Author Topic: The ELCA Requires Nothing  (Read 37738 times)

DCharlton

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The ELCA Requires Nothing
« on: January 01, 2013, 09:22:19 PM »
"The ELCA requires nothing of congregations."  So says retired ELCA  pastor and former assistant to the bishop of the Metro DC Synod, Ronald F. Christian, in the January 2013 issue of The Lutheran.  I assume that since it appears in the My View column we should not attribute his views to The Lutheran.

It is not surprising that someone would suggest that those pastors and churches who departed the ELCA "had no real cause."  The refusal to attend to the actual reasons that the departed have given is commonplace.  Neither is it surprising that someone would suggest that those who have departed did so because of "the ego needs of the leader", "closed theology", "false theology", or "the all consuming 'I'".  Nor is it surprising that Pastor Christian [sic] places opposition to HSGT into the same category as opposition to civil rights, as well as Islamophobia and Homophobia.  Such slurs are often very effective in silencing one's opponents.

No, what is surprising is that Pastor Christian states that the "ELCA requires nothing of congregations."  Perhaps the ELCA cannot force a congregation to give, but as Pastor Austin has argued convincingly, congregations have a moral obligation to support the larger ministry of "this church."  Those who know they cannot make a good faith effort to support the ministries of the ELCA, cooperate with its synodical and churchwide expressions, support its educational institutions, and share in common mission ought to have the integrity to depart.  And yet, a former assistant to the bishop suggests that passive aggressive isolation is the only honorable option.

What gives?
« Last Edit: January 01, 2013, 09:29:25 PM by DCharlton »
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Charles_Austin

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2013, 10:49:42 PM »
Several years ago I wrote an article for The Lutheran on the growing disconnect between congregation, synod and the ELCA.
This trend matches what is happening in nearly all social organizations in our land. It is not limited to churches, and one cannot blame it on easy "conservative-liberal" labels.
I know that in the LCA we were clearly taught about our responsibilities beyond the local congregation. In seminary and beyond our obligations to the synod and the LCA were clearly laid out and understood. The ALC was more "congregational" in its culture.
My experiences with the ELCA in the last 10 years suggest that congregations and pastors are more likely to be lone wolves than pack members. For the church, this is not good. But as noted above, it is not only happening with the church. We are increasingly fragmented as a society and loyalties to social institutions are fragile and easily broken.
My first bishop was on the phone to me when, in my second year in the parish, he thought I had not increased benevolence (what we now call "mission support") to the synod adequately. I always had the understanding that as a pastor I had a clear obligation to support the Synod and the ELCA, even though I did not agree with everything it was doing or felt it was not doing enough in some areas.
 
« Last Edit: January 01, 2013, 10:51:13 PM by Charles_Austin »

FrPeters

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2013, 08:07:24 AM »
Quote
My experiences with the ELCA in the last 10 years suggest that congregations and pastors are more likely to be lone wolves than pack members. For the church, this is not good. But as noted above, it is not only happening with the church. We are increasingly fragmented as a society and loyalties to social institutions are fragile and easily broken.

Congregations and their clergy act like lone wolfs but they use the resources of the church like people with an emergency 911 call.  In Missouri the loners are often connected in small but loosely organized packs -- perhaps more so than in the ELCA.  But I do agree with you.  It is not good for the church.  I would go one further, it is not good for the congregation and the pastor either.
Fr Larry Peters
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http://www.pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/

Johan Bergfest

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2013, 08:29:01 AM »
Quote
My experiences with the ELCA in the last 10 years suggest that congregations and pastors are more likely to be lone wolves than pack members. For the church, this is not good. But as noted above, it is not only happening with the church. We are increasingly fragmented as a society and loyalties to social institutions are fragile and easily broken.

Congregations and their clergy act like lone wolfs but they use the resources of the church like people with an emergency 911 call.  In Missouri the loners are often connected in small but loosely organized packs -- perhaps more so than in the ELCA.  But I do agree with you.  It is not good for the church.  I would go one further, it is not good for the congregation and the pastor either.

With deference to Gary's admonition and assuming that DCharlton accurately summarized the article, I understand the problem with lone wolves but I can't think of any appropriate fixes.

