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Selected Re-Prints / Issues for a Dissenting Lutheran Synod (cont.)
« on: June 14, 2005, 11:52:10 AM »
[continued from previous post]

Historic Episcopate. As an issue for dissenting ELCA’ers, again, this is not a question where we should part company. There is no Lutheran theological imperative that requires bishops in historic succession. It would be nice, though, if everyone could acknowledge that the Confessions do speak winsomely of good bishops. There is ample biblical and traditional precedent for the office of the bishop. Along with the late Warren Quanbeck of Luther Seminary, I think we should work at recovering the ministry of bishops. I was wrong to believe that full communion with the Episcopalians was a way of achieving it. I should have stuck to my original notion that, if American Lutherans were to have bishops in historic succession, as many other world Lutheran bodies do, we should do it on our own and for ourselves. Still, that said, the reason — the only reason — for the ELCA to have adopted bishops in succession was to secure full communion with Episcopalians through Called to Common Mission. The value of that has so quickly faded for most of us “catholic” Lutherans who supported the idea, that the whole thing is moot.

Statement on Justification. I do not agree with the assessment, as a friend puts it, that JDDJ “represents a retrenchment to a Thomistic doctrine of justification and the capitulations of the Lutherans involved in the conversations.” But that, even if true, may not matter. From all I observe, JDDJ has gone into the dead letter box.

At the same time, due appreciation for the achievements of the dialogues must be recognized. With few exceptions the Lutheran/Catholic dialogues have been first rate. Reading them, one comes to a better, deeper understanding of the Church of Rome and the Church of the Augsburg Confession. The dialogues have served both to sharpen our understanding of the real differences between us, and to reveal the wide accord we do enjoy. Practically speaking, should a theoretical dissenting synod seek international Lutheran ties within the LWF, JDDJ would require some attention. But this is a question for later, not now.

Lay presidency. As yet a layman (albeit a seminarian, as if that confers any grant of privilege) on a solo internship in inner-city Detroit, I was licensed for Holy Communion, and conducted
several funerals and preformed several baptisms. As a pastor after ordination with umpteen kids needing baptism, the senior deacons in the parishes I then served conducted the baptisms needed in my family. While I am on vacation this month, my two synodically-trained and -certified parish ministry associates will preach and preside in my absence, and both have been authorized by the congregation to distribute Holy Communion to our home-bound at my discretion. Great care must be taken in this matter, licensing and authorization, obviously. But by and large, lay presidency may exist along side of a “high view” of pastoral office. It is the Word, the promise of Christ, that secures the validity of the sacrament, not the person. At least that is so in Lutheran theology. To say otherwise is to risk becoming a Lutheran Donatist. This should not be an issue dividing dissenters.

However, I do question the motivation behind the insistence upon lay presidency. If this “right” of the laity is construed as best representing the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers, it is a misunderstanding of the common priesthood all share in Christ. Presidency at the Eucharist is not a matter of “right,” or “privilege,” or even “order” in the church, and it should never be regarded as somehow essential to the common priesthood. Eucharistic presidency — and all of the pastoral implications that carries with it — is very much, however, a matter of call, of ministry, of baptismal vocation. If lay presidency is intended merely as means for the laity to get their slice of the clergy pie, then we have unjustly diminished the vocation of the laity in their daily baptismal call . . . and with equal injustice we have diminished the office of the pastor as, to quote an old pope, “a servant of the servants of Christ.”

The Priesthood of All Believers argues that all work is in dedication to Christ. Luther once used the example of a father changing the baby’s diapers — something I’ve pondered on more than one occasion in the past. Holy work, he called it, that made angels sing. This is the true business of holy calling and right vocation, wherever our fields of service lay.

[continued on the next post]

©2005 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

Issues for a Dissenting Lutheran Synod
By Russell Saltzman
©2005 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

Any dissenting synod arising in the wake of the coming Orlando churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America must be as comprehensively Lutheran as possible, without sectarian agendas intruding.

Folks following these pages are probably aware, Lutherans argue passionately about the Confessions and confessional questions. Broadly speaking, very broadly, to be sure, Lutherans fall into at least two categories —“evangelical catholic” or “protestant.” Terms like these are unfortunate and I must confess, Forum Letter has used them about as much as anybody. Obviously, those terms are shorthand for a constellation of peculiarly Lutheran theological concerns, but they are not very convenient, even as shorthand. More particularly, if you like, you can locate the dispute geographically and the old bugaboos stand out: the Upper Midwest vs. the East. Again, that’s shorthand, and, again, subject to the usual limitations.

Take your average Lutheran “protestant” — or, for that matter, your average Lutheran “catholic” — and both will describe themselves as “confessional” Lutherans. It is a matter of how to read the Confessions, or maybe a matter of how they are misread. In some extreme instances, this produces a “more confessional than thou” attitude, but that is extreme, and rare. Usually, we all know how to get along with each other.

Most practically, though, this split produced Word Alone. Call it a “protestant” reaction against bishops in succession, required by Called to Common Mission, the Episcopal/ELCA accord. Ended up, hardly anybody was talking to anyone anymore.

Now, the two sides, “protestant” and “catholic,” are talking, thanks to some effort from both sides. The two find themselves united, so it seems, by their mutual opposition to the proposals that would relax disciplinary standards for clergy and admit same-sex partnered pastors into the church.

Load limits
Too bad it’s sex that unites the factions. There are plenty of concerns, and always have been, in and around the ELCA to inspire a principled opposition. But every camel’s back has a limit to its load-carrying capacity. Homosexuality seems to be the proverbial straw.

