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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Why can't we all just get along? Ever hear that question? I have, again and again, even within the past week. 


Like many of you who read this blog, I have friends and relatives in various Lutheran congregations and synods. I have classmates who graduated with me from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo. who since have become pastors of the ELCAThe ELCA is made up of more than 10,000 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. These congregations are divided into 65 synods in 9 regions.  


A large group of congregations once affiliated with the ELCA have left to form new Lutheran synods. Some have even joined the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Here's the published reason Pastor Jeff Cottingham of First Lutheran Church, Paxton, Illinois, gives for his congregation's leaving to join the NALC.
The trigger point was a vote almost a year ago, at the ELCA’s biennial national meeting, to open its clergy roster to gay and lesbian ministers who are in committed, same-gender relationships. Previously, homosexual clergy had to remain celibate to keep their jobs.
Unfortunately, that all too often has made the issue, and that’s not the issue,” Cottingham said. “I mean, there have been homosexual pastors in the ELCA from Day 1, and by and large, it’s never been a problem.
“It really comes down to the authority of the Bible and how the doctrines of the law and gospel really apply to our lives. .. It really comes down to a lack of direction and a lack of uniformity when it came to the authority of the Bible. ... The primary issue is the authority of scripture: Does the Bible have authority for the life of a Christian or not? And if it does, then we have to actually practice what we preach.”
Traditional versus progressive ministry viewpoints have been at odds for years. Lutherans have been debating gradual changes that include things like more liberal interpretation of scripture and a revision of the hymnal that made it more gender-neutral.
Cottingham explained that the “fundamental issue” for his church leaving the ELCA is the ELCA trying to make changes so that “the Bible’s authority for members and for congregations has really been watered-down, to where it really becomes something that is open to a great deal of interpretation, is interpreted in a lot of wrong ways, to say things that it has never said. And as a result, the ELCA has become increasingly irrelevant when it comes to the Christian faith, because there are too many leaders and too many people who make proclamations about things that are not part of the faith.”
First Lutheran Church has joined the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), a Lutheran synod or denomination that has been in existence for about 11 months and has already gained 250 congregations, most which left the ELCA. The NALC grew out of the rejection of the ELCA's decisions and was sponsored by the Lutheran CORE as it formed.  



Other former ELCA congregations have joined together to form Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). This group of congregations reaches across the United States and has a conservative Lutheran statement of faith.


Why can't we Lutherans all get along? Why must we once again divide? The answer to that question rests with the issues outlined above. Lutherans have traditionally said that we have but one authority for faith and teaching—the Holy Scriptures. Thousands upon thousands of pages have been written and published about that question. In later blogs I'll make my own attempt to outline those issues and point you to resources as you struggle with your personal beliefs and how they impact your relationship with family members, former members of your congregation and personal friends. 


The links above will open you to many other resources for personal study.