Thursday, September 03, 2009

When Division is Necessary - The ELCA Approves of Sin

First, let me say that my parents and in-laws are all members of an ELCA church and I have many friends in the ELCA. What I'm about to write may seem harsh and I want it understood that I write this in all love and concern first for brothers and sisters in Christ who are in the ELCA as well as the witness of Christ that is severely jeopardized by recent actions in the ELCA.

Second, I want to disclose that I was once a member of an ELCA church myself and still find occasion to serve the Lord by filling in as a leader of worship at my former church. This issue is one reason I left. There are other reasons I left, such as the fact that I'm credobaptistic rather than paedobaptistic, but they aren't relevant here.

Third, I want to state that I have had homosexual roommates in the Marines and in College and got along well with them. I have no hatred for homosexuals, but I'm bound by the clear teaching of scriptures according to a hermeneutic that is certain in its ability to apprehend the meaning of the bulk of scripture.

Relevant articles and resources can be found on the Internet regarding what the ELCA has done:

The last link contains a link to the ELCA's statement in PDF file format that I'll give you here. I'll be addressing the primary arguments and presuppositions that the ELCA puts forth:

This wasn’t the only release from the ELCA. The ELCA news service released this article August 21:

This last is an approval to ordain practicing homosexuals as Lutheran pastors. The basis for this action is found in the statement on human sexuality, so I'll address some of the flawed logic I read there.

Below are a few things I noticed as I read the statement. I categorized them as presuppositions, arguments, and dodges. There is one stated purpose. Presuppositions are unsupported assertions or supported facts. Arguments are syllogistic in nature and suggest conclusions. Dodges are statements that either serve as red-herring arguments or whiny suggestions of explanations as to why things aren’t answered very well.

  • Presupposition: Only three of the five solas are mentioned as having bearing. Sola scriptura is not mentioned here. I’ll go into this in more detail later. pg 2
  • Presupposition: Christian familial relationships must engender trust and safety. Much of the document mentions this. The suggestion is that some traditional families are bad and some non-traditional [read: homosexual] families are good. This begs the question without actually making any argument that homosexuality should not be discounted on the pragmatic basis of the establishment of familial relationships. Most of the document is spent reiterating this as though it were the strongest argument for homosexuality. Much was not in the document regarding what the Bible has to say about human sexuality.
  • Argument: Moral equivocation between homosexuality and eating meat sacrificed to idols. I’ll go into this in more detail later. pg 11 (Argument actually buried in the footnote.)
  • Presupposition: Conscience is preeminent in morality. Romans 2:15-16 was used to make this statement. No mention as to why the Holy Spirit would give different people different convictions of conscience. Hint: He doesn’t. Differences in conviction are a result of sin. pg 11
  • Presupposition: Question is begged that stated intent is adequate to determine intent in matters of discerning the conscience of others. This follows from the previous presupposition. pg 11
  • Argument: World is complex therefore traditional dogma is inadequate. The word "complex" mentioned often without explanation of how complexity necessarily results in throwing out significant portions of scripture.
  • Dodge: The statement includes details irrelevant for the purpose of obscuring or making more palatable the intent of the statement. Such statements as social responsibilities and of the church, government policies the church supports, and what the church apparently does find wrong with regard to sexual activity, are iterated. What they don’t mention is by what hermeneutic they arrive at the reason some matters of sexual deviancy are not to be tolerated while another, homosexuality, is.
  • Argument: We are free from the bondage of sin (apparently recognizing that homosexuality is a sin) and can respond in love (somehow justifying sinful behavior that has the appearance of love) - in the conclusion on page 19
  • Dodge: No specific questions answered because it's too complex. Observation of issue’s “complexity” made more than once throughout the document.
  • Stated Purpose: But that everyone is encouraged to find their own answers. - also in the conclusion on page 19

The three-of-five solas issue was striking to me. The five solas are five doctrines that emerged as a result of the Reformation.

  1. Sola scriptura – By the “scriptures alone” is God authoritatively revealed to us today. While truth is revealed through the Holy Spirit as well, he never controverts the message that he inspired and in a world of lies wrought by sin, the Bible is the only means by which we can discern what is indeed a true revelation of the Spirit.
  2. Sola fide – By “faith alone” do we receive the declaration of justification by God, not by works. This means that we trust the work of God rather than our own works for salvation.
  3. Sola gratia – Where faith is our trust in God for salvation, “grace alone” is the God’s gift of salvation to us based on his unmerited favor; not that we do anything to earn salvation.
  4. Sola Christus – If we can do nothing to earn God’s favor, then salvation is entirely the work of “Christ alone” on the cross.
  5. Soli Deo gloria – “The glory of God alone” Given that God is the creator, that he has created us, that the work that we have accomplished is to sin against him, and that the work that he has accomplished is to save us from our sin, the only reason for him to save us is that he desires to glorify himself.