So, as we say, conversations are underway. That is all to the good. Yet there are issues. Oh, boy, are there issues. While there are surely more than the ones we will highlight, these appear to be a good starting place. So, in no special order:

The historic episcopate, status of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican, use of a eucharistic prayer, lay presidency at the Lord’s Supper, Lutheranism’s identity — whether we are a reforming movement within and for the whole church, or a protestant denomination.

Here’s my own take.

Eucharistic Prayer. First thing, it’s the Lord’s Supper with or without a eucharistic prayer (canon). I prefer its use because it links this assembly in this place and time to the whole of salvation history, beginning with the “making of the universe” and onward to the “night in which he was betrayed.” Thus, it serves an important anti- Gnostic function, linking the God of creation to creation’s redemption.

Martin Luther excised the Eucharistic prayer in his liturgical reform of the mass because the 16th century canon did, as he put it, from the offertory on “smack and savor of sacrifice.” For Luther there was a sharp distinction between proclamation (the Words of Institution, or Verba) and sacrifice (prayer). The Verba is proclaimed to the hearers, but prayer is offered by petitioners. The two should never be confused and to drive the point home relentlessly, he provided that the Verba was to be sung on the same tone as the Gospel, underscoring the proclamatory character of both. (Chanting either of these today, by the way, would seem excessively, if not pointlessly ceremonial, however much it would thrill parishioners to hear their pastor sing.)

But, then, Luther lacked contemporary insights into the history of the mass and, for example, knew little of the very early custom, as Justin Martyr put it, of eucharizing the elements. I like to think, had Luther the benefit of more than a century of liturgical study behind him, as contemporary Lutherans do, he might have retained the eucharistic prayer, after thoroughly “evangelizing” it.

I am well aware of the arguments, from Oliver K. Olson most prominently, that Luther absolutely would have done no such thing. But absent word from Luther himself, who can say? To this, both sides argue from relative silence. In any case, I do not regard the eucharistic prayer as making or breaking the sacrament. I use it; it is a rare Sunday when I do not. (Were I to ask my parishioners about it, most would regard the prayer merely as a longer way of getting around to the “for us” part.) But the sacrament is hardly validated or invalidated by its use or non-use.

And as for the argument that it confuses prayer (sacrifice) with proclamation (Gospel), I don’t understand that at all. Prayer may do both — proclaim and petition — if it acknowledges all of the Father’s bias “for us.”

This is not a question over which dissenting ELCA Lutherans should divide in a dissenting synod.

[Continued on the next post]

On-line Articles / Orlando's Sleeper Issue
« on: June 14, 2005, 11:21:11 AM »
Orlando's Sleeper Issue
by Richard O. Johnson

With all the talk and anxiety about the sexuality recommendations, not much attention is being paid to other significant matters on the agenda at the ELCA churchwide assembly in Orlando. In our view, the big “sleeper issue” is the proposed restructuring of the churchwide organization.

After the last assembly, Bp. Hanson proposed a plan for restructure. There was such an outcry that it was withdrawn a few weeks later. The new proposal shows considerably more thought, but the road pretty much leads to the same place: centralization of authority in the office of the presiding bishop, and increased emphasis on multicultural ministry and the church as “public witness” (read: “political advocate”).

As to centralization: the current divisions go out of existence, and a series of “program units” are established. Some of them more or less exactly mirror current divisions: Church in Society, Global Mission. Others are somewhat refocused, or at least renamed: “Higher Education and Schools” seems to meld into “Ministry” to become “Vocation and Education”; “Congregational Ministries” gets renamed “Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission.” Then there’s Multicultural Ministries. Currently a “commission,” it now gets upgraded to a “program unit” on a par with these others. Well, not quite, but we’ll get to that momentarily.

Currently the boards of the divisions have some actual purpose and authority. They have 21 members, and one of their most important tasks is to elect the executive director of each division “in consultation with and with the approval of” the presiding bishop. In the brave new world, the new program units will have 15-member “program committees” whose purpose isn’t exactly clear, but it does not include electing the executive. Now the executive will be nominated by the presiding bishop and elected by the church council. Oh, the program committee is supposed to be “consulted.” See what we mean by centralization?

There’s more. Currently the office of the presiding bishop oversees some administrative functions such as synodical relations, human resources, research and evaluation. That remains the case in the new proposal, but look what gets added: worship! Currently lodged in the Division for Congregational Ministries, apparently the powers that be have decided that worship isn’t so much about congregations but about something else. We’re not sure what, exactly, but we’re assured that “as this church’s pastor, teacher of the faith, and a leader of this church’s life and witness, the presiding bishop’s own ministry and title are rooted in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Worship is central to this church’s identity and to every aspect of this church’s ministry.” That’s why it’s moving to the office of the presiding bishop.

Like we said, “centralization.”

Now back to Multicultural Ministries. Equal status with Global Mission and the rest, and more than equal. The program committees for the other units are going to come, most of them, from nominations by the synods. But apparently not Multicultural Ministries. Those nominations remain the bailiwick of the churchwide nominating committee. They need to have more control over those nominations, we suppose—you know, diversity and all that. Plus, this new unit has some really, really important tasks. It “leads, coordinates, educates, and holds accountable churchwide efforts and programs with synods, regions, and agencies and institut8ions as they identify, develop, and strengthen the multicultural dimensions of their work.” Yeah, they’ve been really effective at that as a commission, so promoting them to equal status with, say, Global Mission is bound to help us reach that goal—what was it again? Weren’t we striving for at least 10% of membership being people of color and/or primary language other than English by 1998? Did we make it? What do they say about insanity—that it’s doing the same thing, over and over, expecting different results?

The plan also has a great deal to say about public witness. Indeed, we “need to speak out as a public church together”—that’s one of the five things the proposal identifies as areas of “general agreement” as to what we need to do together. The others are global mission, leadership preparation, evangelism, and starting new congregations. That puts “speaking out” in pretty august company, wouldn’t you say?

