenberg way of thinking, not for unity with each other, but because they thought it the right way, they thought it God’s way, they endured hardships to stand with it.

      Now, with the ELCA today, we have an entirely different scenario, the ELCA isn’t saying, “we think this is right”, nor, “this is what we stand for”, no they are saying, “we know that we don’t know what is right”, or, “we don’t care what you think is right, we just want unity and togetherness with you”. They want to share communion even with those that don’t agree with the Augsburg Confession, our theology doesn’t even have to believe in the discernment of the True Body and Blood of Christ in the Communion meal to share unity with the ELCA. They are presenting their position as saying: we are going to share communion and unity with every interpretation, even with those that interpret scripture not just differently than historical Lutheranism, but differently than scripture has ever been interpreted before (how then are they going to critique even the Jehovah Witnesses or the Mormons I don’t know, but that’s a question for a different day).

      So then I’m back to my earlier posting, asking why then are we Lutherans at all? If I follow your formula for solving this problem, and including the ELCA’s unity for the sake of unity at all costs, then the final conclusion with your method would be that the ELCA and their version of Lutheranism shouldn’t really exist anymore, we should all rejoin one church regardless of our differing ideologies and theologies, apparently different theologies and methods for interpreting scripture are no longer reasons for division from one another. If there should be Church unity at all costs then reform movement was in error, if there should be only one church that church would have to be the RC church, not the ELCA church. The RC church of today would not kick us out like fifteenth century RC church did, so the unity minded ELCA shouldn’t exist anymore.

      But I disagree with the conclusion I’ve just reached above, and I bet you do to, so that was my point. Instead of asking if we are allowed to stay, we need to ask ourselves, why are we Lutherans in the first place and what do we stand for. If the ELCA doesn’t stand for anything, we are we a part of it? Shouldn’t Lutheranism be preaching the Wittenberg way of thinking, and espousing the Augsburg Confessions? If not, then why call what the ELCA does Lutheran, if we want to be Lutheran and we think others should be Lutheran too, then we can’t continue to procure converts and educate students to become ELCA, but rather, something more Lutheran. At some point even members who disagree with the ELCA but remain in the ELCA would become guilty by association for not standing against “open theology” and unity for the sake of unity.

  10. Lawrence804 Says:

    What Pastor Biles says above in his second post is key: it’s not just the new ordination standards, it’s the whole constellation of movements and initiatives that could be described as New Thought or innovation, a “reimagining” of the historic Christian faith. This New Thought is a movement throughout the Mainline denominations.

    It’s not as if our opponents are thoroughly orthodox except for their desire to see noncelibate gays admitted to Holy Orders. (Some few may fit into that category, I grant.) This is but one of an array of things that they seek.

    None of the above makes our opponents bad or evil people, let me emphasize. They are my and our brothers and sisters in Christ, as Dr Yeago’s fine essay rightfully points out. But I believe their thought-forms are more and more at variance with what I regard as the historic practice and thinking of the church catholic, and I wonder if it is fruitful for either side to remain under the same roof. As others have said, it may be time for a velvet divorce.

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