Growing up in LCMS, I always assumed that church happened at the congregation level and that congregations chose to join the Synod, not vice versa.  The Synod had structure but it really wasn't a hierarchy.  The DP was the "pastor of the pastors", not the supervisor of pastors.  Individuals join congregations because we need each other.  In the same way, congregations affiliate with the Synod to accomplish various aspects of ministry that is larger than the congregation.  The Synod may work with other church bodies to do ministry that is larger than the Synod.

Lone wolf congregations may be one down side of that model.  We would have to break the model to eliminate that possibility and I don't think the cure would be worth it.

A congregation's decision to affiliate carries with it a commitment to support the ministry that is larger than the congregation.  That is similar to the commitment an individual makes when joining a congregation.  It's really a matter of faithful stewardship.  The Lutheran understanding of stewardship could be reduced to the idea that "if we have your heart, we will also have your wallet".  However, there is always the temptation to say that, "even if we do not have your heart, we will still take your wallet."  What we really have to do is work on the heart.  In the case of lone wolf congregations, I think the best solution is for the District President/Synod Bishop to step into the "pastor to the pastor" role and work on the congregation's heart.

George Erdner

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2013, 08:44:37 AM »
Quote
My experiences with the ELCA in the last 10 years suggest that congregations and pastors are more likely to be lone wolves than pack members. For the church, this is not good. But as noted above, it is not only happening with the church. We are increasingly fragmented as a society and loyalties to social institutions are fragile and easily broken.

Congregations and their clergy act like lone wolfs but they use the resources of the church like people with an emergency 911 call.  In Missouri the loners are often connected in small but loosely organized packs -- perhaps more so than in the ELCA.  But I do agree with you.  It is not good for the church.  I would go one further, it is not good for the congregation and the pastor either.


In all my years in ELCA congregations, including working with many of them, the only ones I've seen that use the resources of the national church are those who purchase pre-printed bulletins and Celebrate inserts, or buy hymnals at close to $20 a pop, or pay the subscription fee to Sundays and Seasons, or buy the materials for Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, or pay the tuition to go to seminary or the various special educational programs offered. I'm not suggesting that it's wrong for church bodies to exercise good stewardship by requiring a price for resource materials. I'm only observing that there aren't that many freebie resources that ELCA congregations can get from their synods or from the national HQ that the congregations can get greedy over.

Richard Johnson

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2013, 10:27:20 AM »
I've removed the off-topic slams, which also required me to remove those who called the slammers on it. Stay on topic, people.
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

Dadoo

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2013, 10:35:02 AM »
"The ELCA requires nothing of congregations."  So says retired ELCA  pastor and former assistant to the bishop of the Metro DC Synod, Ronald F. Christian, in the January 2013 issue of The Lutheran.  I assume that since it appears in the My View column we should not attribute his views to The Lutheran.

It is not surprising that someone would suggest that those pastors and churches who departed the ELCA "had no real cause."  The refusal to attend to the actual reasons that the departed have given is commonplace.  Neither is it surprising that someone would suggest that those who have departed did so because of "the ego needs of the leader", "closed theology", "false theology", or "the all consuming 'I'".  Nor is it surprising that Pastor Christian [sic] places opposition to HSGT into the same category as opposition to civil rights, as well as Islamophobia and Homophobia.  Such slurs are often very effective in silencing one's opponents.

No, what is surprising is that Pastor Christian states that the "ELCA requires nothing of congregations."  Perhaps the ELCA cannot force a congregation to give, but as Pastor Austin has argued convincingly, congregations have a moral obligation to support the larger ministry of "this church."  Those who know they cannot make a good faith effort to support the ministries of the ELCA, cooperate with its synodical and churchwide expressions, support its educational institutions, and share in common mission ought to have the integrity to depart.  And yet, a former assistant to the bishop suggests that passive aggressive isolation is the only honorable option.

What gives?