We’ve heard almost no conversation about any of this, but this proposed reshaping of the churchwide organization will have a tremendous impact on the future direction of the ELCA. It deserves careful and thoughtful debate.

©2005 ALPB

Selected Re-Prints / Re: O, Canada! (July 2005)
« on: June 11, 2005, 06:46:56 PM »
[continued from previous post]

Not one traditionalist

The national bishop, Raymond Schultz, then sent letters to twenty-nine persons inviting them to contribute an essay to the project. In the end twenty essays written by twenty-two persons were submitted between September 2004 and January 2005. They were duly posted on the ELCIC’s website.

Other than being described as “ELCIC scholars,” whose essays provide “the very best in scholarship and pastoral wisdom,” there is no indication of how the authors were selected or how the topics were assigned to them. An e-mail and three letters to Bp. Schultz asking this question have produced only silence.

The question is an important one — given that not one of the essays can be said to represent a traditional or confessional point of view. Not one, to put it simply, ever says that blessing same-sex relationships is contrary to scripture and the Confessions, and thus should not be allowed.

Anticipating questions about why these essays one-sidedly favor local option, the NCC produced a Q & A sheet that accompanied the resolution’s news release. “Although,” said the Q & A, “some of those who were invited to provide submissions could have been expected to present a more traditional view on this issue, no essays reflecting this point of view were submitted.”

One has to wonder just how actively traditional points of view were sought in this, given that at least twenty-two of the twenty-nine invited writers did not represent this view at all. Keep in mind that the ELCIC is small — 182,077 baptized members in 624 congregations with approximately 850 pastors. The ELCA has synods bigger than our whole church. While not everyone knows everyone else, everyone pretty much is a friend of a friend. So it is difficult, if not impossible, to believe that Bp. Schultz had no idea what responses he was going to get from the writers he did contact.

In fact, seven of the writers are pastors from the Eastern Synod who publicly protested an earlier statement by the ELCIC conference of bishops, that pastors performing same-sex blessings would be disciplined. Three others had participated in Caring Conversations (a program endorsed by the NCC and not known for any defense of the traditional teaching of the church on matters of sexuality).

Other writers include former bishops and members of the NCC, current and former faculty members of the ELCIC seminaries or Ph.D’s in the parish or at other schools. Few of them have ever made a secret of their revisionist opinions. It is thus hard to believe that the process of soliciting essays was as even-handed as some would like to claim.

Mirroring Canadian public opinion
There was a ray of hope when it was announced that there would be an opportunity for members of the ELCIC to make additional contributions to this project — the implication being that these other essays would also be used by the NCC in making their recommendations. But that light was extinguished when the NCC resolution was announced in March 2005, well before the April 30 deadline for any additional contributions.

Bp. Schultz defended the ELCIC process and the resulting resolution. “The range of responses regarding this matter within the ELCIC,” he wrote, “mirrors Canadian public opinion. This resolution captures that spirit by providing a clear question for delegates that offers a process that will allow congregations to decide on their own whether or not to bless same-sex relationships.”

Whether this is indeed something congregations ought to “decide on their own,” of course, is never addressed. Also ignored is whether Canadian Lutherans have been well served by a “process” that appears clearly designed to reach a pre-determined outcome.

[Bradley Everett, a first-time contributor to Forum Letter, is pastor of Nazareth Lutheran Church in Standard, Alberta, Canada and recently completed his Master of Sacred Theology degree from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon.]

Copyright © 2005 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

Selected Re-Prints / O, Canada! (July 2005)
« on: June 11, 2005, 06:45:40 PM »
Well, not a reprint, exactly. More like a preview, since the July issue isn't even in the mail yet. Normally we don't post articles here until the paid subscribers have had first crack at them, but we make an exception in this case because the ELCIC's national convention is in July, and some of our friends in that church wanted some discussion going on before the July issue reached our Canadian subscribers (probably mid-October). --roj

O, Canada!
by Pr. Bradley Everett
Forum Letter July 2005
©2005 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

In less than six months, the matter of blessing same-sex relationships has gone from being a subject of “study” to a resolution to be voted on by delegates to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) convention in July. Given that most church bureaucracies tend to move at a glacial pace, the ELCIC has moved at the ecclesiastical , equivalent of the speed of light toward blessing “local option” for same-sex blessings.

At its June 2004 convention, the Eastern Synod (the ELCIC’s largest) petitioned the National Church Council (NCC) “to initiate a study of the theological, ecclesiological and pastoral implications of authorizing a parish based local option to perform same-sex blessings and bring appropriate recommendations to the 2005 ELCIC National Convention.”

Another petition asked the NCC to study the implications of ordaining homosexuals in committed relationships and present their recommendations in 2007.

Although it had already adopted an action plan for addressing same-sex blessings back in November 2003, the NCC hastily adopted a “Proposed Strategy for NCC to respond to the Eastern Synod’s request for a study in the matter of same-sex blessings.” The September 2004 press release following that action promised that the “proposed strategy” would “yield a series of short essays on various aspects of the issues . . . in the Eastern Synod motion.”