I had the chance to hear a Lutheran pastor deliver an impassioned message regarding this action. He explicitly mentioned “sola scriptura”, referred to the account of Martin Luther making his stand on the scriptures and proceeded to remark that there were some passages that the pro-homosexual movement just couldn’t get around.

I observe that they have made attempts to deal with these passages. The problem is that in order to justify homosexuality, one must twist hermeneutical principles to the extent that the Bible largely becomes unreadable if you follow the principles consistently. Theology, like any “-ology” as a rational study, is an academic tool that can either be used well for elucidation or poorly for obfuscation. If we are to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, then we must recognize that the gift of the Spirit is to love the truth of God beyond our own justification such that we would rather accept the condemnation we deserve than tolerate the propagation of lies against the character of God. (Yet, with the gift of the Spirit comes faith that God fulfills his promise of salvation to us.) But if our purpose is to justify ourselves before God, not relying on God but on our own desires, then we are not justified and rather condemned. Our handling of the truth of scripture therefore becomes one of distortion where we would rather propagate lies against God for this purpose.

The five solas are not equal in foundation, but rather the first, “sola scriptura,” is foundational to discerning the middle three and the fifth one, “soli Deo gloria,” transcends all of them as both Spiritually foundational to and logically discerned from the other four. For this reason, I believe the first and fifth were not mentioned in the statement.

The three solas that were mentioned were not used to elucidate soteriology, but to obfuscate for the purposes of justifying a sinful practice that the scriptures clearly indicate is an abomination to God. In fact, the whole statement is ostensibly the result of a theological study of the Bible regarding human sexuality in general as commissioned by the synod in 2001. In eight years, they failed to mention much of what the Bible says about human sexuality and rather focus specifically on matters arguing for the acceptance of homosexuality within the denomination. As a basis for this, the statement completely ignores the clear commands in the Bible and rather misuses select portions of the scripture to produce subjective arguments for the inclusion of homosexuality to those who read the Bible and understand a prohibition against sexual sin of all kinds, explicitly including homosexuality.

One reason is clear why they did this, and I’ve heard too many pastors sound equally as unclear. The fear is that a denominational rift will occur and the denomination will break apart over some irreconcilable difference. While I want to be careful to condemn no one out of hand, I have to consider that many who have pushed for and supported such issues as this are unregenerate. It’s foolish to think that everyone a church body allows to join the church is a genuine Christian. There are many who profess Christ falsely who have no faith. There are even some who seek membership with churches for the purpose of destroying those churches. If the truth causes a split, then the split is necessary. The truth should never be compromised in an attempt to preserve unity, for there is no true unity outside of the truth. Such an ostensible unity as exists that is founded on untruth will fail.

Some of the arguments are not even biblically based. They are simply assertions made that may bear some element of truth, but have been made to appeal to readers unaccustomed to thinking critically and exegetically. Since much of the preaching and teaching in the ELCA is not exegetical, it is relatively easy to make fallacious arguments that most of the people will be unable to see the error in.

Many of the bullet points above fall into this category.

However, there’s an argument made in the statement that is more telling than any other. This is one area of unintended clarity, I’m sure. Namely, buried in the large body of footnotes on page 11 is the following statement:

“The Apostle Paul testifies to conscience as the unconditional moral responsibility of the individual before God (Romans 2:15–16). In the face of different conclusions about what constitutes responsible action, the concept of ‘the conscience’ becomes pivotal.”