"The ELCA requires nothing from Congregations?" Just that sentence ought to give us something to ponder.
Peter Kruse

Diversity and tolerance are very complex concepts. Rigid conformity is needed to ensure their full realization. - Mike Adams

Gary Hatcher

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #7 on: January 02, 2013, 10:38:27 AM »
Here is the text of the article:


Why do they leave?
Church defections a puzzle
When The Lutheran arrives in the mail, invariably I read the obits first (I am a retired pastor).
Recently, however, another page has been of great interest—the list of congregations that voted to leave the ELCA. Many of the congregations are well known to me.
Many of the pastors who lead these congregations are well known also. So I've been asking "Why?" Why do they leave? There is no real cause for departure—just a desire, it seems, to "take a stand."
The ELCA requires nothing of congregations. A congregation will not be removed from the roster for lack of giving, lack of diversity in membership, lack of a youth ministry, lack of mission activity, lack of social work in its community, lack of Bible studies, wrong vestments or secular music on Sundays.
It is possible to be removed if a congregation votes to disavow the constitution of the ELCA and the congregation's own documents of affiliation with the ELCA. But then it has removed itself from the family.
So, again, why?
Congregations voted to leave over civil rights issues in the 1950s and '60s; it was the "word alone in the 60s, the Vietnam in the War in the '60s; '60s and '70s; merger  and pension disinvestment in the '80s; sexuality in the '90s and beyond: phobias (Islamic and homosexual) in the '00s. Now it's marriage and ordination.
But no church was required to join a civil rights cause, agree with the six-day creation story, support the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, agree to divest its pension funds, study sexuality and learn about others (Muslims and your gay neighbor). Now no church is required to marry some-one it wishes not to marry. And no congregation is mandated to accept a pastor not of its choosing.
So with total freedom, why do congregations and pastors depart from the broad and global Lutheran family?
Might it be related to the ego needs of the leader(s)? Could it be the all-consuming "I" showing up? Is it the need to be somebody more than to do something? Or is it a closed theology (Jesus, you and me)? Is it false teaching ("truth is found only with me/us")?
Paul's caution applies: do "not think of yourself more highly than you ought ..." (Romans 12:3).
As a pastor in the Washington, D.C.. area says when he closes his daily one-minute radio broadcast, "Not a sermon, just a thought.

Christian, a retired ELCA pastor, is a member of Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Fairfax, Va. He was formerly an assistant to the bishop of the Metropolitan Washington, DC, Synod and former director of Lutheran Housing
« Last Edit: January 02, 2013, 10:41:11 AM by Gary Hatcher »
Gary Hatcher STS,
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Garnavillo & McGregor, IA

Dan Fienen

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2013, 11:21:31 AM »
Reading the entire piece puts a bit of a different slant on things.  Am I understanding Pr. Christian properly that the only reason he sees for congregations to leave is to satisfy the ego needs of the leaders to promote their self image of "taking a stand?"  He seems to be basing this on the fact that a pastor or a congregation does not need to go along with the direction that the ELCA as a whole is going, can still be a part of the ELCA while not agreeing with what the ELCA does or says?  Am I wrong?
 
This leads me to ask just what the ELCA is?  Again, I am discussing the piece by Pr. Christian and recognizing that he is not speaking for the ELCA at any level in any official way.  It is his opinion.  Is it an accurate opinion?  As I understand him, he seems to be saying that the ELCA has no teaching function that members of the ELCA are expected to recognize.  Opinions may be stated, even on an official level, but if you don't like them, just ignore them, it's all OK.
 
As a church body, this seems to me to envision the ELCA as an ecclesiastical smorgasbord.  Over here are pension and health insurance plans (now I guess semi-independent),  over there is a church supply and publishing service (also semi-independent),  on another counter is a church consultation service that you can use if you wish (helps congregations find pastors, settle issues within the congregation, and the like, usually handled on a regional synod level),  there is also a bunch of resources available for use if desired.  There is a basic confessional base (Augsburg Confession) but how much is that enforced.  There are also opinions of current concerns that are expressed by some (a majority) of the denomination but if you don't agree, its all good.
 
Am I understanding this?  I'm not judging whether this is good or bad, or at least I'm trying not to.  But there seems to be no room here for the ELCA to say that this is what we as a body believes about an issue unless it is in an historic document listed in the Constitution.  Opinions are offered, many opinions from whether PALMSGR are acceptable to God to less formally how we should regard the Palestinians and Israelis, but those are simply opinions of individuals or groups within the ELCA, not this is what we as this church have concluded from our study of God's Word and the issues.
 