[continued on next post]

Selected Re-Prints / Re: Publishing for the Faith (April, 2005)
« on: June 10, 2005, 12:03:06 PM »
Publishing for the Faith (continued)

"Publishing for the Faith" (Pt. 2)
[Continued from previous post]
Finally, among the problems cited to us, there is the competition.
AF’s nearest Lutheran competitor is the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s publisher, Concordia Publishing House (CPH). Under the interim presidency of Pr. Paul McCain, CPH just finished last year with an operations income of $2.1 million. Adding revenue from reserve investments, total profit reached $3.1 million. It does this by producing some very solid materials, and CPH is becoming less and less shy about marketing directly to ELCA congregations.
Here’s a small example highlighting competing products at AF and CPH. This is a not entirely untypical sentence from AF’s Christ in Our Home: “God tells us that God will make a home in the hearts of those who hold God in reverence” (February 22, 2005 reading, p. 57).
This mangled sentiment is the result of English being “politically corrected” through the inclusive language grinder that governs much of AF’s product list. Frankly, I have paid little attention to Christ in Our Home. Like most congregations, we buy a hundred without thinking twice about them, put copies out in the back and let people take them home as they like. I have never worried about it, and never really read it, either, until this came to my attention from a parishioner who wanted to know if we didn’t have something else.
Frankly, you will find better language in the CPH Portals of Prayer at, to our astonishment, about half the cost. AF circulates 400,000 copies of Christ in our Home each issue, complete with the chopped liver English. CPH’s Portals of Prayer now reaches about 900,000 readers.
We have suggested before, AF has lost its sense of mission, its purpose. It honestly seems more driven by the bottom line than anything else. Bottom-line publishing means it will produce whatever it thinks will find a market, irrespective of church teaching, sound doctrine, confessional or biblical fidelity. If publishing for the bottom-line means producing a book that questions the resurrection (and AF has, more than once), along with another that is a strong apologetic for the resurrection, cool. Of the two products, though, only one in fact serves the faith of the church, and the other functionally serves only to undermine the church’s confidence in AF. As we’ve said before, uneven publishing reveals uneven conviction.
It seems so simple to us. AF’s single job is to match reliably the needs of the faith with the faith of the church. That would seem to be the purpose of a church publishing house.
To flesh that out, here is what we hear about successful church publishing:  
One, a denominational publishing house must focus on what makes it unique. In this case, that would be Lutheranism.
Two, a denominational publishing house must serve the congregations and pastors of the church. The key here is to produce solid theological works for pastors and works of solid practical theology for congregations. Woo the pastors with an occasional free book. Encourage them. Make them feel that they actually matter and are not mere franchise managers but actually bishops of the souls in the flocks over whom the Holy Spirit has appointed them overseers.
And last, the leader of a church publishing house must be someone who is driven by a love of theology, of parish ministry, concerned with putting theology into practice, and who is aware of what the gospel is and, conversely, what it is not.  
Russell Saltzman
Editor, Forum Letter
Copyright 2005 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

Selected Re-Prints / Re: Radiant Beams from Third Rock (Jan. 2005)
« on: June 08, 2005, 05:08:02 PM »
(continued from previous post)
In a world that has lost faith in the idea of a God whose presence fills the void of space, hope has shifted to Somebody Else Out There, even if it is alien flesh and alien blood. It is simply too, too depressing to think that when we look out to the night sky there is no one looking back, that there are no coded messages awaiting detection by our radio telescopes.
It is after all supremely conceited for anyone to believe that this earth — located on a back alley arm of an average galaxy — should be the center of life, that the only signs of intelligent life in the universe are those coming from this planet, this solar system, this galaxy, this one universe. Popular science magazines, even National Geographic’s latest issue, are all on board: this may be the year astronomers discover the first extrasolar earthlike planet. The “earthlike” emphasis is important because no extrasolar planet found to date remotely resembles earth. Finding one would finally lay to rest the religionist’s ultimate conceit of special creation, you think?
Theologians call this sort of conceit the scandal of particularity. This is the notion that God apparently does not deal with the cosmos in a standard, predictable way, but in a particular way, a way so particular that it necessarily occasions offense.
God uses particular times and particular places, and above all particular persons in order to touch the whole of his creation. For all God’s particularity, however, he is not especially choosey in his choices. So his particularity settles down to another insignificant back alley in the currents of cosmic history: a little town and a young girl, a nothing and a nobody.  
It becomes even more particular, this scandal, because Christians say God transformed the entire universe through that young girl in that little Judean town, when Quirinius was governor and Augustus was emperor.  
All done, so we Christians say, for the entirety of creation.
In Mary’s womb the biological processes proceeded in their normal way — cells dividing and growing from zygote, to blastocyst, to fetus, to babe. There in Mary’s womb did the Maker of the universe evolve into human form.  
And when Mary brought forth her first born Son on this third rock from the sun, God’s love of all the cosmos flowed out from Mary and was laid in a feed trough. From this planet — our conceit contends — the radiant beams of his holy face flow and carry outward the Father’s love for the whole universe.
This, asserts the author of Hebrews, “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of God’s nature, upholding the universe by the power of his Word” (1:3).
On second thought, my sci-fi screen play would feature aliens. Lots of them, all seeking the same truths of the universe as we. They would be astounded by the coincidence of numbers and values so precise that if the values were changed but a fraction, the universe itself could not exist. They would regard all that as evidence of, well, in a word, a Word. In this way they would confound and confuse us materialistic earthlings.
So my aliens would visit here to meet with our physicists, and our philosophers, to see what sense we’ve made out of the numbers, to know what conclusions we’ve drawn from the evidence of our eyes. Sounds like a dull film, I’ll admit, aliens and earthlings sitting around exchanging notions of science and divinity and divinity’s connection to science, but at least my aliens wouldn’t say anything so juvenile as “Give us your women” or “Here’s the cure for cancer.” But they might ask, “Where may we worship?”  
--Russell E. Saltzman
Copyright 2005 ALPB

