Spring Fever: The staff of Lutheran (True!) Confessions finds itself distracted by the rhythm of the year. The ice has broken up on Lake Superior and the 2010 shipping season began on March 20 in Duluth as lake traffic resumed. The first Saltie will arrive in Duluth shortly after Easter. Preparations for the April 1 Central Great Lakes Synod Assembly are well advanced.
A pastiche of reports from various quarters has reached our desks, and we are too lazy to write them up with our customary attention to detail. We pass them along just as they are.
Jerry Shoots a Possum: On March 30, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) President Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick spoke about, read excerpts from and signed readers' copies of his new book Waking the Sleeping Giant at the Concordia Historical Museum at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis Missouri.
In Waking the Sleeping Giant President Kieschnick shares "what is on my mind and in my heart as I consider the past and look toward the future, specifically of our church body, but in a general way also of Christendom as whole."
The sleeping giant metaphor doesn't get much beyond the chapter titles, but we think that The Sleeping Giant Chooses a Fork in the Road is worth the price of admission alone. (We do not know at this time if Yogi Bera collaborated with President Kieschnick on the book.)
The book appeared in January and critical reception has been mixed. Some reviewers take exception to President Kieschnick's claim that the LCMS can be unified on matters of doctrine in the absence of uniform practices in worship and the administration of the sacraments.
Our readers will be particularly interested in Chapter 7 (The Giant Matures and Leads - Leadership, Especially in Difficult Times) in which President Kieschnick recounts an anecdote from his youth (pp. 179-182). Arriving home from mid-week Lenten services, the family encounters a possum settled in on top of the President's mother's new washing machine in the garage. Jerry's father tells the 12-year-old Jerry first to retrieve his .22 and then to shoot the possum without damaging the washing machine. Jerry shot the possum. It's not clear who removed the carcass.
Implication: On March 15, the seven-member Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) task force appoointed in January of 2010 to address the theological implications of the ELCA's social statement on sexuality and the accompanying ministry policy changes issued its 12-page, 26-footnote report titled Theological Implications.
Readers not already familiar with the LCMS approach to theological issues may learn something new. We were especially struck by this paragraph on Biblical authority quoted from a 1975 statement by the Committee on Theology and Church Relations:
While the Biblical writers used terms current in the everyday parlance of their times, Biblical doctrinal formulations are not on that account culturally conditioned in the sense that they are provisional or tentative; in Spirit-taught words they express what God has revealed in a way that remains permanently valid and is for all times the only normative way of talking about the topic they treat.
For people who subscribe to that view, we doubt that there can be any genuinely theological implications of anything. The theological questions would all seem to have been answered and the only remaining issues would be practical: to what extent can people or congregations or church bodies that disagree work cooperatively? The task force's report does not answer this question, but suggests a framework for others to consider what forms of cooperation might be appropriate.
The report invokes the "Christian consensus" regarding same-sex relationships:
Across the spectrum of Christianity, including both Evangelical and Roman Catholic churches (as well as Christians from virtually every denominational tradition and throughout the world), church bodies and their leaders have declared their firm conviction that same-gender sexual relationships are contrary to God‘s will.25
We expected that the footnote attached to that paragraph would lead us to something more compelling than the
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Ordination Repair: It may be old news now, but it wasn't widely publicized at the time and you might have missed it. At the ELCA Conference of Bishops meeting in early March, one topic of discussion was how to receive onto the ELCA roster the 17 pastors who have been ordained extra ordinem. Eventually this discussion resulted in a draft of a rite for receiving those pastors and affirming their ordinations. Details are still being hammered out and perhaps the ELCA Church Council will consider a final version of the rite when it meets in April.
What you may have missed is that Pr. Erik Christensen of St. Luke Lutheran Church of Logan Square in Chicago, one of the pastors ordained extraordinarily, and co-chair of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, was present for the discussion and was given the opportunity to address the Conference of Bishops. A transcription of Pr. Christensen's remarks to the bishops can be read on the ELM blog.
We were especially taken with this excerpt in which Pr. Christensen, then a fourth-year seminarian recently removed from candidacy for policy reasons asked Dr. Gordon Lathrop for advice:
I was trying to make a decision about whether or not the ELM process had integrity, whether or not it was something I could offer my vocation up to, and put my faith in. So I went to my favorite professor and someone who is still a mentor in his writing and his speaking, Gordon Lathrop, and I said, "I'm trying to understand, Dr. Lathrop, whether or not I should offer myself to this process. Could I really understand an ordination that takes place without the full endorsement of the denomination as a full ordination?"
And he said, "No. That would be a broken ordination." And I was confused.
And then I said, "Well, Dr. Lathrop, what about your ordination?"
And he said, "No, mine is broken as well. My ordination is also broken by the status of the body that we have right now and all of our ordinations won’t be completed until this reconciliation takes place."
Pneumatological Loci: On March 20 the Bishops of The Episcopal Church met to discuss Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church, a draft report prepared by the House of Bishops' Theology Committee. The report was subsequently released to the general public.
The House of Bishops commissioned the theology committee in 2008 to do a study of same-sex relationships. The theology committee enlisted a panel of eight theologians of diverse viewpoints to create the study.
The panel of theologians produced two position papers, one "traditionalist" and the other "liberal," and a response to each position paper from the opposing viewpoint. The papers and responses were compiled and edited by Dr. Ellen T. Charry of Princeton Theological Seminary.
In her epilogue, Dr. Charry notes:
In conclusion, our work sustains one generally accepted observation and adds several doctrinal and practical considerations to the broader discussion. It is generally accepted that differing hermeneutical presuppositions produce conflicting readings of the same texts. This is not a matter of how highly one or another holds the authority of Scripture but the lens through which it is read. Hermeneutical clarity and integrity, difficult as it is, would seem to be of great help in future scriptural analysis.
Further, our collective voice perhaps highlights several pneumatological loci. One is the role of the Spirit in bringing the church into all truth (John 16.3). Can we ever be certain that the witness of the Spirit that we perceive to be working among us is not our own voice writ large rather than the voice of the Holy Spirit? Further, should that caution prevent the church from acting in some circumstances?
A second pneumatological concern arises from the belief that the Spirit guides us in holiness of life that Paul develops in Romans and First Corinthians. The question here is what constitutes a holy sexual life and what role ought marriage play in regulating it. This issue pertains to many people, among whom homosexuals are, no doubt the minority. The liberal document herein offers a theology of marriage from one perspective. Perhaps more pneumatological reflection on sexual holiness is warranted given the radically changed sexual mores of the northern hemisphere and the reality that marriage seems to be fading among heterosexuals in various parts of the world.
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