Watching a bishop with a bad back tap dance

In 1999, I realized, after serving The American Lutheran Church and its successor body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,as a pastor for over twelve years that the ELCA was becoming less evangelical, less Lutheran, and less explicitly the Church year by year, and that the process was beyond the point where it could be reversed. I tried to warn my congregation. Few of them listened,

I left. I am now a layman in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Today, the ELCA is everything I had feared that it was becoming. Rather than rehearse the tale of its apostasy, I'll let the conversation between an ELCA bishop and a congregation many of whose members are disturbed by its increasing deviance from the Word of God and from the Lutheran Confessions tell the tale.

Suffice it to say that the performance of the bishop and the other representatives of the ELCA are essentially the same old, deceitful song-and-dance that I saw performed all those years ago. The steps haven't changed much in all that time:

I'll try to narrate the performance by this ELCA bishop and other members of the nomenclatura in more or less the order that things are discussed on the video linked to above.

First of all, Ebeneezer "Lutheran" Church in San Francisco, or "Herchurch," is open in its worship of a supposed fourth person of the Trinity, the female "Sophia," ("Wisdom").   Sophia is also sometimes seen (as in the idolatrous "mass" seen below) as somehow the female side of the Savior Who was incarnated in real space and time as a Man. Note that Ebeneezer clearly refers on its web page to its celebration of the "goddess (!) rosary" and other forms of open idolatry. A mass in honor of both Christ and Sophia held at an allied ELCA congregation, St. Francis (whose website is at least at present very discrete) can be seen here:

Question: Since the heresy of these congregations- which has been going on openly for years- is "not representative" of the ELCA, why haven't they been disciplined before now? Why have they not been expelled? Remember, as "shocked" and "surprised" as the representatives of the ELCA are in the other video, this stuff has been common knowledge in the ELCA for years.

Reprimanded? Under investigation? And how long is that going to go on before they're given the choice of shaping up or are kicked out of the ELCA? How much deliberation is required to recognize and deal with frank an open idolatry?

And why is it that ELCA bishops are always "surprised" and "shocked" when they "recently" learn of matters that have been common knowledge inside and outside the ELCA, and have been matters of public scandal for years?

It's "none of your business," Bishop, that this kind of false teaching is happening in the church in which you are a shepherd? The theology of "Herchurch," while extreme by any standard, is by no means unique in the ELCA though few if any other congregations or especially pastors are so open about it. And it is your duty to speak out against it, regardless of matters of jurisdiction! You are ordained! You are a bishop!

The gall of trying to present the authoritarian and very centralized ELCA as anything other than authoritarian and very centralized staggers belief. The ELCA is indeed a "top-down" organization, and the business about a bishop being limited in what he or she can do in a local congregation is hogwash; his or her powers with regard to local congregations are quite extensive. Its centralized polity is one of the things that nearly blew the ELCA apart at its inception, and has remained controversial among folks who came from traditions other than the very centralized LCA.

The ELCA "merely advisory?" Give me a break! That statement is, to be generous, extremely disingenuous. And the thing is, there are doubtless people of good will in this congregation who believed it!

God help any ELCA congregation that publicly stated that it is not in communion with another ELCA congregation!

The bishop's dishonesty in his treatment of the question of biblical authority is patent. His attempt to set the words of Moses and of Jesus with regard to biblical and spiritual authority against each other is not only absurd but is false teaching. It is simply not true. It is heresy. And one of Luther's most frequent tirades was precisely against those who exalted reason above the Bible!

Beyond that, he completely misrepresents what the New Testament and Luther meant by the word "Gospel." In the ELCA, it's a buzz word which ultimately has no meaning beyond being a useful term to justify whatever nonsense the ELCA or its liberal agenda requires.

Scripture and tradition are sources of authority? What ever happened to the sola Scriptura? What does the Word of God mean "today?" Pure doubletalk! It means what the words, taken in their natural meaning, say! And does he really want to suggest that the ELCA Constitution rises to the level of a doctrinal authority comparable in any way with Scripture?