Selected Re-Prints / Re: Learning Deficiencies at Luther (Nov. 2004)
« on: June 08, 2005, 05:05:27 PM »
Part 3 (continued from previous post)
But even more important, what of the internship supervisor in the parish? Forget for the moment that the lesbian pastor to whom this intern was assigned is less than five years into her first call, and by some standards thereby lacks enough pastoral experience to serve adequately as a supervisor. Forget that, but do ask, how is it that a pastor who openly scorns the public expectations of the church is approved by the seminary as anybody’s internship supervisor? What exactly do we expect students to learn while on internship, anyway? And who is to teach it?
Based on this one instance — it only takes one, in any event — we would judge that Luther’s placement process is flawed at best, dysfunctional at worst. Or — here’s a chilling thought — is someone so eager to get a transgender student through “the system” for blatantly political reasons that all such questions are thrown out the window? We have to say that it appears that way to us. The financial contribution of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries, the identity of the pastor, the apparent lack of transparency in the placement process — all of it frankly stinks of yet another political knuckleball thrown at the ELCA by those promoting a particular sexuality agenda. Let’s get it done now; never mind that the ELCA is still “studying” those issues and moving inexorably toward a “decision” in 2005.
Of course that “decision” doesn’t really affect this case, now does it? As Dr. Nelson told us, this intern is currently “in compliance” with Vision and Expectations, which doesn’t say anything at all about transgender identity. As long as the student is “living a chaste life” and “abstaining from homosexual relations,” everything is copasetic. (We suppose that means the ELCA doesn’t really have a policy about transgender persons, or genderqueer persons, or whatever. Guess we’ll have to wait until the sexuality statement in 2007 to know just what to think about this.) And besides, Dr. Nelson added, she’s academically qualified to go on internship. And here’s a pastor and congregation, neither of which is currently under discipline, eager to welcome her. What could be wrong with this? He’s just doing his job — placing a qualified student in an appropriate site.
We suspect, though, there are plenty of folks who will find that reasoning a little flawed. In fact, we suspect the folks who do love Luther Seminary will find this whole matter mightily disturbing. Truth be told, we think they would be right.
Yet in fairness to Luther Seminary, it is not the only culprit here. Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, CA has several times placed students in congregations (for internship or teaching parish assignments) where the supervising pastor openly defied Vision and Expectations, or was not even on the ELCA roster. For a while in fact, the chair of PLTS’s “Teaching Parish Pastors’ Council” was Jeff Johnson, one of the original “unauthorized ordinands” back in San Francisco so many years ago. Pr. Johnson is still around, still off-roster, and now serving an ELCA congregation with impunity because two consecutive synod bishops have declined to seek expulsion of the
congregation for its flagrant violation of the ELCA constitution. One insider observes to us that PLTS students are often assigned to do their field work in declining congregations, supervised by pastors who have been remarkably unsuccessful in parish ministry. More than occasionally these are congregations and pastors who have thumbed their collective noses at Vision and Expectations and the constitution. Again, we have to ask just what is it that students are expected to learn in such congregations under such supervising pastors? If it isn’t how to fail and/or how to publicly ignore the policies of the church they expect to serve, just what might it be?
So some of this is about sexuality, to be sure, but that is not the whole of it by any means. The real question is about educating pastors for the church. It is also about the responsibility that seminaries have in that process. In this area, as in so many other areas of the church these days, we confess to a deep despair about the policies and practices of the ELCA. What is said on paper — the ELCA confessional statements and governing documents — turns out to be worthless whenever enforcement might impinge upon a favored agenda. And when this affects the training and formation of future pastors, well, we are not very optimistic about things getting better any time soon.
An article in the October issue of The Lutheran (p. 54) discusses pending revisions in the ELCA candidacy process, coming in the wake of the Thomas case out of Trinity Seminary. That’s fine. The policies need examination, though we are not quite so sanguine as The Lutheran is about all this simply being a matter of improving communications. But, really, until we learn how to enforce the existing policies, what’s the point in creating new ones?
—— by the editors
Copyright 2004 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

