Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why I'm Staying in the ELCA

I have been giving this a lot of thought and prayer over the past few weeks. And I am ready to give you the two reasons I have decided to stay in the ELCA. And I want to say this before leaving for the Lutheran CORE gathering in Indiana this weekend.

1. This is where God is calling me to be.
That pretty much says it. I have been asked how I can be so certain it is God calling me to this, or how I know God is calling me to really stay in the ELCA. My answer is very unsatisfactory to just about everyone except me. It is that if it isn't from God, then it won't work. And God will let me know. It may take awhile for it to sink in (after all, I am a stubborn German/Scot-Irish Lutheran from Tennessee). But that's ok. And if it is from God, then I will continue to know.
I see myself as a pastor, not a hired hand. I'm not supposed to run when the flock is under attack. And as a pastor, I am to preach repentance and warning, and the promise of forgiveness and renewal of life to all who turn to God in Christ Jesus. I don't see anything that happened at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly that makes that less imperative for the foreseeable future.

2. I love the ELCA.
I know, I'm not supposed to do that. The ELCA is "only" a denomination, a pretty flawed one at that (perhaps, yes, fatally so). I shouldn't make an idol out of a church body, which is after all a corporation. And I don't really have any realistic notion that the ELCA can be "reformed," "taken back," "renewed," or "reborn." And who do I think I am, that one pastor can really make any difference in the ELCA under the present circumstances? Especially, given the progress of original sin is ever ongoing, those circumstances will almost assuredly get worse going into the future?
Like above, this makes no sense. But to quote the old song (sung so wonderfully by Barbra Streisand in "Funny Girl"): "I'd rather be blue over you (ELCA) than happy with somebody else."

And with God, nothing is impossible. Even resurrection from the dead.

Now, this is not any kind of judgment on those who believe they must leave and build outside of the ELCA, either a new denomination or in another, different, Lutheran denomination. I can accept that they/you? are doing what God is calling to be done. Just by someone else.

Now, if this changes, I'll post it here. But don't hold your breath. This is feeling pretty set.

Here I stand. In the ELCA.
God, help me.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

September 2nd is the day the church commemorates Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig, Danish Lutheran bishop, pastor, and writer of the 19th century. He stood for a Christian faith deeply rooted in the Bible and in the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, the ones given to the church by Jesus Christ. For English-speaking Lutherans he is best known for his hymn texts, from "Cradling Children in His Arms" to "Built on a Rock the Church Shall Stand." Here are a few of those hymns that are given to us as many of us still struggle with how we are to go forward following the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

"God's Word is our great heritage, and shall be ours forever.
To spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way; in death it is our stay.
Lord, grant while time shall last your Church may hold it fast
Throughout all generations."

"Built on a rock the Church shall stand, even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in every land, bells still are chiming and calling--
Calling the young and old to rest, calling the souls of those distressed,
Longing for life everlasting.

We are God's house of living stones built for his own habitation;
He fills our hearts, his humble thrones, granting us life and salvation.
Were two or three to seek his face He in their midst would show His grace,
Blessings upon them bestowing.

Through all the passing years, O Lord, grant that, when church bells are ringing,
Many may come to hear God's Word where he this promise is bringing:
"I know my own, my own know me; You, not the world, my face shall see;
My peace I leave with you. Amen."

"The Spirit of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, which proceeds from the Father. . . reflects the glory of God, so that the church feels the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, although the world does not see him. He reveals himself spiritually for all those who hold fast his word with proof as plain as when he revealed himself to his friends after the resurrection and spoke to them about matters that pertain to the kingdom of God. He tells us that he can and will dwell in his church and walk in it as the only-begotten Son from eternity in all the regenerated sons and daughters whom the heavenly Father and the Son embrace, sharing his glory.
"Then, and only then, God's kingdom comes to us, not so that one can point to it and say: look here or look there, as one points to the great nations, but in such a way that the whole church lives in it, saying and singing: Now we know that God's kingdom is truly righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. It comes as the Spirit proclaims in deeds and truth what is to come through that which is now worked and created in us. Then we cannot for a moment doubt that what now lives in us, a real and joyful power, though concealed, shall be revealed when he who is our life comes again even as he ascended. Thus it follows that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, just as surely as this glory has descended and rests upon us.
"Therefore, Christian friends, we will not be fearful or despondent in the great transition period from darkness to light, from death to life, and from clarity to clarity, for it holds true throughout the lives of all God's children in this world, and not only during their last days, that they shall not fear evil as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and he who is the light of the world is with us. . . ."

(The Fourth Sunday after Easter, 1855, in N.F.S. Grundtvig: Selected Writings, ed. Joahnnes Knudsen (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 115-16. As reprinted in New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints, Philip H. Pfatteicher (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 426.)