“When the clear word of God’s saving action by grace through faith is at stake, Christian conscience becomes as adamant as Paul, who opposed those who insisted upon circumcision. (Galatians 1:8). In the same way Luther announced at his trial for heresy, “Unless I am persuaded by the testimony of Scripture and by clear reason . . . I am conquered by the Scripture passages I have adduced and my conscience is captive to the words of God. I neither can nor desire to recant anything, when to do so against conscience would be neither safe nor wholesome” (WA 7: 838; Luther’s Works 32:112). However, when the question is about morality or church practice, the Pauline and Lutheran witness is less adamant and believes we may be called to respect the bound conscience of the neighbor. That is, if salvation is not at stake in a particular question, Christians are free to give priority to the neighbor’s well-being and will protect the conscience of the neighbor who may well view the same question in such a way as to affect faith itself. For example, Paul was confident that Christian freedom meant the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not at stake in questions of meat sacrificed to idols or the rituals of holy days (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8:10–14; and 10:23–30). Yet he insisted that, if a brother or sister did not understand this freedom and saw eating this meat as idolatry to a pagan god, the Christian was obligated to “walk in love” by eating just vegetables for the neighbor’s sake (Romans 14:17–20)!

“This social statement draws upon this rich understanding of the role of conscience and calls upon this church, when in disagreement concerning matters around which salvation is not at stake, including human sexuality, to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), honor the conscience and seek the well-being of the neighbor.”

Don’t miss the first alarming suggestion that “the clear word of God’s saving action by grace through faith is at stake.” The suggestion without saying it is that if we don’t accept homosexuality because of the good conscience of homosexuals who profess to be Christian, then the message of the reformed gospel is at stake.

But beyond that, homosexuality is clearly equivocated morally with eating meat sacrificed to idols. The problem is that eating meat sacrificed to idols is not intrinsically wrong, being prohibited nowhere in scripture. The issue was that it could cause people once caught in the sin of worshipping the god of that idol could be burdened to return to the worship of a false god or would be unnecessarily distracted from sanctification by the temptation to legalistic condemnation.

As an aside, I’ve wondered how it was that Paul, in his absence, managed to discriminate between those who were spiritually weak and those who were spiritually strong when his letter was read. Nowhere in there is it said for the pastor of the church to only read it to those who were truly mature in the faith. Surely he didn’t want the spiritually weak to have some paranoia that some people were actually eating meat sacrificed to idols behind their backs and only pretending to be righteous while in their presence. No, but I suspect that Paul intended for everyone to hear the message and each wonder if he was as spiritually strong as he thought he was.

But to equate homosexuality with meat sacrificed to idols in this argument is for the ELCA to tacitly, but clearly, declare homosexuality not sinful. What they are saying is that homosexuals need to keep mum about their homosexuality if they are confronted with those of weak faith who cannot accept homosexuality as not a sin. Even if the synod seeks to convey the message that all church members ought to be gracious toward one another, it’s a false grace that ignores real sin. I don’t call what happened at the cross in any way representative of God forgetting or ignoring our sin, and that was the pattern of grace for us to follow. Rather, sin was confronted head-on in a most sacrificial way.

I explained it to my kids the other night. We’ve been plodding through Luke and made it to 12:49-53. They were astonished that Christ would cause them to be set against anyone in our family, so I explained what happened in the ELCA recently, especially since it affects all of their grandparents.

I read to them the passages concerning homosexuality in the Bible and explained what homosexuality was in terms that they could apprehend without going into “the talk” since that wasn’t my focus. I asked whether the Bible says it’s a good thing or a bad thing for two men or two women to get married. They were incredulous that I had to ask. “Of course the Bible says it’s wrong” they agreed. I told them that they had more godly wisdom than some older men with lots of letters after their names who were in charge of the ELCA.

Then I explained that not everyone who is a member of a church is saved. They agreed. I pointed out that Paul talks about the Church as the Body of Christ. I asked that if part of the body is alive and part of the body is dead, will the body live for long? It’s like if one whole leg was dead and was rotting and had worms eating it, how do you save the part of the body that is alive? “You have to cut it off,” the replied. So if someone in a family is spiritually alive (saved) and someone else is spiritually dead (unbelieving), will there not be division in the family? Christ has come not to bring peace, but division. They understood.

I also went back to an older lesson and reminded the kids of the meaning of “holy” – that is “set apart”. As Christians, we are not of this world. If Christ, who is God, brought division, then is it not a good thing for the purposes of demonstrating the distinction between the gospel of grace and the world of works? So we can give thanks when the message is clearly seen in the division made between the Kingdom of Heaven and the pattern of this world.

Now, Christ did come to bring that peace that passes all understanding, but this is in the face of certain suffering when the truth comes to bear against the lies of the world. When the decision-makers in a denomination trade necessary division for the obfuscation of the truth in the hopes that unity will prevail in the denomination, especially if such results in the condoning of sin, then the denomination has died to the God they are supposed to honor and who demands their lives.

To God alone be the glory.
Soli Deo Gloria.

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