Selected Re-Prints / Re: Learning Deficiencies at Luther (Nov. 2004)
« on: June 08, 2005, 05:04:03 PM »
Part 2 (continued from previous post)
How does such placement happen? It seems to us Dr. Nelson went above and beyond the  call of duty here, and proactively sought out a congregation which might welcome such an intern. He hit the jackpot in Our Redeemer, a so-called Reconciling in Christ congregation whose pastor, Robyn Hartwig, is a lesbian who has publicly admitted to being out of compliance with Vision and Expectations, the ELCA’s statement of standards for ordained ministers. You can read about her disagreement with the church at some length at <>.
So leaving aside the issues of gender identity, one has to wonder how public disobedience of the church’s standards qualifies a pastor to supervise interns of any kind. When asked whether he was aware of the situation with the pastor, Dr. Nelson acknowledged that he knew she was a lesbian, but had no information about her situation with regard to Vision and Expectations. Forgive us if Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes comes to mind: “I know nothing!”
How is an internship like this funded? Our Redeemer, after all, reported 67 baptized members in the 2004 ELCA Yearbook. Well, Luther Seminary, it seems, has a fund that subsidizes rural and urban congregations (guess you’re out of luck if you live in suburb or town). The congregation applied for and received a $5,000 grant from the seminary itself. Of course that doesn’t go far in paying for an internship these days, but Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries — they are the folks who brought you the Extraordinary Candidacy Committee — ponied up another $12,000 for this internship. We learned that from Our Redeemer’s parish newsletter. When we asked Dr. Nelson to verify it, he replied that he knew they had another grant, but he wasn’t exactly sure of the name of the outfit providing it. We are relatively sure he wasn’t being quite as disingenuous as that sounds.
Disingenuous? Yes, that’s one word — a more positive description than “deceptive” or “duplicitous,” but those words might come into play here, too. This all happened, you see, with some key players never having been being made fully aware of it. Most of the Luther faculty, for instance, seems to have been out of the loop. One professor with whom we spoke had no idea. He had noticed that the student concerned wasn’t on campus this fall, but was utterly flabbergasted to hear she was on internship. “No way she should be placed in a congregation at this point, and maybe never,” was the blunt evaluation we were given.
Even Luther’s president, David Tiede, was taken by surprise by the details of the situation. He was aware of the student and her struggles, of course, but he seems to have known nothing of the site, supervisor, and funding details until Forum Letter began making inquiries.
Also out of the loop, officials of the Sierra Pacific Synod, in which synod the student was placed. We asked a staff member about it, and were greeted with incredulity — and, we understand, when the information was shared with the bishop and the rest of the staff, they, too, were astonished.
One would think that seminaries would routinely be in consultation with synod officials regarding internship placements, both to allow both sets of officials to raise any possible cautions about particular congregations or supervisors, or to give the synod a heads up on any seminarians who might prove to be “high maintenance.” But apparently that doesn’t happen, or at least it didn’t in this case.
So what do we have here? Start with a confused seminarian who, common sense would seem to say, is at this point an unlikely prospect for ordination. Does the seminary have no responsibility to be honest with this student, to say, “You’re in no position right now to be seeking ordination in this church, and therefore any internship at this point seems at the very least premature?” Aren’t seminary officials capable of realizing this?
President Tiede pointed out to us that the placement of a student on internship, while admittedly perhaps a sign of some encouragement to the student, in no way decides the question of whether that student will ultimately be ordained. Indeed, he suggested, an internship is often a better context than the classroom for making that determination.
True enough, and in many cases effective internship sites and supervisors have prevented potential disasters from happening. Both of your editors have had the experience of supervising problematic interns; in neither case did the respective candidates enter ministry. But then we wonder how realistic that expectation is in this instance, where both the congregation and the pastor and others on the face of it seem to have an agenda that entails getting this student through, no matter what.
continued on next post
Copyright 2004 ALPB

(continued from previous post)
It is possible to foresee a smaller version of the ELCA — but still large enough to be a “national” church — arising out of the present synodical structure, under the right conditions.
Consider this. I know one bishop, himself appalled by the 2005 prospect, who serves a largely rural synod composed of the usual mix of pastors and parishes all living comfortably together with “high church” and “low church” attitudes, a synod broadly diverse in all the usual and usually good Lutheran ways.
This bishop once publicly predicted — in print, no less — that approval of gay ordination would leave his official synod with 12 congregations,
meaning some 160 congregations would leave the ELCA as promptly as possible. He has since revised his “remnant” estimate upward, somewhat. Yet even allowing that he was exaggerating for effect (he says he was not), a schism only half as large as he guesses — or only a third — is as daunting as it is tragic. But where would those congregations go?
Here’s a prospect, more real in some synods than others, but a prospect nonetheless: What if those departing ELCA congregations got
together and called him for their bishop? What if similar confessing fellowships arose in other synods, each prepared to find a confessional bishop? What if a present ELCA bishop with guts, verve and nerve did some of the organizing? There’d be a bishop, preparing shelter for the flock.
Shelter. That’s one reason why traditionalist pastors in as many synods as possible should begin to organize themselves now into confessional fellowships — call them “committees of correspondence.”
They should organize, make national connections; exchange phone numbers, even.
They should pray without ceasing for the storm to pass, but they will need shelter if it does not.  
—— Russell E. Saltzman
Copyright 2004 ALPB

(continued from previous post)
There’s one small group split from its parent group on whether the King James Version is the only acceptable English-language Bible (they say it is). One looks like 16th century Roman Catholicism in every way, save indulgences and the doctrine of justification by faith (they forbid the first and adhere to the second). There’s another micro-group that split from yet another tiny outfit because it refused to forbid members from purchasing financial products from the Lutheran fraternal insurance companies. Then there is one that first tried out The American Association of Lutheran Churches (TAALC) — itself a split from the American Lutheran Church in the pre-merger run up. That was unsatisfactory so they next joined a split from the TAALC that had formed the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod-USA. When that didn’t work, they gave up looking and decided to form their own, the Evangelical Lutheran Conference and Ministerium (ELCM).
The seven ELCM congregations, scattered over five states, bill themselves as “Centrist Lutherans rejoining Muhlenberg.” One of the two Pennsylvania congregations, only 5 years old, claims to be “American Lutheranism: The way it was in Pennsylvania.” In homage to the way it was, the congregation strictly adheres to the second setting of the red Service Book and Hymnal.
Personally, I have grown rather fond of the ELCM. At least I could follow things. Doping out the history of some of these groups, and their arcane theological objections about the rest of us, makes a bowl of spaghetti look as if it was organized by a control freak.
If we are talking schism, are any of these micro-Lutheran bodies viable opportunities? And should anybody even be talking about abandoning the ELCA, yet?
Short answers are, No, and a qualified Yes.
No, because “centrist” confessional Lutherans (and that phrase still fits most ELCA members and their pastors) want a denomination that is broadly ecumenical, well able to form and maintain strong international links, one that does not choke on women’s ordination and where the liturgy is not in danger of being PC’d to death. As much as anything they want to belong to a denomination that understands and acts on the notion that it exists to aid congregations in their parish ministry at home and elsewhere. This means, in general, they want a church that thinks “church,” but one which is shorn of the ELCA’s accumulated excesses, including, but not limited to, the flirtation with gay ordination.
That is not a description that fits any of the micro-Lutherans represented by the web sites I visited.
And a qualified yes — qualified in the sense that when a storm approaches it is prudent to have a ready shelter.
There are numerous conversations going on about when, whether, and how to organize a socalled “non-geographic confessing synod.” But unless there is some real effort at pulling together both the “protestant” and “evangelical catholic” wings of American Lutheranism — those broadly “centrist” theological elements in the ELCA most dedicated to the Augsburg Confession — then what’s the point?
Because without that effort, all an ELCA schism is likely to produce is another 33 web sites for special-interest micro-sects, where, to paraphrase Huey Long, “every man’s a synod.”
And this I fear will be the Lutheran future if the ELCA adopts gay ordination and the coincident blessing of same-sex unions. If the battle over Called to Common Mission cracked the ELCA, gay ordination certainly will tear it asunder. It doesn’t take an awful lot of foresight to see that. This, for example, is only a partial list of very active ELCA dissident groups: American Lutheran Council, Called to Faithfulness, Evangelical Lutheran Confessing Fellowship, Great Lakes Confessional Lutherans, Lasting Word, Lutherans for Biblical Morality, Lutherans Repent, Pauline Fellowship, Resource Team for Marriage and a Christian Sexual Ethic, Truth in Love Lutherans. I included only the ones with web pages and checkbooks, but along with these are perhaps yet another dozen or more informal “confessing fellowships” scampering over the ELCA landscape.
On the one hand, to be sure, there is something very, very encouraging and not a little exhilarating about these spontaneous outbursts of confessional fidelity. (Is it immodest to mention that some, if not most, of these groups were organized in the wake of the ALPB Conference on Christian Sexuality in 2002?)
But on the other hand, all these randomly organized confessional groups risk furthering the Balkanization of American Lutheranism. Some stand a very good chance of becoming the microsects of tomorrow. And that is not encouraging, nor is it in the least exhilarating.
(Continued in next post)
Copyright 2004 ALPB