The notion that a candidate for ordination who denied the literal resurrection "would not make it through candidacy" is utter bushwah. And where "we" are or where the bishop is on matters of open heresy is not the question. The question is why is this nonsense even tolerated?

Inclusive language for God is central to the ELCA's corporate life. It's standard. When I was in seminary, failing to use it was a recipe for all sorts of unpleasantness to break out. In any case, while granting that there are numerous ways in which God is spoken of in the Bible, the attempt to deprive God's predominantly masculine self-predication in Scripture of its central of its usual and normative character is to set oneself above the text itself.

With all respect to the lady who expressed it, the notion that the sola gratia means that doctrinal orthodoxy is unimportant is nonsense. In fact, the statement that the sola gratia is of central importance is itself a doctrinal statement! This is the kind of confused thinking that springs from having the kind of teaching (or lack thereof) ELCA laity is presented with.

At least there was some attempt here to educate the lady about the fact the Spirit comes to us through the Word and the Sacrament, not through our feelings- and through purely human documents like the ELCA Constitution. But wait a minute! The bishop and Synod Council representative have just spent considerable time relativizing the authority of Scripture, and exalting human documents like the ELCA Constitution and what the bishop can or cannot believe to the level of doctrinal authorities! It seems that Scripture is authoritative when it serves the ELCA's purposes, but not otherwise! The bishop and his associates  were honest about their and the ELCA's rejection of the authority of Scripture- but only to the point where it served their purposes!

The scriptures exclude active gays and lesbians- partnered or not- from the Church, and state that they will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The bishop's statement that the Confessions somehow make partnered homosexual behavior OK by not addressing a question whose answer was always considered universally self-evident in the Church until the last few years is breathtaking in its disingenuity.

The Bible is clear about both excluding women from the Church and the incompatibility of homosexual behavior with the Faith. The bishops endorsement of the antinomian rejection of the teaching of Scripture on the ground of what he personally "cannot believe" is disgraceful and a violation of his ordination oath.

The agenda of the ELCA is a political agenda dressed up in theological language. It is nothing else.

God did not "make people gay" any more than He gives people cancer. There is nothing wrong morally or spiritually with being born with a homosexual orientation as a result of the same fallenness of this sinful world which results in birth defects and miscarriages. But Scripture excludes those who indulge in unrepentant homosexual behavior- "partnered" or not- from the Kingdom of God. It's sad that these folks have been so indoctrinated by the ELCA and by the culture that they can't recognize that central and vital distinction. It's also worth noting that at least my ordination oath, and presumably the bishop's, included a promise to "give no occasion for false hope or illusory comfort." That is precisely what the bishop's position on homosexuality- and the ELCA's- does.

Every person should be welcome in the Church. But every behavior should not- and following Christ has rather clear ethical implications. His teaching has rather clear ethical implications! The gentleman who endorsed celibacy as the alternative for Christians of homosexual behavior was correct. But for a Christian of homosexual orientation, celibacy   it's not a matter of "fully following Christ." One cannot be a part-time disciple! For a person of homosexual orientation, celibacy is the only option compatible with being a follower of Jesus. Jesus Himself endorsed the Old Testament's teaching concerning the ethical and spiritual ramifications of homosexual behavior. In that regard, the ELCA simply rejects what He has to say.

It's good that there are congregations in the ELCA who are faithful to the Word of God. The problem is that Scripture doesn't give us the option of remaining in communion with those who are not.

Other confessional pastors in the ELCA and I heard this same nonsense about how a heterodox church somehow "needs" those who are orthodox years and years ago, over and over again. It's patronizing not only of those who aspire to orthodoxy but to the Holy Spirit Himself.

The followers of Christ are indeed one. But it's if we continue in   His Word that we are truly His disciples. The problem is that the ELCA as an institution and the dominant element in it are not  disciples of Christ by His own definition, but rather followers of a social and political agenda antithetical to His teachings,   but dressed up in theological language.

I, a divorced heterosexual Christian, am celibate- not as an optional "gift" ancillary to one's participation in the Body of but because it's the only option Scripture gives me if I want to be a Christian.