Dan
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Satis Est

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2013, 12:25:15 PM »
Quote: "But then it has removed itself from the family."  (Speaking of congregations that have voted to leave the ELCA.)

Family???

My own "Not a sermon, just a thought":
   The ELCA is many things; many of them good, some mediocre, and some (in my opinion) awful.  But one thing we are not is a "family."  And leaving the ELCA does not equal leaving Lutheranism, or the "family of God."
    It just means one has left the ELCA, a mainline American denomination.

Dan Fienen

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2013, 12:50:41 PM »

<snip>
 
So with total freedom, why do congregations and pastors depart from the broad and global Lutheran family?

<snip>


I noticed that also.  Are we to understand from this that in Pr. Christian's opinion, at least in the United States the "broad and global Lutheran family" is coterminous with the ELCA.  And people accuse the LCMS of being arrogant.  It just sounded like Pr. Christian wrote all Lutherans in the United States that are not part of the ELCA are not Lutheran.  Hmmm.  Surely he was just being a bit sloppy.
 
Dan
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DCharlton

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2013, 01:26:28 PM »

As a church body, this seems to me to envision the ELCA as an ecclesiastical smorgasbord.  Over here are pension and health insurance plans (now I guess semi-independent),  over there is a church supply and publishing service (also semi-independent),  on another counter is a church consultation service that you can use if you wish (helps congregations find pastors, settle issues within the congregation, and the like, usually handled on a regional synod level),  there is also a bunch of resources available for use if desired.  There is a basic confessional base (Augsburg Confession) but how much is that enforced.  There are also opinions of current concerns that are expressed by some (a majority) of the denomination but if you don't agree, its all good.
 

That's not the picture of the ELCA that my Bishop or PB Hanson have been promoting over the last 3 years.  PB Hanson in addressing those disappointed over CWA 2009 sought to remind us that we were an important part of the ELCA.  In so many words he said that we needed each other and that what individual congregations chose to do effected the whole.  It was not a congregational picture that he painted.

As much as I enjoy arguing with Charles, I think that what he has expressed here many times is both correct and represents the majority view in the ELCA.  The ELCA expects its pastors and congregations to actively support the larger church body.  It also expects pastor and congregations to abide by "our common agreements" as Charles has put it. 

Most who disagree with the direction of the ELCA, including many who left, think it doesn't expect enough of pastors and congregations, or that it expects the wrong things.  For instance, they criticize the ELCA for not expecting enough in the way of adherence to the Creeds and Confessions.  Ironically, most who share Pr. Christians extreme congregationalism were the first to depart.
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readselerttoo

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #12 on: January 02, 2013, 01:31:28 PM »

<snip>
 
So with total freedom, why do congregations and pastors depart from the broad and global Lutheran family?

<snip>


I noticed that also.  Are we to understand from this that in Pr. Christian's opinion, at least in the United States the "broad and global Lutheran family" is coterminous with the ELCA.  And people accuse the LCMS of being arrogant.  It just sounded like Pr. Christian wrote all Lutherans in the United States that are not part of the ELCA are not Lutheran.  Hmmm.  Surely he was just being a bit sloppy.
 
Dan



This is my sentiment also.  ELCA seems too important in the mind of the writer. 
And if this is simply grandiosity coming to the fore from the writer I can dismiss it as lacking balance.  However, there is a sense that the institutionality of the ELCA in what it is, means and does takes the place of the sense of what communion as fellowship with other Lutheran expressions are throughout the world.  In my mind ELCA is one branch among others.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2013, 01:37:25 PM by readselerttoo »

Dan Fienen

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #13 on: January 02, 2013, 01:40:52 PM »
Perhaps it needs to be again noted that Pr. Christian is not speaking for the ELCA on any official basis. 

Dan
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readselerttoo

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Re: The ELCA Requires Nothing
« Reply #14 on: January 02, 2013, 01:50:08 PM »
Perhaps it needs to be again noted that Pr. Christian is not speaking for the ELCA on any official basis. 

Dan

Correct...it is an op-ed piece.  But it doesn't dismiss the fact that an ELCA pastor has expressed this and publicly so.  The face of pride in one's institutional structure can really take the place of what preaching the Gospel is all about.  What was expressed by this pastor could almost pass for any bureaucratic banter of any corporate business in America.  The party line has spoken.