Selected Re-Prints / Re: Forum Letter and the 8th Commandment (6/05)
« on: June 08, 2005, 12:00:54 PM »
Continued from previous post

Recognizing all this, we never write anything here without an eye to the Eighth Commandment. Journalism—like life itself—is fraught with risks to one’s spiritual wellbeing. We have never pretended that press credentials or desktop publishing software offers us carte blanche for saying just any old thing we like, regardless of whom it offends or what the fallout may be. Still, we find in Luther some excellent guidance for how we do what we do.

What it is
For Brother Martin, there are only three situations in which it is proper to “say anything evil of a neighbor, whether true or false.” The first is to say it privately, as in the Matthew 18 scenario. There the motivation is neither to scold nor to vent, but always to bring about repentance.  

The second situation comes into play if you are one who has authority to speak publicly about a person’s sin. He has in mind here magistrates, judges, witnesses in court, etc.—those, in other words, who by virtue of their office have a responsibility to speak up. Whether his caveat covers journalists who are pastors is an interesting question, and one with which we wrestle, regularly.

The third, however, seems most applicable here. It is not an Eighth Commandment violation if the behavior being spoken is “so public that everyone is aware of it.” Could be, Luther was justifying his own harsh words about the Pope and other bishops who were teaching falsely. But his point is clear: when there is blatant and public teaching that is contrary to the gospel, one is not obligated to “interpret it in the kindest way.” One is required, instead—borrowing a phrase from the Heidelburg Disputation—to “call the thing what it actually is.”

This is particularly true of those who have been given the office of public teaching in the church—that means pastors, not journalists. It is the responsibility of pastors to point out false teaching, to call it what it is. As pastors who also have this journalistic thing on the side, we at Forum Letter have the task and opportunity to do that in a context somewhat wider than our own parish. It is not one we take lightly.

Cranky charm
It is also one we’d happily yield to someone else. We’d much prefer that bishops and theologians deal with theological wackiness. But when that doesn’t happen, well—well, like the monk in Wittenberg, we feel constrained to call a thing what it actually is. We do our best to do so without malice, but we freely acknowledge that we are in bondage to sin. Sometimes the besetting sin for us may be the Eighth Commandment, though we struggle against that one mightily. More often it’s just crankiness, although it is a charming sort of ironic winsome crankiness, to be sure.

Truth be told, we think the Catechism’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment is one of the most challenging and helpful nuggets in Lutheran teaching. If we all worked harder at embodying it, the world, or at least the church, would be a kinder place. But it was never intended, in our view, to squelch the truth. Sometimes “interpreting your neighbor’s actions in the kindest way” in fact must mean, for those burdened with the office of preaching and teaching in the church, “calling the thing what it actually is.”  

[i/by Richard O. Johnson, associate editor[/i]

©2005 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

Forum Letter and the 8th Commandment
by Richard Johnson
Forum Letter June, 2005
©2005 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau

Every now and then, we here at Forum Letter get accused of violating the eighth commandment. Some of the other ones too, no doubt, but the Eighth is the biggest, baddest, most lethal weapon in the arsenal of those who don’t care for what we write.

It happened most recently at Forum Online. A reader took exception to our article about Ebenezer Lutheran Church in San Francisco (“Raising an Ebenezer at the Church of Her” in FL 34:3). She suggested—well, a little more than that, actually—that we had violated the commandment because we did not follow the prescription of Matthew 18, to go first and speak privately with the pastor, the congregation council, Ebenezer members, the bishop, and everybody else. We just wrote the article. Of course, we were commenting publicly upon the contents of a public web site; probably that was the real sin, making public what was already public.

Another Forum Online reader, though, swiftly sprang to our defense. It wasn’t an Eighth Commandment violation, he said, because it was all true.

Both readers, it seems to us, have got it wrong. The first is wrong because Matthew 18 is really irrelevant here, it being addressed to a situation where a fellow Christian sins against another. In that instance, Jesus says, “go and tell them their fault.”