The ELCA has in fact clearly, intentionally and publicly taken a pro-choice position.   My bishop was honest enough to characterize it that way. It will not do to simply say that what the ELCA's representatives say here about where their denomination stands is disingenuous. The statement that the problem of abortion is a matter of the Portico insurance company rather than of the Church's position of public doctrine is, quite simply,   a bald-faced and quite a preposterous lie.

Universalism is taught in the ELCA's seminaries and is embraced by the overwhelming majority of ELCA clergy. As the gentleman mentioned, the ELCA's own webpage stated it as the ELCA's teaching until an outcry among the laity caused it to suddenly disappear from that web page.

Salvation by grace through faith in Christ is the Gospel. The bishop's double-talk on the subject is typical but disgraceful. The implication that universalism does not represent the dominant theology of the ELCA is simply untrue; the bishop's repeated refusal to take responsibility for, or even honestly engage, the position of his church body is disgraceful.

The statement the Church Council member made that the ELCA does not de facto embrace universalism is an outright lie. It is true that there is no official public statement endorsing it, or at least there hasn't been since such a statement was removed from the ELCA's website. As the performance of the ELCA representatives in the video illustrates, they're very careful not to be that honest with the laity! But any bishop or clergyperson who suggests that universalism is somehow a marginal or atypical position among ELCA clergy is being disingenuous, to be charitable. The universalist statement on the ELCA web page was a matter of public scandal and represented and still represents the typical position of ELCA pastors.

The gentleman who spoke near the end about the need for certainty and faithfulness is correct. The false teaching of the ELCA concerning human sexuality was actively and strenuously promoted and indeed shoved down our throats by the official ELCA at both the national and synodical levels when I was a pastor in it.  At a synod assembly I attended about ten years before the Minneapolis apostasy, a group of pastors expressed their dissatisfaction with that fact to the ELCA's mission director, Mark Thompson. He responded by blurting out, "Why, it may take ten years to convince you people to accept homosexuality!"

His prediction was amazingly accurate. It took almost exactly ten years for the ELCA to abandon the teaching on human sexuality not only held in every stratum of both Testaments but "always, everywhere and by all" throughout Christian history.

The ELCA is a part of the Body of Christ. But it falsifies the Gospel. In its present form, it is a malignancy in the Body of Christ. No, the Confessions do NOT say that it is enough for the unity of the Church that the Gospel be preached and the Sacraments administered. It says that it is enough that the Gospel is preached according to a pure understanding of it, and the Sacraments administered according to the Gospel.  And no matter how its bishops and other representatives may tap-dance around the issue, he ELCA simply doesn't qualify.

No, our salvation through faith in Christ is not all that matters, because faith in Christ cannot exist without the Law to point out our need for a Savior! Not only Jesus and Paul and John but Luther and the Confessions warn that without the Law the Gospel is not the Gospel of Christ, but a false gospel. And it is that false gospel that the ELCA confesses. All the tap-dancing and double-talk in the world won't change that. And those who misrepresent it and attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the sheep of Christ's flock are not being faithful shepherds.

The NALC has many problems. It ignores what Scripture teaches about women's ordination. It practices open communion, inviting to its altars pretty much anyone who considers himself or herself in some sense a Christian regardless of how radical the false teaching they embrace. It seems at least to some extent to buy into the nonsensical ELCA teaching that the unity of the Church can somehow exist apart from the Gospel being preached in accordance with a pure understanding of it and the Sacraments administered in agreement with the teachings of Christ. It seems to share the common error that unity in the Church can somehow exist apart from unity in faith- not only agreement in the faith by which we believe but in the teachings of the Faith itself.

  In many ways, including some of the ways it deals with Scripture, the NALC seems to be replicating the mistakes of the ELCA and its predecessor bodies. And it fails to see that one cannot reject false teaching without also rejecting that fellowship with false teachers which seems to imply that the disagreements involved somehow don't matter.

But it is composed of people who seek to be faithful and recognize that they have not been dealt with honestly. They and specifically the people of Immanuel have my prayers.


SteveH said…
Well thought out, well reasoned, and true. Not in the relative sense, but in the absolute sense. Very sobering. Thanx, Bob.

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