Excellent advice, but, as we said, irrelevant. The shenanigans at Ebenezer aren’t a wrong done to us personally. That’s true, of course, of almost everything we write about in Forum Letter.  If we took personally all the ridiculous things that happen in Lutheranism these days, we’d be too depressed to write anything, or too worn out from confronting everyone personally to have any energy for writing.

But the Eighth Commandment does dog us, time to time.

What does not get printed
Are we obligated, as Christian journalists, to speak directly to the people involved in the situations we report? The short answers are “well, not really,’ “always,” “sometimes,” and “sometimes not.” It depends upon the nature of the material being published.

When we do an investigative piece, such as the Marshall, TX story or the one about Luther Seminary and the transgendered intern, the answer is “always.” We will do extensive interviews with as many people as necessary for the story. Often it is helpful, frequently necessary, in order to judge the truth about allegations made by others. We then try to produce an account that is fair, even while expressing our distinct judgment on things.

That’s for the stories that get published, of course. But we will do it even for the stories that do not get published when, as a result of our work, we decide there is no real story to publish. We will occasionally pursue something only to find it has no genuine substance. Funny how facts will sometimes determine what actually does not get printed on these pages.

But public commentary upon events or situations or remarks already publicly accessible do not fall into an investigative category. Sometimes we will contact, the principal, sometimes not. These are the “well, not really” and “sometimes/sometimes not” situations.

Journalistic power
Clearly in the Ebenezer story, it was “well, not really.” Or, less politely, perhaps it was a “Talk to them? You’ve got to be kidding?” sort of situation. We discussed the public contents of a web page posted by the congregation itself for the public. What might direct conversation with representatives of the congregation have accomplished? Would they say, “Oh, gee, we didn’t realize that stuff was even there”? Would they decide, after hearing our reasoned analysis, that they had erred and strayed from Christ’s ways like lost sheep, and therefore repent? Would they, knowing the incredible power of Forum Letter, beg us not to say anything about their web page, lest the wrath of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America descend upon them? Hard to imagine any of that.

We did, for the record, forward a copy of the article to the pastor prior to its publication, for her information. Perhaps it also served to prepare the congregation for the overwhelming influx of new folks who had been desperately searching for a Lutheran congregation where they could recite the Goddess Rosary. We wouldn’t want to be responsible for  the congregation running out of tea, certainly.

Truth is no defense
The other mistake, though well intentioned, is by the reader who defended us because what we said was the truth. Actually, if one reads Brother Martin closely, “truth” isn’t really the primary issue when evaluating one’s actions in the light of the Eighth Commandment.  Not that “the truth” is unimportant; it’s just that “truth” is not necessarily a defense against an Eighth Commandment violation.

In his Large Catechism, Luther puts it like this: “We should note that none has the right to judge and reprove a neighbor publicly, even after having seen a sin committed, unless authorized to judge and reprove.  There is a very great difference between judging sin and having knowledge of sin. You may certainly know about a sin, but you should not judge it. I may certainly see and hear that my neighbor sins, but I have no command to tell others about it.”

Continued on next post

On-line Articles / Re: "That They May Be One" (continued)
« on: May 16, 2005, 12:18:10 PM »

Is that how you would define the unity of the Trinity? Three beings whose wills are in sync?

I would never be so bold as to try to define the unity of the Trinity. But I think "will" is certainly an important part of it.

On-line Articles / "That They May Be One" (continued)
« on: May 15, 2005, 05:00:18 PM »
"That They May Be One" (continued)

What, then, did Jesus mean in this prayer—if not unity of opinion, feeling, or action, then what? It seems to me that what he’s talking about here is unity of will. Christians are those who will one thing. But the catch, of course, is that our will is not to be our own, but God’s. Jesus has taught his disciples to pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus prays this prayer in John 17 on the same night when, according to the other gospels, he will be in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “Not my will but thine be done.”

In the 7th century, there was a heresy, little remembered today, called monothelitism. The question was, did Jesus have one will or two wills. The monothelites taught that Jesus didn’t have a human will; he was human, but it was the divine will that motivated him. They had no television or professional sports in those days, so there was a lot of time to think about obscure theological questions! But the Orthodox response to this heresy was really very important. The Orthodox Christians said that if Jesus was indeed truly human, he must have had a human will, because our will is such a vital part of what actually makes us human. We have the power to decide. And so Jesus, if he was truly human, must have had that power, too. The difference between him and us is that he always freely decided in accordance with the Father’s will. He and the Father were one in what they willed.

So when he prayed to the Father that his disciples may be one “as we are one,” that’s what he meant. His prayer was that we, too, might freely will the will of God. Insofar as we are able to do that, we become one with each other, as well as one with God.

Willing the will of God is tough. It often demands that we not follow the crowd, that we not just go along. It sometimes requires that we work through hurt feelings and differences of opinion, and do so with the humility that prays “thy will, not my will.” It always entails modeling ourselves on what the first lesson today says about those first Christians, who were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” It always involves casting our anxiety on God, disciplining ourselves, staying alert, and recognizing that our adversary the devil is on the prowl. One of the adversary’s prime tactics is to try to make us cling to our own will, and not to God’s. Seeking God’s will is always a struggle, always.

But when we seek God’s will, then we begin to embody the prayer of Jesus, “that they may be one, as we are one.” “Embody”—that’s a good word, because it is at the Lord’s Table, where we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, that we are drawn again to him, invited again to give up ourselves, to humble ourselves, to discipline ourselves. There we are reminded that we are one body; there indeed we are made one body. There we are welcomed as sinners who want so desperately to cling to our own wills, and there we are bidden to give them up to God and to find unity with him and with each other. At the Lord’s Table, we are indeed one body in this one Lord.


Copyright 2005 ALPB

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